For Jon Stewart, 9/11 ‘commemoration’ more about 9/13

While perusing my Facebook wall this summer, I got word that a bunch of tickets to a taping of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” was available for the taking. Fingers be nimble, I snapped them up.

It wasn’t just any taping but the one for Sept. 12, the post-apocalyptic “day after yesterday.”

The date, the guest and Stewart’s poignant monologue after 9/11 would make this show one to remember, I figured.

Stewart had opened his first show after the attacks with a monologue that offered a heartfelt lamentation while lauding Americans for their resolve in the face of “unendurable pain.” Stewart never ceased to be an advocate for the 9/11 responders, tirelessly promoting a law to compensate those affected by the acrid smoke at Ground Zero that eventually won approval by Congress in 2010.

The guest was to be Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, the highest ranking officer in the U.S. armed forces and a man uniquely qualified to reflect on the two wars that constituted America’s response to the 9/11 attacks.

So certain was I about the stars being aligned for a memorable show that I sweet-talked our editor in chief into giving three colleagues half a day off to witness the historic program—and to wait in line for an hour-and-a-half.

During the Q&A in the studio before the show, I asked Stewart, “Are you going to give another post-9/11—?”

“Won’t you people ever be satisfied?” he interjected, sparking a round of laughter. “It’s a free show!”

For me, looking for a voice to deliver a closing cathartic moment after a weekend of memorializing 9/11, the occasion bore the suspense of an at-bat in the bottom of the ninth.

But Stewart failed to connect.

Story continues after the jump

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Coming Soon – The Daily Show Remembers 9/13/2001
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog The Daily Show on Facebook

All references to 9/11 were relegated to the second segment, the pre-taped filler between the opening segment (about President Obama’s proposed American Jobs Act) and the segment with Mullen.

Stewart introduced the bit by proposing, tongue in cheek, an alternative anniversary, Sept. 13—the day in 2001 when the late evangelical leader Rev. Jerry Falwell suggested that the American Civil Liberties Union, gays and other secular groups bore some responsibility for the terrorist attacks.

The ensuing montage invited audiences to lament 9/13 as the day that any semblance of national fortitude in the face of fear had been a short-lived dream. Since then, the montage noted, everyone from winemakers touting a “9/11 memorial Merlot” to gold coin producers selling precious metals they claim were salvaged from the vaults beneath the World Trade Center have tried to benefit commercially from our collective narrative tragedy. Perhaps Stewart’s reticence to address 9/11 head-on was an effort to steer clear of capitalizing on 9/11 in any way.

While I watched Stewart’s “9/13 montage,” the implication that 10 years’ worth of TV tributes and 9/11 footage somehow was hackneyed didn’t resonate. Can such a significant event have an expiration date?

Later that night, I learned from a JTA news brief that for the first time since its founding, the Rabin Center in Israel for the first time in 16 years would not commemorate Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination with its annual rally in Tel Aviv.

The moment that my high school’s stand-in for the town crier announced the collapse of the World Trade Center, I was jittering my way through a C+ on an American history and literature exam.

Ten years later I’m still a mediocre student of history, but willing to surmise the following: There always comes a time when a cataclysm becomes a distant memory.

But for those who were caught in the moment, that time always seems to arrive too early.

Adam Soclof writes for the JTA Archive Blog. “Like” the JTA Archive on Facebook and follow @JTAarchive on Twitter.

MICHAEL JACKSON: Memories of my Childhood

This column originally appeared in OLAM Magazine, a journal of Jewish spirituality.  Reprinted here with permission of the editor, David Suissa. To read David Suissa’s reflection on meeting Jackson, click here.

When I look back on my childhood, it is not an idyllic landscape of memories. My relationship with my father was strained, and my childhood was an emotionally difficult time for me. I began performing when I was five years old, and my father – a tough man – pushed my brothers and me hard, from the earliest age, to be the best performers we could be.

Although we all worked hard to perform, he never really complimented me. If I did a great show, he would tell me it was a good show. And if I did an OK show, he didn’t say anything at all. He seemed intent, above all else, on making us a commercial success. And at that he was more than adept. My father was a managerial genius, and my brothers and I owe our professional success, in no small measure, to the forceful way he pushed us. He trained me as a showman, and under his guidance I couldn’t miss a step.

Those of you who are familiar with the Jackson Five know that since I began performing at that tender age I haven’t stopped dancing or singing. But while performing and making music undoubtedly remain among my greatest joys, when I was young I wanted more than anything else to be a typical little boy. I wanted to build tree houses, have water balloon fights and play hide-n-seek with my friends. But fate had it otherwise, and all I could do was envy the laughter and playtime that seemed to be going on all around me.

There was no respite from my professional life. But on Sundays I would go “Pioneering”, the term used for the missionary work that Jehovah’s Witnesses do. It was then that I was able to see the magic of other people’s childhood.

Since I was already a celebrity, I had to don a disguise of fat suit, wig, beard and glasses, and we would spend the day in the suburbs of Southern California, going door-to-door or making the rounds of shopping malls, distributing our Watchtower magazine. I loved to set foot in all those regular suburban houses and catch sight of the shag rugs and La-Z-Boy armchairs, kids playing Monopoly and grandmas babysitting and all those wonderful, ordinary and starry scenes of everyday life. Many, I know, would argue that these things are no big deal. But to me they were mesmerizing – because they symbolized, to me, a home life that I seemed to be missing.

My father was not openly affectionate with us, but he would show his love in different ways. I remember once when I was about four years old, we were at a little carnival and he picked me up and put me on a pony. It was a tiny gesture, probably something he forgot five minutes later. But because of that one moment, I have this special place in my heart for him. Because that’s how kids are, the little things mean so much to them and for me, that one moment meant everything. It was a gesture that showed his caring, and his love. I only experienced it that one time, but it made me feel really good, about him and the world.

And I have other memories too, of other gestures, however imperfect, that showed his love for us. When I was a kid, I had a real sweet tooth – we all did. I loved eating glazed doughnuts, and my father knew that. So every few weeks I would come downstairs in the morning and there on the kitchen counter was a bag of glazed doughnuts – no note, no explanation, just the doughnuts. It was like a fairy godmother had visited our kitchen. It was like Santa Claus. Sometimes, I would think about staying up late so I could see him leave them there, but as with Santa Claus, I didn’t want to ruin the magic, for fear that he would never do it again.

I think now that my father had to leave the doughnuts secretly at night so that no one would catch him with his guard down. He was scared of human emotion, he didn’t understand it, or know how to deal with it. But, he did know doughnuts.

And when I allow the floodgates to open up, there are other memories that come rushing back, memories of other tiny gestures, however imperfect, that showed that he did what he could.

With hindsight and maturity, I have come to see that even my father’s harshness was a kind of love. An imperfect love, sure, but love nonetheless. He pushed me because he loved me. He pushed me because he wanted me to have more than he EVER had, and he wanted my life to be better than his EVER was.

It has taken me a long time to realize this, but now I feel the resentments of my childhood are finally being put to rest. My bitterness has been replaced by blessing, and in place of my anger, I have found absolution. And with this knowledge, that my father loved his children, I have found peace.

Finding the sacred in the mundane

My grandparents were not big readers. Their English was slightly accented but fluent — they both left Poland in their early teens and came to America in the 1920s. But like many Orthodox Jews of their generation, when they had “leisure” time (although I’m not sure they knew the concept), it was spent reading Tehillim. They would sit at the table or on the bus or on the wooden bench outside their two-family brick house in Brooklyn chanting psalms from a weatherworn leather book.

Jewish presses hadn’t yet emerged as an industry, and the publishers at that time printed prayer books, Hebrew holy books and explications of the Hebrew holy books. Half a century later, the market was thriving for Jewish books in English: novels, kids’ books, poetry and non-fiction — clean and kosher enough for a religious, somewhat sheltered audience.

Now, following the latest publishing craze of themed Jewish anthologies comes “Bread and Fire: Jewish Women Find God in the Everyday” (Urim Publications, 2008), edited by Rivkah Slonim (with consulting editor Liz Rosenberg). The 400-page compilation features writings from 60 women on topics including modesty, faith, childbirth, prayer, family, community, feminism and, in one way or another, Orthodox Judaism.

“What can it mean to be a Jewish woman today? Does the Jewish tradition offer ways in which a contemporary woman can bring spirituality and meaning to her life? How and where does one begin in a practical way?” writes Slonim, a lecturer and Chabad shaliach, or emissary, of the Lubavitcher movement who works with her husband, Rabbi Aaron Slonim in Binghamton, N.Y. Slonim also edited “Total Immersion: A Mikvah Anthology” (Jason Aaronson, 1996, Urim, 2006).

“We all have moments of existential reflection. We might question why we are here. We might doubt our ability to make a difference, or despair of connecting to our inner self and to God,” she writes.

But this is not a book about existential reflection, doubt or inner despair. It’s not even a book about questions. It’s more of a collection of writings from people who have already found the answers. Some have had questions in their past — a number of the writers are ba’alei teshuva, or newly religious.

In Elizabeth Ehrlich’s essay “Seasons of the Soul,” on gradually becoming kosher over the course of a year, she writes: “Here are the things I have to give up: lobsters in New England, oysters sensually slithering down my throat, the French butcher. I give up calamari on Christmas Eve with a favorite friend, a traditional meal that links her to her Italian grandparents, and thus connects me to my friend’s childhood. I sacrifice bacon at my aunt’s house, crisped and greaseless beside a home-baked corn muffin, forgo Western omelets at diners I once loved to frequent. I give up being able to eat comfortably anywhere, able to make casual assumptions. It is like being an immigrant, maybe; never quite feeling at home.”

There’s the famous modesty queen Wendy Shalit, in a excerpt from her book “A Return To Modesty: Discovering the Lost Virtue,” on her fascination with “modestyniks” — her word for young single women raised secular who decide to become religious, wear long skirts and abstain from touching men until marriage.

There’s also Jan Feldman’s essay, “How a Daughter of the Enlightenment Ends Up in a Sheitl”: “I began to take on mitzvot sequentially in a way that appeared rational, at least to me, though perhaps irrational to others,” she writes.

First Feldman focuses on family purity and mikvah, then starts keeping kosher and finally becomes shomer Shabbat. When she and her family moved to Montreal, she decided to cover her hair, first with a tichel (kerchief) and later with a sheitl (wig).

“Donning a sheitl represented the seriousness of my commitment to Hashem,” she writes. “The sheitl will continue to be a symbol of beauty and controversy, but mostly, it will continue to be a source of blessing.”

Most of the notes of controversy — on covering hair, being modest, keeping kosher — while mentioned, are explained away in each essay. But that’s OK; these are women who have chosen to lead a religious lifestyle and to air their thoughts and feelings on subjects by which they are disturbed (Passover cleaning), pained (circumcision), inspired (chevra kadisha, or burial preparation) and awed (birth).

“Birth transforms the birthing couple and their caretakers. Meeting the dangers with awe, stepping out of our normal realms of control into God’s vast and magnificent dance, can renew all involved,” Tamara Edell-Gottstein writes in “Birthing Lives.”

This is an anthology for anyone interested in religion, in the religious experience, in a community of women who have chosen to live differently from the norm. Varda Branfman, for example, in “The Voice of Tehillim,” writes that during her first year in Jerusalem she was “peeling off the layers of my American cultural identity until I was left with what I had been all along, a Jew.” She discovered a custom of saying the psalm that corresponds to the number of years one has lived. At 29, she recited psalm 30:

“Hashem, my God, I cried out to You and You healed me. Hashem, you have raised up my soul from the lower world, You have preserved me from my descent to the pit…. Hashem my God, forever I will thank You.”

Perhaps this is what my grandparents had been doing all that time — they were reciting Psalms, although I am not sure they’d have been able to express it in Branfman’s words: “Even before we begin to say them, the act of taking the Tehillim down from the shelf returns us to the calm at the center of the storm. By saying these words, we climb into a lifeboat that carries us beyond this moment, beyond peril, beyond our finite lives.”

Stories and essays and pictures illuminate holiday

“There are many lights in light,” according to a line in the Talmud. Hillel’s words refer to the blessing over the Havdalah candle, but can be applied no less to Chanukah.

The most exquisite of new books for the season is not about Chanukah, but about light. An oversize volume, Sam Fink’s “The Book of Exodus” (Welcome Books) includes 40 watercolor paintings of the sky, each hand lettered with a chapter of Exodus, in Hebrew and English.

In an introduction, artist and calligrapher Fink writes of connecting “the infinite wisdom of the words of Exodus with the never-ending magic of the sky.” He “embroiders the delicacy of the words” into the sky, fitting lines of text into the movement of the clouds. Facing pages include the English text in type and his skyscape paintings with their handwritten English and Hebrew text. The book divides Exodus — described by Fink as “a cry for freedom” — by chapters, as opposed to the weekly Torah readings.

The project began as a personal gift to the author’s family and then was expanded. Fink worked on this for four years, inspired by the custom, seldom invoked, that he learned from his rabbi, that a man copy his own Bible before the end of his days.

Chanukah’s many letters, many spellings and many possibilities are explored in “How to Spell Chanukah: 18 Writers Celebrate 8 Nights of Light” edited by Emily Franklin (Algonquin). The essays are humorous, sometimes nostalgic, irreverent, autobiographical sketches. Young writers including Elisa Albert, Ed Schwarzschild, Adam Langer, Amy Klein of The Jewish Journal, Tova Mirvis, Steve Almond, Joanna Smith Rakoff and others describe and dish about family, rituals, love, Christmas envy, too many latkes, chocolate gelt and “Judas Maccabaeus-shaped candies in blue-and-white tinfoil.

Joshua Neuman, publisher of Heeb magazine, writes about his short-lived efforts as a salesman, his family trade. His immigrant grandfather had made his way convincing people they needed things. The then-25-year-old aspiring writer, with a graduate degree in the philosophy of religion who taught Hebrew school, tries selling stuffed animal mufflers called Creature Comfies — his father’s brainstorm of an idea — to major department stores in the weeks leading up to Christmas. He takes out his earrings, prints business cards, puts on an old suit and soon gets escorted out of Lord & Taylor by security.

Eric Orner contributes a comic strip, “Traditions Break,” in which a young woman has nowhere to go over winter break when she gets thrown out of her dorm room, and the Chanukah package her mother sent is locked up in the closed mail room. Her louse of a boyfriend, Tommy, “the kind of Jew who thinks Maccabees are the fancy nuts people bring back from Hawaiian vacations,” has left her behind while he’s skiing with friends. But an expected new friend takes her in and crafts the “ugliest, loveliest menorah I’ve ever seen” out of foil.

In “Eight Nights,” Laura Dave describes seven nights of Chanukah over her life, where she has been in many places and with many people. She spends the eighth night at her parent’s home in the suburbs, where she naps in her childhood bedroom and takes in the scene with gratitude of being surrounded by family. Before her father drives her to the station for the train ride back to her own new home in the city, she loads up on toilet paper, batteries and fresh apples, things her parents insist she won’t find in the city. As they’re pulling out of the driveway, she remembers all the nights that came before and catches a glimpse: “The Chanukah lights in the window — shining, like eight simple stories — in the night sky.”

For all of these essayists, with their different styles, grudges and dilemmas, sweet and bittersweet memories, Chanukah counts for more than eight nights.

In “The Golden Dreydl,” illustrations by Ilene Winn Lederer (Charlesbridge, ages 8 to 11), Ellen Kushner turns to folklore, fantasy and humor. The host and writer of the public radio series “Sound & Spirit,” Kushner has narrated performances of this original story with the Shirim Klezmer Orchestra around the country. The book opens with a young girl named Sara, who’s upset that her family’s house looks so ordinary next to all the other houses on their block that are so beautifully lit up for Christmas. She’s bored with Chanukah.

At her aunt’s Chanukah party, she is presented with a large, shiny dreydl, which turns out to be a magical dreydl princess who takes her on a great adventure through worlds of biblical figures, demons, fools and other strange folks. Toward the end, Sara gets caught up in a dance where the letters of the dreydl along with every letter of the alphabet combine to make word after word, “as if the world itself were being created in letters.” She awakens into golden light.

“The Best Hanukkah Ever” by Barbara Diamond Goldin, illustrated by Avi Katz (Marshall Cavendish) is a funny and touching story about the Knoodle family and their misdirected efforts at buying each other “the perfect gift, one that will be treasured forever.” Children of all ages will enjoy this story, which seems like a meeting between “The Gift of the Magi,” O’Henry’s classic tale of giving and receiving, and “Tales of Chelm.”

A Sephardic custom of the holiday serves as the centerpiece of “Hanukkah Moon” by Deborah Da Costa, illustrated by Gosia Mosz (Kar-Ben, ages 6 to 10). A young girl named Isobel visits her Aunt Luisa, newly arrived from Mexico with her cat named Paco. They celebrate Rosh Chodesh, the first day of the new month, when the new moon appears. In this enchanting story that features a tree of birds, a dreydl is called trompo, guests knock open a fanciful pinata and wish each other Feliz Januca, and they have couscous with their latkes.

Another story that unfolds on Rosh Chodesh, “Mayer Aaron Levi and His Lemon Tree” by Tami Lehman-Wilzig (Gefen) is a sweet story about a family and a tree that is passed down through generations. Not only has the tree lived on among Mayer Aaron Levi’s descendants, but so has the story of his tremendous generosity.

People of the Book Essay Contest

As part of the American Jewish University’s Celebration of Jewish Books Festival, students in first through 12th grade submitted essays answering the question: “Jews are the people of the book. What does that mean to you today?” The editorial staff of The Jewish Journal selected four winners — one from each age group — to receive a $250 Borders gift card, as well as a $1,000 donation to their school. We received hundreds of submissions in the form of stories, poems and artwork. It was a difficult decision, and the four winning essays below represent just a small sampling of the great work submitted.

Grades 1-2

Jews Are The People of the Book

by Flora Handler, Second Grade, Temple Israel of Hollywood

I think “Jews Are the People of the Book” means that we are not violent or mean. We are peaceful and loving. God had a book many years ago called the Torah. God was visiting all sorts of religions, asking them if they wanted the book. Every time God asked if they wanted the Torah, the religion asked what was in it and God said, “not to kill.” The religion said, “We kill all the time.” So God asked the next religion. They asked him, “What’s in the Torah?” “No Wars” said God. “Oh, we have wars all the time.” God went to the Jews next and asked them if they wanted it. They did not ask what was in it, but they answered “yes!” We are now under God and will always have a piece of God in our hearts!

Grades 3-5

People of the Book

by Ryan Croutch, Third Grade, Stephen S. Wise Temple Elementary School

When I go to the synagogue, and they take out the Torah, it makes me feel like I was alive thousands of years ago. It feels like I’m in the desert wandering for 40 years, singing the “Mi Ca Mocha” with Moses. I am grateful for Moses. I think he was the best leader the Jewish people ever had. He freed the slaves from Egypt, and gave the Jewish people the Ten Commandments, The Book. I am one of the “People of the Book,” because it came from my ancestors, and I know our stories, I do mitzvot, and I follow the Torah’s laws.

The Torah has the Five Books of Moses. The words of Torah are powerful. I would give up anything, for example, a baseball game, to chant the words of the Torah. I would be grateful if I had the chance to go up on the bimah, and read from the Torah. When I read the Book, I feel special. If it wasn’t for Moses, and for my ancestors we wouldn’t have the Torah, the Book of the Jewish people, today. Moses, like the many Jewish Leaders who followed, was a risk-taker. I hope to be one too, one day. I would love to be God’s messenger. I am related to all of the Jewish leaders and all of the people of the Torah. I am proud to be a Jew and a person of the Book.

Grades 6-8

Jews Are Known as “The People of the Book”

by Maya Ben-Shushan, Sixth Grade, Hillel Academy

Jews have always been known as the People of the Book. This is right in many ways — the Torah was given to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai, and that Torah has been passed down from generation to generation. The commandment to study the Torah has always been a foundation of the Jewish people, and has been upheld for thousands of years. Continued study has taught us that we can never learn it all, and the fact that we are still trying to understand the Torah can explain the love of the written word, which every Jew feels.

The Book is not only the Torah, however, but every source of wisdom you can imagine. Over the generations, Jews have been prevented from working at many different trades and professions, and were forced to develop certain skills in order to survive in a world, which did not like them. These skills had to be skills of the brain and the mind, because the Jews could not be farmers or blacksmiths and so on. As the Jews had always been studying the Torah and the Scriptures in depth, they were well-equipped to develop professions, which required mental strength. They became doctors, scientist, musicians, authors and philosophers. It is a fact that many of the major prizewinners over the years — and even until this very day — are people who regularly study Gemarah and Torah, and these studies help to sharpen their brain all the time.

It is interesting to be in Israel and to see the amount of bookstores that are always full of people. They even have book fairs and most people buy many books regularly during the year. In America, most Jewish schools have their own book fair, and this also helps to keep the love of books awake and living in all Jewish kids.

“People of the Book” — not only is it about The Book, but it is about the love of learning, the search for knowledge, and the quest for creating a better world for future generations. In other words, tikkun olam. This will only come about through using wisdom, our soul, our spirit, and our brain, and these are certainly helped by permanent study.

Grades 9-12

L’dor va Dor: From Generation to Generation
by Tess Neumann,
12th Grade, New Community Jewish High School

Riga, Lithuania

Smarty Pants

Albert Einstein was a very smart man — probably one of smartest people of all time. In 1905, when he was 26, he had a “miracle year,” in which he proved the existence and sizes of molecules, explained light as both particles and waves and created the Special Theory of Relativity. You can learn more about his life at the Skirball Cultural Center, which coincides with the 100th anniversary of that miracle year.

Where Would You Go?

Einstein proved that it is possible to travel though time. Where you would go in time and space if you could climb into a time machine? Write an essay, story or poem, telling us about your adventure. Send entries by Nov. 4 to

Remember to include your full name, age, address, school and grade.

We will publish your essay in the Kids’ Pages and send you a ticket to the family-friendly movie destination of your choice.

For the Kids

Hey Arnold !

There are a lot of new things in our lives. First, we started a New Year. Then, we got a new governor. And now, we start reading the Torah over again (this week’s portion: Bereshit). What do you think of the new governor? If you were governor of California, what would you do for this state?

Answer these questions for the win!

Essay Contest

If I Were Governor of California… Write an essay or poem that
begins with the above words. Make sure the essay has some Jewish content. Send
it in to,
including your name, age and address. Deadline: Nov. 23, 2003. Win a $10 gift

Symbol of All Hopes

About 20 years ago the Israeli author A.B. Yehoshua wrote an essay called "Exile as a Neurotic Solution," in which he endeavored to explain why so many Diaspora Jews, for many centuries and in our own day, have avoided coming to live in the Land of Israel.

In 537 B.C.E., wrote Yehoshua, when the Persian ruler Cyrus decreed that Jews who had been exiled to Babylon earlier in the century could return to Zion, many, primarily members of the "upper strata," didn’t. By the time the Second Temple was destroyed in 70 C.E., he observed, one-third of the Jewish people lived outside of the Holy Land. For nearly two millennia thereafter, until the dawn of Zionism, "the Jewish people did not make one serious or significant effort to return to Eretz Yisrael and restore its lost independence. This people, with the resourcefulness, flexibility and cunning to reach almost every point on the face of the earth — from the Atlas Mountains to the Indian Desert, from Tierra del Fuego to the Siberian steppes — did not make one real effort to come back and settle in Eretz Yisrael. Further, the Jews settled in masses in every country around the Mediterranean basin except Eretz Yisrael. In their wanderings the Jews circled around and about the Land, drawn to it, yet fearing it."

Only when the fear of anti-Semitism in the Diaspora exceeded the fear of the Land, Yehoshua continued, did Zionism prevail, but of course only among a minority of Jews. Since the establishment of the State, the overwhelming majority of Jews who have come here to live have been refugees from persecution. The reason, Yehoshua mused, must lie with "the same common factors that deterred Jews from coming for hundreds of years." What did they fear? Was it the inability to make a living in Israel? This cannot be the case, winked Yehoshua, for if it were true it would lend credence to the contention of anti-Semites (he cited Karl Marx) that Jews care only about money. Or can it be, Yehoshua went on, "fear of the security situation"? "This theory too," he wrote, "explains the excuse rather than the essence. One only has to see how Jews flock to Israel when it is threatened, and the way that Jewish students fight to get on planes to take them straight to war, to realize that this theory is not true either." (As much as I esteem Yehoshua, I do not believe he has the gift of prophecy; and yet he might as well have been writing about the solidarity missions and legions of Birthright students who have defied the official State Department travel advisories and come to Israel at the height of the current intifada.)

What, then, is the core reason for the perpetuation of exile? After all, Jews endlessly dream of and pray for the return to Zion, but they stay in galut (exile). Why has this, over the ages, been so? Yehoshua, who has long been fond of psychological interpretation, likened the situation to the neurotic behavior of a bachelor who constantly proclaims his desire to marry and have children but forever finds ways to avoid doing so. There is something in marriage that he fears. What is the deep-seated anxiety among the Jews that prevents them from returning to the Land?

The answer, for Yehoshua, lies in the inherent conflict between the religious and national components of Judaism. In the Diaspora, the power of Jewish religious authorities was limited to the community; but a sovereign Israel, from the standpoint of Jewish Orthodoxy, must necessarily be a theocracy. Thus the Lubavitcher Rebbe (who was indisputably alive when Yehoshua wrote about him) stayed away from Israel because the restoration of Jewish sovereignty would compel him to coerce all Jews here to observe halacha. "In the golah one can preach, cajole, educate or persuade, but in a totally Jewish ambiance there comes a moment of truth, and at that moment the choice must be either religious or secular. Life in the golah postpones that moment of truth. It is as if the people senses how dangerous is its conflict with itself and therefore tries to put off the conditions of full sovereign life which can exist in Eretz Yisrael." Staying in exile, in short, avoids confronting the harsh implications of sovereignty, the necessity to fully come to terms with the clash between political priorities and religious ones.

Yehoshua’s argument is highly debatable, of course, which is surely what the author intended. Yet his emphasis upon the intrinsic conflict between the spiritual and national aspects of Judaism is at least as germane today as it was a generation ago. I flashed back to this essay while standing amid approximately a quarter million of my fellow Jews in front of the Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem. The occasion, of course, was the enormously impressive rally in support of an undivided Jerusalem, initiated by Israeli politicians Ehud Olmert and Natan Sharansky, funded by American Jews, and billed as a strictly nonpolitical event, the imminent elections notwithstanding.

Speaker after speaker invoked the Psalms, the biblical prophets, the traditional prayer book: "If I forget thee, O Jerusalem…" (A friend of mine told me some years ago that the reason he prefers Tel Aviv is that he can forget about it and his tongue will not cleave to the roof of his mouth.) Prayers for rebuilding Jerusalem are uttered multiple times daily, in the "Amidah" and in the "Birkat Hamazon." Jerusalem is invoked at every Jewish wedding in the Seven Blessings and the breaking of the glass. At the rally, I disagreed with not one word about the sanctity, the primacy, the centrality of Jerusalem. After all, I was raised a religious Zionist and remain one to this day, though I no longer belong to the camp that overwhelmingly, well-nigh homogeneously, dominated the rally. (I saw one bare-headed man, though I imagine there were a few more. I wore a baseball cap with the words "National Elk Refuge, Jackson Hole, Wyoming.") I recalled a beautiful essay by Abraham Joshua Heschel called "Israel as Memory" (1973), in which he wrote:

"After the destruction of Jerusalem, the city did not simply become a vague memory of the distant past; it continued to live as an inspiration in the hearts and minds of the people. Jerusalem became a central hope, the symbol of all hopes. It became the recurrent theme of our liturgy. Thus even when the minds were not aware of it, the words reminded us, the words cried for restoration of Zion and intensified the link, the attachment."

I don’t know why, after Zion was restored, Heschel didn’t make aliyah. Nor do I know why Rabbi Soloveitchik didn’t, or for that matter Maimonides, who settled next door in Egypt. The decision is personal and many factors are involved, and (unlike Yehoshua) I do not fault anyone, illustrious or anonymous, for his or her choice. But I do know that it is less complicated, as a practical matter, for Jews to preserve the pristine status of Jerusalem as inspiration, hope, symbol and theme when they don’t live here. With the establishment of the State, the celestial, ideal, virtual, prayed-for Jerusalem — Yerushalayim shel maalah — slammed hard into the workaday, messy, complex Yerushalayim shel matah, the earthly Jerusalem. Upstairs and downstairs, religious and secular were abruptly conjoined, and their fusion is problematic and highly combustible.

Religion is pure, and the spiritual Jerusalem is indeed the eternal and indivisible bedrock of Jewish national and religious dreaming. Politics is impure, and predicated on mundane reality and compromise. Jerusalem will not cease to be the symbol of our highest Jewish aspirations if ever we share sovereignty here with the Palestinians, no more than its religious power was diminished when, as Heschel wrote at the conclusion of his essay, "numerous conquerors invaded the land: Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Kurds, Mongols, Mamelukes, Tartars and Turks." Heschel continued: "But what did these people make of the land? No one built the state or shaped a nation. The land did not respond."

I am a great admirer of the late Rabbi Heschel, who was a brilliant theologian and scholar and a strong advocate of civil rights — but this last contention, in militant hands, is what can get us in trouble. Whether or not we choose to agree, millions of Palestinians with whom we live in intimate proximity believe they have shaped a nation in this very same land and city. How the new Israeli prime minister chooses to deal with this incontrovertible reality is the central question facing the Jewish people. To invoke, as a political principle, our divine right to this land is a great temptation. But we have come home to a stormy neighborhood, and to veer away from the struggle for peace, to crush the Palestinian uprising with an iron fist, adamantly refuse to compromise on territory, risk a regional conflict — this is a recipe for disaster.

A Magical Season

A typical seventh-grade essay might be about a soccer game, a trip to the mall or a favorite pet. But Mathew Rudes isn’t a typical 12-year-old, and the essay he wrote for his first-period English class at Porter Middle School in Granada Hills earlier this year wasn’t typical either. It was about pain, a subject Mathew knows about all too well.

Mathew has a very rare form of Marfan Syndrome, a disease that affects the body’s connective tissue — and consequently practically every organ in Mathew’s body — except his extraordinary mind. It is usually passed down from parents, but in Mathew’s case, it was a spontaneous genetic mutation. When he was born, doctors told his mother, Carol, that Mathew probably wouldn’t live. But he has lived longer than most of those who have Marfan Syndrome and has become part of a UCLA study. But his life as been anything but easy. Already he has had two heart operations. In any given week he could go into the doctor three or four times. He lives under a terrible cloud — the possibility that his aorta could swell and burst at any time. Carol, his mom, is on call 24 hours a day. And on Rosh Hashanah this year, Mathew ended up in Children’s Hospital for 10 days.

When Mathew was well enough to do some school work, he wrote the essay about his experience for his teacher, Mrs. Illig. She said it was the best personal essay she’d ever read. But this wasn’t the only writing Mathew had done. When the Starlight Children’s Foundation granted him his wish for a laptop computer, he whipped out a story called “Monstress Mayhem,” about a boy with special powers who confronts an evil queen and an army of dragons in a land called GinGin. Mathew finished the 155-page story before he had finished the sixth grade. The tale was even picked up by a production company after Mathew was featured in an L.A. Times article.

Lately Mathew hasn’t been able to write much because he has been too ill. “That’s one of the things that’s very depressing to him,” his mother says. “Writing was his way of handling his energies.” But last summer, Phyllis Folb, director of marketing and communications at Starlight (and former head of PR at the Jewish Federation) asked Mathew to make a Chanukah card for the organization, which grants wishes to seriously ill children. Mathew drew the card on his computer, hand-colored it and wrote this inscription inside: “May a piece of the magic stay with you every day of the year.” He quizzed Dr. Michael Joseph, his UCLA pain management doctor, on the card’s meaning. Joseph, like many of Mathew’s physicians is Jewish and understood immediately. The star of David surrounded by shards of color spreading in all directions represented the special quality of Chanukah. The beautiful multihued stained glass was the holiday joy that people could carry away with them. The Magen David alone remained unbroken.

The star may also be a symbol of Mathew, a brave 12-year-old who won’t let pain defeat him. To purchase Mathew’s card or other Starlight holiday cards, call (877) 316-STAR (7827).

Ruth Stroud, Staff Writer