Politics and Shelter

Israel: The Homeland, Promised Land and Final Refuge


Leon Uris' book Exodus describes the plight of Jews from all over Europe, displaced from their countries of origin, and seeking, via laborious paths, passage to Palestine, after the fall of the Nazi regime in 1945. The mythological and factual tragedy of the Wandering Jew is not, indeed, hard to trace. Expelled from Judah in 586 BCE by the Babylonians, expelled again by the Romans and dispersed, in the Diaspora, through her empire, burned in a tower in York, kicked out of Spain, persecuted by the czars, refused entry by Mackenzie-King, Hitler's insane ravings were no more than a new chapter in an old book. Finally, as a result of terrorist activities by Jewish “freedom fighters,” the British Mandate gave substance to the dream of two thousand years and Israel became a nation again for the first time since the kingdoms of David and Solomon almost three millennia ago.

What is most striking about this yearning for refuge is its defiant stance on geography. The British, with their space-collapsing sensibilities, offered the Jews Labrador. The response was emblematic of the nature of Jewish yearnings: “Not just anywhere will do!”
Strange that Britain, of all countries, should not understand this, with its “fight them on the beaches” and “never surrender” conceptualization of Homeland: the island of Britain has not been invaded since 1066, every English child learns. The connection of Jewishness to Jerusalem, to the Land of Milk and Honey, ties physical reality to mythological space in a way that Christians, with their Augustinian City of God ushering in a new plane of existence can never, perhaps, understand.

What is most strange of all about the Jews' perennial need for a home during the Christian era is that all this is foreshadowed in the pivotal legends of the Bible. The Psalms, for example, and Ecclesiastes, are the machinations of a deported Judean population, far from Judah, co-opted en masse by Babylonian conquerors and taken to present-day Iraq. “How can we sing the Lord's song in a strange land?” The development of the synagogue was an answer to this question. Most striking of all, the foundational myth cycle of Judaism, Moses' deliverance of the Hebrews from gentile Egypt, followed by Joshua's conquest of Canaan and the subsequent nation-building in the Land that God had promised to them, is a complete allegory for the tale of scorn and vagrancy culminating in the 1948 re-emergence of a Jewish state. In short, it is not that truth is stranger than fiction, but that Jung's notion of synchronicity is proven true in such cases, where there seems, indeed, to be continuity between truth and fiction, where the sacred and the profane of Mircea Eliade's analyses are married in religion and its ability to mirror historical truths and even futures.

Of course, the final paradox is that, just as (some) Britons failed to understand the Jewish need for roots, for shelter, so precious to themselves, so (some) Jews now deny this in others. Such are the tragedies of history.