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The Brownsteins in the Land of Israel

Chapter 14:

A Purim Blessing

March 7, 2004  

The Holiday of Purim, which is celebrated in 2004 on Sunday, March 7, is the story of attempted genocide, hidden miracles and abundant faith.  Below is my Purim story for this year.  (The original story, which is far more worth reading, can be read in a thing called the "Bible" in a book called "Esther" or click here.)

For the previous 20 hours it had been extremely windy here.  I had never experienced winds like those I have experienced here in Jerusalem.  Throughout the night, extended gusts pushed on the walls, challenged trees, and frightened anyone unfortunate enough to be exposed.  Nonetheless, after eight months of living here, with a whack here and a thump there, nothing seemed too unusual.

It was 8:30 on the morning of February 22, 2004.  My wife, Sara, had left about 40 minutes earlier to pray at the Western Wall.  I was checking my overnight e-mails.  I heard a bang.  Since July I have heard many, many distant explosions, most of which, I am told can be anything from artillery to suspicious packages in controlled detonations.  But this particular one sounded a lot like our large, metal front gate slamming shut.  It was somehow just a little different.  In that instant -- reviewing the tambour and depth -- I was pretty sure that the door had been closed the entire time. 

And, at that instant, eight people died in hundreds of others' lives were ruined or catastrophically altered.

Still hopeful that it was the front gate, I waited about 30 seconds and then checked the Internet.  But even the Internet isn't that fast.  So, na´vely, I went about my routine of answering e-mails.  And then slowly, like a morbid wall of cries from a distressed family of whales seeing the carnage of harpoons slicing into their peaceful world, sirens overcame the petty music playing through my computer.  Within two minutes there was no doubt about what happened -- only about where and how many people were suffering.

Where to go?  What to do?  What to think? 

First, of course, I called my wife.  She didn't know about it, so I told her to be careful her way home.  Then I went to the "TV of Death", which was bought by my wife specifically so that we can have rudimentary information in a "situation" like this.  The "TV of Death" told me that the massacre blew out the back of a bus in front of a gas station about five blocks from our house by the Liberty Bell Park.  Alas, my Hebrew was not good enough to decipher the number of fatalities and injured, but one thing was for sure: it was really close again.  Unfortunately, as is too usual now, I called my dear new friend Steve Toberman who has been here from Minnesota for several decades.  He gave me the preliminary causality report.

What to think?  I settled back into my office chair and started the process of trying to cope.

So close.  I had driven by that gas station hundreds of times.  The first time I ever filled the car here was at that gas station.  My wife walks through the park behind the gas station on her way to classes.  The bus, Number 14, passes me virtually every time I walk in the neighborhood.  And I had driven behind Number 14 dozens of times.

It seems like just a day ago, while I was entering Ulpan, that another terrorist blew up a bus a few blocks from me on Aza Street.  In fact, as I thought about it, that attack was about three weeks earlier on January 29th.  But it was still very much like yesterday and we were still trying to deal with that one.  For that matter, it didn't seem very long ago (September 9, 2003) when another animal blew up Cafe Hillel, shaking my house.  I've learned that they stick with you . . . until the next one.  So close.

On the one hand, it's paranoid to say that they're coming to get me.  On the other hand, without any doubt, they're coming to get me, just not by name.  Anyone who believes differently is naive or in denial.

First, I thought of revenge.  I started to wonder how the military should respond to the bombing.  I yearned for retribution.  At that point I am rabid.  Just after, all I want is a pound of flesh.  Congressman Jerrold Nadler, who happened to have been about 150 yards from the bombing, suggested the day after that if America had her buses bombed and civilians slaughtered, America would carpet bomb Ramallah and Gaza.  With the sirens blazing and cold adrenaline pouring through my veins, I wanted blood and I voted "yes" to the Nadler Plan. 

But what's the point?  Will it do any good, or will it be just be another excuse for United Nations to condemn Israel?  No, the targeted killings, proactive raids and the half-done fence have cut the attacks to a fraction of what they were a few years ago.  This is somewhat heartening.  Just build the fence, guys, as fast as possible.

Then I thought about Arafat, yemack sme'mo (curse the name).  Everyone knows that Arafat is behind this.  Everyone.  He doesn't even deny it anymore.  He makes sure that the humanitarian aide given to his people (which he doesn't first siphon off) finances bombs and also cookies to hand out on "successful" days like January 29th and February 22nd and September 9th, 2003. 

As the crow flies, the slime ball lives closer to me than the distance from my former L.A. home to my Burbank office.  Without exaggeration, I live less than 30 minutes from Hitler.  (And once again, Hitler is being protected by western European cowards.)  My solution for Arafat is to drop the burnt out shell of the bus he just bombed up the road on his headquarters.  My solution for Arafat is to completely isolate him.  Cut off communications completely and cut off access to visitors.  Promise the Palestinians that they never have to deal with the Wicked Witch of the Middle East again.  Make it clear to everyone that hell will freeze over before Arafat sees the light of day or gives orders to anyone except the dozen concubines who well service him, while his Christian wife, living in her plush Parisian paradise, drops $10 million a month into her Swiss bank account courtesy of the European Union and the United States.

None of this will ever happen.  Everyone keeps waiting for Arafat to die.  He's even talking about wanting to be buried on the Temple Mount, above the Holy Temple, itself!  Talk about a dilemma.  The old joke about the ultimate Jewish dilemma used to be pork on sale.  Now it is choosing between Arafat living or Arafat being buried on top of the Holy Temple.  Just drop the bus on him and bury him under that.

Then, too naturally, I started wondering about the sensibility of having moved to Israel, especially at this time in the country's history, especially with small children.  But that kind of thinking is too easy.  To begin with, this is exactly what the terrorists want me to think.  They want to drive us back to America.  They don't want any more immigrants.  American, French, Russian.  No matter.  They don't want Jewish refugees from Arab nations.  They don't want Zionists.  They don't want any of us.  They just don't want Jews.  They hate Jews.

Second is the question of absolute safety.  Everyone tells me that it was irresponsible of me to bring my family to what they perceive of as a "war zone".  I am told that I don't need to endanger my family.  Without exaggeration, I get loving e-mails from dear people pleading with me to move my family.  But what's the point?  I could buy a mansion in the middle of New Mexico and put up 24 ft. walls.  They have no terrorist attacks, no floods, earthquakes, landslides, hurricanes, forest fires, ice storms.  I could have a rabbi come to teach our children and have Kosher food brought in.  I would never have to leave the compound, nor would my wife and children.  In an absolute world, that might be considered safety.  Short of nuclear weapons, no one could touch us. 

But what's the point?  We are Jews and this is our only home.  We lost it for 2000 years.   For 2000 years.   For 2000 years we yearned and prayed and pulled out our hair for the chance to regain this place.  For 2000 years it was denied us.   For 2000 years Zion was the only thing that we wanted.   And now?  Have we forgotten?  Are we so egocentric in our endless self-gratification in the West that we forget the meaning of Zion?  So, now that we've got it, big deal.  It's old news.  Let's talk endlessly about Michael and Janet Jackson instead of concentrating on the miracles of 1948 and 1967.   What have we become when we need to ask if having the State of Israel is big deal?

Anyone who doesn't understand how momentous it is to have the State of Israel is lost in the myth of the completeness of the West. 

Sit back, friends, and contemplate this world in 1942 when Jews were being slaughtered by the millions, yet the world was refusing entry of Jews to their safer shores.  There is nothing -- nothing -- we would not have done then to have had a Jewish state then.  Nothing.  Absolutely nothing.  The same is true at many other times in Jewish history.  How badly do you think those slaughtered in the Russian pogroms and Spanish Inquisition longed for what you have?  How can you take Israel for granted knowing that Jewish babies were used as dog food by the Nazis?  The dream of Zion should not be treated like just another fulfilled gift that we throw in the back of the closet.  This gift needs a little love and care, friends.  With Mel Gibson on our radar, I suggest that our memories are a little too short.  Tragically short. 

Ask the one hundred thousand oppressed Jewish Iraqi refugees from the '50s if Israel was a big deal.  Ask the fifty thousand subjugated Ethiopian Jews from the '70s if Israel matters.  Ask the two million former victims of Soviet tyranny what it means to be here. 

At a bar mitzvah here I recently ran into the most famous of them all, Natan Sharansky.  During my short conversation with him, I could hardly miss the gleam of freedom streaming from his beautiful eyes.  Ask Sharansky, after having been tortured for years at a time for his crime of longing for Zion, if Israel is a big deal.  And, I dare say, twenty years from now, ask the half a million Jews who lived in that anti-Semitic shithole called France what they think of the promise of a Jewish homeland.  "Ignorance" is the most apt term to use for people who fail to understand what Israel means to the Jewish people.

Ironically, those who best understand the significance of Zion are the anti-Semites who know that the destruction of Israel will mean the ultimate destruction of the Jewish people.  It would be nice if Jews had this insight.

So, should we all go back?  Why not?  In fact, why shouldn't the Brownsteins go back to L.A.?  Why not the Zerobnicks to Colorado?  Why not the Bensons to Fresno and Tanzers to Portland?  Why not the Fachlers to England and Pollacks to Uruguay and Tobermans to Minnesota?  The Eshels to Seattle and Anovitzes to Atlanta ?  The Machols and Hesses to California?  And, of course, New York is not the same without the Lawrences, Dublins, Herscowitzs, Holts, and Lipkins -- all of whom have come to Israel within last 25 years helping to keep this place here for you and me.  So should the Brownsteins rise up and declare to all of our friends and all Israelis that this place is too dangerous for the Brownsteins and that my Israeli friends need to stay, but we're moving back to California?  That's the team spirit!

This is not passion; my Trailblazer collection is passion.  Israel is the reality. 

So, if I believe that this place is needed, and if I know that it can only exist through its citizenry, then how can I expect others to make sacrifices that are somehow below me and my family?  Who am I to say that this battle for survival is a good enough for my friends and their children, but that the Brownsteins need to head back to Hollywood?  We are all in this together -- every Jew in the world.  As far as I can tell, at this point in my life, my individual needs are trumped by the needs of my people.

Then I start to think about the victims.  There is a man who lives a block from me.  Practically outside my front door, 14 years ago, his 19-year-old daughter was walking home from her shift as a waitress.  Forty feet from her front door she was stabbed to death by a terrorist.  Just after that, the terrorist stabbed two policemen a few blocks further down.  What remains are two monuments created for the three martyrs on the places they fell.  The monument to the girl that her father maintains lies halfway between his home and mine -- about ten car lengths from my front gate.  His grandson was killed on this bus.

In synagogue the week after the bombing I saw the jubilant face of a 60-year-old Israeli.  He was familiar to me, after having sat behind him for the last eight months, and occasionally nodding greetings to each other.  He was being greeted by several of the other old war heroes.  In between us sit two men in their eighties, both of whom have tattoos on their forearms from Auschwitz or some other death camp.  I haven't asked.  (Short sleeve weather does not make me as happy as it used to before I sat behind these gallant Survivors.)  I looked up at the jubilant 60-year-old and noticed that his forehead, from temple the temple, was brown and peeling.  I asked one of his friends what happened and I told me that he had been scorched in the bus.  He was jubilant to be alive.  But...

How many people will never walk again?  How many people will never see again?  How many people will long to hold their granddaughter just one more time?

And then there's the thought of the actual spot where the slaughter occurred.  I know from having experienced the aftermath of the Cafe Hillel bombing, that it will be a long time before that spot will be just another sidewalk.  (I haven't come to terms with if that is good or bad, yet.)  I drive past it almost everyday.  There are candles.  There are signs.  There are mourners.  There are flowers.  In fact, few things I have ever heard are more hideous than knowing that one of bouquets left on the sidewalk is adorned with a condolence card from the European Union.  Figure that one out.  My wife, who grew up in Paris, told me of seeing these flowers while saying Psalms there for the victims.  Sara said that it took all of her strength not to kick them into the middle of the street.

There are signs blaming Sharon.  There are signs condemning Peres.  There are signs reproaching everybody.  And this is also what the animals want.  But friends, this, more than anything, is a time for unity.

Last week I went to visit my old friends Allen Estrin and Dennis Prager.  Dennis, who is a talk radio host in Los Angeles, is doing his radio show from Jerusalem this week.  After the show, I took them on the tour of my neighborhood.  Dennis -- who is rarely speechless -- was thunderstruck as we drove the one-minute from the site of the last bombing in Bell Park to Cafe Hillel.  One minute we were talking about how my kids are adjusting to new language, and the next he is utterly shaken by the reality that two bombs had gone off right here!

Everyday I hear a door slam.  Everyday I hear explosions.  All but two of the explosions have been something other than terrorist attacks. 

Everyday I walk past buses or eat in cafe's.  Everyday my wife and kids are exposed on the streets.  Everyday we are targets.

But everyday, my neighbors and I stand guard over the fate of your homeland.  Unless you believe that the State of Israel need not exist, you must understand why we are here and be united with us. 

My Purim blessing to you is: the next time I think my front gate is slamming, it will be you arriving.


Rich Brownstein

PO Box 8130

91081 Jerusalem


Phone: 011-972-2-6733-491



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Copyright (c) 2004 -- Rich Brownstein  


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