So I was recently briefly stumped by a friend, who told me a story about home improvements and the relationship between Israel and the Diaspora.
Her husband was away on a work trip, and she decided she was going to paint the outside of the house. It’s not a simple job to paint the outside of your house. You need to scrape off the original layer of paint, you need to fill in cracks and stuff, you need to gather all the right equipment, and most importantly for a woman in Israel – you have to convince the blokes at the hardware store to sell you what you need even though you’re a woman.
She worked like crazy. She probably looked fairly mad to onlookers. Middle aged woman up a ladder scraping and smoothing, painting and getting painted. But she did, as she told me, a “damned good job”.
Her husband came home, she took him outside, and he looked up at the whole painted house. He stood there in silence, nodding. Then he pointed up to the corner of the back of the house, where the wall meets the roof.
“You missed a bit,” he said.
As she later hastened to explain to me: He was right. She had missed a bit. But that didn’t help. It took weeks of groveling on his part for her to forgive him.
Where’s the analogy? Diaspora Jewry behaves this way towards Israel. Israel’s not perfect. Okay. We know that. But where does Diaspora Jewry get off, only concentrating on the bits we missed, and not offering some kind of praise for what we’ve achieved? Her husband’s thoughtless comment wasn’t untrue, but it was hugely damaging for their relationship.
Israel is an incredible achievement. It only takes a tiny act of imagination to picture the state of the world’s Jewry in the first half of the 20th Century, and then to wander around Israel with your mouth agape. I moan about the traffic, I hate the buses, and the trains are less and less reliable, but Jesus, who thought we Jews would ever be laying roads and running national public transportation systems? And so much more.
In short, my friend’s story of the house painting stuck with me for some time. It gave me a different paradigm to assess things. Me, who’d been so big on encouraging, nay liberating Jews around the world to critique Israel, I fell silent a while.
I found a little “but” beginning to nudge its way into my mind.
To come back to the house analogy. What if the husband had noticed the unpainted corner and had said nothing? What if he’d just hugged her and praised her and talked her up to all his friends for weeks to come? And then, at some appropriate moment, he’d mentioned – nicely – that there was still a corner left to be done. And what if she’d responded quickly with, “Yeah, you’re right. I’ll get to it.”
What happens over 30 years later, and she didn’t get to it, and the corner is still lacking paint and sealing? The husband’s getting restless, the wife is just pissed off with him nagging, and in the meantime that corner is letting in water. When there’s a storm they have to lay out pans to catch the dripping inside the house. Experts are telling them that the damp is spreading and could endanger the entire outer wall. And her only response is that they don’t know what they’re talking about?
In 1967 the world’s Jewry did not respond to the victory of the 6 Day War as snooty nit-pickers. They celebrated along with everyone else. The critique was by no means immediate, nor was the praise grudging. But gradually the fly in the ointment, the population that came with the new territories, just got too difficult to ignore. As Levi Eshkol said at the time, “The wedding was a great success. We love the bride, we just don’t like the dowry…” In celebrating the reunification of the Jews with the bride of biblical lands, we just kept ignoring the dowry – the Palestinians.
Work in the realm of Israel engagement is sometimes like dropping your kids off at that couple’s house. The house is in a bad state, and the parents can’t stop bitching at each other…