Shocktoberfest


The plan was innocuous enough: Meet up with some Jewish Journal colleagues for Oktoberfest at The Phoenix Club, a German cultural center in Anaheim that features a banquet hall, a restaurant and bar, as well as country club-like grounds. We were looking for something truly authentic — a slice of Munich in the Southland.

I guess we should have been careful what we wished for.

It was a Saturday evening and there were 10 of us sitting together on the edge of the biergarten, which held about 2,000 people. An opulent, modern white tent covered a patio area lined with picnic tables, which were getting snatched up quickly around us. With the heat on to find a place to sit, an older couple and their adult child with Down’s syndrome joined us at our table.

Oktoberfest is a two-week celebration held in Munich, Germany, during late September and early October. Beer, food and music are the cornerstones of what is the world’s largest festival, drawing 6 million tourists to the city annually. Cities around the world hold their own Oktoberfests, typically modeled after the Munich event.

We’d hoped for more colleagues from The Journal, but the distance put off some, and others seemed disinclined because Jews and plans based on Munich and beer historically don’t mix well.

At the Phoenix Club in Anaheim, men were walking around in lederhosen and liking it. (However, the only dirndln — full-skirted dresses with gathered waists and closefitting bodices — were ultrashort and being sported by women carrying trays of Jagger shots.) Young families with children mixed with a predominantly senior crowd. The food was mostly authentic — weisswurst, bratwurst, porkshanks — so most of The Journal’s crowd stuck with the potato pancakes and Bavarian pretzels.

After a second round of the chicken dance, the bandleader from Munich held up his stein to lead a beer chant. We shot back with our own Yiddishly tweaked version: “zicke zacke, zicke zacke, oy oy oy.”

And then it happened. We saw a dozen skinheads gathering at the edge of the biergarten, looking for a table.

One of them wore a T-shirt that read: “My boss is an Austrian painter.” I doubted it was a reference to Gustav Klimt.

Orange County is known for having a few enclaves of neo-Nazis, and, I suppose, we shouldn’t have been surprised that they, too, would seek out an Oktoberfest.

And there we were: a table full of Jews; a Catholic of mixed German, Irish and Mexican heritage, and someone with a visible handicap.

As the skinheads approached our table, they stopped to eye its lack of Aryan homogeneity and then moved on. While the skinheads didn’t hang around to intimidate us, their actively growing numbers on the sidelines left some of us with the distinct feeling that safety could become an issue. We joked that we should have worn our Jewish Journal T-shirts, but we were just looking to cover up our discomfort.

We cleared our table and left shortly thereafter. One couple from our group stayed behind, but even the couple with the Down’s syndrome child decided it was time to leave, even though it was only 9 p.m., which is usually when Oktoberfest is just starting to come to life.

Despite the fact that there was a security presence, I couldn’t shake the feeling that no one would come to help us if were attacked. There was that moment of doubt, that feeling of being alone in a sea of thousands.

Joyce Greenspan, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) in Orange County, said that neo-Nazis showing up at Oktoberfests has been a problem for some time, but that organizers can take steps to limit their entrance if they wanted to.

“It’s not a public event. They can certainly control who can come into their event,” she said.

Phoenix Club Vice President Hans Holste told me later that the board and the membership don’t want skinheads anywhere near their 45-year-old facility.

“If we would disallow them to come in, there may be more problems than we wish for,” he said.

Instead, the Phoenix’s approach has been to kick them out only of they’re being disruptive. A T-shirt extolling Adolph Hitler, apparently, does not cross that subjective line.

The Phoenix Club wants to keep a safe, family-friendly environment. But how can a family possibly feel safe with neo-Nazis milling about almost every weekend of the festival?

Following The Journal’s inquiry, Holste said The Phoenix Club was bringing off-duty police officers onto their security team during Sunday nights and would post rules of conduct at entrances.

Still, ignoring hate groups and hoping they’ll behave or go away may send the wrong message. For one thing, it suggests that tolerance applies foremost to the intolerant, such as neo-Nazis, at the expense of the victims of their hate speech or worse.

Thus far the club has addressed the problems in-house. They have not consulted with organizations such as the ADL or the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which are adept in dealing with such situations. That’s a shame because the accumulated knowledge and experience of Jewish organizations has much to offer a local German group that wants to show that it, too, believes in “never again.”

 

Deep Throat: Not a Jew


President Nixon was wrong on Deep Throat’s Jewishness.

A former FBI agent who outed himself as the “Deep Throat” of the Watergate scandal is not Jewish, though Nixon and his aides believed he was. Mark Felt, 91, revealed himself to Vanity Fair this week as the best-known anonymous source of the last century. Nixon, who had clashed with Felt over the FBI’s refusal to use questionable means to track down leaks, came to suspect Felt — J. Edgar Hoover’s right-hand man — of leaking information.

In a 1972 conversation recorded on the Nixon tapes, top aide H.R. Haldeman tells the president that Felt is Jewish. Nixon expresses shock that a Jew could have reached such a senior post, and speculates that Felt might be leaking information because he is Jewish. In fact, Felt, born in Idaho, is of Irish ancestry and claims no religious affiliation.

 

9/11/02


Now a year has passed. We have bombed. We have infiltrated. We have analyzed and rallied and written.

And through it all we have avoided one sad truth: the terrorists have already won. They haven’t won the war, but they have won a crucial battle.

My first memory of terror goes back to the Palestinian terrorist takeover of a school in the northern Israeli town of Ma’alot in 1974. It was incomprehensible to me that a man, a fellow human being, could kill children. But that’s what happened in Ma’alot, where the terrorist takeover left more than 20 schoolchildren dead.

The world was horrified. Reaction followed a script that by now is well-rehearsed: Shock, outrage, condemnation and a knee-jerk search for explanations.

What would drive people to do such things, Americans reflexively asked. That question is one of terrorism’s goals: an attack’s success can be measured partly, of course, by how much it spreads terror, but more importantly, by how much it spreads curiosity. Why are these people so angry? Why do they hate us? Who are these guys?

Ma’alot and the 1972 massacre of Israeli Olympic athletes in Munich — 30 years ago this week — planted the Palestinian cause in the mind of the Western world. Violence perpetrated upon innocents jolted the West into awareness. Evil succeeded.

And if awareness is a goal of terrorism, then Osama bin Laden, too, has already won.

"I’m mad at bin Laden," a Santa Monica physician told me recently. "I didn’t want to know about the rest of the world’s problems, but he forced me to. I liked my ignorance."

The attacks shattered our bliss and shoved the reality of the world’s 1 billion Muslims in our face. Thanks to a newly awakened media, America now has a bachelor’s in Islam and a master’s in Muslim grievance.

All this would be fair and maybe even good were the education equal. The fact is, thanks to bin Laden, we now know more about them than they know about us. The Saudis might have blown enough oil money to buy every Palestinian refugee a Harvard education; Muslims might control nine sovereign states and armies, but somehow too many of them cherish their self-perception as victims of the West. And victims, they figure, need redress, not re-education. Just ask the Arab League.

Bin Laden and his minions don’t care how aware we are, how much we learn about Islam. They only care that we convert to their brand of it. Barring that, we are all targets for annihilation, whether we are Donald Rumsfeld or Noam Chomsky, Arab or Christian or Jew, soldier or infant.

Whenever I look back on Sept. 11, this logic strands me on the same depressing shore. Certainly, as William Safire wrote so forcefully on Sept. 12, 2001, we need to "carry the war to the enemy." We’ve done that. But beyond shooting back, how can we avoid handing victory to the terrorists? I had no answer to that, until I heard Judea Pearl speak.

He was receiving an award in honor of his son, Daniel, who was murdered in Pakistan in the wake of Sept. 11 (see story p. 20). Here was a man whose own pain was immeasurable, whose reasons for bitterness and despair dwarfed my own. "On the surface," he said, "[the terrorists] seem to have won on all fronts — and this thought caused me great pain." But many agonizing weeks later, as people touched by the son’s death reached out to the father, Judea Pearl put into place specific ways to spread the good his son brought into the world. "If Danny’s death can give humanity, or whatever is left of her, the banner that she needs to defend herself, then something good may come out of it," he concluded.

Not long after I heard Judea Pearl speak, I visited an exhibition at the Skirball Cultural Center, "Faces of Ground Zero." The larger-than-life-size Polaroid images of men and women who survived the attack — firefighters who rushed to help, stockbrokers who searched for loved ones, steelworkers who tried to rescue the dying — were themselves an attack on the inhumanity of the perpetrators of the crimes. They were, almost literally, the banners humanity needs to defend herself. Visitors to the exhibit waited in line to write their impressions in a guest book — their hands shook and tears rolled down their cheeks. "I feel I am on holy ground," one person wrote.

The High Holidays are traditionally a time for prayer and introspection, a chance to reattach ourselves to what is true and holy and good. Of course, the violent fanatics who continue to plan our demise also pray, they also believe what they are doing is true and holy and good. I know — and you know — they are wrong, but evidently knowing is no longer enough. We must, like Judea Pearl and the heroes of Sept. 11, actively wave the banner of humanity. Wherever we stand and do that, we stand on holy ground.

Shana Tova.