I can be quite OCD regarding the minutia of my routines. Eggs must be done just right, toast browned to within a narrow margin, and topping spread evenly to impossibly exacting standards.
Behind this orderly regimen, the cacophony of the morning news prepares me for the chaos of the day. Out of the morass of traffic and sports boredom suddenly spills a sound that immediately pulls me in. Hatikvah, the Israeli national anthem, floats in as my egg gurgles in a rolling boil.
The news briefly covers a demo – a small group of Israeli supporters chant Hatikvah in protest of a UN resolution to recognize the Palestinians. The song is sombre but hopeful, indeed it translates as “The Hope”. It is a melody I learned very young, sang in school (parochial) as often as O Canada, and its melancholic timbre has always moved me. I look down at my bowl of morning kibble as a rush of thoughts run through my head.
Growing up, I never gave much thought to the bowls I scarfed my Froot Loops from. They were flowery and feminine and 70’s in a way that evoked macrame and sturdy sandals. Their crafty, cottage-made homeyness clashed with the clean, sophisticated glam of the 80’s. But their time would come again.
They became a gift from my mother years later upon my return from sufficient time overseas for their retro-ness to fully mature. Infused now with childhood nostalgia and associations to a past largely recalled happier than it in reality it was; they struck just he right note of personal history. A minor morning practice was now imbued with a romantic sense of the passage of time.
But ultimately they are things of the past and as such, must fall to the force of entropy. There is only one left; my grip on that sentiment each morning is perched on the abyss.
Sung poorly by a street mob, but improved by my recollection and familiarity, Hatikvah is to me achingly beautiful. It never fails to stop me when I chance to hear it. Its mournful cadence tells of the necessary and beautiful dream of a place Jews could be safe. It emerged from a time before Israel, when Jews were run out of town, dealt with when unavoidable, but abused and blamed whenever possible. This history is bound up in the longing of Hatikvah.
I never knew of a time when there was no Israel. My parents escaped much of the horror of the Holocaust, but my family suffered directly. My aunt and grandfather were burned alive in a synagogue.
For my parents, the dream of a land for Jews is of a place where that will never happen again, moreover, that it will never happen again anywhere.
My parents feel something toward Israel I do not. A world without Israel is too terrible for them to imagine. They know that people turn against out-groups like Jews all the time and without a refuge, the Jews’ turn could easily once again come.
I know that while it is my never having known the need for Israel that gives me the extra comfort in pointing out its sins, it is their desperate need for it that necessitates their pardoning them. And those sins are piling up. This is the generational divide between us that shapes our conflicting worldview.
Long years of bulldozing homes, segregating walls, expropriating land, occupation, assassination, and arguably apartheid, form a long list of charges that do not at all negate the ever valid need for Israel, but call into question what this thing, Israel, has become.
The oppressed and murdered have truly come full circle to become the murdering oppressors. Most Jews know that despite all the half hearted bluster of officials, the intention is to ethnically cleanse the occupied areas. Many state it openly.
The level of cynicism in public discourse of this is ludicrous. Israel unilaterally breaks a ceasefire, kills civilians and assassinates a government official, yet the President of the United States responds that Israel should be able to defend itself. Canada petulantly recalls its ambassador, if only to highlight its irrelevance.
I can still see the heroic Moshe Dayan astride a jeep in the desert during the six day war on the cover of a large format magazine in my grandmother’s apartment. It was from a time when a nascent Israel defended itself from a circumference of aggressors. This romantic and heroic image has been replaced with F-16 and helicopter gunship assaults on civilians. It’s become impossible to manage the two conflicting views.
Hatikvah’s mournful strains pray for a land for a landless people and the collective dream of refuge from the world’s persecutions. The idyllic fantasy of hard work making the desert bloom is imagery trampled, overwritten by occupation.
Theocracy, apartheid and ethnic cleansing is not what Hatikvah means to me. Hatikvah is the last fading artifact of a time lost to history. It is everything Israel was meant to be. Those fading notes have become nearly impossible for me to hear now, and when this bowl breaks will I remember what it meant?