Burnings. Stabbings. Shootings. Just another week in Israel. But somehow, through all this, we still go about our daily lives even with the threat of nuclear immolation that comes over the airwaves every day from that lunatic asylum called Iran. Well, there are plenty of lunatics in other places as well….Washington, DC, the United Nations, etc. Sometimes it all makes me wonder if G-d is really on our side, or if He (or She) just loves to hear us kvetch.
Kvetching (a deeply profound and unerringly correct term for a myriad of shoulder shrugging, finger pointing, fist shaking and other both symbolic and vocal complaining) is a vital function of Jewish philosophy and tradition. The best kvetchers make for the best debaters and that brings about conversation, conflict and, very often, progress. for without discussion and digression, brilliant ideas and acts might never come to fruition.
Sometimes this contentious and often vocally loud and disquieting battlefield is fought in the august halls of government. The Israeli Knesset, not a place for the faint of heart or the respectfully quiet, is often the scene of much intemperate disputations that are not confined by political decorum or the use of scatological and anatomic verbiage in the discussions among the members of this parliamentary body. As some one who has watched the deliberations of the United States Congress on television, with the speakers addressing their opposites as ” the right honorable gentleman from….” it was, at first, somewhat appalling to hear members of the Knesset scream at their opponents as they mounted the rostrum with words that somehow, to my untrained new Hebrew ears, as the posterior of a retarded four legged beast of burden.
But this type of discourse is not limited to those who govern, but also, to the governed. Even in the most banal of instances, it has been my experience to witness violent verbal conflict among the elderly women of my Bronx neighborhood, fighting over who bet four cents on a hand of poker! Or among my friends as to who was safe on first base or who was out. This often gave rise to a magnificent gesture of comradeship and love with the invention of what was known as the “do over.”
What an amazing bit of supreme diplomatic intellect among teenage boys who would otherwise come to blows in the middle of a heavily trafficked Bronx street. Sometimes, we weren’t even all Jewish kids for my neighborhood was fairly well mixed with Sicilians (yes, before you ask, it was a connected neighborhood and if you need to know what that means, you must immediately go and watch “A Bronx Tale”) and one Chinese family which owned both the local laundry and restaurant.
Such a simple yet brilliant tool of diplomatic skill and grace. Just simply do the whole thing over and accept whatever the new result might be. Everyone could agree to that. Sure, there were a few times when the other side might have walked off the street and sulked. But then, there really was no one else to play with. Yes, there was the occasional fist fight, but all one had to do if you were in real danger of losing is say, “I give!” and the combat stopped, the pugilists shook hands, and the game went on and friendships were preserved. Isn’t it amazing how a gang of Jewish and Italian kids, so different in so many ways, were able to solve their differences and fighting and stay allies against the encroachment of gangs from other neighborhoods?
How we often ate in each others’ houses. How they came to our bar mitzvot and we went to their communions. All this sturm and drang settled in the gutters of the Bronx fifty years ago.
Maybe the current leadership of the free world could take a lesson from the way my friends and I settled arguments and created alliances.