By Larry Gordon
There are more than a few things going on that need to be addressed as 5774 dissolves into history and we look to the coming year. In no particular priority, let it first be known that this week marks the 15th anniversary of the Five Towns Jewish Times. That’s a lot of newspapers, a great deal of hard work, and a lot of words squeezed out onto this computer screen staring back at me.
Believe it or not, one of the obstacles to starting this newspaper at least a year earlier than that was my comfort level with being able to work effectively on a computer. At the time, I wrote an editorial introducing the concept of a newspaper emanating from the sovereign Five Towns and, from time to time, when I had a chance, I would review the idea and debate internally whether or not this was possible. The essay remained dormant inside the mechanical circuitry of my computer’s hard drive until one day I just decided not only that it had to be done, but that I had to do it.
At the time, I was not the only one in transition; the entire Five Towns was experiencing a metamorphosis that has made this Diaspora community what it is today. We were becoming a metropolis, not just another suburban community subservient to the five boroughs of New York City. Frankly, if we are indeed taking stock, I would have to estimate that it was a combination of three things that moved me in the direction of creating this media entity.
The first was the fact that my father, who came from Russia to this country as a teenager, had an inexplicable talent to lay words down on paper, which, in those decades lacking in sophisticated electronic communications, made an extraordinary impression on a flourishing generation of Orthodox Jews.
The second thing was the delivery every morning, without fail, of the New York Times to our Brooklyn home. I recall being so impressed with the consistent output of a daily paper of that size and could not get enough time alone with it. We still have the Times delivered to our home every day, even though I rarely read it. I peruse certain key Times columns on my iPad in the early hours of the morning, usually long before the delivery guy’s muffler-challenged car speeds down our block, those tightly wrapped blue bags tossed from its passenger window. Sometimes, as the unwrapped papers pile up, my wife asks why we are still getting the Times. My response is usually an astute and glib “I don’t know,” which, by the way, is a blanket response to an assortment of queries. Perhaps it is just a “z’chirah,” a tribute to what once was. Or maybe it’s just that online access to the Times is free with daily delivery.
The third thing that moved me in this direction may have been the fact that those old Superman episodes I used to watch when I came home from yeshiva on most days, before doing my homework, revolved around the Daily Planet newspaper that seemed to be published without too much effort. That seemed like a cool thing to do someday.
So let’s look back at the last year—more or less—in review. For some reason, and perhaps things have always been this way, it seems that humanity exists from one piece of bad or shocking news to the next. And our collective thirst for stories along these lines seems unquenchable. Listening at times to radio news in my car or late at night, I sometimes ask myself why I subject myself to this assault on my senses of nonstop depressing news. In one moment someone drowns going for a swim in the Rockaways late at night, then a woman somewhere murders all her children, or a car drives off a cliff, and so on down the line. Knowing what is going on in our world is important, but then when I hear the same stories being retold every 10 or 12 minutes, I cannot help wondering whether one can indeed form an addiction to these bad-news tidbits.
Here in New York as well as in Israel, the fact that we might be our own worst enemies may have been more pronounced than it has been in a long time. Without resorting to the tactics of those above-mentioned media outlets offering titillating news, let’s just say that there was a lot of disappointing news. There is infighting among Jewish leaders, rabbis driven from their pulpits, extraordinary financial and other misdeeds, divorces, purported violence, arrests, and on it goes. This year, more than in quite a while, we did not seem to be setting a great example communally or serving as a bright light unto the nations—a dim bulb was more like it.
Then there was the summertime Gaza war, the deaths of young soldiers and injuries to many other soldiers and citizens. But there was also the miracle of the “Kipat Barzel”—the Iron Dome that quickly became incorporated into the daily vernacular and developed into an expected everyday miracle. That the vicious, cold-blooded killers of Hamas fired almost 4,000 rockets and missiles into all areas of Israel without causing hundreds of deaths and thousands of injuries is a miracle that we may take seemingly in stride only because it so profoundly defies our comprehension.
Another story that keeps on developing and may become even more dramatic in the near future is what I like to consider the ten plagues being visited upon Barack Obama. The story, as you well know, begins with an extreme leftist and socially liberal president determined to change the fabric and fundamental underpinnings and priorities of America. Whether it’s government involvement in industry, domination of health care, or the growing rolls of those on public assistance, Mr. Obama, from the outset, was determined to bring our troops home from what he considered unnecessary wars and focus on the internal matters of the United States.
That was indeed his goal, but with one foreign-policy obsession. And that was and still might be (we will see) coaxing Israel into withdrawing from Judea and Samaria as well as East Jerusalem and creating another Arab state in Israel’s heartland. That this policy, attitude, or approach does not jibe with nation-building at home did not seem irreconcilable to the president.
The president has had a tension-filled and contentious relationship with Israel’s prime minister from the start of his administration. Amongst the low points—and there were many this year—was this past summer’s war, as Israel sought to protect its citizens from the killers in Gaza. The president’s desire that there be “some daylight” between the U.S. and Israel, which was never meant to help America as much as it was to upset Israel, seems to be part of many of his policies.
As missiles and rockets were steadily being fired at Israel, she sought to defend herself by utilizing the Israeli Air Force to a cautious but effective degree. Unfortunately, there were civilian casualties in Gaza, not unlike those inflicted by American forces in Afghanistan, Iraq, or Pakistan in the hunt to defeat al-Qaeda and now ISIS. All that President Obama, Secretary Kerry, and the State Department could do was warn Israel to be more vigilant about not harming so-called innocent civilians in Gaza. When asked what the U.S. wanted Israel to do, Press Secretary Josh Earnest would only say, “Israel should do more.”
Perhaps as a result—not a direct or even discernible result—of his often hard and difficult positions when it comes to Israel, Mr. Obama, if one can trace these things in any logical manner, seems to be dealing with failure and disappointment wherever he turns. There was the shabby Obamacare rollout, the tragic fiasco in Benghazi, the ongoing IRS scandal, the VA hospital difficulties, the retreat from the warning to Syria on chemical weapons, the rough economy, consistent mistruths, constant deception, and the promise that there would be no boots on the ground in Iraq just as those boots are setting down on Iraqi soil. Every time one of these disgraces occurs, it seems that the Obama response is to harden his heart.
As 5775 arrives, the Jewish world has a plethora of issues to deal with. There is the failure of the talks with the Palestinians, the Iranian nuclear threat, anti-Semitism in Europe, Israel–Turkey relations, the BDS movement, anti-Israel activity on American campuses, the plight of Jews in Ukraine, and so on.
At the same time that we are faced with these crises, there are also a number of positive developments to be grateful for. Amongst those is Israel’s cooperative relationship with Egypt, aligned against jihadist Muslims along with Jordan, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait, and other Arab countries. These are odd and once unimaginable twists and turns in the ever-changing lives of Jews and Israel.
Israel’s economy is booming, and despite the derailment of tourism this summer, the industry is once again picking up and expected to thrive over the coming chagim. The past summer was so worrisome, with each day filled with concern about how Israel would navigate its way through extraordinary difficulties.
As we move into an American election season, we really do not know where this will all go. But as I am sitting here, wondering how to conclude this essay, my phone rings. It’s my buddy Steve Litton from Sukkah Builders, who wants to know when would be a good time for him to put up my sukkah for the chag. I ask, “You mean the sukkah that we put up outside our home to remind us that whatever we do and wherever we go we are recipients of Divine protection from above?”
“What?” he asks at first, probably wondering what I’m talking about. “Yeah, that one,” he responds. “Anytime you want to put that sukkah up is fine with me,” I say. We set a date for right after Yom Kippur. v
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