Those dreams, this city

Source: Those dreams, this city

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Daniel Pearl and Intersectionality

Fifteen years ago, the world watched as a good man, a journalist, was murdered by jihadist terrorists in Pakistan. He was a Wall Street Journal reporter chasing a story about Richard Reid, the shoe bomber.  Many of us, mostly Jewish, watched from afar horrified at his being held hostage, but hoping for the best and that he would be released. There was little faith that the State Department would be able to do anything on his behalf. In late February of 2002, a video was released by the terrorists showing his beheading.

Amidst the horror and fear, he chose these words among his last:

My name is Daniel Pearl. I’m a Jewish American from Encino, California, USA. I come from, uh, on my father’s side the family is Zionist. My father’s Jewish, my mother’s Jewish, I’m Jewish. My family follows Judaism. We’ve made numerous family visits to Israel.

This is the short version of Daniel Pearl’s life and death. For more information about Daniel Pearl and his legacy, please visit the Daniel Pearl Foundation.

These words are haunting in an era when Jewish life in the diaspora is at risk because of assimilation and the adoption of causes that are the antithesis of support for Jewish life, both in Israel or elsewhere.

Every year on the anniversary of Daniel Pearl’s murder, I post information about him and a comment on social media. The purpose is that we remember him and the continued struggle against jihadists who see any Jew, journalist or not, as a symbol of evil and a target for annihilation. As global jihadism and the accompanying terrorist attacks spread, it seems as if the denial grows in the west, further allowing this horror to grow and become more violent.

One would think that the vision of the World Trade Center attack would have been etched into the memories of all sane people, but it has been depersonalized, much as all mass murders become over time, even the Shoah. With Daniel Pearl, we have a face, a family, and a legacy; it is more personal.  We cry when we read his last words and know that his child was born after his murder.  That is real.  That is terrorism up close.

But this year’s post was different.  Among the comments of remembrance, were two comments from American Jews connecting his death with the new president of the United States, implying that their opposition to him was in some way connected to Daniel Pearl’s murder.  One stated that he “mourned” Daniel Pearl’s death therefore he would fight Donald Trump because they are related.  Huh?  There is no connection between the type of jihadist terrorism that took Daniel Pearl’s life and the present situation in the United States.

These inane comments were removed, but it is an example of the forced move to connect everything to everything.  People who believe Trump is bad think they can connect it to something in history that is, in fact, bad. We hear the utmost in ridiculous analogies along the line of “……..is Hitler” by people who believe that anyone they disagree with politically is a genocidal fascist.  Intersectionality rules and makes no sense.  When American Jews stand by and accept Linda Sarsour’s leadership in the march on Washington, knowing that she has been a supporter of Hamas, but supporting her because she allegedly supports women’s rights and surely is an opponent of the new President, we know that logic has been thrown to the wind.  And that everything is at risk of being hijacked by a movement with no moral center, no goals, and no purpose other than to bring down an elected leader.

In an effort to give people a place on social media to speak about their remembrances and emotions regarding Daniel Pearl’s murder, hijackers disrespect what is as sacred a space that you can create on Facebook. Both of those people have now been blocked….two American Jews who I thought were smarter and more compassionate than they actually are and who will use anything, even the sacred memory of a dead Jew, as fodder for their political beliefs.

But we can take a step backward and remember Daniel Pearl with respect for his bravery and legacy. And we can also honor him with dignity and pride in our own Jewish lives. That is the least we can do for him.

Two Years and Three Percent

It is just 3% of my total time alive. You would think that the two years since I made aliyah would be insignificant compared to the experiences of the full sixty-six years that I had lived previously. This is where the quantity versus quality quandary comes into play. A life filled with joys and crises, loves found and lost, and with births and deaths, as are all lives, might feel crowded, with little room for change or renewal. It might feel full, as if the quantity of experiences might make new ones have less meaning. But age is not a barrier to change or renewal. In fact, for me, it was the driving force to come to the place that filled my dreams.

The quality of my life needed renewal and more joyful experiences. When I got on that plane, much delayed by an EL AL pilot walkout, on the day of the Har Nof terrorist attack, I had no doubts. Fears, yes, but doubts had left me the previous winter when I had spent part of the rainy season in Jerusalem exploring what would be my new hometown, as well as exploring my inner strength, seeking hints of what yearnings could be fulfilled by coming home.

And yes, this is home. I was born in Rhode Island, lived in New York City, and lived on Cape Cod in Massachusetts for twenty-eight years. America gave my grandparents sanctuary and both of my parents were born in New England. My only immediate family is my brother, who is a New Yorker through and through after living there for most of his life.  But this nation, this place from which all Jewish life originated, is home. And yes, I am still also an American citizen; like many dual Israeli-American citizens, I find my inner self being more Israeli and less American as time goes on. When I think home, I think Israel, not the United States. When I think national anthem, it is always Hatikvah. As a child, I would sing it in a wavering voice at Hebrew school or summer camp. I would hear it and be moved to tears. Once at an Israel Day parade in New York City, I did cry. The first time I sang it here as an Israeli citizen, I also cried.

My baal teshuva life has pulled me to deeper understanding of Torah and the joy of living a fully Jewish life. Could I have done this in America?  Many do, but my inability to be able to be tough enough to apply it to my every day life held me back. I blame myself. I was lazy and this life requires not just learning or just being shomer Shabbat, but an every day commitment to live as a Jew. Always a Jew, but never fully observant, I needed a kickstart. And inspirations and teachers; here I have many. What I found is that this is a joyful and comforting life, defined by the flow of beliefs that have guided Jews for centuries. When we thank Hashem every morning for giving us another day, we are also giving thanks for the gift of Torah and also for the gift of being part of a chain connecting our people from Abraham and Sarah to the twenty-first century.

As an older immigrant with no family here, my biggest fear was isolation and loneliness. I will not sugar coat this; it is sometimes difficult to spend most of your time alone. It is easy to fall into a pattern of introversion.  It would be unfair to not mention this to those thinking of making aliyah as I did…older and alone. It would be unfair to not mention the difficulty of learning to speak modern Hebrew, even for those of us who have been able to read Hebrew all of our lives. But, as in everything in life, we are given free will to make choices that can change that dynamic. And that is what aliyah has been for me: a shift from complacency to full engagement with my potential as a Jew.

There is an easy intimacy that occurs with an openness that is part of Israeli culture. Strangers invite you to their homes for Shabbat without a second thought; this includes meals and a sleep over in many cases. I have written before about the phenomena of strangers handing over babies to hold while they are being helped at a government office or while sitting next to you on a bus.  Only in Israel, we say while laughing.

Over the past two years, I have learned that deep and close friendships are formed here because of that intimacy and the sense of nationhood that permeates almost every encounter. And the fragility of life in a place where you are surrounded by those who wish you dead creates a sense of closeness and awareness that every day is precious.  My friends are stellar. There are long Shabbat or chag dinners where I am sometimes the only person who is not family, but always made to feel welcome. There are many hours spent in cafes with friends and I find myself having conversations about inner thoughts that I had rarely shared with people I have known for much longer. My women friends have kept me afloat, given me a spare bedroom for a Shabbat in the Judean hills, always seeming to offer when it feels as if it is time to be out of the city for a little bit.  Most of my women friends are married and their husbands are as welcoming as they are. Earlier on this site Jerusalem: The Ingathering, I wrote about a Rosh Hashanah dinner during which my dear friend and neighbor pulled together a microcosm of the return from the diaspora to our nation. These are powerful experiences that increase my love for our people and our nation.

There is a sense of nationhood that transcends time here. When this nation was reconstituted, we began the largest return of indigenous people to their homeland in history. Our language is the only ancient language that has been revived to a fully modern language. Two thousand years of exile have ended with this vibrant, miraculous nation.

In living but 3% of my life here, I know that I still have much to learn and absorb. As new immigrants come from France and England, from South America, from India, and from the United States, I know that I am witnessing the dream of two thousand years of exile at the hands of the Romans, a pivotal time in Jewish history.  When we can walk the streets of a rebuilt Jerusalem while imagining the magnificence of the Temples and tread the stones in Hebron where Abraham and Sarah walked, it is hard not to see this as the destiny of the Jewish people. Because of that and all that I wrote above, this is home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jerusalem: The Ingathering

The proof is all around us in Jerusalem. We hear it on the streets in the form of language and gestures. Since the reconstitution of our nation, the return from two thousand years in exile has brought Jews from all over the world. As I fumble to learn Hebrew, I listen to cadence and conversations on the street; not quite eavesdropping because I do not care about the subject matter, but care to understand sentence structure and word usage. The other day, two women were walking in back of me speaking Hebrew with French accents. This is Israel and how we build a nation. We come home, we learn the renewed version of our ancient language, and we rebuild our nation in our indigenous homeland.

Microcosms abound in this country and we talk about the tiny moments of Jewish geography when we connect with those with whom we have friends or acquaintances in common. It feels as if it happens daily, and it indeed does happen weekly.  Last year, at a Shabbat dinner, I was talking with a 102 year old woman about where we each lived in the United States. I said Cape Cod for twenty-eight years; she told me had a home on Cape Cod in the neighboring town. The town she lived in had a total population of at the most 1500 people; where I lived, the total population never rose over 3500. Her son and I have many mutual friends. She and I (she will be 103 soon, B”H) were guests again at the same home for Rosh Hashanah. Jewish geography in Jerusalem arises even when the two people involved lived in very goyishe places.

At this Rosh Hashanah meal, the breadth and beauty of Jewish life was present in full force. There were eleven of us present, including six North American born (United States and Canada), one Australian born, one Polish born, one woman born in Iran, and a man born in Egypt. The eleventh person was the caregiver for the aforementioned 102 year old woman; the caregiver (from eastern Asia) is as much a part of Israeli life as the Jews with whom she shared a meal that night.  Oh, and our hostess was not only born Jewish, but also Hopi, making her part of two indigenous nations that were exiled from their land:  one has recovered their homeland; the Hopi and other tribes in the Americas have not.

We began the meal in the Sephardi tradition with blessings and symbolic foods and the rest of the night passed by with creative and wonderful food, song, laughter, conversation in both Hebrew and English (with translations needed for both languages sometimes), wine and whiskey, and a sense of instant connection although some of us had not met before.

Our hostess asked us each to go around and speak about the previous year and our hopes for 5777. These rituals, although lovely, are ones from which I usually defer. As a loner, instant intimacy is difficult for me and I rarely speak about myself in a personal manner; my comfort level is stronger when writing, instead of speaking. I am a good listener and sometimes I find that my role in someone else’s life is to listen. In groups of more than four people, unless I know them very well, I often stay silent. But, I am fortunate that the others at the table that night are not like me.

Several people mentioned the desire to help strengthen our nation by continuing to tell our own stories of return. Peace, everyone talked about hoping for peace. I listened and felt the emotion in the room.

Our host shared a piece of his family history in the making. Recently, he attended a brit milah and described the gathering of family members. When he pointed out that this was the first brit milah in his family in Israel for two thousand years, you could almost hear the heartbeats of those at the table.  In his few words (and he is a modest man), the impact of this life, this blessed life, in our homeland resonated through our bodies and our souls.

There was more singing, more whiskey and wine, and we stayed late. Leaving at just before midnight, we were all smiling. I like to believe that each of us saw that what we had experienced is microcosmic in the telling of the return to Zion from exile. These are the moments in Israel when we feel the vestiges of diaspora cultures slide to the side and we are all fulfilling the promise of Hashem to our ancestral grandfather, Abraham, and that which Abraham and Sarah handed down through generations to us. And that we each know that we owe it to them to see ourselves as one nation:  Jews gathering from exile to fulfill the dream of Zion.

 

 

 

 

 

My Father and Softball in the Diaspora

My father’s birthday was this week. He would have been 101 years old if he had been alive, but he died in 1962 at the age of forty-seven. It was three days before my fifteenth birthday. In those first years, so much happened and I used to wonder what he would have thought. He was a believer in John Kennedy’s presidency and the assassination occurred just eleven months after he died. In 1967, as I watched the Six Day War unfold on television in my living room in Rhode Island, I thought about him and how it would seem through his eyes. Jews again davening at the Kotel. He gave  me my first tiny Israeli flag when I was a kid and he taught me (in sometimes non-traditional teachings) how to be a Jew. He missed so much by dying so young. My mother told me that he would have hated artificial turf and the designated hitter rule. He loved baseball and took me to Fenway Park where we ate too much junk and then lied to my mother about it. Today, I am telling just a little story about him and his love of Jews and baseball and how he joined those two together. It is just a simple story, although there are many other stories to be told and I guess I will write them some day.

He was born in Providence, Rhode Island to Russian immigrants and into a large family. Although his name was Irving, everyone called him Tex. He davened regularly and was active in our shul, Beth Sholom in Providence, which still exists.  Tex is on his gravestone and became a sticking point for the Boston Beit Din when my ex-husband and I were there for our get.  The rabbis asked if a parent was known by any other name, and I answered truthfully. Fortunately, one of the rabbis knew my cousin really well and had met my mother several times, so he let it go.  But Tex was how he was known and no one every questioned it. Even my kind of strait-laced mother called him Tex. She loved him very much and someday I will write that story also. tex

On the actual day of my father’s birthday earlier this week, I started going through old photographs and found a newspaper clipping from January of 1949. I found one photo of my father and my mom (she looked gorgeous) and he was grabbing his crotch. My mother hated the photo, but it made me laugh. I have always been sad that he and I never got the chance to hang out as adults together, and drink scotch, and laugh together about the past. The photo is amazing, but it was the clipping that struck me; it was from the Jewish Herald and the column was written by Syd Cohen and it was about Tex and his effort to create a Jewish sports league in Providence. I was just a baby when it was written, but I remember as a little kid going to softball games with him on Sunday mornings held at the field at the Jewish Community Center. He carried me as if I was a football which made my mother nuts….I remember her yelling at him about it.  But, until I found this clipping, I really did not know about my dad’s leadership in creating a viable Jewish softball league.  jewish-herald49tex

According to the article, he took some flak about scheduling games and league rules, but it sounds as if it is the old saying magnified:   fifty Jews, one hundred opinions.  Here is what Syd Cohen wrote about my father:

“Now, in the first column of 1949, I want to pay belated tribute to a man I honestly believe to have been the outstanding figure in Jewish sports in Rhode Island in 1948.”

Jewish sports?  I had no idea something like this existed in 1948. He went on to write about the trials and tribulations of leadership and how Tex raised money and took care of the business side and also organized a junior division league. Syd Cohen went on to say:

“If I had any criticism of Tex, it would have to be that he spoiled us. If not for Tex, the league would have operated on a shoestring and few of us would have even dreamed of purchasing all that equipment, getting all those sponsors, and the like. ”  

This is a little story in one man’s short life and I have other clippings showing him at an event where three hundred people attended in support of the Jewish Softball League. This part of my father’s life, really unbeknownst to me, was indicative of who he was. And it tells a story about the different ways Jews, especially those who were the first generation born in America, created community.  Yes, there was the community built around Judaism in the seats of shuls across America, but there were ways that this new generation of Americans incorporated the surrounding culture into their own cultures. Yup, play softball, but on Sunday (not Shabbat) after davening and it’s okay to yell at each other in Yiddish.

As I sit here in Jerusalem and worry about Jewish life in America, I think back to that generation for whom becoming American was so important, but who held onto their Jewish beliefs and culture at the same time. My father did not just start a softball league, he started a Jewish softball league. And he taught me pride in Israel.  The little flag, the nickels and dimes for the Jewish National Fund blue boxes, and asking me if we sang HaTikvah at the JCC day camp on Fridays before heading home after a short day.

Would he have understood that his need to create Jewish community, even around something as American as softball, taught me that being among your own people is what matters?  And what would he have thought about his now elderly daughter living a dream of Jerusalem and a return to Zion?  That I cannot know, but I can say thank you, Tex, for making me the Jew I am.

 

 

 

This September 11th

On September 11, 2001, I was at work in my office on Cape Cod in Massachusetts with my co-worker Beth, starting the day as usual: coffee, boot computer, emails, and calendar review. One of us, I don’t remember who, checked CNN.com for the morning news and there it was.

My mother, who was 85 at the time, called asking me to remind her where my brother’s office was. I assured her that it was many blocks away and that he would be safe; he was safe, but clearly jarred as all New York City residents were. That night, on my weekly community radio call in program, my co-host contacted a friend who had been on the train headed to Jersey City just minutes before the attack and had witnessed the first plane hit from his office across the harbor during his morning routine which included looking out the window at the glorious view and pouring a cup of coffee.  We spoke on the air with him, still not understanding, but believing that life in the United States would never be the same.  We were right, and we were wrong.

In the small town I then lived in, there was (as in many cities and towns in America) a memorial service held in the old town hall with members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars speaking and patriotic songs. Great Jewish American writers Stanley Kunitz and Norman Mailer read from their works, both long time residents of Provincetown who were both aging but strong voiced. Most people had learned by then that a resident of a neighboring town, Berry Berenson Perkins has died in one of the planes as she headed to California for the winter. In subsequent years, every September 11th, the local fire and police departments held a ceremony. The last one I attended was just before I made aliyah two years ago. There were only a handful of people there.  A short time later, I left for Israel and have not been back since.

This will be my second September 11th since making aliyah and finding a true home in Jerusalem. Last year, I attended the U.S. Embassy’s memorial service at the beautiful memorial built in the Jerusalem Forest that includes the names of all who died that day. There were other dual Israeli/American citizens there who I know, but only a few. The crowd was filled with embassy workers (from the embassy in Tel Aviv, but that is a whole other lengthy piece, more a diatribe about the insult of not having our capital recognized) and US consulate workers, as well as the US military personnel assigned to the wrongly placed embassy. It was there, at that moment, that I realized that I felt more Israeli than American;  when the Star Spangled Banner was sung, I felt empty. The Israeli anthem was not played. What was comforting was that I was able to take a photo of Berry Berenson’s name engraved on the memorial wall. I had seen her on the street just two or three weeks prior to September 11th and we spoke fleetingly. berensonjslmsept11memorial This year, I will not attend the Embassy’s memorial service.

It is fifteen years later and the United States has been rocked by a series of  attacks written off as being perpetrated by lone wolf lunatics, who oddly have one thing in common:  an extraordinary interest in jihadist groups and beliefs. This past week, the administration of the present President of the United States actually sent the Director of Homeland Security to a conference attended by members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the inspiration for Al Qaeda and its evil twin ISIS (yes, I am simplifying this to the basics). When the heinous attack on a gay nightclub in Orlando occurred, Americans were quick to say that the perpetrator was a self-loathing gay mentally ill individual and not a jihadist at all, despite the evidence. GLBT groups were quick to deny that Islamist tendencies had anything to do with the attack. This was infuriating because it is dangerous to minimize terrorism. It will always embolden those who would do harm.

When did it become fashionable in the United States to make excuses for terrorists?  The Tsarnaevs were misguided youth, the Fort Hood murderer was mentally ill, etc.  Recruiters for terrorist organizations often target impressionable, troubled youth who are looking for a sense of community. Or who might have suicidal tendencies or a desire for martyrdom. Being mentally ill and being a jihadist terrorist are not mutually exclusive traits.

Among all the ceremonies, the commemorations, the sad songs, the tracing of names on memorials, is there a real effort in the United States to face the true meaning of September 11, 2001?  Or will it continue to be viewed as an isolated incident perpetrated by a bunch of unaffiliated Muslims?  Will the new president refer to the next incarnation of an Al Qaeda or ISIS type group as the “JV team”?  Will the next president continue to flirt with Islamic jihadists?  Will the next president continue to ignore Jew hate on campuses introduced by those who blame terrorism perpetrated in Israel on Israelis?  And will denial be so strong that the American people will again be shocked when the next attack occurs? And it will.

On this September 11th, I will have a regular day with a meeting in the morning and maybe a walk to the Old City in the afternoon. All around Jerusalem, there are plaques at the locations of terrorist attacks, to remind us of the lives lost. They are numerous. My wish for the United States is that the deaths and the plaques and the memorials do not become as numerous as they are in Israel.  And that more people, like lovely Berry Berenson, do not have to die because no one was listening to the truth.