30 January 2007

News Analysis From Israel – The Evil Will Come From the North IV: Is there a D9 in my future?


Ma'aléh Levoná, Israel
29 January, 2007

I did patrol duty last night in Jerusalem (28 Jan.). It was much easier than the usual duty of standing in the cold (or heat) with a rifle. I got to sit in my partner’s vehicle, where it was warm, watching the heavy downpour of rain and driving wind as people tried to flag down rides at one of Jerusalem’s trampiadas. It was cozy in the car. All that was missing was Dunkin’ Doughnuts and some coffee.

We left patrol a bit early so that I could try to catch the 9:00 p.m. bus out of town. But because my cell phone (which doubles as my watch) was five minutes slow, I missed the 9:00 p.m. bus going to Ma’aléh Levoná out of Jerusalem and was stuck waiting for the 11:15 bus. Staring at the station clock which read 9:05, and seeing no bus at my platform, I made the best of a bad deal and rushed to a nearby supermarket, hoping that they were open. They were, so I bought some toilet paper (even police volunteers need toilet paper) humus, dates, and cornflakes (Kellogg’s – the good stuff).

I schlepped all this to the Central Bus Station, bought some bourekas and strong coffee, and finished writing an article on Dr. Gerald Schroeder’s appearance at a Root & Branch presentation at the Israel Center on 28 December last. I was tired and very much looking forward to getting home. I had been in town on one patrol or another since 9:00 in the morning.

The 148 pulled out of the station at 11:20 travelling north to French Hill, Písgat Ze’év and some villages on the way home – Kokháv Ya’akóv, Ofrá, Shvut RaHél, Shiló, ‘Elí, and Ma’aléh Levoná. The bus winds up in Ariél where I think the driver holes up for the night.

I was contemplating what I would do if confronted with the question of being evicted from my home by the Israeli army, and whether my kids should serve in a military that might try to make us homeless, when the young woman in front of me threw up in the aisle.

A bunch of people gathered round on the bus to help her, getting a barf bag for her, giving her tissues, encouragement, etc., and offering her a beverage to sip on. I kept waiting for the stink of vomit to fill the air. It didn’t. Instead the faint odor of bad beer wafted up, just enough to make me aware of it, but not enough to disturb me. I began to wonder about the young woman in front of me when the bus slowed to a crawl.

In front of us, one vehicle down was a long IDF flatbed truck, the kind that hauls tanks and artillery pieces. But this flatbed was not carrying any tank. The vehicle on it was huge. I couldn’t help breaking into English. “What is that thing?” I asked, more to myself than anyone else.

The fellow standing next to me looked at me and said in English, “that’s a D9. It was used to destroy houses in Gush Qatif. It took about 5 minutes to destroy a house. I remember seeing them do it in ‘Amóna.”

He then got into a discussion (in Hebrew, discussions often sound like arguments) with some of the others on the bus as they started to pay attention to the D9 themselves. I asked the bunch talking about this in Hebrew, “is this our future?” They were silent. So was I.

I studied the machine, looking for weaknesses in it that might be exploited. If there is to be a D9 in my future, I can’t just sit there and let my jaw drop as it approaches. Somehow, I (and others like me) will have to stop it. Rachel Corrie tried to stop it by standing in front of it. I’m not that stupid.

It seems unreasonable, if not criminal, to say I’ll shoot at someone who tries to destroy the home I live in. But the government planning to destroy my home – and the D9 I saw moving to a military base in Samaria last night is proof of these plans – is not asking me.

I remember Rachel and Moshe Saperstein waging a valiant, but law-abiding battle against the expulsion from their beachside home in Nevé Dekalím, one of the villages in Gush Qatif. Moshe, a retired humor columnist for the Jerusalem Post, wrote articles for Judy Lash Balint’s Jerusalem Diaries and made trips overseas to try to garner support. Rachel, whom Moshe had referred to as La Passionara in his articles, gave interviews to journalists world wide, raising a hue and cry (a geshrei in Yiddish) to anyone who would listen. And they were not the only ones. But the government of Israel was determined to suppress their voices, arresting teenagers as young as twelve and jailing them for weeks at a time as “security risks” for participating in demonstrations and expressing their rights to petition and freedom of assembly as supposedly guaranteed under law. All the classic techniques of a Soviet dictatorship were employed here to suppress freedom of expression and to distort it into something it wasn’t. Israel is not a democracy.

But more to the point, Moshe and Rachel Saperstein were expelled from their home in Nevé Dekalím. Nothing stopped the government juggernaut and for months, the Sapersteins lived in a hotel room in Jerusalem. They now live in what is known as a “caravilla,” a slightly enlarged version of a pre-fab made from spit and cardboard, and they live in a “caravilla” colony. Rachel Saperstein has a will of iron. But Moshe is a broken man.

Seeing that D9 on the bus pushed back to front and center in my mind the fact that the government most assuredly had an agenda to make me and 200,000 more like me homeless within the near future and that in spite of all that it had said in the recent past about not pushing for an expulsion in the future, it was definitely back on the table.

When I saw that the Israeli government had reportedly offered to Ephraim Inbar, the director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University of Tel Aviv, whose presentation at Root & Branch inspired my article “Lo Norá” recommends foreign (as in Jordanian & Egyptian) rule for Judea and Samaria, arguing that the “two state solution” advocated for so long by the ruling elites here, is a failure and the Arabs are incapable of self-government.

I draw you once more time to the story that got this series going some time ago, which appeared in Debkafile on 4 September 2006. We finally see why there has been a buildup of European forces off of Lebanon for the last several months, one which has not yet dissipated. Indeed, they are to be sent here, just as I speculated they would be months ago.

There are just a few more points that need to be made here. First, when the Israeli government/media want to hide a major news development, they cover it up with a “crisis.” While this story about turning over control of Judea and Samaria to the EU was breaking, it was being drowned out by the “crisis” of Moshe Katzav being indicted for rape, and by stories of Shimon Peres circling the office of the presidency like a vulture. Except for Arutz Sheva and David Bedein, the Israeli media has not touched the issue of who will control Judea and Samaria. Indeed, had I not seen that D9 on the Shekhém Road last night, I would not have had my own attention attracted to the plans being drawn behind closed doors.

When thinking about all this, my mind is immediately drawn to the lines in the Book of Daniel describing the “handwriting on the wall” that affrighted King Belshazzar of Babylonia [Daniel 5:25-28].

Now this was the writing that was inscribed: MÉNE MÉNE TÉKEL, UPHARSÍN. This is the interpretation of the matter: MÉNE (counted) - G-d has counted the years of your kingship and terminated it. TÉKEL - (weighed) you have been weighed in the scales and found wanting. PÉRES (broken up) - your kingdom has been broken and given to Media and Persia.

But even more appropriate to the present situation are words inscribed on a parchment nearly a quarter millennia ago and a third of a world away, words that are barely visible, but which ring out with a clarity of a bell proclaiming freedom throughout the land.

…when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such a Government and to provide new Guards for their future security. [American Declaration of Independence, July 1776]

The road to redemption may well be through revolution.

25 January 2007

Politics in Israel – Katzav Attacks His Accusers: Has a real leader finally arisen in this nation?


A number of months ago the state president of Israel was accused of rape. Complaints were made, accusations were made; the state president asked the attorney general to investigate and to clear his name. For six months, Moshe Katzav has been silent as the press has attacked him, as the police have attacked him, and as power hungry fools known as politicians have attacked him. Wednesday evening, on national television, he struck back, exploding in anger at his attackers and accusers.

It was the kind of response his attackers deserved and continue to deserve. Someone has finally called them what they are and given voice to the anger and contempt felt by so many average Israelis for the regime that rules with an iron fist of dictatorship & corruption in the velvet glove of "democracy".

The masters of that regime stomp on the poor man here (i.e. most Israelis), murdering, stealing, lying and responding to resistance and protest with an arrogance and cruelty that calls for their removal from any level of responsible leadership in this society. The ruling "elites" of the State of Israel -- Pigs of George Orwell's Israeli "Animal Farm" -- are the garbage that need to be tossed into the big green dumpsters known as tzvardeím. Moshe Katzav was polite in his words.

Arutz Sheva, gave Moshe Katzav the benefit of the doubt and covered his speech. Yediot Ahronot, through its English language on-line outlet ynetnews, gave the establishment view of his speech. In the morning, Yediot Ahronot’s Hebrew edition called on Moshe Katzav to quit in big headlines. Now the headline reads “Professors call Katsav’s conduct despicable”

Katzav’s words to the nation Wednesday night ring true to all that I have been saying for over a year at Blog Critics Magazine and elsewhere.

“I know what bothered you - that six years ago I was elected President [defeating Shimon Peres]. You wrote at the time that it was the end of Zionism, etc. I should be ashamed of myself? You should be ashamed of yourselves for writing such things about a democratic vote in the legislature!

---At this point, a Channel Two news anchor interrupted, and Katzav responded furiously:

You have talked for six months, and now it's my turn! No, you won't talk here! If you don't like it, you can get out! I was silent for six months, and now you don't want to hear the truth! Channel Two - yes, Channel Two, the same station that has been spilling my blood for six months!”

Katzav said additionally,

“I have been in public service for over 35 years; I have never hurt a single man or woman, my hands were clean, even when my opponents did all they could to besmirch me.

I saw myself as a symbol of all those who do not belong to the elitist, ego-swollen clique of those who were born with a silver spoon in their mouths, who see themselves as the only ones worthy of representing the public!”

Katzav was pushed to do the dirty work of the Sharon and Olmert regime, promising the Vatican control over parts of Mount Zion in return for – a synagogue in Spain! That plan didn’t work, fortunately and the Vatican has not gotten control over more of Mount Zion – yet.

Perhaps it was his failure to accomplish treason for Sharon, Peres and Olmert that led to the rape charges in the middle of last year. Perhaps Peres would like to combine the posts of state president and prime minister in the near future, and emulate Adolf Hitler as a führer here, and for this he needs Katzav out of the way. Or perhaps Katzav is right. After all, he is not an Ashkenazi Jew like most of the ruling elite here. He is a Mizrahi Jew with roots in Persia.

In any event, Katzav called bullshit Wednesday night, and it is long past time that he did. Katsav gave voice to the voiceless, and hope to the hopeless (i.e. most people here). Perhaps we see the emergence of a man we can actually rally around, one who is not afraid to call a spade a spade. Who knows? One can always hope.

In the meantime Arutz Sheva reports that Katzav has, at his own request, temporarily stepped aside and Dalia Itzik is acting in his stead.

18 January 2007

Ruminations on the Destiny of the People of Israel


Writing on this subject is very tricky. “Destiny” implies something far more than a mere political analysis. The truth is, the more I think about it, it is the destiny of the people of Israel that I am meant to pay attention to.

But before I go further, I need to set down some definitions, so that you, the reader, know exactly what I’m talking about. Otherwise the semantic confusion can prevent you from understanding either the meaning or the import of this article. In addition, I would like to express my thanks to Rabbi Yehoshua Friedman for fine-tuning certain points of Jewish law.

So, here we go.

I. Laying out the terms

1. Zionist movement: a largely secular movement to bring Jews home to the Land of Israel.

2. State of Israel: the political expression of the Zionist movement.

3. Children of Israel: the descendants of Jacob (Israel), son of Isaac, son of Abraham, son of TeraH, a high priest in Sumer, in the city of Ur, who left for the city of Paran when the king he served died. After a period of time, Abraham, commanded by G-d, continued westwards to the Land of Canaan.

4. People of Israel (Hebrews): the descendants of the sons of Israel, who were divided into a number of tribes.

5. Land of Israel: territory designated by the Torah [BaMidbár/Numbers 34:1-15] or the Tana"kh [Ezekiel 47:3-23, 48:1-35] as the territory that G-d has given the People of Israel.

6. Kingdom of Israel: This has three definitions.

a) the Kingdom of Sha’úl (Saul), David and Shlómo (Solomon) which extended as far as the Euphrates River at the height of its power;

b) the secessionist kingdom of ten tribes that separated from the tribes of Yehudá (Judah) and Shim'ón after the death of Shlómo (Solomon) and accession to the throne of his son ReHavám. With time, this kingdom weakened and the territory of the tribe of Benyamín became part of the southern kingdom of Yehudá (Judah);

c) in messianic times, the Kingdom of Israel will be the entity that succeeds the State of Israel and any other entity that rules here.

7. Jews: Originally, the descendants (tribe) of Yehudá, one of the sons of Israel. With time, the tribe of Shim'on merged into the tribe of Yehudá, and with time, the tribe of Benyamín merged as well [Scroll of Esther 2: 5-6]. At the time of its fall, the Kingdom of Yehudá represented the tribes of Yehudá, Shim'on, Benyamin and those people of the tribe of Leví who lived within the borders of the kingdom. The descendants of these people are the Jews mentioned in definition #1.

a) According to Halakhá (normative Jewish law), a Jew is the child of a Jewish mother, or a convert to the religion who accepts the entire corpus of 613 commandments of the Torah. If male, the convert needs to be circumcised. All converts are required to immerse in flowing water or a mikvá (ritual bath). According to the rules of the Rabbinate, the official Jewish religious body in Israel, the forgoing definition is the only definition of who is a Jew.

b) According to the ministries of interior and of absorption of the State of Israel, the forgoing definition is the primary definition of who is a Jew. But these ministries will accept other individuals who have Jewish grandparents as Jews. It should be noted that the Israel High Court of Justice has ruled that non-normative (i.e. non-“Orthodox”) conversions from overseas will be accepted as well. But at the same time, the ministry of the interior has refused to accept some converts, even “Orthodox” ones, for automatic citizenship, requiring a rather arbitrary waiting period and naturalization process.

8. Israeli: This has two definitions.

a) one who lives within the State of Israel, or who has Israeli citizenship and who is subject to its jurisdiction;

b) an artificial cultural construct, a creation of the Zionist movement, an attempt to create a new Jew, one uninfluenced by the rabbis and the decadent Jewish culture of Eastern Europe.

9. Palestine: This has three definitions.

a) The territory of the Land of Israel under the name given it by the Romans in 100 CE or so, Syria Palestina. This name was given the territory to insult the Jewish (Judean) inhabitants of the country, as the name Palestine recalls the name Philistine, an Aegean people that fled to this country, settling in the vicinity of what are now the cities of Gaza, Ashdod, Ashkelon and Gath, and who were traditional enemies and persecutors of the Children of Israel;

b) the territory covering both sides of the Jordan River granted to the Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland by the League of Nations as a “Mandate”, with the stated purpose of creating within it a "Jewish national homeland." The British separated most of this territory from its direct rule and administered it as the Emirate of Transjordan with the son of Feisal, Sherif of Mecca and Medina, Abdallah, as Emir. Under international law, the Palestine Mandate was the successor state to the Ottoman Empire where it had jurisdiction. The successor states to the Palestine Mandate are the State of Israel and the Kingdom of Jordan;

c) the political construct of Arab terrorist organizations who wish to end the State of Israel, and to end the Jewish presence in this region.

10. Palestinian: This has two definitions.

a) A resident of the territory of Mandate Palestine, an individual under its legal jurisdiction. It should be noted here that for the entire period of British rule, the Arabs resident in Mandate Palestine did not self identify as “Palestinians,” but as members of the Arab “Umma;”

b) an artificial cultural construct of the terrorist movements representing the Arab refugees who left the Palestine Mandate during the war that broke out in 1947-49. A great deal of "academic" work was done by the Husseini family to construct a history for this non-existent nationality. Additional work was done by discredited scholars such as Edward Saïd, who was shown by Justus Weiner to have lied about basic facts about his own life. Only after the founding of the Palestine Liberation organization, did the Arabs claim to be “Palestinian.”

Now to clarify my own biases.

I am a Jew. I am a citizen of the State of Israel, and therefore an Israeli under definition “8a” above. But when I express my own opinions, I am not talking as an Israeli, under the artificial construct of “8b” above. I speak as a Jew, and as a member of one of the tribes of Israel.

As for me, I believe that the State of Israel is collapsing of its own corruption and lack of purpose, as it has already served its purpose. But it will be replaced, not by a "Palestine," but by a Jewish entity far different from what we have seen, and one that is able to cope with the coming reunification of Yehudá (the Jews) with the brother tribes that appeared lost to history. Nothing is lost under the sight of G-d. I refer you all to the Book of Ezekiel [Ezekiel 36:6-38, 37:1-28].

There is one further thing I must make absolutely clear here. In writing this, I’m not dealing with the “Arab-Israeli crisis,” the “Middle East crisis” or any other of the cataracts that stand in the way of free flow of thought, ideas, people and commerce in this part of the world. I’m not writing about peace, I’m not writing about war. I’m not writing about making peace or making war. Those issues are not for this article. I’m writing solely about the destiny of my people, the People of Israel.

II. Where do I come in?

I believed, when I pressured my wife to move to this country, that the reason for the move was to protect my children from the corrosive influence of American culture, and to prevent them from assimilating into it, marrying non-Jews, and likely losing their Jewish heritage in the process. So, I listened very carefully when a thirty year old Israeli, the fellow on the other side of the counter of Pizza Maestro, which used to serve excellent pizza in the East Talpiot neighborhood of Jerusalem, explained to me that my sons would assimilate into Israeli culture. I had already figured out that what passed for Israeli culture was a very pale imitation of the corrosive culture I had thought I had left behind in America.

After having a good think, I turned on the laptop we had brought with us to the absorption center and started re-reading the essays that Barry Chamish wrote about the political establishment in Israel. I started re-reading the nightmare complaints of other recent and not so recent immigrants to this country. I started to compare my own experiences to the ones I read about, and carefully compare what I really wanted to do with what I was doing as a new immigrant.

I realized that I had been duped. My goal – getting away from American culture and assimilation into it – had been a mere carrot. There was something further behind this immediate goal that I did not really understand - something that has only become clear in the last couple of weeks.

Did G-d come to me in the fireplace, like one of those wizards in the Harry Potter books, to tell me my destiny and that I had been duped? No. We don’t have a fireplace, to start with. We have a small (too small) electric heater to keep our house warm. And G-d didn’t show up in the heater either, as an Entity that didn’t become consumed.

This was a slow realization, one that has come to me with the people that I “chanced” to meet, and in the events that have “chanced” to occur in my life.

For example, was it chance that an agnostic who identified himself culturally as a Jew but who did not really observe any of its laws, met a woman who knew nothing about Judaism, but who knew more about faith in G-d than a deck of theologians? Was it chance that I, the agnostic who challenged even the purpose of his bar mitzvah from the bimá in the synagogue (after doing a workman-like job of chanting the verses required of me) was now forced to teach this woman the Judaism he had run away from? Was it chance that I had always talked about the perfect number of children being four, (and hoping in his heart that he would have four boys) that I fathered four sons – one aborted by the mother, one who died after sixteen weeks in the womb, and two that lived?

Was it chance that after applying my wife’s basic formula of “G-d will provide” after walking out of a night auditor’s job in disgust with absolutely no idea of where the next paycheck would come from found, by “chance”, that he could return to the management job he had left at Burger King four years earlier? Was it chance that we were able to buy a house in Saint Paul in 1993, at the lowest interest rate in forty years, and realize a gain of over 100% in its sale eight years later in one of the hottest real estate markets our neighborhood in Saint Paul had seen in decades? Was it chance that the commander of my volunteer police unit insisted that I be assigned to Tuesday night duty instead of the Friday morning assignment I preferred? Was it chance that I met Aryeh Gallin on the first night I was doing patrol, and discovered how much we had in common in our outlooks in political affairs?

Was it chance that after meeting Aryeh Gallin and becoming associated with the Root & Branch Association that he runs, I was able to meet people like Barry Chamish, Dr. Gerald Schroeder, Vendyl Jones, Dr. Paul Eidelberg, Moshe Feiglin, and a whole slew of other people who represent the bubbling pot of intellectual ideas in Jerusalem and the rest of the country?

Was this all chance?

No. I don’t think so. I don’t really believe in chance. I used to. Now, I don’t. Not anymore. In my life, I have been pushed, indirectly sometimes, sometimes in a most rude way, to understand that a G-d runs the universe and that my survival depends on trust in that G-d.

There are no links to check all this out. My life is not a URL on the internet. But now, based on all this, when I see works that doubt “mere chance” being the ruling force of the universe, I’m not too hard to convince.

III. A picture of the Future

In early December, Aryeh Gallin sent me e-mails about a post-doctoral student from India. There is nothing special about that. Israel has world class universities, like the Technion in Haifa and the Weitzmann Institute near Rishon l’ Tzion, and India sends thousands of young men and women to study science here. But Dr. Aafreedi, the young man whom Aryeh wanted to invite to speak at the Israel Center in a Root & Branch presentation, is not a scientist. He is a historian. In addition, he was studying Jewish history with the intent of linking it to the history of his own people, the Pakhtun who live in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, to our own.

The Pakhtun claim to be descendants of the tribes that were expelled from our country when the Assyrians conquered the northern Kingdom of Israel (see definition 6b) 2,700 years ago. They are not clear which particular tribe, but a Jewish woman I chanced to meet on the bus a couple of days ago said that the Pakhtun are descendants of the tribe of Ephraim. Dr. Aafreedi apparently believes the same thing, particularly about the “khel” or “tribe” of Afridi, his own. Jewish history, and the history of the People of Israel generally, appears fraught with delicious ironies and the Child of Israel who lacks a sense of humor lacks sense altogether.

A large number of the Pakhtun comprise the Taliban.

Dr. Aafreedi spoke on 20 December 2006, but due to changes in the Egged bus routing, I was unable to get to town to be master of ceremonies that night. I only got to meet Dr. Aafreedi in Jerusalem last Thursday (11 January). Put simply, he is the best news our people have seen in 2,700 years, since the Assyrians destroyed the northern Kingdom of Israel. He is a fellow Israelite. He is one of over 40 million fellow Israelites, including, yes including the Taliban. G-d indeed, has a sense of humor, a sense of humor sharper than the sharpest of needles.

It’s enough to make a guy laugh till the tears come out of his eyes in pain, and cry until the tears come out of his eyes in joy.

For over two millennia, Jews have more or less considered themselves the only remaining Children of Israel, figuring that the other tribes had been lost to history. We have taken a term from the Bible “shearít” – remnant – and applied it to ourselves. Thus, you see the name of many synagogues in the Western world – “Shearít Yisraél” – Remnant of Israel. Apparently, this may be a misperception.

In addition to all the forced converts away from the religion who are now coming back to the faith, like the descendents of the Spanish and Portuguese “anusim,” we Jews now have to come to grips with the fact that we are only a small portion of a larger people. According to Rabbi Dr.Yehuda Bohrer, one group of Israelites from the general area of Bokhara claim to be descended from the tribe of Reuvén. They never lost their laws or traditions and have retained the links with Jews and are now considered as Jews.

Unlike the members of the tribe of Reuvén, the Pakhtun appear to have lost much of the ties to our people. Nevertheless, they have been claiming to be Children of Israel for over a thousand years; they claim that the original king Afghana, the first king of the royal line of Afghanistan, was a descendant of Sha’úl, of the tribe of Benyamín. Jewish merchants who lived in Kabul always could travel without fear to the Pakhtun lands, where they were recognized by the Pakhtuns as fellow Children of Israel. Today, the Pakhtun, who live in places that have media hostile to the State of Israel, like India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, look upon us Jews as brothers from the wrong side of the tracks. If there is the possibility that Dr. Aafreedi can prove the claims of his people using methods that go beyond mere references in Persian or Jewish writings, then we Jews have the interesting task of “recognizing Joseph” (Ephraim was a son of Joseph). And the Pakhtun are going to have to get to know their brothers, the Jews.

Oy vey!!

17 January 2007

Thoughts on a Mother from a Lousy Son


My mother passed away 20 years ago about this time of year. I’m this unspecific because while on the Christian calendar, she died on 13 January 1987, on the Rabbinic calendar that we use to commemorate holidays, births, deaths, weddings, anniversaries, etc, she died on 12 Tevet 5747, which came out on 2 January of this year.

Thinking about my parents, both of whom have died, is painful not merely because of the normal sense of loss that one feels at the fact that one’s parents are no longer there to share one’s triumphs with, which is a sense of loss that never goes away. It is additionally painful because I was a lousy son. For example, I did not even think to light a memorial candle in my mother’s honor until last night (16 January) when I came home from patrol.

I wasn’t the kind of kid who got into trouble with the law; nor did I do nasty or malicious things to either my father or my mother. But I was unthinking and unable to fathom feelings in others, to such a degree that when a neighbor lady exclaimed to me forty years ago in a tone of disbelief, “can’t you see that your mother is lonely?” not only did I not know what to say, I had no emotional reaction at all. I probably had this unbelieving stare, the look of a child who had just been explained that 2+2=4, but who understood neither the meaning of one nor two and who therefore could not comprehend so elementary an equation. A high intelligence quotient does not signify emotional understanding, and for a good part of my life I probably had an emotional quotient running close to zero. But enough whining about me.

My mother was born in the summer of 1908 in New York County, and went to public schools in the Bronx. She had vivid memories of the Spanish flu of 1918-19 because she was already 10 years old. There is an old rolled up photo of a bunch of children apparently graduating elementary school. This photo was kept in the vault along with my grandmother’s pistol, as though it were a secret.

It was.

For reasons unknown to me, my mother lied to the United States Social Security Administration when she got her Social Security number. She said she was born in 1913. The fact that this was not true didn’t come out until she was in her sixties, when my father passed away. That was when we opened up the bank vault. At the time, New York had a law that required all the contents of a vault to be held for the probate court if not opened before the death of the owner, so we rushed to the bank to empty it before the bank got wind of my father’s death. When I looked at the photo, I could see the date on it, and the fact that my mother was in the picture along with the other children in the school. By the time I was twenty-five, I had read enough Sherlock Holmes novels to deduce the birth date of the children in the photo. Ten year olds do not generally graduate the sixth grade in America, and the date gave her age away. It turned out that my mother was the same age as my father.

Her diabetes was also a secret, at least until she had to get a pill for it called “Orinase.” The doctor had told her she could not have more children after I was born because of the diabetes, which is why I did not have any younger siblings. She very much wanted a daughter, and while my being a boy was a joy to my father, who wanted desperately to carry on the family name (I’m the only grandson of my paternal grandfather with the family name), it was a terrible disappointment to my mother, who wanted someone who could grow to be a companion to her in her old age, as she had been to her own mother.

Disappointment that I must have been, she kept her thoughts to herself and gave me love and attention. She was kind and affectionate, and defended me before my father, who had high standards that I never lived up to. But she had a poker face. You never knew what was going on in her mind, and she kept her own counsel very well.

If I didn’t understand this clearly already, it became crystal clear to me when I was 14 years of age. The symptoms of a neurological disorder I have made themselves known when I was twelve, and while I cowered in fear of attacks from this disorder, my mother merely told me to take my medicine and not to be afraid. Bookish lad that I was, scouring encyclopedias out of mere boredom, I ran across a disorder that sounded a lot like what my symptoms indicated. My mother, confronted by an angry teenager demanding the truth and worked up in a rage of righteous fury, couldn’t deny the facts on the table. But her desire to protect me killed what trust I had for her and soured my relationship with her. From then on, I was determined to leave home – though as I pointed out earlier, I was so unaware of my own feelings that I didn’t realize it. But my own studies now started to include a detailed study of ocean currents. Because New York is a port, the easiest way to get away (and the most dangerous) was by sea.

My mother was a poor woman from a poor family. Her father had died in 1928, just weeks after making the last payment on the family burial plot which was his, and is now my, only piece of real property. My mother had a job with a manufacturer of steam shovels, but when the market crashed in October 1929, the owner of the firm overbalanced himself from the window and wound up dead on a sidewalk in Jersey City.

My oldest uncle, a dentist, probably helped when he could, but he had to pay off the debts from dental school on the holes in people’s teeth. And as more and more people lost jobs from the deepening depression, fewer and fewer could pay for my uncle to fill up those holes with amalgam. My younger uncle left the Bronx to try his luck in Chicago. He met a young woman there and moved to El Paso Texas, changing his very Jewish name in the process, so that he could sell furniture to people who no longer would demand to see the horns on his head before making payment.

So my mother and my grandmother moved from apartment to apartment in the Bronx and elsewhere so that the landlords demanding rent would not be able to keep up with them. In the winter, they burned furniture to keep warm. She and my grandmother set up a table on the street and sold pencils and pen points made in Czechoslovakia to get money for food and ice (for the icebox). For the longest time, I had some of those pencils and pen points after she passed away. I always had pencils to write with as a child.

Finally, the Roosevelt administration was elected, and with it came a program that eased her poverty and gave her a sense of dignity – the National Reconstruction Administration. When the Supreme Court outlawed the National Reconstruction Administration, my mother got a job with the New York City’s Office of Home Relief, renamed the Department of Welfare. In the 1930’s she worked, took care of her mother and hoped to meet a man. In the 1940’s she joined the New York City Civil Guard, a paramilitary organization that would have taken over had the city come under attack from Germany or the Empire of Japan. She was already 40 years of age when she met my father, a widower who lived in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I was the child of their old age.

My own childhood memories of her consist of running to various relatives as my mother attempted to patch up the vicious feuds that plagued her family, both on her mother’s and father’s sides. Once my father taught her to drive, she was happy to take the car and go to New Haven, Passaic and Newark, where her family had settled outside of New York. My father was happy to stay home on weekends, playing pinochle with his friends or watching baseball. When my mother was not dragging me off to see some relative, my father was. As she got older, funerals took more and more of her time…

My father lived long enough to be invited to my wedding with the young lady who became my first wife. After we got married, shortly after my father died (in Jewish tradition, one does NOT postpone a wedding because of a death, unless the ritual requirements of mourning make the wedding impossible) I did what little I could to make my mother’s adjustment to widowhood easier. She understood enough to keep her mind active, and joined the neighborhood crime watch programs. I encouraged her to join the Republican Party – not out of any ideological belief – she wouldn’t have been caught dead voting for a Republican for major office – not after what she had to endure during Herbert Hoover’s presidency. But since so few Republicans were registered in Brooklyn, the Republican party was always on the watch for people who could fill in as “election commissioners,” the folks who take one’s name, and sign one in to vote in primary and general elections. It paid, and it was money, and that was the key point for me. Finally, after much jawing, she agreed to do so, and did benefit.

When I moved to Minnesota to go to law school, I worried about my mother, but I didn’t have the money I needed to go home to visit like I ought to have. After my first marriage fell apart and I was living on the street, I always could have gone home to Brooklyn to live with my mother. But I didn’t. I didn’t want to go home like a beaten dog with my tail between my legs, a failure slinking back to mama. As much as my mother might have needed me, I needed to be on my own, even if that meant standing in the cold waiting on line to eat in a goyisher soup kitchen instead of helping her make dinner in her own kosher kitchen in Brooklyn.

But the price I paid for my independence, something which I should have obtained 10 years earlier, was my mother becoming depressed from loneliness. I could not possibly have expected her to move to Minnesota to be with me, not in her mid seventies, and I couldn’t move back to Brooklyn to be with her; it would have killed off what little sense of real independence I had developed. And my mother would have tried to interfere with my life, not for her sense of power, but for my own good. When I mentioned to her that I was dating a woman, her first question was, “is she Jewish?” When I equivocated, she said nothing, but the very next night I got a phone call from an old flame in Brooklyn who was unmistakably Jewish. I said nothing to my mother about the incident. I was more amused than angry. But, though I didn’t know it at the time, I had a hint of what the future held for me. The woman who called me was born in Israel, and it is likely, had I pursued the unlikely course of coming back to Brooklyn to marry this girl (by now I was very serious about meeting a woman and having kids), that at some point we would have moved here to live.

My mother eventually began getting minor strokes, and my sister (the daughter of my father’s first marriage) would look in on her when she could. When I discovered my mother had cashed in her life insurance policy because she had no money, we had a major argument over her moving to Minnesota to be with me, or me moving back to Brooklyn. I wanted to make sure I’d at least have money for a funeral, so I bought a policy for her. When I spoke to her last around Christmas in 1986, I remember telling her about the bonus I had gotten as a manager at Burger King. A week later, my sister called, telling me that my mother had had a major stroke and that I should come back to Brooklyn and set her affairs in order.

Before I left, I called up the Sholom Home in St. Paul. I was determined that my mother would get good care if she even had the possibility of recovering from her stroke, and had determined that she would be close at hand – I saw a future of visiting her daily, making sure she was well taken care of, and making sure she at least had the attention and love of the son who had finally figured out that his lonely mother needed company. But it was not to be. Her stay in the hospital in Brooklyn caused her to develop pneumonia, and a week after she had suffered a stroke she died from a heart attack.

So why am I writing all this?

I’ve written a great deal about my father, may he rest in peace, and feel that I’ve done what I could to do what I feel he would have wanted me to do with my life. We have two good sons, two good boys who honor G-d, who honor their parents, who are decent to their friends, and who, G-d permitting, will be good fathers who will carry on the family name and pass on the family history to our descendants with honor.

But what about my mother, who wanted the daughter to comfort her in her old age? I was never a comfort to her at all, only a disappointment. Nevertheless, she raised me and loved me. She held on to life until she heard that I had earned a bonus on my job, indicating that I’d be alright, and that I’d finally grown up enough that she didn’t have to worry about me. And then she went to her eternal rest. What reward did she get?

And what reward can I give her now, twenty years after her death?

Every Sabbath we read at out table the last twenty-one verses of the Book of Proverbs, called Éshet Hayíl, ‘woman of valor.” In most homes, it is chanted in the Hebrew. In our home, it is chanted in the English, for my wife because she does not yet understand Hebrew. It is recognition of the Sabbath Queen, but it is, at its most basic level recognition of the woman who makes the Sabbath enjoyable with her hard work. Let this then, be my mother’s recognition, for all the world to know that her little boy misses her terribly and is truly sorry for all that he didn’t do to praise and comfort her in her life…

ברוך דיין אמת
Barúkh Dayán Emét - Blessed is the True Judge

Éshet Hayíl

Who can find a woman of valor? for her price is far above rubies.
The heart of her husband safely trusts in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil.
She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life.
She seeks wool, and flax, and works willingly with her hands.
She is like the merchants' ships; she brings her food from afar.
She rises while it is yet night, and gives meat to her household, and a portion to her maidens.
She considers a field, and buys it: with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.
She girds her loins with strength, and strengthens her arms.
She perceives that her merchandise is good: her candle does not go out by night.
She lays her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff.
She stretches out her hand to the poor; she reaches forth her hands to the needy.
She is not afraid of snow for her household: for all her household are clothed with scarlet wool.
She makes herself coverings of tapestry; her clothing is silk and purple.
Her husband is known in the gates, when he sits among the elders of the land.
She makes fine linen, and sells it; and delivers girdles unto the merchant.
Strength and honor are her clothing; and she shall rejoice in time to come.
She opens her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the guide of kindness.
She looks well to the ways of her household, and eats not the bread of idleness.
Her children rise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her.
Many daughters have done virtuously, but you excel them all.
Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that fears G-d she shall be praised.
Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her in the gates.

Retrieved from The Book Proverbs at Wikipedia as edited by yours truly.