Friday, April 19, 2013

I was a secret Zionist

You may know that I have been involved with the study of the Secret Jews (Anusim or "marranos") of the Spanish/Portuguese world.  But, once upon a time I was a "secret Zionist."
When I was a child growing up in the East End of London during the 1950s, there weren't many chances to celebrate the birth of the State of Israel.  Our family, many of whom lived in strongly Jewish areas such as Golders Green and Edgware, were able to outwardly celebrate Yom Ha'atzmaut.  But, then it was so new, that nobody knew whether or not Israel would survive.  And living in Britain, which had fought the Jews in Palestine, it was still raw to come out publicly in favor of the Jewish State.  I lived in a mixed area, where the non-Jews were mainly anti-Semitic.  So at school and even among my Jewish friends, Israel was talked about sotto voce, in whispers, as was everything Jewish.  The rule was (and is) in England, keep your voice down, don't be crass, don't rock the boat.
Even from among my close group of Jewish friends, I was and am the only one who was a strong Zionist, who came to Israel the first opportunity I got.  We came in 1963 in a mini-bus with 6 other students thru France, Switzerland, Italy and Greece, and by boat to Israel.  Then we came back again, myself and my wife and new baby in 1964 for 2 years.  I had applied for a NATO Fellowship for Israel, but I was told that since Israel was not a NATO country and was not on their list it was inappropriate; but nevertheless I got an interview and I confided to the board of Professors that I wanted the opportunity to live and study in Israel and they gave me a Fellowship for the Weizmann Institute, even though Israel was not on the list of approved countries. 
After our unforgettable stint in Israel we moved to the USA and it was not the same there as in Britain, we could openly express our support for Israel.  I remember buying the book "Swift Sword" after the 1967 Six Day war in NY City and reading it in a restaurant and having people looking over my shoulder at the photos.  Also, I was active in the Jewish Community Council of Greater Washington and we had a well attended Yom Haatzmaut celebration every year. 
Then after I retired in the US we came back to Israel for good.  It would have been very difficult to come during my career, especially because of the limited resources in Israel and the lack of opportunities, and also the children were in the middle of their schooling.  We did come for a sabbatical year in 1976-7, and we saw how that disrupted their lives.  But, we finally made it in 1996 and we are very glad we did.  Having lived here for 17 years now we are very happy with our choice.  Israel, with all its problems, is a wonderful country to live in, and I am a secret Zionist no more.  But, those Jews who continue to live in the Diaspora must be very careful, many of them, especially on campus, must keep their Zionist views secret.


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