Back in her home country, Dispatch International’s correspondent finds that the glow of Obama has worn off leaving disenchantment verging on cynicism
SOMEWHERE IN THE USA.« I did not know that death exile had undone so many… » Our old friend T.S. Eliot didn’t have in mind the stream of Americans of all sizes, shapes, and origins winding through the left to right, right to left, left to right & so on queue waiting to go through passport control at Dulles airport last Thursday afternoon, arriving just in time for Thanksgiving dinner. Joined in the baggage claim area by the other stream of non-Americans that had passed through their checkpoint, we got stuck in a bottleneck at customs before finally reaching the arrival hall where greeters held up signs and families came forward to embrace the wayward sons and daughters. A tiny vaguely Oriental looking woman wearing a black sleeveless cocktail dress and a red flower in her hair asked me where I had flown in from. When I said Paris we switched to French and she was reassured… the lines are long… he’ll be getting through soon…
Less than an hour later I am “home” and unpacking the delicacies. Exquisite chocolates, foie gras, elegant little tinned terrines, exotically flavored mustards and, for the fourth generation, a notebook with a period drawing of the top of the Tour Eiffel. He loves it! His grandfather had just given him the other kind of notebook, one of those neither here nor there portable computers that can’t meet our needs but is a high tech delight to an 8 year-old. And he loves both notebooks and the Hanukah gelt from the same French chocolatier that delights his great grandmother. I wish I could have brought them a farm fresh turkey from the open market on boulevard Richard Lenoir. J. says, “If you dressed in a burqa you could bring a turkey and a goat.”
Four generations, stretching from 8 to 102 going on 103. Where did we come from, how did we get here, how did we fare and what’s in store? Europe, USA, some to Israel and back to the USA and a branch back to Europe and exogamy bringing in new shapes and angles and the spirit of adventure sending out tendrils. Here’s a picture of M.’s son, he’s studying in Osaka this year.
Something has changed. Talking politics is no longer forbidden. Because the glow of Obama has worn off, leaving a subdued disenchantment verging on cynicism. The distaste for Mitt Romney and the belief in his evil intentions was the prime mover. Benghazi? Not really a major concern. I don’t want to focus on the election or the candidates—what’s done is done—I want to grasp the contours of the public mind. En famille, why not? Young couples with children today are often not so young. Women postpone childbirth to lock into their careers first. In most cases it takes two wage owners to support a family. But the woman’s salary goes entirely for child care. No publicly funded daycare like we have in France? No. And it doesn’t end there. We have to send our children to private school. The public schools are terrible.
So… here are two of the great accomplishments of the 60s: women can do men’s work but if they want to go in for old-fashioned maternity, it’s out of their pocket. Schools aren’t segregated, they’re devastated. And taxes keep going up. The middle class pays both for the devastation and the salvaging of its own progeny. College tuition puts the aspiring young in an open air prison, chained to debt before they can even begin a professional life. Today, college graduates can’t find jobs.
No, it wasn’t that way in our day. You got an education, earned a living, moved up a ladder. There was some stability. The cost of living was closer to the level of China today than what you are dealing with. A moment of nostalgia as we remember the 5-cent chocolate bar. Of course now you have all those liberations. Yes, and the culture wars.
The lack of publicly financed day care isn’t included in the “war on women” debate? No one expected it from either candidate? No, it’s left to free enterprise.
We heat up the leftovers, introduce new elements, go off to our own occupations and return to pursue the conversation against the background din of TV cartoons. Once the rude question of the voter’s choice was set aside, it became much easier to talk about the issues. Family is once again the culture of peaceful diversity. Yes, diversity. What could be more different than the life choices of people of the same flesh and blood? The third generation lives in the enlightened northeast. Here, where they grew up, they now see benighted redneck swamps, everything they abhor, a lot of what they voted against. Evangelicals, for example. They say “G-d bless you” at the checkout counter and look askance at the transgressional couple. Evangelicals are dangerous radicals. What about their whole hearted support of Israel and the Jews? Mystery. Unexplainable, so it doesn’t count.
I don’t know if my explanation—the return to an earlier stage of Christianity, close to its Jewish roots—changes any hearts and minds, but it clearly hasn’t been heard before. I want to know why the high moral value of tolerance that so easily extends to Muslims, for example, cannot embrace Evangelicals. We actually have Evangelical friends! We want to know why “progressives” can so easily accommodate their own anti-Zionist fringe without cringing. Our experiences of World War 2, the Shoah, anti-Semitism are as remote as the 5-cent candy bar, but that doesn’t mean they don’t believe us. Still, something jams the works, and I finally have an opportunity to examine the breakdown. To bridge the generation gap. To break through the tough membrane that separates the résistance from the large population that should be with us but aren’t.
What I’d like to understand is this: what do you, with your strong Jewish identity, think about what is happening to Jews in Europe… in France. Do you think there’s any connection between what is happening to us and what could happen here? Any connection between attacks on Jews and Islam?
The answer is: I don’t know much about it, but I don’t think it’s the same here. The answer is not: I don’t know enough, tell me, I need to know. The apparent lack of curiosity is in fact a taboo.
What is it that makes you shun the information we send you on Islam? Are you aware that your progressive causes will be trampled into the dirt if jihad gets the upper hand? Tolerance, abortion, gay marriage, respect for diversity, kiss it all goodbye. What makes you resist this message?
It’s an obsession for you. I don’t make it a priority. I’m not into politics that way, I’m not poring over the details every day like you are. It’s excessive, it’s an obsession, it’s overwhelming.
I understand. And it comes from only one direction: from us. Like a laser beam. Nothing in the surrounding environment even begins to echo it. The war on women, on the contrary, is like the air they breathe. Racism, homophobia, CO2 emissions, banker’s greed, organic food, income inequality… they bounce off the walls and into the hearts of good people who have learned not to defend their own interests.
Do you understand that we, as Jews, can’t sidestep that obsession? Genocide is in our history book, it’s part of our alphabet, we can’t be literate without that chapter. Do you understand that European Jews in the 30s and early 40s were obsessed with that question? Nazism then, jihad today. Their only chance for survival was finding the right way to channel that obsession.
The holiday weekend draws to an end. Still some turkey and stuffing left. And we can give thanks for open minds.
Update: Let them eat their pain au chocolat. I stand by my assurance that the UMP will not explode, implode, or go down the tubes but the furious tug of war merits attention and will be covered as it deserves.
This is an article republished from Dispatch International.
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