Last Night I Saw the Mushroom Cloud

I dreamed I saw the mushroom cloud. It’s been absent from my dreams for so long, in spite of Ahmadinejad. The more he talks about eliminating us, the deeper my sleep.

As a girl, I dreamt of it often; it was the backdrop of my life. Its after-image cast such a long shadow, in those days, that stray sparks from the firestorm were still drifting around the globe. The fallout was like snowflakes, finding their way all the way from Japan into my yellow-wallpapered bedroom in Connecticut.

I wasn’t the only one. Any American childhood in the 1950s and 60s took place with that impossibility as the underlying reality, and underlying fantasy: a brilliant white nightmare in the backyard, rising faster than Jack’s Beanstalk. Americans who were optimistic enough to build fallout shelters were ridiculed by their compatriots. How could a concrete bunker, naively fitted out with air filter and a two-week supply of bottled water, protect you from a bomb reputed to be greater than a hundred Hiroshimas? Even if you and your family did make it into the shelter in time and shut the hatch successfully against your neighbors, what kind of landscape would eventually greet you if you survived (assuming you hadn’t melted into the concrete of your underground chamber)? What would you dine upon when your supplies ran out? No way, anymore, to pick up a quart of milk at the supermarket. Busses would not be running. And how would you breathe in the brave new world, once the dust settled and you emerged into the radioactive light, or darkness, of day?

As a citizen of Israel, I’m therefore puzzled by a sort of fearless insouciance on my part in response to the Iranian President’s threats, which couldn’t be more blatant. A smiley fellow, boyish and diminutive, he’s usually pictured before a cluster of microphones. Over the past few years he has variously called Israel a “rotten branch that will soon be destroyed,” an “illegitimate regime that will be wiped off the map,” “an usurper and an illegitimate entity.” “As everybody knows,” the President has declared, “the Zionist regime was created to establish dominion of arrogant states over the region and to enable the enemy to penetrate the heart of Muslim land…. Israel must be wiped out from the map of the world,” and “there is no doubt the Palestinian nation and Muslims as a whole will emerge victorious.” “With the force of God behind it, we shall soon experience a world without the United States and Zionism.” “Anybody who recognizes Israel will burn in the fire of the Islamic nation’s fury.”

Iran has reportedly requested United Nations aid for their nuclear development program, on the grounds that the purpose of its program is cancer research.

So now that the possibility of nuclear war is on a nearby horizon, like a nightmare coming this way, why aren’t I going out of my mind with fear? Why aren’t I out on the streets, demonstrating to save our lives?

My efforts to be honest with myself about my own low-key reaction, whereby I do nothing whatsoever on a practical level to combat the threat, have failed. I truly can’t tell if this is admirable serenity in the face of mortal danger, or the paralysis of helplessness that sometimes seizes the dreamer. Perhaps it’s the necessary numbing which occurs naturally in the face of something so overwhelming that it’s off the charts. Would it be just too nerve-wracking to take him seriously?

Like Jews who remained in Europe when it was still possible to get out, am I incapable of thinking the unthinkable, or am I so profoundly at home in Jerusalem that no matter what happens, I don’t want to be anywhere but here? Could it be that my trust in God has taken root so deeply that I’ve at last arrived– after a long and circuitous, complicated route — at simple faith?

Or is there something going on akin to Queen Esther’s response to Haman, Ahmadinejad’s forbear, who in spite of his plans to annihilate all the Jews, ended up killing not a one? “For how can I bear to witness the disaster which will befall my people? How can I bear to witness the destruction of my relatives?”

As a child, I thought we existed in a random world, a planet spinning in a vast, dark universe in which physical laws constitute the ultimate reality, and unimaginable evil can triumph.

Now I know that reality is larger than the world we see, and that my own little voice, in personal conversation with the Creator, is the most powerful channel at my disposal to effect the course of events. But when I glanced out my window last night and saw the mushroom cloud, looking so strange and so familiar, and inevitable, I knew it couldn’t be. It was finally happening but was beyond belief, so I woke up, and it was just a dream.

Sarah Shapiro’s most recent books are Wish I Were Here and All of Our Lives: An Anthology of Contemporary Jewish Writing. This article first appeared in the NY Jewish Week.

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8 Responses

  1. Shua Cohen says:

    “Last Night I Saw the Mushroom Cloud.” I shuddered when I read this title. Here’s why:

    Last Thursday night I, too, had a dream. I and some others were in an office building with large plate-glass windows, providing a view of the Manhattan skyline to the west. Suddenly, a tactical nuclear weapon (a missile) came whizzing by and struck downtown Manhattan. We gazed in stunned silence as the mushroom cloud began to rise from ground zero. I quickly told people not to look, fearing that the brilliant flash of the explosion would blind our eyes. I realized that we needed to get to the elevators quickly, and down to the street, before the shock of the explosion would collapse the building.

    Suddenly it was nighttime. I was on a rickety boat — like a homemade Huckleberry Finn raft, aware of the water lapping just below the wooden deck — on which I realized we could make an escape. The idea was to steer easterly along the Brooklyn shore, into Jamaica Bay and to Kennedy airport, where I somehow knew that evacuation flights were taking off. The hope was to get on an El Al flight to Eretz Yisrael.

    I did not relate this dream to anyone, but — for what it’s worth — the title of Sara Shapiro’s essay suggests that I need to do so now.

  2. Garnel Ironheart says:

    Mahmood Ahmewhatshisname has to rail against Israel to distract from his government’s growing unpopularity. For a long time the people have felt disenfranchised by the mullocracy running Iran but at least they could choose their president. With his theft of the election last year and the ongoing repression, they are now becoming increasingly discontent and the risk of revolution is rising.
    However, Persians are a very proud people. Any intervention from the outside, even one solely intended to overthrow the mullocracy and introduce a democratic government (which is exactly what so many Iranains seem to want) would be met with the people rallying around Ahmewhatchacallinhim and attacking the would-be liberators.
    Russia would never allow Iran to fire off a nuclear missile knowing that a nuclear response would create a radioactive zone on their southern border and send millions of Muslims fleeing north, the last thing they want!
    Thus all Iran’s government can do is increasingly threaten Israel and America in the hopes that an attack by either will increase their popularity and end the threat of revolution.
    If anything, Netanyahu should be inviting Ahmewhosatthedoor to his Thuesday night bridge game in the name of regional friendship. That would really put the little bugger into a frenzy.

  3. Yehoshua Friedman says:

    I believe that Hashem’s will will be manifest in a very clear way. We must do all we can reasonably do, but after that, we need to trust in G-d. We who do everything possible to both build up the Jewish state and also to make it more Jewish will, IY”H, continue to do so until the coming of Mashiach.

  4. I was in search of a PRAYER Button to place on my Blog so I can share the Prayer for ISRAEL. I support Israel and her people as God’s Chosen People from the beginning of Genesis.

    I have no idea how I got to your site – except by God Himself.
    I am praying for Israel and her people. I pray that her people will be restored back to the land that God gave them when they crossed the Jordan into their Promised Land to take possession of it from their enemies at that time. Too much land today, has been given up already and God is not pleased. HE WILL restore that land and her people. And then Israel will plunder the nations that have taken what is rightfully theirs.

    Here are some Scriptures I want to share with you so that you know and believe that the God of Israel – the same God of Abraham – Isaac – and Jacob will fight for you.

    Zephaniah 2
    8 “I have heard the insults of Moab
    and the taunts of the Ammonites,
    who insulted My people
    and made threats against their land.
    9 Therefore, as surely as I live,”
    declares the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel,
    “surely Moab will become like Sodom,
    the Ammonites like Gomorrah—
    a place of weeds and salt pits,
    a wasteland forever.
    The remnant of My people will plunder them;
    the survivors of My nation will inherit their land.”
    10 This is what they will get in return for their pride,
    for insulting and mocking the people of the LORD Almighty.

    Ezekiel 36
    33 ” ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: On the day I cleanse you from all your sins, I will resettle your towns, and the ruins will be rebuilt. 34 The desolate land will be cultivated instead of lying desolate in the sight of all who pass through it. 35 They will say, “This land that was laid waste has become like the garden of Eden; the cities that were lying in ruins, desolate and destroyed, are now fortified and inhabited.” 36 Then the nations around you that remain will know that I the LORD have rebuilt what was destroyed and have replanted what was desolate.
    I the LORD have spoken, and I will do it.’
    37 “This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Once again I will yield to the plea of the house of Israel and do this for them: I will make their people as numerous as sheep, 38 as numerous as the flocks for offerings at Jerusalem during her appointed feasts. So will the ruined cities be filled with flocks of people. Then they will know that I am the LORD.”

    May you know and understand now – that HE IS THE LORD ALMIGHTY!
    I pray that you and others will read and understand the one forbidden TEXT in the Torah that will give you the TRUTH and that the scales of your eyes will fall away when you do – so that ALL ISRAEL MIGHT BE SAVED! * * * ISAIAH 53 * * *

    In Prayerful Position facing East,

  5. Sarah Shapiro says:

    Re: comment #4, by Stephanie K. Brower

    While I read the above quotations with appreciation for your encouragement and support of Israel, the reference to a “forbidden text of the Torah” easily gave you away. It revealed, of course, that your underlying goal is, G-d forbid, to influence Jews in regard to our beliefs, may you never succeed with any of my brethren.

    In Judaism there’s no such thing as “a forbidden text of the Torah.” This fictional notion, designed to tantalyze and arouse curiosity, must be something in a missionizing Christian’s toolbox.

    I acknowledge the non-Jew’s right to practice his religion. If, however, your faith’s dogma is such that you cannot extend that same recognition to the Jew, please be truthful and forthright about what you have in mind when entering an Orthodox Jewish website.

  6. nachum klafter says:

    I wish Garnel Ironheart were correct. His perfectly logical analysis misses the most important point : Genocidal anti-Semitism is based on motivations which are irrational and defy the type of pundit speculation which is based on a political or economic cost-benefit analysis. From a cost-benefit perspective, Nazi Germany wasted incalculable resources rounding up, hunting down, and murdering us; it is quite plausible to imagine that had all of that manpower and machinery been focused on fighing Russians and Americans (as well as they had avoiding attacking Russie), the war would have turned out differently. The Final Solution made absolutely no sense, and no columnists or pundits imagined it despite the bloodthirsty rhetoric that was there for all to read in Mein Kampf, and for everyone to hear in Hitler’s demagogic speeches which were openly broadcast throughout on a regular basis. (And Hitler had already showed the world that he had no qualms about when he murdered all of his political opponents in one night, including people who had been loyal to him and his party for decades.) Even most of our Chachamim couldn’t imagine that a genocide was possible, with very few exceptions. It made no logical sense that the Nazis would commit genocide accross a continent. More importantly, no one could bear to consider the thought very seriously. Look at the letters written to the Hitler by the rabbinical leadership of the Hildesheimer Yeshiva, who assumed that Hitler’s anti-Semitic rhetoric was not to be taken seriously and was only for the purposes of gaining popularity among the masses of uneducated Germans.

    I am not judging anyone, Chas Ve-Sholom. I do not claim that I would have known better. I am simply pointing out that at the onset of the Sho’ah, many of us said “He doesn’t mean it when he preaches he will kill all the Jews. This is crazy talk and he can’t be taken seriously.”

    When the leaders of nations threaten us, we need to take it seriously. In fact, if a national leader makes hints or vague threats about attacking us, I will assume that it means he is fantasizing about it privately on a level which is many orders of magnitude more intensely. If he openly threatens to attack us, then there is no question.

    I think that Sarah Shapiro is exactly correct about this. Ahmadenijad is the Haman HaRasha (may his legacy be blotted out!) of our generation. He believes the Israel is the cause of all that is wrong in his twisted and perverse world–I think this is the essential disctnction between ordinary bigotry and genocidal anti-Semitism. He even bothers to involve himself in pseudo-academic conferences devoted to Holocaust denial, which in my opinion is an undertaking so wacky and implausible that it can only be explained by vicious Jew-hatred. It may be true that the average Iranian citizen has no designs on destroying Israel, but it is a very closed society, with no freedom of expression or a free press–they are very vulnerable to manipulation. I am praying to HaShem to save us from this wicked one; in my imagination, HaShem’s the intervention will be through an assissination, through an air assault on their nuclear facilities, or (best of all scenarios) a “ve-nehafoch hu” type of regime change in Iran avoid avoids the necessity of Israel or the US risking any of their soldiers lives.

  7. Chaim Fisher says:

    I don’t share this.

    I spent close to forty years living right in the crosshairs of Russian nuclear missiles, including the Cuban Missile Crisis when we all thought we were on the line.

    The teachers made us do drills for a nuclear bomb where we would get under our desks and put our hands over our heads. I distinctly remember sitting down there with my hand over my head when I was six years old thinking, “Oh come on, this won’t help. Only God can save us!”

    And you know what? I don’t even have PTSD. And it was not a dream, and I don’t write dreamy articles about ‘insouciance’ about it.

    And also I don’t go running to the doctor with every little tweaky thing wrong with me. For goodness’ sake I’m not such a scaredy cat.

    I think its time to grow up and realize that reality is great but it does include risks. Everybody should take a deep breath and try to get over all this paranoia.

  8. Sarah Shapiro says:

    Re. Chaim Fisher’s statement: “And also I don’t go running to the doctor with every little tweaky thing wrong with me. For goodness’ sake I’m not such a scaredy cat.I think its time to grow up and realize that reality is great but it does include risks. Everybody should take a deep breath and try to get over all this paranoia.”

    Try to imagine a different Megillah, in which rather than calling for three-days of fasting and prayer, Esther says to Mordechai what you have said here.

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