Of life in the shtetl; Tevye had a point

A fiddler on the roof…
it sounds crazy.
But here,
in our little village of Anatevka,
you might say every one of us…
is a fiddler on the roof.

Before I lived here in Israel, I lived in a tight-knit Jewish shtetl called New York.

Trying to scratch out
a pleasant, simple tune
without breaking his neck.

To narrow that down, I was part of a small Jewish community within a small section of a small New York City borough. Maybe this would all be different if I had actually grown up in Brooklyn.

We were a mish mash of lost and found souls – who has never been lost, who doesn’t desire to be found? – and one thing we all had in common was, I suppose, a sense of Jewish tradition. It’s how we got there and it’s why most of us stayed as long as we did.

And how do we keep our balance?
That I can tell you in one word:

A friend randomly sent me the Fiddler on the Roof clip today; I suppose you’ve guessed which one by now. It must be a decade and a half since I last watched the movie or heard the soundtrack, but while I was a kid, my family was kind of obsessed with it. For a family growing into some new traditions of its own, I guess it really spoke to us. Or maybe that’s looking at it too deeply; maybe it was just another exciting part of being a minority finding pop culture that fit so perfectly.

Maybe it was because we also totally had the butcher; the mikvah; the Judaica shop.

But after I watched the Tradition scene today, I felt something I haven’t felt in nearly nine years of living here, in Israel, in a paradise Tevye only dreamed about, if he could dream past becoming a wealthy man.

I felt nostalgia and longing for Diaspora. A sense of loss, a sense of missing out.

The strong sense that living as an outsider is the ultimate way to stay true on your inside.

Halacha and tradition came easier there, in the shtetl, surrounded by the majority. Ok, we’re talking about New York, not pre (or post) World War Russia here, and I haven’t forgotten the end of the play.

But… still. In our kind of modern, safe shtetl, explaining holiday schedules to your boss was a pain; declining edible treats from college classmates was awkward; never quite understanding Christmas while watching TV was odd.

We don’t bother them,
and they don’t bother us.

But it made everything else so much more… inclusive. We belonged, to ourselves.

Yes, of course, there were major downsides to the ‘shtetl mentality’ – why do you think I left?

However, Israel is the biggest shtetl there is, surrounded by the largest majority that could be. Together, all seven-something million of us, we certainly have moments when we laugh, we cry, we bicker, we build, we live.

As intimate as it can get here, it’s not as intimate as the shtetl I knew, the outsider’s shtetl, based on local traditions, based on the narrowed-down group of insiders you cast your lot with.

Traditions, traditions.
Without our traditions,
Our lives would be as shaky as…
as a fiddler on the roof!

Simply put, I kind of miss it.


Don’t you forget about me (what it’s like to not hear from you during Israel crises)

I’m hurting. And frustrated. I don’t want to put anyone down. I’m not trying to guilt anyone into feeling anything. I just have an honest question to ask.

Why is that I feel… forgotten, or isolated by peeps from abroad?

I guess by ‘I’ I’m actually referring to people who live in Israel. People. Not government.

I’m having trouble clearly expressing it, as I’ve been attempting to discern my issues on Twitter for the last half hour. Here’s a breakdown:

Things I know:

  • Many diaspora Jews have a complicated relationship with Israel.
  • Many diaspora Jews have no relationship with Israel.
  • Many people in general have no relationship with world news.
  • Most people tend to veer on the side of blissfully ignorant, not interested in news, fatigued by Middle East crap, unable to commit to siding with Israel, frustrated by Israeli hell-raising, and most of all – just plain busy with their own lives.
  • Every one has their own set of priorities worked out. There’s only room for so much.
  • [UPDATED] The crises are simply… not reported by mainstream media abroad.

Things I feel:

  • Up until now, I’ve managed my expectations where they are pretty low when it comes to people abroad and how they relate to Israel, and to me in Israel.
  • Something spurred a new set of feelings in the last week of Gaza rocket attacks, which have been going on for 12 years. I think that ‘something’ is related to how utterly devastated I felt when Hurricane Sandy hit my hometown, home state, mother country. How helpless and frustrated I felt, how disconnected and painful it was.
  • Maybe now I’ve finally come around; if that was so hard for me, isn’t the pain and anguish going on here at all – a fraction – meaningful to people I’m connected to abroad?
  • And I’m learning the answer is a resounding no… like I said above, people are busy, fatigued, blissfully ignorant, uninterested.
  • And is this something we should/need to change?
  • [UPDATED] I feel bad making it sound like I need love and support, but… it’s not easy living here. And if some of us didn’t come across the bridge, what would be left for the people who never will?

I think, bottom  line, my issue is that people I know, have known, people I love don’t seem in the know enough or concerned enough to reach out to friends in Israel. Personally. As an interested friend. I understand feeling complicated by Israel, feeling uncomfortable with the default connection between Jew -> Israel, feeling uneasy or angry about the violence – but it’s that personal touch between people that has disappeared… or become lacking… or something.

The personal connection many olim feel, straddling two countries, is fading, perhaps. Are folks back in the old country deep down angry I live here? Unable to break down what it means to have a friend live, and somehow default-support this complicated situation?

Anyone else feel this way? Disagree with me? Think I’m just whining and should go back to living my own hectic Israeli life?