A Yom Kippur Meditation

September 23, 2015

by Avi Davis

Yom Kipur, Jerusalem. The entire country enveloped in preparations for the day. The pilot and the stewards on the El Al flight, all secular, wish us ‘ chatimah tova’ (the Hebrew short hand for the blessing to be inscribed in the Book of Life) as we descend the gangway; same for the customs officials, the airport security officials and the taxi driver. Jerusalem is already awash in a sea of white – white shirts, white dresses, white shrouds – hours before the onset of the Festival. Zion Square, the throbbing heart of the city, looks like one of those mid-western towns in the U.S. through which a tumbleweed might occasionally blow. Except for the sporadic police car, it is eerily silent.

When the public siren sounds at 6:00 pm, signaling the onset of the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, the entire country seems to clank to a halt. And as I contemplate the awe that Yom Kipur inspires in the people of Israel – religious and secular alike, my mind is drawn back 42 years ago to the same day when all the young men were forced to leave their families, homes and synagogues and join their battalions in the Sinai Desert and Golan Heights to confront a surprise attack by the country’s enemies. Many would not return. Today, among those soldiers, would be four of my Israeli nephews.

In this part of the world there is a thin line between life and death, peace and war. The prayers on Yom Kipur itself make this clear – who will live and who will die, who will succeed and who will fail? – none of which is known and without exception we all walk the same tightrope. But here, in this country and in this city, that balance seems particularly poignant and relevant. To contemplate our good fortune, to think about our near misses, to give thanks for our fruitful year of life and to dare to hope and pray for another, makes fasting for 25 hours an utterly minor inconvenience – and almost a privilege. May we all merit, through repentance and forgiveness, the gift of life; may we all continue to long for peace, even as we know we must prepare for war; and may we all learn, as one of the central prayers on Yom Kipur implores us, the love of kindness, the elevation of righteousness, the kindling of compassion and the true blessings of life bestowed upon us by G’d.

Avi Davis is the president of the American Freedom Alliance and the editor of The Intermediate Zone

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Ann Coulter’s Helpful Gaffe

September 21, 2015

by Avi Davis

I have never been a big Ann Coulter fan. It has always appeared to me that her penchant for stirring political acrimony by name calling and ridicule was merely an attempt to mirror the same liberal tactic which so often offends conservatives. Maybe many among us welcomed the unbridled fury she unleashed against our liberal dominated institutions; but for me, her brand of populist rhetoric sank us into the same mire as our adversaries – reducing the debate to a mere game of mud slinging rather than a true struggle over ideas

So now we come to the high water mark of Coulterism: in a tweet during the second GOP Debate, she used an expletive to describe the candidates’ obsession with Israel, qua Jews. Immediately following and in the four days thereafter, her tweet unleashed a barrage of criticism from both the left and right, whose memberships now recognize that within our ranks lurk Buchananites whose support for Israel can never be taken for granted and to whom we must be wary lest we witness a recrudescence of the kind of isolationism which always brings with it the stench of antisemitism.

Coulter has spent a great deal of time trying to back pedal on her tweet but it hasn’t made much difference. The underlying animus remains and there is little chance for her now to disguise it.

But lets forget Coulter for the time being and answer her question:

Why is it that Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, Mike Huckabee, Ted Cruz and most of the other candidates ( Rand Paul perhaps excluded) made and  make such a big fuss about Israel, mentioning the defense of Israel almost in the same breath as the defense of the United States?

Perhaps it could be characterized as mere pandering to the heavy Jewish vote in their constituencies -those whom they believe might be disenchanted with the anti- Israel tilt of the Obama Administration and are looking for a realignment.   Or perhaps it has something to do with some of their rich Jewish backers – such as Sheldon Adelson – who can help prop up sagging campaigns.

Actually, neither of these explanations are either true nor accurate. Every one of these candidates has been on record for years expressing unconditional support for the State of Israel and its security needs – and it is for one glaringly simple reason: they believe Israel’s security vouchsafes the United States’ security. Making that connection may not be so patently obvious given the geographical distance between the two countries. But it is abundantly clear to anyone who has heard jihadist rantings in mosques from Oslo to Riyadh – the two countries are regarded as the hydra headed monster whose joint destruction is essential to paving the way for the re-emergence of the Caliphate.

Big Satan and Little Satan – there is really no difference in the minds of America’s enemies – except perhaps in determining which one should be eliminated first. Given this fact, it is perfectly sensible and reasonable to make common cause with an ally who is really on the front lines of the defense of what are essentially American values and whose military and intelligence services stand resolutely in support of U.S national security needs.

So, please, give Ann Coulter her due. She raised an important question that now has been resoundingly answered. And perhaps never again in this campaign will the issue of why we give support to Israel or why we give such untoward attention to Jewish interests, will be asked again. Those interests are clearly American interests and what a great relief to find that that these formidable Republican candidates almost to a man (and now a woman) understand it.

Avi Davis is the President of the American Freedom Alliance and the editor of The Intermediate Zone

 

 


Good News Among the Bad

September 17, 2015

As the Jewish New Year of 5776 entered, news arrived that offered cause for the gravest concern. In England the British Labor Party had just elected Jeremy Corbyn, a viciously anti- Zionist agitator who has lent moral support to Hamas and Hezbollah, has maintained close associations through the years with antisemites and Holocaust deniers and is unapologetic in his embrace of the local Muslim Imams who call for the destruction and conquest of the West. This is, of course, coupled with the likely admission, in the near future, of hundreds of thousands of Muslim refugees into European cities, which will only exacerbate the tensions in those societies between secular society and its unassimable Muslim minorities, thereafter, inevitably, spurring further attacks on Jews; And of course the Obama Administration has just secured Congressional support for the most catastrophic diplomatic agreement since the 1938 Munich agreement – directly endangering the national security of the State of Israel.

All of us who live in the West must see the tragic trajectory that our foolish leaders have now committed us to – enabling, rather than crippling our enemies; providing them with the means of facilitating our destruction instead of stanching their supply of weaponry and providing diplomatic cover and access to funds which will be used to finance future attacks against us.

How to respond to all this bad news?

With the recognition that at no other time in history have the Jewish people been fortunate enough to possess a State of their own which is equal in military prowess and intelligence gathering to any other such force in the world; that the Israeli economy is booming, despite the country’s continuing diplomatic isolation – and this is because the world wants and needs what it has to offer – technological creativity and know how on a scale that it can find almost nowhere else in the world; that the State of Israel will, within the next few years, become a net exporter of natural gas, controlling, as it does , one of the world’s richest deposits of the energy resource beneath its Mediterranean sands – making the State an extremely vital supplier whose link with the West will be guaranteed and enhanced – particularly in the event that Russia veers further and further into autocracy, territorial expansionism and isolation from Europe. And that the Jews of Europe, understanding that the contagion of antisemitism that doomed them 70 years ago, has not died but instead resurfaced in a new and more virulent strain – will increasingly bring their resources – financial and physical to the State of Israel, adding wealth and sophistication to an already fascinating, polyglot society.

I thought about all this recently after a recent encounter on a trip to Europe.

On a flight to Amsterdam, I sat next to a fellow whose accent I immediately recognized as Australian. We struck up a very friendly conversation that continued for hours, comparing our interests in Australian sports and talking about favorite haunts in Melbourne. I discovered that he was Jewish and was moving to Berlin with his German wife, who was pregnant with his first child. Near the end of the flight he asked me about my final destination and when I told him it was Israel, his expression soured:

” Aw, mate,I could never go to that place. Can’t stand the thought that Jews are practicing apartheid just like the South Africans. ”

When I asked him if he had ever visited Israel to discover if this accusation was true for himself, he said he hadn’t and that he wouldn’t and that his mind is made up and that I would be wasting my breath to try to convince him otherwise.

I was quiet for a while and then I said;

“Mark, you know 75 years ago, Jews who had babies in Berlin – and chose to stay there, were almost certainly signing their childrens’ death warrant. It wouldn’t have mattered to the authorities that you were an anti- Zionist, a non-practicing Jew or that your wife was non-Jewish. The Nazis didn’t care about any of that. They took you if you had the least ounce of Jewish blood in your veins. The Nazis may well be gone but don’t think that you or your children or grandchildren will always be guaranteed to have it as good as you have had it in Australia and America all this time. Thirty years years from now, you, your child and your grandchildren may thank G’d,- even if none of you believe in Him – that there is a state in the world willing to accept you and your descendants because every other country in the world has shut its doors to the plight of the new German Jewish refugees.”

He turned away and we didn’t speak for the rest of the flight. But I realized that I had just confronted the same blinkered, festering self-hatred that I have seen in the writings of Noam Chomsky and Norman Finkelstein – intellectuals and activists who have joined with and given succor to the Jewish peoples’ enemies.

On this Rosh Hashana, let us then remember the miracle of the post-Holocaust, Jewish renaissance around the world; the extraordinary success of the people of Israel in building a flourishing democracy in a sea of hatred and contempt and the assurance that because that state exists, the Jewish people will live on and thrive and that the welfare and security of our grandchildren and great grand children is guaranteed because of it.

Shana Tova – Happy New Year -and may we all be blessed with health, peace, security and prosperity in the coming year.

With the elevation of Mr. Corbyn, the Labour Party is in the hands of the hard left for the first time in decades.
nytimes.com|By STEPHEN CASTLE

Second GOP Debate Brings Some Surprises.

September 17, 2015

by Avi Davis

The Second GOP Presidential Debate at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley last night was a wonderful showcase of the great talent in the Republican nominating field. I was deeply impressed with several of the candidates who had not revealed their strengths in the first debate. Included among them was Chris Christie who stood effectively above the fray by calling attention to the pettiness of the exchanges between some of the other candidates and made some forceful points about foreign policy and planned parenthood; Marco Rubio continues to impress me with his remarkably articulate presentation – probably the best extemporaneous orator I have ever witnessed on the American political scene. Mike Huckabee presents as a clear sighted elder statesman who delivered the line of the evening when he reminded his fellow candidates that Ronald Reagan rarely spoke about what he personally could do for America as much as about the American potential for greatness. John Kasich is beginning to emerge from obscurity to present his brand of compassionate conservatism – which of course places him on the moderate ( dare I say “liberal”) wing of his party but positions him well to collect votes of disaffected Democrats.

But Carly Fiorina, to my mind at least, stole the show. Diminutive (at least in comparison to the men on the stage) and the only woman, she displayed a remarkable wit, pluck and was carefully prepared. If her words were rehearsed then it was not noticeable. She came across as confident and informed and very much a leader – clearly a skilled competitor to the others who are now forced to pay her the respect she deserves. Her line about Hilary Clinton – that logging flight time cannot be listed as an accomplishment – is a killer.

Of the others I did not think Scott Walker particularly distinguished himself, despite what other commentators have said. I am still waiting for him to look and sound presidential – that kind of ringing confidence still seems to escape him. Ted Cruz did well. but appears at times a little too stiff and robotic. There is not enough warmth nor personality in his presentation and he lacks the humor and self effacement of other candidates such as Ben Carson – all of which would help humanize him. Rand Paul was the big loser of the night. Diminished by the great Great Diminisher, Donald Trump, himself, he never quite recovered his poise;

Of the front runners, Jeb Bush did much better this time around but I can’t help wondering about his level of preparation and his sometimes faltering delivery. At least he stood up to Trump and did not allow himself to be kicked around again. Ben Carson was amiable, humorous and comfortable – but of all of them, his soft spoken demeanor, while attractive, tends to cast him as the guy you would like as your best friend, but not necessarily as your president.

Then of course there is front runner The Donald. ( Why am I calling him that????). He was warmer and less arrogant this time around and held his own against the others who tried to paint him as a light weight with no defined policies. This is, of course, a mistake. Trump is supremely intelligent and a quick study and what he says is true – what he doesn’t know he will pick up – and with speed. The jury is still out on whether he has the temperament to be president – he hardly ever talks about mustering support in Congress for his policies or of working together cooperatively with anyone. The first thing a President learns upon entering the White House is that no elected leader just pushes a button that gets things done. It takes extensive back slapping and glad handing of people you don’t really like and even consider your enemies.
Will he learn this and would he be able to engage in the political world like other cooperative presidents such as Ronald Reagan – and to a certain extent – Bill Clinton? That should be left to the questioning by hosts in future debates.

So much for presentation . I will talk about the substance of the disagreements on policy between the candidates in a post later today. .

Avi Davis's photo.
 Avi  Davis is the President of the American Freedom Alliance and the editor of The Intermediate Zone
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TZFAT STORY

September 16, 2015

PART I

Thirty years ago I mounted a bicycle in London and took off for the English coast. Enjoying the ride so much I decided to continue, crossing the Channel, sailing through the length of France, crossing the Pyrenees( mistaking them for clouds upon first sight) in what felt like a snow storm and then riding along the spine of Spain. After reaching the Mediterranean I found some friends and together we travelled into Morocco whence we decided to bike the entire coast of North Africa. Two months later I arrived in Egypt alone and thought I would make an attempt to cross the Sinai Desert to reach Israel. Sixty miles from the Suez Canal I broke three spokes and almost abandoned the idea when no replacements could be found. But then a simple village repairman came up with a brilliant solution. Newly outfitted, I crossed the Sinai Desert on spokes cut from three coat hangers!! Along the way I was aided by Bedouins – they gave me shelter, water and food – sort of like that guy in The English Patient. After that I rode through the Gaza Strip and into Israel, arriving in Jerusalem in mid-winter.
I still have the bike and the wheel to prove it!


Many other bike adventures such as this followed in the 80s ( Munich to Warsaw; Seattle to San Francisco, riding the Aegean Coast)- but for many years thereafter I gave up the idea of bike touring. It just seemed too hard.
But last summer I saw the Ben Stiller version of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty where Mr.Stiller takes a bicycle ride around parts of the Ring Road in Iceland. Not able to get that image out of my head, I committed to reinvigorate my cycling career and this month completed a ten day bike tour of Iceland. I had forgotten of course about intense saddle burn, fingers so numb that you are not sure they are still attached to your hands, 12% grade “hills” and 40 mph headwinds. But for all that, it was one of the most satisfying adventures I have undertaken in years.

PART II
I grew up in a fiercely Zionist home in Melbourne, Australia. At the elementary Jewish day school I attended, we sang both God Save the Queen AND the Hatikvah at Assembly each morning; Israel’s Independence Day was celebrated with far more gusto than Australia Day and we lived the events of the Six Day War and the Yom Kippur War as if we were sitting on the front lines.
So you would think that when, 30 years ago, I reached Israel after a difficult four month bicycle journey across Europe and North Africa, I would be emotionally charged and full of anticipation. But that was not so. I had already visited Israel five years earlier, hitch hiking around the country as a nineteen-year-old and had had a pretty disappointing experience. I actually thought of Israel only as a pit stop, a chance to briefly regain some weight – (having lost 25 lbs,) restock and prepare for the onward trek to India.
Why India? Because I was desperately seeking life direction – spiritual, geographic and professional – and I thought I might find it among the ashrams and holy sites of the sub-continent. I mean, if it worked for the Beatles, why not for me?
Of course I had no idea what I wanted, but I certainly knew what I did NOT want – life as another Melbourne lawyer. Although I loved Melbourne and Australia (and still do) – and had enjoyed the study of law, I could not see my future in a Melbourne office. Something was pulling me onward – and that something seemed to be burning a hole right through the center of my soul.
Then,three weeks into my stay, I met a friend of my younger brother and he immediately recommended a program for others who were going through a similar transition. It was in a town (more of a village at the time) named Tzfat in the far north of the country. I remembered Tzfat from my earlier visit as one of the few places with which I had deeply connected. High in the mountains of the Galilee, my memory painted it swathed in fog and clouds, its cobblestone streets and ancient stone buildings peeking out from the mists like castles in a fairy tale.
The program’s name was Livnot u’lehibanot ( To Build and Be Built). It was three months long with the days divided into morning work details focused on rebuilding the ruins of the Old City and the afternoons committed to deep study of Jewish history, texts and philosophy. It was an opportunity to investigate the power and strength of Jewish identity. It seemed to fit just right.
Those three months were exhausting but extremely uplifting. I sweated through everything – the learning and the work and the kitchen duty and the hiking – emerging at the end of it strong,full of vigor and with my weight regained.
Then, on the last night of the program, its founder, Cleveland-born Aharon Botzer, who had arrived in Tzfat ten years earlier, buying a ruin in the Old City and rebuilding it with his own hands, asked me to join him on the roof of his home. From there we could look out at the Meron Mountain range, silhouetted by the corona of a dying sun which, in the fading light, seemed so close it was as if I could touch the hilltops with my fingers. The beacons of the towns of the Lower Galilee, sixty miles distant, lay blinking before us the warm May wind felt like the first brush of summer on my skin.
We stared in silence at this captivating scene and then he raised his hand and placed it on my shoulder :
” Look at this, Avi ” he said, sweeping his free arm across the horizon, ” Look hard……… this is your land.”
At that moment, all my breath seemed to escape my lungs. It was as if someone had parted a curtain and revealed a vivid panorama, bursting with color and humming with activity, the characters drawn in exquisite detail, depicting the life I could or would be living . It seemed as though, in his voice, I could hear the words of my own dead grandfather, who had arrived in Israel sixty years before me at exactly the same age. And beyond him generations of my ancestors, all beseeching me to look and listen.
” Yes,” I said to myself, tears beginning to well in my eyes, “I think I might have come home. ”
But my situation was now complicated. Although India was off the agenda, the shadow of America loomed. For you see on the program I had met a woman to whom I had become deeply attached and we wanted to be together. But she lived in Los Angeles and was still finishing College. I had already pledged to travel to the States, a country which I had never visited before and which I had actually sought to avoid, to see her.
I was deeply torn. I felt that if I left Israel now I might never return, trapped by the opportunities and a lifestyle that awaited me in the U.S.
Long discussions followed with Aharon and a number of my teachers. I took off for three days down the mountain to Wadi Amud -a deep valley below Tzfat where generations of mystics had periodically visited in times of sorrow or confusion – to camp, to meditate and to contemplate my future. I wrote long letters there to my family and my friends seeking advice. And for the first time in many years, I prayed.
But there was no answer. Finally, one of my teachers, recognizing my deep distress, recommended that I speak to a Tzfat mekubal – a spiritual adviser , a man who had powers of insight and understanding unlike others and who might offer me something I could not obtain from ordinary meditation or prayer.
Skeptical, but by this stage open to anything, I went to visit the mekubal in his modest home in the Old City. He listened patiently as I explained in English my dilemma. He said nothing, but went to his bookshelf to retrieve a volume with a weathered binding. He opened it before me and I noticed it was the Book of Isaiah. His index finger came to rest on a passage:
” Read it,” he said.” From here to here.”
In scratchy Hebrew, I did so and then looked up at him nervously:
” What does it mean?”

He looked into my eyes with an expression of deep tenderness, laid his hand upon mine and said:
” Go to America. But you will return to us.”
And that was all he said as he led me to the door and ushered me from his home.
I raced back to Livnot and ran immediately into the library, desperate to understand the Mekubal’s message. I found Isaiah with an English translation and I opened to the passage. And I gulped hard as I read these words:
” G’d will guide you always, sate your soul in times of drought and strengthen your bones and you will be like a well watered garden and a spring whose water never fails. Age-old ruins shall be rebuilt through you. You will erect generations-old foundations, and they will call you, repairer of the breach, restorer of the paths of habitation.”
It is a passage, I later discovered, read every year on Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar.
Some of the extraordinary things I experienced in the years immediately following these events I will share in another post in a few weeks time when I return to Israel.
But for now, the last photo included here, will give you a hint of what was to come.

PART III

There is no way of telling the direction life will sometimes lead us. At the age of 25, in July, 1984, I landed in Los Angeles uncertain of my course in life, uncertain of my professional direction, uncertain of my source of income. But very certain of at least one thing: I had to get back to Israel. I had undergone a transformation during my months there and I was going to let nothing stop me from continuing my spiritual and geographical journey.

Over the next two years in Los Angeles, through sheer chance, I would find exciting work, develop important connections in the entertainment industry and discover a community of like minded young people who shared a passion for Jewish life and for Israel. Despite my furious denials, Los Angeles began to look like a very interesting and exciting place to be – full of unexpected surprises.

But niggling at me, a constant itch, was the urge to go back to Israel. I could not get the town of Tzfat – its florid sunsets, its weathered stone buildings and its stately, if tumbledown magnificence, out of my mind. A constant pounding in my conscience drummed out a steady tattoo – return, return, return.

However the drive to return weighed heavily on my relationship with my girlfriend Lisa and very soon my unhappiness with being anchored to L.A., weakened us. It was, after all, my dream to return, not hers. We parted at the end of 1985 and I was alone.

In the summer of 1986, after working and saving for two years, I had enough money for the trip and then some. After a brief visit to Jerusalem I took the first bus I could find to Tzfat and as it meandered through the green hills of the Galilee, the outlines of Tzfat finally came into view, strung like a necklace of pearls around the throat of its mountain. I then felt a knot of emotion rise within me and with my teeth clenched, pledged: “this is my home, this is where I belong, and now I am now going to make it permanent.”

I reunited with Aharon and his family and immediately told him that my ambition was to buy a ruin in the Old City and rebuild it much the way he had done. He was happy to help and said there are plenty of ruins, but not all of them could be purchased. He suggested that I go out to look.

As I walked the alley close to the Livnot campus I noticed a tall building set back from the street. I climbed a wall to see how to obtain access and saw a passageway which led from a doorway into a huge courtyard, surrounded by one very large and then several smaller buildings. I clambered down from the wall, returned to the alley and found the door, which was locked from the inside. Somehow I was able to maneuver the lock through a crack in the door jamb and found a way to push the heavy iron barrier open.

I passed through the short tunneled corridor and into the open air of the courtyard. Here was a scene of devastation. Garbage had piled up to seven feet from the floor of the courtyard making movement difficult. The main house was crumbling, covered in years of grime and dirt and thieves had pilfered stones from its facade. The smaller buildings, with their magnificent Ottoman domed roofs, looked as though they were about to collapse, their ceilings sagging. I shook my head at the terrible neglect into which this once obviously sumptuous home had fallen.

Leaving the courtyard, I climbed the stone steps which lead to the main house and noticed some inscriptions and carvings above the windows to which I paid little attention. The main house – really a few rooms of pitted stone walls presented three tall Turkish windows on its western facade and a low lying attic above, all of which provided an expansive view of the Meron Mountains to the West and then further south to the Lower Galilee.

As I stepped through the house I was visited by a deep sense of familiarity – the kind of feeling you get when you have touched or smelled something from your past, the texture rubbing off on your fingers and the aroma dancing in your nostrils, igniting a fire whose flame licks at your memory but whose source remains frustratingly elusive.

I went to the large Turkish windows and gazed upon a landscape of exquisite beauty, reaching 50 miles distant to Mt. Tabor – where Deborah’s troops had defeated the Canaanites during the time of the Judges and beyond that to Mt. Gilboa, where King Saul and his sons had fallen against the Philistines. I touched the stone walls and felt the throb of their history. I should not have been surprised. The house shared walls with two of the most famous synagogues in Israel: the Joseph Karo Synagogue – where the Jewish mystic had written most of his famous work on Jewish jurisprudence – as well as the Abuhav Synagogue, a resplendent Sephardi structure which had survived successive wars, conquests and earthquakes.

I knew then. This was it – this where I would stake my claim.

I returned that afternoon to visit Aharon and told him of my discovery.

He shook his head. ” Avi, you picked the one house that everyone in this city wants but nobody can get. It is owned by dozens of people and they live all over the world. Better look for some place else.”

His assessment was confirmed by some of the shop keepers I met on the street.

” Young man,” one old timer warned me, “don’t think you can just come here and take whatever you want. There are interests here you don’t want to tangle with. Save your money for something in America.”

Dejected, I walked back along the alley, now realizing how naive and silly my ambition really was. Who was I, an interloper, a mere traveler passing through, to be able to expect to purchase a property in such a revered and sacred place?

As I walked, I met a neighbor, a Canadian named Peter Kersen, for whom I had worked two years earlier when I had participated in the Livnot program. He greeted me warmly and invited me to join him for a cup of tea. We sat in his kitchen whose window looked directly out at the facade of the house, 200 feet away. He lit a cigarette and asked me why I looked so downcast. I explained my interest in the house and the seeming impossibility of acquiring it.

He blew smoke in the air, gazed at the facade and then back at me:

“Aren’t you that crazy kid who rode a bicycle across Africa?

” Yes,” I said,

” Seems that would’ve taken a lot of inner strength?”

” Well, sure, it wasn’t easy.”

He leaned back in his chair, looking beyond me. ” I suppose you know the old Zionist saying – ” if you will it, it is no dream?”

I nodded, recognizing from my youth the adage ascribed to Theodor Herzl, but dismissing it now as little more than a cliche.

“Will power, my friend, will power. Listen, do you think just anybody could come along here and buy a house like that on this street? ” He then leaned forward and looked at me intently:

” That house has been waiting 40 years for someone just like you to come along. Forty years! Look! ” he said, pointing firmly at the sad, broken facade, ” Can’t you SEE, its waiting,? Don’t be foolish, don’t be afraid. You can buy that house. ”

Sometimes simple words spoken emphatically in encouragement can sweep away doubts and uncertainties which might otherwise clog our determination. And so it was for me. Peter equipped me with everything I needed to pursue my strange idea.

I spent the next month researching the title of the house in order to discover some of its owners. Because the house was nearly 600- years- old, its title was vested in the old Ottoman land grant system of Tabu, a freehold – meaning you could own it free and clear of the government – but extraordinarily complex because when a man died and left no will, his property under Tabu passed to his next of kin and if they left no will, to their next of kin. With huge families in Tzfat this could result in a very broad pyramid of ownership with most heirs, now spread around the world, not even aware that they owned any property at all.

But my research finally brought me to a name, a woman in Migdal, a town several miles south of Tzfat. Through various contacts I was able to obtain her phone number and then to call her. When I told her what I wanted, the line went silent and I feared she had hung up.

Finally, she returned to the line, her voice now a little shaken.

” You are the first one in many years to contact me about that house. You should come to visit.”

I traveled by bus to Migdal and found the woman’s home . Her name was Rivka and in her late 50s. She spoke perfect English. She and her husband greeted me warmly and had even prepared a light meal for me.

As we sat and ate she asked me about my background and my life and I told her of my passion to rebuild a ruin in the Old City of Tzfat.

Then she said to me evenly, ” This house is quite ancient, but do you know, Mr. Davis, its more recent history?

“No,” I said, ” I do not.”

“Well, then, let me tell you. Forty years ago, a mother and her five-year- old daughter, together with several other relatives were returning to Tzfat in a taxi from a wedding in Akko. It was during the time of the Arab disturbances and the roads were very dangerous. Half way along the journey the taxi was stopped. A group of Arab gunmen in kaffirs approached the driver’s window and an argument began. The cab driver reached for a pistol but before he could raise it one of the Arabs fired his gun. The driver slumped forward. Then there was mayhem as the other Arabs, perhaps worried they could be identified as eye witnesses, proceeded to shoot into the cab, murdering the passengers. The mother was the last to be shot and as a final means of protecting her child, fell upon the girl, effectively hiding her from from the killers. Later, the rescuers found her, deep in shock and soaked in blood, beneath her mother’s body. She was the only one to survive.”

Rivka looked down at her plate and then up at me, a deep, mortal sadness in her eyes.
“Mr. Davis………. I am that girl.”

I held my breath in complete silence. I didn’t know what to say or where to look. The grief was still so strikingly etched on her face that no words of comfort would have been adequate.

” I am sorry,” I finally mumbled.

“Mr. Davis – Avi, if I may – that old house in Tzfat that my mother and father once occupied and in which they raised my seven brothers and sisters – we never went back. My father had no capacity to raise eight children on his own – he was overwhelmed and we were soon sent out to live with relatives all over the country. ”
” The family….?”

” The family was separated. We saw each other now and then but it was never the same. My father fell into a deep depression and died soon after, a broken man. The ruin you see is in truth the ruin of my own family. I waited years for someone to help repair what had been broken, but no one came. Now it is enough. You are young and I can see the fire in your eyes. And I like you – Avi, I like you. I will sell you my share in this house and I will help you with the others. ”

I was astonished and a little taken aback but I thanked her profusely as I prepared to leave.

At the door, she stopped me:

” Promise me, though,” she said holding my arm and trembling slightly, ” that you will repair this house and restore it the way it once was and fill it with laughter and love. This will be the greatest honor to the memory of my dear, beautiful mother who died so young and so senselessly. ”

” Repair,” ” restore” – those words again. Words lifted by the wind, carried across continents, swept along on the currents of oceans and breaking now like a wave on the cusp of my future.

” I promise I will,” I said as I hugged her, tears on both our cheeks.

Then I left, hoping, but not really sure, that I was equal to the task.

TO BE CONTINUED……….


Ally: My Journey Across the American-Israeli Divide by Michael B. Oren: A Review

September 1, 2015

 

by Avi Davis

It is interesting to conjecture what the history of America-Israel relations, written 100 years from now, will read like.  Will it paint the eight years of the Obama Administration as the very nadir in relations between the two nations, yet only a hiccup in a long and flourishing relationship that endured despite the pitfalls which almost upended it?   Or will it instead be seen as the commencement of a long and rapid decline to the point where successive U.S. administrations began  lining up against the Jewish state?

Whatever the judgement, it is inevitable that future historians will pay close attention to the words of Michael B. Oren, and his book Ally, a memoir documenting his four long years as Israel’s ambassador to the United States during the first years of the Obama Administration.

Oren, a renowned historian and author of two authoritative works on the Middle East ( Six Days of  War and Power, Faith and Fantasy: America in the Middle East) possessed excellent credentials to assume his ambassadorial post in 2009.  A New Jersey born Jew, who had lived in Israel for 30 years, he had already acted as a kind of  ambassador-in-waiting, with numerous book tours and a role as a highly respected television commentator and editorialist for distinguished American newspapers and magazines.  A fervent Zionist, whose ideological commitment to the state had not wavered an inch from his teenage years, he also possessed  the added strengths of being affable, politically limber and remarkably self effacing, to the point where his superiors recommended him as a man without an ego.

Of course Oren does have an ego, and he is as susceptible to flattery and praise – honors he received in copious amounts, as any man.  Yet his book, which caused  a firestorm upon its publication in June this year, is a modest and careful appraisal of not only his own journey along the America – Israel divide in the first years of the Obama Administration, but of the rocky relations which characterized the relations between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu, two men as different as chalk and water.

As a careful monitor of  the temperature of Washington political  life, Oren from the beginning projected that Obama would be a very different kind of American leader – expressing no particular love nor admiration for the Jewish state and instead determined to impose ‘daylight’ between the two long term allies in order to conciliate Muslim opinion.  He notes how Obama’s  Cairo speech in June 2009, in which he defended Israel’s right to exist on the basis of  the Jewish people’s persecution during the Holocaust and not on its 3,000 historical ties to its ancient homeland, gave an insight into  the President’s thinking.  The speech of course played directly into the prevailing Arab narrative which contends that the Jews are only recent interlopers with no historical ties to the land.

It was a statement that Obama was later forced to walk back;  yet, in a series of crises in Oren’s first year as ambassador, the new appointee quickly realized that the president’s attitude to Israel was, as he first suspected, far more born of ideology than of practical statecraft.

This became first evident in early 2010 when Obama sought to reignite the moribund peace process by insisting that Netanyahu order a 10 month long moratorium on all construction in the West Bank.  Such a decision would be politically risky for the right wing prime minister for whom the political support of West Bank residents and leaders was crucial.  Nevertheless, members of the Obama Administration convinced the Israelis that a good will measure such as this would jump start peace talks, build trust between Netanyahu and Obama and bring the Palestinian leadership back to the table.

But quite the opposite happened.  Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas weaved and dodged for the entire length of those ten months, refusing to meet Netanyahu unless conditions, which would be clearly unacceptable to the Israeli leader ( such as pre-commitments over borders and the status of Jerusalem as well as the right of return 0f Palestinian refugees) were met. When the ten month moratorium expired, Abbas turned his back on the prospect of talks altogether and would not consider returning to the table without for a renewal of the moratorium.

And so developed a consistent pattern: Obama would demand Israeli concessions and when given, Abbas would merely pocket them and walk away, with no consequences whatsoever for his recalcitrance.  Abbas would go much further over the course of those four years, applying for member status at the United Nations as well as applying for status as a member of the International Criminal Court, giving the Palestinians standing to sue Israel for war crimes, none of which he coordinated with the White House.  And even more egregiously, the Palestinians made a gambit, in September, 2013  to have a State of Palestine  recognized by the Security Council of the United Nations – a direct repudiation of the Palestinians’ commitments under the 1993 Oslo Accords.

None of this seemed to faze Obama nor his advisers who ordered a pro forma veto of the measures at the United Nations, but elicited no significant public reprimand or  rebuke of the Palestinian leader. Which naturally caused Oren to ask himself how the President could allow himself to be consistently kicked in the teeth by Abbas and yet remain so publicly oblivious and forgiving of the Palestinian leader’s transparent contempt.

There was no greater evidence of the tectonic shift in the relations between Israel and the United States  than in  the intense private and public battle over the ongoing Iranian  negotiations. Although  Ally was published a month before the final agreement signed between the P5+1 ( the five permanent Security Council members plus Germany)  and the Iranian Republic in Vienna, Oren nevertheless details the painful confrontations between Obama and Netanyahu over Israel’s national security issues  and makes clear that Obama deliberately interfered in Israel plans to launch a military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities and consistently argued that negotiations were the surest path to Iranian nuclear deterrence.  In the end, he concludes, Obama seemed  far more concerned with the consequences of an Israeli strike than he was with the likelihood of Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons and that this has been the guiding spirit of his Iran strategy.

All of which begs the question regarding these confusing years – how did Obama’s statecraft, which placed such inordinate pressure upon its ally, the only democracy and stable polity in the Middle East,while more or less ignoring Palestinian malfeasance, advance America’s national interests? As the Arab Spring imploded and regimes increasingly hostile to the United States replaced long term allies in Egypt, Yemen and Iraq, Obama  and his Secretary of State John Kerry, seemed to become monomaniacal in their quest for a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict   which proved only a mere side show to the real drama playing out in those countries.  The stark reality that the entire Middle East was fast falling prey to a barbaric brand of  Islamic fundamentalism seemed beyond them.

The tensions in the relationship should not, however, overshadow the more uplifting moments over the past seven years, such as when Obama reacted with immediate aid and concern after Israel suffered a catastrophic forest fire in 2011 and  when visiting  the Jewish state in 2013, delivered speeches which could have been lifted directly from the writings of  the fervent right wing Zionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky.

And this is not to mention the unparalleled cooperation which continues between Israeli and U.S. military and intelligence services –  reportedly more firmly set than at any time in recent history.

But the roller coaster ride which the author presents provides an alarming view of a White House which had arrogated to itself the right to assess its ally’s best interests, regardless of any input from the ally itself.  It represented a very dangerous, some might say catastrophic, descent into bickering, distrust and suspicion when one would have expected that the rise of  ISIS, the spread of Islamic fundamentalism and the prospect of a nuclear Iran, necessitated  the forging of even closer bonds.

Oren’s final chapter is titled ” Goodbye Ally” which  foreshadows a suggestion that a gulf between the two nations  has become so unbridgeable that further cooperation- at least on a diplomatic level -has become increasing problematic. However this is hardly his conclusion. The “goodbye” in the chapter heading refers to his own departure from his post rather than a permanent rupture between the two allies and the author goes to considerable lengths to point out the across-the-board support for Israel demonstrated in Congress as well as the generally favorable attitude towards the state among American citizens.

Yet for all this bubbly optimism, the reader is left with the discomfiting notion that the once impregnable alliance has suffered severe, although not fatal damage during the Obama years, with an administration which was given over to  the idee fixee ( not the first administration to believe it) of the Israel-Palestinian conflict as incontestably the root cause of instability in the Middle East. It paints the portrait  of a president whose confidence in his own intellect and powers of analysis  successfully rebuffed not only the opinion and advice of America’s friends and allies but the very facts on the ground.

Whatever the final judgement on Obama, the book provides a cautious warning to all statesmen – American, Israeli or other –  that they should deal with the world as they find it and not as they wish it to be. As Congress begins the debate on the Iran  deal in the second week of September that warning may carry a heady resonance.

Avi Davis is the President of the American Freedom Alliance and the editor of  The Intermediate Zone.


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