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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Talking to your kids about Israel

Parenting columnist Marjorie Ingall complains about why she has problems talking to her kids about Israel (Hat Tip: Andrew Sullivan).
I had a teetering stack of middle-grade and young adult novels and non-fiction about the conflict on my desk. Josie, my 8 year old, wandered into my office and asked if she could read one. “Sure,” I gulped. She wound up choosing Samir and Yonatan, a poetic, elliptical novel about a Palestinian boy and a Jewish boy in an Israeli hospital. When she returned the book to me, I asked, “What did you think?”

“I’m not sure I understood it,” she said. “Can you explain it a little bit?”

I stumbled desperately through an explanation of why two peoples feel they have a legitimate claim to the same land.

“But having land is like having a seat on a bus,” Josie replied. “You can’t just push someone out of their seat, and you can’t just leave your seat and then come back to it after a long time and just expect the person who is sitting there now to give it to you.”

My panicked reaction to her words surprised me. I found myself trying to convince her that Israel did have that right. But that’s not what I believe. But I’m not sure what I believe. I want my children to love Israel, but I don’t want them to identify with bullies. I was spinning in my own head like the desperate, overwhelmed woman in the Calgon commercial: J Street, take me away!

But Josie’s bus-bully analogy resonated. Baby-boomer Jews seem wedded to a sepia-toned image of Jews as victims—in the shtetl, in the Holocaust, in Israel’s early wars. But in real life, victims can turn into bullies. Perhaps being the parent to girls, rather than boys, helps me see this—in Mean Girl dynamics, the power shifts back and forth almost every day. We want a bright clear line, but heroes and villains in the real world are much fuzzier.
Ingall's problem is that the bus analogy is wrong. It's wrong for two reasons. First, if there were a big sign on that seat that says "this seat belongs to X" and X came along to claim it, assuming the legitimacy of the sign, X would have that right. And of course, if someone has a hospital bed and leaves for surgery, he cannot be displaced by someone who grabs the bed while he's on the operating table.

There's been a sign like that on the Land of Israel for centuries. It's called the Torah. No other people has ever set up an independent state in the Land of Israel. It's always been part of something else - the British Mandate (which originally included Jordan), the Ottoman Empire and so on. No other people was ever interested in Israel. And that's because Israel belongs to the Jewish people even when they are absent from it. The Torah says so.

But even from Ingall's perspective, she wouldn't have a problem if only she were following a true narrative. There were only small numbers 'Palestinians' - or Arabs for that matter - in Israel. Most of them arrived only after the Jews. So the true analogy would be that you're sitting on a bus and some stranger comes up to you and says "this is my seat" - but the stranger only decided the seat was theirs when they saw you get on the bus. And it's the Jew who's in the seat, not the 'Palestinian.'

Finally, liberals like Ms. Ingall, who claim that they believe that Israel has a right to exist, need to think long and hard about why that right ought to be any different in Judea and Samaria than it is in Tel Aviv or Hadera. Because if we don't have a claim to Hebron, we don't have a claim to Tel Aviv or Hadera either.


At 10:54 PM, Blogger Yosef said...

Jews never kicked anyone out of their place "out of the blue" either. All land was purchased fair and square, displacing no one, until the War of Independence, which was a war of no choice.

At 11:30 PM, Blogger S! said...

so...ummm... a book is sign of ownership? you have got to be kidding me!
reminds me how the royals in the olden days thought it was their "God" given right to rule over the commoners!
how about all those native americans who got to america first, the aborigines in australia and south america, the africans in south africa, do they have right to bully out the white folks in their land?

At 12:37 AM, Blogger NormanF said...

Ben-Gurion who was not a religious Jew, understood what Israel was all about. Jews no longer seem to have it and they have a great deal of difficulty explaining the need for a Jewish homeland. That isn't helped in the least by Israel's Stupid Jews, who run around apologizing for its policies. Jews and Israelis need to begin seeing what is good about the Land Of Israel, the many positive contributions Jews have made from there to the world over the decades and why there is a need for a Jewish homeland. The Gideon Levys of Israel who see nothing good in Israel are part of the problem. Now the Jewish people must learn to be part of the solution.

At 5:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

See that's more believable, you bought the land, you fought a war, you won the war, the land is yours, own it and wear it on your sleeve...saying its a devine right as per a book is a long shot in this increasingly secular world.

At 5:33 PM, Blogger Joe said...


You shouldn't invoke the Torah when talking about the Jew's legitimacy to the land. In today's world that argument wont hold.

You should talk more about what you discussed in your final few paragraphs, or even the fact that the land belongs to the one who cultivates it. Before the Jews came the land was nothing. After the Jews came it once again became one of the most beautiful lands in the world, reminiscent of the ancient Judean hills.

At 9:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There are no other arguments other than G-d's Torah, as explained in the very first Rashi commentary on the very first verse of Genesis:

In the beginning: Said Rabbi Isaac: It was not necessary to begin the Torah except from “This month is to you,” (Exod. 12:2) which is the first commandment that the Israelites were commanded, (for the main purpose of the Torah is its commandments, and although several commandments are found in Genesis, e.g., circumcision and the prohibition of eating the thigh sinew, they could have been included together with the other commandments). Now for what reason did He commence with “In the beginning?” Because of [the verse] “The strength of His works He related to His people, to give them the inheritance of the nations” (Ps. 111:6). For if the nations of the world should say to Israel, “You are robbers, for you conquered by force the lands of the seven nations [of Canaan],” they will reply, "The entire earth belongs to the Holy One, blessed be He; He created it (this we learn from the story of the Creation) and gave it to whomever He deemed proper When He wished, He gave it to them, and when He wished, He took it away from them and gave it to us.

Then read Moshe Feiglin's article, God's Country.

At 1:44 AM, Blogger Sunlight said...

S! has the idea - title search GIS layers... The Torah stands at the base because some of S!'s sophisticated westerners won't believe the title search info, even with a written receipt from the Ottoman Turks, unless some "international" approval has been given. Which of course is absurd.

Re talking to your kids about Israel, in my opinion, the most important thing for your kids, your secular (or even religious) spouses and relatives, your acquaintances who somehow make opinions in science, business, or politics that can affect Israel... is to get them all to visit Israel. It is smaller than we are led to believe, more fabulous than anyone can imagine... people come back transformed in their thinking by the experience. We were there in summer '06 when the rockets were randomly flying in from Lebanon. And we got to drive in a bus down the Jordan Valley from the North to Jerusalem (with our guide translating the radio reports to us as the soldiers were kidnapped and the rockets started coming behind us). It has to be seen with ones own eyes to understand what is actually happening over there...

At 2:06 AM, Blogger Palestinian taskforce said...

I agree. That's why zionism--like all "isms"--was destined to fail. The validity of Israel and its importance to the Jewish people can only be explained by the religion we stand for.

The world may be secular and religion may be seen as a problem rather than an important part of humanity, but that does not change the fact that the reason jews have and continue to emigrate there is because of their religious passion for the land.

This is why the majority supporters of Israel today is the religious and traditional sector rather than the secularists whose morality is not based in Judaism but in liberalism. Liberalism, like all "isms" have a limited view of society that the oppressed must be helped at all costs. Unfortunately when the oppressed is someone who wants to kill you, you become an apologist for them.

At 5:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Guys, let me be very clear, I have no remorse or sympathy for the Palestinians or Arabs, they pretty much get what they ask for. But seriously, killing them cannot be the solution...obviously there is a problem, that merits a solution, one sans violence, am I being a liberal by saying that?
Surely your Judaism morals, which I have high respect for, do not advise you to kill someone? They are humans you know, its not exactly like getting your house exterminated professionally cause you dont want the fleas and bugs there...:-)


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