Books

David Shul­man’s lat­est work is poetic and filled with em­pa­thy – but it is also im­bued with a toxic blind­ness to mod­ern an­tisemitism

The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - CONTENTS -

the con­fronta­tions, or the wrong­do­ings per­pet­u­ated by both sides, but fo­cuses his en­ergy on work­ing to­ward peace. He is an un­re­pen­tant ide­al­ist.

But he is a re­al­ist as well. Shul­man tries not to fo­cus too much on the ha­tred he some­times feels. He feels joy in achiev­ing small vic­to­ries; even while know­ing they will most likely soon be re­v­ersed. He ad­mits his work can some­times seem like an end­less cy­cle of mean­ing­less­ness and fu­til­ity cir­cling each other in an ef­fort­less dance, but he has come to re­al­ize that it is pre­cisely this dance that lib­er­ates him from de­spair. He de­scribes a eu­pho­ria while par­tak­ing in small acts of re­sis­tance that is supreme.

Some of the most gor­geous poetic pas­sages in the book have to do with his in­ner jour­ney; the minute-by-minute ex­pe­ri­ences of an older man feel­ing things he didn’t be­lieve he was ca­pa­ble of ever feel­ing. The joy of help­ing some­one he doesn’t know. The feel­ing he gets on cer­tain spe­cial days that he has pos­si­bly changed one mind and heart by say­ing some­thing provoca­tive and chal­leng­ing. The hu­mil­ity of walk­ing with his com­rades in the bru­tal heat as po­lice and set­tlers beckon and be­ing able to see past their threat­en­ing faces to the mag­nif­i­cence of the land­scape that sur­rounds them. The thoughts that wan­der through his mind as he waits in a po­lice van peek­ing through the slits at sheep who are bless­edly un­aware of the hu­man mad­ness sur­round­ing them.

HIS EM­PA­THY seems bound­less. He feels for the sol­diers that are of­ten forced to par­tic­i­pate in acts of cru­elty that he knows will scar them. He was a sol­dier, too. He worked as a com­bat medic in the First Le­banon War. His three sons served in the army as well, as will his four grand­chil­dren. Some­times he catches a glim­mer in a sol­dier’s eye that seems to be speak­ing to him and he tries his best to help. He knows the pres­sure that sol­dier is un­der; the group-think men­tal­ity that dom­i­nates army ser­vice. He even tries to un­der­stand what mo­ti­vates the set­tlers to do what they do; al­though it is clear he is most both­ered by the cold-heart­ed­ness some of them show. He no­tices the ones that don’t seem so fierce in their right­eous­ness; the ones that seem to be wa­ver­ing.

He re­mem­bers the sto­ries on which he was weaned – Jewish sto­ries of “pogroms: it’s some­thing Jews know about. I grew up on those sto­ries – Cos­sack raids on the shtetl, the tor­ture and killing and wan­ton de­struc­tion. My grand­mother had a brother. They lived in Mikha­layev, in the Ukraine. One day the Cos­sacks came, and ev­ery­one pan­icked...”

His grand­mother’s brother died that day and a part of his grand­mother did, too. It was a wound deep in­side of her that never re­ally healed. He finds it un­be­liev­able that some of his fel­low Jews would to­day be reen­act­ing this pri­mal trauma upon their Pales­tinian neigh­bors, this time as per­pe­tra­tors.

“What is a de­cent hu­man be­ing sup­posed to do in the face of dev­as­tat­ing threats to hu­man dig­nity and ba­sic hu­man rights?” he asks. “Are we to turn our backs on our Pales­tinian friends in the South He­bron Hills and stand idly by while the state de­mol­ishes their homes, ar­rests them and ex­pels them from their lands?”

He watches the Pales­tini­ans closely, notic­ing how their weath­ered faces re­flect the tor­ment of their ex­pe­ri­ences. He no­tices the scars left by the “ag­o­nies of im­po­tence” in­flicted upon them, par­tic­u­larly the men. Some­times he walks be­hind the other younger protesters with his old friend Me­nachem Brinker, a philoso­pher and lit­er­ary his­to­rian, and they talk about how won­der­ful it would be if some charis­matic fig­ure would ap­pear amidst the Pales­tini­ans lead­ing them in non-vi­o­lent re­sis­tance to the op­pres­sion they are en­dur­ing. But so far no one has.

Some days there are mo­ments of tran­scen­dence, like when he finds him­self sit­ting by a bon­fire in the desert with his fel­low ac­tivists and some­one starts to play a flute leav­ing the air “light with Bach and Mozart and He­brew and Ara­bic folk­songs.” Or a feel­ing he gets in his lungs from the power of just say­ing no to one author­ity fig­ure or an­other.

Or sim­ply re­mem­ber­ing the day when Benny Ge­fen came to join their protest, telling the sol­diers gath­ered what he had done for the Is­raeli state. Ge­fen was 80 al­ready, and had served in the Palmah dur­ing the 1948 war, af­ter which he served 29 years do­ing re­servist duty as a para­trooper. His son was killed on the Le­banese bor­der; he was part of the Golani re­con­nais­sance unit. Ge­fen told them they were be­hav­ing in­ap­pro­pri­ately, and he watched many of the sol­diers heads drop in shame. Al­though Shul­man never speaks about God di­rectly, we feel his pres­ence in Shul­man’s de­sire to save Jewish souls. He doesn’t write with the closed­mind­ed­ness or the ha­rangue of the zealot, but there is an in­ten­sity about his rhetoric that touches that ground.

It’s easy to fall for Shul­man; he is a de­cent and ten­der man. But also a for­get­ful one. He seems to have al­most willed him­self to a cer­tain toxic blind­ness when it comes to re­cent Jewish his­tory, the Holo­caust or an­tisemitism – which he never men­tions once by name. It is a grotesque lapse in an oth­er­wise mov­ing chron­i­cle. His per­cep­tive med­i­ta­tions on the end­less states of el­e­vated con­scious­ness man can and should as­pire to start to fall on deaf ears when one al­lows one­self to re­mem­ber what Shul­man has cho­sen to for­get.

That Jews must al­ways re­main vig­i­lant. They mustn’t lose ground. The same forces that have come for us are still com­ing; they just have new masks.

Which is why I fin­ished Shul­man’s book con­vinced he was an ex­tremely se­duc­tive and dan­ger­ous man. Dan­ger­ously good. Dan­ger­ously for­get­ful. A voice the Jews must never again fall prey to.

Shul­man seems to have al­most willed him­self to a cer­tain toxic blind­ness when it comes to re­cent Jewish his­tory

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Israel

© PressReader. All rights reserved.