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

clipground.com

“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!

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Chanukah Miracle in the Lebanon War

southfront.org

Darkness. Heavy darkness. Our replacement soldiers are here with us already. The night is full of stars. The skewers are on the fire. The coffee is on the coals. The dog is yelling. She senses that we are leaving tomorrow. The Georgian and the Bedouin are brothers; the Persian and the Yemenite are brothers; the American and the Moroccan are brothers; the Ashkenazy and the Sephardic, you better believe it, are brothers too. It is a true, incredible situation.

It was a different story yesterday. A roadside munition exploded not far from here. Two soldiers were killed and sixteen were injured. Two of them critical. The mother of Amir from kibbutz Shamir—who was killed in that attack—was also killed by terrorists. Amir hated this war. He sensed it would kill him, but he didn’t refuse to come. He enlisted and died. On his bed, in his small room, they found his lonely guitar.

A respected journalist from a very popular newspaper arrived at the devastating terrorist attack’s location, where the 70-kilograms roadside explosion threw a truckload of soldiers 20-meters away. She came to see the charred remains of the truck. There was hardly a word about the dead in her report. She now sips cafe au lait at a breezy, trendy coffee place on the boardwalk in Tel Aviv. Maybe noshing on a butter croissant.

The local population, the papers further tell their readers back home, received the Israeli soldiers with cherries, flowers, and kisses in the air. The other side of the story is a lot less celebratory, and a lot more depressing. We don’t even receive smiles anymore. Only the kids, inexperienced in war and politics, sometimes raise a hesitating hand for a wave as we pass on the road. They stand on the roads’ shoulders, littered with burned armored vehicles. Above them, swarms of blood-sucking mosquitos constantly hover.

But tonight is a different story. The jokes and the laughter fly with the burning sparks into the night. We sing “How beautiful the nights in Canaan,” and “Hey to the South,” and “My flak-jacket is my Lover.” Since the regular war-songwriters didn’t write any war songs this year, only the wrath-poets wrote wrathful poems, the soldiers are forced to write their own songs. So we sing the most known soldiers’ song of this war, with one additional stanza of mine:

Go down on us airplane, take us fast to Lebanon; we will fight for general Sharon, and in a coffin come back home.
How it happened that the conquest, suddenly turned into bitter defeat; you should ask the pawn, deep in the king’s killing field.

We light the first Chanukah candle on a makeshift Chanukiah, made of standing rifles. The two candles are waxed into the mouth of two rifles. We sing ‘Ma’oz Tzur’. It’s our ‘Finale Party’ after all, so we allow ourselves to break some army rules. At the ‘Finale Party’ of the previous company, they didn’t sing. They didn’t tell jokes and didn’t roll laughter into the air. At their ‘Finale Party’ they stood in attention. A moment of silence for three of their comrades who got killed. They lit not Chanukah candles but memorial candles.

My commander is 50-year-old. His head is balding, his eyes need glasses constantly. His reserve duty service is voluntary. In his civil life, he is a high-school principal. He leads by personal example: stands on duty-guard at nights with his soldiers, goes out on patrols, sweeps the yard, and washes the dishes. He never raises his voice. Sometimes he is on the point of losing control of his nerves, but quickly regains control and resumes his duty. My commander is truly an exceptional person. He hates the war in Lebanon. He even said that much to a governmental security committee inquiring about the war. He stated that what’s being done to us here is equal to the Biblical story of “Uriah the Hittite.” Generally, he hates army life and wars. So why the hell is he here?

Why the hell all of us are here?…

Still, we are lucky: The next day, late at night, we pass the Rosh HaNikra checkpoint at the border in one piece. What a miracle? A Chanukah miracle. We cross from north to south, from Lebanon to Israel.

November 1982

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