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A moment in America - Impressions and Expressions of Ijon
November 4th, 2001
09:43 pm

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A moment in America
Just now on CNN, Larry King replayed an interview with CBS's Dan Rather, from October 4th, in which they both viewed a minute from the first David Letterman show after the September 11th disaster. In that Letterman show (I'm telling all this as I saw it just now. I don't normally watch TV, and I've never seen the Letterman show), Rather answered some question and mentioned a verse from "God Bless America" (I think), saying they could never sing it the same again. As he said it, he broke into tears. Struggling to finish his sentence, his arm clasped by Letterman, apparently in an emotional flux himself, he sobbed and choked again, and began apologizing for the display. Letterman shook his arm supportively, and in a choked voice said something like: "Dan... Christ, you're a human being... Good God, this is...", and trailed off. Both men contended with their gushing emotion, and the audience, limited in expression as ever, applauded softly.

Here's my angle: Israelis like to be smug and feel superior to Americans. They like to pretend that Americans are automata, programmed by their own ultra-sophisticated consumerism and art of spin. All American television is taken to be basically "Hollywood" -- everything is planned, directed, targetted. The brilliant movie Wag The Dog makes the case remarkably well. But here are two veteran TV professionals, positively in tears at the thought of a verse in "God Bless America". This did not happen to Israeli TV broadcasters, and I doubt it will any time soon. Israelis are cynical, and also tragically innoculated against the shock, horror, and sorrow attendant upon terrorist acts. They would not find themselves bursting into tears over HaTikva, Israel's national anthem. It seems few people in the country could (I can't).

I think this is a symptom of Israel's fragmentary identity (i.e. the lack of a truly national identity), in stark contrast to the Americans' often-ridiculed patriotism. Phrases like "red-blooded American" or "American as apple-pie" seem, to the cynical Israeli, laughably naive and simplistic. Israelis have been living with dissonance in several huge issues, like religion and state, or the nagging necessity to realize that they're using "Israelis" to mean "Jewish Israelis", with non-Jews only being equal citizens de jure. This dissonance, I think, prevents many Israelis from being able to feel with their national anthem (which is strictly Jewish and Zionist, by the way, thereby excluding people such as me). This dissonance, I feel, eats away at the feelings of solidarity and fraternity which are the basis of a healthy society. This dissonance, these unresolved questions of identity and common, nay, national values, are challenges that Israeli are yet to overcome, and we can learn a lot from Americans, both on building a nation supporting diversity, and on banishing the all-too-common vice of racism and xenophobia, if not completely, then to remote corners of one's soul.

Hmm. Preachy.

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