Dearest Rachel –
I remember the second time we went to Israel as part of the church group. We were in Jerusalem by the Wailing Wall as the sun set on Friday. Various groups – not tourists, but local Israelis, some religious groups, others quite clearly military units, as could be told from their various forms of dress – began to gather in the waning sunlight. Many of the military groups were waving flags, and dancing something akin to the hora in the open spaces before the wall. In my typical cynicism, I remember snarking something to the effect of how this particular nation being the only one where patriotism is effectively part and parcel of its religion; you reproved me and my disrespect, as though I were like Princess Michal toward her husband King David. And to be sure, my remarks were probably uncalled for, but I stand by the thought that – especially in a land where there were, and still are, deep divisions between various inhabitants – the level of celebration seemed unseemly and over the top. After all, this was going on within sight of certain inhabitants of the city who considered themselves ‘oppressed’ by the Jewish people whooping it up by the Wall, who may have had a sort of resentful ‘we were here first’ attitude toward Israel and its people, who must still seem like post-WWII interlopers to them.
Of course, the vast majority of them would, if pressed, be forced to admit that the Jews (and the Christians that followed them) were all ‘people of The Book,’ a Book that documented a claim for Israel’s existence going back at least 3,500 years. Even if the Palestinians could claim descendance from the Philistines (a dubious one at that), they would have no more right to the land of Cana’an than any other people-group at that time; which is to say, if they could not hold it by force, they were obviously not meant to keep it. That was how territories we were determined in those days, and for many centuries and millennia to come. So, if anyone had a right to celebrate their existence on a regular basis, it would be Israel, even if it were likely to annoy the neighbors.
Of course, there is the issue of separating the political entity that is Israel from the ethnic group that are the Jews, as well as the religious group that consider themselves Jews. They aren’t all one and the same, although the latter two seem to have a particularly close relationship, especially in that much of the religious orthodoxy is practiced there, far beyond that of adherents we know of in this country (as a general rule; I am well aware of certain ultra-Orthodox sects here in the States, particularly in various enclaves of NYC, for example). However, the waving of a political banner is different in my eyes than that of one who celebrates the re-organization of his nation as an ethnic and religious group being restored to its ancestral home, and that didn’t exactly sit right with me. But perhaps, as an outsider, that wasn’t my call to make.
And what, for that matter, does any of this have to do with today’s festivities – especially seeing as to how I don’t expect to take a part in any (since Daniel and enjoyed a fun afternoon and evening with the folks and other church friends and neighbors at Jeff and Julie’s place yesterday)? What’s the correspondence between America and Israel, apart from the question about celebrating one’s nation?
And there is a question about celebrating, it would seem. This was trending just the other day, from the (admittedly local – a specific county in Arizona – but nevertheless, the point still stands) leaders of one of our two political parties
That’s right, the folks in charge – or, considering Arizona is neither a blue nor red state, I can’t verify that, so let’s just say the folks who want to be in charge – consider America to not be worth celebrating; rather, pretty much the opposite, that the anniversary of our nation’s founding should be commemorated with great wailing and gnashing of teeth, since it clearly is the worst of all possible nations to ever pollute the earth, a festering boil on Gaia’s face, desperately in need of excision.
Now maybe I’m making too much of this; after all, Twitter is not real life, as those of us who spend too much time online (and believe me, I’m well aware of how guilty I am of being such a person) tend to forget. But the fact is, there used to be a sense of what has become to be called “American exceptionalism” that seems to rub a surprising number of people the wrong way.
Of course, it’s one thing for other nations to be annoyed by America. As a country, and as a people, we tend to be brash and loud beyond what other nations think we have a right to be. When we were down visiting Kevin, one of the things we were watching was the old Bill Murray classic “Stripes,” where Murray’s character whips the otherwise leaderless battalion of misfits into shape literally overnight with a rousing speech about how great America and its people are, despite being ‘mutts,’ by referencing (among other things) the national war record: ‘We’re 10 and 1!’ Certain other countries would take issue with that – Canada would claim they beat us in 1812, for example, and in the World Wars, most of Europe would insist we weren’t doing nearly our share of the fighting in comparison (of course, it would have been argued that, for the longest time, neither of those were our wars to fight in to begin with). And there are countries for whom misplaced patriotism has led them down some particularly dark paths – and America is no exception in that regard. I often wonder about certain individuals within our government who, in the sincere belief they were doing what was best for the nation, all but sold their souls to the devil, and how that has been (or will be) counted for or against them in the end.
But there is an exceptionalism to America that ought to be recognized. Most other nations are so because of an ethnicity, a language… something one is born with, an immutable characteristic that – in certain aspects – is literally part of one’s DNA. Not so with America. Somewhere along the line, we had ancestors that chose to come and live here, rather than in the land of their forefathers. Based on that choice, we have to assume that said ancestors thought this place would be better than where they used to call home, and to celebrate today is, in part, an affirmation of that belief and that choice. In a way, we are the polar opposite of those Israelis, who were celebrating a return to a land promised to them millennia ago by God; and seeing as to who their mandate came from to possess it, I guess you were right to call me out for the attitude behind my observation at the Western Wall.
On the other hand, to do otherwise – to denigrate one’s homeland, as opposed to celebrating it, particularly here in America – is to claim that those forefathers made a mistake in coming here. At best, one might acknowledge that they’ve wrung every little bit of benefit possible from the nation, but now it is time to discard the used-up husk and move on to greener pastures (if there are any). And in a day an age when travel is so much easier than in our ancestors’ days, that’s the sort of thing that should be encouraged of such folks. It may sound jingoistic, but the admonition ‘love it or leave it’ seems appropriate to give to people so dissatisfied by a country that they (or their forefathers) had to come to. If this place doesn’t live up to their standards, presumably that’s because there’s a country that does (because how else would they come up with the idea of a better place if one didn’t exist? One has to have a realistic basis of comparison, no?), and they would be much happier if they were there – as would the rest of us they could decide to leave behind.
Of course, the truly irritating part about such people is that, for all their kvetching (how many people, for instance, swore they would move to Canada back in 2016? And how many actually did?), the complainers just stay where they are, clearly miserable, and clearly determined to make everyone else miserable around them, rather than trying to better their situation by going somewhere else, where things are more to their liking. I get that moving isn’t necessarily easy, but if their forefathers could do it, so could they.
Although, maybe some people just like being miserable, and having something to complain about. For all I know, I could be one of those people (although I wouldn’t necessarily complain about my country as the people who want to run it); if everything were going well, and every day was just wonderful, what would I have to write to you about?
Still, I plan to stay and enjoy what I have, and while I may not necessarily do much celebrating today (there are chores to do here at the house, after all, and yesterday should count for something, even if Daniel and I didn’t contribute much beyond our presence to the festivities), I have no real complaints about my nation; only about certain noisy, irritating inhabitants thereof – and not because of the fireworks at all hours of the night.
Anyway, keep an eye out for me and Daniel, honey, and wish us luck. We’re going to need it.