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Understanding the Different Connotations of Flotilla Fumble

June 17, 2010 By:
Mark Robbins
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The flotilla is sailing away.

How fast? That depends -- as always in the slam-bam world of Israel news -- on your perspective.

I'm a new immigrant, straddling two worlds -- the American Jewish and Israeli ones -- and I see events from both perspectives.

As U.S.Jews, we depend on events and the media for the profile of Israel in our lives. When the teetering calm in Israel falls and breaks, the debris flies right into our living rooms. Our hearts are pierced. We cringe, cry and whimper. We are angry, flabbergasted and befuddled.

So it has been with the crashing episode of the the Mavi Marmara. The debris is everywhere: a decidedly nonhumanitarian humanitarian boat; people ready for battle; Israel, to our shock, not; the stench of bloodshed; the gut-wrenching realities of the Gaza blockade.

The flotilla will have long teeth in the media; the looming investigations guarantee that. Both sides crossed the line. Israel through brazenness, incompetence and sheer stupidity; and the boat organizers through their bare-faced abuse of the humanitarian flag and militant crew.

Still, at some point, the episode will surely recede to the back pages of the American media. Our attention to Israel as American Jews will follow suit. Our emotions will dull as the news fades.

In contrast, our attention as Israelis began to shift from the minute we got up that morning of May 31. Daily life gives us a consciousness of our country that's independent of the media and events. The Mavi Marmara episode is a matter of our national welfare, but it is not definitive of Israel for us.

Daily life here -- all the way to its incessant car-honking -- is a reality check that reminds us that the sky is not falling. It quells our existential angst. It stabilizes our queasy ride into the moral realm.

This has been a refreshing change for me as I make my transition from American Jew to Israeli. Each day, I take my kids to a school where they speak Hebrew. We spend a Shabbat near the splendid Jezreel Valley, setting of the rivalry between Elijah the Prophet and King Ahab. I get to watch as a nation punch drunk over soccer revels in the World Cup.

Unlike our U.S. brethren, however, no matter how slowly or quickly the flotilla sails away, we will be left with the larger context issues to address: our dangerously diminishing standing in the world, our complex relationship with Turkey, and, above all, our distorted relationship with the Palestinians.

Every day, I see the corrosive power imbalance at work. Palestinian construction workers build and beautify my own city of Modi'in, and not their own. The ubiquitous walls, fences and checkpoints along the road from here to Jerusalem keep us safe, but imprison Palestinians in their own local nightmares.

Construction in the settlements digs us even deeper into places we can't be if we are going to survive as a Jewish state. Too often these days, we Israelis ignore the consequences of these actions on the ever-widening rift between the two nations of this land.

But, yes, we Israelis live on, with the undercurrent of conflict, almost immediately, in the aftermath of an ayrua (or "bad happening"), in a way that's so difficult for U.S. Jews -- in their brief, acute moments of shock -- to understand.

The flotilla episode shows, once again, just how differently a people can respond to major events in Israel. The events reawaken American Jews to Israel and, thanks to the media, define Israel for their duration. In contrast, for Israelis, Israel never disappears. Israel is the life we lead in the day to day. And it is the life we wrestle with as we shape our future.

Rabbi Mark Robbins of Modi'in, Israel, is a writer and founder of jewishlifestory. com. He served as rabbi of Congregation Ohev Shalom in Wallingford from 2002-09. He blogs at: virtualaliyah.blogspot.com

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