Let me tell you a story. When I was 21, way back in 1975, I was studying at the University of Leeds in England, and I took a two week trip to the Soviet Union. You couldn’t travel on your own, and had to be part of an organized tour, and our tour had Kiev, Moscow, and Leningrad as the major stops. It was great; everywhere I went Jews asked me if I was Jewish (I guess I look it) and I tried to converse with them the best that I could. Our tour seemed to stop at every memorial to the Great Patriotic War, of which there seemed to be no end with one exception—it did not stop, despite our asking, at the monument at Babi Yar, outside of Kiev. Anyway, I loved the trip—a ballet at the Bolshoi, an opera at the Kirov; one of these years I have to get back to St. Petersburg, which I still think is the most beautiful city I have ever seen, and we were there in early July, when it stays light in the city until the wee hours.
Our Lady of the Ark of the Covenant is the largest church in Abu Ghosh, an Arab village not far from Jerusalem. Six hundred of us, singers of several choirs from around Israel, came to this church for our annual festival. The Vocal Music Hebrew Songs festival was held in a sacred place, filled with majesty, reverence and beauty.
In this large church with its high ceiling, we sang the day after Shavuot the festival of the receiving of the Torah. That day is also known in Hebrew as Isru Hag, the Binding of the Festival that comes at the end of three major Jewish pilgrimage festivals.
This is written as President Trump is returning to the United States – and I fully recognize that any minute after it’s published that something may emerge – from him or from anywhere – totally reversing our perceptions of what occurred. But life and attention spans are short, so we gotta go on what we see.
He enjoyed Saudi hospitality, is willing to forgive their Islam, and clearly appreciated the $110 billion in new military contracts he is bringing home. Moreover, he seems to believe the Saudis and most Arab states want very much to make peace with Israel (actually, there’s little doubt that’s true). And Bibi Netanyahu would very much like to make peace with them so long as they agree not to mention the P-word. But as alienated as Arab leaders are from their populations, they do recognize that the emergence of some recognizable sort of Palestinian state is an absolute prerequisite for normalizing their ties with Israel. Trump actually seems to get that, even if Bibi doesn’t. Of course, Bibi has to deal with a cynical population, much of which has long since written of the Palestinians as a negotiating partner. But Trump, as the quintessence of not-Obama, may conceivably be able to push Bibi in ways that Obama could only dream of. That is unlikely but we don’t know. No possible scrutiny of Trump’s words will reveal that; we will have to wait and see. I consider it conceivable – but barely; I would be shocked, astonished, and happy if that indeed plays out, but I won’t waste any time or energy expecting it.