B Y L A R R Y G O R D O N
He was a stroke victim confined to a wheelchair who wanted to go on enjoying life. But tragedy and fate ran interference. Leon Klinghoffer was a Jewish New Yorker on a cruise of the Greek Isles in 1985 when Palestinian
terrorists hijacked the ship. The cold-blooded terrorists mercilessly shot Mr. Klinghoffer in the head and threw him and his wheelchair overboard. That is how they expressed their desire for so-called freedom and independence in those days. Not much has changed.
Murder and mayhem are still the calling cards of international terrorists. Aside from hijacking airplanes and cruise ships, they really want the attention of the world media—which are always generous and even overzealous in their coverage of wild, subhuman events like these. If only the media could resist covering such violent events, maybe their perpetrators would refrain from committing them. But no such luck.
The Metropolitan Opera has decided to steamroll over history and revise the story of how terrorists function. The opera presents a romanticized version of terrorism, placing it in a distorted context that attempts to evoke a misplaced sympathy. It blurs the reality of the motivating and mitigating factors that lead to terror. The production seeks to present an idea that there is somehow a moral equivalency between these acts of brutal murder and the democratic and law-abiding existence of the State of Israel.
One does not have to reach back 30 years to analyze this dynamic. All we need do is think back a few weeks ago to this last summer and the war instigated by the killer terrorists in Gaza. The objective this summer was very much the same as it has been in the past, as well as three decades ago when Leon Klinghoffer was killed.
As former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani said at the Monday-night protest, as a connoisseur and fan of operatic productions, “This one is factually inaccurate and extraordinarily damaging. It does great damage to the cause of peace.”
The gimmick of the protest by a few hundred Jewish activists on Monday was to present a parade of people in wheelchairs to draw media attention to Jewish objections to creating additional empathy in the global psyche for acts of terror. Those are the same kinds of acts and terrorists that Israel dealt with this past summer and that the U.S. and the coalition is currently dealing with in organizing U.S. Air Force bombing runs of territory held by ISIS terrorists in Syria and Iraq. It’s the same old terrorists on a new frontier.
As one protester told a reporter, can you imagine an opera that seeks to legitimize the motivations of the 9/11 hijackers or explain what inspired the shoe bomber, the underwear bomber, the Times Square bomber, or the two young men who killed a half-dozen people and injured 200 others in the Boston Marathon bombings almost two years ago? It is unlikely that you will ever see anything like that, but it seems that when it comes to Israel, everything goes.
The Klinghoffer family has announced its revulsion at the production more than a few times, but somehow it all goes forward in the name of artistic expression. On one interesting level, almost 30 years later, the name of Mr. Klinghoffer lives on, even though the producers are seeking to exploit an otherwise good, simple man, as his family described him. May his memory be a blessing for them.
• • •
What interested the weekly New York Times Magazine about the subject of meshulachim seeking out donations in Lakewood is a bit out of our grasp. I suppose you can say that the Times has programmed us to always expect that it will highlight the weaker aspects of Jewish community life, writing about things often from a critical, if not completely denigrating, perspective.
The Times rarely misses an opportunity to punch holes in our lifestyle and just about anything coming out of Israel. So when I saw the story toward the back of this past Sunday’s Magazine section about people schnorring for money in the vibrant Jewish community of Lakewood, N.J, I was intrigued. I thought it was going to be one of those pieces about the backward ways of one of the world’s premier Torah communities. But it was not.
There were points in the 2,800-word story that I thought were headed in that direction, and I have to submit that I thought the piece was not headlined accurately. I understand that there are a lot of people in need of funds who descend on Lakewood, but what is new about that? The same thing happens here in the Five Towns, Brooklyn, Monsey, L.A., Miami, and so on down the line. In that respect, Lakewood is not unique.
I was wondering what it was that so intrigued the writer, Mark Oppenheimer, and his editors to settle on this as a subject to cover in the New York Times. Who other than Jews can relate to the special atmosphere of a city like Lakewood and the manner in which most of the town revolves around the yeshiva—Beis Medrash Govoha—and its leadership personalities?
I had an e‑mail exchange with Mr. Oppenheimer in which I asked him to shed some light on the thought process or the motivations behind this particular subject. He wrote that he was visiting friends in Lakewood a while ago and while he was there someone knocked on the door. When his host returned from speaking to whoever it was, his friend explained to him that it was one of the many Orthodox Jews from Israel who make their way to the community, knock on doors, and ask for money.
As I read, I kept thinking that I was soon going to see the words “lazy” or “parasites.” I was pleasantly surprised when the piece did not veer in that direction. While it seems somewhat unusual for large numbers of people to ring doorbells and ask for money, for those of us raised in communities like that, it is not unusual at all.
Lakewood actually came off sounding like a friendly, generous, and chesed-oriented place. Oppenheimer communicated well the idea that while doorbells ringing every few minutes on a Sunday can be annoying, the interruptions and the requests for funds from strangers are actually welcome by most. The subheadline referred to the situation as people coming to Lakewood to “look for handouts,” but the article did not project a denigrating image after all was said, written, and done.
I don’t know what the true motivation was here, but in the end, perhaps in a Bil’am-like way, the story turned into one about helping others and giving tzedakah with a smile.
• • •
Now that the lulavim and hoshanos have been dispensed with and the once much-anticipated yamim tovim are behind us, it’s time to sum up. The planes are back from Israel, where the weather and the general atmosphere were spectacular—as were the costs of travel and vacation. One family I know told me that in order to cut costs, all ten of them flew from JFK to Moscow, where they had a three-hour layover, and then on to Tel Aviv. They returned via the same route, and all is well.
Another acquaintance spent most of the six yom tov days with a family member who is ill in Manhattan at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. It is a trying time for them as they navigate their way through these difficulties. But Sukkos went on. They stayed in a nearby bikur cholim apartment and took most meals in the sukkah of the local Chabad rabbi. They said there were a good number of people from various communities in similar situations. It’s sad and very tough, and we wish those who are in need a speedy and full recovery.
Here on the home front, I cannot recall a previous time when my sukkah went up just two or three days prior to the chag and then came down two days after yom tov ended. As we do not assemble our own huts but rather outsource the task, we are usually forced to wait up to a full week until the structure is disassembled and put away.
But not this time. On this go-round, the Litton boys, who have created a formidable business of selling and erecting sukkahs, were quick and efficient. Now that the experience is behind us, I’m going to reflect and say that even though a series of three 3-day yamim tovim was reminiscent of the times that our Apollo astronauts of yesteryear were out of communication with NASA for extended periods as they traveled the so-called dark side of the moon, now that it is behind us, we can declare that we are no worse for the wear.
It was a great disciplinary exercise that easily demonstrated our ability to disconnect while connecting at a more sublime level. For a change, we danced with the Torah scrolls for a day instead of poring over her words. The Torahs remained tied closed and in their coverings, for the most part, as we celebrated our identity and relationship with the words of G‑d on a higher and more joyful plane, a level that defies description or perhaps even understanding.
At the end, we looked ahead. We packed away our paraphernalia and readjusted ourselves to return to the mundane routine of a not-so-routine or mundane life. We wished each other well and, most importantly, “ah gezuntin vinter,” a good and healthy winter. v
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