Saturday, December 30, 2006

In The Beast's Face

First, I want to thank everyone who has made the first three days of Breath of the Beast such a rocket sled ride. It is so reassuring that there are so many intelligent, open minded and articulate people raising the alarm at the approach of The Beast.

Before I get into the meat of this post here is some clarification about the first post and the blog in general- I have had questions about a couple of things:

1. How is my daughter? My daughter is now an accomplished young woman of intelligence and spirit she is fine and not, thank God, a victim of any kind.

2. Am I referring to Islamist totalitarianism as The Beast? Yes, I am talking mostly about what we often call “Islamofascism” but The Beast has many forms and can be found at the heart of many other kinds of systems as well. I am referring to all of the totalitarianisms and fascist states large and small that have ever existed. This includes social systems as small and limited as the family of an abusive alcoholic to that exemplar of totalitarian madness, Nazi Germany, the old Soviet Union, Iraq as it was under Saddam Hussein (let’s not forget that he was a Baathist not an Islamist), The Palestinian Authority (which has some secularist elements and some Islamist ones) and Present day North Korea. They all take common cause against us (The U.S., Israel, The U.K. and other western democracies that still have the stomach to stand up for Western Civilization and our ideals. We have to stand up to the Beast of Totalitarianism in all its forms because whatever its, ideological or religious pretext, it recognizes us as its natural enemy. We don’t even have to actively oppose it, you see, the simple fact that we value the free exchange of ideas in a context where we honor the past and accept the change of a free and better future, is an insult and a danger to the stagnant repression inside it. We see it as a detached and insular reality while it sees us as a constant danger. It must vilify and try to destroy us at all costs and at any opportunity. Unless we understand this, it will get us before we even realize it wants to.

It is our responsibility, each and every one of us, to share our knowledge of the Beast so that we can prevent it from sneaking up on us. In my first post I shared with you my first encounter – Here is my second one.

For some years my wife had told me that I was the oldest Jewish man in my home town who had never visited Israel. Although I doubted that this was really the case, let's just grant it for the purpose of the story I am about to tell you.
If it was true, it is no longer, because I finally went for a visit a few years ago- at the height of the first intifada. Before I left, because of the previous year and a half's terror and confusion, many of my friends and family asked me the same question – "Why now?" I had no ready answer except that I felt that it was the right time. I have given a lot of thought to this question during my week there. I went as one of the two hundred and eighty people in a Solidarity Mission sent by the Greater Boston Jewish Community. I wondered if I would find a clearer answer in Israel.

We had organized visits with and heard speeches from many prominent Israelis from government, media and academia and we managed a fair amount of sightseeing as well. The holy sites and antiquities would have been enough reason to go. The dignitaries were all impressive and many were absolutely inspiring. There were also genuinely touching ceremonial occasions. One of these had us visiting a kindergarten where black children from Ethiopia, dark Asiatic Azerbaijani and blond, blue-eyed Uzbeki children played and learned Hebrew and Jewish traditions together. Another took us to a hospital where we met doctors and nurses who worked to save lives on both sides of the conflict with equal zeal and bravery. The most emotional ceremony brought us into contact with the simple courage and modesty of the soldiers; many of them still nursing wounds, to whom the CJP contributed scholarships. The scholarships were intended to compensate in some way for the time that these student-soldiers lost when they were taken from their universities during the last call-up of the reserves.

Any one of those experiences would have more than justified the tiny risk involved in a visit to Israel; but they didn’t really address that original question “Why now?” It was in serendipitous one-on-one conversations with regular Israelis though, that I found the most compelling reason that now is the time to visit.
I had the good fortune to visit with two Israeli families in their homes while I was there. The first visit was as part of the CJP-sponsored tour. Four Americans from the tour were assigned to each of dozens of volunteer families who invited us into their homes for an evening. The Boston CJP arranged for these visits so that we could be part of the ongoing “sister city” program of personal and organizational contact between Boston and Haifa. My other home visit in Israel was with old friends who live on the border with Lebanon. Many of us on the trip spent some time with family, friends, acquaintances or friends of friends who were so happy to have visitors that the only question of personal safety that any of us experienced on this trip was that we might have been in danger of being killed with kindness or forced to eat ourselves to death on the wonderful and unbelievably abundant hospitality of our hosts.

I know Rikki and Shimon because they had been close friends of my wife when she lived in Israel years ago. Cathy lived in Israel for twelve years and since she came back to the states has lost touch with many of her friends from those days, but Rikki and Shimon have been good and constant friends. They have accepted me as a friend too and they have stayed with us a couple of times on visits to the US. They live on the Kibbutz of Rosh HaNikra which is set on the side of a mountain. The top of this mountain is the place where the border of Lebanon comes across the crest of a ridgeline and plunges down the western side to meet the Mediterranean Sea. That last precipitous drop-off is actually a blazing white chalk cliff.

That dazzling white cliff, the flat sweeping curve of the beach that runs away toward the south and the ancient port of Akko, the shimmering sea to the west and the craggy mountains and hills to the north and east, make Rosh HaNikra a startlingly beautiful place. Right there, where all of this natural beauty comes together, the kibbutz community nestles into the flank of the mountain with a view that rivals anything else in the world.

Unfortunately, you are never the only one enjoying the view. At the summit of the mountain, two observation towers stand cheek-to-cheek bellied right up against the border. One on either side, they are positioned slightly offset to each other so that each can see beyond the other into the territory behind it. One tower is manned by Israeli soldiers and the other by Hizbollah terrorists. Although, back then, things were relatively quiet along that border, an occasional rocket attack would find it’s way across from the Lebanon side. Just that past March, a pair of Hizbollah terrorists had infiltrated across the border dressed in Israel Defense Force uniforms. They set themselves up on a hill that commands a clear view of a road intersection that all of the civilian (and none of the military) traffic uses to get to and from the kibbutzim in the area. They waited until mid-day when they could be sure that military patrols and most men would be out of the area and then began shooting at cars traveling along the road. Before the real Israel Defense Force arrived, they murdered two women, two men and a fifteen-year-old girl who lived on a nearby kibbutz.

Gal is Shimon and Rikki's daughter. She is a lovely fifteen-year-old with a sweet smile and a wonderful command of English. If you ran into her on any street in the US, at first glance, she would be indistinguishable from any other smart, well-brought-up youngster over here. She gave up her bedroom for me to sleep in for the night – graciously insisting over my objections. She was just as welcoming and generous as her parents and all of the other Israelis I met over there. As I bent down to put my bags on the bed in her room, I glanced out the window and saw those two towers silhouetted against the darkening evening sky. Just a few hundred yards up the slope, the Hizbollah Tower seemed to be craning its neck past the Israeli tower to get a better look at me.

At one point during our dinner together, Rikki and Shimon got up to get (even more) food while Gal and I kept chatting. At one point she looked at me very seriously and said, "You were not afraid to come?" I smiled. Here was a young woman who woke up every morning literally under the guns of a group who, if not for the Israelis in the other tower, would gladly murder her just for the sake of the political statement. I suddenly felt like laughing. I truthfully hadn't given the dangers much of a thought until I had seen the tower through her bedroom window. Now she watched me as I framed my answer and I could see that she had a maturity and judgment impossible (and, thankfully, unnecessary) for most American teens.
"No," I said quietly, but with a conviction and confidence that surprised me a little. "I wasn't. Besides,” I said, hoping that the bravado was understated enough, “statistically, the most dangerous time in this whole trip was the plane ride." Gal gave a solemn little nod of the head to this.

I wondered why she didn’t ask the obvious next question – "So why don’t more come?” Tourism was down 85% in Israel compared to two years before. This is a devastating blow to a country that is also suffering economically from the same recession that has affected the U.S. She didn’t ask though. It seemed enough for her to know that I was there and that I didn’t feel it was any big deal.

The memory of her beautiful, serious face stays with me. As does the visit that I had had the night before that with my randomly selected family in Haifa. Yaacov and Miri Broder, like my friends Rikki and Shimon, are hard-working people who are devoted to their family first of all. They have four children who are obviously the center of their lives. The kids go to private school from the slightly cramped but beautifully kept apartment that Miri says a little defensively is "all we can afford because the school is so expensive." Only a total ignoramus could miss the richness of the life they give their kids and the warmth of their devotion to them. It came up that Yaacov is the son of, as he says, "a Schindler Jew." Once again, in a trip of constant wonders, the whole focus of the world seemed to shift. Here we were having dinner with a family that, but for the righteousness of an odd but courageous man a half a century in the past, would not have existed- not that solid, friendly Yaacov nor his vibrant, children. Without Schindler it is certain none of them would have ever existed.

Yaacov had also spoken of the time that Schindler visited his classroom when he was a child in school. At the end of his visit, one of the other children asked him why he did what he did and risked his life to save those 1200 Jews. Yaacov tells with a matter-of-fact smile how Schindler did not hesitate, but said “This is not a good question. The real question is why so many others did not do anything to save anyone.”

I understood then that I needed that trip and these revelations more than the Israelis needed me. Oh yes, it was a good thing for them to have me there; and the money I spent there helped the economy in some small way. The real change that was made, however, was in me. The miracle of that trip to Israel is that I went with the self-important view that I was doing something important for the Israelis first and getting a trip to Israel in the bargain. As it turned out I got far more out of it than Israel did. I got to take part in something important and beautiful. I got to see myself in a new way; and I also got just a fleeting glimpse into what it is like to live gracefully with courage and with memory. I would never have seen the people that Iran, Syria and their toadies in Hizbollah and Hamas have sworn to exterminate.

But most of all, I would not have been able to do that that infinitesimal but critical act of “being there” for Gal and Yaacov and all of the other Israelis I met. In being there for them I was also, in my small way, tweaking that Beast on the other side of the wire. The Israelis hold it at bay but it is up to the rest of the world to bury the beast in our myriad of tiny acts of being there. The Beast knows we are there and our very presence weakens it just a little with each act of freedom.

So, now, while Ahmadinejad prepares his Nuclear weapons and Iran replenishes Hizbollah’s stockpiles of missiles, now is a good time to go to Israel and let our friends, families and our heroes see our faces. Now is the best and most important time to go there and let this beautiful generous country throw its arms around you with gratitude. Now is the essential time for Christians, Jews and anyone else who would make themselves just a little bigger and better by standing up to The Beast to take a trip to Israel. It is more important now than it has ever been to go to Israel and be renewed by returning to the holy land where the Judeo-Christian tradition was born.
Then, when your friends and family ask you, “why now?” I want you to tell them this: “This is not a good question!” and then you should ask them “Why aren’t you going?”

Reminder: Send Me Your Stories! Let's start a community of awareness!


Papa Ray said...

Excellent telling of an important story.

I have no first hand experience with the biggest baddest beast that we (I say that loosly) have been confronting and losing to in the last few years.

Other than the fact that the beast has killed several thousand of my fellow Americans.

Long ago and far away, I was up to my neck in fighting a beast of a slightly differnt manner and motive. He had his insurgents that terrorised the population and was very hard to find but he could find us with no problem at all.

We finally killed most of those insurgents and the rest gave up the hard life and went back to what ever else they could do.

But of course, this beast had the backing of two other larger beasts so it could also afford a main force land army. Not much else, but that army was able to fight toe to toe with us. He very seldom won more than good publicity from our liberal press, he lost every battle.

So..we won, right? Not really, we were forced to leave and the Viets and Cambodians and others paid for our governments stupidity and our populations ignorance.

I'm really afraid that there is the chance that will happen again.

But with the current beast, they will not be content to ravish and rape just the weak and their own, they will come after us.

There are a few of us who believe that if it appears that our elected government can not protect this Republic and we can not vote in those who will...

Well, just remember that not all of us are sheep, nor are we going to stand by and let our Republic be overrun, overturned or changed from what our founding fathers intended...

either from without or from within.

Papa Ray
West Texas

Anonymous said...

The beast has been among man since
we left the Garden of Eden. Our
fight against it is ongoing until
man's time on earth is up. When we
as a species disappear the beast will shrivel and die. The beast is among us, because it is one of us.
Too bad there are so many who are
blind to this truth, and allow it
to prosper and grow through their
neglect to make a stand.
You are not alone in confronting the beast, there are many who stand quietly by your side.