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THE OTHER F-WORD

On December 17, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R.-Ky.) stated re the upcoming trial of impeached president Donald Trump, “I’m not an impartial juror.” On January 16, Chief Justice John Roberts swore in the Senate. McConnell pledged to “do impartial justice.” Anyone for cognitive dissonance?

Then McConnell doubled down. Before preliminaries this past Tuesday, he asked, “Can we still put fairness, evenhandedness and historical precedent ahead of the partisan passions of the day?”

Alas, fair is a word generally honored in the breach. Trump’s trial likely will be a great deal less than fair to the American people. Procedures and voting will reflect near-total partisanship. It’s a given that Republicans will acquit Trump.

Personally, I believe Trump’s phone call to Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky constituted abuse of his office for personal political gain. This calls for removal from office. But I stress the word believe.

Impeachment is somewhat similar to indicting someone in a criminal case, although it’s a political matter and involves interpretation of “high crimes and misdemeanors.” Still, an impeached president, like anyone indicted by a grand jury, remains innocent until proven guilty at trial. That’s fair.

Trial in the Senate roughly approximates a court trial although with major differences. It’s also political. And the 100 senators are not jurors like citizens summoned to render verdicts in criminal courts. Senators are not randomly selected but elected (or appointed) politicians. Prosecuting and defending teams cannot dismiss them at will (peremptory challenges, usually limited) or by showing cause( unlimited). Importantly, unlike criminal jurors, Senators vote on rules pertaining to the trial’s conduct.

Still, fairness demands that the Senate conduct itself according to criminal jury standards: Be open-minded, place the burden of proof on the prosecution, listen to and evaluate the evidence, put aside personal preferences.

So, in spite of what I believe, I consider Trump—whom, to be forthright, I find reprehensible—innocent until and unless the House impeachment managers make a convincing case. To be fair to justice, this may require witnesses and documents not available or requested during the impeachment process.

Citing the imprecise parallels with criminal trials, attorneys may call witnesses who did not testify before a grand jury. They and new evidence may clarify the case for either party by revealing truth.

Senator McConnell at best hedges. Republicans voted down Democratic-proposed amendments re subpoenas to secure new witnesses and documents now. The matter is tabled. Note that whether new witnesses and documents will help or hurt the impeachment management team remains open for discussion.

Still, Mitch McConnell wants to be fair—as he was fair to America by blocking a Senate hearing on Judge Merrick Garland, whom President Barack Obama nominated to the Supreme Court. According to McConnell, Obama had less than a year to go in his second term. A new president should have the right to fill the vacant seat. A sitting president in his last year should sit on his hands.

In the name of fairness, I propose a deal. Trump goes Scott-free without further prosecution. The Senate goes back to its regular business. In return, Trump, less than a year remaining in his term and no assurance of re-election, retreats to Mar-a-Lago and relinquishes the responsibilities of the Oval Office.

Given the integrity modeled by Mitch McConnell, nothing could be more fair.

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FAREWELL, YESTERDAY

The train hurtled eastward through Queens on an early-January day when dingy brick buildings and bare trees turn New York into the bleak set of a Tim Burton movie. As Manhattan receded, so did part of my past.

I was born in the Bronx where my sister Kay had been delivered, but I grew up in Queens. My parents moved to Rego Park about two years before my arrival. Our apartment was my only home until college.

In December 1969, a few months after Carolyn and I were married in San Antonio, we visited my parents. (My mother Blanche alerted my father, “Morris, David has a girl in his room!”) We visited often as a couple then with our kids. After my father died in 1983, I spent one or two long weekends with my mother each year.

After my mother died in 1999, Carolyn and I continued visiting New York. We stayed in Manhattan and usually took the train from Penn Station to Long Island to see Kay and my brother-in-law Herb.

We also took the subway to Rego Park. We’d walk up 63rd Drive, stop at the old building, stroll the neighborhood and have lunch at the now-departed Shalimar Diner. (See “Death of the Diner.”)

My parents ate thousands of meals and desserts at the Shalimar and later, Carolyn and I entertained family and friends there. In Rego Park, I felt connected to my past, and Carolyn knew the neighborhood well. We shared memories.

The Shalimar’s closing made the Rego Park phase of my life more distant, but I thought we’d visit one last time during spring, summer or fall weather. We’d walk up the Drive, stop at the building, then head through the Crescents—tree-lined semi-circular streets with detached homes—pass P.S. 174 and go on for lunch on Austin Street in Forest Hills. We’d return to Manhattan via the E or F train at Continental Avenue.

Two weeks ago, we took the train to the Island to see Kay and Herb and be joined by my nephew Barry and his wife Heidi. I saw a sign.

Always when we’d approached Rego Park, I’d look out the window for a snippet of 63rd Drive. This time, the noon light outside was dim, and not being seated at the window, I was subjected to glare. I sensed when we passed the Drive but couldn’t see it. Returning at night, everything was a dark blur.

The message was clear. My parents are long gone. The Shalimar is a hole in the ground where an apartment building soon will rise. I’m 75, and there’s no more connection to be made with Rego Park—not on the ground.

I’ve always believed that a neighborhood, which undergoes continuous change, belongs to the people who live, shop and work there. At my age, I’m focused on the here and now—life in San Francisco. Without being maudlin, I understand that I’m on a different journey. It’s taking me forward, not back, and the station isn’t all that far off. I’m content to take each day as it comes and let memories unfold in my mind rather than on the sidewalk.

In 1940, a Thomas Wolfe novel was published posthumously: You Can’t Go Home Again. You can. But not forever.

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QUEENS SYNDROME

I’m not spoiling season three of Amazon Prime’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel when I say I love the show, but one episode offended me.

Midge Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan) declares that her son will attend private school on Manhattan’s Upper West Side and not a public school in Queens. With those people. I’m one of those people—P.S. 174, Russell Sage Junior High (J.H.S. 190) and Forest Hills High. I’m no big deal, but many outstanding people (and some less so) come from Queens and the other “outer boroughs”—Brooklyn, the Bronx, Staten Island.

As a kid, I never heard the term outer boroughs. It’s a pejorative used by Manhattanites—many from Ohio, Nebraska, Alabama and California—describing the uncouth working people whose sole function is serving the interests of the educated, taste-making elite living on the only island worth inhabiting. Until rents forced many trendy, stylish citizens to flee to Brooklyn (Park Slope, Williamsburg) and from there to—gasp!—Queens (Astoria, Long Island City).

Actually, I’m not all that terribly put out, but— Okay, I am. Queens Syndrome is typical of attitudes throughout America. Manhattan looks down on Queens. New York City looks down on New Jersey and, well, almost everywhere. The coasts look down on the heartland. The East Coast looks down on the Atlantic shore south of Washington, D.C. excepting South Florida.

Those put down as near-Neanderthals (who were quite accomplished) return the favor. The heartland condemns coastal elites as fake Americans surrounding themselves with dangerous immigrants (to garden, work in restaurants).

Note: Chicago is the hub of the Midwest, but Cook County’s Mexican-American population numbers over 750,000. Then there’s the Windy City’s huge African American population. And history as a Democratic bastion. For many conservatives, Chicago is a city to scorn along with New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland and Seattle. Faux-heartland cities like Dallas and Atlanta are also upsetting the conservative apple cart.

America’s problem is that many people refuse to look past geography and ethnicity. Different becomes a synonym for bad. Differences exist among varying cultures but also considerable similarities. Still, how can you possibly talk to thosepeople. Those Queensites!

Sadly, America’s divide—hardly new but more public these past three years—has encouraged the rest of the world to widen its own long-standing rifts. It’s okay in Europe to be anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant. Look at the U.S. It’s fine for India’s Hindu nationalists to bar immigrant Muslims from citizenship. (As it stands, India has 200 million Muslim citizens.) And if China terrorizes its Uighur Muslims, so what? Hiding behind security concerns, Donald Trump signed an executive order banning immigrants, refugees and visitors from seven nations, five predominantly Muslim.

Of course, Islamists seek to impose their version of Islam on fellow Muslims. Blood flows. They also target others. Christians in Muslim lands are suffering. Jews—not only Israel—remain objects of hatred. But don’t confuse Islamists with Muslims who wish to live in peace with the world.

Entering 2020, my Queens soul offers bad news and good. The bad: Baseless hatred will continue. Half the world believes I’m going to hell. The good: We can abate such hatred if only we demonstrate the will.

We could start by trashing the term outer boroughs.

In spite of what you just read, Happy New Year!

The post, following this feverish bout of writing, will take two weeks off and return on Friday, January 17.

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WHAT IS A JEW?

On December 11, President Trump held a Chanukah party at the White House where he signed an executive order combatting anti-Semitism. The New York Times reported that the order defines America’s Jews as sharing a national origin. It doesn’t. So what is a Jew?

The order relates to Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibiting discrimination based on, among other things, national origin. But the order targets not discrimination against Jews but those who call for the delegitimization or destruction of Israel. It also states that federal agencies “shall not diminish or infringe upon any right protected under Federal law or under the First Amendment.” Confusing.

There should be no confusion that Jews are not defined by country of national origin. Many American Jews were born overseas. Most were born in the U.S.A. So what is a Jew?

To many Christians, a Jew is an adherent of the Jewish religion. But Judaism defines only part of the Jewish world. Most American Jews maintain no synagogue affiliation yet still identify as Jews.

Jews are a people. We’re joined not only by religion but any combination of secular factors such as family descent; shared history; use—even limited—of Hebrew, Yiddish, Ladino or Jewish Arabic; Israel; humor; education and attitudes; and to no small extent food.

Jews do not constitute a race. For over 2,000 years, Judaism identified anyone born of a Jewish mother as a Jew. Four decades ago, the Reform movement accorded Jewish identity to children of non-Jewish mothers but Jewish fathers if the children received a Jewish education. In either case, the “other” parent can be of any ethnicity.

Sadly, genetics have doomed non-Jews. Nazi Germany’s Nuremberg Laws  defined a Jew as anyone with one Jewish grandparent. Many “Jewish” Holocaust victims were Catholics or Protestants. In response, Israel’s Law of Return allows anyone with one Jewish grandparent to reside in the country, although he or she may not be considered Jewish by government-sanctioned religious authorities.

More reason to abandon the racial hypothesis: Anyone may convert to Judaism. At the recent Biennial of the Union for Reform Judaism, URJ president Rabbi Rick Jacobs pointed out, “Between 10 and 20 percent of North American Jews are Jews of Color.” Many are born-Jewish children and grandchildren of converts.

Anti-Semites, alas, will keep hating Jews, even if they have no idea what a Jew is, believes or stands for. Sadly, the White House again offered anti-Semites a measure of support.

When the president signed his executive order, guests included the evangelical Christian leader Robert Jeffress. An ardent supporter of Israel, Jeffress, like many evangelicals, believes that only when all Jews go to the Holy Land will Jesus return. Jews then can accept Jesus or go to hell. As Jeffress said in 2010, “You can’t be saved by being a Jew.”

I wonder how the president’s daughter Ivanka, son-in-law Jared and grandchildren take the news that they can’t go to heaven.

Here on earth, Jeffress’ and other pastors’ statements, made in the name of theology and thus supposedly above reproach, create an image of Jews as “less than.” As Chanukah nears, they not only fail to light a candle in the darkness, they add fuel to the fires of anti-Semitism the president claims he wants to put out.

Happy Chanukah, Marry Christmas, Happy Kwanzaa—Peace!

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BLACK IS WHITE

In 1949, George Orwell published his iconic novel of dystopia, 1984. It presented the world divided into three with Orwell’s England part of Oceania, ruled by the tyrant—or perhaps an avatar—Big Brother. The key to Big Brother’s power was twisting language: war is peace, freedom slavery, ignorance strength. The two articles of impeachment brought against Donald Trump bring Orwell to mind.

On November 21st, Joe Garofoli in the San Francisco Chronicle assessed Republicans’ take on the impeachment inquiry. The conservative writer Brent Bozell tried to undercut a witness who appeared before the House Intelligence Committee, U.S. ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland. Sondland testified that yes, there was a quid pro quo. Bozell’s tweeted observation: “Listen to Sondland and you’ll understand why Americans elected Donald Trump to get rid of people like Sondland.”

Black for Bozell and countless others is white. Gordon Sondland, whom Donald Trump claimed not to know all that well—after Sondland testified—donated one million dollars to Trump’s inauguration. Hard to miss a guy like that. In turn, Trump appointed Sondland, who made his fortune with hotels, to his ambassadorial post. (Reminder: Wealthy donors with no experience in statecraft often receive such posts, sometimes critical ones, from presidents of either party.)

It appears that Americans had no intention of electing Trump so he could get rid of people like Sondland, because Sondland represents not the “deep state” but the moneyed state to which Trump caters.

And there is another Orwellian-type term: Deep state. This nation has—at least, had—a large roster of career professionals in the State and Defense Departments, among others. These folks, unlike Sondland, are not political appointees but career civil servants carrying out the nation’s business with hard-earned expertise.

But what better way to whip the far right into a frenzy than to claim a plot by these unelected professionals without whom the nation faces dissolving relationships with other countries, challenges to forming and maintaining economic and military alliances, and roadblocks to gathering intelligence regarding hostile nations and terrorist groups such as ISIS.

Then again, the far right believes in Fortress America going it alone. Yet for me, the image ofDeep Stateconjures not a threat by invisible men and women bent on violating our Constitution but the classic TV show, X-Files. The show loved conspiracies and portrayed a fictional deep with tongue in cheek.

During one meeting of the deep state’s small committee of movers and shakers, their leader, the Cigarette Man (played marvelously by William B. Davis), takes the group through the day’s order of business. In concluding, he insists that the Buffalo Bills never win the Super Bowl. Football fans got the joke. The Bills had appeared in four straight Super Bowls from 1991-94 and lost them all.

Now let’s go to last Monday. The Justice Department’s inspector general determined that the FBI had mishandled some of the processes regarding investigating foreign interference in the 2016 presidential campaign but the decision to investigate was proper and devoid of political prejudice. Trump’s response: The report was worse than he thought it would be. The FBI engaged in an “attempted overthrow” of the government.

So yes, black is white. Take it from the Oval Office. Or should I say, the Ellipsoid Headquarters of Alternative Reality?

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GOD SETS THINGS STRAIGHT

Days before Thanksgiving, energy secretary Rick Perry reassured Donald Trump that God mandated his election to the Oval Office. Perry told the president “. . . if you’re a believing Christian you understand God’s plan for the people who rule and judge over us on this planet in our government.” As a Jew, I wondered. So I went to the Source.*

God anticipated my first question. “This guy wrote this book God’s Others. He says the Jewish view is, I’m the universalistic God—the God of all the earth—of a particularistic religion, in his case Judaism.’” This guy, I said.That’s me! “I figured you could use a plug. Anyway, long story short, I created the heavens and the earth and all humanity. Religion? Whatever’s comfortable. But no religion can claim to know it all. All I ever wanted from any religion was two things.”

What’s the first? I asked. “Go with some form of the Ten Commandments. Eleven? Twelve? That’s cool. The Jews, I gave 613. But you don’t have to have a formal list. Which means? “Just be good to each other. I said that in that old movie, Oh, God. Well, George Burns said it. Nice casting.”

And the second thing? “Be careful about claiming to speak for me.”

But Rick Perry said you put King David and King Solomon on the throne and like Trump, they were imperfect. “Perry—anyone—really knows what I was thinking? I saw potential in David and Solomon, and they delivered on some things. They also screwed up. Bigtime. David with the killing and the women. Solomon with the 300 wives and 500 concubines, and all those taxes. I didn’t let David build My Temple, and after Solomon died, his kingdom split in two. After that, I left people to their own choices—if and when they could make them. Know why?” No, why? I asked. “Parents have to let their children grow up.”

God was on a roll. “Genghis Khan, Oliver Cromwell, Kaiser Wilhelm, Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Kim Jong-un in power? Wasn’t me, either.”

But some Christians insist You made Trump president. “I fixed 63 million votes for Trump, 66 million for Hillary and six million or so for third-party-candidates? I made other voters stay home? You want a president, you elect him. Or her. You screw up? It’s on you. Besides, I have better things to do with My time.”

Like what? “Crewel work. There’s also My nightly mahjongg game with the heavenly host. You sound like my mother. Blanche is her own dynamic force and I respect that, so she sits in on Tuesdays. Sometimes, she lets Me win. In return, I keep your father Morris well-fed in My Great Deli in the Sky. Not to mention supplying him cigars ten times better than those four-for-a-buck Garcia-Vegas he had you pick up at the candy store when you were a kid.”

So then maybe you could . . . “Break the rules? Make you president so you can fly on Air Force One and on Chanukah light the national chanukiah in one of the White House’s front windows? I love to see you enjoy yourself, Dovidl, but fixing America’s elections is someone else’s shtick.”

You mean? “Yup. That job was seized by the Kremlin.”

*God’s comments constitute fiction and are not meant, in whole or in part, to represent God’s actual thoughts as related to me in confidence.

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“JOJO RABBIT”

Each November, the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) provides members like my wife Carolyn with screenings, discs and streaming codes to see the year’s best films and TV shows. This precedes nominations and the January election for the SAG Awards. The first movie we saw left a lasting impression.

Jojo Rabbit, set in wartime Austria (could be Germany, not made clear and doesn’t matter), presents the relationship between a 10-year-old boy, Jojo (played wonderfully by Roman Griffin Davis), an enthusiastic member of the Hitler Youth with a good heart, and a young Jewish woman, Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) hiding in his house. Sounds like quite a drama, right? It is—and it isn’t.

There’s nothing amusing about the Third Reich and the Holocaust, but there’s everything downright funny about Jojo Rabbit, directed and co-written by New Zealander Taika Waititi. Taika’s name? Maori. So what connection could he have to this material? His birth name is Taika David Waititi, and he’s also known as Taika Cohen (his mother is Robin Cohen).

Here is a film filled with humor but not for cheap laughs. JoJo Rabbit offers satire at its best. The day before we saw it, I presented a talk to members of my synagogue, Sherith Israel, about the uses of satire and comedy in a political context: “Chuckles, Laughs, Guffaws: Autocrats’ Biggest Fears.” Tyrants can fight violent rebellion with more violence. They can counter logical arguments with opposing arguments, no matter how illogical. They can choose to ignore protest, though attention is generally paid. They can even survive a dramatization of the plight of their country. But no tyrant can stand to be ridiculed and laughed at.

Taika Waititi bought the rights to the novel Caging Skies by the New Zealand-Belgian writer Christine Leunens. It’s a serious piece. Waititi loves comedy. He made a movie in which humor dominates, heightening rather than obscuring the drama inherent in the story. (Some of his approach seems inspired by the offbeat filmmaker Wes Anderson). Waititi also plays Hitler—an insecure clown, who speaks with Jojo in the boy’s imagination.

Some things we know. The Allies won the war. Hitler committed suicide. Six million Jews perished in camps, in ghettos, on city streets, in forests. Some survived. Joao Rabbit makes a point of demonstrating that some Germans/Austrians resisted. Many paid with their lives. When Jojo sees several men and women hanged and left on display in the town square, he asks his mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) what they did. In one of the best lines of dialog I’ve ever heard, she answers succinctly, “What they could.”

I’m not about to give details away, although I must give a shout-out to Sam Rockwell, in my judgment one of America’s finest screen actors, as Captain Klenzendorf. Let me just say that you will laugh at the idiocy of Nazism and its ferocious anti-Semitism, and you’ll cry.

Satire can be a two-edge sword. Poorly wielded—too obvious, too crude—it can injure its creator and those it wishes to help. Sharpened to a fine edge, it can do what drama often can’t: tell a truth that explodes autocrats’ inflated ego and hypocrisy. As with Humpty Dumpty, all the kings horses and all the king’s men can’t put them back together again.

The post will take off next Friday for Thanksgiving. Enjoy the holiday.

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CIRCLED WAGONS

Lindsey Graham (R.-So. Carolina), chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, made a startling statement last Tuesday before flip-flopping on Wednesday. It revealed much about the impeachment inquiry and how a large segment of the country is circling the wagons.

Graham said he wouldn’t read the transcripts of closed-door hearings—open to Republican committee members—released by House Democrats. “I’ve written the whole process off . . . I think this is a bunch of B.S.” Translation: Evidence be damned. This mirrors the attitude of much of pro-Trump white rural America.

“To rural white conservatives,” Robert Leonard wrote in the New York Times (10-14), “their culture is being rubbed out right before their eyes.” Whites see themselves enduring religious prejudice. “Democrats have banned Jesus from the public sphere at great cost to society and the potential salvation of millions.”

Ethnic cleansing in America? Native Americans can sympathize.

Yet according to the Times (10-29), Ralph Drollinger, 65, founder of Capitol Ministries— “Making disciples of Jesus Christ in the political arena”—has been teaching the Gospel to President Trump’s cabinet. So Christianity is very much present in the public sphere. That’s fine—when Bible classes take place before or after working hours.

Are whites really under the gun? Many in post-industrial and rural America are hurting economically. That’s bad for all of us. But examine the economic circumstances of many African Americans and Latinos. Whites now suffering the loss of jobs and hope long have had a great deal of company.

What whites seemingly can’t abide is their loss of majority status and its accompanying power. Who created Jim Crow? Rich whites have always controlled the nation’s wealth, leaving poor whites with one comfort: They could see themselves as superior to all other ethnic groups. Yet in a decade or two, whites will become a plurality—the nation’s largest minority.

If America’s minorities now enjoy increased visibility “at white expense,” the phenomenon is relatively recent. When I was a kid, only one TV show portrayed then-called Negroes—Amos & Andy. It originated as a hit radio show created and performed by whites. Only one TV show presented Jews—Gertrude Berg’s The Goldbergs. Other minorities? Fuhgeddaboudit.

Jewish characters in movies? Rarely. Jewish movie stars? Many, including Kirk Douglas, Lauren Bacall, John Garfield, Judy Holliday, Lee J. Cobb and Shelly Winters—all assigned screen (non-Jewish) names.

To whites who support Donald Trump, who vowed they could again celebrate Christmas, I ask: Has America ever not? I rarely see anything in the media or the public square relating to Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh and other religious holidays. Christmas in liberal, secular San Francisco? Inescapable.

The truth that frightens so many Trump supporters is this: Whiteness does not constitute the standard for good citizenship and patriotism. What part of “liberty and justice for all” is hard to understand?

Here, let me say that no white person should ever think he or she is second-rate. Condemning anyone for being white also constitutes racism.

So, will Jesus-fearing whites abandon their persecution complex? I don’t know. I do know that  America’s minorities have experienced the real horrors of racism and anti-Semitism. Still do.

If whites can step outside those circled wagons and demand a better America for everyone, they’ll join all Americans in moving forward.

The post will take off next Friday and return on November 22.

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MY FATHER, THE SPY

Last week, Army Lt. Colonel Alexander Vindman testified before the House Intelligence Committee regarding the impeachment inquiry. Some guardians of the land of the free and the home of the brave suggested that LTC Vindman was not loyal to this country. My father faced the same accusation.

Vindman, a Jew, immigrated from Ukraine at three, grew up in Brooklyn and received a degree from elitist Harvard. All tip-offs. Commissioned as a second lieutenant, he swore to protect and defend the Constitution. No real patriot would be fooled by that. Twenty-two years in uniform? A combat infantryman’s badge? A purple heart? Deceptions.

As to my father Morris: When America entered World War Two, he sought to become an air-raid warden. A routine investigation followed. Someone accused him of having been a spy for Tsarist Russia before and during World War One. Made sense, I suppose.

In 1906, Dad arrived at Ellis Island with my grandparents from Poland, then part of the Russian Empire. He was 2-1/2 (whether he was smoking a cigar remains undetermined) and obviously impressionable. Also clever. He claimed he remembered nothing about Warsaw. He spoke fluent English (with a New York accent). Ruses.

In 1914, the Perlsteins became citizens just as the Great War sent Russia reeling and in need of all the assistance it could get. Citizenship obviously enabled my father, 11, to go deep undercover. His smokescreen included baseball—playing in the schoolyard and rooting for the Yankees and Giants.

Russia sought information about American intentions. And what revealed American thinking more than baseball? Was Yankees right fielder Doc Cook a favorite of young boys? Giants pitcher Christy Mathewson? Did immigrant fifth-graders, America’s future soldiers and mothers of soldiers, really prefer penmanship and learning times tables to working in the fields? Were they exposed to endless propaganda about the countries from which their families fled for better economic opportunities and safety, particularly after Jews streamed to these shores following the 1905 pogroms in Kishinev and Kiev?

More proof against my father: Excellent report cards and a bar-mitzvah in 1916. Beyond the shadow of a doubt, he lacked kinship with salt-of-the-earth Christian-American kids packed off to coal mines, stockyards, fields and factories.

Ridiculous? Sure. No one accused my father of being a Tsarist spy, although he did have to submit a lot of paperwork before becoming an air-raid warden in Queens. And for the record, his love of cigars started at 12.

But there’s a point to be made. Defenders of President Trump tend to go off their meds. It’s not that they refuse to believe that he withheld from Ukraine American aid appropriated by Congress until Ukrainian president Zelensky agreed to dig up dirt on Hunter Biden and his presidential-candidate father Joe. And investigate Ukrainian interference in America’s 2016 election, although U.S. intelligence agencies pointed the finger at Russia, and William Mueller got indictments on 17 Russians.

It’s that they prefer character assassination to facts. So some attacked LTC Vindman to make a point of their own: If you weren’t born on American soil to American parents, you’re suspect.

Where then does that leave First Lady Melania Trump, who came to America from Slovenia in 1996 at age 26? I take her loyalty for granted. Does that make me, a native son, disloyal?

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OUR BOYS

The dust-up in Israel regarding HBO’s 10-part mini-series Our Boys began even before its August 12 premiere. Israelis on the right, having seen only the trailer, were incensed. They remained so when the show aired. Were they correct?

Our Boys, a Jewish-Arab Israeli collaboration, explores the 2014 arrest and trial of three Orthodox Israeli men—an uncle and his two nephews—for the murder of a Palestinian youth. It’s important to recognize that as faithful to events as the creators tried to be, the recounting is fictional. Some actual personalities were merged into a single character, the scope of TV and film having limits. The writers also created dialogue, revealing conversations they’d never heard, to add to the drama. I don’t know if they accessed transcripts of interrogations and the trial.

Critically, the show’s opening scenes lay the groundwork by marking a painful moment—there have been many—in Israel’s history. Eighteen days before Mohammed Abu Khdeir’s murder, Palestinians kidnapped three young Israeli Yeshiva students: Eyal Yifrach, Naftali Fraenkel and Gilad Shaar. Israelis prayed and demonstrated for their safe return. When the students were discovered murdered, the nation mourned. Many on the Israeli right erupted.

Had the creators begun with the killing of Mohammed, ignoring the Yeshiva students’ murders, negative response to the show would easily be understood. Israelis would see themselves simplistically rendered as haters of Arabs (some are, hardly all) and wanton killers.

But Our Boys portrays the revenge murder as wrong and a violation of Jewish values. Yet it never condemns Israel. Rather, it calls to task those who would kill illegally in the name of the state and lauds Israel as a nation dedicated to morality, law and peace.

What’s the problem? As I mentioned, pushback began when Israelis saw only the show’s trailer. Seventy years of attacks by Arab states and Palestinian terrorists have left their mark on the Israeli psyche. Yet to be legitimate, dramas like Our Boys must present complexity and subtlety. The reason is obvious: Human beings are complex and subtle. Murder horrifies us yet we’re often struck by the desire for revenge—more murder. We can celebrate our best attributes only if we confront our worst.

Speaking of complexity, Our Boys presents Mohammed’s parents, Hussein and Suha, sympathetically. They’re human. They’re Mother and Father! Yet the right may fail to note that the show also presents many Palestinians as ardently desiring Israel’s destruction and in thrall to the concept of martyrdom that fuels terrorism against Jews in Israel and (non-Jews included) elsewhere. Many Palestinians disregard the wishes of the mourning parents. Israelis who don’t see the show can’t know this.

Three months after the deaths of the three Yeshivah students, Israeli forces killed two Palestinian suspects in a shoot-out. The three killers of Mohammed Abu Khdeir received prison sentences ranging from life down to 22 years for the youngest, an emotionally disturbed teen.

The challenge any people confront when struck by violence is that killing, or convicting and imprisoning suspects, doesn’t necessarily bring matters to a close. Deep wounds heal slowly if at all.

Five years later, Israelis and Palestinians remain at loggerheads. Peace—true peace—seems unreachable. Our Boys touches emotions still raw. If negative Israeli responses seem off the mark to me, they’re nonetheless understandable.

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