“Now Pop was gone and Danny was here. Or rather, he’d been here until a few minutes ago but now he was gone too … . Off to an alien land called Israel, which all of them knew existed and was where they somehow belonged, but which none of them could quite imagine.”
That’s from chapter 6 of Outtakes of a UFO Investigator, “The Dying of Anna Shapiro,” which I posted four weeks ago. I’ve just posted chapter 7, which I call “Israel August.” You can read it by clicking here, or on the picture at the end of this post.
The story is set 47 years ago, in the summer of 1966. Two years before that, I paid my first visit to Israel, which I drew upon in describing Danny Shapiro’s experiences. It was a different Israel from now, nearly half a century later. A different world.
A better world? More secure? Probably not. It’s a common distortion in our thinking: when a feared catastrophe doesn’t come to pass, we imagine in retrospect that it never really was a menace. In October 1962, well before we “lost our innocence” (whatever that was) with the Kennedy assassination, Vietnam, Watergate etc., civilization as we know it nearly went up in a mushroom cloud. Probably would have, if Nikita Khrushchev hadn’t backed down and removed the Soviet missiles from Cuba.
But it didn’t happen. Life went on as before. So we imagine the world was somehow safer back then. Truth is, it’s always been a pretty chancy place.
Yet it was a much larger world then, or smaller now. When you went away from home–as I did in 1964, as Danny does two years later–you were AWAY. Hard to imagine these days–when you can have an hour and a half conversation via Skype with friends on the other side of the world (as I did a few weeks ago) and feel like you’re sitting across the table from them in a local eatery. It’s hard now to imagine an era when a trans-Atlantic phone call was a major event. When an urgent message from the US to Israel–your mother is dying in the hospital, for example–would normally be conveyed by telegram.
Israel itself was more distant, vaguer, more remote. I don’t recall it as having been a place of any particular importance for most Americans. It wasn’t a major recipient of US aid–that began after the Six-Day War of 1967, and accelerated after the Yom Kippur War of 1973. Even those of us who were Jewish had no clear picture of it. Of course we were “for” Israel. But I don’t think we knew very much about it. It was “an alien land … which all of [us] knew existed and was where [we] somehow belonged, but which none of [us] could quite imagine.”
It was a Jewish country, right? Jews tend to be intellectual, right? So it must be a country on a high intellectual level–right? Imagine my shock, the first time I went to a movie theater in Tel Aviv, where they showed a preview of some insanely moronic Jerry Lewis film and Jerry’s dumbest antics had the audience in stitches.
People there wouldn’t have any patience, would they, for the inanities of American rock ‘n roll? How could I answer when asked by Israeli teenagers, in tones of absolute reverence, Raeeta et Elvees?–“Have you seen Elvis?” It was a serious question. Coming from America, how could I fail to have seen their idol at one time or another?
I remember the shock and disilllusion when I conveyed that I didn’t care too much for Mr. Presley or his music. I had spoken blasphemy. I don’t think they quite believed it possible–that an American could be capable of disliking Elvis.
Those Israeli kids are in their 60s now. They have to cope, as they didn’t a half-century ago, with the awareness that much of the world demonizes them and their country, as ignorantly as naive American Jews like me once idealized them. This is the pain of Israel–that it’s so hard to absorb what Danny’s friend Yitzhak Vered tries to explain to him in the current chapter. “Israel is not a country of–holy saints, Mr. Danny. Israel is a country. Just like any other country.”
No better, no worse.
Or, as I put it in a so far unpublished novel called The October Man, set in Israel in the mid-1970s: “They are good people, for the most part. But they often act badly because they’re caught up against their will in a war everyone hates but no one knows how to stop.”
The war’s still going on. It’s changed shape since the 1960s and 70s, but it’s still raging, still ruining lives. And still no one knows how to stop it.
Now they’re giving peace another try. The current “they” are Tzipi Livni and Yitzhak Molcho for the Israelis, Saeb Erakat and Mohammad Shtayyeh for the Palestinians. Godspeed–and God’s wisdom–to them all.
by David Halperin
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I’ll be taking a break from blogging for the month of August. I’ll be back the first week of September, with chapter 8 of Outtakes of a UFO Investigator–and then back to my weekly posts, on UFOs, religion, or any other subject about which I think I have something to say that’s worth hearing. See you then!