I thought of Barney Ross this morning, not just because earlier in the spring Charles Miller put Douglas Century's great biography of the fighter in my hand and said, "Rabbi, you have to read this," but in addition, because getting off the plane from Israel at JFK and going through security made me realize, as one often does returning from the Jewish state, that I'm now protected by an army and police force of people who are primarily not Jewish.
Even after the 12 hour flight--with a bit of turbulence over Greece--I had fresh in my mind the questioning by El Al security; not taking off my shoes at the metal detector; and being wished, in Hebrew, a נסיעה טובה or, a "good trip." Of course, in the U.S. one leaves and can be wished by security, "have a nice flight," so really it's the same thing. But oh, the mother tongue!
Anyway, leaving U.S. Customs at JFK, the power dynamic suddenly shifted. Gone was the feeling of collective mission when two security guards rather aggressively told a group of us to step back, not because of any suspicious activity but rather because loads of Jews who had just emptied a couple flights from Israel were crowding toward the door to burst free. Back at Ben Gurion, this crowded mess was annoying in its own right but it had the feisty familiarity of an overly large family reunion. Back in the universal, in the international port of the "United States of From the Many One," my personal narrative was instantly sublimated into another power narrative in which my voice is but one of many, yearning for attention, understanding, and, if you will, self and communal realization.
Who were these large, meaty figures in uniforms, gesticulating in our direction? I had just been watching the Hebrew Hammer for the past four weeks, the Barney Ross of the Middle East, and though troubled and contentious, deeply filled with conviction and like his namesake, addicted to things that hurt him, he has a heart of gold. My head spun in the multiplicities of the great American experiment.
Outside, an Israeli taxi driver approached me in Hebrew, offering me a ride back to Brooklyn for $45. I told him in Hebrew that I could do better in a Yellow Taxi; he disagreed; I told him in English, "Suit yourself then," channeling Marty Feldman in "Young Frankenstein." I enjoyed the reference. He looked confused and went on to his next potential customer. At the taxi dispatch I caught a cab toward Grand Army Plaza, driven by a gentlemanly Pakistani. We caught up on news in the early morning drive and when he pulled up in front of the apartment, the rate was $31.
I opened the paper to read the dramatic news of President Clinton earning the release of the two journalists from North Korea. It's amazing what good can come when we insist on talking to people as a nation. And so though it may seem from one set of perspectives in the press that Netanyahu and Obama are locked in a battle over pushing Israel for concessions on settlements, I can also say that countless Israelis are also hoping against hope that concessions will be made on all sides. As tense as things look from one set of perspectives, my own meager read of the situation is that, thank God, there is more positive diplomatic movement in the region than we have seen in years. And while Americans and Israelis have different approaches to security, we all want to get to the same place.
Clinton's success, coordinated with the Obama Administration, is a small but important beacon of hope for our perilous world.
Pray for, work for, more.