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The Brownsteins in the Land of Israel

Chapter 17:

Days To Remember

April 26, 2004


Dear Friends,


Today in Israel is Yom HaZikaron, the "Day of Remembrance".  It is actually the second such day in a week.  Today we remember the 21,540 Israelis who have fallen in battle for the State.   A week ago was Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Memorial Day, when we remembered the 6,000,000 Jews who died at the hand of the Nazis and their accomplices.  Below are two pieces I have written, one for each.


First, you might enjoy a snappy little piece called "Gibson’s Father Convinces Jews To Give Up World Control."


Also, my niece, Elana Brownstein, visited one Shabbat with a freshman friend of hers from Barnard College, named Elana Jaffe, who wrote a very short piece about leaving Jerusalem.  Click here to enjoy her essay.


Also, with Yom HaAtzmaut -- Israel Independence -- starting tonight, if you want to read a short list of our remarkable accomplishments, click here.


There has been a lot of talk of my story "Learning to Read Between the Lines" about our trip to the lake where some boys who rammed our rowboat became all wet with some really gooey water.  Here are some pictures of the day:



And, as long as we are at it, these are the kids with some happy soldiers!


And finally, yet again, Billy Baynu, from Derech Eretz wrote of my story "Learning to Read Between the Lines":


Dear Richie,

I read your story "Getting A Car" last night, right after I received it.  It was really great how you made fun of everything.  You tell 'em Richie.  But coolest of all is that I have broken the record for the most letters published in your Chronicles.  We are symbiotic, dude!  But then a funny thing happened when I was talking to Mom about it.  She had just finished reading my letter, too, and she said that it wasn't about being symbiotic at all.  She said that you print my letters to help explain what you wrote.  She said that the reason I get everything wrong each time is an ongoing inside joke.  Mom even said that she suspects that we don't even exist and that we are like the chorus in a Shakespearean play.  Then Mother suggested that I should reread your story because I obviously didn't get it at all and she was embarrassed for me.  I told her that I read just fine and that Rich's chronicles are not tricky, but very simple about his day-to-day life in Israel.  I told her, 'I've known Rich for 40 years and he is not a serious dude.  He just likes to write subtle humor.'  I was a little bit confused when she then suggested that the $100,000 she had spent on my college education seemed to have been somewhat wasteful.  I just shrugged and went back to my videogame.  Please tell Mama that my Reed education was worth every penny!


Hey, Billy: listen to your mom.


Days to Remember


Feature Presentation I

Memory: Raising the Bar


After the Almighty, Jewish memory is all we have.  Much of this memory is kept in holy books, like the Talmud.  But we keep memory everywhere else, too: in our rituals, in our holidays, and in our minds.


To be very specific, however, it is not our memory, per se, that is the point: the critical aspect of Jewish memory is what we do with it.  Indeed, it is not a stretch to say that our effective recollection and -- just as importantly -- expedient selective forgetfulness has been the key to our survival.


Many, many examples are in the Torah.  We are urged to remember the lives of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  We are commanded to remember the Exodus from Egypt.  And the most explicit example of remembering and forgetting is the commandment: "remember what Amalek did to you on your journey…and cut down all the stragglers in your rear…undeterred by fear of god…you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.  Do not forget!"  (Deuteronomy 25: 17-19)  These mental gymnastics have been performed to perfection by the Jews for 3,500 years.


We also have many tools for our cognitive exercises.  For example, every year we read the entire Torah, word for word.  During the Passover Seder we read every line from the "Haggadah", which means the "telling".  On Purim we read from the Book of Esther, and each time we read the name of the first Hitler, Haman, we try to drown out his memory by booing and using noisemakers.  In fact, there is even a custom to write Haman's name (Amalak's successor) on the bottom of our shoes and stomp it out during the each of the 54 pronunciations of his name. 


In fact most Jewish holidays are intended to remember and, in some cases, systematically forget certain events.


My favorite example of this is Chanukah.  Here, the hero is the beloved and exalted Judah Maccabe, who crushed the Greeks and retook the Holy Temple.  Yet, historically, Judah and his followers, the Hasmoneans, had an enormous falling out with another dominant branch of Judaism, the Pharisees.  Guess who ultimately won?  Wrong!  It was the Pharisees.  And keep in mind that the power struggle between the Hasmoneans and the Pharisees was not Eisner -v- Disney; back then, major issues tended to be far more personal and bloody and those of today.  Indeed, as I once learned from a very compelling drasha (sermon) from Rabbi Joseph Kanefsky, the real miracle of Chanukah is not that a day's worth of oil burned eight days; the real miracle of Chanukah is that those who choose to memorialize Chanukah -- the Pharisees -- did so giving full glory to their archenemy, Judah Maccabe, the ultimately defeated leader of a revolt against those who canonized him and his actions.


Today in Israel we sit in a whirlpool of events that pop in and out of consciousness.  Things change very quickly and, when they do, we all seem to know how to forget what came before.  Here are just a few examples.  This used to be a socialist country, not just politically, but economically.  Yet today, political socialism is so passé here that few under 90 or not receiving a bloated union salary would dare advocate it.  You can thank the Yom Kippur War and Oslo for the crumbing of Labor.  And economically, too, no one is going back.  Nonetheless, for the first thirty years of the State, Israel was one of the only truly socialist governments in the world, complete with communes called Kibbutzim and Moshavim.  The labor union was the ruling party.  But try to find someone who thinks of Israel as a former socialist state, let alone remembers that it ever was one. 


The same is true of an un-unified Jerusalem: it is simply incomprehensible to think that the Western Wall was separate from Israel.  Yet, of course, Jerusalem has only been united since the miracle known as the Six Day War in 1967.  To a lesser extent, we don't think of Jordan or Egypt as our enemies, even though they inflicted the vast majority of casualties on us during our four major wars.


All of that is back-story, though. 


Now, please indulge me one more story.  It seems that in 2000, when President Clinton was desperately trying to get a Nobel Prize so as to alter his legacy from that as a philanderer, he sat with Prime Minister Barak and Yasser Arafat and tried to shove a "peace" deal down their throats.  Indeed, in the end there was a deal that could have been made.  By all accounts, Ehud Barak had already succeeded virtually all of the West Bank and Gaza to the Palestinians -- having "replaced" the land amounts that were not to be returned due to settlement blocks with Israeli land from within the "Green Line".  It seems that Barak had even allowed Arafat to set up a government within an Arab section of Jerusalem.  And it seems that there was even the unthinkable concession of Arab sovereignty over the area directly above the Holy Temple, where a big, fat mosque currently sits.  Showing his true colors, showing that his only interest was the complete destruction of the Jewish State, Arafat (Amalek) demanded that Palestinians have the right to settle in Israeli proper, in not just in a Palestinian State.  This was in accordance with the still unchanged PLO covenant that calls for the destruction of the "Zionist Entity".  (Shimon Perez thought this had been changed; It still hasn't: "...the only Jews who will be allowed to remain in Palestine after its liberation will be those who arrived in the country before the Balfour Declaration" of 1917!)  So Arafat did the only thing that a terrorist is capable of doing: he walked away from Israel's best and final offer, opting instead for the only alternative left after negotiations -- terrorism.  Arafat's refusal to settle Arabs in an Arab country started the latest wave of terror.  He opened of all Palestinian jails, unleashing terrorist who we had been assured would never see the light of day, and he then slaughtered and maimed of thousands of Israeli civilians on busses, in markets and at Seders.


Just to complete the picture, at the time the Palestinian Authority was in complete control of Oslo's "Area A", which was mostly "Palestinian land", with no Israel military response available -- either politically or operationally.  So Arafat figured that he could do in 2000 with a second "Intifada" what he did in the early 1990s: drive Israel to further concessions.  He was wrong.  As a matter of fact, now, it can be seen that all Arafat really did was raised the bar so high that only we can now jump over it.  As we sit here today, the little Rat in Ramallah can only stare up at the bar from ten feet under, wondering what he has done. 


And, as our memory paradigm continues to play its role, we keep in mind that once the bar is raised, little is remembered except the current height.  So now let's look at how the bar got the best of Arafat. 


On May 18, 2001, a terrorist in the port city of Netanya killed six Israelis and wounded 70 others.  This was one in a series of attacks in Netanya.  Israel finally started to break down the facts on the ground and change Arafat's reality, by using -- not for the last time -- F-16s in Gaza as an answer.  As one might have expected, Yasser Arafat and Secretary of State Colin Powell complained bitterly that the air strike involved American made jets.  Nonetheless, this is now part a part of Arafat's risen bar and it is an ongoing part his life.  The same thing occurred when Israel started to use Apache helicopters to kill terrorists.


I remember being here on a visit on August 9, 2001,when 20 people were killed 130 injured at Sbarro's Pizzeria.  On August 10, 2001, Israel reacted by kicking the band of PLO thugs out of an East Jerusalem building called "Orient House", which was being used to help coordinate attacks like the one at Sbarro's.  The Palestinian and world outcry for the return of their wretched, would-be provincial capital was deafening... and has since been forgotten.  It is buried under Arafat's bar.


Arafat's attempts at gaining world support by killing Israelis continued in earnest.


Clearly, though, the bar was raised to new heights on March 27, 2002, when a terrorist killed and maimed almost 200 Jews attending a Seder in Netanya.  At this point, Israel put an end to Arafat's "Area A" with an operation called Defensive Shield.  According to one account of the battle: "Among the 4,000+ Palestinians they arrested was Marwan Barghouti, Arafat's second-in-command. The fiercest battle lasted for nine days in Jenin; Jenin's refugee camp had provided more than half of the suicide bombers. At first the world media reported a massacre in Jenin, but when the figures came out, they told another story: most of the residents had taken to the hills before the IDF arrived, and the Israelis lost 23 men, while the Palestinians lost 52, almost none of them civilians. Three weeks later, Operation Defensive Shield was declared over, and the Israelis pulled out, except in Ramallah, where Arafat was kept under siege in his headquarters, and Bethlehem, where armed Palestinians took over the Church of the Nativity and held it hostage, along with its priests... The long-term result was that "Area A" no longer existed; the IDF would now be the sole maintainer of Israel's security."


Not long after that, Arafat can be proud to have instigated Israel's decision to build a security barrier.   We are now blessed with fewer and fewer attacks (and fewer car thefts).  Ultimately the fence has served the other goal of showing Palestinians that we hold the cards and that this is never going to change.


The cherry on the cake, the coup de grace, is the fallout from the "Karine A" affair, when, on January 3, 2002, the Israeli Navy intercepted a freighter heading to the PA loaded with one hundred million dollars worth of long-range Katyusha rockets with a 20-kilometer (12-mile) range, LAW anti-tank missiles, Sagger anti-tank missiles, long range mortar bombs, mines, sniper rifles, ammunition and more than two tons of high explosives.   In response, on one week later Israel completely destroyed the $60 million Gaza International Airport and runways, showing how Palestinian sovereignty can be just as fleeting as the time it takes to blow up a bus.


Not stopping there, on June 2, 2002, as a result of the Karine A affair, Israel finally succeeded in convincing the United States to regard Arafat as persona non grata, calling for his replacement.  This was the end of Arafat.  


Indeed, Israel has not only raised Arafat's bar, Israel has obliterated it.  Gone were the notions of Israel not operating freely in PA-land.  Gone was the notion that Arafat could wander freely in his fiefdom.  But, mostly, this was the beginning of the end to the weekly terrorist attacks.   Sure, it took several more Israel operation (that are thankfully ongoing), but most of all, gone is the final card that Arafat has been playing for 40 years: violence.  Arafat can only to sit and watch as his trump card was yanked from his bloody hand, including during the destruction of his Ramallah compound.


And then, against all odd, of course, President Bush pulled the plug on the lifeless body that was the Palestinian dream of negotiated genocide by stating among other things that, from this point forward, it is American policy that Arabs will not settle in the State of Israel and that the settlement blocks on the West Bank will remain as part of greater Israel.  These policy changes (made over the objection of Colin Powell) were referred to by the Palestinians as "The Second Balfour Declaration".  That's how we know ascertain the importance of this moment: by how loudly the Arabs are screaming.


The most entertaining element of the Arafat's now-untouchable bar is remembering how he and his killers plead through the International press for reversals each time we ratcheted up the ante.  "Give back Orient House" gave way to "remove the military from Area A" gave way to "Let Chairman Arafat out of the compound" gave way to "Tear down the wall" finally gave way last week to "Please, please, please Mr. Bush: turn back the clock and say that we can settle our issue on our own.  Please tell Israel that you were just kidding!"  And with each passing supplication, the previous plea is drowned out forever.  Do you think the Palestinians are interested in Orient House now?  To put it in a slightly more western colloquialistic framework: they've got much bigger fish to fry.


And this is exactly where our talent for memory will be most useful.  Mr. Clinton's desperate proposals are now just a bad, rotting, faded dream, not even slightly on the horizon, never to be humored again.  Israel's Army will stay in former PA areas until Arafat and his followers are rotting in hell.  And, I assure you: the wall is here to stay.


Today in Israel -- as we remember the 21,540 brave Israelis who have fallen in battle for the State -- there is a palatable sense of recovery and stability.  The ultimate sacrifice that they made has gotten us to this point and we are grateful. 


Today, our soldiers no longer helplessly sit on their hands in their barracks waiting.  Today's soldiers are proactively going into every corner of Palestinian danger, either arresting or killing those bent on our destruction.  And you can see the rebirth of Israeli pride on the millions of beautiful flags on cars, trucks, and buildings, put there by optimistic citizens, not by a pessimistic State.

Last week, the day after President Bush extinguished Arafat's dream of extinguishing Israel, there was word that Bush's Secretary of State was already trying to water down his President's commitments.  But don't count on turning back the clock.  Memory is our game.  The day has finally arrived that Palestinians are clamoring to go back in time.  But, as former Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban is often quoted as having said: Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity." 

Our memory will forget Clinton and remember Bush just as conveniently as the Pharisees forgot what was necessary to forget about the Hasmoneans.  The only memories that will be left will be those that are best for the survival of our Jewish state.



Feature Presentation II

Yom HaShoah

Today is Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day.  I spent it with my wife, Sara, and her visiting parents, Eliyahu (Lulu) and Eliane.  We all knew what the day would be about.  The stories my in-laws have told me are not of death camps and ghettos, but they are compelling just the same. 


At the start of the war, Lulu and Eliane who were unmarried teenage neighbors, lived in their hometown of Sousse, Tunisia -- until their homes were bombed out in the first Allied air raid.  Eliane's father, a train engineer, and his pals prevented the enemy from using their train by driving it off into Algeria.  Lulu and his mother watched a German soldier defecate on her husband's World War I French war metals.  She then slapped the Nazi in the face and he never came back.  Eliane watched America carpet-bombing from the beach and saw parts of German ship-wreckage pop up in the ocean.  Lulu, at age 16, escaped from Tunisia to join the British Army.  Along the way, he ran into an Italian soldier -- a German ally -- who recognized Lulu to be a Jew.  The soldier politely suggested that Lulu's vector was lethal and that he might find his "Uncle Sam" by turning left.  Lulu turned.  Toward the end of the war, Lulu had the occasion to guard a German colonel.  It was suggested to Lulu by one of the Allied soldiers that Lulu might take the occasion to put a bullet in the Nazi's head.  Lulu acknowledged the opportunity but suggested that this is not how Jews behave.  In 1960, Lulu and Eliane moved with two daughters from Tunisia to what I lovingly refer to as "that shithole, France."  In Paris, they often experienced anti-Semitism and they know, deep in their hearts, that French Jewry's days are numbered.  This, the cartoon hit them squarely between the eyes.  Today, Holocaust Remembrance Day, we heard the stories of heroism and bravery from Lulu and Eliane to the point of tears.


Yesterday I pointed out to my "European" in-laws the following cartoon strip that was in the Jerusalem Post.  We all knew it was true -- especially Lulu and Eliane.



I also went to Ulpan today.  At Ulpan, Rutti, my teacher, told the story of Hannah Senesh, a 23-year-old Jewish hero, who was born in Hungary, living in Palestine, and who parachuted into Nazi-occupied Hungary and was tortured and killed by the Germans.  Rutti then taught us the poem/song that had made Hannah Senesh even more famous: Eli Eli.


At 9:55 a.m., all of the classes of the Ulpan were asked to gather in the building's lobby for a ceremony that was to commence at 10:00 sharp.  As the hundred students sat down and hushed, with the building door held open, I faintly heard on the Ulpan office radio the familiar "beep, beep, beep," indicating the top of the hour.  Then on the radio I heard a siren, followed in the blink of an eye by a powerful citywide siren that certainly did not required the door to be ajar to be heard.  Suddenly, instinctively, all the people in the lobby stood and listened and thought during the two-minute sounding, heads bowed. 


Looking around, I saw that the room was filled with many immigrants from much more exotic places than America.   But most of all, I realized the power of all of us in the nation -- in the streets, restaurants, schools, buses, office buildings -- all five million of us Israeli Jews having stood motionless, united in remembering all six million European Jews slaughtered by unbridled hatred.


After the siren, representatives of each Ulpan class lit six candles.  I represented Rutti's class and was asked to dedicate our candle in Hebrew to those who perished in the ghettos.  I was followed by, among others, an elderly American who had been one of the first liberators of Bergen-Belsen and who had worked on documents for the Nuremberg Trials.  He was followed by a elderly Italian man who had been a partisan during the war.  He was followed by a 25-year-old Japanese student.  A few songs were sung, including Eli Eli, and prayers were said.  We finished the commemoration with the singing together of Hatikvah, the Israeli National Anthem:

As long as the Jewish spirit is yearning deep in the heart,

With eyes turned toward the East, looking toward Zion,

Then our hope - the two-thousand-year-old hope - will not be lost:

To be a free people in our land,

The land of Zion and Jerusalem.


The last time I wrote about Rutti and Ulpan was on the heels of the timely death of Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.  This writing, too, comes on the heels of the equally judicious elimination of his successor, Abdel Aziz Rantissi, who had regularly referred to Jews as "Sons of monkeys and pigs", and whose only "final solution" to the "Jewish problem" in "Palestine" was the complete destruction of the State of Israel and all her Jewish inhabitants.  (If these phrases don't sound familiar to you, click here.)

Sixty-five years ago we were helpless in the face of real threats like those of Rantissi's; fifty-nine years ago the threats had been fulfilled.  Today -- especially this day -- we should walk with our heads high, proudly, knowing that we will never again let thugs like these have their way with us.  Indeed, today we should stand tall and acknowledge the Israeli Air Force F-16 pilot who sent the same message to those still vowing to exterminate us: we should salute the pilot who thunderously buzzed Rantissi's funeral.

Anyway, thanks for reading between the lines this far.  

I appreciate and look forward to your comments and greetings.


As you know, we are in the middle of a membership drive, so please get me the e-mail addresses of people whom you want to add.  (Let them know ahead of time, so I don't get in trouble with the spam police).


Please stay tuned for Chapter 18: “The Dentist.”


All the best,  



Rich Brownstein

PO Box 8130

91081 Jerusalem


Phone: 011-972-2-6733-491




No Protective Barriers were harmed in this story.

All characters and events are purely fictional.

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