The privilege to choose where you’re murdered for being a Jew

A reaction from a lot of Americans (including the State Department, apparently): “You can always come here.”

I do feel guilt and appreciation around this, rooted in the well-meaningness and love of my friends and family; I understand how irresponsible? selfish? it might seem: “You have American passports. You can always come on a plane and have a place to go. You’ll never need asylum treatment. Just come… back.”

There are two things I’d like to explain.

I grew up so American. Individualism! Independence! Success! Rights! Our culture breeds us for personal empowerment, and that’s deeply-seated in American history and lifestyle.

That’s not a judgement call, it just is.

So when I moved to Israel, I also moved to a different take on society and life. A collectivist one. And this isn’t a political statement. In general, Jews are inherently, always, going to be and act as part of a bigger picture. Often, we have no choice in the matter.

And, hey, if that means our gas prices are regulated and my taxes are 30% of my income (and I get great healthcare), so be it. It’s the life we subscribe to because there’s another side to that collectivist coin: Shared experience.

Shared experience – a circle of life that is, at its core, somewhat uniform. In a Jewish way, in a societal values way, in a lifecycle way.

I chose that, and I’m fulfilled living this way.

So I wouldn’t leave because I have a job here, as one of many. A job to be part of the greater picture. When bad things happen here, we rally. There’s no ‘i’. It’s baked into our society, values, history. (I wholly acknowledge American Jews are fantastic at this – I was raised on these strong values throughout my American Jewish, especially yeshiva day school, upbringing. Hey, that’s why I’m here.)

So when something horrific happens here, everyone does this mental checklist: Are we in a safe location, with goods and services and security? Yes. Now: Look to our left, look to our right. What needs to be done? Volunteer: Our time, our homes, our money, our food, our blood. Our tears.

A week ago, our country was an utter political mess; I darkly joked the only thing that will save us is a complete disaster from our enemies. (By the way, I feel similarly about the US).

Now? Now we’ve activated the agreement we enter in a society like this. Tens of thousands of displaced people are relocated in families’ homes around the country. Anyone with a therapy background is called to be of service to the thousands of children and their parents and grandparents who are traumatized. The civilians are organizing tactical equipment and more for the hundreds of thousands of under-supplied reservists who packed duffels and left home immediately when called on Saturday. Children are baking cakes and cookies for anyone waiting on a base for what’s ahead.

I would not abandon my part in that willingly.

…Then, there’s a second thing.

I never hide this, or shy from it. I’ve said it openly again and again on these pages:

I made aliyah to throw myself in with Jewish destiny.

I made aliyah to throw myself in with the majority of the world’s Jewish population.

I made aliyah to be a piece of this bigger history, the continuation of everything we’ve endured and a trigger for everything we have yet to endure.

I made aliyah because in this modern age, I have the privilege of choosing where I can be murdered for being a Jew.

As things unfolded last Shabbat – as detail after grim detail came into focus, what struck me hard, deep, and irrevocably is this:

I have spent my entire life – every since, at minimum, first grade – wondering when the Holocaust happens next. I had recurring nightmares throughout grade school about it. I’d daydream about what I’d do, how I’d make it. Look, most of us did.

Collectivist trauma. Hey, I wrote my thesis about it.

Growing up in the third generation (even without direct survivor grandparents) we were surrounded by the stories, the tattoos, the what ifs. We’d look around places and wonder where we’d hide. We’d make the darkest jokes – we’re really, really good at that. Because they’re really, really real.

But this always felt like training. I was (and am) a really, really morbid kid. What last Shabbat morning did for me is this, more than anything else: Confirm actual thoughts I’ve had over the last couple decades. Of how I would be attacked. How I would be kidnapped. How I would be raped. How I would be killed. How I would do my best to struggle before they’d get my kids.

I’d think about this staring at my window at the forest that covered the green line across my street. I’d think about this walking alone at night to take out the trash. I’d think about it constantly.

I never talked about it out loud except for dark jokes, because, well, I thought I was crazy. Paranoid New Yorker. Paranoid Jew. Hyper sensitive. Morbid AF. Go get your head checked, freak. Try taking anxiety medication.

At my life’s halfway point, ~80 years after the Holocaust ended, I now have to reckon with the fact that I was right; it was possible all along.

My insane thoughts are validated.

Welcome to another three Jewish generations who are going to grow old with this fucked up worldview. (Has there been any Jewish generation that hasn’t?)

At least this time, we have the privilege of choosing where we are murdered for being Jews – and the chance to fend off our killers.

Funeral of Hayim Katsman, z"l






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