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Gaza pullout
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Ira Sharkansky


Correspondence with
a religious friend in Gaza,  Aug. 18, 2005

By Ira Sharkansky

An exchange with a religious friend, whose daughter and her family have lived in one of the Gaza settlements:




Varda and I hope that these difficult days pass with a minimum of discomfort for you and your family, and that you all adjust to the new realities, whatever they may be. We know that this can sound like little more than platitude, but we ask that you accept it as our deeply felt concern.


My friend:


Thank you for your wishes. We'll have to take time in the future to explain things. I am very proud of my children & grandchildren who are at this very moment expressing the ideology I have succeeded in instilling in them; the same ideology which the Jewish people have succeeded in passing on from
generation to generation for more than 3,500 years & which we will continue passing on.


Me again:


When our youngest son was born, we named him Mattan. For us it meant that he was a gift received at our not so young age. I recall that you were at the brit, and explained to me at one point what the mohel wanted from me.


A bit later, I located the name Mattan in a Bible dictionary, and looked it up in the Book of Jeremiah. What I found was a minor character, but more important that the Book of Jeremiah was politics at its most exciting. From there I read the entire Bible, and came to see the importance of politics in Jewish history, as well as the centrality of Jewish history in Judaism.  Along the way I came to realize the importance of coping in dealing with serious problems, thanks in part to my older daughter Erica, a clinical psychologist. Coping is one of Jews' acquired traits, apparent in the behavior of the Almighty as well as Moses, David, and other ancient heroes.


Being uncertain of ourselves, and the legitimacy of criticism, appears throughout the Bible, most prominently in the prophets, and throughout all that I have studied in the Talmud. These traits, acquired as part of our culture, help to explain why Israel developed as a democracy when all the odds seemed against that. Virtually none of the founders came from a democratic society, and the crises of war, economic hardship, and mass immigration are the things usually used as excuses for why one or another country is not a democracy.


Suffering the minor problems of an observer during this difficult week, I find myself alternatively infuriated and touched most positively by the behavior of my fellow Jews. I see the decision to withdraw as an expression of coping. It is far from optimal, but has been explained and approved by our democratic procedures as a viable way to deal with conflicting pressures.


The implementation is not neat. We are, fortunately, not Prussian in our exactitude and discipline. But for the most part, there has been mutual understanding and accommodation. Some will see this withdrawal as the equivalent of the evils imposed on the ancient Jews by Greek autocrats. Others will see this as a shallow parallel, while the real event is Jewish heroism as we limit ourselves in order to strengthen ourselves. I am confident that we will be strong enough to live with these different interpretations, just as we have learned to accept contrasting perspectives on many other issues. That is part of coping. Our strength is that we learned the lessons long ago, and that we cope better than most.

Sharkansky is a member of the political science department at Hebrew University in Jerusalem