“Why Israel?” I answered. “Because you taught me to love Israel. You taught me to love Jews
As I was saying goodbye to my father recently at the end of a short trip to the United States, he asked me why I had chosen to live in Germany.
But I don’t live in Germany. I live in Eretz Yisrael.
A few days earlier, when I had visited him in the hospital after a minor medical procedure, he mentioned how nice it was that Yossel, his cousin, had driven him there. But Yossel, a childhood companion in Poland whom he had seen exactly once in the intervening 60 years, died about 15 years ago.
Such are the challenges of living with a parent with Alzheimer’s. In this case, I thought the mix-up was poignant. His mind was obviously elsewhere, back in the DP camp in Germany after the war, where he and Yossel had hustled cigarettes for a few extra coins, before Yossel and his family got on the boat to pre-state Israel and my father and his family sailed to New York.
“But why Israel?” he asked. In his eyes was a look of concern. He’s been reading the newspaper cover to cover for years, and knows that Israel can be a dangerous place. Suicide bombs. Missiles from Gaza. Knife attacks as a family sleeps.
“Why Israel?” I answered. “Because you taught me to love Israel. You taught me to love Jews. You taught me that the Jewish people need to be strong.”
It’s true. The fire for survival had never faded. He and his family trudged through the Soviet Union for six years outrunning the Nazis. First Ukraine, then Siberia, and then onto Kazakhstan. My father had learned five languages by the time he was 12 years old — and not for intellectual edification.
He considered this new information, that my family and I live in Israel, a war zone, and then said, “But why so far away from home?”
This was not the father of my youth. My father of the 1980s had cheered each time Menachem Begin appeared on television, answering questions in his thick Yinglish. He held a special place in his heart for Yitzchak Shamir, the tiny Pole with the fists of stone. These were men who had refused to die, men who understood their destiny, who raged at history. For that father, Israel was home; it was just that a historical accident had left him elsewhere.
I, his son, had learned that lesson well. Inside my heart, too, the fire burned. I knew there were things worth dying for. Even if he had forgotten.
Samuel Goldsmith is a writer living in Israel.
(Originally featured in A Gift Passed Along, Pesach 5780)
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