search

Chaverim, this just in: cowardice is not a virtue.

Port Jervis, New York, at the exact juncture of three states, right on the Delaware. Nice. Beautiful up there, post-card perfect, mountains, rivers and valleys. It’s the summer before the moon landing and Woodstock, very close to Bethel, the heart of the buildup, 1968, so, aside the war, the riots and assassinations it’s a very exciting time with great music, art and happenings. It’s also my first summer away from home, Camp Cejwin, an observant, Zionist sleep-a-way camp, signed up by my parents for the whole summer, eight weeks, both sessions, grampa’ Eugene’s treat. I’m almost ten years old, and I’m the kid in the bunk they pickon.

This was all very new to me. Not just being on my own, away from mommy and daddy but being the designated scapegoat. At home, in school, back in Brooklyn, if anything, I was on the other side, so, right from the start, and for the entire first month, it threw me a bit. I didn’t know quite how to get a grip. They were all bigger, and most seemed to know each other from the summers before, so, I was odd boy out. They were hard, as boys can be, leaving me out, threatening and insulting me, messing with my stuff. It was miserable, felt like I was in over my head. The counselors saw, they didn’t like it, but there’s only so much they can do, you can’t force kindness, or respect, or even acceptance past the minimum necessary for basic civilization to exist, and even then, it can be a struggle with varying degrees of success, as we well know. Outside that? Boys will be boys. Picture Lord of the Flies. So, I just sucked it up as best I could, treaded water and had a terrible time, until about halfway through, Visiting Day.

When my parents came up, armed with snacks and comic books and flash light batteries, the counselors gave them the word. I hadn’t said or written a thing. Didn‘t want them to worry. After hearing the bad news, naturally they weren’t very happy, so, took me aside and offered to take me home, right then, no problem, pack it up, let’s go. Right away, I told them “no.” Something stubborn kicked in; I wasn’t going to be pushed out. A day or two later, on the ball field, in front of the entire unit, one of the three main ring-leaders against me, the one closest to my size, got a little too close, a little too hard, right in my face again, expecting more passivity, more cost-free fun ridiculing and bullying me, but I snapped, grabbed him with both hands by the throat, and in an instant was on top of him on the ground, no intention whatsoever of letting go. His face turned red and head began to swell. Beautiful, just like the lansdscape. He well earned it. It took at least two counselors and a few campers to separate us, me from his neck. That was it. Rest of the summer? Smooth as silk. Presto-chango, like magic. Now I was one of the popular kids. That simple. Like it or lump it. Lesson learned.  

The lovely and brave Brooke Goldstein from Lawfare, she’s a real fighter but her arena is the courtroom. Our women are often our bravest, fiercest, and most determined. I’m talking the brilliant Caroline Glick, courageous Pamela Geller, Melanie Phillips, Phyllis Chesler, Karen Lichtbraun, and the drop-dead gorgeous Ayelet Shaked, women unafraid to speak in their own, full names. I could go on but point made. The ladies, though? They need help. Time for the men to step up. A minion squad with an earthly mission, one in each congregation, yeshiva and JCC, and I don’t mean retweeting, letter writing, picketing, or even spending, I mean on the battlefield where ladies don’t play. You don’t make bullies go away by educating, suing, or “calling them out,” or even standing outside their homes with a megaphone, Laura Loomer-style. They’re all great, but only parts of the formula. The missing and essential ingredients are honor, sacrifice, and, when needed, the will to deliver a punishing blow. And here’s the kicker (pardon the pun): even if it demands paying a price to impose a cost. I’ll say it again: even when it demands paying a personal, physical, financial, and legal cost to impose a price, like they call it in Zion, a “price tag,” in the currency the tormentors trade in, like the boy on the ball field paid that woke him and the others up. That time at summer camp once was all it took. It might take much more out in the wider world, perhaps again and again and again. It hardly matters; it must be done if we want to finally, fully liberate ourselves from the scapegoat role. I’m not so sure we do. Really. We’re so very good at kvetching, panicking (someone scrawled another swastika, another imbecilic television clown claimed the Nazis weren’t racist!!! Call Sayeret Matkal!) and passing the buck. We prefer to iconize Anne Frank, perversely comfortable in our familiar roles, while ignoring our heros, martyrs and warriors, Abba Kovner, Mordechai Anielewicz and the Bielsky brothers, et la. We like to present ourselves as sympathetic victims, helpless, and in need of Schindlers, or nobley dead, sometimes even killing them off ourselves like Spielberg did “Doc.” Running away, begging for protection from others, rationalizing cowardice by presenting it as some type of twisted virtue only ensures more of the same. Yeah, sometimes you have to “lower” yourself to their level to get the message across. It is what it is. But we don’t do it. Why not? We’re so morally elevated and refined we simply shant get our hands dirty? Our delicate kinder on college campuses need a law to protect them? So fragile, unsure and easily frightened they simply can’t be expected to stand on their own two feet and face down the pencil-necks tormenting them, even while we enable them? They’ll break? Nope. That’s not why. We’re as delicate as we choose to be. Cowardice has been bred into us as an adaptive response to centuries of ghetto weakness. We need to face it and breed it out. I don’t have a how-to blueprint, but I’m 100% certain we can do it. We’ve achieved much more challenging objectives, I don’t have to go through all of them, and now it’s time for this one, like it was that day on the ballfield back in Port Jervis in 1968. If I can do it? And I’m no hero, just another guy on the bus trying to keep his seat ’til the last stop, we, a great people who brought the world the foundations of morality, relativity and the model of a reborn nation, sui genris, yet still plagued by a two-thousand year in the making PTSD, can do it. We can do it. We can do it. If not now, when? Achshav. Now. And with that, thanks for reading, shavua tov, so let us begin.

About the Author
Robert is a life-long New Yorker, working actor, author and world traveler.
Comments