May 19, 2019

Becoming My Father on Israel

“His face turned beet red. In my 37-year relationship with my father, it was the only time I recall him getting very angry at me.

What had I done? Criticized Israel publicly.

My father, Victor, was a Holocaust survivor who lost his entire family to the Nazis, except his older brother. To him, Israel was perhaps the only silver lining in the deepest, darkest, most painful cloud imaginable.

And his beloved Israel could do no wrong. He would often tell me: “Israel is a very good country in a very bad neighborhood.” He rarely showed levity about the Holy Land, but occasionally he would jokingly wonder whether it wouldn’t have been better if Moses had “taken a left turn instead of a right turn” and claimed the land of Saudi Arabia or Iraq as the home of the Jewish people because of its vast oil reserves.

To my father, like so many Holocaust survivors, Israel represented a lifeboat in case things got bad again. Even as an American for over four decades, my father was always vigilant about any nascent anti-Semitism, any threat that might trigger another Kristalnacht. He listened to his trusty portable radio all the time. I particularly remember him being glued to it during the Yom Kippur War in 1973. When Israel looked like it was losing the first few days, my father’s demeanor was downcast and nervous. When the mighty Israeli army stormed back and eventually won that war, I could sense a huge burden lifted from his shoulders.”

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