If a Place Can Make You Whine

A few weeks ago, they announced in shul that there was going to be a Shabbaton … with our synagogue and some twenty Palestinian couples from Gaza [to engage in dialogue]. … I very much wanted to do this. I’ve been frustrated by not meeting as many people from the “other side” as I’d like to …. Beth [Gordis’ wife] was none too happy. … She didn’t want to be seen by the rest of the neighborhood as some “crazy left-winger.” —- Daniel Gordis, If a Place Can Make You Cry, p. 49

Just imagine if he “very much wanted” to meet Jews who live in our biblical homeland of Judea/Samaria. Too Zionistic? I enjoy reading Danny Gordis, struggling Zionist and beloved entertainer for the Federation and AIPAC circuit. A liberal capable of raising sophistry to astonishing heights, Gordis sinks neck-deep into his all too obvious hypocrisy. He describes his mission at Shalem College as “modeling a place where people feel very comfortable expressing what they are” — modeling how you interact with people “from the other side” (not necessarily Jews) — “with whom you deeply disagree.” (Nathan Jeffay, Israel correspondent for The Forward, 08/23/13). Really?

Certainly sounds noble, but he’s just joshing. Deftly cushioning his storytelling in his signature warm and fuzzy “yes — but …” statements, the ever tolerant, liberal Gordis is often critical of religious Zionists, disparagingly referring to them as “settlers.” Talk about “interacting with people with whom you deeply disagree”! Gordis recalls remarking to his wife, “And those people [the Jews] who live in Hebron, they’re maniacs. Ridiculous — living in a dangerous place like that to make a point. Knowing their kids could get shot. Who gives them the right? Bunch of lunatics.” (If a Place Can Make You Cry, p. 190).

Danny can make you laugh with his not-so-bright statements. See the irony? He lives in Jerusalem. It’s a dangerous place. What gives him the right? Danny is lucky to have his wonderful wife Elisheva, aka Beth. They made aliyah in 1998, together with their three kids. He writes that his friends questioned his sanity in moving to Israel, “living in a dangerous place like that to make a point.” Five years into Oslo and almost 400 dead Oslo Jews (Rabin’s “sacrifices for peace”), Gordis expected that Israel would soon be a gun-free zone with everyone wearing flowers in their hair. He dreamed of sharing hummus with his Shabbaton “Palestinian couples” as they sang songs around a campfire, declaring that his kids wouldn’t have to go into the army. Woodstock, Israel. But give credit where credit is due. I know: He’s there. I’m not.

Sadly, despite his lofty pontificating on his ludicrous delusion of the Middle East as Los Angeles, the Crips and Bloods aside, Danny really doesn’t understand the Middle East. Foolish Danny. Just leave Hebron and everything will be good. The Arabs will love us. The world will love us. The UN will finally accept us. “The vast majority of Israelis [as if he really knew] are no longer willing for their sons to die defending Kfar Darom in Gaza or Hebron for a few dozen entrenched families. [Nine thousand Jews, Danny — Try to say the word, “Jews.”]

Here, Elisheva and I completely disagree,” admits Gordis. “She’s opposed to leaving these places; she says that first we’ll retreat from Kfar Darom [Gaza], and then it will be the outskirts of Jerusalem, then it will be East Jerusalem, and Jerusalem and Tel Aviv will still be on the Palestinians’ list, so why even start?” (Ibid., p. 148) The woman is a prophetess.

That was 1998. Danny couldn’t see the forest for the trees. As Jews were being dragged from Gaza, Danny the Liberal cheered in agreement. The ends would justify the means. It’s just those few dozen crazy entrenched Jews. But that would be 2005, and then came Hamas, and then the rockets, then the wars, then more dead Jews. And Danny seemed perplexed. Naiveté had set in long before his good old days at Columbia or the liberal Jew college in Los Angeles. Delusional Dan, terrific entertainer for Federations and AIPAC, now head of a liberal arts college in Jerusalem — an institution of higher learning to raise critical thought to a new level of inter-societal tolerance and understanding.

As noted in their E-news (08/07/13), Shalem had enrolled students “noted for exceptional academic, extracurricular, and personal strengths. Hailing from every part of the Jewish state [??], these exemplary students reflect the remarkable diversity — religious, ideological and socioeconomic — of the country, and guarantee a vibrant intellectual and social college community.” (Ta-da!) “A Talented, Tolerant, Exemplary and Diverse Student Body” — a model for liberal education! Gordis describes the founders of the college as “unabashedly Zionist.” But as Ilene Prusher noted in Ha’aretz (10/07/13), the college has “incoming students who won’t cross the Green Line, Israel’s pre-1967 borders. [“Tolerant”] Out of respect for them, when the students go on the orientation field trip to the Elah Valley while studying the story of David and Goliath, Shalem’s administration will take them the long way around rather than through a popular short-cut through the West Bank.” Camp Shalem — training facility for the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement — at a Jewish college.

I wonder if Gordis might slip up and inform his “talented, exemplary students” that before King David marched into Jerusalem, he first reigned as king in Hebron. I wonder if that part of their history lesson will be side-stepped in deference to the sensitivities of his exemplary students. Just erase Genesis 23:1 from our Torah, and forget poor Abraham and Sarah in Hebron, sadly to have been shown such insensitivity by someone who should know better. But with a “dose of nuance” and a slug of disrespect, a liberal can go a long way.

What brings me to my current encounter with Danny is his recent shocking embrace with reality. It’s good when a liberal infatuated with his false narrative and grandiose ideas finally faces reality and whines in abject disbelief that the truth can’t possibly be true. After beggarly hoping for so long and not having met many people aka Arabs on the “other side,” one has to marvel at Gordis’ incredulity when reality smacks him upside the head. He writes:

We have a young language instructor at Shalem College. She’s a religious Muslim who wears a hijab, lives in one of the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem and is a graduate student at Hebrew University. She’s fun and warm [I wonder how he would know], and a great teacher — the students like her a lot. [Some of the students] were curious what someone like her thought about the conflict in this region, especially now that she was teaching at an unabashedly Zionist college, had come to know so many Jewish students and had developed such warm relationships with them. “So ask her,” the department chair said. “As long as you speak to her in Arabic [not Hebrew]…” They told her that since they’d never discussed the “situation,” they were curious how she thought we might someday resolve it. “It’s our land,” she responded rather matter-of-factly. Stunned, they weren’t sure that they’d heard her correctly. So they waited. But that was all she had to say. “It’s our land. You’re just here for now.”

The girl has chutzpah — something lacking in all the “exceptional” students attending Shalem. Rather than Arabic, she should be teaching a class in self-respect. I want her on my Zionist team. Groveling for acceptance, you can take the Jew out of the Diaspora, but for the Danny-types, you can’t take the Diaspora out of the Jew. I guess not much of Begin’s biography rubbed off !

“We will be nobody’s cowering Jew. We won’t wait for the Americans or the United Nations to save us. Those days are over. We have to defend ourselves. Without readiness for self-sacrifice, there will be another Auschwitz. And if we have to pay a price for the sake of our self-defense, then we will have to pay it.”

Begin had no trouble extolling our magnificent Jewish history, and Hebron was at the very core. I wonder if Danny has ever taken the time to visit Hebron, Beit El, Tekoa or Shiloh to meet the Jewish “lunatics.” Perhaps he should take his “exemplary and remarkable students” for a ride through Jewish history. Then again, Abraham and Sarah are over the Green Line.

An Arab (Muslim) student addressed the following questions to the Hebrew University Student Association:

As an Arab student who pays 400 shekels at the start of each year [about $100 per school year], I ask you: Why does the Student Association hold its “Student Day” on the day Jerusalem was conquered? Why should the Student Association ignore the Arab students, who constitute a sizable percentage of the students of Hebrew University? Why should that Association indirectly prevent them — knowing they cannot celebrate on that date — from taking part in the largest, most heavily funded event of the school year, an event that should be intended for all students, and one which every student should be able to attend without hesitation?

Here is the response he received from Student Association member Itai Haetzni:

Ya Sahbi! [Dear Buddy] Student Day is celebrated precisely on the anniversary of Jerusalem’s liberation from Muslim conquest very intentionally! And if there is anyone who has to rejoice, it is you and your friends, the university’s Arab students, and I shall briefly explain why:

Had you not been liberated from the yoke of the Jordanian conquest, in all likelihood you would have been downtrodden, impoverished, uneducated, and perhaps would have found yourself decapitated as well — Al Qaeda- and ISIS-style. You don’t have to like it. But listen, sweetheart: Your life under Israel’s “occupation” is better than it would be under any other regime in the Middle East. In Syria, you’d be slaughtered in battle … In Lebanon, you’d be drafted into Hezbollah. In Iraq, your head would be chopped off. … In Egypt, you’d be violently liquidated by the police or the Muslim Brotherhood. Even if you lived in Jordan … you’d be dirt-poor and uneducated. … Your dignity would be crushed, your rights trampled. … How lucky for you! After all, so what if someone chops off your head, humiliates your wife, steals your money, or forces you to live a certain way? The main thing is that you are living under an “independent-Arab” regime, and not — G-d forbid — under the rule of those murderous Jews.

So, the day of Jerusalem’s liberation is, more than anything else, your holiday, pal. Thanks to “Calamity Day” [Arab name for Israel Independence Day] and “Defeat Day” [Arab name for Jerusalem Day], you can read and write, use the Internet, and buy what you want. … You can express your opinion in public, without fear of being arrested or killed. You can choose to be religious or irreligious, as you wish. You can study in university what you want, at the State of Israel’s expense, and enjoy Israeli Social Security, running water, reliable electricity, and a feeling of genuine personal security. You needn’t fear that a government clerk will break into your house and demand a bribe, or rape your wife. …

This is your holiday, habibi, and the university celebrates Student Day especially for you. Sure, we Jews are celebrating the return to our historic homeland, a national celebration without a doubt. But you? You’re celebrating your own private celebration simultaneous to the general celebration. Mazel tov, man!

It’s certainly an interesting way to look at it. And because I’m a compassionate lover of humankind, hopefully habibi Danny will show a little gratitude. Yes, Shalem’s founders were “unabashedly Zionist.” But today, with Gordis at the helm, one has to question whether than remains true.

Shabbat Shalom 12/25/15 Jack “Yehoshua” Berger

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About the Author
Educated as an architect with a Masters in Architectural History, Jack Yehoshua Berger became a practicing architect and real estate developer. In his late 30's he met a Rabbi who turned him on to the miracle of Israel and he began learning how the amazing country, against all odds, came to be the miracle of the modern world.
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