A new era follows Israel's Peres into retirement

Israel President Shimon Peres, who celebrated his 90th birthday with President Clinton, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Barbara Streisand, visited his good friend President Obama in Washington this week in his last days as Israel's representative. Peres represented a temporary Israel — a temporal phase to a timeless land; it will be recalled as a phase in the world when defunct musicians of dead bands like Pink Floyd's Roger Waters and Bob Geldof of the Boomtown Rats would actually guide and influence world opinion and the journeys of ambassadors, presidents and popes. People like Samuel Beckett's Lucky and Pozzo; people you might meet at the end of the world.

ADVERTISEMENT
It was also a time when certain Jews in America began thinking of themselves as "Jewish Americans" much as "Italian American" became the fashion or "Irish American" at a time when Jews were still only "Jews." But it suggested as well that it no longer really meant anything to be Irish on this continent. Or Italian. And that is a dilemma for "Jewish Americans" today.

Because Israel, post-Peres, is beginning to ask, which is it?

For the Irish there is no going back because the Ireland our grandmothers left behind — very often with a hundred or so cousins, in-laws, children of dead wives and those found by the wayside — no longer exists. There is still drinking and stone churches; moss, sheep and probably nuns, but all is absorbed into the greater aerial orb of global world, Greater America or Everywhere America and other abstractions. The Earth, the Church and the People are no longer one: They are no longer Irish as our grandmothers were. Even those in Ireland today are "Irish Americans."

This was also the geist, the condition, of Peres's Americanized Israel. Certainly Jews of Europe's oldest soul, like those who headed to Israel as early as 1492, were on hand, wise as shamans, and others like the hundreds of men Peres's age who took breakfast daily in DeBrow's Cafeteria in the Garment District, animated and chattering away in Russian, Hebrew, Yiddish and English, Pulitzer Prize winners and Nobel laureates scattered among them. That the most prominent Jew in the world back then was comedian Mel Brooks would have done nothing to diminish Jews in the poet's eye — James Joyce, William Butler Yeats, Sir Walter Scott — who saw the rabbi as guide to the deepest perceptions and innermost secrets. His singular comic mastery was tribute to the fullness and psychological wholeness of Jews.

Then "Seinfeld," whose clever players seemed locked in a box that was Jerry's room which they could never leave, their only link to the outside world a Nazi chef. New York then, a prison, a mistake, a fatal wrong turn to a people who had been recording their thoughts, dreams, journeys and visions and created the world that swirled around them wherever they wandered for 5,774 years.

We, the Irish and Italians, can never go home. We are here to stay. But for Jews, even in Jerry Seinfeld's materialist and breakable New York, a portal had opened. A Jew in America had the option of going home. And the Israel which Jews had left behind when they were driven out almost 2,000 years ago was suddenly available again.

Peres passes from Israel's history now and it is no longer his Israel. Jews who make aliyah today and follow in his shadow will find a place, a state, a shared consciousness and a vision of time and timelessness that is on the verge of a great millennial awakening.

Quigley is a prize-winning writer who has worked more than 35 years as a book and magazine editor, political commentator and reviewer. For 20 years he has been an amateur farmer, raising Tunis sheep and organic vegetables. He lives in New Hampshire with his wife and four children. Contact him at quigley1985@gmail.com.

More in International

Israel's momentous election decision

Read more »