Here’s a parable:
I’m sitting on a pillow in a cafe in Kathmandu. Except for the Nepali waiters, I’m surrounded by Israelis. The bizarre factor is stepped up by several notches when my waiter places the cup of Turkish coffee I’ve ordered on the table and casually says “Here you go, my brother” in slightly tinted Hebrew. I whisper to my travel mate that I feel out of place.
We are both Israeli, but around us everyone is dressed in tattered rags – the dress code unifying travelers in the area. But the delusion of authenticity is never questioned, because the raiment adorns their bodies with such conviction that multicolored MC Hammer pants are not only conceived as local, but have been accepted as “real.” The waiters play along despite the shallow pockets of the post-army travelers.
My friend and I return to our careful planning of the Everest trek and its logistical demands. Our conversing in English and our European looks do not fool anyone and before long a guy with a friendly smile places his cushion beside us, sits down and without a moment of hesitation turns to us in Hebrew. He’s overheard our conversation, so introductions and pleasantries quickly make way for a few tips on how to enjoy the trek most economically.
In the now prosperous villages linked by the route of the trek, a deal can be sealed with the guesthouse keepers which is reserved for Israelis only – eating two meals at their establishment exempts you from paying for the room. Sure enough, we do not pay for a single night during our trek, affording us to eat better – beneficial to us during the strenuous walks and beneficial to the keepers and their families whose main income is the food they sell.
It really isn’t a matter of stinginess – an attribute not well-received amongst Israelis – but rather a guide for the survival of the “pack.” Throughout the Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia, South America, Paris and Berlin, and spanning time – Jews have managed. Our survival instincts are definitely practical today, but it is the only beneficial byproduct of a long history of racial/religious persecution.
For the past 2,000 years, displacement has been the name of the game, necessitating swift adaptation to strange surroundings and making new homes. Although the majority of the younger generations have not suffered Antisemitism directly, old habits die-hard and the burdens of the past have transgressed the chains of time to impose on the present.
It is a trauma that impelled Israel through the War of Independence (1948), the Six-Day War (1967) and the Yom Kippur War (1973) so it could remain a home. But today, should we still latch on to this survival instinct, when the rules have changed? Subjugation under great empires that have risen and fallen, and being caught between their clashes, is a trauma that we share with the Palestinian people.
Like us, they are traumatized historians and when we approach the table we argue about our memories of being uprooted and displaced – and rightfully so. But it is time to let history rest in its rightful place – the past – so we can build a present. Hopefully without MC Hammer pants.
David Tejer was born in Sweden and raised in a Polish home. He resides in Israel and is a cinematographer.