Zionist Nightmare Gives Him That Shrinking Sensation

I have never in my life been to a shrink. The reason is that I want to leave my money to my kids, not to other people’s kids. Also, I consider myself to be absolutely
normal. Nevertheless, recently I felt the urge to lie down on a couch, stop pretending that I’m in control and that I have a clue about what’s going on, and just surrender to an all-knowing, wise man, who will fix everything. I guess that the session would run as follows.

Uri: Hi, I’m glad you accepted me on such short notice.

Shrink: No problem. Tell me what’s the problem.

U: Last night I had a nightmare.

S: Good, we live on that … er, I mean, tell me what it was about.

U: Well, it was terrible. I was dreaming that we live in a bi-national state.

S: Interesting, go on.

U: In my dream, Azmi Bishara is the prime minister, Mahmoud al-Zahar is the president and, on Independence Day, I mean, Naqba Day, instead of “Hatikvah,” we all sing “Biladi Biladi.”

S: What’s wrong with that? To me, it sounds perfectly normal.

U: You’re kidding me? It’s a disaster, it’s the end of the Zionist dream!

S: I know, but what I meant is that it is normal to dream at night about things that are actually happening during the day. By the way, I look at your CV and I see that you served in the Air Force.

U: Exactly. What will happen to our glorious Israeli Air Force, the hero of the Six-Day War and Entebbe? It will be destroyed!

S: Why these negative thoughts? Think positive. It will not be destroyed, but it will have to change. For example, before deciding to attack the Iranian nukes, the commander will have to consult with, say, Sheik Raed Salah and Gibril Rajoub. That’s the meaning of power sharing.

U: But we have to stop it. Surely we can’t let this happen.

S: So tell me, what have you done recently to stop it?

U: Me? It’s the government that settled Jews in the middle of Arab areas so that we’ll never be able to separate. It’s the government that can’t even take out one single illegal outpost. It’s the government that lies to the Americans …

S: The government, sure. Instead of taking responsibility, people are always quick to blame others.

U: But what can one person do? At least I wrote articles warning that if we don’t take action to establish two states, Israel will either lose its Jewish identity or become an apartheid state.

S: And?

U: Probably no one ever read them.

S: Did you ever do something more proactive, like, for example, going to a demonstration?

U: Not really — somehow they always conflict with my siesta.

S: I see. What about politics? Have you ever considered, instead of whining about the situation, to roll up your sleeves and enter the political arena — which is where real power lies — to try and change things?

U: Me? Are you out of your mind? I would never come close to this messy business. Just thinking about the stupidity, the corruption, the extortion, the greed, the populism, makes me want to puke.

S: In that case, there is nothing wrong with you. You are 100 percent normal.

U: But how can someone who marches with his eyes open toward a bi-national state still be called normal?

S: Sorry, your time is up.

Col. Uri Dromi, Israeli Air Force Reserve, is director general of the Mishkenot Sha’ananim conference center in Jerusalem. From 1996 to 2007, he was director of International Outreach at the Israel Democracy Institute.

Post-Palin Depression

A therapist I know — OK, since you dragged it out of me, my therapist — told me that I’d be astonished if I knew how many emergency calls she got the night that Sarah Palin gave her convention speech.

Actually, I wasn’t that surprised. Judging from the number of unnerved post-Palin phone calls and e-mails that I got, I wonder why I didn’t think of calling her myself.

Why was it such a psychic downer? Movement conservatives might gloat that it was because Palin kicked Los Angeles liberals in the kishkas, made unanswerable arguments, strutted her Super Woman stuff, and — worst of all — signaled their inevitable defeat come November.

I don’t think so. For one thing, we all know that Election Day comes after the High Holy Days, which means there’s plenty of time before the book on McCain/Palin — the Book of Life, that is — gets written. Who shall win, and who shall lose is still (theologically speaking, anyway) up for grabs.

For another, there’s no evidence that the independents who were the key targets of her speech are buying what Palin is selling.

I don’t doubt that some people experience a presidential campaign as one long audition for the show that will be playing on their television sets these next four years. But I’m hoping that the 5 percent to 10 percent of undecideds in the 18 battleground states who will swing the Electoral College more resemble the savvy mass audiences of “Seinfeld” and “The Simpsons” than voters for the next “American Idol” or the mob in “Coriolanus.” Why should a single performance by the governor of Alaska, or even several of them, bedazzle millions of otherwise skeptical Americans into throwing away their bull—t detectors? The historic disapproval ratings of the incumbent president are continuing evidence that the American mainstream has soured on the culture wars’ politics of group against group and the rest of the ressentiment at the heart of Palin’s message. So what accounts for the panic Palin provoked?

Part of it, I think, is that we catastrophize. By “we,” I don’t mean liberals. I mean the many functioning neurotics among us who think that a doctor’s every “hmmm” during a physical is a portent of tragic doom; who mentally extrapolate from routine family conflicts to irreparable ruptures; and whose pessimism is relentlessly fed by cable news, which — in order to hang on to our attention — portrays every freeway car chase as a potential shootout; depicts every global brushfire as the start of World War III; and shouts, “Breaking news!” so frequently that the scary music that accompanies it is itself enough to spike the nation’s blood pressure.

This is not just a Jewish phenomenon, though a few thousand years of expecting to be scapegoated, persecuted, exiled or killed certainly contributes to the melancholic gene Jews are known for carrying, the optimism of a Ben-Gurion or Sandy Koufax notwithstanding. No, this gloominess is a nonethnic worrywartism, arising from the fear and sensationalism fanned by politicians and news media alike.

This is not to say that putting Sarah Palin one melanoma from the presidency would mean good times. It would be more like James Dobson with nuclear weapons. But while her Rovian apparatchiks are stoking the worst among us with passionate intensity, it’s not inevitable that the best will lose all conviction in the voting booth.

When a political candidate convinces half a country to hope again, it’s a double-edged sword. The endorphins and neurotransmitters that wash our brains when we welcome the future instead of dreading it are as powerful as any drug. It’s like love. Unless you let your guard down, unless you permit vulnerability to trump cynicism, you rarely can get what you want. That’s why Howard Dean or John Edwards or Hillary Clinton were, for many people, so thrilling to support. That’s why hardened political operatives call that kind of enthusiasm “drinking the Kool-Aid.” That’s why, when the fall comes, it’s so painful.

But my therapist, if I understand her, has another take on this. She thinks that people identify too much with candidates. Their ups have become our ups; their downs, ours as well. And by identifying with them so closely, we inevitably make ourselves vulnerable to outside factors, to forces we can’t control. And the more political media we consume — on cable, online, on e-mail, on radio, in print — the more we cultivate the illusion that we ourselves are actual political players, that our advice is urgently needed, that everything depends on our counsel.

I’m totally guilty on this charge. “Go negative!” I yell to Obama and Biden when I see them on my screen. “Put McCain on the defensive! Go after his strength! Make the POW thing irrelevant to the presidency! Destroy the ‘maverick’ charade! Call their lies lies!” But my tirades, instead of making me feel better, only underline my powerlessness to second guess the campaign’s strategy or reshape its tone and message.

I don’t mean to diminish the importance of every single citizen in a democracy. Registering to vote, giving money, going door-to-door, expressing our opinions: there is plenty that each of us can do, and the collective action that comes from that commitment can move mountains and make history.

But there is a difference between pitching in and hitching our psyches to the day-to-day vicissitudes of campaignland or to the news media’s breathless “narrative” of the horse race. One is about us, and it is within our power to control what we ourselves do. The other is about them, and it is a kind of annihilation to cede our identity and our well-being to people outside ourselves, whether those people be candidates and commentators — or audiences, critics, velvet-rope guardians, fashionistas, studio executives, admissions committees or that hottie over there at the bar.

As for me, I’m trying to unplug. I’m still reading the papers, but I’ve gone cold turkey — well, room-temperature turkey — on cable (except for C-SPAN and “The Daily Show”), blogs (except for a few), radio (except for NPR) and every other source of political news that I thought I was obligated to mainline in real time 24/7. If I fall off the wagon, maybe there’s some 12-step group for media addicts I can join, or a 1-800-TVDETOX hotline I can call. All this may make me a lesser media yakker, I know, but think of the dough I’ll be saving on therapy.

Marty Kaplan holds the Norman Lear Chair in Entertainment, Media and Society at the USC Annenberg School for Communication. His column appears here weekly, and his

Jews in Venezuela: A Vanishing Community?

These are sad days for the Jewish community in Venezuela as many begin to question whether this country, once so hospitable to Jewish life, can still be called home.

As the country faces nearly its sixth week of a devastating strike calling for early elections or the resignation of President Hugo Chávez, Venzuela’s economy, already set to shrink by 6 percent this year, has been hurled into utter chaos. Poverty levels are estimated at 80 percent — a tragedy for one of the wealthiest and most stable countries in Latin America.

The economic deterioration that began with the Latin America debt crisis of 1983 and has continued unabated is now coming to a head under the rule of Chávez. A former army officer and ex-coup leader, Chávez has initiated a self-styled "revolution" marked by fiery, anti-wealth rhetoric and little action. His close ties to Cuban dictator Fidel Castro and leftist policies have deeply polarized the country, with two entrenched camps on both sides of the strike — neither of which is showing any signs of backing down. After a month of paralysis, more people are armed, food and supplies are growing scarce, and oil production has ground to almost a halt. The nation is on the brink of chaos, and anything could happen.

Venezuela’s present predicament is particularly disappointing. Once viewed as a beacon of democracy in a region dominated by military dictatorships, Venezuela had enjoyed nearly a half-century of stability and economic growth — thanks largely to its great reserves of oil. The resulting opportunities drew substantial numbers of Jews to Venezuela.

Although Jews began immigrating to Venezuela at the beginning of the 19th century, it was not until after World War II that most Jews arrived and formed a strong and vibrant community. The Jewish population received yet another boost after the Six-Day War in 1967, when a large influx of Sephardi Jews from Morocco arrived and settled mostly in the capital of Caracas.

At the peak of the boom years, the ’60s and ’70s, it was estimated that affiliated Jews numbered approximately 30,000, split evenly between Sephardim and Ashkenazim. Middle-to-upper-class professionals and business owners established associations, schools, synagogues and community centers. They developed deep ties to the country and a strong sense of patriotism. They acculturated and settled into a comfortable "live-and-let-live" rapport with the government — the government welcomed the community and the Jewish community kept a low profile.

A snapshot of the Jewish community at present shows a different picture. On the economic front, many Jews, just as the population at large, are slowly being squeezed out of the middle class. Once lucrative professions now barely pay enough to make ends meet. An experienced university professor, for example, now makes approximately $200-$300 a month. This forces professionals to become small entrepreneurs, or leave.

Dr. Marcko Glijenschi, founding member of the Confederation of Israeli-Venezuelan Associations, an umbrella organization that organizes the Ashkenazi and Sephardi communities in Venezuela, reports a notable increase in assistance recipients. An average caseload prior to Chávez was around 100 cases; it now is approximately 400. In addition, the requests are changing from items such as matzah and candles to staples, such as soap or toothpaste.

Another telling event is the recent closure of one of the campuses of the well-established day school in the old Jewish neighborhood of San Bernardino in Caracas. The 450-student school was under financial strain. Its capacity to provide aid to an increasing number of families requesting scholarships, or enrolling their children and not keeping up with payments, became impaired by the simultaneous reduction in donations.

All this may seem reminiscent of Argentina. But according to Venezuelan community leaders, the Jewish community’s present predicament is not the same. Argentina’s social structure was different, with a large Jewish proletariat class. By contrast, Venezuela’s Jews are mostly middle to upper class. Argentina has seen a full quarter of its Jewish population slip into poverty, while in Venezuela, the Jewish community’s economic problems are, so far, small enough to be handled locally, within the community. Resources are strained, however, and time is running out. The red flags have been raised, prompting a visit from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee to instruct community leaders as to what to do if the situation deteriorates.

Although these events are alarming, the greatest current threat to the community is widespread emigration. Since the 1980s, Jews have been gradually emigrating due to worsening economic conditions. Under Chávez, the trend has become dramatic. Glijenschi comments that prior to Chávez’s election in 1998, the population of affiliated Jews numbered 20,000; now, it has shrunk to 14,000.

The custom of sending college-age children abroad — often to the United States — to get a university education and then return to settle in Caracas, is now turning into a slow emigration pattern. Children are no longer encouraged to return. In addition, many Venezuelans are physically leaving the country, but still keeping business ties. Finally, young professionals facing an unpromising future are being forced to leave. Just recently, for example, 250 professional Jewish Venezuelans met in Miami to discuss prospects for immigration to the United States and a new life. Understandably, the mood has become bleak and pessimism prevails. Will the community survive?

Rabbi Pynchas Brener, head rabbi of La Unión Israelita, a large modern Orthodox temple that also runs a day school and community center for approximately 1,500 families, sees three potential scenarios, all linked to the outcome of the present conflict: If Chávez stays in office, and continues present policies, Jews will continue to emigrate at the rate of 2 percent to 3 percent a year, slowly but systematically shrinking the community; if Chávez succeeds in his Castro-style "Bolivarian Revolution" and implements extreme leftist policies, 50 percent of the community would leave rapidly; and, if Chávez loses the present conflict and resigns, the community would be invigorated by the return of 30 percent to 50 percent of the recent emigrants.

Ena Rotkopf, director of the Venezuelan Federation of Jewish Women, agreed: "If the situation changes, I have no doubt that those who emigrated will return because our community is very united, the country is beautiful, and the Jews who left have very deep ties. Our present leaders are all graduates of our day schools, they love their community, they love their country."

Julie Drucker, a language and marketing consultant for the Latin market, grew up in Venezuela and lives in Los Angeles. She can be reached at JulieDrucker@yahoo.com.