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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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Chanukah in the Kibbutz


To end the year and the decade on a positive note, here are my recollections of how beautiful, how meaningful, how special celebrating Chanukah was in the kibbutz when I was growing up. As a ten-year-old kid, let’s say, we classmates we’ll be very excited all day ahead of lighting the first candle of the menorah. We’ll get ready for it in our class, which—you may or may not know—was at the common house where we all lived together. We did not live with our parents, but in our house where we studied, played, ate, and slept. On that day we would decorate the classroom with our holiday ‘artworks,’ and of course will study the story of the Maccabees, their heroic revolt against the Syrian-Greco army, the capture of Jerusalem and the rededication of the Second Temple, and the miracle of the oil that lit the menorah for eight straight days.

Later that afternoon all the kibbutz schoolkids will get together in one large hall, where we will sing all the Chanukah songs, light menorahs with the first candle, play games and eat latkes. The big deal would be that we actually would cook the latkes ourselves. Following that, we will walk to our parents’ home, which was called a ‘room,’ where we again would light the menorah, turn off the lights and sing the songs. We will wait anxiously, because along the main dirt-road of the kibbutz a tractor will pass with a cart, and volunteers will deliver carefully counted sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts) to each home. We’ll devour them, as they were a real ‘expensive’ treat. We’ll then play the dreidel some, and leave our homes to a main gathering place. From there we will walk with flaming torches leading the way to the big swimming pool on the slope of the mountain. It was Mount Gilboa, the Biblical Mount where Saul and his sons fought the Philistines and where they died.

In later years, the flaming torch procession would include especially made water lanterns kids and adults created, with bright colors cellophane paper surrounding a lit candle. Upon arriving at the swimming pool these torches would be placed in the water, and float there majestically during the ceremony. There will be a choir singing, and readings about the glory of the Maccabees. Coincidingly, signs and a large menorah would be lit up on the mountain. I was lucky once to be on the mountain, in the dark and cold, waiting anxiously to put fire to one of these signs. Oh boy, it was the most beautiful sight: the fire and light, up on the dark mountain.

Following this ceremony we will go down to the bottom of the kibbutz, where the main asphalt road passed. By that time, eight o’clock already, there will be a torch race competition, involving runners from other kibbutzim and from different age groups. It will start somewhere far from the kibbutz, and runners will race along the road carrying a lit, fiery torch. The whole kibbutz will wait anxiously to see who will arrive first, carrying the torch. Obviously, if he would arrive and the torch is not lit, then it’s not a win. But again, it was a glorious sight waiting for runners to appear carrying the torches, as I myself did once or twice.

We will then go up to the outside basketball court, where the people of the kibbutz would gather with their kids. There will be all kinds of games and races involving the adults and kids. Looking back now, I believe our parents brought those type of games from Europe. We will jump inside empty potato sacks, for instance; men would carry children on their shoulders and will race from one end of the court to the other. Games like that, involving food too, were fun galore.

At this point there will be an announcement, probably some singing, to close the first day of Chanukah. Schoolkids will disperse to their houses, with or without their parents, depend on age. The parents might go home, or might go down to the common dining room for an adult only party. We kids could hardly sleep, of course, following all the fun we had in this long day of celebration, and the good food we ate.

The next day, whether it would be a regular school day or a holiday vacation, we kids will have the greatest pleasure of all. As I said in the beginning, I was a ten-year-old kid. And so, together with my friends we’ll go down to a bomb-shelter, located not far from our building. By that time we were already able to snatch away quite a number of Chanukah candles, and some matches too. We will light the candles and will collect the colorful burning wax in the palm of our hands. It was a test of bravery, of resisting pain. The trick was to see who could be the toughest of us boys, and be able to collect the most candlewax in hand and knead it into the biggest, most colorful ball of wax. We will hang on to these wax balls, for games and decoration, long after the holiday was already over.

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