Perhaps it was a coping mechanism, but as a child I had an uncanny ability to segment the events in my young life. When my uncle?s store burned down, I did not make the connection that the Race Riots violently affecting my hometown of Washington, D.C. had reached my own family. I remember my mother retelling that the Blacks had apologized to my uncle, who was one of the first to hire Blacks in Washington.
The motorcycle and marijuana-smoking marauders always lingered outside my elementary school ? many the elder siblings of my childhood friends – but I did not connect them as Veterans of the Vietnam War. The Peace marchers who came over for dinner ? like the Quakers – were just that ? dinner guests ? not partners with my father in civil disobedience to desegregate our City. When my best friend moved away to Laos it was just another country ?way too far away ? not a home base for her father?s assignment with the Vietnam War, and when they fled, barely escaping with their lives, I figured it was just an isolated yet scary encounter.
Maybe I was just too young to make such connections ? just as it took me a few sessions of piano lessons to figure out that if I played the left hand with the right hand I could make music. But there was one area that I never separated ? one in which I had a preternatural awareness ? the connection between the Holocaust and Zionism.
Connection doesn?t actually come close to my integration of these two life-taking and life-saving forces of the Jewish people in the mid-20th century. I have a certain belief that much of our existential yearning and awareness stems from our mind?s need for cohesion and when it is lacking we seek this wholeness as if our lives depend on it. So the only way for my teacher ? my father – to expose me to the Holocaust was to find the other side ? the side that made it whole for him, to find the cohesion in the State of Israel. It was really his own difficulty in processing the Holocaust that caused him to dole out the darkness to me in spoonfuls ? of mankind?s hatred, then tolerance, of evil, then hope. That was his reality. No dissonance there ? it was fully integrated and imparted to me on one platter.
I am convinced that my father saw some things ?over there? when he served in the U.S. Army during World War II that created, as a friend once said, the only sane reaction ? a total eclipse of the mind. Once he had healed and found his life?s work along with his life?s purpose ? civil rights ? and Zionism- and a later-in-life family, he was able to then suppress his mental footage of the Holocaust, be it first person or not ? it really didn?t matter.
He replayed that footage only for me.
Those of us who are children of the Holocaust ? those born after the ashes, know no other reality. The images, the movies, the stories and books ? ?Night? and ?Day?, visits to the Camps, ?I Never Saw Another Butterfly?, a space shuttle combusting with a poem by a child victim clutched by the son of Holocaust survivors. Shoes. Ashes. Ovens. The stories my father told me. It makes the case for Israel dire, drastic, extreme, and even miraculous.
I remember being taught at one of my Zionist boot camps that it was wrong to equate Zionism with the Holocaust ? that the Jewish State was contemplated and conceptualized centuries, years before the Holocaust. So I traveled the Jewish state myself and danced my way through the valleys and pathways of our ancestors. I tried my old tricks of segmentation. But it didn?t work. I found it impossible. The power of the juxtaposition of evil with salvation, between death and renewal, is a force that cannot be suppressed.
This does not sit well with the Neo Zionists and the Post Zionists. Israel is a real place where people work, and play, and that is the essence of Zionism. The Zionist dream compels us to take Israel as normal. So again, I mask my almost zealous knowledge of my ?truth? and go along with it. For a while. I take my walks. Play and party in the Promised Land. But I can?t accept a world that knew such unimaginable evil without the cohesion ? the other side ? the good and miraculous part.
This type of miracle is not the burning bush, nor the waters parting. This kind of miracle is found in the Jerusalem forests, in the rebirth of Hebrew, in the successful defense of our land, that allows for the presence of God when all else has failed us like no other time in our history. I am convinced that when we look at this era from above one day, the Jewish people will wonder ? how did anyone lead a normal life, look at things normally, with such powerful forces of good and evil dancing together.
I was reading a book about American Women Zionists for some solidarity and I quickly put the book down. These women ? Henrietta Szold, Golda Meir, they had it easy. Of course their latter years of sacrifice can not be easily overshadowed ? they ushered in the post-Holocaust era. However, they imagined and created a State of Israel in their early years and idealistic minds without the shadow of the Holocaust. Their vision was unadulterated and normal. But it?s not our reality now as Jews, it?s not our destiny, and it will never be again.
I am committed to leading a normal life within the context of reality. That is ? I will not have an eclipse of the mind the way my father did. But I will look at the Jewish people through his lenses and through the lenses of our shared history. If we have collective memory, it is not too soon to have altered DNA from the shattering experiences of just six decades ago. This puts Israel into a context that is more profound than in Herzl?s time, on a much deeper and spiritual level. I am aware that in this recognition we risk becoming fanatical at times and we need to be self aware in order to create healthy boundaries.
But don?t ask us ? we children of the Holocaust – to look at Israel as normal – a place without miracles.