The fright of American Jewry is finally not very surprising, and not only because we are an "ever-dying people." To a degree that is unprecedented in the history of the Jewish people, our experience is unlike the experience of our ancestors: not only our ancient ancestors, but also our recent ones. It is also unlike the experience of our brethren in the Middle East. Their experience of adversity in particular is increasingly unrecognizable to us. We do not any longer possess a natural knowledge of such pains and such pressures. In order to acquire such a knowledge, we rely more and more upon commemorations--so much so that we are transforming the Jewish culture of the United States into a largely commemorative culture. But the identifications that seem to be required of us by our commemorations are harder and harder for us to make. In our hearts, the continuities feel somewhat spurious. For we are the luckiest Jews who ever lived. We are even the spoiled brats of Jewish history. And so the disparity between the picture of Jewish life that has been bequeathed to us and the picture of Jewish life that is before our eyes casts us into an uneasy sensation of dissonance. One method for relieving the dissonance is to imagine a loudspeaker summoning the Jews to Times Square. In the absence of apocalypse, we turn to hysteria.
The Jewish genius for worry has served the Jews well, but Hitler is dead. The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is harsh and long, but it is theology (or politics) to insist that it is a conflict like no other, or that it is the end. The first requirement of security is to see clearly. The facts, the facts, the facts; and then the feelings. Arafat is small and mendacious, the political culture of the Palestinians is fevered and uncompromising, the regimes in Riyadh and Cairo and Baghdad pander to their populations with anti-Semitic and anti-American poisons, the American government is leaderless and inconstant; but Israel remembers direr days. Pessimism is an injustice that we do to ourselves. Nobody ever rescued themselves with despair. "An ever-dying people is an ever-living people," Rawidowicz sagely remarked. "A nation always on the verge of ceasing to be is a nation that never ceases to be." It is one of the lessons that we can learn from the last Jews who came before us.