Sunday, November 25, 2007
A Thanksgiving Conversation on America and Israel
It can't be considered Thanksgiving without a good meal and what is a meal, but meat. The meat supply in the fridge was low and the local Kosher butcher charges $7.50 a pound for beef stew. So what can an Orthodox Jew do?
"Yesh Shever BeMitzrayim," I proclaimed, "Kumu, Redu Shama VeShivru Lanu Mishama Me'at Ochel." (Paraphrasing Genesis 42:2 Behold, I have heard that there is corn in Egypt. Get you down thither, and buy for us from thence)
Mitzrayim was in Brooklyn, specifically Boro Park, somewhere along 18th Avenue. I took the train over and under the city.
"Myrtle, she gets exotic animals all the time. One time it's some rare South American parrot and another time some monkey. Then she gets tired of them and gives them away to zoos or has them euthanized," an elderly man in a peaked cap and embroidered scarf was telling his companion. "Finally she wanted a bigger house, but it cost too much money to demolish. So she had it burned down. The whole town came to watch."
A black man in a black leather jacket with an amplifier strung around his shoulders and beads in his hair came through from the next subway car toting a guitar. Without saying a word he launched into an impromptu version of a classic rock song. Then he passed around his upside down hat.
Finally the train came to its stop and I was in Mitzrayim. I went and did my shopping and loaded up full of meat. The old bearded Jew at the counter was no Pharaoh and no Yosef, he rang up my purchases and charged me exactly what the cost was, but neither did he have me locked up or demand proof I was no spy.
The sky was growing dark and so it was time for the Maariv prayer. I asked the first man I saw where the nearest Minyan might be found. He told me that there was a Shul (Synagogue) a block over. A block over I went. I got there in time for the Shiur and discovered that I had found what must be the only Modern Orthodox Shul in Boro Park and on 18th Avenue too.
I sat down during the Shiur on one of the polished wooden pews to wait for Maariv. A sheet on the wall mentioned Thanksgiving and featured a picture of a Pilgrim family. An ad above it advertised regular classes in Navi (Prophets) with each chapter emphasizing practical lessons that were meant to be applied to your life. More men came in. The crowd was mostly modern older men in gray fedoras and up front the Rabbi was speaking about milk and wine. Since this was Boro Park and 18th Avenue, a sprinkling of Chassidim and other fellows joined them as well.
"You know how many nations they invited to Annapolis," a Sefardi said angrily. He was wearing a black hat and jacket and bent over a pew to speak to the man in Chassidic clothes in the back. "Forty-Nine. Forty-Nine nations. Mem Tet Shaarei Tumah. (Forty-Nine Levels of Defilement)"
"They're out of their minds to give up Yerushalayim," the Chassid said. "Out of their minds, I tell you."
"I thought the Democrats were bad but the Republicans are just as bad," the Sefardi said. "Look what Bush is doing. He's destroying everything."
"What about all the liberal Jews?" the Chassid demanded.
The Sefardi dismissively waved his hand and went to his seat.
"Annapolis, they're going to destroy the country. They gave up Gaza and now there are rockets falling on them from there. Every time they give up it gets worse," the Chassid said turning to me.
"Hopefully Hashem (G-d) will help," I said.
"The Israelis are stupid," he said, "they're giving up the country. How can they still trust those murderers."
"They don't, but the government has people like Olmert in it. He just does whatever gets him ahead and the Knesset won't remove him because they want to protect their own positions," I said. "Olmert's sons are in Paris and Los Angeles. He doesn't care about any of it. He'll have a plane waiting for him if things get bad."
"With suitcases of money," the Chassid said.
"Just like the Polish government in exile," I added.
"My own children live there. I visit every year," the Chassid said. "In today's Frank J. Gaffney column, he basically says how stupid America and Israel are being and it's true. You know America is the greatest country in the world but it's also the craziest. For thanksgiving I have an eighteen pound turkey for Chai, life and I hang the big American flag in the window. I'm a patriot."
Without a break he turns to the man up front.
"We need to get Giuliani elected President. He'll get the job done. You know after the planes hit, I saw his face. He was crying but he was also determined. They messed with my country and they're gonna pay, was what was on his face."
"Well hopefully he will be President," I said.
"You know when he came here on the streetcorner, I told him he should be the first Christian Prime Minister of Israel. You need someone who can get the job done. If Israel made up its mind, it could sweep them all out in days. And Iran, let them come and try to bomb us. I'll be waiting for them with the biggest rocket launcher in the world," the Chassid said.
And then it was time for the Maariv prayer and then time to go. The rain came down as I rushed to the subway. On the way home the moon kept coming out and receding into the clouds, a bright white light into dark blue drifts of cloud in the sky.