Saturday, July 29, 2006

An Israeli Mother Copes with Soldier-Son at War

An Israeli Mother Copes with Soldier-Son at War

Elizabeth Levy
Special to the Jewish Journal-North Boston, July 28 2006
[Elizabeth is Dov Levy's daughter]

Elizabeth Levy After almost 25 years living in Israel, this is the first war in which not only do I have a son in the army but also most of the soldiers are my son's age, my son's friends and schoolmates, the sons of my friends.

My son graduated from tank training school in the first days of the war and was home on scheduled leave for the first week. Still, I am just as nervous and anxious about those other kids who are out there on the front lines. I feel that same pain in my stomach, the same fear about watching the news. And yet, I am unable to turn it off. Every time they announce another soldier wounded or killed, it tears me apart. Mickey is now back at his base ready to do what the army asks.

This morning, I drove my daughter, Jenny, into Jerusalem to the army office for her first call up. (Jenny begins her senior year in high school in the fall and during that year all Israeli kids have periodic pre-army service briefings and events.) Driving home, I noticed a huge sign that someone had hand painted and hung near the bus stop leaving town. The sign read, "Soldier, Thank you for protecting us." I cried.

Perhaps the way that the country pulls together during times like these is also making me mushy. Everyone is taking in families from the north. Everyone is making packages to send to soldiers and to kids in bomb shelters. Everyone is donating, volunteering, supporting and pulling together.

Many books have been written about the Israeli soldier during our many wars. Now I see it very personally, very close up, when these wonderful young men and women express pride for their part in the struggle to protect the country. Their camaraderie and their dedication to one another is amazing.

I am blown away by their desire to be on the front lines doing anything and everything that they can. On one hand, they're out of their minds, young and innocent, still naive enough to consider themselves invincible.

On the other hand, they feel so strongly about their country. Even more, they feel so close to their friends that they can't bear the thought of not being together in times like these.

It's as if we finally see that the education we worked so hard to give them — at home, in school, in scouts — has really sunk in. These are really good people.

Mickey told me that they don't think about getting hurt. They don't think about dying. They don't think about the fear or danger. (I always say, that's why they take 18 year-olds, before they start thinking!) They just want to do what they have to do. And not in the sense of doing it to get it over with. They do it because they believe in it.

I'm back to answering the emails that have piled up during the week. I have had so many letters of support that I haven't been able to keep up with answering them all. Still, I never tire of reading them although they all say the same thing. For a change, it's nice to know that most of the world is behind us. It's nice to know that people are thinking of us.

Elizabeth Levy is director of development for the Israel Council for the Child. She may be contacted at

Dispatches from Israel's Home/War Front

Dispatches from Israel's Home/War Front

Jewish Journal Boston North July 28, 2006

One truism about my friends in Israel during wartime is that they write. Here are some excerpts from my mail received since the war began.

One writer grew up in England, one in Belgium, two in Canada, the others in the United States, and all made aliyah after age 18. All the men and most of the women served in the Israeli army. Every one has children who also served, or are now serving, in the military; at least one lost a child in combat. They have lived in Israel anywhere from 20 to 45 years

"The situation is not good, but we have come through so many things 'til now, I'm sure we will weather this storm, too. Besides, we have no choice but to stand firm and 'hang in there.' I'm reminded of England during World War II, and the talk then of stiff upper lip, chin up, etc. It's a shame that we have come to this once again in our lifetime, but most people seem to be able to cope with it. Israel didn't get to this point in its existence by being weak and helpless."
— Woman, town west of Jerusalem

"We came back from the country's center a few hours ago, and are under steady bombardment. A number of blackouts have already taken place. I'm off to work in an empty hotel."
— Man, northern kibbutz near Kiryat Shmona

"My son is up north. He was visiting his girlfriend, hoping for a little romantic getaway. Then the bombs began to hit, one only a mile away. Both of them finally got out Saturday night, only to be called back to the Army on Sunday. He was on his way to his base when he heard that his girlfriend's uncle was killed in the Haifa train depot bomb blast. They went back up north to the funeral, amidst the air raid sirens."
— Man, town outside Jerusalem

"I was alone at home on Wednesday morning when the shelling began. It was a bit frightening, but not enough to send me downstairs to the mamad [bomb shelter] to sleep. In retrospect, I probably should have! The house was literally shaking at times. Nevertheless, things go on as usual. The news reports are always more horrifying than the reality on the ground."
— Woman, Maalot, on the Lebanon border

"The older I become, the more unbearable it all gets to be. It will never let up, not in our generation, and not in the ones to come. On the other hand, I am glad that war-mongering Hezbollah is finally going to get what has been long and painfully overdue. Among radical Muslims, only power speaks and engenders respect."
— Woman, Jerusalem

"Thursday afternoon we were downtown in Jerusalem. Shops and cafes were busy. I'm wondering to myself, 'Don't they know there's a war going on?' We went to see a movie at the Israel Film Festival — very crowded. Last night we were invited out for Shabbat dinner, and the war did not dominate the conversation. Yes, it was mentioned in passing."
— Man, Jerusalem

"We do feel the tension. It is uneasiness, not knowing where and what will happen. But war is nothing new."
— Woman, Jerusalem

"In Haifa nothing much is moving; there is very little traffic and most people are home, We can hear planes overhead all day (too high to spot) and helicopters fly up and down the coast, which we can see from our living room window. Several people who live in the south have called and offered us refuge, but neither of us is interested in leaving."
— Woman, Haifa

"I don't think we should leave out the fear factor, especially now after so much escalation with over 700 bombs exploding inside Israel. On one hand, life goes on here — and that's important to know — but on the other hand, it's damned terrifying!"
— Woman, town near Jerusalem

These messages from Israel's home front are not about great heroism, but about great steadfastness; not about ideology, but about maintaining the nation; and not about despair, but about determination.

Monday, July 17, 2006

What in the World is Israel Doing? Saying: "Enough!"

What in the World is Israel Doing? Saying: "Enough!"

Jewish Journal Boston North July 14, 2006

Israel has been flexing its muscles in the weeks since two Israeli soldiers were killed and a third, Gilad Shalit, 19, was wounded, kidnapped and taken over the border into Gaza.

At first, Israel's Prime Minister Olmert warned Hamas to release Gilad unharmed. When their response was negative, Israel unleashed air strikes against Palestinian targets in Gaza, followed by sonic boom flyovers in Syria, over the country residence of President Assad.

The point of this warning to Assad was that Syria's harboring of Khaled Mashal, the Hamas official who ordered the kidnapping, could be dangerous to Assad himself and to his country. The Israel Defense Forces then entered the West Bank, arresting dozens of Hamas operatives, among them more than 20 elected members of the Palestinian Parliament.

Criticism of Israel's actions has been relatively muted in the United States, more outspoken in Europe.

Sure, many will think Israel's swift response was disproportionate to the "small" loss of a single soldier. But everybody should understand by now that Israel, unlike the Palestinians who send young suicide bombers to die, cares about each and every soldier and civilian.

This column offers no advice to Prime Minister Olmert. I simply want to give you, dear reader, my take on what I think the Israeli government's response means.

Israel is saying to the Palestinians, "Enough is enough." If you, Hamas, think you can take over the Palestinian government, maintain a belligerent position towards Israel, call for our destruction, allow and encourage and assist your citizens in lobbing rockets from your soil to ours, to cross the border to kidnap Israelis, to train and send suicide bombers — well, now we are saying maaspeek. Enough.

We Israelis won't continue to be your targets in a war of attrition; we won't let this go on for more years and decades. You think time is on your side; we grant you no more time. We will not allow you to send people on suicide missions hoping that one teenage Palestinian boy or girl will kill five or 10 or 50 Israelis. We will not allow rockets from your soil to kill our citizens. Enough is enough.

All Israel's efforts at a negotiated peace have failed. It didn't work because Israel is more valuable to the Arab leadership as an enemy than as a friend. The Saudi, Syrian, and Iranian dictators have Israel to point to as the enemy, the source of all Arab hardships and misery in the Middle East. These leaders can explain the frustrations of their citizens over the lack of work, education, money, material progress of all kinds, by charging Israel and covering their own dictatorial desire to maintain the status quo and keep their nations' wealth for themselves.

Similarly, the Palestinian leadership has done quite well by stealing money, building villas, visiting the world's showplace cities, AND sending their wives and children to London and Paris for school and shopping. Why in heaven's name would they be interested in a peace where a Palestinian government would be held accountable for progress, where stealing foreign aid monies might land officials in jail?

Hamas, newcomers to electoral victory, have their own agenda, which may or may not include raping the treasury. But, up to now, it surely continues its pledge to wage war against Israel.

Israel will soon be pressured by western governments to cease and desist. They will argue that all of Israel's actions and Palestinian actions are just part of the ongoing cycle of violence that has been going on since 1948.

The wisest response is from Charles Krauthammer: "Gaza is free of occupation, yet Gaza wages war. Why? Because this is not about occupation, it is about Israel's very existence."

Krauthammer explains how the cycle of violence ended, or should have ended, when Israel withdrew from every inch of Gaza. The Palestinians could have developed the land and lived in peace. But they allowed and even organized incursions and rockets from Gaza into Israel. This is not a cycle of violence, it is a new war begun by Palestinians.

And from where I sit, it looks as if Israel aims to finish it now, unless Gilad Shalit is safely returned and the Palestinians end their aggressive actions from Gaza to Israel.

Friday, June 30, 2006

An Inconvenient Truth: Our Planet's Devastated Tomorrow

An Inconvenient Truth: Our Planet's Devastated Tomorrow


Jewish Journal Boston North --- -- June 30, 2006

When I moved into my home in Salem three years ago, my then six-year-old granddaughter Emily and I spent a few hours walking around the neighborhood. Emily later exclaimed, "You live 12 houses and one church away from the ocean, Sabi." (Sabi is a diminutive of saba, grandfather in Hebrew.)

I smiled and told her how good she was in both arithmetic and geography. Now she is almost old enough for me to tell her that in 50 years, when she will still be younger than I am today, that my house, most of Salem, and, in fact most of the coast from Florida to Nova Scotia, could be under water.

Yes, Sabi's house will be drowned. That is, unless the world — led by the United States, followed by China, India, and other industrialized nations — does something dramatic to contain the conditions causing global warming.

Al Gore calls it "an inconvenient truth" that we ignore at our grandchildren's peril. I saw his film of the same name last night. Had Gore been as warm, sincere, articulate and forceful on the campaign trail in 2000, he might be president today. Instead, he has to begin the film by saying, "I'm Al Gore. I used to be the next president of the United States." The line always gets a chuckle.

Or perhaps not. The hanging chads, the misprinted ballots in the Jewish counties in Florida where Jewish retirees officially voted for Pat Buchanan when they came to the polls to vote for Gore, would have probably cost him the election anyhow.

President Bush well deserves the low standing he holds today with the American people. But, while Bush was mis-leading the nation, Al Gore has spent his time running around the world with a great multi-media presentation that lays out the case for global warming and asking the world to choose to save the planet rather than destroy it.

Rush out to see this important film. You will learn a lot about the threat, the reality, the damage already done, and what must change.

Fifty years ago, I was stationed at the southern tip of Greenland, at Narsarssuak Air Force Base. We could see the polar ice cap and the snow-topped mountains through Greenland's pristine air. Then, it was less than a mile north of the base. All is gone today; the ice has been pushed north by a dozen miles.

Where has the ice gone? Melted into the world's seas, inching up the water levels, day by day, year by year. Similar defrosting happens every day in Antarctica, a larger ice cap than Greenland's.

If the only consequence of the ocean swelling were loss of land mass — say, the coasts of the United States, all of Holland and many other countries — that would be tragic enough. But factor in the weather changes that produce hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, fires and droughts, and the extinction of plant, animal, and insect species, and you are talking about a world gone to hell as we know it.

I checked out what National Geographic (neither a firebrand environmental group nor one with political ties) had to say about the Gore film. In a May 25 article, Stefan Lougren interviews Eric Steig, an earth scientist at the University of Washington. The following Gore claims are confirmed as scientifically true, and not, as some opponents have charged, just political hype.

Global warming is making hurricanes worse, with the number of category four and five storms (think Katrina) almost doubling last year.

Sea temperatures are rising, killing fish, coral and other ocean life.

Deaths from global warming-induced heat waves could double to 300,000 per year in the next 20 years.

Sea levels could rise by more than 20 feet due to the loss of shelf ice in Greenland and Antarctica.

And for the readers who want to know the Jewish component in every issue, think of what a 20-foot rise of water in the Mediterranean would do to Israel, which probably has a larger percentage of its people living within 10 miles of the coast than any other country, save small island nations. Say goodbye to Haifa, Tel Aviv, Ashkelon and all the towns, villages, kibbutzim and other farms and industries in between.

Will plain people, from all walks of life and political persuasions, rise up and say, "Enough!" to the CO2 emissions causing this world-threatening devastation? Or will my Emily, and all your grandchildren, suffer mightily and curse us for our unthinking disregard of their lives and future?

The Gripes of Roth

The Gripes of Roth
Book Review. Everyman by Phillip Roth. 2006 Houghton-Mifflin

Dov Burt Levy
Jewish Journal-Boston North June 30, 2006

Every American, certainly every Jew, should have read Philip Roth. His span of subject, over almost 50 years, has been immense and every book, so far as I remember, has a Jewish component. When the New York Times queried writers and readers earlier this year about their choice of the greatest work of American fiction in the past 25 years, six of Roth’s books made the cut, more than any other single writer. In my book, he’s number one.

Roth has more awards than any other living writer, including Pulitzers, National Book Awards, Pen-Faulkner awards and more. His first book, “Goodbye, Columbus,” was published in 1963 when he was 26; his 28th book, “Everyman,” was published this year, at 73.

“Everyman,” a spare, small work of 182 pages, is, in fact, a medical biography, written as no medical tome has been written before. Primary care physicians and hospitals keep medical histories from their point of view; this book is the patient’s side of the story, and thus an important read for every doctor. It could have been titled, “The Life and Death of a Human Body.”

The first sentence in the book tells us the main character is dead; the last paragraph tells us under what circumstances he died. In between is a medical saga, interwoven with all of the important people in his life, from birth to death at 73, the same age as Roth is today.

It is, of course, much more than a recital of a patient’s medical history. It describes how the main character perceives life, deals with it, lives with it, fights for it, and begins to accept the finality of it. On this subject, few American books, if any, have been written. It is not a topic that grabs the average reader because they (we) are so afraid of it. I am sure that is the reason why it stayed on the best-seller lists only a short time. My recommendation is: read it.

The main character is an artist-executive in a New York public relations firm who retires to paint, and then to teach painting. He is not named and the book itself has no chapters. For the purpose of more easily writing this review, I will call the principal character Rath. Why? Because like most of Roth’s books, “Everyman” is rich in autobiographical content and surely contains the author’s heart and soul. Rath’s aging process is quite common, devoid of esoteric or seldom-seen diseases.

Rath was raised in a middle-class, non-dysfunctional Jewish family in New Jersey. His father worked many years for a jeweler and, at 33, opens his own small jewelry store (15 feet wide and 40 feet deep), calling it, Everyman’s Jewelry Store. He made, as we say, a living.

Unlike so many fictional characters, Rath cannot blame bad parents for bad events. Refreshingly, he loves them and they were good to him. His brother, a good youthful athlete, becomes a wealthy Wall Street professional and corporate CEO.

And so the story progresses. Rath is honest, perhaps more honest than most people would be about their lives, as he goes through the trials, tribulations, euphoria and regrets of three failed marriages. He has two sons from his first wife who hates him, one daughter from the second wife who loves him, several lovers and would-be lovers, as well as friends and co-workers. There is no government or politics or social issues; this is the story is of one man’s life, and as Roth titles the book, it could be every man, or at least, every American-Jewish man, if not every American man.

Roth has gotten a bad rap in the Jewish community for some earlier books, his first two in particular, “Goodbye, Columbus” and “Portnoy’s Complaint.” Too much sex, too much focus on the bad, ugly, crude side of Jewish life, his critics said.

I understand the criticism. But now, if you haven’t already, it is time to give Philip Roth a pass on whatever excesses and perceived insults to the Jewish community he committed as a youthful writer. Yes, Rath is an agnostic Jew, one who is not sure about God but very sure that he has no interest in organized religion. Still, both in Roth’s personal life, as well as in Rath’s, he is more than respectful of the Jewish community and of his family’s place in it.

At the end of “Everyman,” in another stroke of masterful writing, Rath visits his parents’ grave in a now unkempt, dilapidated Jewish cemetery, and has a long conversation with the man digging a grave site for a burial there later that day.

Like me, you may have thought that you had no interest in the details of taking off grass, digging a hole to the right size and depth, disposing of the earth to be displaced by the coffin, leaving the proper-sized mound of earth for the family to place on top of the grave, and caring about the person who does the work. But when Roth’s characters tell you about it, you listen. And learn. And appreciate. And even cry. Because you know, or can guess, that is where Rath, as with all of us, will soon be buried. And there the book will end.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

On Saving Elie Wiesel, Oil and Art Buchwald

On Saving Elie Wiesel, Oil and Art Buchwald

Dov Burt Levy


I've got three things on my mind that together make a fine headline even if they are separate stories.

Saving Elie Wiesel: Oprah Winfrey recently dedicated two afternoon programs to the Shoah by featuring Elie Wiesel and herself visiting the infamous Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. Thanks to Oprah, Wiesel's book, "Night," quickly appeared on bestseller lists, despite its grim content.
I was in pain watching the performances, and it looked to me as if Wiesel suffered too.

Oprah has the best of intentions. She is my favorite television star, and her recommendation will encourage millions of people to read Holocaust literature. Perhaps thousands will now understand what Jews mean when they say, "Never Again."

But the Oprah and Elie show just didn't add up for me. I identify Oprah with television, diets and personal growth. To see her chat with the very symbol, the chronicler, of the Jewish people's greatest tragedy in 2,000 years, interrupted by commercials, just didn't fit.

At the end of the program, Oprah looked Wiesel straight in the eye and said, "I want you to know I love you."

Wiesel could only stare back, perhaps in disbelief. My plea to Professor Wiesel: save yourself from another bout of daytime television.


Saving oil: Here's my plan which, at a minimum, would reduce oil changes by a third and, at best, move everybody to reasonably priced synthetic oil, and cut America's oil appetite by as much as 1.3 billion quarts a year.

Too many people change automobile oil every 3,000 miles. My friend, Harry, began that routine 50 years ago and has never faltered. Technicians at most car dealers, gas stations and fast oil shops will tell you 3,000 miles is the standard between changes.

Wrong. Almost every car of recent vintage, in its owner's manual, recommends changing engine oil every 5,000 miles or more. Most experts recommend every five to six thousand miles unless you live in Alaska, Death Valley or tow a trailer.

Figure this: 130 million cars on the road, averaging 13,000 miles a year. If every car owner skipped one oil change a year, the nation would save over a half-billion quarts a year.

Even better, let's close the price gap between synthetic oil and regular oil, and use only synthetics. That could be a savings of over 1.3 billion quarts of oil a year.

Don't worry. I will send this recommendation to Washington. But remember, you read it first in the Jewish Journal.


Saving Art Buchwald: The Jewish newspaper columnist has left the ranks of the dying and intends to spend the summer on Martha's Vineyard. You may recall that Buchwald had signed himself into a Washington, D.C. hospice on Feb. 7, to live life as he preferred rather than face kidney dialysis three times a week.

His doctors gave him a month to live. And live it up he did, having — as he put it — the time of his life, with visits from the Kennedy clan and other politicians, show biz luminaries and family, all while giving radio and TV interviews.

Guess what? After a number of columnists like me wrote about him, and after reading his own eulogies and receiving 1,000 letters and e-mails, rather than laying down and dying, he is up and around. Even his kidneys are working well enough. Carly Simon, who had promised to sing at his funeral, will now serenade him in person.

Now I have two items to ponder: one, whether Buchwald's doctors were too quick to sentence him to a life of dialysis, or whether Buchwald was just plain lucky. While unnecessary medical tests are one thing, unneeded or premature dialysis is quite another. Was Buchwald a unique case or just the tip of another large medical issue?

Second, shouldn't we stop waiting until people are dead before we tell them, in a eulogy they can't hear, how much we appreciated their virtues?

I'd opt for a Buchwald style pre-death gathering where my relatives and friends tell me directly what my life meant to them and give me a hug. After that, with my blessing, they could skip the eulogies — and even the shiva. How about you; what would you like?

Saturday, June 03, 2006

When Jewish Mothers Are Considered Illegal Aliens

When Jewish Mothers Are Considered Illegal Aliens

Dov Burt Levy, columnist, Jewish Journal - Boston North, June 2, 2006

When I was a kid in Revere, I ran away from home a lot. The winters were freezing so I couldn't sleep on the beach. Instead, I snuck into the cellars of six-family houses and spent the night near the roaring coal furnace. Yes, the doors were unlocked and I entered illegally.

I thought of this last week, as the immigration debate in Washington focused on the issue of illegal entry. Groups and politicians opposed to granting citizenship — even with fines for taxes not paid, proof of English and history proficiency, and the like — are arguing that illegal aliens snuck into the country and didn't wait in line like honest immigrants, that their illegal acts cannot be sanctioned.

Truth is, if we deported just the illegal Jewish, Italian and Irish immigrants and their offspring who have been here for the past 100 years, America might be required to throw out another 20-40 million people.

Face facts: America has left the Mexican door open for years, just as the cellar door was open when I needed it. Mexicans and Central Americans don't come here for the great climate, the tasty pizza, and certainly not for the marvelous welcome. They come because where they live there are no jobs, or they earn five dollars a day when most things cost about what they cost here. Desperate people make very life-threatening decisions.

Following my last column about immigration (April 21), I received this story from an old friend. While the story takes place in Canada, U.S. immigration history is replete with similar, heart-touching tales.

Here's my friend's story:

"Many years ago, before Canada became a vigorous multicultural nation, I was on the editorial board of the Toronto Star, writing at least four editorials a week. One day, I happened to arrive a few minutes late for the daily board meeting at which we decided who would write what, on what topics, on which side of the issue. As I came through the door I heard my colleagues 'kvetching' about the wave of illegals entering Canada — largely East Indian and Jamaicans in those days.

"They called them 'queue-jumpers' — namely, people who would not wait in line and go through Canada's demanding immigration process. As my colleagues' ire grew, I decided to intervene.

"'Listen up,' I said in a commanding voice. 'Before you get too embedded in the idea that illegal immigrants are a threat to Canada's sovereignty and welfare, let me advise you that my mother, my very own mother of blessed memory, was an illegal immigrant.'

"Because this was a highly educated and civilized bunch of non-Jews, a silence fell over the room as the lone female on the board examined the polish on her fingernails and my male colleagues looked down at their brogues [shoes].

"After a few seconds, the silence became painful. 'Let me take you out of your misery,' I said, 'and explain what this was all about.'

"I then told them about the penniless Stein family in the impoverished village of Popylan, Lithuania (Kovno Gebernia). Two brothers had already immigrated to Canada but they were finding it extremely hard to raise the money for visas, passports, ship tickets and railway fares to get the remainder of the family to Halifax, Nova Scotia, via Hamburg.

"However, there was another family in the village, somewhat better off than the Steins. They already had their papers in order and their tickets purchased. In a matter of months, when spring came, they would leave for America.

Unfortunately for them but fortunately for my family, a nine-year-old member of the wealthier family, a sweet girl with long golden curls, died that winter of meningitis.

"Instead of abandoning the unfortunate child's documents and tickets, her parents agreed to take my mother in their daughter's stead. So, my mother arrived in Canada with papers issued to a girl three years younger than she was. Canada's immigration officers apparently couldn't tell the difference between a nine-year-old and a twelve-year-old. In any case, my mother was small and undernourished, so it was probably hard to tell."

The writer, my former colleague Sol Littman, besides his time as an editor with the Toronto Star, had a distinguished career in both the general and Jewish communities in the United States and in Canada. He was a senior staffer with the ADL in New York, director of the Simon Weisenthal Center in Toronto, and is the author of two books on Nazi war criminals in Canada.

Should you, this summer, drop in to the University of Vermont, you will find Sol teaching a class on "Jewish writers in Europe and America, from Rabbi Nachman to Philip Roth". Not bad for the son of an illegal immigrant.

I'm willing to bet that the children and grandchildren of the 12 million current illegal immigrants in America will also make significant contributions to this country.

Stories like Sol's, plus our own family sagas, as well as a benevolent reading of American history, should immunize us all against the anti-illegals hysteria growing in our nation..

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Art of Making and Resolving Conflict at Brandeis University

The Art of Making and Resolving Conflict at Brandeis

Dov Burt Levy

Good intentions, without real world savvy and straight talk, can lead a university — even one as good as Brandeis — into a mess that could have been avoided.

Here's the story: Brandeis's Inter-national Center for Ethics, Justice, and Public Life sponsors a class called the "Arts of Building Peace." It's about enhancing conflict resolution through music, painting and poetry.

This year, one student asked an art teacher who works in a refugee camp in Bethlehem to have teenagers paint images depicting their views of Palestinian life. The project's title: "Voices from Palestine."

These pictures, by students ages 14 to 16, became a 17-picture exhibition scheduled to run for two weeks in the Brandeis library. The pictures mainly show Israel as the vicious, aggressive enemy.

After a number of telephone calls and emails protesting a "one-sided," pro-Palestinian exhibition, the Center director asked the student, a 27-year old Israeli woman, to remove the paintings voluntarily. The director said the exhibit was causing more harm than good. The student refused and a decision was made by higher administration to remove the exhibit, just four days after its April 26 opening.

The Boston Globe jumped on the incident with a front-page story. Soon after, an Associated Press story circulated in newspapers around the world. The flap continued with letters to the editor and Internet blog reprints and comments.
The enemy now was Brandeis University and the charges were denial of free speech and academic freedom. The plight of children in war and conflict became a sideshow.

Then came the obligatory faculty petition decrying the university's action. The president of Brandeis fell further into the trap by responding with a plan to convene a forum "to explore how sensitive topics such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be best handled" and possibly bring back the "Voices of Palestine" exhibit.

Let me offer the Levy Plan for reducing the risk of this kind of conflict in the future. In short, what Brandeis's officials might have done.

First, instructors should be required to vet student exhibits originating in their programs before they are mounted in the library. In this case, the student asked a professor in another department to sponsor her. I can only wonder whether she expected the Center staff would not approve the exhibit as she wished to present it.

Second, once the Center director found the exhibit in place, he should have been very direct with the student, telling her that the exhibit, as it stood, and the way it was approved, was not acceptable, and not in line with the Center's goals of education, dialogue, mutual trust and understanding. And she would do the right thing by voluntarily taking it down. He did speak with her but, according to his own statement, he was less than direct.

Don't we know that some university students (and professors) live for confrontation with the university rather than resolution of social ills? How do I know? I've been there, done that.

This student, according to the Center's director, later gave a detailed, but erroneous, account of their conversation to a website which encouraged a demonstration by Arab students in front of the library.

Third, once the exhibit was up, disassembling it on a Saturday night was unwise, just begging for protest, newspaper coverage and faculty petitions.

Were I the Center or library director, provost or president, I would have organized, by Monday morning, a separate library exhibit of several dozen books of pictures and studies drawn by young people caught in war and conflict (Spanish Civil War, World War II, the Holocaust, Bosnia, Africa, etc.). The purpose would have been to show that many young people — Israelis, Palestinians, Africans — live in dreadful situations and express (what else can they know?) the narratives of their people. Such pictures mirror pain, but not always truth.

Call this besting your opposition by being smarter and faster, which might, believe it or not, lead to mutual respect and honesty, rather than the current disdain and contempt.

Now, that's a useful lesson for students and faculty who say they want to do some good in the world.

Friday, April 21, 2006

How To Laugh at Death, By Art Buchwald

April 21, 2006

Forward Forum
How To Laugh at Death, By Art Buchwald
By Dov Burt Levy

Art Buchwald is living and dying in a Washington, D.C., hospice. If you don't know his story, you could be forgiven for thinking this is a very sad time for the 80-year-old Jewish columnist.

Just the opposite, Buchwald says. "I am," he announces, "having the time of my life." His family and friends, along with the political and artistic glitterati, are coming by to shmooze, reminisce and bring his favorite foods. He mentions that he likes corned beef sandwiches; the next day guests bring in 10.

He continues to write his column for the Washington Post and 50 other papers, but now the topics, still with his characteristic humor, are often about death, the hospice and making your own end-of-life decisions. Many people write to thank him for giving them alternatives to consider.

Here's the story. Suffering from kidney disease, he entered a Washington, D.C., hospice in February after deciding that he didn't want to prolong his life by having dialysis five hours a day, three days a week. He had already had his leg amputated for other reasons and he figured now: "I had two decisions. Continue dialysis, and that's boring to do three times a week, and I don't know where that's going, or I can just enjoy life and see where it takes me."

Life had already taken him at age 3 to two orphanages after his mother was institutionalized with mental illness from which she never recovered. Young Art ran away at age 17 in 1942 to join the Marines. After the war, he attended college and edited the campus magazine, but didn't graduate because the school discovered his lack of a high school diploma.

So he went to Paris where a small job at the Herald Tribune morphed into a humor column, which in 1962 he took to Washington. During his heyday, he was writing three columns a week, syndicated in 700 papers.

His shtick was taking serious political and social issues and turning them into humor, which as we know, for whatever genetic, social or historic reasons, has always been a strong Jewish trait. Think Lenny Bruce, Mort Sahl and a 100 others. In Buchwald's day, he was better known than Al Franken and Jon Stewart are today.

Through it all, he never lost his sense of his place in the whole story, which most of the time was outside laughing in.

"Just when you think there's nothing to write about, Nixon says, 'I am not a crook,'" Buchwald once wrote. "Jimmy Carter says, 'I have lusted after women in my heart.' President Reagan says, 'I have just taken a urinalysis test, and I am not on dope.' You can't make up anything anymore. The world itself is a satire. All you're doing is recording it."

When President Eisenhower's press secretary, James Hagarty, took a Buchwald column seriously and called it "unadulterated rot," Buchwald responded with indignation: "He's wrong. I write adulterated rot."

Buchwald has undoubtedly earned a place in my pantheon of personal heroes, men and women whose actions in the face of impending death seem to me both inspiring and heroic: Hubert Humphrey, tennis great Arthur Ashe, Professor Morrie Schwartz of "Tuesdays with Morrie," Christopher and Dana Reeves, Lenny Zakim, to name a few.

Talk about dying with dignity. Their deaths may have come too early and been too hard, but not one of them ever lost his heart or soul or kindness, nor stopped performing good deeds in this world. Nor did they kvetch, complain, blame. Buchwald fits in well.

Should there ever — sometime, somewhere — be a meeting of these greats, along with all our friends and family members who have inspired us in life and in death, you can bet Buchwald will be there, too. And you can bet he'll regale them all with how he beat the doctors' forecasts of his survival by hundreds of percents, just as he regales us now when asked about the afterlife.

"I have no idea where I'm going but here's the real question: What am I doing here in the first place?" Buchwald says, part humor columnist, part rabbi. "It's what you do on earth and the good deeds you do on earth that are important."

Shalom v'lehitraot, Art.

Jewish Community Stands Together on Immigration Issue

Jewish Journal North of Boston

April 21, 2006 copyright 2006 DBLevy

Jewish Community Stands Together on Immigration Issue


Before the Easter-Passover recess, two weeks of acrimonious debate in Congress seemed to show that supporters of deporting illegal aliens and criminalizing unlawful entry held about half the votes — and generated more than half the sound and fury. I hope that will change significantly when Congress reconvenes.

Why? Because new polls show that the American people are more realistic about the deportation issue, less judgmental about those who break the law to enter the country, and don’t want to make felons of 12 million illegal aliens. A solid majority also believes that undocumented workers (illegal immigrants) should have a chance at gaining full U.S. citizenship.

A CBS News poll found 74 percent favoring legal status for those who have lived in the United States for at least five years — provided they speak English, pay a fine and any back taxes, and have no criminal record. (My guess is that over 90 percent of American Jews would support similar measures.)

Seems to me that two less theoretical issues bother lots of Americans. Many complain about the omnipresence of the Spanish language (reminders exist on every product sold and most corporate telephone answering systems) and whether people from south of the border will segregate themselves in American barrios instead of fully embracing and participating in the fabric and language of America.

A personal story: In 1960, my nickname was Buddy. I, poor as a synagogue mouse, got married, and after the party my bride and I rushed to count the much-needed cash presents.

One sizeable bank check stood out. It read, “Pay to Buddha Leavitt.”

After saying that strange name out loud a few times, I realized it was my nickname with a Yiddish accent. My maternal grandmother, Nellie Lewis, with her limited English and Yiddish accent, bought the check at a local bank and, mainly due to my bubbe’s English language deficit, morphed Buddy Levy to Buddha Leavitt. (We smiled and gratefully cashed the check.)

Fifty years after arriving in the United States, my bubbe’s English proficiency was almost nil, her accent heavy. Nevertheless, this non-English speaking Jewish immigrant fought hard for her rights. She was one of the last holdouts in Boston’s West End, shouting from her window at city officials when they, in the name of urban renewal (now acknowledged as a big mistake and gross injustice), authorized the tearing down of so many buildings. She owned that four-story building and wasn’t about to lose it without a fight. Sadly, like so many, she fought but lost.

I thought of that last week when more than a million people marched peacefully in favor of immigration reform. Bubbe would have been there.

She also raised five children during the Depression, only one of whom finished high school. They had regular jobs — like salesman in Filene’s Basement, clothing factory cutter, taxi driver and laborer.

Of the children’s children, Nellie’s 11 grandchildren, ten graduated from college and three earned PhDs.

I don’t tell you all this to brag about my family, nor to argue that college degrees equate to honest, upstanding people. But I want to make a point: It’s okay for immigrants to speak their own languages, especially for that large percentage of people for whom learning a new language is extremely difficult. Their kids and grandkids will surely speak English. In fact, a recent PBS study showed that by the third generation, over 80 percent of Spanish-speaking families were studying, working and living in English.

In case you are wondering how Jewish religious and secular organizations stand on immigration reform, you should know that all that I know of favor legislation creating a path toward legal, permanent residency and citizenship. They also favor border protection policies that embody humanitarian values. And these views have been communicated to Congress.

Isn’t it nice that we Jews, at least on this one issue, are not fighting with each other?