Sunday, January 20, 2008

N.I.M.B.Y.. or Life Goes On In Titipu

And we are right, I think you'll say,To argue in this kind of way;And I am right,And you are right,And all is right--too-looral-lay! (from Act 1,“The Mikado, Or The Town of Titipu”By William S. GilbertMusic by Sir Arthur Sullivan)

The following morning, Wed. Jan. 9, was when the President’s entourage arrived at Ben Gurion airport, and then by helicopter to Jerusalem. Traffic was supposed to be a nightmare (We had visions of a two hour delay at the checkpoint going into the city.) It didn’t take much to persuade us to forego ulpan, sleep in, and stay home. When I finally got up, I went to the living room to daven shacharit (the morning prayers.) From this vantage point, I can look out and see the new police station only a few miles away. Some of you may be familiar with “E-1,” an area a little bit west of today’s Maale Adumim, in fact, originally slated to be part of our town. The government built a new regional police station there and it’s just about ready, but it has not been used because Condi says we can’t be there, and no one yet has politely told her that it’s not her place to tell the Israeli government where we can put a police station.
Now if Condi doesn’t want us to be there in E-1, I imagine that she wants the “Palestinians” to live there. If I were going to include digital images with this blog, I would show you how close this area is to where we live. Even scarier is the large, uninhabited hill behind and slightly to the left of the police station. If there were a weak, unstable Arab government with a full complement of terrorists in the adjoining areas, it wouldn’t take much to place a rocket launcher on that hill,or one nearby, perhaps in the dead of night, and send a kassam rocket or two our way. Real estate prices in Maale Adumim have risen noticeably in the last year, but it wouldn’t take much to turn our lovely community into another Sderot, with the concomitant fall in the value of everyone’s home as we watched “the rockets’ red glare” and a slew of Magen David Adom ambulances careening wildly around the traffic circles, taking bloody victims to the Hadassah Hospital on nearby Mount Scopus.
Imagine if we were back in New Jersey, and one of the cell phone companies wanted to put up an antenna within a thousand feet of our home. Some neighbor would be running around with a petition against it because everyone might get cancer (which never stopped these same people from being on their phones ten hours a day while complaining about the poor reception.) Or what about the woman on Johnson Avenue in Teaneck who went into court to prevent a Conservative temple from opening on her block. One of the arguments that her attorney made with a straight face was that it would increase automobile pollution on her block. Here was a woman who lived about a mile from the intersection of Route 80 (going from the George Washington Bridge to California) and Route 95, the New Jersey Turnpike (going all the way down to Florida), and she could go into court and complain about air pollution from a house of worship. N.I.M.B.Y!!!!!! Not in my backyard! Not in my neighborhood! Why can’t I do that? Where’s the court that I can go into? After all, the chances of my home being destroyed, of my limbs being severed in a terrorist attack launched from within a of Gaza-in-my- neighborhood would be much greater than people dying of cancer from cell phone towers or Conservative Jews in New Jersey.
I have the sense that the land of Israel has spawned a dozen or more parallel political universes, each one occupied by a different faction, group, or party. What’s scary is that few of them seem to be related to the world I live in. Here’s the scenario and the cast of characters, as I see it: George W. Bush, a quintessential lame duck, along with his Secretary-of State, about whom it is next to impossible to say a kind word, comes to Jerusalem to meet with Ehud Olmert and then Mahmoud Abbas. Now Ehud Olmert will always be remembered in a Guinness-Book-of-Records kind of way for being the democratically elected head of state with – deservedly -- the lowest approval rating ever. While his predecessor, Ariel Sharon, is being kept alive by tubes, Olmert is being kept alive politically by two political parties, Shas and Israel Beitenu, who are opposed to his policies (since I wrote this, Lieberman has left the government, leaving Shas as the force keeping Olmert alive.) Then there is Abbbas, who is not-so-affectionately known as the “Mayor of Ramallah,” because he rarely leaves his home base for fear of being assassinated.
Several weeks ago, The Jerusalem Post printed an interview with Olmert in which he discussed his plans to divide Jerusalem and allow the establishment of a “Palestinian” state in what the world calls “The West Bank,” and some of us refer to with the original names of Yehuda and Shomron (Judea and Samaria.) He claimed triumphantly that he had enough support in the Knesset to win approval for his program. Not so fast! The next day, JPost ran an article in which both Shas and Israel Beitenu repeated their positions that if Olmert continued his negotiations with Abbas on “core issues,” or on dividing Jerusalem, they would at some point bolt from his coalition. In other words, they will allow him to make commitments which they know he will make, and they know they will not vote for, before they turn off the lights.
Not so fast! The next day JPost ran another article with Abbas’ position. Olmert must be living on another planet, said the Fatah representative, his proposals are completely unacceptable, non-starters. Understand that there is a difference between the radical positions of Hamas and those of Fatah, the more “moderate” group which Abbas represents. Unlike their more extreme counterparts who dress the part and want “Jews out or dead,” Fatahites wear western garb and do not necessarily refer to “Allah” all the time. What they want is simple: Israel must withdraw to the indefensible pre-1967 borders, in the process, relocating hundreds of thousands of Jewish citizens (including the 40,000 in Maale Adumim), giving up sovereignty over Jewish holy sites – which, if past history is any indication, means that these sites would be desecrated and we would never be allowed near them again – and slicing our capital city into two mutually exclusive parts. In addition, Israel must renounce its commitment to being a Jewish state and take steps to insure that the Jewish people would soon be a minority in its ancestral homeland. Shall we commit suicide now or later?
To add their voice to this cacophony of illogic, Israeli’s small but vocal political left felt the need to chime in. In an op-ed piece in Haaretz, one Gideon Levy articulated the faults, real and imagined, of the American president, and then opined that “(U)ntil a determined president is inaugurated in Washington who will engage in a serious effort to bring an end to the occupation, no peace will prevail here. Bush could have done this, but he abused his office.” This, however, is mild compared with the impassioned appeal of Haaretz editor David Landau, who reportedly told Condi that Israel needed to be raped (his words) by the United States into accepting a “Palestinian” state. Israelis, in general, do not want to abandon our holy places, do not want to fracture Jerusalem, and are very leery, after the debacle in Gaza, of any more concessions to hostile entities; but the Levy’s and the Landau’s will have none of that, because they know better. The way I see it, it’s sort of like a group of people whose leader wants them to climb a treacherous slope. They demur, citing the danger. But there is a vocal minority who, in addition, want the group to jump off the top of that mountain, and, when they really don’t want to do that, tries to hire a tough guy to force them do it.
By this time, I desperately needed to return to reality. Several weeks before, prior to the scheduling of Bush’s visit, we had purchased tickets to the Jerusalem English Speaking Theater’s production of “The Mikado” for this particular evening. Now, we were willing to forego a Day At Ulpan, but miss a performance of something by Gilbert and Sullivan? Never (well, hardly ever!)
How I came to my lifelong affection for Gilbert and Sullivan can be traced back to events well before I was born. When my father, may he rest in peace, was a boy on the “Lower East Side” sometime around 1910, his music teacher (remember music teachers?) instilled in him a love for Sir Arthur Sullivan’s soothing Victorian melodies and W.S. Gilbert’s diabolically piercing librettos. So when my brother Frank and I were fairly young, my mother, may she also rest in peace, took us to the Museum of Modern Art to see the 1939 film version of The Mikado, the one with Martyn Green and Kenny Baker (who, in case you have forgotten, was the first singer on Jack Benny’s radio show, preceding Dennis Day. What other blog would provide such information?) I was hooked from that moment on.
So we got ready to go into Jerusalem for the 8 PM performance. Barbara, fearing a monumental traffic jam, had us out of the house a little bit after 4PM. Contrary to our worst fears, there was zero traffic going into the city – like going from Teaneck over the GW bridge into New York at 7AM New Years Day – so that we got to our Jaffa Road at 5PM. We had three hours “to kill” (I hate that expression: you don’t kill time; time kills you.) before the performance, so we returned to Arcaffe for dinner (this time, no strange hands) and then walked around Yoel Salomon St. I have never seen the streets of Jerusalem so empty, even the area around the King David Hotel, where we expected roadblocks and anticipated delays getting to the theater a few blocks from the President’s entourage.
We finally arrived at the theater to join a full house f assembled Anglophones for a performance that greatly exceeded my expectations and provided a revealing insight into the libretto. In case anyone reading this is not familiar with the plot of The Mikado, it goes something like this, oversimplified, of course: Nanki-Poo, the son of the Mikado (emperor of Japan), flees his father’s court rather than marry Katisha, an unattractive woman who is the Mikado’s daughter-in-law elect. Nanki-Poo arrives in Titipu, hoping to find Yum-Yum, a young woman with whom he has fallen in love. However, she will soon be married to her guardian, Ko-Ko, who has risen from being a “cheap tailor” (Taken from the county jail, by a set of curious chances…) to the exalted rank of Lord High Executioner. Ko-Ko is ably assisted by Pooh-Bah, who, when all the ministers of state resign over Ko-Ko’s appointment, becomes Loord High Everything Else, including First Lord of the Treasury, Lord Chief Justice, Commander-in-Chief, Lord High Admiral, Master of the Buckhounds, Groom of the Back Stairs, Archbishop of Titipu, Lord Mayor and……… gabbai of the second minyon – something which is left out of most printed copies of the libretto and consequently is not mentioned in most performances.
The plot thickens, as it always does. The Lord High Executioner must find someone to behead within thirty days, or he will be beheaded himself. And the Mikado will soon be coming to Titipu to find out if his orders have been carried out. So Ko-Ko tries to convince Nanki-Poo to serve as the victim, rather than committing suicide over a broken heart. After a second act and much glorious music, Nanki-Poo marries Yum-Yum, and Ko-Ko winds up marrying Katisha.
As I sat there, trying not to “sing-along” with words and music I know so well. I began making a connection which had never occurred to me: The Lord High Executioner (“Wafted by a favoring gale, As one sometimes is in trances, To a height that few can scale, Save by long and wear dances; Surely, never had a male Under such like circumstances So adventurous a tale, Which may rank with most romances.”) was waiting for the arrival of the Mikado and his meddlesome daughter-in-law elect ostensibly to make certain that the L.H.E. was carrying out his promise to separate a man from his head. I repeated this theme over and over in my mind, and then I thought: could it be that this musical play, first performed in 1885, and written as a satire on English institutions and politics of the time, bears any resemblance to what was going on only a few blocks away? There in The King David Hotel, a visiting Mikado and his meddlesome secretary-of-state had arrived to make sure that our local Ko-Ko, who had certainly had achieved his position “by a set of curious chances,” would make good on his promise to sever Israel from part of its heart, Jerusalem, and some of its limbs as well. In the Hirsch Theater, the performance would end with spirited music, wild applause from a very appreciative audience, and possibly an encore. Olmert’s is going on to a very restive populace, displeased with everything it sees and hears.
But never fear, members of this audience. As fine a playwright as was William S. Gilbert in constructing witty patter and happy endings, The Master of The Universe who is guiding The People Israel back to The Land of Israel with his own unique choreography will surely provide a denouement in accordance with His Will. I’m convinced that, like G&S’s Mikado, He has His own “little list,” and that for modern day Mikados, tired and tiresome heads of state, meddling secretaries-of-state, and various politicians with their own agendas, He will find a way “to make the punishment fit the crime” as we see with a certain Supreme Ruler of Egypt in days of yore. Until then…………………

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