1973 All Over Again

In 1973, I fell in love for the first time. It felt like love, anyway – years later, like most women, I learned to recognize red flags and differentiate crushes from the real thing. But at seven years old, I loved extravagantly.

I sent him a birthday card. In retrospect, I doubt that I could have purchased a card and a stamp, found his address and executed this plan on my own. This was an era when research involved libraries and phones had curly wires connecting them to a wall. But it’s unthinkable that my parents helped. They were peace loving liberals, in lieu of babysitting leaving me at a table in a student union filled with protesters, denouncing war and saving whales while my dad taught.

I’ve ransacked the many boxes that went from my parents’ house to my basement in search of the book of Nixon family pictures he sent in response, which came accompanied by a thank you letter that my mother remembers as signed by “Ehrlichman or Haldeman or one of those disgraced aides.”

Magically, my father won a fellowship that took us to Washington DC that year, to a center where we lived surrounded by academics, in a land of memorials and monuments and embassies. I tell my kids that life was different then, that seven-year-olds ran through the woods to Georgetown for hours without Amber Alert, parents too busy getting enlightened to search the neighborhood for the van without windows that candy offerers lurk in. I imagined the moms sitting together, stenciling peace signs on the chubby girl stretch pants that I wore instead of the unforgiving jeans I desperately wanted and discussing why Barbies were anti-feminist symbols that we couldn’t have (“Just one anti-feminist symbol” I begged, “Just one.”)  When a then unfamiliar smell later made itself clear to me, I recognized 70’s enlightenment came in many forms.

I refused to believe it when they told me about Watergate. “But he’s the President!” I insisted. This is not what I say about Trump, and I do believe it when I read about the 2016 election, Russia, and the Trump administration. I’ve recently read through the Nixon transcripts, trying to understand not only the roadmap of impeachment but the scale of offense. My betrayal at Trump’s tainted election and administration seems to mirror my parent’s Watergate: politics suddenly a dirty, rule-breaking, society-changing business that, while not entirely surprising, is still wholly unexpected.

I didn’t know in 1973 that Nixon, my first crush, was heard calling Jews disloyal and saying you couldn’t trust the bastards, on the tapes he was unaware would be his legacy. After the Yom Kippur War broke out, and daily bomb threats called in to my Jewish day school, we were walked somber and single file to the dank, grey-carpeted basement of the church across the street until the school could be cleared as safe. The bomb threats to Jewish institutions now, their alleged source almost unthinkable, reignite that blank carpet-staring terror, entrenching this sense of political deja vu.

In DC now for the weekend, it seems impossible that nearly 45 years have elapsed. I’m now more interested in the policy discussed inside this AIPAC convention than in joining the protesters blocking its doors. I worry about how the perfidy and priorities of the current administration affect both Israel and American Jews, about new rhetoric and new rules, about what is happening to the world my children will inherit.  Perhaps that is what marks middle-age most of all: worry, no longer running home through the woods but Ubering back to the Watergate Hotel I’ve ironically stayed in, whose room keys read “You don’t have to break in.”

The children whose world I worry about seem less concerned, one instagramming from spring break in Cancun, another studying finance. My 9-year-old stays with the grandmother that I know will ignite his outrage at the Trump situation, much as she broke Watergate to me. I don’t know how it will ultimately impact his thinking about people and politics, justice and government.

Surrounded by thousands gathered in support of Israel, I am in a stadium that fills with cheers at the mention of the president whose values, tactics and influence terrify me.  My people. They surge to their feet in a frenzy of applause.  The Vice President looks tiny from my nosebleed seats, but his earnest face is everywhere, smiling from oversized screens. My head swims – the darkness and the giant Pence faces and the triumphant pounding buzz of the crowd – it all starts to seem trippy, psychedelic.  1973, long buried, is flooding in.

I join in appreciating this commitment to Israel. I, too, celebrate that. But I see all that seems overlooked – LGBT, women, health care, deportation, walls, refugees, ransacked cemeteries, swastikas, corruption, possible treason — flashing invisibly on the screen behind Pence’s smiling face. I look around at the crowd, and am envious of this ability to trust and to be moved. This stadium is filled with beauty and gratitude and hope, and I desperately crave being a part of that.  Something broken and knowing separates me, though, and I leave quietly, knowing that only later will I be able to make some noise.

About the Author
Judi Zirin is an attorney and freelance writer in the New York area.
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