I doubt that anyone still reads this blog. After all, I haven't exactly been edifying in the last few years. I've written some things at Facebook that I just didn't have the energy to port over here, but mostly I just find that the minute I try to opine on this crazy world, all I want to do is take a nap.
October 5, 2023 marked 10 years since Mr. Brilliant departed this mortal coil. It's hard to believe that it's been a decade. If I look at specific events, I can fathom the elapsed time, but that it is ten years and I am now closer to age 70 than 60 is simply incomprehensible. In these years, I moved to North Carolina, made new friends, retired nearly six years ago, and became eligible for Medicare. The two young cats I moved here with are now old cats, one of them likely on the cusp of hyperthyroidism. It seems impossible that it's been 10 years since I dealt with this with Maggie, and that SHE is gone nearly a decade.
I thought that the 5th this year would somehow feel different from earlier years; as if 10 years is somehow momentous. But the truth is that time is a sneaky thing. 10 years didn't feel much different from 9 or 8. Mr. Brilliant is gone, he's not coming back, and more of his things have been jettisoned every year. What I do notice is that fall, slow to come to North Carolina, has a melancholy feel that it didn't have before Mr. B. died. Perhaps it's because pushing age 70 with a steamroller is the autumn of my own life, and we all know what comes next.
It seems silly to be talking about insignificant things like how I feel about having lost a husband ten years ago when there are people being murdered in Israel and once again, it all comes down to the toxic stew of religion and politics.
I am what I call "culturally Jewish." Perhaps it's dangerous to even SAY the "J" word out loud, given the rise of neo-Naziism in not just the right-wing fringes of the hinterlands, but in the actual Republican Party leadership. Buried yesterday in the news about all-out war in Israel as the result of a suspiciously large assault by Hamas over the weekend, is the news that 23-and-Me data specifically identifying Ashkenazic Jews in the US was leaked on the dark web, which to me is an indicator that the forces of Hitleresque Naziism really ARE on the rise and this time there will be no hiding. They are no longer the fever dreams of paranoiacs like my mother, who insisted that the reason she couldn't make friends in the same town where I built a robust friendship circle after moving here 15 years later is because "they don't like Jews here." Last week there was a bomb threat at the Reform synagogue/JCC here in town, and a number of neighborhoods have seen anti-Semitic flyers distributed recently. Hatred of Jews has come to this liberal enclave in North Carolina.
My particular cultural Judaism is a function of our history, which has created an anxious people, cognizant of the fact that when push comes to shove, we are going to be blamed for everything. It has been like this for 2000 years and there are no signs that it will ever disappear.My Jewish identity is also about food, and the irony and sarcasm we carry within us, best encapsulated as "They tried to kill us, we survived, now let's eat." It's bagels and brisket and matzo ball soup and the mystery of gefilte fish which no one likes but many feel obligated to eat. It's a certain Yiddish-inflected speech pattern made famous by mid-20th century Borscht Belt comedians. It's a sense of humor so dry and often bitter that it's the verbal equivalent of the horseradish used at the passover seder. And it's a feeling deep in our souls that we are part of this long and trouble-filled thread of humanity.
Last night I happened to catch the end of "Schindler's List," a movie I've seen at least a half-dozen times in the last 30 years since its release (can it really be 30 years?). The scene where the film goes from monochrome to color, and then the Schindler Jews who were alive in 1993 and the actors who played them put stones on Schindler's grave just rips me to shreds every time. And I broke into the kind of gut-tearing sobs that I only have when it hits me yet again that Mr. Brilliant is gone and I will never see him again, and those have lessened over time. I cried for those murdered by those people who seem to always exist just to wipe Jews off the map. I cried for the relatives in old sepia home movies who returned to Poland from what may have been a visit, or may have been an immigration, only to die in the camps a few years later. I cried for the dead at the Tree of Life synagogue, and for the countless Jews and Palestinians who continue to die in this endless conflict over a piece of land in the desert. And I cried for our miserable species, that just can't seem to ever successfully harness our better natures on a large scale.
Israel Brum and Chana Jakubowicz Brum
my maternal great-grandparents
Died in one of Hitler's camps
About a week before Hamas somehow breached Israel intelligence and to date massacred nearly 2000 people in their own would-be Final Solution, The Wifely Person told me of her confidence that the increasing number of Israelis protesting the Netanyahu regime would eventually prevail, and that I should consider Israel as a safe Plan B for when, as seems inevitable, the white nationalists take over the US. I've been skeptical about just how safe it would be in a country where the autocratic corrupt leader is allied with religious fanatics as much as the would be autocratic corrupt leader in the US who wants to be restored to the White House is. The reality is, as it has always been, that if you have one drop of Jewish blood, there are always a sizable number of people who want you dead, want your children dead, and want all memory of your existence wiped from history. And I recommend you click the link above because The Wifely Person knows a lot more about the history of that piece of land than I do, even taking the religious aspect out of the equation.
I do know this, however: I know that Hamas doesn't give a rat's ass about the Palestinians. They have done NOTHING for the Palestinians. Using the Palestinian people as pawns and as human shields and an excuse to eradicate the state of Israel is vile. And violence begets violence, as we see now. But when you have babies being beheaded, and women being marched through the streets with blood flowing from between their legs because they have been raped to mutilation -- and then beheaded, and the rest of the horrors we've seen, compassion for people who have been used at pawns by butchers requires a degree of level-headedness that even the most lapsed Jew who has turned their back on the religious part of Jewish being and Jewish life, is going to find challenging.
I know that out of the gate there were those who wanted to "both sides" this; to assume that this was just another incidence of "If you poke the bear enough, sooner or later the bear will wake up" under the idea that it's up to Israel to stop this -- as if they could. As if Israel refusing to fight back when the rockets are fired from Gaza -- as if turning the other cheek, as we're always supposed to do, would work. It never has. The Jews in Germany and Poland in the 1930s tried to turn the other cheek, and look what happened to them. I'm willing to state that most of those who live in Israel would LOVE to live in a land where they don't have to be afraid; would LOVE to not have to worry about when the rockets will hit their home. But the keyword is "live." And that is something Hamas does not want.
Mr. Brilliant worked for an Israeli company for a while in early 2001. He had to go to Jerusalem, where they were headquartered, for training. He would email me telling me of sitting on his balcony at the King David Hotel watching the explosions. A few months after he returned, a Hamas suicide bomber killed 16 Israelis, including 7 children, and wounded 130 at the Sbarro pizzeria where he'd stopped while he was there most evenings for pizza on his way back to the hotel from work. But for a few weeks time, he might have died then. Kind of makes me feel thankful he made it to 2013.
The cycle of violence that has characterized the Middle East for certainly as long as I've been alive, has proven futile time after time after time after time. And I find myself feeling like the exhausted parent who says "I've had it! I don't care who started it, it stops NOW!!! Now both of you, go to your rooms until you can behave!" But there's no "both sides"-ing this. This is not about wayward children or even claims to territory. Today it is about terrorism. It is a holocaust with a lower body count (so far). And let's face it -- it's hard to argue AGAINST the existence of a Jewish state, when the desire among not just the Islamic world, but also the Christian one, to see Jews eradicated, rears its ugly head again and again and again. Whether it's through terrorism or being driven into the sea when Jesus comes back, it's always about the extermination of unconverted Jews. It has always been thus.
After 9/11, Americans rallied behind George W. Bush. I hated Bush with the fire of a thousand suns. I knew all about the National Guard business, and the Roger Stone/Matt Schlapp-masterminded Brooks Brothers Riot. In fact, an explosive Newsweek article about the Florida election shenanigans hit the newsstand the day before the attacks. But I remember saying to Mr. Brilliant, "I know we hate him, but we're stuck with him and all we can do is hope he knows what he's doing." So I can't even be in opposition to those people who were protesting a week ago but now are rallying behind the Netanyahu regime, because they may hate him, but they're stuck with him for now and hope he knows what he's doing. It's what you do when your country is under attack. The other stuff has to be put aside for now.
It's not easy being someone with a strong Jewish soul but without the religion. I can't even describe what it is, but I know I feel it. But it's difficult, because if it's not about the whole Biblical thing, and about a deity-ordained right to a piece of land, and about the rituals, then what is it. Is it just about feelings and the generational PTSD that manifests itself in free-floating anxiety? Is it just respect for the struggles of those who came before? Or something else? I do not know. But here's what I do know. I know that my heart hurts. I know that I feel disappointed that the world is still doing this. I know now what I always denied when my mother was alive -- that there really are an awful lot of people in the world who hate me and everyone like me. And I know that I can sit here with my non-Jewish last name and my atheism/agnosticism, but that doesn't change the fact that Hamas, and Iran, and yes, the white nationalist Christian Dominionists here in the US, and all those like them, want me dead BECAUSE I AM DESCENDED FROM JEWS, irrespective of my ties to some kind of undefined Jewishness.
I admit that I am a conflict avoider and people pleaser. I spent my childhood desperately wanting quiet, in a home where there was constant fighting and screaming and arguing, followed by years when all I wanted was to avoid having my mother explode with rage over some minor infraction. I am on a break from Facebook and most cable news and have hesitated to write anything about this because the last week has made me feel like that 9-year-old that I was over a half-century ago, sitting under the kitchen stairs hugging my knees and just wishing for the screaming to stop. I'm tired. And I'm frustrated. And I am terribly, terribly sad. And I am, for really the first time in my life, terrified. Because until now I've been able to hide from the reality that a good chunk of the world wants people like me dead. There's no hiding anymore. All that's left is to hope that when they come, they make it fast.