The differences between last summer and this summer are stark.
There are some similarities, of course. We sweltered then and we swelter now; “It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity” might be cliché, but that’s because it’s so entirely true. It is the humidity! And the days get shorter and we know that the summer’s freedom and light and heat and cotton are ending; soon winter’s clarity and sharp early shadows and layers of wool will take over.
And, of course, the High Holy Days loom: repentance and renewal for some, logistics and seat assignments and overeating for others. Second chances for all.
But last summer was a summer of real physical fear in Israel and a sympathetic fear here. Bombs were being intercepted from Gaza, terrorists were being plucked from tunnels that astonishingly came out in kibbutzim, young brave handsome IDF soldiers were dying. The summer began with the horrifying murders of the three Jewish teenagers and then of the Arab teen; it was ennobled by the grace and goodness of their mothers, but on the whole it was a terrible time, a time of withering, of curling inward.
This summer the threat is larger but far less concrete. The Iran deal is hanging over all of us. If we get it wrong, disaster might follow — but it is not clear how to get it right, and there might be disaster even if we get it right, or nothing might happen even if we get it wrong. The destruction a bomb could wreak is intensely physical, but the discussion, necessarily, is entirely and distancingly and elusively abstract.
Meanwhile, this is the run-up to an election year in the United States, and that means that any logic that in some ideal world possibly could be applied to the problem is banished in favor of posturing and pandering, as 17 Republicans vie, with varying degrees of desperation, blandness, or overt lunacy, for their party’s nomination.
But this week, Senator Robert Menendez, New Jersey’s senior senator, a Democrat, who is facing his own legal problems, decided his position, and some sanity seems to have snuck in with him.
He came out against the deal — as New York’s Senator Charles Schumer has done, as New York’s Senator Kirsten Gillibrand did not do, and as New Jersey’s Senator Cory Booker may or may not do when he finally gets around to deciding — but he has taken the process a step forward.
“Whether or not the supporters of the agreement admit it, this deal is based on hope,” he said. “Hope is part of human nature, but unfortunately it is not a national security strategy.”
Not only did he think the issue through thoroughly and describe it in detail — and not only did he say that he not only will vote against it, but also vote to override President Obama’s veto should it come to that — he also suggests what he calls “a pathway to a better deal.”
Senator Menendez has been an independent thinker as well as a party loyalist — he voted against the war in Iraq, he pointed out. He also has been a great friend of Israel — it was under his watch that Israel was able to get the Iron Dome, that high-tech mechanism that protected the country during last year’s Gaza War. He is also the son of Cuban immigrants, with the kind of first-generation story that is both moving and inspirational, a story with which we as Jews can identify.
We find Senator Mendendez’s message convincing, and we are grateful to him, both as Jews and perhaps more saliently as Americans.