This is a weird time in the Jewish world, and by weird I think I mean not great.
Antisemitism is rising; most of the Holocaust survivors who are up to traveling to talk about it were babies or young children in the 1940s; their survival was miraculous but their memories are second-hand.
There probably is a strong connection between those two facts, but there’s nothing to be done about it.
There are odd stories coming out of Poland — where a right-wing member of Parliament disrupted and ultimately stopped a historian — Jan Grabowski, a highly respected Polish-Canadian academic and the son of a survivor — from speaking in Poland this week. (See page 39.)
Bulgaria’s ambassador to Israel, Rumiana Bachvarova, did not go to a Yad Vashem-sponsored talk on Bulgaria’s Holocaust history; she cited scheduling difficulties, eliciting a yeah, right response.
(JTA has covered these stories, among many others; they’re at jta.org.)
At home, antisemites and white supremacists, emboldened by the extraordinary crudeness of our political culture right now, and liberated to spew lies and insults, aim much of their venom in our direction.
Meanwhile, the political situation in Israel continues to be extraordinarily tense, as its two main factions — to oversimplify, the religious right and the secular left, although that is grossly oversimplified, I know — are at the kind of odds with each other that makes it seem hard to imagine how they ever can reconcile.
That’s why there is real joy to be found in the Celebrate Israel parade.
I don’t want to pretend that everyone marching makes everything okay. It does not. The views of many of the government ministers who flew in from Israel to march, and to speak locally, are anathema to many of us. Maybe it’s pathetic to think that the parade going off without violence, without mortifying spectacle, is a victory — but it is a victory.
It is a real tribute to Israelis that the demonstrations have remained nonviolent, and that the protesters are able to carry Israeli flags. Here, in the United States, historically, groups on the right have claimed the American flag for themselves, and groups on the left therefore have felt unable to wave them, despite their great patriotism and love for this country, for fear of being misunderstood or targeted.
It’s a real tribute to the local community, as you see in the news story by Larry Yudelson on page 6 and Joseph Kaplan’s column on page 47, that a local shul was able to host speakers on both sides of the debate in Israel, and that audiences came to hear both of them. It’s a tribute to the community that many people motivated by their love of Israel came to protest, and again there was civility on both sides. It’s not easy to balance civility with fear and anger, but the protesters and the audience both seem to have managed that feat.
And the pictures from the parade show that students and staff — and of course adults from all sorts of other organizations, including Jewish federations — were able to show up and dance and sing and smile up Fifth Avenue. Their faith that the divisions will be healed and Israel will continue to flourish is touching. It might even be contagious.