Shulamit S. Magnus
Jewish historian

Any Adults in the Room? An Address to the Normal People

Never did I imagine I would be singing Bennett’s praises and praying for him but I am; am I ever. He is the very vision of balance, of toughness without bravado, of moderation, truth telling. Who knows if not for this that he found himself in this place, at this time? (see Megillat Esther). And he seems very aware of that.

Stay safe and well and stay the course, adoni rosh hamemshalah. Know that we know and appreciate, very, very much.

It is an astounding experience, watching such wanton insanity, willful destruction, all around us. Watching lunatics do us in, drag us to the precipice of large-scale, pointless, violence.

Or, with Putin in Ukraine, well over it; he’s hinting again at the use of tactical nuclear weapons. You know, the kind that would “just” take out Ukraine, but not the rest of the world. US intelligence has called it correctly from the beginning about Putin and they are warning about that. May those poor people in Ukraine be able to continue to resist, and to survive; this will not be over anytime soon. I keep hoping someone in Russia does what is needed.

And then, there is the wanton, gratuitous insanity here. I hold my head, truly, roshi, roshi. I flee the news. Last week, pesach cleaning, shopping, cooking, preparing the seder table, was an out. Now– is escape to be a permanent state?

Our juvenile delinquent idiots, these pathetic, absolutely pathetic, mentally arrested middle-aged men and their ongoing need to provoke fights, violence, like the gang “leaders” they are. If only it were just their pissing contest, them and their counterparts on the other side. If only their insane needs did not affect the rest of us, did not endanger the rest of us, did not send our children into harm’s way protecting them, and us, when they give Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the rest of those idiots pretext to shoot rockets and nun-tets and nun-mems at us.

I would just note that of all the criminal behavior noted above, it’s all male, testosterone, led. Not that we don’t have lunatic women with similar needs, we surely do. But it’s these men. If it were known that men arrested for provoking violence will be treated with estrogen, this would end, zip, immediately. That absolutely goes for terrorists arrested. Just tell those morons, never mind about 70 virgins in paradise, you can forget your wives right here on earth. Truly, it would end.

And if Putin can just be held down for ten minutes and totally, utterly, with finality, chemically castrated, that would do it, too.

And a mo’adim le’simcha and hag sameah and shabbat shalom to all.

If I were a drinker…

Ah, but we are discussing adult behavior. And I don’t just mean, obviously, chronological  but mental age. Because, obviously, those don’t necessarily line up, at all.

So now, I say to myself, as I always do, in the third voice, channeling my terrible yeshiva high school, in which we were all inmates, known only by our last names– Magnus, what else can you suggest?

So, here it is.

Just multiply good, normal, healthy good acts. For one excellent cause, support Tag Meir, google them and send a donation, or, if you’re in Israel, sign up and participate in their sanity, society-saving activities. Because what we need right now, desperately, is for normal people to connect. I’ve felt that again and again on Tag Meir actions, you have no idea how healing it is. And how tremendously important.

Yesterday, I went to see my astoundingly wonderful now one-year old! — born shvii shel pesach and shabbat last glorious year!–granddaughter in Rehovot. Absolutely the best for what ails anything. In the central bus station here in Jerusalem, keeping the corner of my eye out for anyone who might: run me over with their car as I crossed the street; knife me (do I have my jacket over my neck enough? ah, but they also aim for the head, never mind); what’s in that guy’s pack? Is it rectangular and zipped and serious looking (=rifle; people who have these legitimately have them out, and are in uniform), and, is he looking crazy? Ah, now he’s looking at me because I am eyeing him; he thinks I’m crazy).

So, I sit down on the bench, waiting for the bus, next to an Arab woman, hijab, covered to the ankles. She’s looking at her cell phone, watching some food prep program, in Arabic, of course. It actually looks very interesting, and delicious, too. I finally muster up my so rudimentary Arabic and ask her, what is that? (shu hadda?) She tells me, I understand some of it. It looks very delicious, I say! ktir zaki! Yes, she says. Is that cheese, I ask? No, that’s another dish, lasagna, she tells me, the other one was some bread thing– the first part was watching prep of the flour, the kneading, the olive oil– over some huge, shiny, black beans. Finally the bus pulls in but its sign says, “not in service.” But she goes out and asks the driver, Rehovot? He says yes, and she turns around and signals me, come on, it’s our bus. We sit in the same row on the bus, she falls asleep instantly, over two seats. When we get to Rehovot, I prepare to say goodbye, she tells me, new baby, I never sleep, so tired. I say, ah, yes, difficult, sa’eb. Going to work, she says, motioning to the shuk in Rehovot that is our stop. Goes from Jerusalem to work in Rehovot– with a newborn baby? Gads. Going to work, she says again, maybe I did not understand. Yes, I say. Ramadan kareem.

And I walk away and tears well up because we were just– normal, normal. And that is so badly, badly, what we need here.


So, go, please, and multiply good, normal things. Initiate. Find something life affirming and good and do it. That is the only antidote we normal, little people, can do, but it is everything. If enough of us do it, a wave, a wave of normal, good things, it will, it must, it must, counteract the lunatics and the lunacy. Studying spoken Arabic is another good, really important thing to do. The looks I get, just for saying, shukran, to cab drivers or street cleaners (in Rehovot, the latter are Jews, I say, todah to them, too). Try it. You’ll see the reaction it gets. Make eye contact and thank them for cleaning our streets, for the safe ride, for the short cut, in the cab. Respect, acknowledging common humanity, goes such a very, very long way.

From the earliest morning tefilla, that, talis over my head, such soul-quiet, definitely aids sanity:

May it be your will, God of our ancestors, to help us keep ourselves from evil doing, from scorn, from the inclination to evil; help us cleave to good inclination and to good works… May it be your will God of our ancestors, to deliver me this day and every day from arrogant men and from arrogance, from bad men and from adversaries who destroy, from hard judgment and from hard opponents, Jewish or not.

Slightly edited but yes, it’s there. Every morning.


About the Author
Shulamit S. Magnus Professor Emerita of Jewish Studies and History at Oberlin College. She is the author of four published books and numerous articles on Jewish modernity and the history of Jewish women, and winner of a National Jewish Book award and other prizes. Her new book is the first history of agunot and iggun from medieval times to the present, across the Jewish map. It also presents analysis and critique of current policy on Jewish marital capitivity and proposals to end this abuse. Entitled, "Thinking Outside the Chains About Jewish Marital Captivity," it is forthcoming from NYU Press. She is a founder of women's group prayer at the Kotel and first-named plaintiff on a case before the Supreme Court of Israel asking enforcement of Jewish women's already-recognized right to read Torah at the Kotel. Her opinions have been published in the Forward, Tablet, EJewish Philanthropy, Moment, the Times of Israel, and the Jerusalem Post.