Some years back, I met an artist in his 80s who was still working at his craft. He lived in a large, old brick building that had once been an auto repair shop and now served both as his studio and home. The deteriorating structure overflowed with the man’s idiosyncratic sculptures, paintings, and photographs, together with artifacts that he had collected from all over the world, some of them quite valuable.
It was a fascinating place to wander around, but you had to step with care, as the floor was littered with junk, trash, and who knows what else. In short, the old guy was an artist and a packrat.
On the gloomy autumn day I visited him, rain was pouring through several holes in his roof, with puddles soaking the art and the junk festooning the floor. His studio was not only a mess, it was a hazard that his town eventually condemned and knocked down. From what I heard, the artist was unable to find a suitable way to protect his collection, so a good part of it was lost in the rubble that city workers hauled off.
To see the place, and hear what the man said of his deteriorating world, click here.
Meanwhile, during this High Holiday season, when Jews take account of their past, knowing they will have to leave some things behind as the future beckons, I find myself thinking about that old artist and Israel’s prime minister.
Saying goodbye is hard. Doing it with grace, harder still.
Moses offered a gentle retelling of his people’s journey through the desert before he lay down to sleep for eternity. Jesus cried out in pain. Rabbi Akiva gasped a prayer. Hitler blew his brains out.
Benjamin Netanyahu, turning 70 later this month, appears hearty enough to live a good long while yet, but his days as leader of his party seem numbered. How will he step away from the big chair?
Will he act like that packrat artist, letting his world collapse around him without trying to save it, or will he say goodbye like General Douglas MacArthur, who, after giving up his command, addressed the US Congress about the dangers of communism in an eloquent farewell speech to public life? Some might say Bibi has chosen to go out like Muhammed Ali, who took so many punches to the head before hanging up his gloves that he lost his poetic power of speech.
An oleh hadash who landed in Tel Aviv less than two months ago, I can see as clearly as a native-born Israeli that our prime minister has again failed to put together a new government. As things stand, if the president calls for a third election, Netanyahu will probably fail again.
Back in the States, as I prepared to make aliyah, people asked me how I could move to Israel, considering who was its prime minister. I told them that I believed I was trading up, for as corrupt and mean-spirited as he might be, Netanyahu has been a brilliant politician and a tenacious protector of his people. Donald Trump…?
That said, as Netanyahu awaits his fate in the courts, he stands at a crossroads. If he continues to insist on heading the new government, letting his country fester in its current uncertain, toxic state, he will damage his legacy as one of Israel’s greatest leaders. (And who knows what might happen to the country as it stews?) If he steps aside to allow another Likud leader to form a centrist coalition with Kachol Lavan, he will show the world what it means to put country before self.
Dear Bibi, watch MacArthur’s farewell address. The man was a class act.
You can be a class act, too. Perhaps even a mensch?