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Author Topic: Being Israeli and Jewish
Myriam
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Dear Mr. Arenson,

A very exciting essay indeed. The reason why I like this web site is that people from all over the world have the opportunity to post their opinions and clarify matters that otherwise may not have been revealed in public. I like learning, and I try to seek the opportunity of being a student. I know there are vast numbers of people that have a lot to offer and to teach.

It is sad to hear from someone whose country has perpetually been war torn and whose kind has been met with hostility. I am very privileged never to have lived surrounded by such enmity and fear of atrocities being committed in my own country.

I found two of your paragraphs to the Arab people very touching:

"Us and you are a people split apart, both natives of this land. We have found different faiths, but we share our forefathers, and I like to think that five thousand years ago we suckled from the same mother. We make war, we think we are different, but we are two branches with one root, here in this ancient soil."

"Arabs, look at us, we are Semites like you. We are as Isaac and Esau. In our exile, we have fought the Europeans for so long, why must we fight here now, against our siblings."

How different would the world be if everyone could hold such a view of his brother.

"Europe, this land of civilization that had nearly obliterated our kind. Europe, Jewish children know, is a land to be mistrusted -- The land that had tortured our people for two thousand years. The Holocaust could happen again -- this is the underlying foundation of Israel."

Yes, it is a heavy burden that Europe has laden on itself by committing the horrible crimes it has done to the Jewish people. Many of your people have been persecuted and tortured, and the Holocaust is beyond any words to utter.

I myself have grown up in Basel, Switzerland, and have lived and received education there, until I got married to an American citizen and now have been living in the US for two years.

Living in the US has answered many of my questions about my own country and has let me reflect upon my culture with a more objective eye. I have grown more interested in politics, and, even though I tend to be very strict in judging Switzerland and the European way of life, I once in a while feel the need to come to its aid:

My generation, the European youth, has grown up with the full awareness of the crimes and guilt of the holocaust. We have been taught and imparted with detailed information about the events and horrors of those times. We feel ashamed and we seek to make amends in our own way, however, we know that we cannot undo what has been done, nor can we atone for those sins.

The present Europe is a completely different world from the time sixty years ago. In fact, I bet every European youth could very well relate to this your statement:

"To America, whose hamburgers we eat and whose clothes we wear, whose movies
we watch and to whose music we listen: Do not forget us here. Know that we are like you. All we have ever wanted is freedom, peace, democracy, a country of values like yours."

Even though we might not want to admit it openly, we Europeans are very much like Americans. We do hold the same values, too, and we are intrigued by the American sense of friendship, brotherhood, and loyality.

Europeans today are a very cosmopolitan patchwork of countries, whose governments try to seek diplomacy and friendship. We have become the home of so many nationalities that it has become difficult to determine what is now typically "Swiss" or "French" or "Italian", etc, and we love that. I grew up in a place where I had a Mosque, and a Synagogue, and a Catholic Cathedral just around the corner, and that was very exciting to me.
I am thankful that I grew up in a family and an environment where racial and religious prejudice was not known of.

In fact, I was confronted with such problems after I had moved to the United States!

At last, I would like to let you know, Mr. Arenson, that the common people of Europe, those who go to work everyday, those who feed and clothe their children, and those who seek study and learning for themselves, are Israel's friends. The Nazi regime, my friend, is long gone and not very popular an issue to mention with any European.

And I genuinely hope that in the future no Israeli is inclined to make the statement anymore that "Europe, Jewish children know, is a land to be mistrusted".


Sincerely,
Myriam


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seagull
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quote:
I genuinely hope that in the future no Israeli is inclined to make the statement anymore that "Europe, Jewish children know, is a land to be mistrusted".

It has been a while since Mr. Arenson wrote his piece and I don’t know if he is still around reading our responses. As an American Jew who was born and raised in Israel, I can tell you that it will take much longer than a century (after 1948) before the future you hope for could become a reality.

Europe has been a land to be mistrusted by Jews for centuries before Hitler decided to apply mass production to anti Semitism. My Grandparents left Europe in the 1920s and went to Israel (which was far from safe for Jews at the time) because they mistrusted Europe. But even after WWII, the current pope lived in a house looted from Jews. Swiss Banks have only recently admitted their responsibility in “looting” Jewish money from the Holocaust. And while anti-Semitism has yet to regain power in Europe, it is alive and well in Austria, Russia, France and even Holland (oops, I guess “alive” is not quite the right metaphor for Holland ).

quote:
I am thankful that I grew up in a family and an environment where racial and religious prejudice was not known of.

You have much to be thankful for.
Sadly, those who are born Jewish and the few who choose to convert, can not afford “NOT to know” about racial and religious prejudice. As Hitler aptly demonstrated, even enlightened societies like Germany in the early 1900s which was one of the countries most tolerant to Jews at the time, can revert to barbaric hatred of Jews in less than one generation.

I hope that I can avoid introducing racial and religious prejudice in my children’s education too early, but if I neglect to teach them that at some point in their lives they will have to face it and to prepare them for such circumstances, I would be remiss in my duties as a parent.

In fact, I wonder how even you reconcile the last quote with:

quote:
My generation, the European youth, has grown up with the full awareness of the crimes and guilt of the holocaust. We have been taught and imparted with detailed information about the events and horrors of those times. We feel ashamed and we seek to make amends in our own way, however, we know that we cannot undo what has been done, nor can we atone for those sins.

It seems that not only do you know about “racial and religious prejudice” but that for some reason you feel both “ashamed” for things your generation did not do, and proud for the fact that your own generation is not (yet) responsible for similar crimes and guilt of the same magnitude.
quote:
The present Europe is a completely different world from the time sixty years ago. In fact, I bet every European youth could very well relate to this your statement:

Can you please explain to me why you consider the silence and impotence of your generation during the Bosnia massacres to be so “completely different” from the silence and impotence sixty years ago?

Does “every European youth” include those in Bosnia, Serbia, Croatia and Kosovo?


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Myriam
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Dear Seagull,

Since human beings are imperfect we tend to see things as we experience them personally. And such experiences fail more often than not to see the bigger picture.

My family or I have never been the victim of prejudice to the degree that it gave us reason to teach ourselves to be cautious or worse, to have any prejudice ourselves against any certain groups, people, or denomination.

When I speak for "every European youth", then I speak for every European youth I have personally come to know. I have been to almost every European country except Latvia and Finland. My many friends that come from the countries you named are refugees. And yes, all of those I know, too, relate to that statement of Mr. Arenson. (As they put it: They try to be "cool" like Americans. )

I am not sure if it is true, but I have heard somewhere if you let toddlers, or just little children play with other children, no matter what culture or race they are from, they won't make a difference or preference between each other. I am trying to say that I believe that prejudice is taught and fostered rather than a natural attribute of man.And sadly, it is being fostered in every place on the earth where there are people.

There are so many lines of what is seen as prejudice and racism, and sometimes, what it comes down to is neither of the above but simple miscommunication and misunderstanding out of fear of the unknown.

Everyone will take these posts as they see it fit. Written communication can be very enlightening or very confusing. That's why there is the forum to respond and post topics. There will always be someone who takes offense, no matter how much another party pays attention not to be offensive, and let's be honest, there are people who do want to provoke.

If one party does not want to understand, and the only purpose of posting is to rip people apart, then the purpose of this discussion forum has not been met. It will soon run out of sap or continue on with a bunch of hostile screamers who achieve nothing save hostility itself.

If both parties try to the best of their abilities to understand each other, there can be flourishing, interesting debates.

quote:
My generation, the European youth, has grown up with the full awareness of the crimes and guilt of the holocaust. We have been taught and imparted with detailed information about the events and horrors of those times. We feel ashamed and we seek to make amends in our own way, however, we know that we cannot undo what has been done, nor can we atone for those sins.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
quote:

It seems that not only do you know about “racial and religious prejudice” but that for some reason you feel both “ashamed” for things your generation did not do, and proud for the fact that your own generation is not (yet) responsible for similar crimes and guilt of the same magnitude.

Of course I feel ashamed that the Holocaust happened on the European continent. It doesn't mean I can relate to that feeling and time.


"For some reason you feel both “ashamed” for things your generation did not do, and proud for the fact that your own generation is not (yet) responsible for similar crimes..."

Correct me, but to me, this "(yet)" implies that not only there are the same ideologies in today's European generation as it was 60 years ago, but also it accuses the current generation of going to commit similar crimes again.

I am not in the position to judge. I am not sure what you mean with your last words “silence and impotence”.

Seagull, please tell me what you think. I am awaiting your suggestions of how I can contribute to improve the things you think are still wrong with today’s European generation.

Sincerely,
Myriam


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graywolfe
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Far be it from me to interpret Seagull's post, but I think he's referring to the fact that Euro nation's as a whole, and large portions of their citizenry were not just silent and impotent and bystanders as millions upon millions of Jews were slaughtered just 60+ years ago, but that in fact europe was essentially just as inept, impotent, and silent about the slaughter that the Serbs engaged in just a few short years ago in the nineties. Forgive the run on sentence there, but that's how I interpreted Seagull's statement. And it's a valid point.

I think Europe, as a whole, has a much stronger problem with us then they realize. I think in many of their minds, the current state of affairs seems to be just a more heated version business as usual, where our culture, our president, and our behavior on the world stage is insulting to them, and aggravating to them, and a source of resentment. And yet now, many Americans I deal with are even more insulted by, and disgusted with the self-serving, self-aggrandizing stands that are being taken by the citizen's, and particularly by the governments (especially in Germany, and France)themselves.

A serious break could come in the coming years in the bond that once existed between us, in our shared origins, political systems, and in the common experience of World War II, it's too bad that many in europe do not see that many American's are as willing to break with Europe, as European's are to break with us. However the common bonds of business and finance will probably never allow a full break to happen.

I'm a bit off topic here so I think I'll call it quits. Suffice it to say, hopefully European's and American's can stop the gap of understanding that currently exists from growing any further. I think it's a good start to know that we're communicating, at the very least, on this board, and hopefully we can continue to do so with friendship and honesty, and not get as heated as we occasionally do in other topics.

[This message has been edited by graywolfe (edited October 23, 2002).]


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seagull
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quote:
Correct me, but to me, this "(yet)" implies that not only there are the same ideologies in today's European generation as it was 60 years ago, but also it accuses the current generation of going to commit similar crimes again.

Dear Myriam,
I am not accusing “the current generation of going to commit similar crimes again”, In fact I would be willing to give even odds that it would not. But I am wondering why you think that the current generation is any better than the generation of Germans, Britons and French that allowed Hitler to get away with the atrocities of 1933 (when he could still be easily stopped). That generation had not YET committed the larger crimes of 1942 to 1945 or seen them and stayed silent and impotent. How was that generation that had yet to live through WWII and the Holocaust any worse than our generation which allowed Karadzic, Mladic and Milosevic’s atrocities in Bosnia and has yet to live through the aftermath of 9/11?
When it comes to crime and guilt, there are several levels. There are the crimes of the SS who actually performed the atrocities. There are the crimes of the German, Polish and French civilians and military (as opposed to Holland, Denmark and Bosnia) that knew what was happening and either turned a blind eye or helped Hitler’s henchmen. And there is the guilt of those who did not know but could have if they’d only bothered to look into the telltale signs.
I can understand the Germans’ shame for what their grandparents did 60 years ago. What I do not understand is how you as a Swiss can feel shame for something that the Germans did and Switzerland could not stop (at the time they were not both part of the EU) and yet feel pride in a generation in which a united Europe allowed Srebrenica to happen. I am not accusing you or our generation of committing any crimes (yet - and I hope and pray I will never have reason too). I am just wondering where you get the confidence to claim that:
quote:
The present Europe is a completely different world from the time sixty years ago.

In the only sense that matters to Jews, Srebrenica showed clearly that even in your own back yard (as if Rwanda and Cambodia were too far), Europe is still just as dangerous as it was in the early 1930s. If you think your life expectancy is more than 10 years, we may still live through another holocaust, this time with Biological and Nuclear weapons to spice things up. I hope it doesn’t happen. But it is possible, and even if it is only 10% likely the consequences would be so horrible that I think we can not afford to ignore them.
So being Jewish (and therefore paranoid) you will have to forgive me for not trusting you when you say that “The Nazi regime, my friend, is long gone”. It is not that I doubt your good intentions. I am simply concerned about following any road paved with such good intentions … who knows where that may lead to

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seagull
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quote:
I am not sure if it is true, but I have heard somewhere if you let toddlers, or just little children play with other children, no matter what culture or race they are from, they won't make a difference or preference between each other. I am trying to say that I believe that prejudice is taught and fostered rather than a natural attribute of man.And sadly, it is being fostered in every place on the earth where there are people.

Very interesting. I wonder if it is true in general. (LetterRip any stats?).
As an anecdote, I can tell you that the first time my sister saw a black person was when she was four years old and she saw a large black boy in her new pre-school class. She was terrified and refused to go anywhere near him. My mother (who is not exactly the paragon of racial equality) was shocked and ashamed at the public display and worked very hard to reassure her that it was only another normal difference between people (like hair color) and that the boy was OK. It worked pretty well; by the end of our two-year visit to the US that same black boy was one of her best friends. Years later her best friend in college was black.
When we returned to Israel, my sister saw a Hassidic orthodox Jew for the first time. By that time she had a better English vocabulary than Hebrew. She turned to my mother and asked her: “Mommy, is that a ghost?” I am sure she knows better these days, but I am not sure she ever outgrew that prejudice. It took me quite a bit of work to outgrow it myself even though some of my great grandparents were Hassidic Jews who probably dressed the same way.
It would seem that at least in some cases, fear of “the other” is a natural attribute of man (a recurrent theme in Card’s books). It may not be moral or good but it is “natural” and you have to work at it if you want to avoid it. To use your own words: “simple miscommunication and misunderstanding out of fear of the unknown” can often be “seen as prejudice and racism”. When that happens (even by accident), defensive reactions on both sides can easily escalate into outright hatred and fighting. It takes training and discipline to avoid that natural development and stay civilized. Sadly, in every place on the earth where there are people, there are those who think “wishing bad things away is enough”, thereby providing fertile ground for hatred and xenophobia to grow and fostering it with silence.


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seagull
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quote:
I have been to almost every European country except Latvia and Finland.

I take it that you have personally been to Bosnia, Serbia and Croatia then. Was it before or after the war? Either way, I would be interested in hearing your impressions of these countries.

quote:
My many friends that come from the countries you named are refugees.

What about the people who caused them to become refugees? Are any of them Europeans? Is it possible that some of them are now refugees as well but they are too ashamed or scared to talk about their own guilt? Would you be able to tell the difference? And if you found out that they drove others away from their homes, would they still be your friends?

“Being Israeli and Jewish” the title you chose for this thread, means that most of the people you know either are or are descended from refugees. It also means that many Palestinians refugees consider you to be directly responsible for their plight and that some of them even hate you for it. It is completely irrelevant whether their reasons for hating you are based on facts or on lies. The hatred is real regardless of its source and sadly, that is a fact.

My grandparents were refugees from the 1920s pogroms in Russia and Poland. My Aunt’s parents were refugees from Germany (they could still leave up to 1933), the rest of their family died in the camps. My sister in-law’s parents are Jewish refugees from Iraq and Greece (they often speak Arabic at home). More than half of Israel’s population is descended from Jewish refugees from Arab countries (post 1948).

If things were really as rosy as you would like to believe, these Jewish refugees would have been able to return to their homes and properties when Hitler was defeated. They would not have stayed refugees with no place to go between 1945 and 1948. They, their children and grandchildren would not have had to fight war after war in Israel to just to survive in the only country that would accepts them. These wars would not have caused a new flood of refugees (Jews from Arab countries and Palestinians from Israel) and deaths (on both sides) that are still fueling the hatred between Jews and Arabs in that ancient land.

quote:
the common people of Europe, those who go to work everyday, those who feed and clothe their children, and those who seek study and learning for themselves, are Israel's friends

Pointing out that “many Europeans that hate Israel (including Palestinians refugees living in Europe who may have better reasons to hate Jews than most European Anti-Semites) go to work everyday, feed and clothe their children and seek study and learning for themselves” may sound rather facetious so I decided to put it in quotes. That kind of an attack ignores the sentiment you were trying to express, which as a Jew I appreciate and thank you for. Besides ripping your statement apart like that does not lead to better understanding.

But before we can reach a better understanding of the distrust that Jews feel toward Europe we need to recognize that the sentiment you expressed reflects more about your personality and the people you chose to surround yourself with than it does about Europe as a land to live in or European nations as political power players.

The people who hate Israel are also common people of Europe even if they do not belong to the multinational crowd you (and I) choose to hang around with. Those people exist whether we like it or not. Moreover, they have a right to their opinions and they do not appreciate comments that marginalize them and ignore their existence. Saying that the common people of Europe support Israel only makes them more militant about proving you wrong. And for Israelis, a few militants who shelter the next attack on an Olympic team or a synagogue are more important than all the supportive words that may have edged those militants into action.

Some of the people of Europe who claimed to be Israel's friends “promised military support for a war on terrorism” in 1956. They never delivered! They didn’t even help Israel in the UN when the US forced Israel to give the Sinai back (the first time). By 1967, everyone was predicting Israel’s demise. Israel’s so called European friends were lamenting the regrettable and inevitable death of all the Jews while Israel’s European enemies were slapping an embargo on weapon sales to Israel (much like their spiritual successors later did for Bosnia). If Israelis had believed in all those protestations of friendship from Europe in 1967, the sad predictions of these “well wishers” could have become reality. But by then a new generation of Israeli Jews had learned what Jewish children have been learning and relearning for centuries before Hitler was even born: “Europe (and other non-Jewish nations) cannot be trusted - If Jews want to survive they have to take care of themselves like every other nation has to.”

This is not a racial or ethnic slur against Europeans even if it may sound like one. But as you so correctly said:

quote:
There will always be someone who takes offense, no matter how much another party pays attention not to be offensive.

So let me clarify that in making that statement I was following the well known Israeli tradition of NOT paying any attention to whether or not I am being offensive because there will always be someone who takes offense anyway. If you want to understand my statement in context let me add that I would not be offended if anyone reversed it and said that: “Israel cannot be trusted - If Europeans (and other non-Jewish nations) want to survive they have to take care of themselves like every other nation has to.”

I happen to think that both statements are true, especially when it comes to nations that want to survive the new wave of terrorism foreshadowed by 9/11.


quote:
Of course I feel ashamed that the Holocaust happened on the European continent. It doesn't mean I can relate to that feeling and time.

“Being Israeli and Jewish” means not only that everyone you know is descended from refugees. It also means knowing that our existence in Israel created the Palestinian refugee problem. Unlike you, we “can relate to that feeling and time” even when it refers to our own victims. As refugees ourselves, we can empathize with their plight and many of us do. But we are not ashamed of what they call “the Nakbah”. We are not ashamed of wanting to survive and of killing our enemies in self-defense. Knowing what it is like to be refugees, we can and will try to minimize the plight of the Palestinian refugees. But our help to refugees (when their Arab brothers allow it) is motivated by empathy, responsibility, self-interest and human concern for our Palestinian “cousins” rather than by either shame or pride for what happened in the wars.


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Myriam
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Dear Seagull,

Thank you for your responses. There are a lot of things I am pondering...

I just recently turned 17. You may think that is fairly young. It doesn't prevent me from wanting to be connected with the world, and with what other people think. I want to be optimistic. I want to have hope. That doesn't mean I don't want to be realistic.

I don't want to make the mistake to not be open to other people's lives and experiences. As stated in my letter to Mr. Arenson, I want to learn. And I want to be humble. I apologize for the arrogance I may show.

I guess, what I am really trying to say is, if my attempts of trying to be hopeful about other people's lives, and showing my personal support, is awkward, please help me and show me how I could. You have more expierence than I and so I 'expect' you to teach me. I am still learning how to express myself.

Finally, I am not sure what I should answer. I have expierenced some things, too, in my life, but I feel, when I read your comments, you have experienced much more. When I say, please teach me, I mean it. It's an attempt to understand and to know.

I would appreciate your response.

Sincerely,
Myriam


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Dan Allen
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quote:
As an anecdote, I can tell you that the first time my sister saw a black person was when she was four years old and she saw a large black boy in her new pre-school class. She was terrified and refused to go anywhere near him. My mother (who is not exactly the paragon of racial equality) was shocked and ashamed at the public display and worked very hard to reassure her that it was only another normal difference between people (like hair color) and that the boy was OK. It worked pretty well;

I can give a similar anecdote unfortunately. My four year old son reacted much the same way to a friend of one his older sisters. I was really shocked at his response because none of his 4 older siblings ever reacted that way, and I still cannot pin down a cause for it.

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seagull
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quote:
I just recently turned 17.

quote:
I myself have grown up in Basel, Switzerland, and have lived and received education there, until I got married to an American citizen and now have been living in the US for two years.

If my arithmetic is correct this means that you got married and moved to the US before you were 16 years old. Your earlier responses also indicate that you have traveled through most of Europe (something I never had a chance to do) and have several friends who are refugees from the Balkans. Did I understand you correctly? If so, you have obviously had many interesting experiences even if you are young. There are many people much older than you who never chose to or even had a chance to try and see outside their own culture so don't sell yourself short.

I think your "attempts of trying to be hopeful about other people's lives, and showing your personal support" are commendable. It is only by doing so and by pondering the responses you get, that you gain more experience of your own that are meaningful to you and that help you decide what you want to do with your own life. I am glad that my responses have caused you to think, and I am happy that you want to learn. But I can not tell you how to contribute to improve the things you think are still wrong with today's generation whether they are Europeans or Americans, Moslems or Jews, young or old. It would take much more experience than I have to solve all of the difficult problems facing our generation.

My cynical personality may lead me to mistrust anyone who claims to have enough experience to actually solve all of the world's problems. But as long as we share the same goals and/or the same tactics, that mistrust will not stand in the way of friendship and cooperation. Moreover, since my experience may have contributed to the cynicism in my personality, I am not sure if that is something you would really want to learn. Let me assure you that I would continue to respect you and appreciate your support of our common values even if you remain idealistic and refuse to accept my experience as a basis for a cynical view of the world. You have more than enough time to develop your own cynicism if you want to.

But I must caution you not to expect others to teach you their experience. Knowledge and skills can be taught, but experience is gained by living and thinking through things. Experience is something you gain, you seem to have already done quite a bit of that and I respect you for it. If you can hold your own on this forum, (as you seem to do so) you may have as much to teach us as we have to teach you. What you choose to keep and ponder from your past and from the discussions on this forum has more to do with experience than how long you have lived or how much you post.


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