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The Revolution Has Started

Five years ago I published a post here titled, “Halle Berry & the Jewish Problem.” It saw daylight also on ‘The Times of Israel’ and generated many shares and comments, mostly (not to my surprise) unfavorable. In it, I coined the phrase ‘The Halle Berry Syndrome,’ result of a radio interview the actress had given on the NPR program ‘All Things Considered,’ in which (among other things) she’d said that: “… being a mother myself, there’s nothing I wouldn’t do for my daughter, whether it be legal or illegal.” And: “I can tell you, as sure as I’m sitting in this chair, if she killed somebody, I would help her bury the body.”

Hearing that, aghast, I immediately made the analogy to many American Jews I knew back then, especially in religious congregations, who would behave—and were behaving—in a similar fashion regarding Israel. They were afflicted, I’d made the point with the same symptoms and attitude. No matter whether they were Democrats or Republicans; Reforms or Conservatives; Liberals or Illiberals; Religious or Secular; there was no distinction when it came to Israel: they would all help bury the body.

Israel, you see, could do no wrong. Could be guilty of no crime. Could be accused of no misdeed. It was AIPAC’s way or the highway: defend Israel at all costs; defend Netanyahu at all costs (even while attacking and working against a sitting American president); defend the occupation and settlements at all costs. If you think otherwise, keep it to yourself. But we, individuals and groups, refused to stay quiet. We continued to talk and raise our voices in opposition to the doctrine of ‘Israel could do no wrong,’ which was declared often from the pulpit by the rabbis.

But now, at long last, the chickens have come home to roost, and the full scope of years of ignorance and blindness manifested in the current threat of annexation, is in clear view while a major shift in public opinion among American Jews—even among conservatives—is in full swing. So much so that the ‘sacred cow’ of ‘Israel can do no wrong’ is being questioned frequently, and being challenged in the open on social media in all its platforms. Bibi is no longer king, and like so many in Israel, they’re dying to see him go away for good. The occupation stinks, and the settlements—build in the West bank with their hard-earned dollars—are beginning to be viewed as problematic, as taking the wrong path.

Because the Jews who escaped Europe and survived the Holocaust, who fought so hard against the South African Apartheid and American racism, they—or mostly their children—now see Israel headed in the same direction. The direction of endless war. Endless conflict. And if not Apartheid, then a binational, one-state solution de facto with both peoples, Israelis and Palestinians, sharing the land. Which soon won’t be a Jewish state anymore. Of course, some Jews are still afflicted with the ‘Halle Berry Syndrome,’ but many others see the light and react with a cry of subdued ‘mea culpa:’ What happened to our beloved country? Are we at fault, too?

Others, though, are shying away from it all. We have enough problems of our own, they say, here in America. Existential problems. Let us deal with them first. We have our own dictator-in-the-making to fight against. You there fight your own fight. Eat what you’ve been cooking all these years since the Six-day war. We now have the coronavirus pandemic to deal with. Which, make no mistake about it, would influence American Jewry relations with Israel too. It’s a matter of personal survival, nowadays, of our own and our families’ health and economic survival. Religious congregations are shut, (going virtual on ZOOM and YouTube). Jews who all their lives went to shul every week at least once, on Shabbat, are no longer doing so. Coming this fall, High Holidays would also be conducted via virtual reality.

How would they collect the Jewish High Holiday tithe going to support Israel? Who would they listen to, now that the rabbis would no longer be hammering into them how to think, how to support, how to talk about Israel every Shabbat from the Bimah? Tell you how: they now learn for themselves everything online. Gone are the days when they only received their info about Israeli politics from the overly supportive TV Networks and the ‘Jewish Forward.’ They read Haaretz and The Times of Israel and the Jerusalem Post online. Some other outlets too. And while this terrible pandemic is unexpected (some experts would argue otherwise), this turn of how Jewish American view Israel is not. It’s been long in the making.

Which brings me to Israel. Back home. Don’t count on American Jews to save you this time, I say, it’s your rotten apple to eat, as here in America we’re left eating our own rotten apple of growing anti-Semitism. And not only because of the imbecilic president who currently resides in the White House, but because of the corona pandemic too. It brings out the best, and the worst in people. Among them, in certain quarters, are those who now loudly call: ’Blame the Jews!’ Last year I went down to the American River, as I do every weekend, and on the paved path leading to it, there was a swastika painted in black. In 30-some years here in America I never encountered such a thing before (I called the Park Rangers and they cleaned it up).

So be aware of this too: The revolution has started. Not only among blacks and browns, the poor and the desolate, but among American Jews too. Just as it has started in Israel by Israelis, mostly the young, who are fighting for their lives and livelihood, and are fed up with the old guard. But be sure of this, too: American Jews still love Israel dearly. It’s in their DNA, after all. Alas, they are in the process of liberating themselves from the shackles of slavery to a country that’s no longer representing the ideal of its own Declaration of Independence. Gone, baby Israel, gone. You’re a grown-up now, get used to it. So “fasten your seatbelt” (in the immortal words of another Hollywood film star), as when it comes to the continuation of the occupation and the possibility of annexation, “it’s going to be a bumpy ride.”

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The Elephant in the Room

Fighting the spread of the coronavirus pandemic—in America fighting ingrained racism too, and in Israel the threat of annexation—I myself am facing the extra burden of walking, eating, and sleeping with an elephant. No kidding, stay with me please. It’s not only in my room, mind you, it goes everywhere with me. The few people I interact with these days, and those I pass by on my walk in the park, don’t seem to see that I walk with an elephant by my side. And after reading, hearing, watching millions of words being spoken, coming from the mouths and minds of people much wiser, educated, and knowledgeable than me—some of whom I truly admire, though none can equal Albert Camus, whose ‘The Plague’ I’ve read in my teens and again in my twenties—I’m still completely baffled by the fact that no one ever mentions the existence of ‘The Elephant in the Room.’

Why so? I wish I knew. Though this much I do know: This Elephant belongs to all of us. Only most people, for reasons that escape me, cannot see it. Or are too scared to admit seeing it. So let me tell you also this: I see them, too, and I hear them. I know where most of these people are coming from. After all, this world of ours suffers greatly from our collective misbehavior and ignorant. Our abuse of nature and wildlife—especially our cruelty towards animals and species of all kinds, not the least our own kind—is well documented. This teenage girl from Sweden, Greta Thunberg, who keeps shouting that “the emperor has no clothes” is my hero long before she’d been named Time’s person of the year.

Which brings me to admit this: If it were up to me, I would elect a triumvirate of women—say Germany’s Angela Merkel, New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern, and Denmark’s Mette Frederiksen—to lead the world in this epic, pandemic war. Their brains are much superior to any man leader alive today, and their hearts are in the right place. We can add the doctors, the specialists—most, but not all, are still men—to work under them. To be their soldiers. Let these women generals command the battlefield in our fight against nature’s long-overdue revenge. Because only those who are capable of compassion and compromise, have the faculties to deal with this enormous challenge.

But what’s worrying me, and keeps me awake at nights, is that even they might not see this Elephant. Or that if they would see it, they might not acknowledge its existence. Because otherwise, how can one explain that this, the most wondrous of animals still walking the face of the earth, also represents our downfall? It leads us, obediently so, to the edge of the cliff. And why, you may rightly ask, I don’t mention it by name? That’s a good question, I give you that. But you see, the nature of the ‘elephant in the room’ metaphor is that when you mention it by name—since it’s so obviously available for all to see—it disappears. And when it disappears, we have the tendency—being human and all—to believe it has never existed.

Yet it does. And it carries on its wide back the climate change crisis. Racism and injustice, it carries too; abuse of natural resources, starvation and desolation, it carries too. Income inequity, class divide, abuse of power and resources… you name it, it carries. Our elephant, beautiful creature though it is, is also the foundation for all the ills in this world. It’s very prominent, for instance, in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities of New York, London, Jerusalem and elsewhere. In these communities in particular, where the commandment to procreate (“be fruitful and multiply”) is so fundamental (it’s common rather than the exception there to have seven/eight children in a family), the coronavirus has inflicted an unusually great amount of suffering and death.

In one television newscast I watched lately, there was a story about how people are suffering economically in America due to the pandemic. A poor, down on her luck woman who lost her job was complaining and crying—my heart was aching for her, believe me—that she’s a single mother with seven children. How can she feed them all? How indeed! And yet, the reporter didn’t see the elephant standing so tall behind her, and had asked her not a single question about it. Neither did the anchorwoman in the studio. But I saw it right away: A single mother with seven children to feed, to clothe, to educate. Help me here, people: How is it possible? Even allowed?

They have their share of elephants in Africa and India, of course. And they have many hungry children and adults to feed there. But they too don’t see the Corona Elephant in their midst. No wonder they keep trying to infiltrate Europe and find a decent living for themselves and their families overseas. I guess they simply don’t want to see it. And BTW: I love children, don’t get me wrong. But we are doomed if we don’t see this elephant and take appropriate action. We will destroy this planet, or it will destroy us. Maybe the three ladies, the leaders I’ve mentioned above—who share three children between them, and also share some of the lowest rates of deaths due to the pandemic in their countries—would see it. Would understand it. And would do something about it.

* The ‘Leave a Comment’ link is the last tag below, in blue.

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