I really wanted to go to Kenya.
A few years ago, we became acquaintances with a man named Moshe. Moshe is the spokesperson for the tour company that takes Israelis to Kenya and he has a personal connection with the Israeli owners of the Paradise Hotel in Mombassa.
Many of our conversations revolved around the marvels of Kenya – the stunning beach, the exotic jungle, the once-in-a-lifetime safaris. Plus kosher food, an Israeli ambience, even a semblance of Shabbat. The Paradise Hotel was aptly named.
Now Mombassa has joined the list of vacation spots that are, one by one, becoming off-limits to Israelis…and Western travelers in general.
Last month, the Asia-Pacific division off our company held its annual sales meeting in Phuket, Thailand, a popular resort. Some said this was just plain crazy – a large gathering of Israelis visibly coming together in a popular tourist destination so soon after Bali was a recipe for disaster.
Nothing happened, but in retrospect, the warning doesn’t seem so off base anymore.
What occurred this week in Kenya, though, is far more than just a vacation inconvenience. As Israelis and as Jews (and I am deliberately blurring the distinction), the suicide bomb at the Paradise Hotel and the near-miss missile attack on the Arkia jet as it left the Mombassa airport viscerally drive home the point that we are targeted wherever we are. Whether we’re in Israel or abroad.
This is not a new phenomenon by any means. But until recently, the danger had shifted, at least as far public perception, to being physically present in Israel.
Hence the passionate pleas by friends and family to get out, to come home to where it’s safe. And the equally passionate political arguments that the conflict is all about policies and population, a existential but ultimately domestic Israeli situation which can be sidestepped by the intrepid traveler through a simple change of scenery.
And yet, as Mombassa teaches us, as long as we are identified as Israelis or Jews, we can’t escape; we are targets. Anywhere.
Still, the gut reaction after any terror attack is that we must avoid danger at all costs. This is our paramount responsibility to our children and our families.
Danny Gordis writes about this in his latest Dispatch. He was interviewed recently on NPR and received a number of emails afterwards. He cites one where the writer asks Danny why he and his family stay in Israel. In America, the writer points out, when it was no longer safe to walk the streets in his neighborhood, they simply moved to a safer place.
But that’s the point. There is nowhere to go. I wrote about this in my essay The Great Race from October 22, 2002. And, as the Israelis who went for a Hanukah vacation in Mombassa with their families told interviewers, all they wanted to do was get away from the pressure cooker that is Israel. But the crock-pot of terror followed them.
So, let me take the discussion to the next, most logical level. If we truly want to stay safe, our best strategy is to go underground with our Jewishness. Move to somewhere anonymous like Montana or Mississippi and follow these five simple but effective rules:
1. Never be seen associating with other Israelis.
2. Never speak Hebrew in public.
3. Don’t look or act Jewish. Avoid any public demonstrations of Jewish practice. Halacha, shmalacha.
4. Steer clear of rallies, lectures, Jewish film festivals or any place of Jewish culture or commitment where we might be identified.
5. Totally forget about visiting a synagogue, going to Jewish summer camp or working out at the JCC.
Basically, we need to disappear. Become the Marranos of our generation. As long as we assimilate completely, we can live safely. Then, if we’re lucky, the only danger we’ll face is getting blown up because we look Western…
But, as our nine-year-old Merav loves to say, “What’s the point of that?”
Indeed, are these really our alternatives? To either disappear physically or spiritually? Haven't we heard this argument before?
I don’t know about you, but this is not a bargain I can live with. To deny the essence of who I am in order to maybe buy a bit more time and security in order to survive another day. Could I honestly look myself in the mirror and say that this a life worth living? A life of purpose and meaning?
No, if these are my options, then I would rather stand tall and strong and proud of who I am, and who we as a people are.
And if that puts me at greater risk, then why not live life to its Jewish fullest, here in Israel, as an Israeli, at the apex of Jewish history. Where rescue vehicles arrive in two minutes, not two hours as happened in Kenya. Where we are surrounded by literally millions of others who share in this spirit of defiance. Who share in the pain and take care of each other.
Because there is no alternative.