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RIVLIN’S ISRAEL

June 14, 2016

“What can I do if my heart yearns but is not Jewish?” a Jerusalem Arab pupil asked President Rivlin recently. The yearning mentioned in our anthem’s lyrics is that of a Jewish heart. “I understood, and I hurt at her question,” reported the President.

This is the kind of conversation a leader has with his constituents. Cynicism is not a requirement for holding public office. I used to encounter the President when running in the woods. He would be in sweats, accompanied by two husky young men with bulges under their jackets. I usually respected his privacy, but a few days after he was elected, I stopped him and said, “I’m a leftist, Mr. Rivlin, and I would have voted for you had I been in the Knesset.” He smiled broadly and said, “Thank you! We all have to live together.”

The guy has not disappointed. Rising above his partisan past, Rivlin clearly belongs to all of us. Today, at the Herzliya Conference, he candidly clarified that Israeli citizenship does not require that one be a Zionist. Like Herzl and Jabotinsky, Rivlin knows that working it out with the indigenous people of this land is part of our Zionist challenge. Early in his presidency, he attended the annual Kafr Kasem memorial to honor the 47 innocent villagers shot down in the ‘50’s by a border patrol. A year ago, he came to the rally to speak out against the murder of the Dewabshe family and following Shira Banki’s murder at the Gay Pride march. “I feel a sense of shame, pain over the murder of a small baby; pain that from my people there are those who have chosen the path of terrorism and have lost their humanity. Their way is not my way… Their way is not our way,” cried Rivlin to us in the left and GLBT crowd. We have one political leader who’s a mensch, and he cannot serve in the government. There have been threats on his life.

Still, eat your hearts out, America! Our President is widely loved and respected while you are united only by distaste for both your candidates. But your present President is clearly a decent guy. Maybe Obama and Rivlin should join hands to sidestep the current swamp and move things forward. Netanyahu anyway hates Rivlin, tried desperately to block his Presidency. The hordes will howl at Presidential meddling in affairs of state. As my father said, when asked to stop swearing like a wounded sailor on the tennis court in goyish New Rochelle, “Fuck ‘em.” And Obama will get to earn his Nobel Prize.

Meanwhile, we regular folks struggle to overcome the terror that flames into our lives now with such regularity. The usually slick CNN reporter reads into the camera the names of 49 victims of the Orlando horror, awakening us to the 49 human beings who died at the hands of one hate-full man. The reporter’s voice cracks as he tries to keep it together. This, as we scrape our way back to normalcy, just a week after placid Tel Aviv was torn by a mall shooting.

What did we expect? That the Palestinians would come around to seeing that they don’t have a chance against us, so they’ll behave from now on? Khaled Mahamra, one of the two cousins who shot four persons to death last Wednesday in Tel Aviv’s Sarona quarter, was in third grade when the Israel Defense Forces blew up his family’s house in 2003, in the West Bank town of Yatta. The house had been the residence of his extended family, including parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins. Mahamra’s uncle, Taleb, had been arrested a year earlier and sentenced to seven life terms in prison. No, dear knee-jerkers, this is not to justify Khaled Mahamra’s murder of four people and wounding of six, but it is an attempt to understand him. Does attempting to find a murderer’s motivation make me a self-hating Jew?

My way of loving Israel is Reuven Rivlin’s way. Empathy, the willingness to feel pain and shame, these might help us through this river of tears, over to the elusive bank where we can clamber through the muddy shallows and finally emerge to begin to heal each other, and ourselves.

                                                                                                 Yoav Peck

 

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One Comment
  1. Well said, Yoav! I wish more people read your writings, to remind us of what being human is about…

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