Archive for May, 2018

TWO KINDS OF THEATER

During a recent visit to New York for our nephew’s wedding, Carolyn and I attended six Broadway shows. One put in perspective recent Palestinian efforts to mark “Land Day” and the 1948 Naqba or Disaster stemming from the birth of Israel.

The Band’s Visit(11 Tony nominations)—a play with music rather than a standard musical—is based on the 2007 Israeli film. In 1994—a year after the Oslo Accords—a small Egyptian police band—it bills itself as an orchestra—visits Israel to play at an Arab cultural center in Petah Tikvah, a suburb of Tel Aviv/Yafo. Inside Israel, they mistakenly take a bus to the fictional Beit Hatikva—Home of Hope—in the Negev desert. They must wait until morning for a new bus.

The owner of a small café offers hospitality—hers and her employees. Only nominal peace exists between Egypt and Israel. But these men are strangers in a strange land as were the ancient Hebrews in Egypt. The band members spend a long and melancholy night discovering that these Israelis—these Jews—endure their own suffering. Beit Hatikva bears no resemblance to Tel Aviv with its office towers, lively beach scene, marvelous restaurants and vibrant nightlife. Its residents feel isolated, lonely and bored. Soured relationships and thwarted ambitions have left them wounded.

As the band and their hosts get through the night, all experience moments of understanding. Their mutual humanity becomes apparent. The show’s message is heartening. Real peace is possible if only Egyptians and Israelis encounter each other as individual human beings.

Demonstrations on Land Day and the Fridays preceding it constituted street theater. The results proved anything but music to anyone’s ears. Under cover of smoke from burning tires, Gazans failed to take down the border fence and intrude into Israel. About 60 were killed by the Israeli army. Most were members of Hamas, the thugocracy that runs Gaza and pledges to destroy the Jewish State.

The demonstrations revealed yet again that mob-to-army contact usually generates terrible—if desired—repercussions. Hamas supported the demonstrations hoping that the Israel Defense Force would kill enough Gazans to earn global condemnation. Some condemnation has come Israel’s way. But not much. Israel’s short-term policies—for good and bad—will remain unchanged.

Regrettably, Land Day never had to happen. In 1947, Palestinians and the Arab states could have accepted the United Nations partition of the British mandate. A Palestinian nation—one never existed before—would have had its capital in East Jerusalem. It also would have held more territory than after the 1967 war, which produced borders Palestinians now insist upon. What’s more, no refugees would have been created—those forced to flee by a war of their leaders’ choosing and the many who fled voluntarily at the urging of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem pending Arab victory.

Palestinian desire to eliminate Israel or trigger Israeli “one-state” national suicide reflects pure fantasy. Right-wing Israelis’ desire to ignore Palestinians represents a parallel fantasy. Peace can only be achieved by accepting reality and embracing our common humanity.

The Band’s Visitmay win many Tony awards. Future Land Days will bring Gaza only more losses. Israel won’t be a winner, either. Tikva—hope—remains in short supply.

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FRIENDS

Studies show that people with friends live longer and healthier. As someone whose introversion ranges from moderate to—well, let’s say more than moderate—I attribute my own wellbeing to my friends.

I enjoy a range of friends. Each enhances my life in a different way. I’ll start with my Torah Study group. We meet on Saturday mornings and have coffee afterwards at CMPC hospital’s California Campus on Webster Street. Three of us started having coffee twenty years ago at cafés up and down Fillmore Street. All of which closed or became too small as our group grew. The hospital may not offer the best coffee, but the huge basement cafeteria remains almost empty throughout our visit. We never wait for a table or worry about privacy. (Yes, we get loud at times; friends do that.)

Our group occasionally goes to dinner and a few of us to Giants games. Five of us hover around 70. One isn’t Jewish but attends Torah Study regularly for the intellectual challenge. Two are decades younger. One just got married. She still comes by. The other found a distraction for Saturday mornings—a girlfriend he met on Jdate. We approve. All attend our evening study sessions, which we hold periodically.

There’s great joy in any bunch of guys—and a woman or women, including an ancillary woman member when she visits from Atlanta—sitting around a table talking and joking. Our conversations flow and morph freely. They cover topics from religion and politics to TV, personal anecdotes and observations. Whether a conversation reflects deep thought or inanity—I contribute both—this social interaction leaves us energized. It’s the highlight of my week.

I see other friends individually at different times and in different ways—often for weekday lunch or coffee. Carolyn and I have others to our house or go out with them to dinner and a movie. We don’t do so as often as we’d like given everyone’s busy schedules, but we look forward to each get-together.

Friendship is cheaper than therapy though there’s nothing wrong with seeing a professional. I can talk to friends about a range of issues that affect me. They can bring up issues that concern them. We discuss all topics free from judgement. In some of my more troubled moments, I get things off my chest—valuable in itself—and occasionally receive wise counsel offering me new perspective. Cheap therapy, indeed.

Not to mention that my friends buy my books and read my short stories. Some read them immediately and shower me with praise. I appreciate that. Others read my work a little later. A few just buy the books. No matter. Their support means the world to me.

Let me acknowledge my best friend: Carolyn. After nearly 49 years of marriage, Carolyn knows my emotional ins and outs. In fact, she knows me so well, it’s scary. That she not only signed on for “until death do us part” but lives up to the contract provides testament to her willingness to endure. And no one praises my writing more!

If there’s something I wish for everyone, it’s friends. And, that we consider people we encounter at random moments in random places as friends we haven’t had coffee with. Yet.

Last week’s post was mistitled, as my friend Tracy pointed out. It doesn’t concern victimlesscrime but nonviolentcrime. Its point, however, remains the same. If you haven’t read it yet, you’ll find it under the title “The Hoax of Nonviolent Crime.”

The post will take a break on May 18 and return on May 25.

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THE HOAX OF NONVIOLENT CRIME

Several months ago, an East Bay detective—legit—called to say that an investigation on identity theft turned up a stolen piece of mail addressed to Carolyn in care of her manager. It contained a royalty check for one of Carolyn’s TV performances. The amount was small. The crime was big. People who would deny its seriousness are perpetrating a hoax.

Many people urge leniency for perpetrators of nonviolent crime. Bull! Every crime against property is a crime in which violence is done to a person’s sense of wellbeing. Because behind every piece of property lies a story.

Carolyn’s check didn’t come easy. TV viewers saw her as a nurse (“Chuck”—NBC), dementia patient (“Grey’s Anatomy”—ABC), a woman startled by Hugh Laurie (“Chance”—Hulu) and a homeless woman (“Bartlett”—Amazon Prime). They and the public haven’t witnessed the years Carolyn has spent attending acting and singing classes. Preparing for them. Rehearsing at home for auditions. And then auditioning in Los Angeles at her cost or videoing at our house (we’ll ignore my reading other characters’ lines to her).

An acting career makes no promise of success. But after thirty-five years as a professional storyteller, Carolyn decided to give it a shot. She studied and did plays but set her sights on TV and movies. She sweated to hone her craft, risked rejection and overcame it, and has enjoyed a few small triumphs.

That meant little to the woman recently convicted in the theft of other people’s mail to steal their identities, which can cost victims much money and considerable aggravation. I fear that the efforts of Carolyn and upstanding people in all walks of life get overlooked by those who consider nonviolent criminals the ultimate victims.

I get that many people grow up in difficult circumstances. Minority and immigrant communities often produce more than their share of criminals. That includes my own. Jews once played major roles in violent crime. From the 1900s through World War Two, killers such as Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, Abe “Kid Twist” Reles, Louis “Lepke” Buchalter and Dutch Schultz (nee Arthur Flegenheimer) abounded. Children of poor immigrants they possessed minimal education. Their turns to crime might be sociologically understandable, but their behavior was and remains illegal, immoral and unacceptable.

The thief who stole Carolyn’s royalty check will be sentenced in San Jose at the end of this month. The court invited Carolyn and her fellow victims to attend. Carolyn won’t. That would steal more of her time.

Carolyn has no desire to demand a lengthy sentence at hard labor or solitary confinement on bread and water. As bad as it can be, the California prison system offers far better treatment than the Soviet gulag or North Korea’s prison camps. Also, the judge possesses information about the thief Carolyn doesn’t and will be empowered to determine a reasonable sentence.

In writing this, I’m not seeking vengeance against those convicted of nonviolent crimes. “Lock ’em up and throw away the key” doesn’t reflect my philosophy. But it’s time that people who seek leniency for nonviolent criminals acknowledge that every nonviolent crime impacts one or more victims. And that those victims frequently pay a price beyond—often far beyond—the monetary value of their loss.

This revised post put up on May 4 includes a revised title. I erred in calling the theft of Carolyn’s mail a victimless crime. It was, indeed, a nonviolent crime.

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