March 29, 2020

The Blessing of Friends


It’s been a tough few years for friends. Friendships used to be about, well, friendship. But in the past few years, friends have been required to take a political test, just like everything else. And it’s pass or fail, no gray areas.

Like most people, the politicization of friendship has left me hurt, angry and ultimately baffled. My initial foray into this realm was over publicly defending Israel in its ongoing war with Hamas. For this crime, friends of 25 years stopped talking to me. Others were so fearful that associating with me would affect their status that they would only meet me on the sly.

Ultimately, I got to the point of believing, as I still do, that Israel is a mirror to one’s soul. If someone is willing to destroy a great friendship over my support of Israel — if someone could choose status in increasingly Stalinistic social circles over me — then he or she was never who I thought they were, and neither was our friendship.

My ability to let it go was aided to a large degree by the fact that these faux friends were fairly quickly replaced. I began to call my new friends “souls of beauty” because, truly, that’s what they were. United by a love for our heritage and homeland, our friendships became mirrors of our love for Israel. We could disagree about this or that, but our friendships would always spring back to the place where they had begun — in the heart.

My outlook changed this year, though, when I entered probably the most difficult period of my life. From my old friends — who I had helped through adultery, cancer and loss — I received nothing, not even a phone call. They were aware of what I was going through, but it seemingly meant little to them, or at least maintaining their status meant more.

As my new friends saw this, they stepped up even more. They were amazing, truly angels of the heart. But given the depth of what I was going through, it still hurt.

Ironically, my 9-year-old son, Alexander, known more for alpha traits than empathy, has helped me put it all in perspective. He, too, has been having issues with some of his friends. When I learned what was going on — at school every day an entire lunch table was bad-mouthing him, and his good friends weren’t standing up for him — I was livid.

He shrugged. Thinking maybe I wasn’t seeing the whole picture, I tried casually asking him, “So, when they all said this about you, and X and Y said nothing, that didn’t bother you?” He shrugged again.

“Some people stand up for you; most people don’t,” he said, suddenly sounding like Freud. “That’s not who they are.”

“I do hope this politicization of friendship passes, that my old friends eventually understand that the bonds we had are far more important than status or politics.”

I was speechless. He’s never sounded this mature about, well, anything. Moreover, he was displaying more maturity than me. The first buds of responsible, emotionally intelligent manhood were right there before me. Even though some of his friends took their cues from what others were doing, not what was right, he would continue to stand up for them, no matter what.

In the days that followed, I thought about this as it related to my longtime friends who had chosen status over friendship. Yes, I guess I could see this as a weakness on their part. I took it one step further: if any of them needed me — called me from a hospital bed or some other desperate situation — would I be there for them? Of course. In a heartbeat. With all else forgotten.

I do hope this politicization of friendship passes, that my old friends eventually understand that the bonds we had are far more important than status or politics. But do I regret for a second standing up for Israel when she needs us the most? Not in the least. And I will continue to do so because my bond with Israel — with God — is only matched by my bond with my son.

Someday I’ll tell Alexander what happened during this difficult period in my life. I feel blessed to know that he will most certainly understand.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Karen Lehrman Bloch is an author and cultural critic living in New York City.