Priorities On a perfect spring day, near Emory University’s quadrangle, our small Humanities class met picnic style. Because we’d expected to have class as usual, in the classroom, none of us had brought refreshments. Nor had our professor, a Frenchman who’d married an American. Since we’d spent much of the quarter discussing books about man’s inhumanity to other men, he felt we needed to discuss our role as Americans who were soon to be faced with fighting the War in Vietnam and southeast Asia.
“I believe in priorities,” he told us. “Your family must come first. Mine does.”
He explained that, if the war didn’t address a threat to one’s family, that it wasn’t a war worth fighting. For antiwar protestors like me, his message was more than encouraging. I never supported that war, had never found justification for our being in Vietnam.
If my former professor’s advice continues to serve as a measuring stick, my pacifism is about to be tested. Based only on his command that family allegiance comes first, and allegiance to country second, I find it more difficult than ever to hold fast to both.
Please understand that I am a devoted family man. If I described last night’s scene with my mom, my sister, and me joined in a careful embrace (due to Mom’s difficulty in moving) and a profoundly touching conversation none of us had anticipated, you’d get the picture. We’re tightly knit that way.
And we’re Jewish; we’re a family of Jews with a history that stretches back many, many centuries, if not milennia. That’s critical, especially now that my older daughter and her husband live in Jerusalem, the place where, beginning in July, my younger daughter will also be living for a year.
How significant is that Jewish geography? In a word, very. Islamic leaders creeping to the forefront thanks to the bloody Arab Spring conduct rallies that promote hatred specifically targeting Jews, especially Jews in Israel.
Whether I’m paranoid isn’t worth deciding. Judging me that way won’t cause Muslim extremists who happen to be poised to take control of many Islamic nations to shelve their anti-Semitism. Jew-hating leaders want to wrest control of Egypt and Syria, perhaps Jordan. Already, they’re in charge in Iran. They want to replace what has been a more benign toleration of Jews as dhimmis with plans to annihilate all of us, especially Jews in Israel.
Now that my younger daughter wants to begin rabinical studies there, in Israel, I must recall the dictate of my former professor. “Vive la famille!” I can hear his cheer, can remember his absolute certainty that he would bear arms only if his wife and children were threatened.
More than ever, I am forced to reckon with the nature of my commitment. Can I be comfortably aloof in the U.S.? How can I ignore the peril now aimed at my children?
What would you do? How would you protect your children from similar harm?
Huddling close to my Mom, I am aware, more than ever before, of the safe haven she provided for so long. So much has changed since then. As a parent, there are considerations about the safety of my children that are much different than any my mother faced. For me, thanks to Ahmadinijad and his ilk, there are verifiable threats that harken back to the Holocaust, threats I feel I must find a way to answer.
Must I do battle with those who would put my children in harm’s way? If you were me, would you?
B. Koplen 11/27/11
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