A son's eulogy

One thing etched in my memory in connection with my mother is a conversation she had with me when I was about eight years old. We were living at the time in New York, and she said to me:
“You realise, of course, that you and I are aliens?”

I remember opening my eyes wide at this statement. The original Star Trek series was being shown on television in those days, and as a skinny, dark-haired boy with big ears and an early bent towards intellectuality, I instinctively identified with the character of Spock, and the idea that Mum and I were aliens therefore appealed to me tremendously. When she realised that I had misunderstood, she hastened to explain that by “alien” she meant in the specific and highly revealing sense of American officialese, i.e. a foreigner, someone who isn’t an American citizen (unlike my sister, and her father, who were).

I nodded – somewhat disappointed – but the image stuck in my mind and remained there, in part because in many ways, my mother was not like most humans. Unlike Spock, she greatly valued, and raised us to appreciate, very human emotions such as a parent’s love for their children, empathy, the visceral bonds that tie a person to the landscape of their birth, and a sense of belonging to a tribe or extended family. But the darker side of human emotion – the inclination towards violence, the gung-ho love of war, the discrimination and persecution of anyone who isn’t of your tribe, and the herdlike, blinkered submission to demagoguery without investigating the hidden truth – these were all as foreign to her as the customs of another planet. All her life, she spoke up against these phenomena and chided their perpetrators, expecting everyone to wake up at any moment and share her outlook, which seemed so obvious to her. Time and again, she was disappointed, and this expectation foiled predictions she made that in other respects were remarkably accurate.

That said, she didn’t like it when I joked that she was an alien, and used to protest vehemently when I said so in her presence. I therefore took the pains in recent years to be more precise in my characterisation, and say that she was not so much an alien, as a human from the future – a future less violent, more enlightened. And indeed, time and again, views that she held at any given time eventually turned out to be the consensus after ten, twenty, or thirty years.

Inevitably, some of her opinions are still considered too radical to be acceptable by the wider public. My mother passed away at a time in Israel’s history when there has been a certain regression in the progress towards that enlightened future. In particular, in the past decade, we have witnessed the rise of a new phenomenon in Israel – that of the “leftist-but” – as in:
- “I am a leftist – but I think that this time we should beat the hell out of them…”
- “I am a leftist – but I think that the Second Lebanon War / Operation ‘Cast Lead’ / a small knock on the aircraft wing [choose as appropriate] was the right thing to do.”
- “It’s not a Wall – it’s a Security Barrier.

Well, if the name of the game is giving new meanings to established terms, it should be noted for the record that my mother was a “nationalist – but”. A nationalist – but the nation that she was patriotic about doesn’t exist as yet. It is the nation of the Hebrew State, that everyone wished so fervently to see all throughout her childhood in Mandatory Palestine, but which began to fade almost as soon as it was established, and has since disappeared entirely, in favour of something called the “Jewish State” – a term cited originally in the sense of “a state for the Jews”, but which those who excel in linguistic sophistry knew how to exploit to their own ends. A “nation” in the usual sense in the western world, and as Ruth the Moabite understood it in her vow of allegiance – of a population of people who bind their fate together, of a sense of belonging and loyalty that rises above distinctions of religion and race – that idea, too, will eventually become common currency in Israel (if it to have any future at all). My mother may never return to us, but – to paraphrase the grieving King David – we are going to her.

- Jonathan Orr-Stav (Stoppi)