The Road Out Of Pottersville


A most unpleasant year ends this weekend, one of volcanic politics — but also of quiet loves, loss and tenderness that each reader experienced more than the headlines ever will know.

From honor to the “deplorables,” to cheers in coal mines, to the midnight confetti that never fell in Manhattan ballrooms, it was a year of celebrations and concessions that ended with unexpected grace, glory and bitterness. May the winners enjoy their bouquets; may the frustrated be comforted knowing the seeds of redemption are already in the soil. In America, in Israel, something better always comes next. It better.

Most of the attention was on the presidential election, but “we the people” voted from the rocky coast of Maine to the San Francisco embarcadero, choosing not just a president but 435 congressmen, 34 senators, 12 governors, thousands of state and county legislators, the Republican dominating every level of government — and we chose plenty of shul presidents, too. Democrats dominating there.

We argued about or studied with rabbis, and those rabbis will now have to figure out how to make a house divided feel at home. Does courtesy to a convert extend to Ivanka Trump, now looking for a shul in the capital?

It was a year when, despite the lip-service given to tolerance, too many friends were “defriended,” and too many congregants stayed away from their synagogues because too many pulpit rabbis confused their personal politics with the gift of prophecy.

We became a community comfortable with the crude, as our Bedford Falls turned to Pottersville. The sour taste began in the primary season with Donald Trump’s schoolyard taunting, but before autumn came Trump haters planted a granite tombstone bearing his name in Central Park. Only last week Trump’s daughter was screamed at on an airplane, in front of her young children, by a Jewish lawyer unhinged by the president-elect.

Too many of us felt perfectly justified in being rude at AIPAC or other organizational gatherings and rallies, stifling water cooler conversations, staining Shabbos table conversations, feeling that boorishness was called for where a gentlemanly disagreement would have once sufficed.

For some of us, 2016 can’t end soon enough. For too many others, 2016 ended too soon. For Hallel Yaffa Ariel, a 13-year-old girl, life itself ended on a June morning, when she was stabbed to death in her bed in Kiryat Arba by a Palestinian young man who jumped a fence and entered her bedroom. Her father is still saying Kaddish, and will be into 2017.

Seventeen days into 2016, Dafna Meir, 38, a mother of six, was painting her front door in Otniel, when a Palestinian stabbed her to death. Eighteen other Israelis were murdered for the crime of being Jewish in Israel.

But really, who cares? How many Jews can identify Hallal and Dafna as opposed to Trayvon Martin or Eric Garner? And when you know that Hallel and Dafna were killed over the 1967 Green Line that the Security Council considers illegal, do you care more or less? Just asking. Not everyone is mourning. Such is the divided state of the Jewish people as we enter 2017.

In his Musings column in this newspaper, Rabbi David Wolpe suggests that Jewish leaders give a speech at least once a year that would take the other side of their point of view, to acknowledge that maybe the other side has a point.

Ben-Gurion and Jabotinsky could have done that; they shared a passionate love for the Jewish land and people. But what traditional Zionist today could make the case that, as the Security Council resolved, Jerusalem’s Jewish Quarter is illegally occupied by Israel and that the Western Wall, let alone the Temple Mount, is none of Israel’s political business?

Years ago, Rabbi Yitz Greenberg wondered, would we be one Jewish people by the year 2000, considering intermarriage and radically different religious standards? The Jewish people conclude the year thoroughly divided over Israel, Jerusalem, even what to call the land (West Bank? Judea and Samaria?) as we are about intermarriage, or transgender, or Trump. Will we be one Jewish people by the year 2020? History saw the Northern Kingdom become a separate nation (and eventually the Ten Lost Tribes) after King Solomon’s death. Why not now? (That’s not a suggestion for anyone’s secession, that’s a teardrop).

A lot of us were angry with each other in 2016, and a lot of non-Jews hated us. Anti-Semitism was a leading story in 2016, particularly since many tagged Trump with inspiring or coddling it among the alt-right. On the other hand, that’s the same Trump who graciously accepted his favorite child’s Orthodox conversion and praxis; brought in her Shomer Shabbat husband as a key adviser; who will be the first president to have Orthodox grandchildren running through the White House; and who appointed an Orthodox Jew, David Friedman, as ambassador to Israel, a man who is more devoted to the liberated lands of 1967 than is the Israeli government.

After eight years of the Obama presidency, some Zionists felt unprotected in the Democratic Party.

If Trump was responsible for surging anti-Semitism even before he was president, what are we to make of the fact that anti-Semitic incidents on American college campuses nearly doubled in 2015, according to the Anti-Defamation League, before almost anyone on campus took Trump seriously? The FBI noted 731 Jewish victims of hate crimes in 2015; 307 Islamic victims. The entire eight years of the Obama administration saw Jews topping the FBI’s list of hate crime victims. Hating Jews is bipartisan; the FBI hate crime tally during the eight years of President George Bush — including the year after Islamic terrorists flew into the World Trade Center — saw Jews, even then, at the top of the list of victims of hate crimes.

Emory professor Deborah Lipstadt said that those who downplayed or dismissed the anti-Semitism when it came from the left don’t have much cred if they now suddenly magnify every spray-painted swastika into a Nuremberg rally.

“I’m sentimental, if you know what I mean,” sang Leonard Cohen, whose glorious life ended in November. “I love the country but I can’t stand the scene.” He was confident, though. Redemption is coming, sang Cohen, “coming to America first. The cradle of the best and of the worst. It’s here they got the range, and the machinery for change, and it’s here they got the spiritual thirst….”

A New Year is coming. Bring it on.