Sunday, March 14, 2004

Once upon a time some goatherders had an argument...

Author, translator, and expat, Nidra Poller has been living in Paris since she left the US ("a homeland I would have liked to keep at a distance, visit with pleasure, and leave with relief") in 1972. Her children and grandchildren are French, but they are also, like her, Jews... and as anti-Semitism continues to rise in France, Poller finds herself wondering if it is time to leave Europe, to rip up three generations of roots and return to the relative security of the States.

I came back to be European and, irony of ironies, Europe is showing me why my grandparents left...

I'm being treated to a poignant lesson in European and Jewish history. The 30's: why did they stay? Why didn't they run for their lives? Couldn't they see what was happening? I see before me a vivid demonstration of the deep roots we dig to make our lives bloom, the intricate biology of a human life, irrigated with the lifeblood of a community, inextricably connected to a society, born of life to give life to keep life alive. Leaving is not packing up and tipping your hat goodbye. It is tearing live flesh out of a living matrix.

We don't hear much, here in the States, about the political situation in France, but over the past few years growing anti-Semitism has led thousands of French Jews to emigrate to Israel... I had to read that a few times before it sunk in. Aren't Jews leaving Israel to escape the violence in the Middle East? French Jews are choosing that over staying in France? What the fuck?

I've never understood racism... there's always some non sequitur aspect of it that defies reason. Take the recent bombings in Spain, which appear to be Islamic retaliation for Spain's support of the US war in Iraq (and now Afghanistan). I naively thought that US actions (support of Israel, meddling with the governments of oil-producing states, Air Force planes flying over Mecca) were sufficient cause for the enmity of the Islamic world, but it turns out that I was mistaken, giving the US more credit than it deserves (which is not something I often do): we are not seen to 'support' Israel... we are seen to be puppets of the Zionists.

It's almost as though our own (sometimes very real) crimes don't even merit Islam's notice, shrinking in comparison to the legendary (and mythical, in socio-cultural power if not in historical fact) offenses the Muslims use to justify their ancient deep-seated hatred of the Jews. Once upon a time some goatherders had an argument, and a couple of thousand years later buildings fall and trains explode in service of that hatred. Wow.

I hope Poller is able to live out the rest of her life without being caught up in the wake of such irrational hatred. I hope we all are. It seems like such a sad thing, a small thing, to be fighting over.