From the beginning, there were clear indications of the kind of year that lay ahead.
As the Days of Awe approached last September, President Clinton reached for a High Holidays prayer book and turned to the Yom Kippur liturgy in his search for the right words of contrition following his dalliance with a loose-lipped Jewish paramour.
Members of Congress then figured Rosh Hashanah was as good a day as any for a nationwide viewing of Clinton’s videotaped grand jury testimony, and with that auspicious beginning, so began the carnival of insanity that was the Jewish year 5759.
In recognition of some of the year’s bizarre antics from around the Jewish world, here’s a gaggle of awards and observations:
Least convincing martyr: Monica Lewinsky, who, in her authorized biography, compared herself to Holocaust diarist Anne Frank and Jewish World War II heroine Hannah Senesh. The presidential seductress said she identified with the plight of Frank because independent counsel Kenneth Starr’s “bullying” tactics had her “living in constant fear.” And during her darkest hours, Lewinsky said she was sustained by thoughts of Senesh, who parachuted behind enemy lines to rescue Allied prisoners from the Nazis and organize Jewish resistance.
Most menacing Jewish lobbyist: Bill Goldberg. The 6-foot-4, 285-pound World Championship Wrestling star made his debut on Capitol Hill in February as a lobbyist for the Humane Society. Jesse Ventura may have already blazed the trail from wrestling to politics, but with all due respect to Minnesota’s governor, he couldn’t carry Goldberg’s tefillin strap.
Best theatrics on the campaign trail: In a private meeting with Jewish supporters last October, then-Sen. Alfonse D’Amato, R-N.Y., called his opponent, then-Rep. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., a “putzhead.” He also referred to the heavyset Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., as “Congressman Waddler” and proceeded to waddle around the stage like a duck. A month later, D’Amato found himself with plenty of time to practice his lame-duck routine.
That’s why they pay him the big bucks: James Carville, one of three American political consultants who advised Ehud Barak in his successful campaign for Israel’s prime minister, said Israel’s campaign was not that different from America’s electoral process. “Who won,” he quipped, “came down to who got that all-important Jewish vote.”
An honorary doctorate in psychiatry for displaying uncanny insight into the adolescent mind: Following the Colorado school shooting, Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga., said at a House hearing on gun control that if high schools were allowed to post the Ten Commandments, “we would not have the tragedies that bring us here today.” It wouldn’t have anything to do with those military-style assault weapons that Barr has so staunchly fought against banning.
Most outstanding commentary on the House’s passage of legislation permitting public displays of the Ten Commandments: “Congress probably should spend more time obeying the Ten Commandments and less time trying to exploit them for crass political purposes,” said Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State.
Runner-up in the previous category: After President Clinton said he would talk to lawmakers about “another option” to the Ten Commandments measure but declined to provide specifics, several pundits speculated that he was probably thinking of something more along the lines of nine commandments.
They should have been given honorary seats in Israel’s Knesset: A comedic lineup of single-issue parties campaigned unsuccessfully during Israel’s election. Among them: the Casino Party, which sought to legalize gambling; the Green Leaf Party, which sought to legalize marijuana; the Right of the Man in the Family Party, dedicated, apparently, to boosting the right of the man in the family; and the Natural Law Party, predicated on the idea that transcendental meditation is the answer to the Middle East’s woes.
Most thinly veiled anti-Semitic utterance: Jerry Falwell told a conference on evangelism that he believes the Antichrist is probably “alive and here today,” and when he appears, “of course, he’ll be Jewish.” What the founder of the now-defunct Moral Majority didn’t say was that he’ll also be a gay Teletubby named Tinky Winky, and he’ll reveal himself onstage amid a throng of demons at Lilith Fair.
Best career move: Former U.S. Rep. Jon Fox, a Jewish Republican, took up substitute teaching in Philadelphia after losing his re-election bid, thus trading in one body of unruly, obstinate juveniles for another.
Most unsavory bit of imagery conjured by a foreign dignitary: Syrian Defense Minister Mustafa Tlas, accusing Yasser Arafat of selling out his people, said the Palestinian leader has made one concession after another to Israel — “like a stripper.” Tlas further mused: “But a stripper becomes more beautiful with every layer she removes, while Arafat becomes uglier.” You can leave your kaffiyeh on, Yasser.
Clearest indication that Y2K is approaching: All sorts of interesting people began emerging from the woodwork and descending on the Holy Land, including members of a Denver-based apocalyptic cult who were arrested for planning millennial mayhem to try to bring about the second coming of Jesus. Anticipating hundreds of thousands of Christian pilgrims, Israel’s Tourism Ministry said it wants to welcome everyone to “the place where it all began” and has touted such events as a motorcycle rally from Rome to Jerusalem; a formation of a human ring around the Dead Sea on New Year’s Eve; and a “Million Tourist March” to promote world peace. There are no plans yet for a jai alai tournament against the Western Wall, but stay tuned.