Barak and Bona Washingtonia are one of those couples who have grown apart over the years. Barak’s an army buddy of mine, a regular guy, and at least from my point of view he’s as great as he always was. Bona, who’s an old friend of Ilana’s used to be a lot of fun, too, but in recent years she’s drifted into this weird hypernationalist New-Agey Breslov stuff and it’s been a strain for Barak. More than a strain. The poor guy is having a real tough time, especially now that the kids are all out of the house.
So when he invited me and Ilana over for Friday night dinner, we felt a special duty to go, even though it was freezing outside and we really felt like staying in. It’s a mitzvah to make peace in the home, between husband and wife, and all the more so on Shabbat.
Unfortunately, when Barak opened the door in answer to our knock, we could see immediately that things were not good. So much blood was rushing to his head that his normally olive complexion had gone dull and gray. He looked like he was about to punch a hole in the wall (something he was very good at back when we were in Nachal) and using every gram of will-power to keep himself from doing it. Ilana took one look and headed straight into the kitchen to help Bona.
“Hey, what’s eating you, ahi?” I said. “Here, let’s sit down. Don’t keep it in. Let it out. Lay it on me.”
He clenched his fists and hissed and covered his face with his hands and leaned back and looked at the ceiling and finally said, “I can’t believe she invited him!”
“What do you mean? Who?” I asked. “Hey, should I get you a drink of water? A beer?”
I could hear animated conversation in the kitchen. It didn’t sound like Bona was upset. In fact, she called out in her singsong voice: “We’ll just be a few minutes. We’re waiting for a very special guest!”
Haim Watzman Written while reading Jane Austen at election time
Mr. Gary Melman, of Lowry, in Denver, was a man, who for his own amusement, never took up anything but the Wall Street Journal, there he found occupation for an idle hour, and consolation in a distressed one; there is faculties were roused into admiration and respect for the resourceful and responsible; there any unwelcome sensations arising from the state of the economy, the terrorist threat, and the future of the state of Israel changed naturally into anger at and contempt for the man in the White House.
Mrs. Beverly Melman was a wife of very superior character, an excellent woman, sensible and amiable, whose had humored, or softened, or when necessary headed off her husband’s habit of collaring strangers on the street and telling them in no uncertain terms that, in his long career as a job-creating small businessman, he had never had the such displeasure with a president, a man who sought to raise taxes on the income brackets to which Melman had long aspired to accede.
When Gary Melman met the then Miss Beverly Freund at a dorm Halloween cider and keg party during their senior year at the University of Washington in St. Louis, he had been quite taken with her perky smile and the manner in which she had, when Gary inadvertently vomited on the carpet, politely looked away and engaged in an animated conversation about the weather with his roommate Norman the Geek Continue reading Persuasion — “Necessary Stories” column from The Jerusalem Report→
One very large hand landing on your shoulder is not a good sign at McCloskey’s on 46th Street. Two hands, one on each shoulder, is red alert. And that is what I felt Wednesday night as I was downing a shot of Wild Turkey and wondering whether the blonde doll behind the bar had health insurance. Mrs. McCloskey runs a good bar, but does she provide employee benefits? Could I risk making a pass at a good looker who might not have seen a doctor since she was last in the emergency room with a bloody nose?
I did not look right and I did not look left, just crooked a finger at the girl to show her I needed another shot in my glass. But I could feel the two goons settling onto the stools on either side of me. I could feel their emanations, I mean. What was emanating was “red state,” and “shaft the poor,” with a dash of “corporations are people.” Goons do not need to be seen to be felt, and I mean even before they shove a piece in your backside.
Is this all coincidence? Or is part of what’s been happening in the Middle East for the past two weeks a result of the U.S. president declaring that the conflict of civilizations is over? My new article in The American Prospect examines the evidence.
Barack Obama spoke in Cairo two weeks ago. The Middle East has been roiling since. The street scenes in Iran have pushed the surprise pro-Western victory in Lebanon’s elections out of the headlines, along with Benjamin Netanyahu’s pained, precondition-crippled acceptance of a two-state solution and the enraged Palestinian response. Two top Israeli intelligence figures scaling down the Iranian nuclear threat from looming Holocaust to mid-range risk — a major story for a calm week — has gone almost unnoticed.
So did Obama set this off, or was he like the king in The Little Prince who ordered the sun to rise at the precise moment when it would have done so anyway? With that come two more questions: Will the crisis in Iran shake up the region even more? And what should Obama do in response? Continue reading Is There an Obama Effect?→
Sometimes a mediocre film puts everything in perspective. When the lights went down in the Cinematheque last night I was in the middle of discussion with my companion (full disclosure: I’m married to her) how to parse Bibi’s two-state speech. One position (not mine) was that the prime minister had offered an honest and sincere statement of both Israel’s willingness to compromise for peace, whereas the other position (not hers) was that Bibi was just paying lip service to President Obama’s peace initiative and had no real intention of making any progress with the Palestinians.
The film was Fred Cavayé’s Pour Elle (Anything For Her), a thriller that calls for a willing suspension of more beliefs than does Christopher Hitchens writing about God.
Lisa and Julien are happily in love and have a cute little boy named Oscar. Lisa is arrested and convicted of a murder she did not commit. When all legal recourses are exhausted and Lisa turns suicidal, Julien, who teaches French in a high school, decides to free his wife by force. He consults with a former prisoner who has written a book about his many prison breaks (for a guy on the lam, the guy is startlingly easy to locate and oddly willing to speak freely to a total stranger). Then he carefully concocts a plan, scrawled all over the wall of his study at home, to grab Lisa when she’s being taken to the hospital because of her diabetes and abscond with her and Oscar to El Salvador. Continue reading Beyond Unbelief: Bibi’s Speech and Fred Cavayé’s Pour Elle→
When Pete Seeger rewrote chapter 3 of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) as a song, he changed just a few words at the end, making it, “A time for peace – I swear it’s not too late.”
I don’t think it’s too late for Israelis and Palestinians to make peace. But waiting will make it more difficult. On the other hand, strong American involvement – the kind that has been lacking for the last eight years – could move the process forward. So, since everyone else is offering advice to soon-to-be-President Obama, I’ve offered some as well in my new article in The American Prospect:
The main reason for moving quickly… is that every wasted day makes a two-state solution more difficult to reach. Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas has promised his people that diplomacy can bring independence. Delay eats away at his credibility. Meanwhile, Israeli settlements keep growing. Since the Annapolis conference, the number of settlers has risen from 275,000 to 290,000. (That doesn’t include Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem, for which up-to-date figures aren’t available.) The more settlers, the greater the internal crisis that Israel would face in withdrawing. Continue reading I Swear It’s Not Too Late (But It Could Be Soon)→
Daneila London-Dekel, Ha’aretz‘s down-to-earth editorial cartoonist, injects a little realism into today’s paper, which consists almost entirely of a series of articles expressing amazement, wonder, and admiration at Barack Obama’s election.
I’m also in a state of amazement, wonder, and admiration but I appreciate London-Dekel’s reminder that we’ve still got to get the kids dressed, fed, and out to school, and clean up the mess at home.
Oops. It didn’t work. Labeling him a Muslim, labeling him a crazy black man, saying he’ll be bad for Israel. Apparently, those scare tactics stirred up exactly that minority of American Jews who don’t vote Democratic anyway. Well, we all have relatives we don’t understand. The rest know how to translate “In every generation, a person must see herself as if shecame out of Egypt” into how to vote.
So the exit polls show that 77-78 of Jewish voters picked Obama (there have been slight variations in the reports). The exit polls showed that Kerry got 75%, and Gore got 81%, so this falls right in the middle. Actually, since the Jews are a small part of the exit poll sample, and since exit polls are not known for their high accuracy, perhaps we should take the differences between the numbers for the three elections as statistical noise. As for the great Jewish shift to the Republicans, heralded every four years by Jewish Republicans and neocon pundits, it belongs with the return of the Lubavitcher Rebbe as things that crazy relatives announce but that do not happen. We’re sorry, folks, for their impolite shouts. They’re relatives, so we still invite them for Seder. Maybe someday they’ll get the message.
For nearly all of the 31 years that I’ve lived in Jerusalem, I’ve felt that this is where history happens, that my old friends in America are merely in the bleachers. For the past few months, and especially last night, the roles were reversed. Over there, back in the old country, they were making the world new, while we could only watch, applaud, and envy the renewal of hope. Yesterday was a rare moment that I wished I was over there – standing in an unexpected line to vote, celebrating afterward with friends in the streets of Washington, New York or Chicago, getting up this morning wondering what special blessing a religious Jews should say for such an event.
Hope is in short supply here. Next week in Jerusalem, we will have a local election in which the choice of candidates is, as Yossi Sarid put it well – he puts it well so often – a choice between plague and contagion. In February, we’ll have yet another national election. They come altogether too often, offering much too little. The only candidate with the ability to give a speech is the candidate of fear, of being very afraid, Bibi Netanyahu. Tzipi Livni, the only other realistic contender, has defined the election as a decision on whether to continue the peace process. (As leader of Labor, Ehud Barak seems destined to lead the party from irrelevance to extinction.)
There wasn’t much to read in this morning’s Ha’aretz. Nearly every one of the paper’s senior writers has written a piece about how amazing it is that the United States is on the verge of electing a black president.
It is amazing, of course, especially for anyone my age and above, those who can still remember segregation and Jim Crow. But there’s something patronizing about all this going ga-ga over Obama’s race–as if voters are choosing him because he’s black. In fact, it’s his policies and his personality that are attracting Americans; if he wins it will be despite, not because, he’s black.
Ha’aretz‘s swoon over Obama reminds me of how American Jews tend to melt inside when they talk about Golda Meir. Seeing Israel through the lenses of American liberalism, many American MOTs view Meir as a paragon of liberalism and feminism. After all, she was a woman elected to Israel’s highest political office at a time when American feminism was just taking off. So her choice must demonstrate the maturity and lack of sexism of Israeli voters. Continue reading Black and Blue: Obama and Golda→