If you could see Israel naked, it might well look like this year.
For the length of this corrosive 2011, you could feel something numbing, something comforting, being stripped away from us. The protective coloration - the start-up sheen, the silvery comb-over pretense of democracy and peace-seeking, of Jewish values and of membership in the community of modern nations - all of it has begun to wear thin and wear out.
Good riddance. We're better off. We need to begin to again see Israel as it truly is. Naked and vulnerable. Real. Ailing. Still worth saving.
If you could see Israel naked, you would see behind the payot and the prayerful posturing and disproportionate power of extremists who, in their actions and rabbinic decrees, poison the name of Judaism and Jewish values.
And if you could see Israel naked, you would also see past the despair and the depression and the paralysis of the majority. You would see that there is a rising current of light to this darkness, a mounting if gradual popular resistance. By Israelis who still believe in the prophetic vision of their own Declaration of Independence. By Israelis tired of being tacitly enslaved to the newest in the long, long line of Jewish history's false messiahs.
If we are to see Israel stripped naked, the place to begin may be with those most voracious in demands for what they have redefined - and weaponized - as "modesty." Imagine losing the extravagant hats and the sumptuous frock coats of the rock-throwing, spit-spewing, child-abusing, crude-cursing misogynists of the voodoo yeshiva in Beit Shemesh.
Underneath the clothes, they are no different from any other group of testosterone-poisoned bullies, weak and mean of spirit, wary of exposure, hiding unspeakable urges behind terrible acts. So it is, as well, with the thousand local incarnations of Hilltop Youth, the part-hippie, part-redneck gun-nut vanguard of permanent-occupation blackmail in the West Bank. Look past the exaggerated skullcaps and the exaggerated earlocks. Look instead at the funhouse-mirror ideology and the ritual Sabbath attacks on Palestinians and their property. Concentrate, for a moment, on the rock-throwing against IDF officers. Focus on their contempt for courts, the government, the Knesset, and you begin to see a pattern: Stripped to their essentials, these people are, in the most profound sense, non-Jews. Not merely because of their vehemence in whoring after false gods of "modesty" and settlement. More to the point, these are people who hate Jews. They have no use for them. They have no use for Jews who are liberal in outlook, temperate in behavior, believers in a Judaism that leans more to the universalist vision of the prophets than to the Amalek-must-die Dahiya Doctrine of Exodus. Which is, worldwide, most Jews.
In fact, the extremists who blacken our lives have little use for most Israelis, Jews or Arabs, and certainly none for the huge majority who supported the social justice movement this year. They look for support elsewhere, often abroad, often to actual non-Jews, with whom they have made bizarre common cause.
But because this was a year in which the country was often stripped naked, we also saw, over and over, acts of quiet heroism. The Shalit family in their struggle to free captured IDF soldier Gilad Shalit. The Margolese family of Beit Shemesh in their struggle to protect 8-year-old Na'ama, the daughter of North American immigrants who became a poster child for the national debate over the exclusion of women. Tanya Rosenblit in her effort to be recognized as a human with rights on a public bus. The rape survivors whose testimony sent a former president of Israel to prison.
The list is long, and also includes heroism far from the public eye, as in the case of the NISPED organization, a Negev Arab-Jewish coexistence and development association, whose Be'er Sheva office for volunteers was torched this month. What these people are telling us is that we do not have to settle for a Jewish state that does to the world what the yeshiva punks of Beit Shemesh do to women and girls: spitting at those who are, or should be, our neighbors and allies, cursing those who are part of us.
If we could truly see Israel naked, we would need to make a decision. A decision about what a Jewish state should become, what Judaism is. What they will be, in this generation and those to follow. Maybe we already have. Perhaps it is Judaism itself that this corrosive year has flayed naked. Telling us that the Judaism that was created by, for and in a relentlessly hostile Diaspora, needs to adapt to a world in which that reality no longer exists. Yes, we were a people hunted; stateless; defenseless; powerless; subject to humiliation and pogrom, exclusion and expulsion and massacre. But the survival mechanisms which sustained us also produced horrible beliefs about non-Jews and credos of superiority regarding Jews - a secret arsenal of bigotry and contempt. Now bared for all to experience.
If we could see the Jewish world naked, we might well see a new Judaism emerging this new year, a community of faith which fosters compassion and coexistence rather than the bullying, non-Jewish shandas of Beit Shemesh and mosque-burnings and no compromise and Avigdor Lieberman.
A new Judaism. Stripped of xenophobia and 19th-century clothes for 21st-century issues. In the long run, it could save the Jewish people from extinction. If we're lucky, it could save Israel as well.
Selected blog posts by Bradley Burston from 2011:
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