I have started to tranlsate David Grossman’s remarkable meditation (Hebrew original) on the state of the Israeli State which he delivered yesterday at the 11th annual commemoration of Yitzchak Rabin’s assassination. He delivered this profound address before 100,000 Isaelis gathered to mark Rabin’s untimely death. Here is the first part of the translation. Please excuse a few rough edges below. It’s been 23 years since I was a grad student in Hebrew literature. If I have the strength to continue, I’ll post the rest tomorrow:
The annual memorial for Yitzchak Rabin is the moment in which we stop a little, remembering Rabin the man, the leader. And we look at ourselves, at Israeli society, its leadership, at the nation’s spiritual condition, at the condition of the peace process, and at our place as individuals confronting the great national questions. It is not easy to look at ourselves this year. There was a war, Israel flexed a mighty military muscle, but hiding behind it were [Israel’s] shortcomings and vulnerability. It became clear to us that the military might at our command could not in the end guarantee by itself our existence. Essentially, we discovered that Israel is in a deeper crisis than we surmised than any point of its life.
I speak here tonight as one whose love for this land is a tough and complicated one. Despite this, it is single minded. And as one for whom the eternal covenant with the people of Israel turned, to its sorrow, into a blood covenant. I am an utterly secular person. Nevertheless, in my eyes, the creation and existence of the State of Israel are a sort of miracle that happened to us as a people–a political, national and personal miracle. I never forget this even for one moment. Even when many things in the reality of our lives rise against and depress me, even when the miracle is divided into little bits of routine and misery, of corruption and Zionism, even when the reality seems like a bad parody of this miracle, I remember always. And from the midst of those emotions I speak to you tonight.
“See oh earth that we were terrible sqaunderers” wrote the poet Shaul Tchernichovsky in Tel Aviv in 1938. He complained that in the lap of the earth in the land of Israel we hide away our young people at the height of their blooming. The death of young people is an awful waste which screams out. But no less awful is the sense that for lo these many years the State of Israel has been wasting, in a criminal manner, not only the lives of its children, but also the miracle that happened to it; the great and rare opportunity which history provided, the opportunity to create here a reformed, enlightened and democratic state, which would conduct itself according to Jewish and universal values; a state that would be an international home and a refuge. Not only a refuge, but a place which would give new meaning to Jewish existence; a state, which would be an important and intrinsic part of Jewish identity, deriving from its Jewish ethos would be a relationship of full equality and respect for the non-Jewish inhabitants.
“See what happened. See what happened to the young, daring land, full of the passion and soul that was once here. And how as in a process of rapid aging, Israel leapt from the stage of infancy, childhood and youth to a reality consisting of constant irritability, weakness and bitterness. How did this happen? When did we lose even the hope that at some point we would live different, better lives? More than that, how do we continue to stand by the side and look, as if hypnotized, at a terrible seizure, the coarseness, the violence and racism which came upon our home? I ask you: how could it be that a people possessing such creative, renewing and life-giving powers, such as our people, a people that knew to establish itself as if from ashes time after time, finds itself today, precisely when it possesses such great military power, impotent. It is a situation in which it is once again a sacrifice, but this time essentially a sacrifice of itself, its fears and its lack of vision.
One of the difficult things which the last war brought into sharper focus was the sense that in these days there is no king in Israel, that our leadership is hollow. Our military and political leadership is hollow. I’m not even speaking here of obvious screw-ups in military administration, of losing one’s head, nor about the large and small corruptions. I’m speaking about the people who lead Israel today who are not suited to bind Israelis to their identity. And certainly not to the healthy, revivifying and healing parts of this identity; to those parts of its identity, memory and purposeful values which will give us hope and strength, and would provide immunity against this withering of mutual recognition, of the disposition of the land, which would provide any meaning to the wearying, depressing struggle for existence.