Monday, April 25, 2005

Column: Sharon on NBC -- "Civil War Threat"

My landlord and neighbor was from the Ukraine. He was about 93 years old when he passed away a couple of years ago. He had been in Safed for 50 years more or less when we met, having arrived around the time of Israel’s independence. He had married twice and had two children who inherited the property. They still live in the Galilee but not in Safed – his daughter was just here for a visit.

Yekutiel was always eager to tell me stories about life in the Ukraine and his time in Siberia and his experiences in Israel. I learned a lot from him. I learned from him things that no one else could teach me. He told me about the way his family was slaughtered in Brody by the Nazis and about how he as a young boy had been spared because he and his cousin had sensed the danger and had fled towards the Soviet line.

That move in itself was dangerous as the Soviets upon finding them would almost certainly execute them as spies – the fate of fleeing Jews caught by the Russians. Yekutiel and his cousin were fortunate though. Both had defied their parents and as youngsters had joined the Communist Party. That was not a simple thing for the young son of a religious Jew to do, but that’s what he had done and now it would save his life.

After being picked up by the Soviets they had the amazing good fortune of being spotted by an officer who recognized them from the Communist Youth Movement. Instead of being executed they were enlisted – the only members of their family to survive the War.

His time spent in Siberia was as a manager of a logging camp there. He told me not only of the winters but of the hot humid summers when the flies were worse than the snows. He told me of the special boots they wore in winter that were made out of the wool of sheep and that packed frozen and hard through use in the cold snow. He said they were so warm that you felt no cold at all in your feet.

He held a fond and distorted opinion of Stalin till the day he died. He accredited him solely for the defeat of the Nazis and gave no credit to America or England. I attributed his perspective at least in part to the fact that the Red Army had saved his life but once, when his political and religious views crossed the demarcation lines we had established to keep us civil and neighborly, I countered with a remark that cut him sharply to the bone -- telling him that he would probably do better to drop his admiration for the butcher Stalin before facing the heavenly court. He was shocked and insulted and said there surely was no such thing. To which I responded that he was free to think whatever he wished.

It was the sharpness of my tongue on only a few occasions that made our relationship enjoyable and instructive for a few years. I helped him at times when his health was poor until he got fulltime help before deteriorating finally into his final illness.

To a friend of mine in Jerusalem, Yekutiel was known only as the barometer. We called him that because he reflected more accurately the attitudes and direction of the political left in Israel than anyone I ever met here. It’s as if his soul was connected to leftist news media in a way that distilled everything and delivered it pure and from the heart. He was a model citizen in his political thought – Israel’s most politically correct man in Safed – graduate of the Red Army, organizer of a Kibbutz in his youth which was meant to be transplanted in Israel, and long time activist in and member of Israel’s Labor Party.

But why am I writing about him?

The reason is that Ariel Sharon got on NBC and warned of a threat of Civil War. That warning was meant to demonize the victims of his tyranny in the most irreparable way and most likely will serve as justification for all that Sharon has planned for those that would resist his tyranny in any way.

But still, why did I write all this about Yekutiel?

It is because Yekutiel was talking about the inevitability of this Civil War almost three years ago – when somehow he had spoken about how the settlers would soon pose this dire threat to the nation. I saw his remark as the worst type of baiting but knew then that the barometer had picked up on something that could not be dismissed – far as it still was from the news and national consciousness. I had filed it away as an old Soviet “sharaska” or sinister plot of deceit that he had seen in the old country and saw coming to be used again here in Israel to make the dissenters to any future "territorial compromise" look like the worst enemies of the state.

Today, reading about Sharon on NBC, I was reminded of what the barometer had said back then.

On a much different note, I wish everyone great joy and happiness on the upcoming Passover Holiday. Chag Samayach.


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