Of Dad, Cousin Benny and Grandpa Joe

Yesterday was my father Merle Gordon’s, z”l, 14th Yartzeit. Back in 5766, the 12th of Adar coincided with the 12th day of March, 2006. The significance of the number 12 framed my eulogy for Dad which was delivered on Purim, 5766. Ever since then, my personal celebration of Purim has been laced with vivid memories of very personal grief and mourning. Nine months later, my mother left us on Erev Hanukkah, giving me yet another set of personal memories to carry with me through Judaism’s winter solstice celebration. All of this was on top of my personal experiences with the Second Intifada where I served as the face of the Cleveland Jewish community during the very dark days of the first few years of the 21st century. I remember quite well the disappointment of teen groups when the threat of terrorism cancelled their trips to Israel. Personally, I never stopped going during those years. It was in the early years of the internet and I would write detailed emails to Mom and Dad. To this day, I am warmed knowing that Dad shared those early “blogs” with his circle of his friends. I was his direction connection to Israel and he was very proud. No matter how old we are, there is nothing more validating than the pride of a parent.

Dad passed away from non-Hodgkins lymphoma which slowly took away his ability to take in breath. I remember thinking in his final weeks how difficult it must be for him to live with that concrete reminder of the illness that was stopping his momentum. On the second to last day of his life, the TV remote was still within reach as his beloved Ohio State was playing in the NCAA tournament. If the coronavirus was running rampant back then, Dad would absolutely be at extreme risk if he were to catch the virus. Fourteen years later, I worry about my oldest daughter and her husband and their plans to travel to Yeshiva University this coming weekend to chaperone the Fuchs Mizrachi School’s basketball team at the Jewish high school tournament. We are all relieved that in the interest of the health of the students and their communities, the wise decision was made to cancel and have everyone stay home.  And so it is with so many events around the world in the wake of this very aggressive and uncertain novel coronavirus. In a strangely parallel way, the anxiety generated by the fear of the spread of the virus reflects the anxiety generated by the fear of a terrorist act, an emotion I learned as a resident of Jerusalem but one that has unfortunately, found its way to US soil as well. Life in 2020, sad to say.

Meanwhile, the political world in both my home and my Homeland continues to swirl, hopefully toward some place of moderation. As I follow the developments from Jerusalem, I retain hope that the moderate forces within the Likud will see that the only way forward is a Unity Government with Blue and White, Yisrael Beiteinu and a Likud without Bibi at the head of the party. In this absolutely upside-down time prior to Purim 5780, perhaps some sanity will creep into the heads of the political leadership in the State of Israel. As of this writing, Liberman and Benny Gantz appear to be in serious conversations about a government that reflects the spiritual civil rights of Israeli Jews who reject an Orthodox interpretation of Public Jewish Law. I want to believe that Gantz understands that the Jewish People are a family and that the current government is fraying family ties. Those who know my story know of my deep family roots in Israel; I have many cousins throughout the country. Perhaps Benny Gantz is one of them if not from the Wilensky/Zelniker/Nadler/Perlmuter line, than somehow through marriage, and if not through marriage, than certainly through shared history and shared destiny. 

Having just been in Israel with the New York Federation’s Israeli Judaism committee, I know, for a fact, that there are many grass roots activists on Holy Ground doing the sacred work of social change. Perhaps the “Rule of Law” really does matter to the citizens of the modern Jewish democratic State of Israel. Perhaps the People who brought the notion of Justice to the civilized world will wake up to the hypocrisy of a governmental leader who has been indicted for three serious crimes. Although Purim is just around the corner, the refrain of Passionate Zionists who care about the future of the State of Israel must be “Dayenu” – enough of this type of leadership, it is time for a new era.

While I would like to say it is time for a new era of leadership here in the United States as well, it appears that if the Democrats plan to replace Donald Trump, it will be “Grandpa” Joe Biden in the White House come 2021. While I preferred  Senator Amy Klobuchar, now that the moderates have wisely consolidated, I will support Vice President Biden. At least the man has an open heart reflecting his decent moral core. As we will be reminded this evening by the words of Megillat Esther, leadership is about honesty, integrity and courage. It’s an interesting comment that in the one book of our sacred canon where the name of G-d does not appear, it is a woman who is the true leader in the story. While the American people are not yet ready for a female president, I do believe the time has come for a female vice president. Whether it’s Kamala, Elizabeth or Amy, I hope that Grandpa Joe turns to one of these three vibrant women as his running mate. As far as Bernie Sanders is concerned, I remain dismayed that a declared Independent is running for the Democratic nomination, again. His views on the situation between Israel and the Palestinians reflect his blindness to the facts on the ground as well as the historical context. Bernie, while I will miss Larry David, go back to Vermont.

Tonight we will gather, either face to face or virtually, to celebrate Purim and dive into one of our more unbelievable stories. Then again, who would believe that in 2020 a virus would paralyze the global community. To me, this virus is serving as a reminder from Above that there is a power greater than mankind that has a role in the course of human events. The political leadership in my Home and in my Homeland is infected with an attitude of arrogance and disregard for the rule of law. It is that rule of law that binds a society together, just as norms and values create communities that transcend political boundaries. The nationalism and particularism encouraged by Trump and Bibi has brought out the worst in both societies. Trump tries to build walls to keep the other out and Bibi maintains policies of discrimination and exclusion. Yet, the coronavirus, with it’s vicious viral crown, is mightier than them all.

Fourteen years ago tomorrow, while others where immersed in Purim joy, I began my long journey into the world of grief and mourning, as we buried Dad on the 14th of Adar.  During those dark days, it was the love, the kindness, the patience, the relationships that supported my spirit as I navigated personal loss. Having just completed a long cycle of communal loss where I was providing comfort, I found myself on the other end of the shiva call. Today, we are all surrounded by a different sense of loss as the anxiety and fear of the virus cancels tournaments, festivals, concerts, travel plans, causing people around the world to isolate themselves from others. Whether the anxiety comes from personal loss, the fear of illness or terrorism, it is the concern for the health and safety of our communities that in these times must prevail. Embedded in that concern is a deep love and respect for all humankind, just the remedy a fractured world needs in these very troubled times. 

About the Author
Francine M. Gordon is an artist/activist who maintains homes in New York and Cleveland. From November 2010 through November 2016, through The Sacred Rights, Sacred Song Project, she produced over 10 Concerts of Concern in the US and Israel. Since establishing her New York residence, Ms. Gordon has become a member of the New York Federation’s Israeli Judaism committee which focuses on exactly the same issues as SRSS. In addition, she has become a proud member of the Zamir Chorale which allows her to express her Zionism through song.
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