Streams of Anxious Consciousness 31

Much of my life and education has been shaped by cinema. One of the great classics for me is the Godfather. Two ideas from this movie have been on my mind as of late.

The first is when Peter Clemenza is in the basement of his home teaching Michael Corleone how to shoot the gun he will eventually use to kill McCluskey and Solozzo at Louis restaurant in the Bronx. In the moment of privacy and solitude, Clemenza tells Michael how proud everyone was of him that he was a hero during the war. Clemenza then riffs about how Hitler should have been stopped in Munich, implying the war never would have happened if he were taken out long ago.

Pete Clemenza, while a fictional character, sees the world through the prism of his experiences and way of life. In the Godfather’s world, little problems are solved, and big problems are removed permanently. To allow the problem to remain is to prolong the inevitable of it being a continued, ongoing problem.

Clemenza was referring to November 9, 1923, when Hitler led the failed and infamous Beer Hall Putsch which landed Hitler in prison and concretized his desire to overthrow the government and embrace fascism and hatred. It was his entrée on to the world stage through anarchy and anger. The world should have taken his maniacal aspirations seriously and nipped them in the bud. Instead, they let Hitler fester and his ideology grow like a weed, and he did more damage than humanly thinkable. Peter Clemenza’s way of handling a problem like Hitler is to remove him permanently, so that he is never an obstacle or problem for any being forever more.

A little more than twenty-six years ago in Amman Jordan, the Mossad took on a gutsy attempt to assassinate Khaled Mesha’al, head of Hamas’ terror unit at the time. The decision to take Mesha’al out came shortly after a suicide bomber detonated himself in the Machane Yehuda Market, killing 16 civilians and injuring over 160. The bombings were increasing in frequency and Israel needed to stop them, hard and stop them loudly.

This was not going to be a shoot and run job or a big bomb. Mesha’al was living in Jordan at the time, finding safe harbor. The plan was that when Mesha’al exited his car to enter his Hamas office in Amman, a Mossad agent disguised as a pedestrian would open a shaken can of cola that would spray all over the area. At the exact same time, another Mossad agent in the role of pedestrian would spray Mesha’al with a deadly poison. The idea was that the simultaneous spraying of poison with the exploding can would make Mesha’al think he was hit with fizzy cola. Within hours of contact on the skin, the poison would take effect and the Hamas head would die.

The plan almost went off perfectly except, in the last second, Mesha’al’s daughter called out to her dad from the car he was exiting. He turned away and the cover was blown. The agents still opened the cola and sprayed the poison, but Khaled and his handlers knew what happened.

Mesha’al was rushed to the hospital where his life shortly hung in the balance. The two agents were grabbed and held by the Jordanian authorities who were livid. To pull this move off in Jordan was a slap in the face to King Hussein and his country. He was fuming mad. The hit gave the impression that Jordan and Israel were in on the scheme. Israel had egg on its face and needed to save the two agents lives, who surely would be brutally tortured and then killed if they did not intervene. The timing could not be worse. This was just a few years after the peace treaty between Israel and Jordan. Botching this could make the whole deal unravel.

The price for the release of the agents was the antidote to the poison to save Mesha’al and the release of Sheikh Yassin from an Israeli prison. Yassin was one of the kingpins of fomenting hatred and advocating violence against Israel. Releasing the Sheikh was an enormous price tag. I am sure he sanctioned dozens more bombings and attacks and even more Israelis died because of his release.

I know this sounds like a script in a Spielberg film. It might be one day, but this is how it all went down.

I keep coming back to Clemenza and his background telling Michael that were he in charge of politics and leadership, the plan would have been to remove Hitler in ’23 like they were doing with Solozzo and McCluskey. In fact, Puzo and Coppola are quite brilliant to add that subtle line in the movie as a subtext for how some handle problems.

Israel cannot pause the DVR and rewind back to 1997 and choose to let Yassin rot in jail and Mesha’al die. But Israel can learn from these missed opportunities and pray over the philosophy of Peter Clemenza and whether the Godfather needs to be the methodology moving forward. To quote Michael Corleone, “Solozzo is going to kill pop. He is the key. We must get to Solozzo.”

Allowing Mesha’al to live saved two Jewish people and indeed that was worth it. Not putting the crosshairs back on Mesha’al immediately, surely led to more dead Jews as did the release of Yassin. Mesha’al is still living the life in Qatar and worth billions of dollars. He has enriched himself while the people of Gaza fall lower on the poverty scale.

On May 13, 1948, the day before Israel declared independence a group of Jewish pioneers prepared for battle from neighboring enemies encountered a lone Bedouin shepherd who spotted their hide-out. A practical and ethical debate of whether to leave the shepherd be, since he is innocent or to kill him, because he might tell their location to the Arab aggressors, ensued. The group decided to allow him to leave and let him continue herding his sheep and carry onward.

The next day all the Jewish fighters were ambushed and killed. That is one of the main reasons Israel’s day of memory has always preceded the celebrations of independence. It is a commemoration of the mass murder of Jews who paid a hefty price for following morality.

Ethics and practicality do not always jive. Most times they do. Even though I always tell my kid to walk away, there are a few times when my kid has to fight. My kid needs to fight. My kid must defend her/himself. Ethics are constant but not absolute.

Israel has some serious tussling with ethics and practicality to do. Maybe that is why the word ‘Israel’ means to wrestle with God.

Inherent in a Jewish soul is a drive to live.

I still cannot watch any of the videos circulating from the 7th. None. I cannot handle kids dancing or babies playing or lifeless bodies on a lawn. It is more than my eyes and heart can digest.

I am reading though. A lot.

One account I read was about a young man, all of 20 years old named Hersh from Jerusalem, who was at the Nova song festival with friends. He had his arm blown off from a Hamas thrown grenade but was still alive. The terrorists took him as a hostage. They ordered him to climb in the back of a pick-up truck with other hostages. He took his one good arm and pulled his body over the tailgate and into the bed of the truck.

Reading this account, I was amazed and shocked Hersh had the ability and strength to pull himself into that truck. Why did he not fight off the terrorists? Why did he not try and hurt them, knowing he might die but resist? Maybe he would overpower one of them. Maybe he could have used his energy to run.

What catapulted Hersh to the back of that truck was an innate power to live. It is how we are all designed. No matter how much life we are given, most just want more. More time, more laughter, more experiences, more tastes, more memories made, and more memories created.

When Emily Hand’s dad shared with the journalists his tearful sigh of relief when he found out his 8-year-old daughter was found dead, I understood most of it, but was still a tad puzzled. His reasoning of not wanting his innocent, freckled face, 8-year-old kid to have to live through captivity, and the barbaric torture she would witness or worse, be subject to at the hands of Hamas, would make me wish for the same fate her dad wanted.

Yet hope is a power that cannot be quantified. Even the terminal patient and the doctor who shares the diagnosis have hope. They hope for a little longer than the timetable says. Hope that she is free from pain. Hope he comes back whole, free, ready to live and learn and love.

My heart is numb today when I learned that Emily’s family has been notified that they now believe she was indeed abducted and being held by Hamas. Because these savages mutilated and burned bodies, identification through DNA has been a long process and one Israel until now, was pretty unfamiliar with, especially in volume.

What is this single Irish father, a widower whose Israeli wife died from cancer a few years ago, to hope for now? Does he hope she is dead? Does he hope she is alive? What can he hope. Each worst-case scenario somehow still gets worse for this family.

The Hand family had already mourned little Emily’s death. They sat shiva for her. They cried for what was lost. Do they still say Kaddish for the loss of her innocence? Her youth? The trauma that will kill a part of her soul forever, even if she lives.

Will we be able to say the blessing, Mechaye Hamaytim, bringing the dead back to life when she is returned? If she does come back, will she have a pulse? And if she has heartbeat and breath in her lungs, will she even be alive?

The part of my mind that still believes in goodness and hope sees little Emily in Hersh’s embrace, deep in a dark tunnel. Hersh tells Emily stories to make her laugh and reminds her that the IDF and their family is coming to get them both. Emily makes sure Hersh’s wounds stay clean. Together, they keep each other’s bodies and spirits strong. In my dreams powered by hope, they are alive.

My heart bleeds open for these poor people – both the ones in captivity and the one being held hostage by Hamas while agonizing over the fate of their children.

May whatever be the best scenario that brings hope and relief to the Hand and Polin families and Hersh and Emily, come to be. I am just not sure which scenario that is.

About the Author
David-Seth Kirshner is the senior rabbi of Temple Emanu-El, a Conservative synagogue in Closter, New Jersey. He is the past President of the NY Board of Rabbis and the NJ Board of Rabbis and is a Senior Rabbinic Fellow at the Hartman Institute and serves on the Executive Committee of the JFNA. Rabbi Kirshner was appointed to the New Jersey/Israel Commission by Governors Christie and Murphy. Rabbi Kirshner is a National Council member of AIPAC.
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