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February 2018
Norman Mailer in Synagogue
The best writer of his generation addresses the pews.

Seeing Shlomo
A bittersweet remembrance of my teacher, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach

Where There's Smoke
A politically incorrect view of the current rage to ban all smoking everywhere.

Building the House
The contractor -- can't live with him, can't kill him. Or can you?

A Wing and a Prayer
Finding a small homecoming in transit.

Gunning Down the Cockroaches
Roach problem? Just call the expert.

Waiting for Death
Our parents taught us how to live. Their final gift -- showing us how to die.

On the Road
Driving beyond the Green Line prompts a look in the mirror.

Dog Days
Summer ended when they came to kill my dog.

On Guard
Guys like me don't carry guns, right?

Learning to Pray
It's slow and not easy. But that's not all.

Turning 50
Some thoughts on a millstone - uh, make that milestone - birthday.

Outsider Art
Simply the most compelling art exhibit I've ever seen.

Dave van Ronk
A visit to the world of my favorite folk singer.

Remember: "stressed" spelled backwards is "desserts."

New Year’s Celebration
Watching the ball drop slowly in my daughter’s life.

My Father's Blessing
A poignant final moment strengthens my fragile connection to my father.

Going Crazy
Being at war while normal life continues makes life in Israel feel crazy.

Visiting Rose
Old and poor, she's got one hope left: the movie of her life.

Painful Ambivalence
A report from the Extreme Center, in the days when peace between Israel and the Palestinians still seemed possible.

The "peace process" is a subject about which both my neighbor to the left and the neighbor to my right have passionate feelings.

But as if doubt equals weakness, each of them speaks in absolutes, sure that his analysis and solution mark the only possible correct path. There they stand now in front of my house, shouting and gesticulating, so unmoved by the other's equal but opposite certitude that their conversation seems a form of parallel play, with neither listening to the other's voice.

That's political discourse in our pressure-cooker Holy Land, I guess.

So I was glad when Yitzhak Frankenthal came to visit. An Orthodox Jewish businessman turned "peace activist," Frankenthal too believes that his analysis and firm solution for our problem with our Palestinian neighbors are correct.

But he also acknowledges that in so complex and unpredictable a situation - well, he could be wrong. Doubt and the struggle with multiple possibilities is part of Judaism, he says.

Though both my neighbors dismiss him for naivete and wishful thinking, this attitude made it a lot easier for me to hear him, even though I can't completely agree with him, either.

Frankenthal has a great and terrible credential for his political work. He is the father of a son, Arik, 19, his eldest, who was murdered by terrorists in 1994.

You may recall the incident. Arik, a hitchhiking soldier, accepted a ride from three young men dressed as ultra-Orthodox Jews. They turned out to be Hamas operatives aiming at kidnap or murder. He fought, wounded one of them, was shot to death in the struggle. End of story, except for its epilogue of eternal sorrow.

After he got up from shiva, Frankenthal's friends in his small town north of Tel Aviv, who had long twitted him for his "peacenik" views, assumed those beliefs had died with Arik. No, Frankenthal told them, Arik was murdered because there is no peace, not as proof that peace is impossible.

Shortly after, he began devoting time to peace work, eventually serving for three years as executive director of Netivot Shalom ("Ways of Peace"), an Orthodox peace organization. More recently, he founded the Parents' Circle, which brings together Jews and Palestinians who have lost loved ones in the struggle between our peoples.

Frankenthal's political agenda? "We can't have a democratic state that is also a Jewish state if we include all the Palestinians in the Territories," he says. "Unless we are willing to give up being a Jewish state, we need a Palestinian state."

But at the same time, he goes on, there can be no peace that generates a civil war in Israel's sharply divided population - for example, by evacuating all the settlers. His solution: Keep the 7 percent of the West Bank on which 75 percent of the settlers live, and let the Palestinians make a state in the rest.

And then? "Build Israeli society."

Yet as soon as he propounds his vision, the doubts arise - mine, his, maybe yours. "I'm working like a donkey for peace," he says. "Then I see the Palestinian textbooks, and I think, 'What am I doing?'"

For their textbooks are teaching the next generation of Palestinian Arabs that Jews are deceitful and cruel and that not just the West Bank but the entire State of Israel is "occupied Palestine," which they have a sacred duty to "liberate." Meanwhile, the PA media is filled with incitement against Israel, and the Palestinian leadership lauds terrorists and suicide bombers as heroes and martyrs. In Palestinian territory, Mein Kampf is a best seller.

And one of Arik Frankenthal's killers still lives free in the Palestinian Authority.

Frankenthal meets often with Palestinian activists and academics; his organization of bereaved parents held a widely publicized parley with Hamas people in Gaza. What do his Palestinian colleagues say about the contradiction between being in a "peace process" and training your young for hostility?

If we were only to educate Palestinian children for peace, Frankenthal quotes them, we would have no "soldiers" if peace does not come. Let's make peace, they say, and the day after, our books and our way of thinking will change.

Is somebody pulling my leg here? Hatred can't be taught for only a day. The Palestinians must be girding themselves for conflict, just as my neighbor on the right insists.

Annul the Oslo process, he tells Frankenthal. Incorporate Judea and Samaria into the State of Israel, let West Bank Arabs live there as non-citizens. No Jew can give away the Land of Israel. Ruling a foreign population is better than committing national suicide.

My neighbor to the left objects, dismissing publicity about Palestinian textbooks as right-wing propaganda. Hatred of Israel, he insists, spreads among Palestinians through the demolition of their "illegal" homes by Israeli soldiers and the "legal" takeover of their agricultural lands by settlers. First treat the disease, he says; the textbooks are a symptom that will soon disappear.

I live between them, full of ambivalence. I don't want to give away any of the Land of Israel. But the other possibilities - retreating to the Green Line without reference to security or settlements, or voiding Oslo in order to occupy the West Bank forever, or accepting a binational state - seem worse.

Yet it's hard for me to believe that the Palestinians mean peace.

And meanwhile, the nature of the discourse baffles me. In so dark a forest as the future of Arabs and Jews in the Holy Land, how can any person be so sure that one path only leads to the light?

Published March 9, 2000, on Beliefnet.com. Anthologized in PeaceFire: Fragments from the Israel-Palestine Story (Free Association Books).

Finding the Lost Tribes
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Ellis Island Revisited
Did your family start out as immigrants? You've come a long way, baby.

Dennis Prager: A Profile
The man behind the golden voice.