In our old age

I am almost 44 years old. When my grandfather was almost 44, he was in a concentration camp

I never knew my grandfather Meir whose name I was given. He died two weeks before the US army liberated the camp. He had been a respected man, my grandfather. A distinguished lawyer with dark eyes who married a blond beauty from Budapest and they lived a bourgeois life together with their only child. One day without warning, people in black uniforms entered their home and took him. Not because of something he did but because this was the fate of the Jews during those years. The brilliant attorney was handed a life sentence without any chance of appeal or finding out exactly what crime he had committed.


When my father was 44, it was 1975. Terrorists infiltrated and landed on the shores of Tel Aviv seizing the Savoy Hotel where they murdered IDF Brigadier General Uzi Yairi.


The Yom Kippur War waged two years earlier gave people the sense that the country was dangling on a thread, its future uncertain. Most homes and offices had no air conditioning. Getting a telephone meant a two-year wait, there was only one television channel and it was in black and white, the personal computer had not been invented. No shopping malls existed and the Ayalon Highway and Highway Six toll road were not even on the drawing boards.


Ariel Sharon was security advisor to Yitzhak Rabin. The Jews of Russia were still trapped behind the Iron Curtain. The army’s most esteemed officers were given the keys to a Susita six cylinder.


At the age of 44, the world I live in is much better than the one in which my grandfather lived. There are still people who want to kill me because I am a Jew but they cannot. The Jewish fate is not in the hands of anyone except the Jews themselves.


Recently someone asked my six-year-old niece if she knew what a concentration camp was. She thought about it for a minute and said, “It’s a place you go to meditate.” We laughed instead of cried but she had a point. Once we kept silent because we were afraid. Today it’s because of the Vipassana. If someone in a black uniform tries to take me away in the middle of the night, my son Yoav will pick up his army issued weapon and shoot him.


'I live in a better country than my father' 

At the age of 44 I live in a better country than the one my father lived in when he was my age. It’s a progressive western country with more television channels than France, more air conditioners than England, more Nobel Prize winners than Singapore. My father lived in a poor struggling, sweating country considered a modern miracle in its struggle.


I live in a country where more people are connected to the Internet than in Belgium or Portugal. It’s true that people love to yearn for the good old days but that isn’t what they are really missing. What they are yearning for is their spent youth. The country in which I live has better medical care, wider roads and the minimarket at the Yavneh junction where I stopped last week had more stock on its shelves than what one would have found on the shelves of the fanciest shops in New York in 1975.


My son Yoav will be 44 in another 24 years. What will the country be like then? I have no idea. Had my father been asked the same question in 1975, I suppose he could not have predicted email, the cellular revolution, the 1.5 million Russian speaking immigrants, peace with Egypt and Jordan, the removal of the Arab boycott and the entry of McDonalds and Mazda to the Israeli market, nor the fact that the youngster who took 11th place in the Eurovision would become Shlomo Artzi.


Its because these – and only these – are the intervals by which countries are judged – generation to generation. The process undergone by societies as complicated and creative as Israel cannot be measured in one year or two, not even five. Where are we going with the Palestinians? Ask Yoav in 2031. How wide will the social gaps be then? He will be able to tell you. Will the Israeli education system pull itself out of the mud? His children will surely know the answer. I figure that we cannot even begin to imagine the kind of problems he will be dealing with then.


It is possible to gamble though that some of the problems of today will seem like not so funny anecdotes by then. In 1975, just to remind you, the UN Assembly approved the resolution comparing Zionism to racism. We were furious and insulted and we were sure our relations with the rest of the world would totally deteriorate. Our UN Ambassador Chaim Herzog at the time addressed the Assembly. “You bear the responsibility for your stand before history…We the Jewish people will not forget.” He then held up the resolution and ripped it to shreds. It was quite dramatic but somewhat over the top. In 1991, the resolution was overturned and the Jewish nation has many more important things they need to remember.


Tendency to hysteria 

Let’s admit that we have a tendency to hysteria. Every month we are sure that this or that development is the Tsunami that is going to bury us. Sometimes its poverty, sometimes its corruption, sometimes a failed war or the fact that ‘A Star is Born’ runner up Marina Maximillian Blumin evaded army service.


Each time we are certain this is the end, we won’t survive, and the damage is irreparable. And each time the country, in its clumsy way, raises the anchor and slowly sails forward in an effort to solve the problem. Much of the time the problem is resolved long after we’ve almost completely forgotten what it was that was bothering us.


I don’t know what is the right way to look at things, no one does, but my father’s life is better than my grandfather’s and I live better than my dad and I guess my son has a good chance of living a better life in a better country than me. The objective facts are in his favor: He is better educated than I was at his age, more connected and quicker than me, his English is top notch and there is a much lower level of threat on his world.


The information highway frightens us sometimes. It causes us to feel more than ever that we are surrounded by enemies but it’s not true. When I was 20 years old, we all thought that any minute the next world war between the US and Russia was going to break out and a nuclear bomb would wipe us all out.


For Yoav this is science fiction just like my stories of how we would travel to Eilat with three bottles of water for the radiator. He doesn’t have a clue where the radiator is or for that matter where Eilat is. When he drives there he relies on the GPS system. I wonder what Grandpa Meir would think about the fact that his great grandson uses three satellites to get him where he wants to go.


So it’s true that sometimes our lives are hard and not so great but it’s also true that sometimes it’s just a feeling. Time is not against us. It’s just flowing at its own very slow rhythm. The future is somewhere ahead of us. Is it perhaps possible to decide that we will suffer a little less in the present?


פרסום ראשון: 09.28.07, 15:04
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