My Cold War childhood took place in the shadow of the A-Bomb. It was the ever-present terror of my life. I’m therefore puzzled, as a citizen of Israel, by what seems to be a kind of fearless insouciance on my part in response to the blatant threats of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Boyish and diminutive, a friendly-looking fellow, the Iranian President is usually pictured before a cluster of microphones. Over the past few months he has variously called Israel a “rotten branch that will soon be destroyed,” an “illegitimate regime that will be wiped off the map,” “an usurper and an illegitimate entity.” “As everybody knows,” he has declared, “the Zionist regime was created to establish dominion of arrogant states over the region and to enable the enemy to penetrate the heart of Muslim land…. Israel must be wiped out from the map of the world.” “There is no doubt the Palestinian nation and Muslims as a whole will emerge victorious…. The continued commission of crimes by the Zionist regime will speed up the collapse of this fictitious regime.” “With the force of God behind it, we shall soon experience a world without the United States and Zionism.” “Anybody who recognizes Israel will burn in the fire of the Islamic nation’s fury.” The “new wave of confrontations generated in Palestine and the growing turmoil in the Islamic world [will] in no time wipe Israel away.”
A few days ago the Jerusalem Post informed us that Ahmadinejad “boasted at the press conference…that Iran would soon master the production of nuclear fuel. He said the world had finally accepted that Iran has the complete cycle of fuel production – from mining uranium to enriching it to the level required for consumption in a nuclear power plant….’I’m very hopeful that we will be able to hold the big celebration of Iran’s full nuclearization in the current year,’ he said, referring to Iran’s calendar year, which ends March 20. ‘It will be the celebration of the stabilization of the nuclear right of the Iranian nation.’
International Atomic Energy Agency experts, the Post reported, are “unable to confirm Iranian claims that its nuclear activities were exclusively non-military…A series of [IAE] reports over nearly four years have revealed a number of suspicious activities, including unexplained plutonium experiments, possession by Iran of diagrams showing how to mold uranium metal into the shape of nuclear warheads and traces of highly enriched uranium at sites linked to military research.”
Iran has reportedly requested United Nations aid for their nuclear development program, on the grounds that the purpose of its program is cancer research.
So now that the possibility of nuclear war is actually on the horizon, like a nightmare rising before our eyes, why am I not going out of my mind? Why aren’t we who live here demonstrating in the streets to save our own lives?
Maybe we suspect, in our heart of hearts, that it wouldn’t help.
In the 1950s, Americans who were optimistic enough to build fallout shelters were ridiculed by their compatriots. How could a concrete bunker, naively fitted out with air filter and a two-week supply of bottled water, protect you from a nuclear firestorm greater than the one that incinerated Hiroshima? Even assuming that you and your family did somehow make it into the shelter in time and shut the hatch successfully against your neighbors, what kind of landscape would eventually greet you if you survived — if you hadn’t melted down into the concrete of the underground chamber? What would you dine upon when your supplies ran out? No way, anymore, to pick up a quart of milk at the supermarket. Busses would not be running. And what would you plan on breathing in the brave new world, once the dust settled and you emerged into the radioactive light, or darkness, of day?
My efforts to be honest with myself about my own low-key reaction to Ahmadinejad — whereby I can think of nothing whatsoever on a practical level to combat this threat — have been unsuccessful. I truly can’t tell if this is admirable serenity in the face of mortal danger or the helpless paralysis that sometimes seizes the dreamer of a bad dream, or the natural numbing that occurs in the face of something so overwhelming it goes right off the charts. Would it be just too frightening and nerve-wracking to take him seriously — a natural reflex to close one’s eyes? Or is there something akin here to what was going on with Queen Esther, in response to the threat posed by Haman (Ahmadinejad’s forbear, who in spite of his plans to annihilate all the Jews, ended up killing not a one) when she declared: “For how can I bear to witness the disaster which will befall my people? How can I bear to witness the destruction of my relatives?”
Like Jews who remained in Europe when it was still possible to get out, am I simply incapable of thinking the unthinkable, or am I so profoundly at home in Jerusalem that no matter what happens, I don’t want to be anywhere but here?
It could be that my trust in Ha Kodesh Boruch Hu has taken root so deeply, I’ve at last arrived — after a long and circuitous, complicated route — at simple faith.
As a child, I thought we existed in a random world, a planet spinning in a vast, dark universe apart from any G-d Who cares, a world in which physical laws constitute the ultimate reality and unimaginable evil can triumph.
Now I know that reality is larger than the world we see, and that my own little voice, in personal conversation with the Creator, is the most powerful channel at my disposal to effect the course of events.
As it is written in the siddur: “For He alone performs mighty deeds, makes new things, is Master of wars, sows kindnesses, brings about the sprouting of salvations, creates cures, is awesome beyond praise, and is the Master of wonders Who renews in His goodness every day, perpetually, the work of Creation…for His kindness endures forever. A new light may You shine on Zion, and may we all be worthy of its light.”
Sarah Shapiro’s most recent books are “A Gift Passed Along,” and “The Mother in Our Lives”. She writes for a number of publications in Israel and the United States, and teaches writing in Jerusalem, where she lives with her family.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.