Wednesday, April 17, 2002

Never Again What: I stood outside the NYU undergraduate Independence Day rally for Israel today. Over a hundred students gathered to show solidarity with Israel, its right to exist, and its right to defend itself. There were whistles, flags, and songs sung loudly and proudly. Bipartisan support arose as well, as College Republicans and College Democrats spoke alongside other campus leaders.

I stood across the street, watching the supporters, watching those watching the supporters. I heard a lone dissenter standing near me, outside of earshot of the speakers and supporters. She railed about killing innocent people, about how she despised the rally.

A friend walked beside her and said how he had been to Israel. He had many, many Jewish friends, but he hated Israel. He actually said, “I hate Israel.” He had seen what happened. “Palestinians,” she replied. Awkwardly, he said nothing, and I pondered his silence. She said she knew all about the Palestinians killed.

She scanned the crowd, its flags, and its banners. I then heard a three word question that summarized, so poetically, that which has been occurring recently in the world: “Never Again What?”

Before (reflexively) gasping, I realized that I was quite naïve to be surprised at all.

Not only did she not understand, she did not know. She did not know today was Yom Ha’azmaut. She did not know what ‘Never Again’ meant. But she knew the Palestinians were dying, and Israel was evil.

The rally ended with a stroll around the block. There had been prayers and spirituality, calls for sanity and peace. I headed toward the Pro-Palestinian rally, arriving in the midst of an average set of protest speakers and chants. I was pleased with the tenor of the participants. There were no swastikas, no chants of “Death to Jews.”

I found one sign, stating “Zionist Rabbi: Murder of Non-Jews is a Mitzvah” to be both humorous and anti-Semitic, a combination I had not realized was morally possible until then.

The crowd cheered. The crowd booed. The rally began to die down. As it finished, before dissipating, came a chant revealing the true nature of its participants: “2, 4, 6, 8 … Israel is a racist state.”

The music flowed down the block from the continuing Israel rally. People sang and danced and asked for peace, while the Palestinians protestors began to spew forth the venom that had been building up in their collective belly the entire protest.

And while I laughed at signs like “Free Palestine” (because, apparently, under Arafat or any other modern day Arab leader they would be free?), inside I wept at their hatred. I wept at their ignorance. I wept at the ramifications of the power of their beliefs. So I walked home, in peace, in silence.

Thousands of miles away, in lands I have visited and others I have seen only when viewed from hills afar, live millions of people. For the entirety of modernity a few million of these inhabitants have lived on an oasis, seeking only peace and silence in house and home. They have built their houses, they have created a home, but they have no peace, and they have no silence.

Their oasis is surrounded by hundreds of millions of others led and oppressed, in poverty and despair. Their leaders have taught hatred; they have taught ignorance; they have taught bloodlust. And they have succeeded, across the globe, in the glorification of death.

This struggle will continue for days and months, years and decades more, a clash of old and new, of love and hate, peace and war. The same side will want peace; they will receive war.

‘Never Again’ will ring hollow. In the classrooms of schools, in the halls of revered institutions, there will be ignorance and there will be hate. And nowhere will there be ‘Never Again.’

Monday, April 15, 2002

Right of Return
I'm finally getting fed up with this Pro-Palestinian nonsense. I'm sick and tired of it. If anyone has a right to be damn angry, really angry it's Israelis and Jews. Israel is a few million people, mostly Jewish but not all, surrounding by hundreds of millions of sick individuals who hate them for being Jewish. That's it, for being born with a particular religion. All across the dessert and swamps, from Africa to the Middle East to the Far East, millions and millions of people hate Jews.

And I'm sick of hearing about their nonsense. About their bullshit Palestinian cause. The Palestinians don't have a cause; they have a self-inflicted wound. Their problem is hating Jews. It's why they fought Jews numerous times over the last half-century. It's why they lost land. Palestinians had a country. They still do. It's called Jordan. Go there and leave Israelis alone. If you hadn't tried to drive the Jews into the sea in 1967, this wouldn't have been a problem. And the same thing with you and your Arab-Muslim brethren in 1948, 1956, 1973. And 1973 was the worst. On the HOLIEST of holy days, Yom Kippur, you decide to attack. Yet the U.S. should stop bombing on Ramadan??? Of 30 ongoing conflicts in the world today, 28 involved Muslims. And yet the Jews, with their sliver of land the size of New Jersey, are at fault in the Middle East?

Well enough is enough. We Jews have plenty of scars, and we should be pretty damn mad at you ... the world. From Germany to France to Russia to Australia, you hate us. Admit it. We're used to it by now; or maybe we aren't but should be. But we might just get too mad for you, right? Some crazy Jews with some crazy weapons, you're probably telling yourself.

But we aren't like that. Our religion, our culture, our heritage teaches us otherwise, despite how you have treated us for five millennia. It's why we Jews tend toward Liberal causes (even though I disagree with many of them), why we keep telling ourselves that we have a peace partner, why we keep turning the other cheek when you blow us up. Or threaten to blow us up. Or parade your little daughters in suicide bomber clothing in Berlin in 2002.

Berlin. Hmm, maybe another reason not to be so happy? Do you remember what your G-d awful country, with the assistance of some wonderful other countries like Austria and Poland and Czechoslovakia, did? I want my Great Aunts and Uncles back. I want back my Great Grandmother. That is my Right of Fucking Return, okay. I want to know my Grandfather's twin brother. Give me back my family.

I want you to bring back my grandparents who lost years off their lives because of you sons of bitches. You got that. That is my Right of Return. I want you to not make me think about them every day of my life. What they had to go through, while I sit in this country of freedom and prosperity, knowing how they lived at the exact age that I am. For knowing how my Great Grandfather saved so many lives raiding ammunition plants (eventually being awarded the Ben-Gurion award for bravery) and realizing that nothing I ever could do in my life might be that challenging or that important. And being happy that is so. And being angry, damn angry that I even have to contemplate it. Or hearing the many, many other stories I have heard about my family. But there are many more I'll never know. Those stories died in the woods of Eastern Europe sixty years ago.

So, maybe there will never be a Never Again. Maybe there will be a Second Holocaust as some have forecasted in light of recent events. I promise you this: My family went down fighting the first time. And I'll do the same. You may take me out, but I'll do my damnedest to get you too. I won't believe it when they say 'It's just a labor camp' or 'No one could be that evil' or 'They just want to live peacefully next to you.' Not now, not ever.

When the preaching of hatred stops, maybe we can talk. When you teach your children that Israel exists, maybe we can talk. When you stop spreading the virulently anti-Semitic rantings in your press, maybe we can talk. When you learn to love your children more than you hate us, maybe we can talk.

Or maybe not. Maybe it'll never be good enough. Maybe you need to return my family. Then we can talk. Maybe you need to ease the souls of my family long-departed. Of the millions dead, of the millions more scarred for life. Of the millions unborn, whose wonderful lives will never grace our presence. Of the small ones, like Anne Frank, of the survivors, like Elie Wiesel. Ease them all. Bring back their lives and their sanity and their innocence. Return that, world, and we can talk about a Palestinian problem, or an issue with Arab states. Until then, leave Israel the hell alone.

Tuesday, April 09, 2002

Suicide Bombing: This is what it will take to end this charade in the middle east. One bomber in one corner of New York. There is a Sbarro's on 8th street (or maybe it's 9th) in the East Village. What better symmetry than to attack that which has been attacked a half-world away. It will happen; it will most definitely happen. And when it does, the world will turn upside down. Mark my words as of this day. There will be concessions, Israel will withdraw, and the bombings will continue (both in Israel Proper and the West Bank). But it will never be enough for bloodlusting Arab leaders who have always hated Jews and have taught their subjects to hate them as well, finding comfort in the 'distortions' of the Koran. [I say 'distortions' because one need wonder just how distorted the meaning of the Koran can be when hundreds of millions of its followers believe in death to the infidels.]

Israel will withdraw as far as it deems safe, there will be another handshake, on another lawn, with another President of the U.S. in the middle. And the calls for Jewish and Israeli blood will continue. They have not stopped in Arabian countries since Arabian Kings and Imams decided Jews were fair targets, no matter their locations, no matter their crimes. Being Jewish was enough, and it will continue to be. We see it now in France, in Germany, in Russia. Jews, not Israelis mind you, Jews have been targetted relentlessly with firebombings in Synagogues, have been accosted walking down the street simply for looking orthodox, have had the windows in their stores smashed in a la Kristallnacht. And so, during our remembrance of the Holocaust, during our recognition of the loss of 6 million of our fellow believers and 4 million others, during our recognition that the world has never cared for or about Jews and will continue to act as ignorantly, we again face a crisis.

So Arabs will decide that 1967 borders, or close proximities thereof, are not good enough. And they will beat their war drums again. And Israel will be asked to give just a little, not much, just a little for peace. And they will give, and they will give, and they will give. And then they will decide there is no more to give. So the Arabs, knowing they are militarily outmatched as they have always been, will look to suicide bombers again. Knowing that Israel has reached its breaking point (on the verge of war), whether this be in 1 year, 5 years, 10 or more, Arab-Muslims will seek other targets. American targets. An American installation in Yemen (oh wait, that already happened), an American installation in Asia or Europe, and an American installation in America. Not just the World Trade Center, but more.

The World Trade Center was horror, it was not terror. It was not terror because it was clearly a lone act that could be prevented in the future by strong-willed, angry Americans on airplanes. Terror affects you on the ground; it is the constant fear of going outside, of being at work, of lying in bed at night wondering if flames will shoot through your windows and walls while you sleep. Terror is not two buildings crashing to the ground, terror is two stores having their windows blown out, the second after medics have come to save the casualties of the first. Terror is reading stories of Israeli friends and friends in Israel who can no longer stand the daily barrage that they face, from Palestinians and from Europeans, some with fire and some with ice. So terror will come to America, and when it comes, there will be hell to pay. We will not, as Americans, stand for such actions against our own. We will have seen American arms and American legs split from American torsos. We will have seen American babies and American men and women blown to pieces. We will have seen American blood spilt on our own streets by the actions of a madman representing a mad cause. We will, rightly, find the source of the bombings and root them out, come hell or highwater, with any and all means necessary. And we will do it till the day we die or the day they die. Or both.

So why won't we let Israel do the same? The proportionate attacks on Israel recently total many more thousands killed than in the World Trade Center, over a hundred thousand maimed, many for life. And Americans tell them not to act. And so Israel will not act. And things will continue as they continue. Until America is attacked. On September 11, I watched thousands die on a direct path one and a half mile north of the World Trade Center. I thought America had finally learned what it meant to be struck by terror. But it hadn't and it didn't. It hadn't been hit by terror, it had been hit by horror. And it didn't learn its lesson. And it won't, until it is too late for reconciliation, whatever such a term might mean. Instead, we will see war, all out war, that will pit Arab-Muslims against Christians and Jews. That is not a good thing; it is very bad, and it is very scary. And it is right around the corner.

Sunday, March 31, 2002

After the Bomb II
Civilians were not permitted in southern Manhattan today, but such restrictions are meaningless when help of this variety is needed. My journey begins in Jersey City, as a few friends and I prepare supplies for the rescuers attacking fire and debris piled four stories in the air.

Hundreds of volunteers have lined up to assist. A few lucky ones, if one dares to use such a label, have the opportunity to ferry to Manhattan to deliver supplies. I gladly accept the task. Though not permitted on the dock, I sneak on to assist.

Chunks have been ripped viciously out of buildings, and these wondrous edifices move ominously closer to collapse. Black plumes of smoke arise from a white cloud lingering on the ground, indicating a new fire has begun or another building has shed its skin.

I begin to unload provisions from boats as they dock. The supplies arrive, and I join New York’s bravest and finest, the firefighters and police officers, to form a human conveyor belt. We pass ice, water, socks, and shoes. A new load arrives bringing hot food, candy, and Gatorade. Deliveries continue in spurts over the next hour.

I remain close to the pier, unsure of how deep to venture and afraid I will be identified as a civilian. Suddenly, a wave of bodies scurries forward. Men scream that another building is about to collapse and that we must evacuate. I turn right and run to a pier with others. Realizing we are now in the direct descent of a building possibly about to fall, we sprint the other way.

The Coast Guard has ordered all boats to head toward the dock. As they arrive, men leap onto anything that floats. The first boat is filled, and I hurry toward the next. As it leaves, I hurdle off the pier and onto a rail, grabbing the hand of a police officer as he guides me to safety. Only two more workers following me can jump on before we have set sail.

As we dash away, everyone on board reaches for a cell phone to contact loved ones. One firefighter, with tears in his eyes and blood on his hands, calls his wife to say that he is safe despite the incident. Another remarks how closely this must resemble the Dunkirk escape of World War II.

On board, it appears that someone has gone into cardiac arrest. Though southern Manhattan is declared safe, we can no longer turn back. Not realizing that someone is gravely ill, the men scream to turn the boat around, that they must return to the scene to do their jobs and save lives.

We dock in Jersey City and clear a path for medics as they rush to a fallen comrade. I walk away safely, calling my father on my cell phone and realizing that I can never return. It is at that moment, as I stand young, strong, and healthy, that I want nothing more than to go back and help.

... and those are the facts
We are fast approaching another milestone in our country’s history at a most appropriate time: the 326th year of giving thanks for all that we have been blessed with in the new world. As we gather with family and friends, we will celebrate a uniquely American holiday in a uniquely American way. As we reflect and remember, September 11 and the many other days and times of happiness, sadness, loneliness, and togetherness will fill our hearts and thoughts.

As this wondrous day nears, many commentators will write in praise of Thanksgiving; others will attack the holiday. We will hear louder and louder calls questioning America, its policies, and the existence of Thanksgiving, unquestionably tying them in with our as-of-yet-quite-successful war against terrorism. These voices of vitriol will ring most loudly from academia, a bastion of uniquely American oppression.

Today, I write to apologize to America. This isn’t an actual apology, however, as much as it is a public expression of regret.

In the summer prior to entering my first year of AP History in high school, all students were given what appeared to be an innocuous task: analyze Columbus’ arrival in the new world.

The task, unsurprisingly, was a bit more loaded than a simple read and react assignment. All of the documents we had been given to ingest were anti-American and anti-Columbus. It would not have been possible, based upon our available materials, to come to a conclusion other than that of complete blame and utter disrespect for Columbus’ and the many, mostly European, settlers that followed his voyage.

At the time I wrote the paper, I didn’t think much of what I had been scribing; rather, I viewed the assignment as a necessary, and extremely tedious, part of doing well in the class.

Looking back, I feel shame for playing the part of a pawn, so easily and unthinkingly regurgitating the post-modern, neo-liberal hogwash that permeates the public school systems in certain subjects. Many subjects, like mathematics and the sciences, appeared free from such overt bias. (Even my English evaded much of the p.c. garbage we hear about in today’s classrooms). History class, however, was programmed with a clear desire to revisit and rewrite our nation’s past.

While it may have succeeded at the time, its impact on me has been minimal, if affecting me at all. And for that I give thanks. I give thanks for living in a country that has given my family and so many friends a respite from the horrors of much of the world, for providing me with the opportunity to think, act, and feel as I wish (well, for the most part anyway).

So I guess, in the end, I could not finish this column without expressing some of the thanks I must give. There are many private thanks that I owe to many people for the many things they have done for me. There is, as well, one public thanking that I owe. It is to my country, for all that it has provided, and for all that it will continue to provide. Thank you, America. Thank you.

... and those are the facts
After the Bomb I
Two numbers: .63 and 1.53

.63 is the distance in miles from Stroock, where I worked yesterday, to the World Trade Center. Yes, that’s only 3300 feet.

1.53 is the distance in miles from where I currently type to the World Trade Center. That’s about 8100 feet.

.63 and 1.53 miles, respectively, from the greatest single domestic tragedy in American History.

What is written below can never accurately describe what happen ... not even from my vantage point. I don’t think I have ever uttered the phrases “Oh my god” and “I don’t even know what to say” with such rapidity in such a short period of time.

About 10 minutes to 9 o’clock a.m, I stepped out of the Mercer Residence Hall to head toward the journal office to prepare for office hours. Basically, I was heading over there to determine what work needed to be handed out to Staff Editors and to get an early jump on other journal work. As I exited Mercer, about 20 or so people stood looking to the left (southward). I turned to the person next to me and said, “I wonder what everyone is looking at.”

I looked left and saw thirty floors, give or take a few, billowing smoke and flames at the top of the World Trade Center. A knot instantly grew in my stomach. I felt like I was going to vomit. I called home to say that there had been an explosion and talked on the phone as I headed the three blocks to the journal office. I got there and headed downstairs, hearing on the radio that a plane had hit one of the Towers. Downstairs, I turned on a radio station. I listened for a minute before the announcer gasped that other planes were in the sky. By the time I had walked up the basement steps to the lobby, the second tower had been hit.

The scene outside was, well, it just was. (Any attempt to describe what had happened would be truly unjust). People stood staring, unable to comprehend what had happened. I decided, for documentation at its very least, to grab a disposable camera and start taking pictures. I began. As well, by then, the smoke began to head up the 1.5 mile trudge toward the Village. It was then that I knew to get supplies. Speaking with my father and a family friend who was a doctor, I was told to get water and food. I did just that. The Editor-in-Chief of the journal ran out to find gas masks. Not the big ones that one sees during other wars, but simple painter/doctor masks to cover our faces if debris came our way. That mask sits in front of me, on my desk, as I write, thankfully unused.

While I was downstairs, the radios remained on. Listening in with horror, another announcer screamed that the gaping hole in the South Tower was getting larger. And then he said the unthinkable, it had collapsed. I ran out of the office and people just sat with heads in hands. Outside, on Sixth Avenue (the Avenue of the Americas), there was one Tower and a lot of smoke where the other one belonged. Where it had always been. Where, for a thousand trips, I viewed southward and stared at the marvel of those Towers, at what they represented to America, to Freedom. Like Wall Street and the Stock Exchange on my way to work this summer, I marveled constantly at just how special they were. And one was gone.

I headed back in for but a short time, to cancel the office hours, to shut down non-necessary functions. The school had started postings for blood drives and requests for places to house people. And then the other was gone.

Outside, that precious view, with even one proud Tower standing tall for New Yorkers, had fallen from the morning sky. Only clouds of smoke billowed endlessly. My precious view, a view so standard on any emblem of New York, was now gone.

I began to hear stories of Tower escapes. One person was underneath, in a train, when the Tower was hit. Another person was supposed to go downtown but was late. By the time he arrived, hell on earth had begun. A third, a next-door neighbor at home, had escaped from the Fortieth Floor. The school closed down Tuesday and Wednesday. A Vigil has been called for in Washington Square Park at Noon.

And the healing process will begin. We are a special place, New York. I gave it thought, quite a bit, but I don’t believe it ever hit home so much as it has over the past twenty-four hours. Seeing thousands of people in line to give blood and hearing the story of a shoestore merchant who gave his shoes to fleeing women to replace shoes they could otherwise not run in. These were the stories of New Yorkers, of Americans. To know of the hundreds of New York’s Bravest and Finest, the Firefighters and Police Officers who run to tragedy not from it, and how they were caught as the buildings collapsed. The Fire Chief, his Deputy, and other brass were gone in an instant. These were the stories of heroes, of grace under fire. But hope survives. Pockets of people have been pulled alive out of the wreckage. There will be more. If I know naught else, I know that much.

Please pass this on. Pass it to everyone you know. Family, friends, colleagues, they must all see these words. And they will know this much: We, as New Yorkers, as Americans, as lovers of Freedom and Democracy, can never be impeded in our goal toward a free and open society, one which gives the freedoms that can be so preciously taken. We will move forward. We have survived an act of war at home, unseen in almost a century and a half. We have seen better days, we may not see worse, but I know that the Twin Towers will rise again. Out of the ashes of lives and souls changed drastically forever shall rise that spirit that has made this country so wonderful, so special. A refuge for so many from a cruel, uncaring world. A chance to start anew, to build for a better tomorrow. The tired, the poor, the huddled masses of Emma Lazarus’ time, seeing the light of lamp at a golden door. On this day more than ever, as I hear support from around the country and around the world, I am Proud to be an American where at least I know I’m Free.

... and those are the facts
So That's Where He Comes From
I am an American. I am a Jew. I am extremely proud of both. I grew up in New Jersey, went to college in Wisconsin, currently attend law school in New York City, and will begin working for a law firm in NYC after graduation, the bar exam, and a little free time to roam the world.

My father was born in Germany following WWII and the Holocaust. My mother was born in our wonderful land. My family fought with the Partisans, the Jewish Underground. My great-grandfather received the David Ben-Gurion Award from the State of Israel for his heroism; he, along with the rest of my family, was responsible for saving thousands of lives just sixty years ago.

I owe this country a lot, everything in fact. No other nation would take my family (until the creation of the Land of Israel), but the United States of America would. It provided food, clothing, and shelter to many turbulently left out in the cold by life. My parents came from immigrant stock, working extremely hard to provide the best life possible for their boys. They are the American Dream. I am the American Dream.

I pay homage to a struggle that began in shtetls and ghettos throughout Europe, an endeavor imbedded deeply within my being. I live their dreams. I am their hope. For that alone, I owe this country everything.

I shall begin to repay this debt, a quantity so large it would take a hundred lifetimes to reach a single percent. For its warmth, for its opportunity, for its freedom which I have never taken for granted, I begin to say thanks by giving back.

I know not what is in store; I readily admit that I hope it is greatness. A chance to change a lives, if only a few, is all that I ask.

And so, if I make you laugh or cry, my repayment has begun. If I make you think of what is and dream what could be, my repayment continues. Though it will never end, I begin with this column.

... and those are the facts