Sunday, April 7, 2024

It's Six Months Today


I want to write something very different from what I'm about to write, but every time I think of writing, I get a whole new wave of exhaustion. I feel like I knew exactly what this would be like from the moment this happened, and excepting one development, nothing so far surprised me: including today's withdrawal from the South. I'm tired of dealing with this and I'm tired of dealing with schmucks who think their view and theirs alone is the right one and everyone who disagrees is maliciously ignorant at best and evil at worst. I'm so very tired of people who post slogans on social media: don't ever believe a political meme, they're posted by lonely people who feel the need to belong to a community more than knowing what they're talking about. I'm tired of seeing old friend after friend turn on Jews in their moment of need, I'm tired of seeing Jew after Jew turn on Arab peoples in their perpetual need. I'm tired of people getting statistics from sources that deliberately lie. I'm tired of so-called experts who gather facts to fit their theories rather than form theories to fit the facts. I'm tired of true believers of all stripes that believe so much more than they know and are willing to ditch the principals they claim to cherish just so they can score one against the other side.
To anyone who knows the first thing about this sliver from the river to the sea, they know that moments like this are just another eyeblink in the world's most sought-after real estate. The history of this gorgeous land is an endless procession of killers and killed, a monument to folly that's forever built taller: the folly of power and the folly of belief, the folly of war and the folly of peace, the folly of hope and the folly of fear. The fighting started long before we were there, it will continue long after we're gone, and all through it, God just sits in the sky and laughs. We are just another act in his ongoing play, where society after society blunders their way onto that tiny stage. In every act, the clothing and the languages change, but the script stays the same.

As to that one development which surprised me, it's this: the quickness with which the 'g-word' spread. It shouldn't have, but it did. If Israel killed even 3% of Gazans, it would be justified to call it an ethnic cleansing. You could even make an argument that since Israel destroyed so much of Gaza's north, that constitutes ethnic cleansing - it's not a great argument but it's a legitimate argument. But this is war against an organization that pledges genocide against Jews (not just Israelis) and deliberately uses its citizens as human shields, and to call the death of 1.5% a genocide while Gaza's population doubles in every generation? While no violence was pursued in the occupied West Bank except vigilante violence outside government control? While polls show that a majority of the 2.1 million Palestinian citizens inside the Israeli mainland would not trade their lsraeli citizenship for any Palestinian citizenship? While Article 7 of Hamas's own charter says: "The Day of Judgement will not come about until Moslems fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Moslems, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him."? All I will say is how fucking dare you. Our survivors are still walking the streets. In the non-Russian part of Europe, 85% of Jews were killed. They could have fled Germany to Austria, then Czechoslovakia, then Poland, then Holland, then France, then Yugoslavia, then Greece, and still they would have been gassed. You may condemn Israel as much as you like, you may consider Gaza an open air prison - and you might be right, you may be horrified as I am by the likelihood that 1.5% of Gazans are dead and likely 1.5-2% permanently wounded, you may be as aghast as I was that the Israeli army came so close to using famine as a weapon of war - which may well have resulted in ethnic cleansing, you may hate Netanyahu as much as we do and think he means to establish himself as a permanent ruler of a Jewish state that permanently relegates its Arab population to unbreakable apartheid for hundreds of years, and the day may yet come when a far more religious Israel truly pursues a genocide, but to accuse THIS Israel, even Netanyahu's Israel, of genocide, is an antisemitic slur as bad as k*ke or zh*d. I will not be friends with anyone who says it in any kind of public square, and somehow, sixteen people I know have done it just on facebook, some of which, once upon a time, were fairly close friends. You will, no doubt, find Jews who give you their blessing for using the word and even praise you for it, but there is no circumstance under which I would do anything but shun. I don't know why this surprised me, but it really did, and it terrified me.
I'll probably put together some analysis later, but first, let me go to the bathroom...

Friday, April 5, 2024

I want it perfectly clear ...

 I've said this before, but I want it perfectly clear for anyone who has read all this verbiage I've set down over the last six months.

At no point was I anything more than ambivalent about Israel's actions in Gaza. All I've done is refuse to condemn it, which I refuse to do even now, especially now. People don't understand Hamas because their imagination fails to perceive how evil on that level can exist, but if it didn't, we'd have been spared Stalin, Mao, and yes, Hitler. However much so many people I know disagree, it's more obvious to me than ever that Hamas is at fault, that they are an organization of the deepest evil, longing to kill their own populace as a means of waging holy war, and that any populace whose plurality voted in Hamas is no less responsible for these results than any Israeli whose prosperity made them naive about the necessity of severe compromises to their territory. I don't know what else anyone could possibly do when faced with threats like Israel is faced with, but so long as Israel is controlled by Netanyahu or anyone like him, there is no end to this that does not result in an eventual apartheid of its Arab population, within the occupied territories and without, not now but in twenty years - maybe much less, and yes, as Israel's religious population grows to dwarf its secular population, an eventual genocide perpetrated by Israel around its territories and neighbors as an all too easy next step - not now, but in fifty years, which, in turn, would leave Jews open to a retributive genocide against them if their ability to defend themselves is ever taken away. Genocide is absolutely not what's happening in 2024, and even now, it has to be so much worse before it rises to that level. If today's Israel were intent on a genocide, we might worry that not a single Muslim would be left within a hundred miles of any Israeli border. But there's no doubt, this situation emboldens the most toxic elements of Israel, which in turn emboldens Hamas and all their allies, locking them into a holy war that can grow even so much worse than it is currently, until heads prevail that, exhausted by genocide - the real thing, grow so much cooler than today's ketzenkops are. The whole point of what Hamas did was to use their own people as grist for a mill, so they could hold the whole project of a Jewish state up to the world as the real grinder of death, not they, who would throw the whole region on a pyre if it meant thereafter that the Middle East would be free of Jews.

Well, they've succeeded in fooling the world and then some, but that does not mean Israel has no blame in this, and it does mean that, in some ways, Israel brought it on itself. As usual, there's so much more to say, but the more people say, the less anybody listens.All reactions:

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Who Is Baltimore?


I've lived the vast majority of my life in Baltimore, and yet I never viewed myself as being from here.
People from Baltimore are not like me. They're either blue collar working class, elite doctors, suburban professionals, non-profit radicals, basic b's, or from demographics I still know very little about. I have never transcended the feeling that I don't belong here, yet I'm tied down for all sorts of health reasons from leaving.
I'm a begrudging native born citizen of Pikesville, a Baltimore suburb so Jewish it has its own yarmulke. Every writer needs an address - not an address at which they live, but an address from which their worldview is oriented, and my true address has never been in the city. More than fifty years ago, my family left the city in panic, and I suppose I inherited some small measure of fear and contempt.
For me, the city of Baltimore is a forbidding pinball machine where the obstacles can land you anywhere but a safe place - not safe physically, but spiritually. My college friendships proved far more durable than the vast majority of my friendships in Baltimore, and, speaking frankly, life here was always a series of disappointments - albeit with quite a few exceptions.
But there were always these many inlets of hope, and beauty and personality. The city as a whole's not been great to me, but there've surely been great times whose memories I would not give up for anything. Certain facets of the city, certain types of people, are absolutely unique to Baltimore. John Waters once said that he preferred Baltimore to New York because "people in New York think they're weird, but they're actually normal. People in Baltimore think they're normal, but are actually weird."
The Key Bridge was rarely part of my world. I remember sailing and biking around it and never stopped being awed by its size, but I can't ever remember driving on it. I grew up on the opposite side of the metro area, live in the opposite side of the city. Yet I knew like everybody that it was one of Charm City's most beautiful sights. The Key Bridge is what blue collar factory workers cross to get to work. It was opened in 1977, ten years already into Baltimore's decline, but it was a symbol of industrial boom: the productive town Baltimore used to be and we hope can be again.
Until 1970, Baltimore was our sixth-largest city by population. It used to be the port of the nation and one of its steel capitals. During World War II, it was where the ships were built that carried the planes of Detroit and Pittsburgh into war. Before and after, it was where the goods of the world were imported and our country's goods were exported. After World War II the US was more than fifty percent of the world's GDP, and Baltimore was a city to be reckoned with almost as much as DC. Appalachian miners came here to work in factories, immigrants came here to prosper. All that is over and has been my whole life.
It was impossible to grow up in modern Baltimore and not see the loomings of American decline. Drive three miles from my parents' house and you find urban blight, drug trades, hopelessness and constant violence. The city of Baltimore is basically divided into nine squares. Three of them comprise "The White L", where prosperity basically lives, while squalor affects so much of the other six. In all the other six are neighborhoods and parks still so beautiful that you marvel there can be crime and poverty within them, yet you look closer and its everywhere: a boarded up house on every block, thousands of unemployed men on the streetcorners drinking in full view, homeless drifters walking every sidewalk, police cars patrolling every road. I remember telling a friend's parents that live in rural Pennsylvania that they could get to Route 70 much more quickly if they drive through West Baltimore, but I couldn't remember the name of the road that got them there (US 40). I went up to a cop, an African-American cop, to ask him how to get to 70 and told him I was trying to give them directions through W. Baltimore to get there. His response: "Are you out of your mind?"
Drive around Baltimore and you realize there is so much promise here. It was a great American city, and but for a curse's worth of bad luck could so easily be again. There is so much that is beautiful: parks, churches, bars, factories adapted into artisan shops, housing stock and apartment buildings; with so many thousands of hardworking, nice and friendly people. Go to DC and try to start up a conversation with a stranger on the street, they'll be annoyed. Do it in Baltimore and you get a full conversation. Whether or not I feel part of that community, Baltimore is a community where people are banded to hope together. Despair is so easy here, yet people never give up through Baltimore's millions of hardships.
That is the most beautiful thing about Baltimore. Whether I find it easy to hope in Baltimore, there are thousands of people who hope in Baltimore because it's NOT easy, yet what choice do we have? Whether or not we feel at home, this is home, it is the place we make our lives, and we live here, another generation that amid its tragedies do the best we can to believe in something better, make it better, celebrate and hope.

Monday, March 18, 2024

What do we do about anti-Zionist Jews?

On the one hand, I'm going to be mean and merciless. On the other, I need to try to be compassionate, and by the end of this post I'll arrive at some sort of compassion. The inevitable end result is that I'll sound condescending. The best I can say is that I mean to, but this post is not just an admonishment to them, it's an admonishment to the millions of Jews who failed to accept them before it was too late.
This post deals with a particular form of anti-Zionism: not the ultra-orthodox idiots, who deserve their own vitriol, but the mostly secular type that would sacrifice Jewish lives in the name of justice, and would deliberately facilitate the rise of the most fundamentalist Islamic factions in the name of peace. There are religious factions within this movement, but this movement is ultimately secular. This kind of religious antizionist brings the most toxic elements of secularism into religious issues, whereas ultra-orthodox antizionists bring the most toxic elements of religion to secular issues. Whether religious or secular, this post deals with the particular form of anti-Zionism that admonishes us to listen to every marginalized voice except for the millions who shout 'We are going to kill you.'
To the Jews who just don't care, to the Jews think Israel has gone too far, to the Jews who think Israel deserves to exist and defend itself but its strategy is self-defeating, even to the Jews who believe that Israel commits unquestionable war crimes in Gaza, this is not directed at you. We might have arguments, but they're just arguments, they are not bad blood. Even to the Jews who think Israel is committing a genocide in Gaza, it will take me years to forgive you, but this is not directed at you.
In the leadup to every left-wing dictatorship, in the leadup to every Islamic theocracy, there were naive progressive voices so disgusted with authoritarian conservatism that they made common cause with anyone who superficially seemed to agree with them. These progressives so believed in justice that they allied with the most militant totalitarians. These totalitarians had the will to violent acts that would disgust every progressive long before everybody else. The totalitarian will to power easily overcame their would be allies - and progressive idealists were always among the first to die. Thousands would follow them to the mass graves, often hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions.

So it would be all too easy for the rest of us to excommunicate anti-Zionists in our minds: to say that an anti-Zionist Jew is as Jewish as a Christian. But we don't have the right to make that claim any more than ultra-orthodox sects have to excommunicate the non-Orthodox. If some form of Nazis kill again, be they Hamas or Charlottesville tiki-torchers (and remember, their main complaint was with Jews...), they would kill the revisionist Jews along with the originals.
It's not enough to call anti-Zionist Jews wrong, even willfully wrong. They're indefensible. They are token minorities who give cover to tens of millions who want to murder us all - at least tens; and they know it. They performatively disguise their egotism in selflessness, and their holier than thou sanctimony is as sickening as any Jew who covers for Trump, probably moreso. They deserve our vitriol, and in the company of other Jews they deserve to feel attacked and shamed; but eighty years ago they were much more common, and their lack of support for a Jewish state just might have been what killed them in the millions right next to the European Zionists who couldn't make it over. Anti-Zionist Jews are morons, but they don't deserve to die. They were all Jewish enough for Hitler, and they willfully ignore that they're Jewish enough for Hamas. It doesn't matter. A bad Jew is still a Jew. They die as Jews, they bleed as Jews, and if there is a god, they will have to justify themselves as Jews.
So long as they cling to this delusion, they deserve neither our trust nor our respect, but they do deserve our sympathy. There is no argument they can make that sounds like they came to their beliefs with their heads. But if they didn't with the head, they came to their beliefs with their hearts, and came to their conclusions as the near-inevitable result of limitations within the Jewish mainstream. So many of them became what they became because their lots are particularly difficult. Whether the issue is social, financial, physical, physiological, romantic, isolative, psychological or mere unlucky circumstance, they or their parents grew up feeling alienated from other Jews, and craving the community we denied them they fell in with dangerous elements, and lost their way as so many billions do around the world. The problem is not them, the problem is us, and somewhere along the way, probably many times, we failed them. We rejected them, we didn't reach out, we made fun of them, we humiliated them, we beat them up, we abused them or we looked the other way while others did it, we made them feel different long before they came to any conclusion, and craving the community we denied them, we made them into true believers who'd sooner sacrifice us all than stop repressing what their brains are screaming at them.
Eric Hoffer, as so often, says it best: “The permanent misfits can find salvation only in a complete separation from the self; and they usually find it by losing themselves in the compact collectivity of a mass movement.”
They would, of course, argue that it is Zionism that is the self-renouncing mass movement, where millions of Jews go to lose their heads. We can't pretend they don't have a point. Zionism was founded precisely because Judaism fit in no place around the world for millennia. Even now, there are so many byways in the Zionist labyrinth where you can lose your way: religious, military tactics, settlements, weaponry, the willful accession to authoritarian rule. If they wanted to argue that the majority of Zionists have lost their way, there is a good chance they're absolutely right. By giving unquestioning support to the contemporary Israel in all its flaws, worldwide Jewry has sinned.
But anti-Zionists sin much more gravely. There is no world where sacrificing Jewish security in the name of international solidarity is morally acceptable. There is no world in which it's morally acceptable to make Jews fall so that other peoples rise, if they rise at all as the result of our fall. Maybe there's one world where that's morally acceptable, but that's the relativist, ultra-realist world of Henry Kissinger where life is so cheap that you can annihilate an entire race in the hope of saving other races. There may be a next world, but the notion that a just world comes to ours by laying down our arms is no more likely than the existence of heaven, and what other country, what bloodier country, is demanded to disband itself in the name of world peace?
Whether they realize it, Judaism is pragmatism; it's looking realities straight in the face and negotiating ways around them. This is the Rabbinic tradition, this is the lesson of Moses appeasing Yahweh simultaneously to appeasing the Israelites, this is the lesson of Joseph and Abraham negotiating their survival among the Egyptians, this is the lesson of Jacob dealing with Laban. It is only through pragmatic compromises to morality that you can pursue the moral purpose and destiny you find in Isaiah, Sinai, Amos and Abraham's covenant.
There are millions of apragmatic Jews in every era: zealots, messianists, millenarians, communists, even neoconservatives, and their refusal to stare reality in the face gets Jews killed. They do not believe in moral ambiguity, they only see their way, they see every argument against them as an argument for them. In pursuing their beliefs to their logical conclusion they never build the world they seek, and rather than the pacifists among them acknowledge that sometimes you have to kill to minimize dead bodies, they pave the way for people who maximize them.
Again, antizionists will say that it is we who do not see a way but our own. There is no limit to bad faith arguments that flip truth upside down, but that is precisely the point. There is no world where you don't deal with bad faith, there is no world where you don't deal with people so convinced they are right that that they can interpret everything through the filter of what they believe. Zionism takes in the liberal as well as the illiberal, but there is no liberality in anti-Zionism because it does not admit for the idea that sometimes one must pursue a lesser evil with the aim of achieving a greater good. There is no grey for them, only victim and perpetrator, and therefore in place of liberalism is only a naive national pacifism exploited so easily that no person could use their head to embrace it.
Antizionism is our punishment for our limitations, it is the dark side of Judaism that disguises itself as light and mistakes bitter for sweet.
So it's only by transcending our limitations that we overcome it. Anti-Zionism is not a rational belief, and like all irrational beliefs, the believers change their beliefs not through persuasion, but by being embraced. No matter what they deserve, it's only by accepting anti-Zionists on a personal level and not judging them their mistakes that we persuade them of the single most obvious truth about being born Jewish.
I don't have the room in my heart for them right now. I'm not that good, I'm not that tolerant, I'm too angry, too hurt, too scared. But I hope that one day I have room in my heart for them again just as I hope they have room in their hearts for mine, a fact made doubly difficult because I frankly doubt many of them have any room for me.
But as anti-Zionists correctly tell us, the only way to transcend violence is through forgiving the unforgiveable. I doubt such a leap can ever be made, but I do agree with them that the cycle of violence is only broken by embracing those who would perpetrate the worst on you in the hope that they embrace you back.

But if there ever is to be an end to hatred, this is what's required. The difference between us is that I see no evidence it's possible and to bet on it is bad faith lunacy. Nevertheless, the human spirit is built on dreams like this. The world is what it is, but to dream of a world where a Jewish state is unnecessary is only human. If ever we can convince a few of them to let their dreams remain dreams, let them dream.
All reactions:

Sunday, March 17, 2024

That's History

The only way I'm going to get through this incarnation of what Israelis call the 'Matzav' (the 'situation') is by disconnecting from it. Not stop reading, but stop connecting emotionally. At the very beginning of this, I wrote here that the only way we were going to get through this is by steeling ourselves. Not steel in the sense of eliminating compassion, but steel in the sense of facing cold hard fact: history is the eternity of subverted expectations. We're supposed to be heartbroken, and it's only when we're too heartbroken to expect triumph that triumphs are made. It's the experience of defeat following victory following defeat following victory. It's the eternal wheel of fate. Everything that rises falls, everything that falls rises. Jews are no exception, if anything we are the ultimate proof.
If Israel doesn't complete the decimation of Hamas, if Israel does not rescue the hostages, if Israel exchanges hostages for Palestinian prisoners, there will be more attacks on Israel, and Hanas will do everything they can to make them deadlier. Steel yourself.
If Israel wins, Netanyahu can take the credit and may win back a narrow voting majority of the Israeli public, thereby staying as Prime Minister, possibly for life, no matter how hated by the rest of Israelis. Steel yourself.
The longer this goes on, the more millions of innocent Jews will be held responsible in unpredictable ways for the mere crime of supporting Israel, even a peaceful Israel. Steel yourself.
The longer this goes on, the more Gazans are likely to die of famine and disease in far greater numbers than have died so far. The longer this goes on, the more likely Hezbollah is likely to bomb saturate the Israeli north to the point that Israel will have to launch another ground invasion in Southern Lebanon. Steel yourself.
If a Palestinian state is recognized worldwide without Hamas stripped from power, if Hamas gets a full measure of foreign aide, Israel/Palestine could experience warfare on a scale only seen in the modern Middle East by Syria and 80s Iraq/Iran. Steel yourself.
The longer this goes on, the more tempted goyisher friends will be to dissociate from Jews for the crime of supporting Israel. Steel yourself.
The longer this goes on, the more tempted American left wingers will be not to vote for Biden, British left wingers not to vote for Starmer, German left wingers not to vote for Schultz, and French left wingers not to vote for Macron should he be in a runoff with Le Pen. Many leftists in all four countries reason that since their supposed liberal leaders advocate for what they construe as genocide, things can't get any worse. They would thereby cause the fall of any liberal bulwark against right wing authoritarianism, and perhaps the fall of democracy in all these major world powers. Thereby endangering the very Muslim communities they think they're protecting. Steel yourself.
The longer this goes on, the more Israel will necessarily become the ally of any Western power that opts for reactionary anti-democracy leadership. Steel yourself.
The longer this goes on, the more willfully the world will overlook the crimes of Hamas and twenty other Middle Eastern dictatorships. Steel yourself.
The longer this goes on, the more Israel becomes a wedge issue between friendships, with potential for explosive fights that turn friends into enemies. Steel yourself.
The longer this goes on, the more tempted other Shia powers are to create other theaters of war: not just Hezbollah in Lebanon but Iran, Yemen, Syria, spurring a war that could inflame the entire region, and perhaps spread elsewhere. Steel yourself.
This is history. History is not just one fucking thing after another, it's the dispelling of each era's illusions. Every solution is temporary. Civilizations have life cycles just like people do, so do policy solutions. Everything eventually lives out its use until its physiognomy comes undone. This is what we read about. You just face the unpleasant truths and realize that you are part of processes so much bigger than you are. Eventually we all are just nodes of data compiled in a book, where our life stories are distilled to historical trends, waves, forces, beliefs, where the reader views our way of life with ironic distance.
Nearly all of us feel the ground under our feet shifting right now, the expectations of our era are coming undone just like the expectations of previous eras. These tectonic shifts are more lethal than any earthquake ever recorded, but just like earthquakes, they always happen, and then they stop, we pick up the pieces, we rebuild, we latch onto new beliefs, and we take care as best we can to provide for a future that doesn't experience our turbulence.
But eventually, the turbulence comes back, and eventually, that turbulence will stop again just as ours will.
Sometimes, you just have to accept that you're on a ride bigger than anything you do, and all you can do is your best to make yourself into metal that doesn't melt in even the hottest climates.

Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Why Are Jews So Sensitive About Israel?

So why are we so hypersensitive about all things Israel? Is it birth-to-death conditioning as so many progressives would have it? Is it as so many antizionists have it, a fascist connection to the Mogen David that represses any thought that contravenes our tribal mentality? Is it, as so many Jews would have it, the extreme frustration at gentile hypocrisy? Or is it as so many Jewish fundamentalists have it, that the world is crawling with antisemites?

It's none of the above.

It's far more basic than any of those, simultaneously more primal and more real.

There is a baseline fear, often an unconscious one, but I maintain it exists in every Jew you've ever met, even somewhere in Jewish antizionists. The fear is this:

If you get rid of our state, you get rid of us.

There is that nameless dread in every Jewish soul, repressed until we hear you talk about Israel, that all this security and prosperity is as paper thin as the citizenship documents which were always taken away from us. Other groups worry about prosperity and denied opportunities, Jews worry that it all will be taken away. 

Here's something I wrote a while back: 

"So many gentile lives are constrained from too few choices, most Jews are stuck by too many. So many gentiles worry that they'll never get what they need, Jews worry that everything they need will disappear tomorrow. So many gentiles feel the chip of humiliation, and dream that with more things: titles, privileges, pride, their humiliations will cease. Jews are history's ultimate proof that everything you think is helpful is worthless: from materials to titles to privileges to pride to ESPECIALLY MONEY. There is no such thing as a life protected from humiliation - the whole point of how to live a good life is that we endured our humiliations with faith, honor, responsibility, righteousness, kindness and community; that we show seven good faces to a world that's wanted Jews dead for 2000 years, will want us dead many times yet again; and many people who seem friendly to us now may stand by as we get annihilated.
No Jew seems oppressed until every Jew you know disappears overnight. No amount of money protects us, no amount of prestige stops us from being blamed, no amount of power cannot be stripped at a moment's notice. It is the eternal Jewish lot to rise as high as any outsider can possibly rise in a foreign society, only to fall the very moment when things go wrong and the true insiders need meat to throw to the populace."  

Look at every immigrant in the world whose state threw them out, then look at us. Other modern peoples get displaced for generations, or a hundred years, but our whole lifespan as a people is one long displacement and this is the one period since Christ himself that has been the exception. If we don't have Israel, we have no country at all, just memories of countries that threw us out whenever we became marginally inconvenient. We exist lifelong with stories of ancestors exiled from every corner of the world. That fate was what 2000 years of Jews worked so hard to avoid with no avail. It's the fate in which our guts tell us we will partake again. Even if the Palestinian refugee status lasts for the rest of my lifetime, it's still temporary compared to the Jewish stories I and fifteen million other Jews have heard our whole lives. If we get displaced again, it's not just us or even our grandchildren who might be refugees, it might be all our descendants for all coming time until we get another brief blip of security 2000 years from now.

And that's only if we live. When we didn't have a state of our own, we were subject to all the same persecution as any other minority, only to then encounter complete, systemic, total extermination. Not the extermination of a substantial portion of us, not our extermination over the course of 400 years, but near complete extermination over two or three years, spanning our population over an entire continent. And not once, but repeatedly. In the Crusades and the mass expulsions of the Middle Ages, in the conquest of Judea by Rome, in the aftermath of the Black Plague, in the Chmielnicki massacre in Ukraine - that state which now means so much to liberal Jews, in exterminations thousands of years ago that seem ever so distant until the moment their stories reappear in our consciousness as horrifyingly present, and of course... that thing that happened to my grandparents.

So many leftists and intersectionalists and anticolonialists find all things Israel distasteful, but they would read the above and see a complete affirmation of their worldview. "That's exactly why we fight for the dispossessed!", they would answer. "That's why we fight against nationalism! That's why we fight against genocide! That's why we fight for the rights of victims!"

Why should we believe you? What makes your movement so special when every other revolution to save the world has backfired?

No one reaps the whirlwind ideological movements create the way Jews do. 

Let me repeat that. 

No one reaps the whirlwind ideological movements create the way Jews do. 

The proof will be for another day. 

Why I'm Feeling Black Dog

 Leaving aside any personal concerns, of which like everybody I have my share, probably a lot more, I feel like a man without company.

I'm trying to be a dispartial arbiter of what's going on so people could get context, but I've slowed down because I almost can't do it. What's going on with my former friends on the left is so infamously disgusting. What's gone on on the right is obviously disgusting and has been for decades, but on the left I saw it coming and warned them for two decades. I thought because some were my friends a plurality of them might be exceptions, but it made no difference to well over 50% of the people I know. I knew it at the time, yet I hoped against hope. There's the ancient antisemitism everywhere we look. Living is hard enough without feeling like people you once esteemed could abandon your children to lifetimes of the old discrimination, isolation, violence and mass murder, and then their children in turn, until hundreds of years from now when again there's a brief blip of tolerance before the ancient curse of being Jewish continues.

One day soon I'll try to explain how it works again, but I wonder again and again, what difference does it make?

Saturday, March 2, 2024

Last Night's Concert

 I went to a fascinating but dispiriting concert last night.

It started with a nearly masterly performance of Schubert's Unfinished Symphony from an unlikely source. I often think that James Conlon would be happier with a career like Jaimie Laredo's, in front of chamber orchestras where he can do utterly unfashionable performances of Haydn and Mozart. What we heard last night was the most gemutlich, large orchestra, vibrato laden, old-Vienna performance of Schubert's Unfinished one will ever hear. You'd think it was Josef Krips up there. He must have spent hours getting that high cholesterol string sonority from Baltimore musicians still trained in David Zinman's period punchiness. It was just short of heavenly, with extremely un-Conlon like rubato and ostentatious detailing in the phrasing. He seems to have spent his entire career scaling down Wagner, Verdi and Shostakovich to sound more like Schubert and Mozart, while in Schubert and Mozart he does all the operatic things you'd expect from Verdi and Wagner. After three years of watching this guy, I just don't understand him: a vastly skilled musician who's performed all around the world for fifty years, but whose conception of music has never moved on from the mistaken values of 1970s Juilliard.
I should have left after that, because then came 50 minutes of 'automatic' Wagner, played like a machine that you simply turn on and off. Hardly any phrasing, hardly any detail, barely a memorable moment: generic, generic, generic.
But it is utterly unbelievable how Wagner's orchestration still fits the modern orchestra like a glove, every detail speaks in the concert hall with utter clarity. It's the exact opposite of the older masters. In Mozart, Schubert, Brahms you have to work endlessly hard to get the music's details to speak properly. Many claim it's different for them with a period instrument ensemble, but I'm far from convinced. In those three particularly, it's almost as if the expression in is so high minded that they're barely even conscious of what instruments they use, and the work is on the composers. It's as Joachim said of Brahms that they don't write for musicians, they write against musicians.
But contra his reputation, Wagner fits the capabilities of instrument so easily, even proper Wagner voices are supposed to find it easy to sing with the way he divides vocal parts through the entire vocal range - whereas Verdi stays planted all night long in the voice's top 20 percent,
There's a reason Wagner makes every detail register: he is the music of sociopathy, manipulating emotions in the audience so effortlessly that he does feel himself. In Schubert, such emotions are a confession by the not composer, human communication from one heart to another. But emotions that exist in Schubert like a partnership of equals becomes emotional manipulation in Wagner - designed to excite audiences to fever pitch. Perhaps Wagner skeptics like me would find our responses more easily exploited if today's singers were better. The Brunnhilde last night was Christine Goerke, possessing a power tool of a mid range with a vibrato through which you can sometimes fit a mac truck. Aside from Lisa Davidsen, this is the best we'll do today, and how can Wagner make its proper effect without voices to equal his charisma?
You can't blame the singers: the expectations of singers are so high today. Not even Wagner can account for today's huge halls, loud orchestral instruments, slow tempos, and relative lack of emphasis on vocal technique. No modern singer can get through Wagner without blowing out their voice in a couple years.

As I've said many times, as everybody's said many times, one can't deny Wagner's genius. He is, as Auden argued, possibly the greatest artistic genius of all time. Wagner's is an endlessly meaningful art, for which there is no bottom in the numbers of ways it can be analyzed, interpreted, and felt, but there are problems in Wagner that stick out like a sociopath amid normal people, and next to Schubert, he can sound paltry indeed. One excites and disturbs the soul, one nourishes it.

Thursday, February 29, 2024

What do I do?

 I have no idea what to believe at this point.

On the one hand, I'll stand with the Jewish community through any disingenuous approbation from people who stay silent in the face of every uncomplicated genocide everywhere but regarding the complicated actions of the world's only haven for Jews, and I no longer trust any friend who asks Israel to cease fire. You're asking Jews to just die willingly. So long as they don't call Israel a genocidal state publicly, I can stay friends with the hundreds who believe it, but not without resenting the hell out of them.
But I can't pretend there isn't an authoritarian curtain gone round the Jewish community long before October 7th, a curtain of steel that might lift only so slightly whenever Netanyahu goes. There is no pretending the modern Israel is not Netanyahu, and there is no pretending Israel wasn't deserving of blistering censure long before all this. The moment they ceased to be the state that pursued peace in this conflict, they began an agonizing moral slide that's gone on my entire adult life. Israel is as deserving of criticism as any other Western country that willingly welcomes right wing authoritarianism into its government, not much more, but around Israel's long authoritarian slide from Sharon to Smotrich, the Jewish community's formed a protective wall of incendiary rage. It's a pustule that needs a biopsy, and until we accept that it's a boil in need of the most painful lancing, the only chance to rid the region of radical Islamic parties is to so decimate Gaza and southern Lebanon that it would be a genocide indeed. Our long term choice is this: become again the side that pursues peace in the face of an enemy who demands war, or become the genocidal people our so called friends think we already are with offensives far worse than what's coming for Rafah.
I woke up October 7th and on that day said farewell to every chance the world will become anything I love. I was terrified of a bad outcome for the world before October 7th, but I wasn't certain of it. I've said it a hundred times, but Israel lives on the world's most dangerous fault line, and the seismic eruptions spread.
So now, I just can't see anything but the strange death of the liberal world in my time. After the biggest liberal gains since the 60s, this liberal rule of law is thoroughly decimated by right wing radicals, who are only enabled by a left's insistence on pushing reforms that are not even good, let alone practical. It seems to be an endemic feature of any historic period when liberals rack up victories: rather than celebrate, the people we most expect to celebrate want to smash it up, and an ever more resentful right wing is all too willing to help them.
On the one hand, anybody who hasn't ditched liberalism for leftism realizes there's no future for Israel without severely damaging Hamas. So far, the deaths are nearly 100% on Hamas, not Israel. The whole point of what Hamas did was to throw their own people into death and get willfully naive leftists to blame Israel for it. It's not antisemitic to criticize Israel, it's not antisemitic to think Israel went too far, but it's sure as hell antisemitic to expect us to turn the other cheek, and it's antisemitic to insist on ceasing fire the moment this all began. You expect Jews to die with no fight. What other group would you expect that of?
On the other hand, if Israel goes into southern Gaza, if they do not let aid in, it will be far from 100%. It's thoroughly out of touch with reality to expect you can get rid of Hamas. Until now, no matter how bloody, it's been self-defense. But an incursion into Rafah is simply vengeance. It's not genocide, but it's democide. And even if you get rid of Hamas, you've created a power vacuum where an organization as bloody or more than Hamas will rise. The best possible option is to not go into Rafah, let the aid come in, and make Palestinians so fear a repeat of these months that they would sooner rise up against Hamas than let them do it again. It's worked in Lebanon against Hezbollah for 18 years, it will likely work in Gaza. Not only does Israel not need to go into southern Gaza, going in will probably have the exact opposite of the desired result.
We have to face facts: some of hostages are not coming home without a colossally unfair prisoner exchange. It's just the name of the game. Let Hamas declare victory. 85% of Palestinians will realize at this point that any claim of victory is a thorough lie, including Hamas.
This is Israel: it's only a matter of months until they develop technology to monitor the tunnels.
In the meantime, I don't trust dozens of progressives for whom I have enormous affection. Many of them don't feel safe around people whom they think would not look out for their best interests, and now, I sure as shit don't feel safe around them. I'm no saint, but our friendship makes me feel dirty. The problems of Jews don't count for them. They excuse themselves by claiming you can separate Jews from Israel, and yet they don't. They hold the Jewish community responsible for its support of Israel. They say there is a conspiracy to support Israeli interests which they barely distinguish from the Jewish community. But they do exactly the same with the issues they care about.
On the other hand, Israel is going full speed ahead into a colossal, vengeful mistake. It was not a mistake to go into northern Gaza, but they've decimated the whole thing, pushed the entire population southward. It's enough. They're starting to make the Palestinian population starve to death, and now mean to push a million and a half people back into the north where they must starve amid the ruins. No words exist for a country that would do this except a state so dominated by military thinking that it's indistinguishable from an authoritarian dictatorship, and no word exists for people who'd willingly follow them except authoritarians.
How do you forgive a whole world that turns to evil?
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Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Program Note for Performance on 3/23

 To Jewish music listeners whom it may concern,

You are about to listen to two pieces by Evan Tucker, one of many Jewish composers featured on this very Jewish concert. Evan Tucker is not the best composer on this program, but he can assure with relative certainty that he is among the most Jewish - raised to speak both Hebrew and Yiddish, two languages which he tries to forget with only some success, and was brought up with so much Jewish content that he never really learned math or science (by the way, he's learning disabled). Were it not for music, he would not have known a single non-Jew until he was 16.   

The two pieces are settings of biblical Psalms, all 150 of which were supposedly written by King David, but probably written by an assistant adjunct court poet paid part time for full time work while still paying off their student loan along with two side jobs, one in a furniture moving company and one waiting tables in a Jerusalem restaurant for tips. The Psalms are generally regarded as so boring that John Mulaney based a whole bit on how much people hate them, but they were meant to be chanted as music, not poetry, and as music have a history so long and illustrious that they range from Monteverdi and William Byrd to Stravinsky and Steve Reich. 

The first of these Psalms is the first of these Psalms: Psalm 1. Mr. Tucker wrote this work in 2009: nearly homeless, living on the couch of friends with nothing to his name but fifty dollars and Sibelius software. He had dreams of starting a chorus and achieving 'choral glory', whatever that means, and rather than fix up his life, he decided to begin a mad project, ambitious as only undertaken by the delusionally desperate. For this chorus he'd found he would write settings of all 150 Psalms over the course of a lifetime. A Jewish Music Apollo Program. As befits a traditional chorus, this is a very traditional Psalm setting, no doubt filled with subconscious echoes of the Chazzanus and Yiddishkeit from which he then felt deeply alienated. 

The choral glory ended, but the dream of the Psalms did not. It followed him everywhere for years thereafter with almost supernatural obsession, and by 2016 he decided to resume them as electronic works: Musique Concrete, representations of the divine whose performers would not be present in corporeal form. 

The second of these Psalms, Psalm 16, was written when he had no idea what his next Psalm should be, but he had an idea in his back pocket. Baroque composers would set the old Spanish dance, La Folia, to music, creating virtuoso instrumental variations on a very simple sixteen-bar harmonic scheme. Mr. Tucker wanted to do a version that took La Folia through all its many possibilities in electronic music. This was just to be one of a number of La Folia settings he would do through the Psalms whenever he couldn't come up with a new idea for the next Psalm. 

After eight years, or possibly fifteen, Mr. Tucker is now 18 psalms into his project. He figures he will procrastinate on the rest until he's seventy, then do them all in a single all nighter. 

Thursday, February 22, 2024

A Farewell to No Arms

 I had to defriend a guy I like for sharing an article accusing Israel of 'annihilation' in Gaza. Until I read it, I didn't think there was a word out there more hurtful to Jews than 'genocide', but annihilation is it. Annihilation, or 'vernichtung', was Hitler's exact word of intent for what he wanted to do to Jews. You might as well go all the way into medieval blood libels and say Israelis kidnap Palestinian babies, sacrifice them, and grind their bones into matzah.

When this all began, I prepared myself as best I could, knowing that the only way to ensure Jewish survival is hard, hard deeds that would make sick anybody with half their humanity intact. I prepared myself for hundreds of thousands of deaths before this all was done - not necessarily in Gaza but all around the Middle East. I haven't prepared myself for calling anything that happens a genocide - and I still think the accusation indicates a lazy sort of antisemtism. Nevertheless, I prepared myself for the worst sort of butchery: in Gaza, in Lebanon, possibly in Syria, possibly the West Bank, possibly even Iran, and god knows where else. I knew that I'd have to dissociate from many friends, and while I couldn't avoid it, I knew that talking to other Jews and their pride in vengeance would make me take multiple showers.
Worst of all, I prepared myself for the worldwide death of every human sentiment I value until the world recovers its sense, possibly not before I'm an old man: the death of American liberalism, of Judaism that can coexist with secularism, of any rational root that knows that the stability of the world is more important than any reform, any revolution, any principle; because once it all falls down, none of us can stand upright in the rubble. This conflict isn't like Ukraine where there are clear cut heroes and villains, and fuck you for thinking there are, this is a fight for survival and resources among two people who deserve it. Israelis are punished for achieving success for the first time in thousands of years. Palestinians are perpetually punished, by the Ottomans and Crusaders and Byzantines before the Israelis, passed over for success while other peoples around the north Mediterranean are only saved from squalor by their proximity to Northern Europe.
Will the death toll be over 5% of Gazans by 2025? Only a fool would deny the possibility. Though I have no idea how they come up with these statistics: the Economist tells us that there is one functional toilet for every 220 Gazans, one shower for every 4,500. Two thirds of Gaza's hospitals are closed and the 13 functioning cannot possibly minister more than a fraction of their would be patients. Arif Husain, chief economist of the World Food Program, says that the scale and speed of Gaza's famine is without parallel. Well over half a million are going without food for more than a day at a time. Whole families are given nothing more than a tin of beans to survive a single day, a sack of flour costs ten times what it did pre-war, and nearly all Gaza's cash machines have long since had their holdings drawn out. By 2025, it's possible that more Gazans will die of famine than bombs.

A kleptocratic dictatorship like Hamas is exactly as bad as it seems, and there's no victory in war against a totalitarian regime unless you siege the population to the point the dictatorship collapses, but it's worth prolonging the war if it means getting the supplies to the Gazans, even if Hamas steals many of them and the war goes on longer, Israel can't afford this level of hatred directed against them.
It's not a genocide, but it's the world turned completely to its dark side. I'm not willing to go over the basics yet again, but I don't see another option. Jews are not going to lay down and die again just because you demand it. And yet, to do this without guilt, to keep making self-righteous justifications, to not search endlessly for a different way, to declare with simplicity: 'we're right', 'they're wrong', is fascist, authoritarian, it's anti-democracy barbarism, and makes a direct line to any number of justifications that declare war on democracy. Once you believe completely in the rectitude of your violence, there is nothing you can't justify, and it's only a matter of time before you make violent decisions out of reasons far more contemptible than necessity.
War is war. It is so much worse even than all but the bloodiest dictatorships, and there's no way to trust that the Netanyahu government will prosecute it with anything but selfish aims. It's no genocide, but it's the killing of ten to twenty thousand innocent civilians in just four months with many more yet marked for death, it's famine, and it's more bombs than the US ever used in twenty years of Afghan occupation many times over.
The roots of this conflict are much more complicated than any bad faith American radical/Euroleftist would ever allege. For fifty years they've called Jews white oppressors when we'd been killed at unprecedented speed and volume for not being white enough, they call Israel an illegal occupier when dictators from minority sects occupy Middle Eastern country after country, they call for their countries to divest from Israel when they owe their entire first world existence to the cheap labor of China and and the cheap oil of Saudi Arabia, both of whom violate human rights with a volume dozens of times more than Israel's; and most outrageously, they insist Israel solve a problem of refugees which their countries solved by simply murdering hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions, and exiling millions more. The world holds Israel to a standard no other country is held, and then insists that unconscious antisemitism has nothing to do with their assumptions.
This is what it means to live as a Jew in the world, and often what it means to die as a Jew. But as much as you brace yourself for those realities, they sometimes come at you at light speed and all you can do is cry out to the god who puts us into these circumstances and seems to get his gratification from our suffering. We have paid every single price for our continued existence, and now the price of keeping ourselves alive is murder itself.