Not bowing or paying homage

Source: Not bowing or paying homage – Israel Hayom

One way Jews deal with their tenuous existence in the world is to escape from their identity. But, from the ancient Persian Empire to modern-day Britain, even as they run far away, someone – a Mordechai or a Herzl – will arise to remind them who they are.

Dror Eydar // published on 15/03/2019
   
London 


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Now it came to pass in the thirtieth year, in the month Adar II, in the fifth day of the month, as I was among the Jews by the River Thames. Jews come to London and leave as the spirit takes them away. There aren’t only Jews here; there are a lot of minority communities from both the east and the west, but it appears as if the Jewish one is unique when it comes to its questions of identity. Some Israelis here, for example, wrestle with the issue of circumcision. A scared new mother seeking emotional support received this generous answer from some of her friends: “You don’t have to carry out that barbaric ritual.” There are not quite a lot of mixed marriages here. I was told that statistically speaking, there are more Jewish women here than Jewish men and especially when they stay single until later ages, many find non-Jewish partners. Some of them fight to preserve something of their Israeli identity and even a little Jewishness but how long is it possible to live like that? A generation, maybe two? Far back in their family tree, the mixed couple can discover rabbis and rabbinical scholars. Now identity is hanging in the balance and questions about the issue infuriate them. “Who do you think you are, butting into my private life?” and “Who are you to tell me I’m not Jewish enough?”

Just like it was back in the capital of the Persian Empire, 25 centuries ago: “Esther did not reveal her people or her lineage, because Mordechai had instructed her not to do so” (Esther 2:10). Why stir up latent anti-Semitism? We are used to reading the Book of Esther while half-smiling – the happy end is already known, the villain is beaten and the wretched are saved quickly. But the book covers up the terrible reality with which the Jewish people have dealt with since they were sent into exile: their lives dependent on the whims of rulers who when they wanted them around would defend them so they could use their abilities and enjoy their contribution to the economy, culture, politics and even defense and security, and when they no longer wanted them – when they could no longer protect them from the rage of the masses – are the first to abandon them to save their own skins.

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Maybe that’s why we are commanded to get drunk on Purim, to cover up the naked truth. The rescue and comfort that came to the Jews of that generation because of Mordechai’s deception and the Jewish lobby in Ahasuerus’ palace, led by Queen Esther, lasted until the regime changed and the main actor disappeared from the political stage. A new Ahasuerus took the place of the old one and he didn’t know Joseph or Mordechai or even Esther. Quickly, a new Haman showed up, a close adviser who saw the Jews as a danger or a threat, or just a disease that needed to be burned out of the world.

After the declaration to kill all the Jews was signed, it was said, “And the king and Haman sat down to drink but the city of Shushan was in confusion” (Esther 3:15). Of course, such a devilish solution could be drowned only with a lot of alcohol and joking. Indeed, “In the large, empty rooms of the world, even your laughter will be frightened of itself,” the poet Nathan Alterman wrote, in a different context, about great loneliness, a moment after his main character was saved from an enormous storm. How do you comfort a people when this is their fate? Jewish humor is one good way to silence fear and so is the belief in the God of history that guides his people through the valley of the shadow of death, of other peoples and nations, destruction and redemption, on the way to renewing their days in their ancient land, like before. That would happen sometime, the Jews believed – one day, they would return home. If not today, then tomorrow, and if not tomorrow, then the day after or in another millennium.

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But there are other ways to deal with the Jews’ tenuous existence in the world. One of them is to escape from their identity. We are talking about freedom of choice, so it is possible to choose not to be a certain nationality or religion, to be swallowed up in the silence of the nations of the world, to evade the endless questions about myself as part of a nation and focus on a normal existence and myself as an individual. Our children won’t ask these questions anymore and be saved. As there usually are with Jews, there are idealists here who tried to share their insights with their brethren. And they tried to compel anyone who wasn’t willing to drop their identity to do so – either by anti-Semitic whispers into the ears of the rulers, or through methods like boycotts and sanctions, or by temptations. To our disgrace, the biggest flagellators of Israel, some anti-Zionist and some even anti-Jewish, are former Israelis. Some of them started out here in London after the 1967 Six-Day War and from there spread anti-Israelism throughout the world.

The historic paradox is that Israel’s existence has helped anti-Semites disguise themselves. They could say that they weren’t against Jews or motivated by pure Judeophobia – they were only opposed to the State of Israel. And here, again, they can say that they aren’t opposed to the State of Israel existing, only to its policies, and so forth. They used “testimonies” from Israelis about the “brutality” and “immorality” of the Jewish state; about how its very existence is an obstacle to world peace. “Us? Anti-Semites? Our parents were Holocaust survivors,” they’ll say, but they’ll also announce from every platform – even ones whose organizers want to wipe us out – that “Israel commits genocide.”

A lot of the time, these idealists fled their Jewish identity in their private lives but that wasn’t enough for them. Israel reminded them from where they’d fled and its very existence became a thorn in their sides. In the place where they tried to flee from themselves, the country spoiled their party of forgetfulness. “All the royal servants at the King’s Gate bowed down and paid homage to Haman because the king had commanded this for him” (Esther 3:2) – every time, it’s a different king who commands them to bow down to Haman. Sometimes it’s a political ruler, sometimes it’s a famous intellectual and sometimes it’s a well-respected newspaper.

“But Mordechai would not bow down or pay homage.” Those annoying Jews, why do they keep raising their heads? Don’t stand in the main street when Haman is passing through and you won’t stand out. But Mordechai tried to stand directly in his path, so everyone could see him! He was an idealist too, reminding his people’s sons and daughters not to give in to false propaganda. So he looked for the right time and place to reveal his hidden identity, to not bow down to a lie. To be faithful to yourself, your people and your homeland, even if the prestigious salons treat you like a problem and a nuisance.

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In the plaza of the National Gallery in London, I met a street artist who was neither Jewish nor Israeli. Very delicately, he explains how he has to deal with radical Islam, a growing presence in the English capital that also threatens the world order. It threatens the Jews of Britain, some of whom don’t feel at home anymore. They are aware of what is happening just on the other side of the Channel, to their brothers in France. While the Jews integrated into civil life, the new Muslims avoid integration and talk about a quiet conquest of Europe.

And now the wisdom of history returns and knocks on the doors of many Jews – even if you run far away, there will be someone who will remind you who you are. Sometimes it will be Mordechai who will awaken the Jewish point and sometimes it will be Theodor Herzl who will bestir the sleeping national consciousness. Our sages decreed a special reading for the Jews of Shushan the capital but attached it to the land of Israel (the three-day Purim celebrated in walled cities applies to cities that had walls when Joshua led the Jewish people into the land of Israel, not from the time of Mordechai and Esther) to remind us of our roots, where we came from and where we belong. But sometimes, when our self-evasion runs so deep, the latest Haman arrives and casts us out into ourselves, from whence, with a 2,000-year-old hope, we will return to the good land.

 

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