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It Was the Best of Times, It Was the Worst of Times

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“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

Mind-blowing, isn’t it, this opening paragraph (one sentence, really) from Charles Dickens ‘A Tale of Two Cities’? Reading it always gives me chills.  How prophetic of him, writing it in 1859 about the years leading up to the French revolution? But that’s the mark of a great writer, a visionary, and great literature too, to transcend times and many generations, and still be so truthful. About our age, too, it is true. About the last year in particular.

So let’s see where we’ve been, and what we’ve experienced in 2021 as it ends with a blast of cold air and a new tsunami wave of a coronavirus variant. It has started, indeed, with a shocking wave of a different kind, manmade: The January 6th insurrection, when a mob of Trump supporters, urged on and inspired by him and his cronies, stormed Capitol Hill and almost succeeded in overturning the results of our democratic, fair election and the certification of a new president. This assault on our democracy, this coup d’état was long in the making and almost successful. Don’t delude yourself that it’s over, because—should we not be on our guard—we won’t be so lucky next time.

This event, in the national political arena, overshadowed everything else this year, and still vibrates in the streets and in the halls of power. If not for the coronavirus pandemic—I cannot get rid of this thought, disturbing as it is to even contemplate—if not for the “China Virus” as he’d used to call it, we never would have gotten rid of Trump and his autocratic regime. Sad but true: if not for the many deaths and sick, we now would have a dictator in the White House, and autocracy in the vein of China and Russia here in America. The war is not over to be sure, but one battle we have somehow won. We better learn the lesson.

Meanwhile in Israel, a similar—if better and not so dramatic—outcome has occurred. Another potential dictator, Bibi Netanyahu, was kicked out of office. It was indeed a miracle of sorts that the preceding two-week flareup, the semi-war with Hamas in Gaza in May has brought some political opponents to their senses, and pushed them in a new direction. Foes and friends united—including, a first, an Arab party—to form the narrowest of coalitions, culminating in the successful formation of a new government, pushing Netanyahu to the sideline. To boot, he is also being prosecuted now in a court of law. But as in America so in Israel, it is not over yet, and all polls indicate he is still, by far, the most popular leader in Israel. That he might stage a comeback, like Trump, is entirely within the realm of possibility.

But above all—as in 2020—everything was eclipsed by the pandemic. In June of this year I went on a first date after a long time, and sat in an ice cream parlor with my young date maskless, enjoying the sun, the cold treat, and talking freely to each other. A month later I was up on the hills above Reno with my son on a fabulous vacation after two years of not seeing each other. At the end of October we were celebrating my birthday in Monterey Bay, and had a great time watching whales in the Pacific Ocean. Shortly thereafter I celebrated with some dear friends the Thanksgiving holiday with good food, wine, and fine comradeship. Likewise in Chanukah. We thought we are finally emerging out of the dark into the light.

“It was the season of Light,” as Dickens wrote, but now it is again the “season of Darkness.” It does look very bleak as I write this, as if we are back at square one. In the news on Monday morning it was said that Israel has added America to its no-fly list, both incoming and outgoing flights, as it already did with some European and African countries. Last evening I rescued out of my cupboard a new N95 mask I kept there for an emergency—using other, lighter and easier-to-wear masks in the meantime—for going grocery shopping. Last Saturday evening I was all geared up for a new episode of SNL. Guess what: my favorite TV program was back improvising, without an audience and hardly any cast members. British soccer Primer League matches are being canceled left and right, and so are NBA, NFL, and NHL games, as the various leagues are struggling to continue as scheduled.

So many other things/events, good and bad have occurred this year, but I’m going to stop right here and now. You know the rest. Let’s remember the good times. Stay healthy, my friends, and don’t let your guard down. May the next year be happy and joyous, mostly, for you and yours!

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

The Silence of The Jews

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Be warned: This is a horror story, a Halloween story. And since Halloween is my birthday (thank you very much), and I’m going away for a week to celebrate a milestone, I’m writing ahead of schedule and attempting something a bit different for the occasion. I don’t know where I’m going with it (usually I have a pretty good idea before I sit down to write), so we’ll find out together where it leads me. Hopefully—if it’s not scary enough, forbidding enough—you will forgive me.

First though, a bit of background. Some of you may know already that I’m the son of Holocaust survivors. My father, who died in the kibbutz he helped build, escaped from three labor camps in Hungary and Czechoslovakia during five years of horrors, spending his last year as a hungry rat in the streets and sewage tunnels of Budapest while the allies rained bombs. MY mother, still alive and residing in Tel Aviv, survived Auschwitz, seeing her parents and older sister—who refused to be separated from her crying baby—taken away into the gas chambers. I grew up without grandparents, therefore, in a place without grandparents.

And yet, I never liked the saying that the Jews of Europe were led to their death like “lambs to the slaughter.” I didn’t like it because it implied that these six million Jews had other options. As if they could fight. As if, unlike lambs, they could rebel. And yes, I know, a few—the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, the Jewish Partisans, others here and there—tried to fight. But by and large, the Jews of Europe were minding their own business. They exercised their religion and culture, they worked hard and prospered well, they were educated and successful in the arts and sciences. And then the most sophisticated, the most brutal, the most inhumane killing machine ever known to man had hit them suddenly. Just as most of them, when being loaded into the trains—like my mother and her family—didn’t know where they were heading.

They couldn’t fight even if they wanted to. They didn’t know how to fight. They didn’t have any weapons. That’s why the state of Israel was envisioned, established, and built. That never again such a calamity would befall us Jews. That’s why, also, many other survivors and refugees immigrated to America. And what I’m afraid of is that now—here comes the horror—when they have power, and weapons, and army, and money, and political strength, they are not only using it wrongly, but they inflict—even if on a different scale—shame, death, and injustice on other people: The Palestinians.

What the Israeli government and people since the Six-Day War of 1967 are doing, led by the settlers zealots—lately with increased violence, cruelty, and freehand—is not only unbecoming of the people of the book, of the people who survived the Holocaust, but of any decent human being. The continuation of the occupation, colonization, and abuse of basic human rights of the Palestinian people in the West bank might lead to the destruction of the Zionist dream. As an idea, for sure, if not in reality too. The security and prosperity of a safe home, a democratic home for the Jewish people is in grave danger.

Some Jews, not many, do speak out. Lately, Ben & Jerry decided to take a stand and not sell their ice cream to settlers in the West Bank. And yes, American Jews who support J Street and its call for the Two-State solution—dead or comatose, floating in shallow water—do speak out. Americans for Peace Now, New Israel Fund, and Jewish Voice for Peace all speak out. Even yours truly, here in this blog, shout out from time to time. Representative Andy Levin introduced in September the ‘Two-State Solution Act’ in congress. Well done. But mostly, the greater Jewish organizations and religious congregations not only maintain their silence, but enable Israel to continue its occupation and colonization.

There is a debate going on, naturally, whether Israel’s rule over Palestine is de facto an Apartheid already. I believe it is. And the scholars, historians, thinkers I trust most believe it is. But even if it’s not already there, it’s heading there fast. The hottest (not due to her looks) writer in the English language these days, Sally Rooney, had refused her latest book to be translated to Hebrew as a protest against Israel’s occupation and mistreatment of Palestinians. Others are sure to follow. Netflix, the biggest streamer of visual content on the planet, starts streaming some thirty short films, ‘Palestinian Stories,’ by filmmakers living under the occupation. If you’re on Twitter and you try to hashtag Apartheid, the first and most used term that pops out is #IsraeliApartheid.

But Prime Minister Bennett didn’t even mention the Palestinian people or conflict in his first speech in the UN. His right hand in his party, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, said we want to “manage” the conflict, not “solve” it. Netanyahu before them, likewise, had no intention of solving it. Other experts want to “shrink” the conflict. Anything but solving it. There is no—and won’t be any longer—political power in Israel, supported by the people, that can affect a change on this disastrous trajectory.

There are only two powers that, if united, might be able to force Israel’s hand into reversing course. First, the American President and administration. Second, a united American Jewry front standing together with the president. President Biden, sympathetic as he is to the Palestinian cause, won’t be able to do it alone under the current political climate. Just reopening the Palestinian Consulate in Jerusalem, which he’d promised he’d do, he is now hesitating to go ahead with under pressure from Israel. Only a united, strong front of Jewish America and the American President might be able to accomplish it.

But I don’t see it coming any time soon. My horror story ends with it; with the thundering silence of the Jews continuing unabated. Enabling Israel, therefore, to continue with the creation of a One-State Solution, undemocratic, with a ruling class, Jewish, and a plebeian class, Arab.

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

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