Galilee Diary: The Only Thing We Have to Fear
…Be strong and of good courage; be not frightened, neither be dismayed; for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.
A few days before our recent election for county executive, an anonymous "food for thought" letter made the email rounds, pointing out that a third of the voters in our county are Bedouins, and they have a 90% voting rate; the Jewish communities have at best a 60% rate. There were two Jewish candidates and one Bedouin (known to be seriously under-qualified). Thus, assuming all Bedouins would vote for the Bedouin out of ethnic loyalty, if the Jewish voters divided their votes between the two Jewish candidates, the Bedouin might well win. It was clear that the letter meant to scare Jews into voting for the incumbent; we can only hope that he had nothing to do with the letter. In the end, not surprisingly, 80% of the vote in the Bedouin villages went to the two Jewish candidates. But we are used to the political uses of fear, which aways reaches new heights (or depths) as we approach national elections – fear of Iran, of Islam, of Palestinians, of "infiltrators" from Sudan, of the ultra-Orthodox, of the two-state solution, of the one-state solution, of a world which "wants all the Jews dead."
At the same time, I met a new immigrant to the Galilee, looking for a community in the region that was not too urban but not too rural. I suggested the quiet, green town of Tivon, near Haifa. "I thought of that," she said, "but then I heard about the cancer cluster there. I was also considering Nahariyah, until I found out about the asbestos there." I elected not to tell her about the impending Bedouin takeover of our county(!), or of the air and water pollution originating in the Haifa Bay industrial zone, or of the hundred-year earthquake for which we are overdue, or about the thousands of rockets sitting in launchers in Lebanon, aimed at where we were sitting, or about the accident rate on our local country roads.
In 2008 I wrote to Jessica Hentoff, the director of Circus Harmony youth circus in St. Louis, to suggest that she bring a delegation of kids to Israel during the summer for a joint workshop/tour with our Jewish-Arab circus. She wrote that Israel was too dangerous, and she would be afraid to bring children, including her own, here. Then, some weeks later, she wrote that a grandmother, in her 80s, had enrolled in a trapeze class, which led her to rethink her fears, and to accept our invitation. (And after all, circus is all about overcoming fear).
Fear is of course a useful instinct; it evolved in our nervous systems in order to keep us alive. However, when fear takes over our decision-making processes, it can cripple us and distort our lives and our values, and prevent us from being what we can be, from doing what needs to be done. Hence it is easily exploited, used to manipulate and control – because, really, you never know… Food for thought.
Part of the image of the "New Jew" that arose in the course of the Zionist revolution involved shedding the pale, cowering, powerless, always-persecuted image of the "Old Jew," in favor of toughness, strength, self-reliance, self-defense, and courage. "Never again like sheep to the slaughter." The New Jew would conquer his enemies, drain the swamps, build a nation, stand up to the world. Fearlessly. And indeed, so it came to pass.
And yet. Here we are with a sovereign state, a powerful army, a strong economy, "start-up nation," having proved to the world and ourselves that we are afraid of nothing – yet our public discourse is still driven and defined by fear; there is always some "existential threat" du jour: Arabs will buy houses and take over our neighborhoods or at least kidnap our daughters; the Bedouins will take over the county government, the ultra-Orthodox will take away our freedoms, the African refugees will undermine the Jewish majority, Ahmedinejad will blow us away… Is all the toughness of the past century really just a cover, while inside we continue to tremble at every tabloid headline?
It seems you can take the Jew out of exile, but you can't take the exile out of the Jew.