The Shattering of the Myth
the Jews of the Disapora and the Jews of Israel
My friend, Eliyahu Schultz, was born in Pressburg, today called Bratislava, the capital city of Slovakia, in 1930. In 1944 he was deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau were he was numbered, both on a punched I.B.M. Hollerith card and physically with a tattoo on his forearm, a mutilation he bears to this day.
He survived the final death march to Buchenwald as the Soviet forces closed in on Auschwitz. Following a stay of a few months in hospital, he returned home to Pressburg. He and his father arrived in Israel as tourists, who did not reboard their ship, well before the War of Redemption erupted.
In Israel, Eli attended the famous agricultural school at Mikve Yisrael. Over a thousand students. They comprised two independent groups. Other than farm work which they did together, the two student bodies had different programmes: in the classroom, in the dorms and in the dining room. One grouping, of which Eli was a part, was fully made up of Holocaust survivors, largely orphans (Eli's father spent part of the war together with him, mining coal at Auschwitz) and almost exclusively religious.
The second group comprised children of Kibbutzim and Moshavim. Born in Israel, these natives were known as Sabras, named for the fruit of the indigenous cactus, which, while having a hard and prickly exterior, is soft inside and sweet to eat.
These Sabras belittled the newcomers, echoing their parents' arrogance, saying that the Jews of Europe went to their deaths because they refused to fight. They were sheep, led to the slaughter. Israelis, on the other hand, were of a different breed. They took nothing lying down — they stood up for themselves and for their rights.
And Eli swallowed this. It hurt. But he really came to believe that the Sabras were made of a different stuff. They fought back, and they won. They would not have gone to the gas chambers willingly.
Even in 1961, during the Eichmann trial, Eli maintained this position. He thus took little interest in the hearings. The testimonies only served to reinforce the idea of the weakness of European Jewry, who should have stood up and fought back, even against the odds, even in the face of mass cruelty. The heroes of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising in 1943, [supposedly] under the Zionist leadership of Mordechai Anilevich, were idealised. The Jewish leader who fought back!
I have known Eli for many years. Today, in his eightieth year, he is a big cynic. And justifiably. He held the short end of the stick too often. He need not have continued his narrative. I knew exactly what he was about to say. I really do know him well. I have heard many of his life stories, both in Europe and here in Israel. I hope to share more of these with you in the future.
"That all changed ..." The punchline was coming. I knew I didn't want to hear it, though I know his analysis is accurate.
"That all changed during the 1973 Yom Kippur War. The Soviet-backed Syrian army overran the Israeli position on Mount Hermon", the strategic high point between the two combatant forces. "And we, all of us here in Israel, and everyone throughout the entire world, saw it on television ... "superhuman" Israeli soldiers, armed with the best, most sophisticated weaponry in the world, were led off ... their hands behind their heads, exactly the same way we were."
When I sat down to write this afternoon, my intention was to end this story here.
But Eli said something else a few moments later, seemingly a new conversation. I want to share this too.
"We just finished Pesach", he stated. "Why were the Children of Israel enslaved by the Egyptians?" It was a rhetorical question. He immediately responded, "Because they came to the Diaspora, and they settled down and they were comfortable, and they enjoyed themselves in this Galuth. Life was good. It was great!
"And they forgot that the Land of Israel was where they should be. They simply forgot to return home.
"This is exactly what happened in Europe. The ḥazan would tearfully intone, 'Because of our sins we were separated from our Land ...' Then we would all go home and repast in a very festive mood."
And Menachem adds, "and, very regretably, this is still occurring today!"
Menachem Kuchar, 25th March, 2009
29th Adar 5769
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