July 31, 2014


To paraphrase Chris Rock, you know the world has gone crazy when my father celebrates for Germany and criticizes Israel.  But that is where we are.

Not this or that; this and that.
Not right and wrong; right/wrong.
Not either/or; (either)(or).

My father is a Holocaust survivor.  He was born shortly before World War II began.  He made it through the war hiding out on a farm in Germany with his father and mother, while his half sister escaped on the kindertransport and ended up in pre-statehood Palestine.  The rest of his extended family perished, both sides killed by the Nazis.  My grandfather brought them back to Berlin after the war, where they lived together until my grandmother died.  A few years later my father made his way to New York City.  My grandfather lived in Berlin until he died.  During my father's formative years in Berlin, you could count the number of Jewish youth in the city on your fingers.

My father almost assuredly befriended many children whose fathers had served in the Wehrmacht a few years earlier, and others whose families supported the Nazi regime.  Yet my father never describes feelings of self-consciousness when he describes his childhood.  He remembers friends from growing up, mischief he got into, vignettes that could have happened on Pelham Parkway just as easily as the Kurfürstendamm.  

I am old enough to remember when many Jews would not buy German products. My father was always opposed to any boycott. Where does that get us, he would ask.  How do we move on if we do not accept them.

During the recent World Cup I knew of many Jews whose rooting interest was "anybody but Germany." Not so my father, who is disinterested in most sports but who giddily tracked the Germans' success, drove down to the German consulate to watch some of the matches, and even rooted for Germany when they played the United States. Deutschland Vor! Noch Ein Tor! World gone crazy.

Not this or that; this and that.
Not right and wrong; right/wrong.
Not either/or; (either)(or).

At some point in the last few weeks I decided I had on obligation to engage people in talking about the crisis in Israel.  I had to hear the different sides, find the fissures between people's opinions, learn more, read more, feel more.  Israel has forced people to confront their beliefs on military force, Zionism, anti-Semitism, democracy, security, peace.  How to balance all of those things.  How peace comes at a price, as does war even when you are the stronger side.  From everything I have read Israel is going through an existential crisis as it tries to retain a calculated morality while it defends itself.  The threat of rockets being fired at your home; can we even imagine this happening in Brooklyn?  In Park Slope we argue about bike lanes, the best frozen yogurt, where to go for a massage.  

But contrary to what you might have read, Arabs love their children too.  When I was in Israel last year, the Arabs we met all wanted peace, wanted to find a solution.  They were angry at the leadership for both sides, desperate to find one courageous politician who could take the first meaningful step towards peace.  Israel's hands are not clean.  Gaza is a large, outdoor prison and its captives have suffered for eight years.  Of course Hamas bears much of the blame for that, but not all of it.

My father has worked at the World Bank for 30 years.  He is now semi-retired, but from 2003-2008 he worked in Israel, especially Gaza, monitoring construction projects and verifying that they were proceeding as expected.  It was my father's dream assignment.  He has had a lifelong love for Israel. My parents met there in 1963.  My father almost moved our family there around the time I was born.  For many years he planned to be buried in Jerusalem.  To this day he talks about picking Jaffa oranges straight off the trees in southern Israel and the rapture of eating one, and then another, and then another.

Something changed though, and in 2008 my father requested a transfer to the India bureau.  He saw too much.  Israeli soldiers harassing elderly farmers, making them wait out in the hot sun for six hours or even longer while their fruit rotted.  Israeli agencies refusing to allow Gaza construction projects to progress, blocking water supply studies, power grid proposals.  Not everything built in Gaza was a tunnel.

My father became fed up with both sides.  He despaired at the West Bank settlements that hogged the most arable land, hogged the infrastructure at the expense of the Arabs living in the territories.  He became, in a word, disillusioned.  He wants Hamas gone.  He wants the right wingers who control the Knesset out.  He wants security.  He wants peace.  He bought a burial plot in Maryland a few years ago.  His Israel is gone.

Not this or that; this and that.
Not right and wrong; right/wrong.
Not either/or; (either)(or).

Broom clean, is how she put it. "Buyers will do final walk through at 3 pm.  Broom clean."  Our realtor's words ran through my head as I sat in synagogue on Yom Kippur last year, just one night after we moved out of the apartment we had owned for nine years into a small two bedroom rental in Gowanus.  The move had suffered from delays and had to be finished the next morning.  The new apartment was crammed with large boxes that needed to be unpacked.  Even though we had rented a storage space, finding room for everything seemed impossible.

There were other issues.  Problems to spare.  And with all that, it was time for the annual fasting.  I sat in synagogue with more weight on my shoulders than I could ever remember. 

The call and response of the Yom Kippur prayers.  Al Chet. Avinu Malkeinu. Phrases that start each and every line of prayers that can run thirty lines or longer.

Desperately needing to close the book, to wipe the slate.

Broom clean.
Broom, clean.
Broom clean!
Broom: clean.
Broom! Clean!
Broom clean?

If only they made a broom like that.

Nine months later, at 4:00 am on a Saturday morning, in our cramped two bedroom rental, Archie woke me up and climbed into bed.  In a few hours we would start the drive to Rochester, to drop him off at sleep away camp for the first time. He asked if we could talk.  We started with sports, as we often do.  Then we talked about how you can feel excited and nervous at the same time.  Archie did the talking.  He told me he was excited but more nervous as the big day approached.  He talked about what camp might feel like, what challenges he might face.  Then he told me he loved me.  My son is strong and sweet.  I held on tight while we hugged,  mostly so he wouldn't know I was crying.  

Tears of privilege.  Privileged tears.   We don't own our house but we have a home.  It could be worse.

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