Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Arrogantly Sympathetic

Sometimes the truth you knew when you were younger really is the truth after all. Sometimes, in growing up, it is not clarity that comes but a blurred vision caused by the twists life takes you on. I had that feeling recently listening to a man speaking at a conference. I'd known him in his youth, was dazzled by his intelligence and his commitment to the same causes I hold dear. He was a mover and a shaker; someone who got things done. He traveled to Russia, to Ethiopia, and far beyond. He flew on President's planes and interviewed kings.

He reminded me of the Harry Chapin song about the sun and the moon. In those early years, David was the sun, shining bright with ideas and thoughts. I was madly in love with the man I would marry but I enjoyed working with David and I believed in his abilities and motivations. For a few years, we were a great team, working on important projects with Jewish college students around the country. I left the job and a while later had a baby. David continued to move upwards and onward. He moved to Israel and became connected with politicians and editors, senators and ambassadors and presidents. I was busy with my family, having children and watching them grow.

I found my direction and I think he lost his. David returned to live in the United States, where he thinks great thoughts, plans great plans, maps out great maps...all on a plain that exists in his mind. He came to Israel, to the President's Conference as a guest, to speak on a panel about tomorrow. I stood quietly on the side of the room, shielded by the darkened room while David sat on the podium in the light. I thought of asking him a question in front of everyone but decided I would instead simply go up to him at the end. He doesn't have a clue, I thought to myself so many times. This is all an academic exercise to him. He thinks the difference in the sides is so minor; that it's all about the lines on his precious maps.

He drops names with the expectation that we will be impressed. He told President Abbas this; some other leader that. He believes; he knows; he thinks. And yet, it isn't his life, his country, his battle, his son. I stood there quietly remembering the boy he was; the dreams he had. He would have led us all to Israel, and we would have followed. I know how I got to where I am, living where I do. I don't really understand how he got to where he is now and how the boy he was lives within the man he is now.

He recognized me immediately and that was nice. He said my name, at least the name it was before I married - in the same tone of the young man I knew. We should get together - and I handed him my business card and he handed me his. But I doubt we ever will. We live in different worlds, it seems.

Most importantly, I didn't get a chance to tell him that he was wrong, in so many ways. During his comments, he was speaking about me - but he didn't know it. He kept talking about me, about how my life was on hold and I just couldn't move forward until he and the politicians in the US and Israel found a peace settlement that would work. I am a settler, you see; or so he thinks. All that I am, all that I have done in my life seems nothing compared to where I live.

My life is on hold? If I could have laughed about that alone, I would have. I have made three weddings, two engagement parties, a bar mitzvah and a bat mitzvah in the last five years! I have adopted precious additions to our family, become a grandmother for the first time. I sold a house and bought another. Sold a car and bought two more and with all the changes in my life in the last five years alone, I anticipate that much more, God willing, in the next five years to come. Isn't this living?

I have a business that I have worked more than a decade to build and hosted national conferences every year. I'm getting closer and closer to celebrating 30 years of marriage to the same man that I fell in love with when I was 17 years old. I am a person, David, and you are wrong to judge me by where I live. My life is so much more than a speck on the maps you flashed on the wall. And, if you are correct, that a person should be judged by where he lives and not what he has done in his life - what does that say about you and where you make your home?

From distant shores, David has created maps of my homeland, of lines but not people; of cities and towns, but not lives. He's offered his suggestions for this peace he dreams of. The settlers, he kept saying, the settlers. Me, I kept thinking...me. Finally, one man on the panel, Naftali Bennet, responded for all of us by saying, "We aren't settlers; we are people."

Beyond the settlers and the "in limbo" comment, there was one other that surprised me.. It was when my friend David tried to explain his reasons for doing what he does by saying, "I'm sympathetic to Israel."

It was said as part of a response to a question - quickly passed over by many. Afterwards, a few people tried to remind me of the years David had lived in Israel; and more importantly, of the young man I remembered from so long ago. I wish I could buy into it; but I can't. Sympathetic?

I spoke to someone who also knew David from those earlier years - listen to the word he used, I told the other man. Listen. How would you describe yourself? A lover of Israel; a friend of Israel; pro-Israel...I would never use the word sympathetic to Israel...who needs his sympathy?

Yes, the other person agreed. It was a strange term to use. It is a diplomat's term; a politician; perhaps a journalist of a foreign country; perhaps a thinker of strategies for global concerns. Sympathetic. This boy who dreamed of Israel and sang in Hebrew and gave such beautiful speeches is sympathetic.

The word haunts me more than the maps he designed. They are, after all, meaningless. He's met President Abbas...does he really think Abbas will ever make peace with Israel? Does he really believe his maps will ever be taken seriously? And does he believe that 200,000 or 250,000 Jews living in these many settlements are living in limbo, doing nothing while we wait for him and for others to find the solution for us?

No, that doesn't bother me - that is the arrogance of academics who think great plans and draw silly maps on lines that have no meaning. What lingers in my mind was the single admission that he is no longer a lover of Zion, but a sympathizer of Israel.

As the days go by and I think about how he spoke, I too am filled with sympathy, not for Israel, a land I love beyond words, but for the boy I knew before he grew into the man he is.



3 comments:

shlomo said...

This was incredibly well written and right on the mark.Obviously,David,isn't the only friend we have that has "undergone this change."
But,I really believe David underneath it all,is still the same David, and in his own way,I assume, he thinks he is doing his bit for "Am Yisrael."You might call it wishful thinking,but I do not believe we all misjudged the guy who was always in the forefront of helping the fight to release Soviet Jewry as well as other battles he was involved in.

Batya said...

Arrogant is the word to describe him, even autistically arrogant, because he couldn't relate to people as human beings. Babbling about numbers, ignoring humanity. How pathetic.

Paula, that was an excellent article. A few years ago I wrote sadly about the friend who had introduced me to Zionism which was Very Hard For Me. At least my old friend later gave me a call. We disagree on policy, but he's a mensch.

Anonymous said...

An expression of sympathy, if it is not an outright falsehood, reflects an emotion, a chemical state that exists only in the brain of the speaker. Sympathy is not an action word; not a term of behavior. Sympathy is the term used by someone who is preparing to ignore your situation and let human nature run its course.

"I sympathize with your situation," always leaves out the predicate, "but my hands are tied."

Zalman Lachman

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