All Jews should become Israeli citizens
We, at the RDJ, don’t agree with this point of view. But the triple identity of that author (Italian, American and French) make the whole text challenging… and therefore quite worthy of publishing.
If we Jews want to exist and be significant, we have to understand first that there is a Jewish State with Jerusalem as the capital city. We are no longer a wandering people of the desert or of the Diaspora. We are Jews with our own country, where there are politicians, rabbis, professors, artists, doctors, workers, shopkeepers, sailors, actors, singers, dancers, lawyers, soldiers, peasants, all Jews and Israeli citizens.
Israel is a country menaced by many hostile nations, with many detractors and with some friends. Often even Jews from the Diaspora disapprove of Israelis for their politics, for their army and for their belligerent activities. However, our children all over the world should develop a sense of duty and become soldiers in Israel, when they come of age and when it is required.
All Jews should have the same fears and hopes for their children. Does this mean that all the Jews should leave their homes in the diaspora and establish themselves in Israel? Maybe not for their entire lives, but certainly for a bit of time. Jews might consider sending their children to Israel for their “gap year”, a formative period of their lives. .
Jews might disagree with Israeli politics as long as they consider themselves Israelis. But is it dangerous for all Jews to belong to the same nation or have the same passport? The fact is that for some 2000 years Jews imply more a religion, a moral law, printed books, a synagogue and an oral tradition of a “people of a nation”. Jews were obliged in recent times during the Nazi regime to wear a yellow star on their jackets impressed the word Juden or Juif. Now Jews can be proud to be Israeli citizens and can speak their own language Hebrew and read newspapers written in Hebrew.
Hebrew is spoken on television and on the radio. This is a radical change for a people who were only able to become prominent citizens in the country, where they were residents and where they lived and could obtain full citizenship. They speak and write well in a number of their adopted languages. Conrad, a Polish Jew, became a major English writer, Canetti, Musil, Zweig or Kafka wrote in German and Bellow, Mailer and Roth in English. Svevo, Moravia and Bassani wrote in Italian. Sabato wrote in Spanish. Proust was one of the major French writers of his time. Each one of these writers was inextricably linked to his language and culture. Hebrew was once only the language for reading prayers. Thus Roth, Appelfeld, Oz, Grossman, Levitt, Wiesel, Glucksmann, Piperno, Levy are all Jewish writers writing in different languages and more recently even in Hebrew. They should all be Israeli citizens.
Jews may always appear as citizens of the country where they went to school or where they reside, but they always know that they are a minority and that they are different because they are Jews. I will not use this occasion to elaborate on the many prejudices that exist and always have vis-à-vis the Jews.
If my mother language is Italian, French, English, Spanish, Russian, German, Polish or Rumanian, why should I become a Hebrew speaking Israeli? Because the world changed 62 years ago and Israel became the State of the Jews. This utopian idea, became a reality, sometimes dangerous, sometimes exciting. How could a Jew ignore the fact that his country, the country of his ancestors, the country from which he has been exiled for two millennia is ruled once again by Jews?
Most Jews might not want to leave aside the status they have acquired in the diaspora and abandon their work, but they have to understand that there is no other choice anymore. They have their own country, and if they so desire, they can have dual citizenship. If a Jew really wants to be a genuine Jew, he or she must become an Israeli. It may disturb the peace of Jews, who have lived happily for generations in their country, but something extraordinary and unexpected (maybe not always desired), has occurred – there is now the Jewish State of Israel.
I do not believe that this transformation should take place immediately, but it is a necessary step in order to to discourage the detractors and enemies of the Jews. If all Jews would really end up feeling a sense of being Israeli, they would become stronger, because they would be assuming their destiny. Of course this would imply loosing many advantages they have in their countries, especially the one of being different, strange, sometimes unique, and therefore the interesting one. Instead, one would become a Jew among other Jews with an Israeli passport, social security number and political party.
What I write is certainly not popular, because most people like to complain and also remain where they are. By nature people dislike and resist change. So, if I am Russian or French, why should I become Israeli? If I am a man from the north or the west, why should I become a citizen of the East? If my father and my grandfather were soldiers in Italy or in France, why should I become an Israeli soldier?
Jews suffered through a holocaust, the yellow star, the final solution in that very Europe where they were so well accepted and assimilated. It was that Europe where the ghettos were created and abolished, where Jews were killed in the millions and where only a small, brave, minority did something to try to stop it. Let us recall that there are still people among us, with a number tattooed on their arm, because they were dehumanized and turned into numbers to be killed. Jews might have disappeared forever. How can we forget all that? So even if Israelis are criticized, it is fortunate that they exist. It is their duty to fight for their security, for the right to be and for all Jews to live together – sensing their Israeli-ness, wherever they might live.
I write this because I am tired of being different, of being the only one, of praying by myself or of listening to other peoples’ prayers. I live in Italy, a country, where they call human beings Christians. What about the others? Nobody here knows about the Jewish holidays. Now it is true that until the existence of the State of Israel, there was no other choice but to be a minority sometimes tolerated and sometimes persecuted. But now, that we have a Jewish country, why not enjoy the pleasure of a full identity? I know it is difficult to change destiny, habits and country, but there is a big decision for Jews that must be taken. In other words, are we are only a monotheistic religion that awaits the Messiah or are we the people of a Nation? Are we Jews just as others are Greeks, Italians or Germans?
I believe that Jews were a people belonging to a nation with their own religion, laws and language. Then they were dispersed but kept their religion and their tradition in the family and in the synagogue. With the creation of the State of of Israel, things have changed and we have become a people with a country and a language. Obviously, it is not very simple to fully comprehend the idea of being Jews and Israeli, since for some 2000 years, we are used to being only Jews. I repeat that I do not believe we should all live in Israel, but we should all be Israelis.
It is very important to imagine one future and the way we should position ourselves in the world. Some Jews will wish to be a religion and a tradition and will choose not to be Israelis, but personally I believe they will be a minority. Our enemies and detractors would respect us more, were we united in the idea that Israel and Jew is one and the same thing. As the oldest monotheistic people, we deserve respect. We Jews should be proud of our tradition, history and our place in world. The world of today is humanly weak because it has invested too much effort in technology, science, hollidays and making money. Real values appear to be absent and everything has become immediate, fast, thin, quick, young, healthy, easy and comfortable. Only fanatics maintain a vision of the world, employing tactics of power, murder and fear, all in name of God.
Since the II World War America has been the only real friend of the Jews. I remember well an incident in which two old Jews were arguing half in Hungarian and half in Yiddish in a New York City laundramat. I asked to one of them ” Where are you from? “, he answered surprised ” What do you mean? We are Americans “. Why might an American citizen, successful, respected in his country and quietly enjoying life in his city, feel as an Israeli citizen just because he is Jewish? Perhaps he or she might recall that there has never been a Jewish president in the United States, whereas Shimon Peres is the president of the State of Israel.
Why should someone who lives simply and happily in California or in Boston suddenly feel Israeli? He should because he is a Jew, and in Israel there is a Jewish State based on Jewish principles. To be Jewish in Israel is not like being in a minority in a safe country, but is like being within a majority facing responsibilities and dangers. Intellectuals in the Diaspora consider they have the right as Jews, to criticize the Politics of the Israeli Prime Minister. If these intellectuals were Israeli citizens, they could vote against the Prime Minister and his party, they could fight for their opinions and eventually change the politics of Israel from the inside.
It is difficult for me to write this as I myself am a walking contradiction. I live between Italy and France and spend much time in the USA and other countries. I have both a French and an Italian passport, I act as the advisor to some prominent Italian politicians. As a journalist, I interview people for an Italian television, and as a novelist I write books in Italian. So where do I have the moral authority to incite Jews to become Israelis, if I myself do not renounce all my jobs and advantages in the Diaspora? Perhaps by writing this “pamphlet” I am beginning the process of committing myself to go to Israel, to change my life and to accept a Jewish life. Maybe bringing myself closer to my friends Appelfeld, Oz and Grossman I will feel home and be able to discuss with them on an equal basis about Israel, politics, literature, life, family, love, beauty, hotels, dreams, wishes, our past, our future, God, or many other human life concerns. Perhaps to live in Jerusalem would mean that I could assume a normal Jewish life and finally accept who I am. I do not believe that Israel should only represent the place, where I want to be buried. It is the place, where I should love, think and write.
Of course I will remain the New York born son of a French Jewish father and a north Italian Jewish mother, and an Italian writer committed to writing in the Italian language. For this reason I have written these pages in my neglected English, because I wanted to express my feelings vis-à-vis my condition of the Jew today in a sort of “Esperanto” language, that is not my Italian literary language or my Jewish Hebrew language.
In other words I just wanted to express my deeply personal feelings about the fact that a Jew can no longer exist without feeling, thinking and knowing that Israel is once again the country of Jews. A Jew who lives in Italy with an Italian passport is not in exile, he is there through choice. He can become an Israeli citizen at any moment and this can continue to change the destiny of the Jewish people after 2000 years of forced exile.
I do not know why, but I feel that Israelis will survive and thrive. They will eventually become a middle eastern country ruled by Jews, just as other nearby countries are ruled by Arabs. Eventually they will find a way forward to live together in peace. We should not forget that Jews were a people of the desert, that Abraham left home to go to desert. So why should we not return to our roots and our origins. Arabs, Jews and Christians will find a “modus Vivendi”. Obviously it will take time, and there will be more blood, even wars, but nevertheless we shall survive.
We should be very proud as Jews to have our country, and therefore we must support it and remain united. It is always a mistake to underline diversities. We have to respect our different traditions accumulated in the various countries of Diaspora, but consider them cultural heritage and cultural diversity. We should not resist these differences but rejoice in them.
Hear oh Israel, this is the way! But how can we make this commitment when we are involved in heavy responsibilities in various projects in other countries. It is said that Jews are intelligent, that we have produced great scholars, philosophers, writers, poets, lawyers, politicians and rabbis, I know it is difficult, but let us work together to find a way to be united as Jews, proudly and without fear. It is only a question of time before anti-Semitism is completely irradicated. We have a great opportunity to become a people like any other other people, with its own traditions and religion. Let us do this, but remember to do it as an Israeli, because Israel is once again the country of the Jews.
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