09 October 2014

JVP Doublespeak

If you want to read an exercise in passive aggressive, moral obfuscation, read the statement on the Jewish Voice Peace website about the physical attack on Leonard Petlakh at the Barclays Center on Tuesday night.

Typical of JVP's moralistic stance on Middle East Peace in which they defend only the rights of those who are victims of the Jewish right to self-defense, JVP nods its hypocritical head toward peace while casting blame on the Jews for bad behavior.  Beating Leonard was deplorable.  But bad Jewish behavior made someone do it.

Read closely.

1.  "JVP members held signs and handed out flyers expressing the view that honoring the IDF only a few weeks after Israel's attack on Gaza has ended contradicts our values as Jewish New Yorkers."

Which values?  Some Jews have the right to protection and self-defense but others don't?  And JVP gets to determine which ones, according to their Jewish values?  And was it the IDF being honored or the specific project of supporting wounded soldiers?  I was at the game.  "Friends of the IDF" was mentioned once.  Which clearly was not enough, but too much for JVP.

During this summer's war in Israel, several friends--Zionists and Israelis who live in Israel and vote in elections and support the two-state solution by voting for the left-wing parties that support territorial compromise, had sons, who also vote for those same political parties, defending Israel's borders by fighting in Gaza.  One lost an eye in the ground invasion.  While JVP leaders were drawing protest posters with Sharpies in Brooklyn, other Jews, with other Jewish values, were both defending their right to live as Jews and taking the daily risk of working for peace, on the ground, in Israel and Palestine.  One such price of citizenship is service in the IDF, a people's army, with soldiers who vote across the political spectrum.

2.  "We were there as part of a large coalition of organizations who were all committed to non-violently protesting this event."

Which organizations?  Name them.  What are their views?  What are their values?  Does speech approximate violence when basketball fans are called "murderers?"

3.  This is the most egregious.  "The police had us behind a barricade on the sidewalk, while many people aggressively waving Israeli flags were in front of Barclays yelling at us and making rude gestures."

Was Leonard Petlakh aggressively waving an Israeli flag and making rude gestures?  Is the claim here that because somehow, somewhere Jews were behaving aggressively that the later violence which victimized Leonard and his family was justified?  Is this part of the Jewish values construct that JVP deploys?  "If it happened, you must have deserved it" they seem to be implying.

Here's more:  "Before we left, a police official said to us, 'Thanks for making our job easier.'  I don't think he would have said that if someone from the protest had attacked someone."

So you organize a protest, you build a broad coalition as your allies, one of your allies assaults a man, breaking his nose, causing a wound requiring 8 stitches to mend, and you imply, strongly, it was deserved.  What you don't say, in your deplorable deploring, is "JVP will fully cooperate with the NYPD in finding the identity of the attacker and see that he or she is brought to justice.  We are a Jewish Voice for Peace and believe that anyone who disturbs the peace by using violence on innocent people should be brought to justice."

The reason that statement does not exist on the JVP website is that JVP doesn't believe it.  Their Jewish values extend only to those they determine to be the true victims of hate and violence and this, in their weird calculation, does not extend to innocent Jews.

Here's another one:  "However, while a small group of us were leaving the area, a group 3 (sic) young men with Israeli flags harassed us and said that we 'need Israeli dick.'"

Vile.  Disgusting.  But did Leonard say that to the person who hit him?  I don't understand the relevance.

Again, this summer in Tel Aviv, while attending a peace rally to protest the war in Gaza, I saw a few feet from where I was standing, a right wing demonstrator assault an Israeli police officer.  The assailant was grabbed violently, wrestled to the ground, and hauled away.  Instantly, police on horseback and others in riot gear, pushed the right wingers two blocks further from the peaceful protest so that the left wing rally could continue.  My point?  People do and say horrible things in political conflict.  Our job, as people of conscience, is to condemn the evil talk and the violent actions--without muddying the waters through doublespeak.

Finally:  "We reaffirm our steadfast opposition to all forms of bigotry, violence and hate, including anti-semitism, anti-arab hate, and misogyny."

I'd correct the spelling to "anti-Semitism" and "anti-Arab."  Capitalizing letters is both correct grammar in this instance as well as a justified expression of pride for both Jews and Arabs to claim the right to national self-determination.

Which brings me to my last point.

Does JVP support the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state?  Or is that only a quaint idea debated over drip coffee in a Brooklyn roasting joint?

Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, what did Bob Dylan say on "Infidels" about "the man of peace?"  Sometimes he's actually the Adversary.

I remain unconvinced of JVPs righteousness.

What would would have been so wrong about deploring the attack on Leonard Petlakh, wishing him a fast recovery, and encouraging authorities to find the perpetrator?

What would have been wrong is that it would have gone against JVPs main Jewish value:  to undermine the right of Israel to exist.

08 October 2014

CBE Deplores Anti-Semitic Attack on Leonard Petlakh

Congregation Beth Elohim deplores the recent anti-Semitic attack Tuesday evening against our friend and colleague Leonard Petlakh, Executive Director of the Kings Bay Y, who was beaten by pro-Palestinian demonstrators after attending the Brooklyn Nets v Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball game at the Barclays Center with his family.  
Leonard suffered a broken nose and lacerations requiring eight stitches.  He is safe and home recovering.  Hate and violence have no place in our diverse city. This attack is totally deplorable and we demand that the NYPD will do all in its power to apprehend and prosecute those responsible for this crime.

As a leader in the Jewish community of New York, reaching across Jewish, Christian and Muslim communities to strengthen our diversity with a voice of tolerance and respect, Leonard is the very model of the Jewish ethic of "love thy neighbor as thyself." 

We wish Leonard a full recovery and pray that our city's leaders will speak out against this anti-Jewish incident and all acts of hate.  

On the Eve of Sukkot, a holy day on the Jewish calendar celebrating both Freedom and the Blessing of a Harvest, we are especially mindful of the need to strengthen our community in the spirit of friendship and gratitude.  Together and tolerant we are a stronger, better city.

Rabbi Andy Bachman
Senior Rabbi

Jonathan Fried

24 September 2014

Shanah Tovah 5775

Time is unstoppable.  And though sometimes our impulse is to reach out and control its inexorable, forward march, in fact its ongoing, pulsing reality means that growth and change are a constant in life.  Each moment building on a prior event; each day founded upon that which came before; each year an opportunity to reflect on where we have been and where we are going.

Some look down at the starting gates of life and never look up until they cross the finish line; others go about reflectively, embracing each moment as it arrives.  And most of us are somewhere in between, caught up in life's exigencies, looking inward when we can, doing our best to understand the events and circumstances that life brings us.

One of the Jewish calendar's unique gifts to us is in its dual-call to look inward both as individuals and as a community.  With the blasts of the Shofar, the piercing, penetrating, primitive calls awaken in each of us life's fundamental questions of identity and meaning:  What kind of person am I?  What are the values I live by? Who are my partners in this endeavor we call Life?

The Sages of our Tradition, in codifying these ideas in the Mahzor, meant to shake our souls awake to the awareness of life's fragility, life's preciousness, and life's demand that in our wakefulness we do what is right and what is just in the eyes of God.  "U-Netaneh Tokef.  Let us speak to the sacred power of the day."  When all our deeds are exposed to a Judge, spread before that Judge as one sees an accounting on a ledger, we ask the obvious, most radical questions of the year.

"Who will pass on and who will be born?  Who will live and who will die?  Who will be poor and who will be rich?"

The questions terrify.  This is one reason why the High Holy Days are called the Days of Awe.  The Mahzor itself responds to its own searing questions.  In the face of such earth-shattering questions, it proposes that "Teshuvah, Tefilah and Tzedakah--that Repentance, Prayer and Charity transform the harshness of our destiny."  In other words, we have agency in responding to the passivity of being acted upon by seizing life itself and demanding that we be God's partner in building a world for Good, for Justice, and for Peace.  

Equally critical is the notion to remember that Judaism defines the ultimate expression of religious "fear" as Love.  And Love rendered through the commitment to serve God and our fellow human being with kindness, justice and humility is, as they say, what it's all about. 

As the words of the prophet Micah demonstrate on the Chapel windows in our Temple House, "He has shown you, O mortal, what is good and what the Eternal requires of you:  To do justice, to love with kindness, and walk humbly with your God."

Life in the world around us emanates in ever-expanding circles:  from Park Slope to greater Brooklyn; from Brooklyn to greater New York City; from New York west and across the nation; from America to Israel and beyond.  Everything is connected and in reality, no one person or no one nation is any longer truly separate.  The Jewish people, the people of One God, have always believed that if God is one then ultimately, we are all one.  After all, the Sages taught, God made the human being in the Divine Image so that no one should be able to say that he or she is better than their neighbor.

And so as we pause, in time and awe and humility, to accept time's constant trajectory, may our reflections at this plateau be filled with meaningful and soulful examination; may we strengthen one another in our fearlessness to ask the hard questions of ourselves and others; and may we hold ourselves and others to eternal ideas that have animated and inspired us to build a better world.

May each of you and your loved ones be inspired as you look out across the city and the world to make this New Year, 5775, a year of blessing, justice and peace--for our People and for all Humankind.

Shanah Tovah

Rabbi Andy Bachman

17 September 2014

Door Jam = Democracy

We didn't start out poor but then it became that way, pretty much immediately after Mom and Dad broke up. First there was the expected additional strain of two homes, followed by Dad losing his job, which precipitated what I often refer to as the Great Unraveling. It happens to people and it happened to him. The trip, stumble and fall of his mid-life was, in two years, his father dying, his divorce and the loss of his job. Eight years later he'd be knocked out cold by a heart attack and that was that.

I write these words all these years later in part to remember how quickly one's life actually can fall apart; how what one once expected to be the rhythms of life to set a watch to can become, in the seeming split of an eye, the challenging darkness of the Trial. Some make it past the Judge. Others don't. For some there are those to pick you up; for others, luck runs out. For some, there is a regenerative well of persistence and optimism; for others, a debilitating depression, a rendering of essence to dross.

Whatever the answer, the reality is we were poor but hadn't started out that way. Mom went right to work in the time leading up to the divorce and during the hardest parts, worked two jobs, doing whatever was necessary to make ends meet. One job she had was as scheduler for a local politician named Lynn Adelman, a brilliant lawyer from Milwaukee's East Side. His whole team was smart--a bunch of young Jews interested in policy and reform-minded Democratic politics. They were trying to knock off the golden boy of Milwaukee's ├╝ber Gentile community, Robert Kasten, a conservative who was seen as very much the voice of the city's business and commercial elite, such as it was. The son of Milwaukee dry-cleaners, Lynn went to Princeton and Columbia Law (where he had defended students in the anti-war protests as a law student) then came back to Milwaukee and did legal aid work before going in to private practice. When he ran against Kasten in 1974, it was the first of three unsuccessful runs for the U.S. Congress. Mom (and I) worked on all three campaigns. He eventually served in the Wisconsin State Senate (where, as a college freshman I worked in his office in Madison) and in 1997, President Bill Clinton appointed him as a federal judge.

Even though we were newly poor, we had three cars. Ours was a temporary condition and we somehow knew it. Dad's car, Mom's car and then, as was the trend in those days, the kids had a car.  I think it was an AMC Gremlin. Might have even had the Levi's jeans interior. You can guess the decade.

The point is, we had a car. And the adults had drivers' licenses. Which were used to drive the candidate to his appointments and campaign stops. One time Mom picked up Lynn for a day of campaigning and he got into the car dressed in a suit and tie but he wasn't wearing socks. So they stopped at the dry cleaners and as the son of the owner, he took the liberties. His campaigns were filled with stories like that.

Or like this:  One summer, when he was running for re-election in a newly re-districted and more decidedly conservative part of southwest Milwaukee, I was campaigning for him door-to-door and encountered a vehemently hostile constituent. The vituperations flew through the screen door.  "Communist.  Socialist.  Jew." That kind of thing. I was shaken and needless to say, this was not a vote Lynn was going to win. Dejected, I walked down this man's driveway and out to the street where I saw Lynn coming up the block. I told him what happened and he said, "Watch this."

And in an instant, he had bounded up the walk, knocked on the door, and then, with the persuasion of a persistent prophet, stuck his foot in the screen door so the man couldn't shut it. "Don't say things about me that aren't true," Lynn said. "Now tell me, really, what do you know about my views? Let's talk!" And for the next several minutes they argued positions--taxes, education, spending on the poor. No names, no accusations. Just two citizens disagreeing.

"Did you change his mind?"  I asked.  "No," he said, "but that doesn't matter.  The process was as important as the outcome."  That's what he told me back at his house where we went for lunch that day.  He made me a sandwich, we talked about my classes at UW, my interest in going to Israel, my ideas for the future.  "I guess a rabbi is kind of like a politician," he said. "Come on," he continued, his mouth full. "Let's go knock on some more doors."

In that district Lynn's constituents were mostly white. And had cars.  So we walked down streets with no sidewalks and up lots of driveways.  Knocking on doors.  Pushing for votes.

But there was another job that Mom had in those years, where she was an office staff member in the Community Development Corporation, which in the 1970s on into today was devoted to enhancing the economic position of low-income communities. The people who came to CDC, most of whom were black, took buses or walked to where they needed to go. Their economic scene was in serious distress; schools were rough; and there certainly wasn't a lot of kids in high school drivers' ed classes.
This means that, like thousands upon thousands of similarly disadvantaged people today, those folks didn't have drivers license which was once a burden if you wanted to drive but certainly wasn't a burden if you wanted to vote.

Until recently.

As the New York Times reminded us on Tuesday morning, electoral chaos is about to occur in Wisconsin, primarily among the more than 300,000 poorer citizens of the state who will not be able to vote because of a conservative appellate court's decision to overturn Judge Lynn Adelman's stay of the Wisconsin Voter ID law, which Judge Adelman argued last April contained several serious violations of the federal Voting Rights Act.

Several commentators appropriately, I believe, have criticized this decision of the appellate court to overturn Judge Adelman's sound reasoning, particularly in light of the fact that Governor Scott Walker and his Republican legislature passed the initial voter ID law precisely to protect an electoral advantage they had hoped to use to govern. Except that Governor Walker has recently begun to trail Democratic candidate and businesswoman Mary Burke (whose family makes the much beloved Wisconsin gem, Trek Bicycles). And what better way to climb back into the lead with less than two months to go in a gubernatorial election than to be aided by a panel of judges to undo the constitutional work of defending the right to vote.

I got half a mind to head out to Wisconsin after the Jewish holidays this Fall and spend the second half of October knocking on doors for Mary Burke. To cover more territory in the limited time available, perhaps I'll take my Trek.

I'm sure I'll meet my share of Republicans, as it should be. Who doesn't like a good argument?

I'll even stick my foot in the door, insist on engaging, and if the power of persuasion doesn't work, we'll agree to disagree.

But what I won't do is suppress someone's right to vote just because they're poor and don't drive.

15 September 2014

Hands Off

I didn't watch the Packers game on Sunday.  As a shareholder and lifelong fan living in New York, it's rare to see my team on TV.  But truth be told, my stomach turned at the gnawing thought of enabling that low grade tolerance for immoral violence that wore away at my conscience as the day hurdled toward the late afternoon kickoff.  I couldn't "just do it."

Ray Rice is a Baltimore Raven and Adrian Peterson is a Minnesota Viking but I knew enough about the game to know that Green Bay has had its own troubles with sexual violence.  In 2000, its star tight end Mark Chmura was accused of assaulting his family's 17 year old babysitter; and frankly, I get a headache trying to figure out this whole "baby mama" thing with Packers cornerback Sam Shields.

Understatement of the Year:  The NFL has a sex and violence problem.

Runner-up for Understatement of the Year:  ISIS is evil.

Back to football.

As a former student athlete whose greatest achievements were sunset by the time I turned 16, I've always fostered a relatively healthy distance from the over-valorized role that athletes play in our society.  Still, the mere physicality, discipline and psychological fortitude required of champions is admirable--and ignites in the mind the epic dimensions of a child's imagination.  Spectacle.  Grand Arc Narratives.  Greatness.

And I've even inculcated fandom in the kids.  Touring campuses last winter on a college tour, we took in a Wisconsin-Michigan basketball game.  Three years ago on a winter road-trip, we took in a Packers-Bears Christmas night game.  Despite their late season collapse, the Brewers Baseball Club continue to receive our devotions, even after Ryan Braun's half-assed apologies for PED use.

So I get loyalty.  You stick with those you love when they're down.  Got it.

But what are our obligations when they cross the line?  When athletes violate--egregiously--the covenant of devotion between themselves and the fans who support their careers?  Violence against women and children is serious enough to merit a one-day blackout, no?  How much does our fawning enable?

Like:  How about one NFL Sunday soon the fans don't show up?  Hit the league hard.  Where it counts--in the wallets of the owners who enable themselves, with a wink and a handshake at contract talks, the rampant violence that has come to define the league for what it is.  Big guys getting paid a lot of dough to inflict punishment on and off the field.

Is painting faces, wearing over-sized jerseys, grilling meat in a parking lot, eating salted corn-products, and consuming artificially sweetened soft-drinks and beer SO IMPORTANT that we can't do without it for one day in order to send a message that we find violence perpetrated by large men against women and children to be morally revolting?


And I'm just talking about the fans.

What definition of teammate necessitates tolerating this?  I'd like to see an athlete brave enough to step forward and say aloud:  "Yo.  This is bullshit.  Keep your hands off women and kids."

That would be heroic.

01 August 2014

Devoured by Hope

"The land that devours its inhabitants."

That's reading it wrong.  

The prooftext is from Torah--Numbers 13-14.  Spies are sent by Moses; they head over to report on the land that the Jewish people are poised to enter after a generation spent wandering post-Exodus, where prior, they were slaves for 400 years in Egypt.  The spies see the land as unconquerable.  They see normal sized men as giants, and themselves as grasshoppers.  "It is a land that devours its inhabitants." They repeat a common complaint:  "You brought us into the desert to die?"

Their report is disregarded, understood as a betrayal of faith.  Of all the tribal leaders, only Joshua and Caleb demonstrate the vision and the fortitude to get the job done.  And they are mightily rewarded. The generation of tribal heads is fated to die in the desert.  Joshua and Caleb are permitted to enter the land.  They choose hope over fear.  Life over being trapped in exile, waiting to die.

This is a metaphor.  Let me explain.

I was in David Ben Gurion's house today.  There is an exhibit there of letters sent back and forth between children and Ben Gurion.  In one such exchange, captured beautifully in a video presentation with the child, now grown, a dialogue is recounted with regard to the notion of the Chosen People--did God choose the Jews or did the Jews choose God?

Ben Gurion was direct.  The people chose God.  Joshua 24 proves it, he said.  On the corner of his desk where he wrote these letters, as well as next to the bed where he slept, Ben Gurion kept a copy of the Hebrew Bible close at hand.  He did not believe God wrote these words but he nevertheless knew them as a student of history, a lover of books, a man with a voracious appetite for learning.  "A man who devoured words."  He thought we should be that way, too.  Zionism was as much a personal as a political liberation.

Look closely.  You can see his Bible, next to his sparse bed, under plexiglass protection.  He lived, worked and slept there (as well as in the Negev, in Sde Boker) from 1931-1973.  It was from this house that David Ben Gurion composed Israel's Declaration of Independence and then traveled across town to declare it in May of 1948.  Both the Ottomans and the British were larger empires than the Jews; and the array of Arab opposition to the Jewish state was equally, well, gigantic.  But he was of a generation who refused to see himself as "but a grasshopper in their eyes."
You may find it hard to dwell in such places when the land indeed appears to be devouring its inhabitants.  When Israel's aggressive offensive against the Hamas tunnels and rockets sheds innocent blood along with the guilty; when Jews attack Jews for proclaiming a hope for peace; when it is not safe to be an Arab walking alone in some areas of Jerusalem, a holy city; when Hamas preaches and teaches a doctrine of extermination of the Jews, denies a Jewish claim to the land, uses innocent children and women and schools as mosques as shields against Israel, knowing that the death of innocents will bring down worldwide condemnation of Jews; when communities in Europe, led by a strange amalgam of enraged Muslim populations, radical leftists and neo-Nazis, wreak havoc, vandalism and violence, at times resulting in the murder of Jews in Brussels, Berlin, Paris and elsewhere.   The new anti-Semitism.

You may find yourself not wanting to deal with this at all.  But we are a "choosing people."  The world demands our moral engagement.  

Your Facebook and Twitter are leaden, weighted down with the unresolvable hatred that's boiling over in this land; that Israeli t-shirt you were going to wear stays in the drawer; you remember being glad that Obama ordered the killing of Bin Laden or weeping at the assassination of Rabin but you generally prefer the more Jewish aspects of your understanding of the conflict kept at a distance; it shouldn't ask too much of you.  It's enough already.  Sign on the line.  Make peace.

But the world, alas, doesn't sit still for us.  There is not really an opt-out clause.  It's a complicated, dangerous, unpredictable place.  It requires strenuously difficult, sometimes seemingly contradictory choices.  Interesting, isn't it, that the very nations who attacked Israel in 1948, 1967 and 1973, are all lining up to tacitly support Israel in a war--not against the Palestinians in the West Bank but against Hamas in Gaza, whose version of fundamentalist Islam is seen as a messianic, apocalyptic and therefore dangerous force in the world that needs to be defeated.  Further complications:  this morning's paper carries news of an Israeli Army Commander imploring his troops to study Torah and recite prayers while heading in to battle.  War is bad enough, Ben Gurion might have said.  Need it also be holy?

I worry about American Jewry on this trip more than I ever have.  I worry about their increasing alienation from the notion of a Jewish people, each of us inherently obligated to one another despite our differences; I worry about our understandable abhorrence of the killing of innocents that too quickly shifts to blame, guilt and distance from Israel; I worry about internal Jewish hatred of, about a willful and angry persecutory impulse, even violence, toward Jews who seek peace or express remorse and sadness over the loss of innocent Palestinian life; and I worry about a kind of liberal American Jewish hopelessness toward the Jewish national project, the dystopian other-expression of the very spirit that created this improbable, historically miraculous, wildly creative yet weighted, complex, imperfect nation.  

And finally, I worry (with no small amount of paranoia) of a Hamas operative, reading these words, laughing and rubbing his hands in a diabolically cartoonish gesture:  The Jews, he says, can be worn down.  Eventually, they'll give up and leave.

So I wake myself from this nightmare.

Earlier this week I had lunch in Jaffa with my friend Rabbi Meir Azari.  He's an ingenious entrepreneur of new Jewish life who straddles worlds in Jaffa and Tel Aviv like no other rabbi I know.  After eating and walking around, we went to visit a Jaffa native, an Arab Israeli shop owner who is suffering economically, as are many businesses, because of the war.  Meir, his own family many generations of Jews from the Galilee, knew the Arab shop owner's family in Gaza, in Nazareth, in Jaffa, and he asked after them in Arabic and Hebrew, with the compassion known among neighbors and friends not despite of but because of their differences.  The richness of difference which in baser expressions can cause war, in fact, has the power to redeem.

Sunday night I'll be in Jerusalem with my friend Rebecca Bardach.  She helps run the Yad b'Yad schools and since violence broke out, parents and students of the school--Jerusalem's only bi-lingual, Hebrew and Arabic school--have been walking from the Palestinian neighborhood of Beit Safafa to the Old Train Station in Jerusalem as an expression of unity and solidarity.  At breakfast this week, where we sat down moments after hearing the news that her child's kindergarten teacher's son was killed in Gaza, I asked her if the school (comprised of Jewish and Palestinian residents of Jerusalem) is tearing apart because of the war.  "No," she said simply.  "We come into the school committed to the framework.  As people, we know peace is possible.  It's the leadership we need, on both sides, to make peace happen."

Just when you think this land can break you, devour you, there is another who steps in to the breach to again raise the flag of hope.  

This morning we woke to a seventy-two hour truce.  May the hours of peace grow.  May each of us rise from the ashes and destruction of war's evil embrace.  May the righteous among both our people's prevail. 

If we are to be devoured, let us be devoured by hope.


Update:  Not two hours in, the truce is broken and an Israeli soldier, Hadar Goldin, 23, has been taken captive.  With a heavy heart, we dig deeper--for strength and hope and peace.

27 July 2014

No Pit, No Trap

Terror and pit and trap.
Upon you who dwell on earth.
He who flees at the report of terror
Shall fall into the pit
And who climbs out of the pit
Shall be caught in the trap.
--Isaiah 24: 17-18

I was reminded of these dire words of warning a few weeks ago, when encountering Aharon Appelfeld's novel, Suddenly, Love.  In this stunning book, Appelfeld's main character, a survivor and refugee living in Jerusalem, speaks of the return, again and again, to Leyb Rochman's diary of the Minsk ghetto, The Pit and the Trap.  After savoring every word of Appelfeld, like visits late into the day with a beloved teacher, I moved seamlessly (ever the devoted reader of what the teacher assigns) to Rochman, whose description of the most impossible years imaginable in Belarus during the Second World War held me.

My great grandparents escaped Belarus in the late 1890s, fleeing the Czar and seeking economic opportunity in the prairie of Wisconsin.  Over the years I'd always wanted to visit.  Photographs brought over are the only tangible evidence of those whose fate remained unknown in my family: brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, parents and grandparents--not well enough or daring enough to make the trip and who, in one way or another, were caught in the trap of the war.

Some may have made it but due to the vagaries of time, diminished family ties and distance, their connections to me remain a mystery.  Their voices, disembodied from the tribal bonds that adhere, call out for reckoning.  I one day hope to turn in full and in earnest to the project of recovering their names.

It was supposed to begin this summer, with a trip to Belarus and a visit to the town, Kopyl, where my great grandparents came from.  All seemed to be moving just fine with my own visa but the Belarus Consul in New York denied a visa to a friend of mine, an immigrant from Minsk when it was the Soviet Union in 1980.  In a classic twist of bureaucratic fate, the Consul demanded my friend's original exit visa.  When he explained that it wasn't in his possession now more than thirty years later, that he was a refugee living under a regime that no longer exists, he was told it would take a year to gain permission.  So with a laugh we postponed.  Two guys from Minsk, trying to get back home.  Thwarted again.  No matter.  It's a good introduction to a story I know I'll eventually write.

In Suddenly, Love, Appelfeld's main character Ernst writes, "He spoke about his failures in an orderly way, more or less saying, 'A person isn't an author just because he has a certain ability to write.  If you're not connected with your parents and grandparents, and through them to the tribe, you're a hack, not an author.'"

I'm grateful that my father saved his mother's pictures.  Scrimped at the edges are the names of the other Siegels who did or did not make it.  Likely many died and are buried in the Jewish cemetery in Kopyl which you can now Google image.  Others, doubtless, shared the horrifying fate authored by the Nazis who killed more than 2400 Jews in February 1943.  Both Appelfeld and Rochman describe such disasters in the most intimate terms, that in their accumulation would total nearly six million dead Jews by the end of the war.  A total annihilation of European Jewish life in the midst of a war that would kill more than 60 million people total.  Dad was a soldier in the U.S. Army in the Second World War at that time.  Nineteen years old, dying to fit in, to be sure.  His process was not bound up in the remembrance of the Tribe but in what we might call the Great Becoming that America offers.  He didn't save too many stories; and that lack, denial of the tribe, if you will, has been the engine that has powered much of my own Jewish life.  It's the classic search for the missing piece of something, in my case, a story, a relative, a gravestone with a name.

I sat in a cafe in Tel Aviv this morning, digesting my observations of the left-wing peace rally in Rabin Square that I went to see, a gathering of a few thousand people calling for an end to war, while outside the square, under the careful and watchful eye of hundreds of police, several dozen right-wing Israelis chanted racist invective at those seeking a permanent cease-fire.  Arabs and Leftists were "whores" and "sons of whores."  Rightists were "Nazis" and "Fascists."  Inside the square were the red flags of communism and the dual-nationalist flags of Israelis and Palestinians.  Outside the square were Israeli flags worn like tallises or soccer banners, and one had a sense that without a strong police presence, the right was looking to do violence.  Was one of those raging, spitting, invective spewing hoodlums my great-grandfather's great, great grand-nephew?  Had they found their way here while my family found their way there?  And were we now standing on opposite sides of a barricade, making sense of the dilemmas facing our people today?

I watched it all with dread and fascination.  George Mosse used to teach us in Madison that all political rallies have a liturgy, a prescribed set of actions that are meant to evoke the ideals and the values of the movements expressing them.  George did ground-breaking historical work understanding Nazism.  He grew up watching his liberal German world implode and in personal stories as well as his autobiography, he spoke with fascination about watching Nazis come to power.  About seeing the masses get in line, don the uniform, adopt the language, elide their individuality in favor of the nation.

That's not what's going on here.  My left wing friends in Israel knock around those terms "Nazism" and "Fascism" as easily as the right wing hoodlums deploy racist terminology to deride and dehumanize leftists and Palestinians.  It's not Nazism; it's not Fascism; but it's not purely hooliganism, either.  After all, who can stand in Rabin Square and not grasp fully the bitter warning of its very name.

Not more than a few steps from the hatred of 2014, of Jew versus Jew, was the very spot upon which an Orthodox Jew murdered Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin for daring to make peace with Palestinians. And the soul searching then among the nations' leading thinkers--writers, rabbis, politicians, nearly each and every citizen--was and remains one of the watershed moments of Israeli democracy.  A dangerous, unimaginable line had been crossed.  A door had been opened.  It seems that much more possible that it could happen again.  And I must say that despite the disgusting use of the terms "Nazism" and "Fascism" along with "Zionist pigs" and "Jewish Nazis" or any other number of terms being deployed by the Left in America and across Europe (revealing the age-old anti-Semitism in these previously "huddled masses yearning to be free" of Jews) something much deeper and more dynamic is going on for Israelis.

The existentialist realities of the 1890s, 1948, and 1967 have again reared their heads.  This time, it seems, is the peculiar reality of Israel's relative economic and military strength, it's dynamic and innovative daily life, combined with its hardened center--neither left nor right--that simply doesn't believe that on one hand recognizes that the Jewish nation cannot and must not occupy the Palestinian nation; but that simultaneously understands that one must not "flee from terror."

Out of the pit and into the trap.

Last night's rally for peace was small because everyone has someone or someone they know whose child is in Gaza or at the Gaza border.  This is no fooling around.  There won't be a massive rally for peace with troops fighting to destroy the tunnels that are built to kill Jews.  On this most of the homefront is united.  The empathic pain for the suffering of innocent Palestinian lives is felt deeply.  It is on everyone's mind.  But--yes, BUT--the obvious culpability of Hamas in its own people's suffering is deeply known.  This is serious business.  And like most serious things, it hardly fits into neat, rhetorical constructs.

There is both the inarguable truth that Hamas unequivocally calls for Israel's elimination.  Total.  And those calls are rooted in the most embittered and delusional historical anti-Semitism that it is nothing less than laughable that the rules of contemporary diplomatic engagement get Hamas a seat at the table.  The pit and the trap, again.   (Of course, there is today no greater fan of classic anti-Semitic demagoguery than that coming from Turkey's Prime Minister, Recep Erdogan, who, with world protestors bat around terms like "Zionist pig" and "Israeli Nazis" with greater frequency than the ball of the paddle in a beachside Israeli game of Matkot.)

And there is also the inarguable truth of a dangerous ugliness, a racist impulse, a violent, unbridled hatred among us Jews as well.  We woke up today to read about two Palestinians again brutally beaten by a gang of Jews.  Merciless, despicable evil perpetrated against purely innocent people.  It would be nothing less than totally inexcusable to not find and prosecute these people to the fullest extent of the law.  Not doing so debases the very arguments in favor of a Jewish democratic state rooted in Jewish historical values and traditions.  When Cain kills Abel at the beginning of Genesis, God says, "Your brother's bloods cry out to me from the land."  The Sages tell us we're to understand that one murder begets many more.  And that when you kill one person, you kill those lives that would have emanated from the one whose life you took.  It is a dangerously interminable termination.  And therefore, evil.

There is also the inarguable truth for much of the population that the occupation of millions of Palestinians must end.  But how?  And when?  And with what guarantees that rockets will not fly from areas even closer to the population centers?  These questions I am hearing from my friends on the left. A fierce commitment to peace to be sure, to ending the occupation; but rooted in a jaded and hard-earned realism--a decade of suicide bombings; decades of rejections of peace; wars of survival in 1948, 1967 and 1973--realism about the existential realities Jews face alongside Palestinians who also seek a normal, free life.

It may well be that the pit and trap of twentieth century Jewry ends when we realize that the only ones who can rescue Jews and Palestinians from the pit and the trap of their own tortured and seemingly endless war with one another are Jews and Palestinians.  That we need not see our own rescue from one pit as requiring that we fall into the trap of the other.

That may very well be.

But who will rescue from the trap of anti-Semitism those spewers of hate in the world's capitals, those profiteers of the oldest racism, who fan the flames of a question that burns with the bitter, rancid wood of their pyrrhic hatred:  When will the Jew go away?

In the palpable loneliness and isolation that is keenly felt here in Israel these days, it is critically important to remember that there are deep friendships (with no shortage of disagreements) that Israel has with many nations, the United States being primary among them.  As an American myself I am eternally grateful for that.

In the days and weeks ahead, all friendships will be tested and it will be critically important for each of us to be true.  To what we know, to what we believe, and to what we realistically think can be.

Perhaps slowly then, ever so slowly, we may lift ourselves from the pit of terror, from the trap of hatred, and join forces to unite against those evil doers among us and at our borders who seem to always find new ways to do us wrong.  People of every faith.  Of every nation.  Men and women.  Gay and straight.  People.  Seeking goodness, justice and peace.