We stand by: a Thanksgiving meditation

There has never been anything, nor will there ever be anything, which so frightens those in power as a great demographic shift among the powerless.

Because the powerless, when they see themselves in the powerful, can delude themselves into thinking they share in the power. After all, they have the same interests, the same concerns, the same ideology. But when the powerless look up and see something that looks so unfamiliar, they begin to feel restless. They clamor for change. They know that these strangers, who purport to speak for them, in no way have their best interests at heart. Ultimately, they threaten the powerful — not overtly (necessarily), but covertly. Not with conflict and protest, with guns and violence, but with that most subversive act of all. With their vote.
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What makes our suffering more worthy?

When I was younger, the Haggadah we used at Passover had a farcical play in the back, jocularly re-enacting the story of the Exodus from Egypt. We used to perform it every year around the Seder table as our version of telling the story of Passover. There is one line from the play that has stuck with me through all these years, a line my sister and I quote to each other throughout the year, and one that seems particularly relevant as I look back at what I’ve just written:

“Woe to us, we are in trouble.”

Tonight marks the beginning of 192 hours of abstention from bread, leavening (except eggs), inflation (except beans), and alcohol (except wine, rum, tequila…oh hell, get me a beer). Why? So we can remember when we were slaves in Egypt. So we can pray for our brothers and sisters all over the world. So we can make our lives marginally uncomfortable for a while, to remember our history and to prevent us from experiencing it again.

Though noble enough in origin – as my father says, “They tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat” – this holiday feels in a way self-righteous. Most haggadot (the Passover dinner-service guidebook) will, at least now, mention the hardships facing minority groups in other areas of the world. I’ve seen mention of Southeast Asia and the USSR, and in the 90s we were into the African dictators and Eastern Europe. Feminist haggadot often mention inequality for women in different parts of the world, and I think we have one in our house discussing sex slaves. These days particularly leftist haggadot will even mention Palestine.

But the buck stops here. We acknowledge the suffering of others; we hope and we pray that these people will experience freedom, justice, and liberty, just as we were freed from Egypt and wandered around the desert (independently!, mind you) for forty years. Hooray for us, now go find your own Moses.

We are so focused on preventing our own history from repeating itself, though, that we cannot see when we are inflicting terrible collective damage on other people. We – and all minorities – are and must be survivalist. It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there, and if we don’t protect our clan, surely we will meet our demise. Thus we may only in good faith marry among ourselves, live in homogeneous communities, pray only for the health and welfare of our own kind, and while we wish well upon others, there is always the unspoken addendum to “may you be free”: “but not as free as we.”

Perhaps it is time for us to stop worrying about ourselves to the exclusion of all others. Perhaps it is time for us to give money to a charitable yet non-Jewish organization (like a Catholic or even secular hospital, for instance). Perhaps we ought to recognize that behaving with the clear and direct intention of simply preventing our own history from repeating itself will inevitably mean we, or others, will inflict the same hardships on other minorities, and we have set ourselves up only to be complicit spectators or active perpetrators of similar crimes.

Why do we, as people who have suffered, not hear the same cries for help, not recognize new histories moving down the same paths as ours once did, not step in and speak out? Half-drunk around the dinner table two nights a year is not enough.

With its spiritual and ideological focus on freedom, Passover is a time not to talk about our hopes for others, these fluid fragments of ideas, but to act on them. To actually believe in what we say, without addenda, and to put our idle words – all people will be free – into action.

I believe in “next year in Jerusalem,” but I also believe in next year in Damascus, in Ramallah, in Amman, in Jeddah, in Cairo, in Manama, in Gaza City, in Tunis, in Benghazi and Tripoli, in Paris, in Havana, in Augusta and Madison, in Tokyo, in Naypyidaw, Burma, in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, and throughout the world. We deserve freedom no more and no less than anyone else, and if we are going to spend 8 days a year saying it, we’d best start spending 365 days a year believing it.

Bomb, continued.

“Inside information”, common sense, and pseudo-adept political analysis leads me to believe that there will, in fact, not be a war at the moment. Certainly not with Lebanon. But I hear the planes overhead and the bombs exploding and it’s weird. I’m trying to edit an article for a publication but I’m struck by the very irony – hilarity? – of the situation. I knew already that from the vantage point of Mount Carmel, the top of the hill in Haifa, you can see Lebanon. But it never seemed so close until I heard the bombs falling there. A friend offered (as a joke) to share their shelter, just in case. I’m going to have to practice my sprinting.

Not scared, just anxious, a little excited. I don’t think there will be a war. Everyone is used to it anyway – honestly, there is no other place I’d rather be in the event of a war. I don’t think the US could take it. But here, it’s a part of life. It’s just bizarre and a little unnerving that it’s so close. Israeli and Lebanese soldiers at a stand-off along the border is usually an image reserved for the international section (page A14 or some such nonsense) of the NY Times. But here, it’s something like a half hour’s drive north. Strange.

They Don’t Have My Respect

It is absurd to me that so many rash commentaries and incendiary remarks were elicited by Octavia Nasr’s dismissal from CNN. So she tweeted that she respects Fadlallah, and she admits that this might have been a mistake. Certainly some of his stances, opinions, and actions were not of the most respectable type from a “western” “pro-Israel” “pro-US” perspective. But he was surely a brilliant politician.

For years he was a respected leader and figurehead, outlasting many others in the ever-changing game of Lebanese politics. You do not have to agree with someone’s politics to agree that they were influential and important on the world stage. Importance is not a designation reserved for those who play for the team of “good.” Evil is important too. (My aim is not to pass good-vs-evil value judgments on Fadlallah, or anyone else for that matter.)
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