Because I never got that blog up and running (still a project for the future, like compiling my poetry and trying to publish it, and reviewing those end-of-summer evaluations our two-hundred staff members filled out, and more), and I actually felt overwhelmed enough to write something, we'll call you my audience.
Sarah forwarded to me a comment by Av Sinenski (sp?), suggesting something that my breakfast-date this morning, an Israeli, found particularly fascinating: less than fifty years after Jim Crow found himself lynched (unceremoniously), there are many African Americans alive today who have just seen something that they literally (and figuratively) thought impossible - if not yesterday, then two years ago, or when the NFL instituted the Rooney Rule, or when Rodney King found himself beaten senseless, or when Strom Thurmond made news for fathering children with a Black woman (he, of course, was 'treading' in the previously tilled-fields of the father of all belief vs. behavior contradictions, Jefferson), or one of the other obvious, blatant moments that demonstrated how the American world sees blacks not as invisible (we reserve that for women, as the feminist movement claims) but as unlikely to be positively visible. Av suggested that, what that 106-year-old Atlanta woman is experiencing right now, having been born into a world where women did not have the vote and where Democrats were the party that would yet give birth to a post-Reconstruction backlash, is likely the best stand-in, for our generation (and our parents generation), for what the Jewish community worldwide (and especially in Israel) must have experienced in 1947, 1948, if not also in 1967.
There is more to this connection, however - at least in my little intellectual-cultural bubble, there is a rebirth of hope.
We have not yet entered a world where contemporary events have effectively entered the world of ritual (we may never), and there are challenges to the observance of even the politicized, conflicting commemorations that exist. But I'd like to suggest that there are now three events in my life with classic historical significance which I will not only never forget, but that reach the "Kennedy assasination" threshold of large chunks of our generation knowing precisely where they were when they first heard (please excuse the definitely grammatically incorrect use of verb tense in the previous sentence). The two obvious ones are tonight's historical step into a new future and that morning I woke up to Besty Chanales informing me that "a plane hit the World Trade Center." The third creates a wonderful bookend, having occured thirteen years ago yesterday; putting 9/11 in a virtual center-point; and having been experienced - by me, at least - as far away from the event itself as Obama's victory last night. (Brief aside: It is a powerful statement of the victory of individualization that we now remember events of global significance not because of the events themselves [which modern communication and post-modern hermeneutics of information problematize profoundly] but on my own individual experience of learning of the event. Since November 22, 1963, where I was when I learned that the world changed is much more important than the fact that the world changed; the alteration of my experience, rooted in the context at which the paradigm shift began to affect me, is essential, while the paradigm shift itself is relegated to a distant second place.)
On November 4, 1995, Yitzhak Rabin was killed. I will call that date an inflection point at which hope began to slow, though it did not began to diminish, perhaps, until 9/11. Yesterday was a double inflection point: hope began to rise, and quickly. (Calculus implications of the previous sentence, if obvious to you, should be appreciated; if not obvious, I'd suggest not worrying about it.)
But there's more.
For though we do not yet (though I believe we will) possess texts that will come to be associated with Obama's rise in the cultural way that we have a rich library to describe Rabin's life, tragedy, and legacy, note the following textual similarities:
Some of Rabin's last words:
תנו לשמש לחזור, מבעד לפרחים,
אל תביטו לאחור, הניחו להולכים,
שעו עיניים בתקווה, לא דרך כוונות, וכו'
Rabin, who must have looked up at Yigal Amir - and at the barrel of the handgun - before or after he was shot, demanded that, in the face of war and violence (the theme of the rally that night was די לאלימות), we insist on hoping; we be audacious (as it were) enough to hope.
The song continues:
אל תגידו יום יבוא, הביאו את היום,
כי לא חלום הוא
Or, in the words and theme of Obama's rally tonight (and oh how I longed to be a Chicago resident), "yes we can," must become "yes we did;" that which was potential must be realized - such is the fuel of hope.
Pessimism is a de facto state for much of the Jewish community. Note my grandmother's question after Lieberman was selected as Vice Presidential candidate: "But is it good for the Jews?" Note the lack of belief in much of Israel for a better future - with either our external neighbors or our internal (Jewish) ones. And so I understand, perhaps, what is so scary about Obama's optimism. But isn't that also the absurdity of the Israelis' (and some Jews, though not as many as we - or Sarah Silverman - might have feared) fear of Obama? He is not (at least not yet) a fear-mongerer or a blamer. He is not motivated by spreading people apart, by inciting one against the other (the prerequisites, as far as I can tell, for genocide). He is a hoper, and he understands its power. The application of the tune we sing to HaTikvah (just as absurdly Polish as charedi outfits) to the end of the last ברכה before קריאת שמע is an actual theological statement about its meaning. A religious tradition that nursed itself for two millennia on the idea of והביאנו לשלום מארבע כנפות הארץ ותוליכינו קוממיות לארצינו is a nation that should better understand hope's underlying power over us, over the world, and over any struggle for survival. (Perhaps the social and security difficulties of the last sixty years have dampened that hope, more than the Crusades, Inquisition, Blood Libels, Pogroms, or Holocaust could.) For me, at least, Obama could not be more in-line with my Judaism - or with Rabin's (not that Rabin would serve as any type of role model to those who do not support Obama); he embodies the central tenet of (my) post-modern Judaism: עוד לא אבדה תקוותנו.
And so, the gargantuan task that faces Obama and his team in the days and weeks to come, the likelihood that he cannot live up to our expectations for him, and the lingering question of even the possibility of fundamentally altering the habits of a ship as old as the United States (not to mention the elevation to נביא בישראל of the writers of the West Wing, and oh how I wish a Josh Lyman had found me and taken me to this higher calling), we shall leave for another day. For today, in the world that exists inside my head, that which was lost thirteen years ago yesterday was redeemed, somehow, last night. And I do mean redeemed - brought back to what it was - for the time being, at least, no more. Hope has returned. And the symbolic exorcism of that old ship's greatest sin includes the assumption of a mantle once held by Lincoln (who began the ראשית צמיחה of that exorcism) and Roosevelt by someone who has dared us to hope. Which is a reminder that, in our darkest moments (and only history will tell us, when we are old and gray, if this is indeed one of them), our ship of a nation has found the best captain to navigate the choppiest of seas. JAR's tongue-in-cheek hope-poem of this summer, placing Obama in the captain's chair from which Booth forcefully removed Lincoln, is an opening foray into the writing of cultural artifacts to represent this new age. At least, I hope it is an opening foray, though less than I hope that it is a new age.
Maybe I'll start that blog now.
מערי יהודה וחוצות ירושלים,