It was a dark and stormy night.
Discussions about Israel can produce that effect, especially if the wrong topics are thrown into the conversation. Leading that topic line-up are the Palestinian U.N. recognition move (aka hostile and reckless Palestinian move to delegitimize Israel and avoid negotiations), ultra-Orthodox (aka religious gatekeepers), illegal settlements (aka legal homes in our biblical homeland) and, of course, Palestinian leaders (aka Palestinian terrorists). Lately, Israel’s economic protests might also generate an oddly familiar feeling as defense and social services spending and tax rates are debated, discussed and then pitched overboard to a committee, all the better to delay action until the next meeting with S&P, the protesters or coalition members.
If only Keynes was Jewish…and alive. He could join this misallocation of resources Israeli tent party and encourage more stimulative government tent spending. Certainly Warren Buffett seems willing to pitch his own tent in the soak the rich wing. But how to get him to convert? And how to get the conversion past the Haredi cartel?
But we digress.
It’s Edward George Bulwer-Lytton who used a novel to reveal his discovery that night is reliably dark and sometimes stormy. His description certainly fit the darkly depressing plane flight where I was witness to an oftentimes heated conversation at 38,000 feet. And 37,000 feet. And at all the feet down to zero feet. All triggered by a “Curb Your Enthusiasm” episode about a Palestinian restaurant that dared to open near a deli. That episode just happened to be playing on the LiveTV televisions of my two fellow Jewish passengers.
Quick comment: I had no ability to check their mothers’ backgrounds to assess whether either one of them was trying to pull a reverse Ralph Branca. Their claim to Judaism was good enough for me.
Long comment: Why is it that Branca, a devout Catholic, and one of the baseball players most identified with the agony of defeat, had to be suddenly outed this week as a Jew (courtesy of a Jewish mother who hid her Judaism) by the New York Times? Branca, the Brooklyn Dodger who, 60 years ago, gave up the pennant-winning home run to the New York Giant’s Bobby Thompson, a home run that came to be known as “the shot heard around the world, ” was fully prepared to live as a Catholic. He even credited his Christian faith with allowing him to get through the hard times of letting an entire city down.
The New York Times had to go and spend two successive days chronicling Branca’s genealogical history and his reaction to the discovery, along with the reactions of religious and sports leaders and people, like Alan Dershowitz, who enjoy ruling on things and weighing in on guilt, innocence and how to best gain visibility.
Jews have already had enough suffering. Why did my formerly favorite paper go out of its way to tarnish Jews by ascribing one of sports greatest failures to a landsman? At least he waited to pitch until one day after Rosh Hashanah ended.
Oh, you may say that’s the day the manager assigned him to pitch. I say the Times should cut Branca some slack for acting to honor the religious holiday of the one third of the Brooklyn community who were Jewish.
At least Shel Wallman, co-editor of The Jewish Sports Review, one of my new favorite magazines, doesn’t blame the 1951 calamity on our tribe. He ruled that practice makes perfect: If someone doesn’t practice Judaism, and adopts another religion, then that person doesn’t get Shel’s favorable Halachah ruling, and won’t get included in his list of official Jewish athletes. (The list is finally large enough for a minyan so no need for Shel to push boundaries.)
Even Dershowitz, my new favorite Jewish attorney/author/blogger/analyst/adviser/Israel defender/self-described atheist and knowledgeable “who is a Jew” decider, ruled against Branca’s Judaism based on his sports memories: “You could see there was nothing Jewish about Ralph Branca.” According to Dershowitz, he clearly didn’t pitch “Jewishly,” especially in comparison to Sandy Koufax. (Thankfully, Dershowitz wasn’t asked to rule on O.J. Simpson in comparison to Bernie Madoff.)
The New York Times can still rectify the pain their hurtful investigation has caused. They can still return to their “favorite” position in my lunchtime reading cycle. Here’s the recipe: Take two pounds of chicken fat, some garlic…wait, wrong recipe…Give me a minute here.
The “all the news that’s fit to print” gang just needs to assign an investigative team to “out” possible closet Jews known for their sports successes. We need someone’s achievements to celebrate. Why not Lance Armstrong(stein)? Michael Phelps(berg)? Ben(jamin) Crenshaw? Tom (the Tomer) Brady? Jo(seph) Montana?
I’ll even take Tiger (aka Tzvi) Woods. There’s an almost perfect balance of success and trajedy along with enough mixed heritage to warrant an investigative look.
But we really need to get back to my plane trip.
Here’s my tale of two Jews ( I think) in Seats 2A and 2B who hold two very different views about Israel. Hopefully, my penned recollections will prove mightier than the verbal swords they aimed at each other. And also mightier than the lawsuit from Bulwer-Lytton’s estate for (badly) stealing and mangling one of his other well-known sentences.
Let’s call my friends Avi and Gideon. The setting is a plane ride to Philadelphia. The flight had already been delayed for two hours because of the weather. (It really was a dark and stormy night.) The passengers were already restless. The flight attendants weren’t thrilled with having their long day extended even further.
One had a date and the other appeared to be looking for one among eligible and not so eligible passengers. (It was hard not to hear their discussion since some of it was accidentally broadcast over the plane intercom and the remainder was broadcast from the five feet between my seat and theirs.) 2A and 2B might have been good flight attendant rendezvous candidates, but since they soon became engrossed in their discussion they didn’t present a very appealing get. This flight attendant had no interest in talking about the West Bank while throwing back shots on South Street or whatever other directional streets she mentioned.
Enough setting — time to move on.
Gideon was the first to start complaining. He didn’t like Avi’s views on the fictional Palestinian restaurant’s chicken, the actors’ thinly veiled references to the New York community center and mosque debate, or Palestinian and Israeli issues and relationships. I was the pretend t.v. watcher secretly absorbing the more interesting show a row over. I got even better positioned to listen and take notes.
It’s called self-reflection. Try it sometime. You think Israel is never wrong. Or almost never. It’s always the Arabs’ fault.
Avi pushes back:
Dogs bark, cats meow and my trash still gets picked up on Tuesday and Friday. Nothing changes. The Arabs have no leadership. And whatever we give, they mess up or destroy. If we give them the West Bank then they’ll just screw that up too. How can you really think they should be closer to us? I say we shouldn’t give anything back. When they have people mad about something they blow themselves up. Look…
Gideon cut Avi off:
Just garbage. Simplistic garbage. (Gideon actually chose a more descriptive word. Suffice it to say that this grabage would not be the kind Avi should dare putting out on Tuesdays and Fridays if he wants his garbage to continue to be picked up.) The same old, same old, same old, same old… You send me every email you get that supports what you think. If you don’t like what you read, you ignore it. The truth is your truth. You don’t care about really examining issues. It’s bolster, bolster, bolster. React. Do you even know how to reflect and consider other views? Do you ever think about a greater good? Compromise? Do you secretely run the Israeli Tea Party?
Funny. You know they hate us. Always will. Just look at what that Hamas guy said about Bin Laden. Look at the street signs they put up honoring terrorists. Look at what they teach their kids. It’s a culture that celebrates death. What was that line Golda Meir said? Something about peace not happening until they loved their kids more than they hated us? Well they don’t. It still applies.
So you want us to sign a peace treaty with people that still just want to push us into the sea? It’s just a piece of paper to them. Here’s the deal — it’s not hard to understand. If they had just accepted us back in 1948 then we’d be negotiating trade agreements, not acres of land and refugees and settlers and water rights, or how to divide Jerusalem.
It’s all like rituals to you. Got my tallit? Check. Play golf every Sunday at 7:30. Check. Come home. Check. Have a sandwich. Check. Find some lies on the internet. Check. Email them to my friends. Check. Cut my AIPAC check. Check. Play the victim. Check.
You really don’t care that none of this moves us forward? You don’t worry about our kids not supporting Israel because the Israel we remember isn’t there anymore? You really want to cede Israel support to the Glenn Beck’s and Hagee’s? You really don’t see that what did exist and what you imagine what will always exist, won’t exist much longer? Do we choose democracy and lose our Jewish state? Or do we choose our Jewish state and throw away democracy? Or maybe we can just go more of the theocratic route and let the Israeli Mullahs run the traffic lights and your garbage pickup along with deciding who can marry as a Jew and get buried as a Jew. Maybe they can even take over housing, all the better to stop non-Jews from living anywhere near them. Israel is running a way better delegitimization campaign against itself than anyone else is running.
And Israel should start worrying less about boycotts, sanctions and divestment and start worrying more about things that it can control and fix so it can stop any B.D.S. campaigns from getting any traction.
Avi didn’t like the “D” word or the “B” and “S” words:
Boycott Israel? Sanction Israel? Divest from Israel? Come on. Tell me about the world-wide B.D.S. campaign against Yemen or Somalia or Saudi Arabia or Syria or Kuwait or Egypt or Lebanon or any of the Arab League’s gaggle of gangsters? Do you and your buddies really think it’s fair to allow the world to single Israel out? It’s a huge double standard.
So it’s time for me to buck up, suck up and get into your super Israel supporter outfit?
Avi interrupted back:
Maybe Netanyahu isn’t perfect, but he looks pretty good up against Assad, Mubarak and any other Arab leader you can name. Have some perspective. Stop trying to sell the idea that we shouldn’t compare Israel to its neighbors. It’s a bad crowd we live in. You can’t ignore that Israel doesn’t have Canada, Mexico and two oceans on its borders.
There was a pause.
The Palestinian restaurant was serving a chicken plate and Larry David was enjoying it along with his developing connection to the attractive Palestinian owner.
Take some time to watch the clips. I’ll explore the conclusion of Gideon and Avi’s conversation and various metaphorical relationships in my next column. All to hopefully shed some light, if not greatly reduce the storm.