I write about the things that matter to me. All opinions are my own.

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Saturday, February 7, 2015

Who's Afraid of the Secret Police?

Last Friday it happened that I had a meeting at the EEOB, the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, which is located next door to the West Wing of the White House.

Outside, there was a protest in support of Ukraine. I heard the chanting and then saw the marchers stomping down 17th Street, in front of the guard gate where we were waiting to get in.

I felt terribly conflicted in that moment. On the one hand my heart swelled with pride to be part of such an important initiative that it merits White House attention. This isn't an ad for what I do at work but suffice it to say, I really believe in this one. It's such an intelligent program, it reflects incredibly painstaking hard work by the smartest people this country has to offer, and I believe in my gut that it is a truly valuable "brand" in the making.

On the other hand I thought about the terrible danger that Israel faces and how deeply opposed I am to the way the President is treating Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Israel generally. And I felt guilty, like I should be out there protesting, like the Ukranians were.

* * * 

When I was growing up my father was emphatic that I avoid all such public displays. I was a strong believer in Rabbi Meir Kahane's (may he rest in peace) philosophy regarding Israel, that the country should annex the lands it had won in war (note - Israel was attacked!) and remove Palestinians from the land rather than try to govern them.

I was vocal at home in supporting Kahane. Even though he was jailed for being violent and extreme. He was not a racist. He simply understood Israel in religious terms, and he understood national pride. In his own way I think he respected the Palestinians more than the so-called liberals did. And he understood, probably, that their Arab brethren were using them as a propaganda chip against Israel, as a way to wear down the country bit by bit, and history has shown that the strategy has worked pretty well.

My father said that the FBI would be out there taking pictures at any protests, and that I would get my name on a watchlist, and that I should stay at home.

So I did.

I was not allowed to go to the rallies to free Soviet Jewry. Do you remember those? Anatoly Sharansky symbolized the suffering of a massive number of fellow Jews effectively imprisoned in the Soviet Union.

I also did not go to the Israeli Day Parade in New York.

* * * 

Why did my father always tell me to stay away from marches and parades?

Because in 1944 my father's mother's family, may they rest in peace, were kidnapped out of their small town on the border between Hungary and Romania and they were shipped to Auschwitz and they were mass-murdered.

Because during that same period of time my father's father, may he rest in peace, who had been a soldier in the Romanian military and had been admitted to college as well, was in a slave labor camp where it was freezing cold and he was lying through his teeth most of the time to hide Jews under the hay where the horses slept and shat.

The things you and I would think are unthinkable, were very thinkable to a lot of people and they carried out those thoughts against my father's family in a very direct way.

My father was extremely close to his mother, may she rest in peace and she was so traumatized by what happened to her in Auschwitz that she literally shook like a leaf her whole life. I'm not talking about just her hands, a genetic trait we share. Her teeth shook. Her face shook. Her entire beautiful self. Her eyes were haunted, all the time.

It is no wonder that he kept me at home.

* * * 

In America we have the right to free speech. But I, as a Jew, feel terrified. What if those rights don't really apply to me, because of anti-Semitism? What if one day I get a knock at the door, from the secret police?

As an American I worry about the loss of free speech. I am amazed and grateful that the law enables me to protest, in my personal life, actions by the government that I disagree with - and not get arrested or lose my job. These are not trivial benefits, these are not add-ons to what it means to be a citizen here. 

And I see that what gets covered by the mainstream media often diverges from topics that people want to hear more about. This bothers me a lot, that money and power have any effect on what reporters investigate.

I also see that people have become afraid to say things on the phone, or send things by email that contain political criticism. This is an absolutely horrible development. They had something in the news the other day about how many reporters believe they've been snooped on by the government.

If I am honest about it, I myself have become afraid, or should I say a kind of fear I never had before - it was always my father warning me, and me not believing. For example I was on the iPhone and it started acting funny, a kind of funny I can't exactly explain in a blog. Like it started scrolling and I wasn't scrolling it. And on my blog, I was trying to copy a page and some ghost text appeared on it. I dismissed both things as likely nothing, which is probably true. But for the first time in my life I actually considered whether maybe I was under surveillance somehow. 

And then, I thought about how many other people might have that same fear, and might be censoring what they say or think or write, even unknowingly. 

* * * 

Back to the meeting on Friday. It was full of smart people, it was led by smart people who are doing their job. I can honestly say, after 11 years working for the government and directly interacting and observing with various parties associated it, that they are a credit to this great Nation. Consistently I see an incredible level of dedication and even selflessness among the staff of the Administration, members of Congress, and our Nation's public servants (e.g. civil servants, feds, the people I work with) alike. 

These people really get it. They are not stupid or incompetent by any means. And so I had to wonder, why does the government have the opposite reputation? Why don't people say, "In government we trust?"

Three things, generally speaking:

1) Poor communication, lack of funding for communication, bureaucracy getting in the way of communication, lack of appreciation for the importance of communication, etc.

2) People who fundamentally disagree with the decisions made through legitimate process and who try to circumvent it to serve their own ends.

3) Self-serving, selfish, and yes sometimes corrupt individuals who hide behind the system.


* * * 

About self-censorship, the impossibility of censorship, and how we must keep the Internet free.

I was afraid to do it, but curious this weekend and so I looked up "New World Order" and "Illuminati" on the Interent. I looked on Quora; I already follow Infowars. I even read "The Secret Covenant" and "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion."

Guess what...there are a zillion articles and comments out there. So if there is some great big secret happening, it is happening in broad daylight.

Last week I got into a Twitter discussion with someone who said bad things about Jews. It ended up being an actual conversation and other people joined in and it ended with everyone wishing each other well and now go watch the Superbowl. 

So there is no civil riot happening in my neck of the Internet woods, because people are still able to have a normal conversation and treat one another like adults.

* * * 

Overall it seems to me that there is a lot to be thankful for and hopeful about. 

I actually had the good fortune to meet Rabbi Meir Kahane before he was assassinated 25 years ago. I was on a flight from New York to Israel to study for a month at Neve, a girls' yeshiva in Har Nof (the site of a synagogue massacre last year, G-d help us). It was a two-stop flight and I was in France, in the airport, walking to the next flight. 

In my hands was Rabbi Kahane's book, Uncomfortable Questions for Comfortable Jews.

Unbelievably, there he was. There he stood. He looked exactly like in his biographical picture.

I had the presence of mind to ask him to sign his book for me, which he did.

And as I looked at him, I saw a very peaceful person. Not violent, not hateful, not angry, not rushing around, actually very calm, and he even had an actual twinkle in his eye.

Rabbi Kahane said almost nothing, but as I look back on that moment I realize that he was at peace with the fate that awaited him. He knew that because he took a stand, he was going to die for it. Because that was the kind of stand he took.

There are many, many people out their like Rabbi Kahane, Jewish and not Jewish, good souls whose merit saves this world.

* * * 

Yesterday I left the meeting although I wanted to stay, because I made a commitment to be home in time for the Sabbath.

There were no buses and so I walked about twenty minutes to get home. And when I did so I looked down at my right hand, at my wrist. There is a burn mark there that stubbornly refuses to heal; I was frying an egg in hot oil some months ago and it spattered.

It was at that moment that I realized...concentration camp victims were also marked by a tattoo that never went away. I am their child, I am their grandchild, I am the carrier of the memory. This hidden mark is my way of remembering them, of remembering for them, of being a microphone to the rest of the world.

Maybe there are secret listening police and maybe there aren't. 

The bottom line is, we have to say what we have to say.

___

All opinions my own.