Sunday, November 8, 2009

Same old square

When I first went to Kings of Israel Square (Kikar Malchei Yisrael) with the fledgling political conscience of a Habonim kid living in Israel during the first Lebanon War, I was swiftly consumed by the angry response of much of this country to the governments culpability in the Sabra and Shatilla massacres. I was 17 and my older friends, who were already serving in the army, asked me to demonstrate and get them back home as soon as possible. I was also work supervisor over 250 students in my agricultural high school, the Kfar HaYarok, and I remember consciously turning away as most of the people I supervised ditched work that day to go to the rally. Some reports suggested that 600,000 Israelis were at what was undisputedly the country’s biggest demonstration ever. I was proud to be among them.
The square was much smaller when I returned as a proud Israeli citizen and new father. Thirteen years had passed, along with many demonstrations, but none felt as powerful as this. It was November 4th, 1995, and my wife and I took our 4 month old baby to see the first Israeli prime minister either of us had voted for. Little did I know that the events that unfolded that night would create a commonality with my parents of a sad and unique nature. Both me and my parents lost the first leader we chose to assassins bullets. They, of course, lost John F. Kennedy, and I lost Yitzhak Rabin.
Last night, when I returned to the Square with my daughter, it bared the name of my lost leader, but little of his legacy. A mere 15,000 people, as reported by the free Hebrew version of the Jerusalem Post, showed up to honor my prime minister, and among those who spoke were people who must have had him turning in his grave.
I must admit that I didn’t boo loud enough when Defense Minister Ehud Barak took the stage. The traitor to Rabin’s legacy who has destroyed the great Labor party of my childhood is also the man behind the continuous building of settlements in the occupied territories and the right hand of the evil Benjamin Netanyahu, who now occupies the prime minister’s office.
If Barak wasn’t enough to make Prime Minister Rabin turn in his grave, then the appearance of Education Minister Gidon Saar surely finished the job. Saar is the minister who’s first act in his new job was to cut off funding for public school, co-existence education. He also had the great idea of teaching Palestinians living in Israel the Jewish national anthem, HaTikvah, as if this will win over their loyalty.
The beacons of light last night were the thousands of youth movement members in their blue uniforms, the leader of the opposition, Tzipi Livni and my other president, Barak Obama, who was broadcast to the crowd on big screens throughout the square. Tzipi was most impressive for me as I know that she has made huge ideological transformations, as had Rabin before her. Minister Livni was raised in a Revisionist family, like our current prime minister, but she was able to transcend the ideals of her upbringing to meet the tough realities of power. Ms. Livni told the crowd last night what all of Israel needs to accept; we cannot continue to rule over our neighbors. Their dreams of independence need to be fulfilled just like our dreams.
Prime Minister Rabin would be proud of Tzipi Livni. The man I once detested for saying that if the Palestinians throw stones (during the first Intifada) we should break their arms, became the man who said, at the signing of the peace treaty with Jordan,

There comes a time when there is a need to be strong and to make courageous decisions, to overcome the minefields, the drought, the barrenness between our two peoples. We have known many days of sorrow, you have known many days of grief -- but bereavement unites us, as does bravery and we honor those who sacrificed their lives. We both must draw on the springs of our great spiritual resources, to forgive the anguish we caused each other, to clear the minefields that divided us for so many years and to supplant it with fields of plenty... The time has now come not merely to dream of a better future -- but to realize it.

Prime Minister Rabin, the time has come, and your memory is a constant reminder to us that in order to create a better future, we must realize peace with our neighbors.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

My Brother Benny

I have a brother. His name is Gregg and he was born on my fifth birthday. Ironically, my buddy Benny, who I love like a brother, was born on my birthday as well. Actually, I was born on his since he is 3 years older than me.
Benny just got out of jail. His crime, blackness. That's right. Benny got arrested for being black while moving. His landlord wasn't fixing all kinds of problems in his apartment, so he and his wife decided to move. My dad was on his way to Benny's house to lend him his van to make the move easier, but, when he arrived, he found Benny in handcuffs next to the boxes of his stuff on a hand truck.
My dad told that police that Benny worked for us, and that he was a great guy, and that he was just coming to lend Benny his van, but they wouldn't listen. Instead, they put my brother Benny in hand cuffs, like a common criminal, and took him off to jail, where he sat for thirty some days. His crime, blackness.
The police arrested Benny because they saw a Black man moving boxes on a Saturday morning. They checked their computers and saw he had a record, but it had been over ten years since Benny had last been arrested. During those years Benny worked as a construction worker, for the last six of them he worked for me and my dad.
Benny could have continued his life as a gang banger and made much more money than he did with us. He could have had drugs and money and women and power, but Benny chose to leave that world. He also tried his best to prevent others from entering it. On numerous occassions, Benny lectured, for me, to my students. When I was doing my doctoral work, Benny advised me as I volunteered in the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center. He wanted to come with, but they wouldn't have a convicted felon speak to delinquent kids, even if his message was preventative.
For most of the time I know Benny, his son has bravely served in the United States military, including two tours of duty in Iraq. Benny's wife works in a local supermarket as a cashier. She doesn't have the same burdens as Benny because her skin is white like mine. If she were moving the family's possessions with a hand truck, she wouldn't have been stopped. But Benny lost more than 30 days of his life because of racial profiling, and this insanity must stop.
Please, if you care at all about human dignity, go to the Southern Poverty Law Center's website, Teaching Tolerance, and read more about racial profiling, then call your congress person. You may even want to forward Benny's story to a friend. Just make sure you do something.