More on the Shministim's tour:
The two visiting Israeli women who refused to serve in the army spoke at NYU last night. I ran into a woman whom I’d gone to Gaza with on the elevator. We sat together, and I told her about my plan to visit Israel. I feel a need to go see my family friend who moved there a long time ago and talk the situation over. "I’m in the Jewish community the way you’re in the Episcopalian community," I said, "and she’s a better Jew than I am." I saw Terry’s face fall, and I felt pathetic. "Is that ridiculous?" "Not ridiculous emotionally. Though it is ridiculous on its face." Well I meant that my parents' friend was religious and had raised her children as Jews. Still I could see Terry was disturbed by my comment, that it expressed some self-loathing.
The two women who spoke to the packed house were named Netta Mishly and Maya Wind--though they didn’t use their last names. Netta was dark and Maya was blonde, and both were impressive, having the moral vigor of youth. Now I know what it is like to be a middle aged fading person and see a young person who has seized the world and understands it. That was Maya. She has an angular face. She was educated in religious schools, with many settlers in her class, she grew up having playdates in outposts and settlements, routinely. Netta, privileged, from Tel Aviv, was a little more gray-area and emotive.
They did not dwell on their personal stories. They are using their visit to educate people about the conflict, and the dispossession of the Palestinians. On this score they were eloquent and ferocious, showing maps of partition and of checkpoints and settlements. The usual grisly horror, rendered by morally-energetic young people. Though in Israel Maya said that even referring to the occupation is a “bad, evil word that only antisemites use.”
For me this was the theme of the talk, how isolated these young women are. They are in a militarized society in which everyone serves, in which people look forward to serving. When Netta was 15, her class had been taken to a shooting range to try out guns and she had refused because she just didn’t want to--even when people said, you will have to get used to it in another three years anyway-- and the school gave her a demerit for not taking “part in a social event.”
Everyone they know has served. Their grandparents, their fathers, their uncles. Netta had gone to her own father’s release ceremony from the Reserves. “It’s all very personal.” And everyone their age is a soldier; and they are thought to be soldiers too, until they are asked what their role is in the army, and they have to answer. That is the way life is understood. And Maya said that her real punishment had not been jail-- no, jail had actually brought her family together, gotten her mother to respect her choice—it had been the feeling of isolation in Israel society. She feels she can never be an ordinary person.
Both women were declared mentally unfit. That was the only category the army had for them, after they had gone to jail for two weeks for not serving. Very Yossarianish. And the women are in support groups, because there are so few people like them in Israeli society.
When I go to events like this, I also feel less isolated. I realize that my views are not extreme within my religious community, that I am not a nut. I had the impression that both women were for the right of return, for instance, and Nancy Kricorian of Code Pink, in pink clogs, introduced them, and Code Pink has shown incredible unapologetic leadership here.
So I felt a Jewish solidarity with the women in the brave new world of Jewish identity that we are building. Netta said that she loves being an Israeli but does not want to be a patriot, and that her worst encounters were with American Jews with their Israel patriotism. "It is realy hard and really painful," she said, "and sometimes I even cry," when people criticize her for not caring about Israel, when their only connection to Israel is the Star of David on their neck. And meanwhile through the lobby--a word she didn’t use--they are exercising some kind of "control" of Israeli policy. Yes, Netta, it's about dual loyalty, and the parallel mental/policy universe it creates.
Maya also spoke of Jewish identity. The Israeli narrative is a Jewish narrative: "The world realy hates the Jews.” And this “victim mentality [is one] that a lot of us have a hard time shaking off.” There is a “basic distrust of people who are not Jews… certainly Arabs and Palestinians.”
I can relate to all of that. The basic distrust of people who are not Jews. It is why the lobby exists, we cannot trust the gentiles with making policy in this area. It is why it is taking me years to figure out my Jewish identity, in some degree of isolation, with a self-hatred that has nothing to do with hating Jews, but, like these women, struggling with excommunication.