Friday, January 24, 2014

One of Israel’s Last Remaining Jews Dies

Today I woke up to the news that Shulamit Aloni had passed away.

Aloni was of a generation that was brought up with the notion that to be a Jew was to be a moral human being. Judaism was encapsulated for her in the ethical humanism of the prophets, in the social justice of the Hebrews.  She truly felt that the Bible preached this justice not only to Jews but to all people. “Man is beloved for he is born in the image of God,” and that image is one of justice and mercy.  She was a Zionist, to be sure, and she loved the Jewish people.  But because she loved them, she chastised and castigated them when they failed to live up to their own standards. She realized, of course, that much of Biblical morality was unacceptable, but she felt, as do I, that there were fundamentals of Biblical morality that can and should be extended beyond what the Bible intended.  She occasionally called upon the rabbinic interpretation, but she was of a generation that lived and breathed the Bible, whole sections of which she knew by heart.  She was able to pass that on to her own children, but her generation was not as fortunate.

Aloni lived long enough to see the creation of the amoral Jew as an ideal, the proud Jewish nationalist who saw morality as a luxury that a besieged people like the Jews could little afford. She cried out repeatedly against this trend. Like many of her generation, she saw the rise of religious fundamentalism and ultra-nationalism as a threat to what had been the redeeming features of a society that she felt had much to repent for. She did not go into politics to make money and taste the high life, as so many of the Israel’s recent leaders have done. Not a suggestion of corruption was ever associated with her.

Where is the Judaism of my youth? Not an hour, not a day, not a minute goes by without the cold-hearted trampling of human rights in Israel.  Land is stolen, refugees are round up and thrown into prison, and all in the name of what? Jewish survival?

Hello, are there any Jews left?

Well, yes there is the surviving remnant, and the list is not short. They are the human rights activists harassed on the West Bank, the citizenship teachers hauled up before committees after rightwing students complain that they are being political, the defenders of Africa refugees rights, the educators of Jewish values. Real Jewish values.  The children of Aloni.

We are left orphaned by the passing of a hero of Israel. May the memory of this tzadeket/righteous person be for a blessing.


pabelmont said...

Wonderful essay, Jerry, thanks so much.

"Aloni lived long enough to see the creation of the amoral Jew as an ideal, the proud Jewish nationalist who saw morality as a luxury that a besieged people like the Jews could little afford. She cried out repeatedly against this trend."

Zionists moved (1930-1948) out of the frying pan or European antisemitism, which was not the fault of the European Jews, into the fire of Palestine, where the creation of the I/P conflict was entirely the fault of the Zionists.

Atonement is in order. After that, "truth, justice, and peace, and in that order."

John Welch said...

Thanks, Jerry. I noticed the articles on Aloni's death, such as this:

by Noam Sheizaf, but did not know about her. I'm an American New Leftist and my knowledge of Israeli leaders, organizers, and thinkers mostly runs from Martin Buber to Judah Magnes...and the other side, those an American leftist cannot miss.

A few years ago, I spent a day with an activist who continues to slip into the occupied territories to help plant olive groves. I have read -- on your blog -- of Jewish Israelis who drove all night to stand with Bedouins about to be bull-dozed from their villages.

Many years ago, I met survibing members of a Dutch resistance group call Arrondius. Some had hidden Jewish children throughout the war; one was a survivor of an attack that blew up a central registry that listed all Dutch by birthdate and religion. Overall, the Dutch Resistance failed, I guess, in that Dutch Nazis were able to find, deport, and kill so many Dutch Jews.

However, it matters -- it is important -- that we know these people. It reminds us that humans are not universally evil or prone to side with evil whenever evil is powerful. It gives us an example.

You are probably about my age, and would remember some of the arguments on campus during the War in Vietnam. Some people argued that we had no responsibility for the napalming of villagers in Vietnam. My professors, at the University of Chicago, argued that way, encouraging us to use our "psycho-social moratorium" to study Plato and Aristotle. We thought differently: a line from Denise Levertov, roughly, "human flesh smokes in Vietnam as I write".

The world is better simply because there was a Shulamit Aloni. I did not know about her, but now I do, and thank you.

John Welch