Monday, April 21, 2014

Two Fast Thoughts for Esra-Chag


Two Fast Thoughts for Esra-Chag (8th day of Passover outside Israel, Mimona for some inside Israel)


1.    You probably have all seen the news reports about the fox that infiltrated the grounds of the White House and has made its home there, seen wondering about. I could not help but be reminded of the words of the Prophet Jeremiah near the end of the Book of Lamentations about how a fox moving into an area signifies the presence of absolute devastation!


2.   I hope I am not stepping on anyone's sensitive toes with this comment, but you know how Obama's followers always like to claim he is the Savior and even like to compare him with Jesus? Well, it occurred to me that this may all be based on the fact that Jesus ALSO had some ambiguities on his OWN birth certificate (such as an unclear domicile address for when he was born and also the question about what to put in the Baby's Father space on the form?).  That seems to explain everything!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Archeological Find to Resolve Ancient Rabbinic Dispute?



    Archeological Find to Resolve Ancient Rabbinic Dispute?

By Steven Plaut




     Passover is a good time to "pass over" political matters for a brief hiatus and speak about less upsetting matters.   This past weekend, the Makor Rishon newspaper revealed one of the most fascinating stories in Israeli archeology, one that has intriguing implications for resolving an ancient Rabbinic controversy.


     The discovery involves an ancient tefillin box discovered in a cave near the Dead Sea, south of the better known area where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered.  This is where a number of artifacts from the Bar Kochba rebellion against Rome were found.   The Bar Kochba revolt ended in failure, and the Romans murdered Rabbi Akiva in retaliation, as well as nine other leading sages and thousands of their religious students.  This is the tragedy that we mourn during the first 33 days of the Counting of the Omer, which just began this past Tuesday evening.


     But the significance of the tefillin box was only uncovered by Dr. Yonaton Adler, who teaches at Ariel University (yes, the one the Left is calling for dismantling and boycotting) and also at the Hebrew University. 


   Adler is an expert on antiquities, with special interest in ancient tefillin.  The tefillin or "phylacteries" are two boxes attached to straps that Jews don every morning during prayer.  They represent the manifestation and application of the Torah commandment to Jews to place the words of God as a sign on their arms and in between their eyes.  Standard tefillin contain four small reams (small scrolls) of parchment, papyrus, or paper in the box placed on the forehead, representing the four senses that are contained in the head, and a single ream in the box placed on the forearm, for the sense of touch.  Short portions from the Torah appear on each ream, the best known of which is the paragraph recited twice daily by Jews that follows the recitation of the proclamation Shma Yisrael.  Both the boxes and their straps are made of leather and dyed pitch black and the boxes are squares.


     A number of ancient tefillin have been uncovered in archeological digs, some going back even before the period in which the Dead Sea Scrolls were composed, meaning well before the period of the Talmud, indeed back to when the Second Temple was still standing and operating intact.


     While perusing artifacts held in the Israeli Antiquities Authority, Dr. Adler discovered the tefillin box I am about to describe.  It was actually uncovered in 1960 from a cave containing Bar Kochba era relics (132-136 AD) but was apparently put aside and forgotten in the Antiquities Authority, probably because no one understood its significance or even realized that it was a tefillin box.  The problem is that it does not look like any tefillin box any living person has ever seen. 


    First, it is incredibly small.  The size of tefillin boxes seems to follow its own trend in fashion.  A generation back the boxes were usually pretty modest, but in recent years the trend among observant Jews is to use much larger boxes, large enough to hold a plum.  The box uncovered near the Dead Sea and analyzed by Adler is tiny.  It is a head tefillin  box and the parchments inside are so tiny that the writing must have been done by someone with uncanny skills in miniaturization, something that today could only be accomplished using a computer and robot.  The box in question is so small that those who actually discovered it in the cave probably did not understand that it was a tefillin box at all.  Some other ancient tefillin boxes with tiny writing were previously uncovered and analyzed.  


    Second, the box uncovered by Adler is not square, as are all tefillin  used today.  It is rectangular.  In addition, while its ancient color long ago faded, it is clear that it was not originally dyed black, but perhaps tan or brown.       


     Most important of all is the fact that the tefillin in question is complete, containing all four reams encapsulated in any head tefillin box.  And as such it promises to resolve an ancient theological dispute among two of the greatest sages of the Middle Ages.


    The four passages from the Torah that must be written on the reams inserted into the head tefillin box are spelled out in the Talmud and are accepted by all streams of Judaism.  However there is a famous disagreement about the ORDER of the passages.  Standard tefillin boxes follow the opinion of Rashi.  Just who was Rashi?  Only the most important Biblical and Talmudic commentator who ever lived.   Rashi (whose real name was Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki) died in 1105 in France.  In his lifetime he wrote a compendium of commentaries on the Torah that are so clear and understandable that they are still used today in nearly every study version of the Torah text, nearly a thousand years later.  No other commentator is so crisp and lucid.  Any book that contains at least one set of commentary on the Torah text will include Rashi's, although may include others as well.  Rashi also composed commentaries on non-Torah books of the Bible and a near-complete set of commentaries on the Talmud.  Standard editions of the Talmud today always contain the Rashi commentary.


    The problem is that Rashi's ruling regarding the order of the passages in the head tefillin box was challenged by his own grandson, Rabbeinu Tam.  His real name was Jacob Meir (died 1171 in same town as Rashi) and he himself was so eminent a scholar that he often allowed himself to challenge rabbinic rulings by his own grandfather.  Rabbeinu Tam was one of the more eminent contributors to the post-Rashi commentary on the Talmud known as the Tosafot.  The Tosafists were prominent scholars who took the rulings of Rashi as a starting point but not as unchallengeable.  (Rashi's own son-in-law was another well-known Tosafist.)  And Rabbeinu Tam rejected Rashi's ruling regarding the order of the reams in the head tefillin.


     While most standard tefillin boxes ever since then have followed the ruling by Rashi, the matter is considered to be still open and unresolved.  Some Jews pray in the morning using standard Rashi-edict tefillin boxes, and then at the end of prayer briefly don a second head tefillin box constructed according to Rabbeinu Tam's ruling and recite the Shma Yisrael a second time.


    If all this sounds a bit esoteric, the question has excited debate among Jewish scholars for nearly a thousand years.


    The matter was ALMOST resolved several years back when some ancient tefillin boxes from the site of the Dead Sea Scroll caves were recovered.  In the best preserved, only part of their reams were intact.  Infuriatingly, the archeologists who carefully removed the reams from the tefillin box did NOT record the ORDER in which the reams had been placed in the box!   So the Rashi-Rabbeinu Tam dispute could not be resolved.


     But the box uncovered by Dr. Adler IS fully intact and contains all four reams!  The problem at the moment is to figure out a technology that will allow the reams to be opened without crumbling into dust.  This is not a trivial problem for parchment that has sat in the desert for two millennia.  But just as the Dead Sea Scrolls were eventually opened and preserved, I trust a solution will be found here as well.


    When this happens, the dispute between Rashi and Rabbeinu Tam is likely to be resolved once and for all, nearly a thousand years after it was initiated.  


   Just one last interesting point about Rashi.  Today in standard Rashi commentaries on the Torah, Rashi often translates a difficult word from the Torah into Yiddish.  There is only one little problem with this.  Rashi did not speak Yiddish at all.  He spoke medieval French, a language very different from modern French, probably as different as English is from German.  So why do the commentaries show Rashi translating words into Yiddish?  Because no one today speaks medieval French and in standard texts, particularly those following Lithuanian scholarly traditions, the ancient French was replaced with Yiddish that the rabbinic students were thought to be able to understand.


     At the time Rashi lived, almost no one living in France was literate in this ancient French.  Many ancient languages were spoken only and writing skills for them developed later.   Indeed, very little was known about this ancient medieval pre-modern French.  Until linguists realized that they could reconstruct the ancient French using Rashi in reverse.  Taking the original Rashi commentaries in which Rashi translated Torah terms into Old French, the scholars worked in reverse and extracted a vocabulary of over 3000 words.  Hence, people who might have no interest in the religious importance of the Rashi commentaries themselves, including French linguists, found that the very same Rashi preserved and salvaged the earliest version of spoken French for all the world!


Moadim L'simcha!



Friday, April 18, 2014

Passover Week as Leftist Celebration of anti-Semitism and Self-Abasement



One would think that Passover week should be the time for triumphant Jewish pride and lowered profiles in embarrassment for the Jewish Left.  Nevertheless the past few days have seen an upsurge in Jewish anti-Semitism, defeatism, and self-abasement by the Jewish Left.


First we had the "mission" of the Israeli Far Left that made pilgrimage to Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas), the "president" of "Palestine," on the day that the Israeli police officer Baruch Mizrachi was being buried.  The officer had been murdered while on his way to the Passover seder with his wife and five children.  Some of his kids were also injured.  There was not a dry non-leftist eye in Israel at the sight of Mizrachi's eight year old son saying kaddish at the funeral.  The Left decided that it would be a good day to run to the Terrorist in Chief and demand that Israel make more concessions.  The delegation  included leaders from the Israeli Labor Party and Meretz/Peace Now. 


Next we have the decision by the editors of Haaretz, that Palestinian newspaper printed in Hebrew, to devote its weekend holiday magazine supplement to a puff interview with Stephen Walt, the anti-Semitic "professor" who co-crayoned that book about the cabals of the Zionist Lobby and its nefarious conspiratorial control over Washington.  The magazine cover shows a glowing smiling Walt, who explains how the 9-11 attacks and the US campaign in Iraq are all consequences of the nefarious Zionist Lobby.  And of course the media in the US are also under Zionist occupation.  He attacks Noam Chomsky for not being sufficiently militant.  Even the Haaretz interviewer had to raise his eyebrows over some of the overtly anti-Semitic comments by Herr Walt.   (Interview in Hebrew is at )


Then there were the violent riots by the "Palestinian" hooligans on the Temple Mount yesterday.  The Israeli government decided to cope with the terrorism by closing off the Temple Mount to all Jews, this in the middle of Passover.  No, that is not a misprint.  They did not rule that Moslems be barred from the Mount until the violence ends, but rather that the Jewish targets of the violence be barred.  In addition, there have been calls from the Israeli cabinet to impose martial law on the West Bank settlement of Yizhar.  That is the home to some gangs of teenage Jewish rowdies who have engaged in vandalism, including attacks on soldiers.  The Yizhar rowdies definitely deserve a rigorous spanking with a hickory switch.  But martial law?  In the very same days when nothing at all is done by Israel in response to the Temple Mount violence or even the murder of Mizrachi noted above (in fact Israel held "talks" with the Palestinian Authority immediately afterwards.)


This week saw the Marxist anti-Israel hater of democracy Zeev Sternhell, professor at the Hebrew University,  opine that the demand that the "Palestinians" accept Israel as a legitimate Jewish state is nothing less than the road to apartheid (  Haaretz also ran an Op-Ed by its old editor-in-chief David Landau about Yassir Arafat's love of the Jewish Bible, in which it says, inter alia ( :   


"Why did Jacob go to Egypt?" Arafat innocently asked the kippa-wearer — and I walked straight into his trap. "Because there was a famine in Palestine. It's in the Bible," I offered.

"Ah! Yes! But the Palestinians didn't leave the land, did they?" The point was clear. "The Palestinians" — all the biblical tribes had been adopted by the PLO chairman as forbears — loved the land more than the Israelis' forbears. They had more sumud — the Arabic word for steadfastness.

Arafat's recognition of the biblical Israelites as the forefathers of the present ones was, of course, an important concession that contributed to the headline of the interview — "Arafat: Israel is Jewish." But Arafat's lasting (posthumous) contribution, yet to be applied, to Israel-Palestine negotiations came in the religious-historical discussion with me.



Haaretz then runs an Op-Ed by its late columnist Reuven Pedatzur, who died a few days ago, about how the entire Middle East has been destabilized by the fact that Israel's Arrow anti-missile system has proven so successful ( ).


But the crème de la crème of Jewish self-abasement and Jewish anti-Semitism showed up this week on the anti-Semitic blog "Mondoweiss," run by Jewish anti-Semite Philip Weiss.  His web site specializes in maniacal attacks against Israel (see   It even runs the chronically-unemployed pro-Iran pro-Hamas anti-Semitic blogger Richard "Little Dickie" Silverstein, whose own blog has been used by him to smear his own parents (see


Well, this week Mondoweiss ran an article claiming that Israel was behind the murders in Kansas by the Klan fascist:     It earlier ran material claiming that Israel was also behind the 9-11 attacks on the US.  Mondoweiss is so openly anti-Semitic that the far-leftist Daily Kos has condemned it. 


You probably already heard that the Klan terrorist of Kansas cited with approval articles published by the Jewish anti-Semite Max Blumenthal: .  In fact, the anti-Semitic Left contributed to the Kansas pogrom:


Naomi Wolf's latest jihad against Jews, Zionism and feminism is described here: .




2.  On a lighter note ("lighter" being used with double entendre), as you know I always try to stay abreast of trends in political correctness and, to avoid any ambiguity, let me say that the breast that I try to stay abreast of is a non-gender-specific one.  So I wanted to ask your advice about something.  Would I be correct to assume that the person described in the following news story qualifies as transgendered?


Rapper Andre Johnson Cuts Off His Penis, Jumps Off Building in Alleged Suicide Attempt

 (I am not sure whether his health problems are covered under Obamacare). 



3.  A funny interview with Obama is here:

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Jewish Leftists defending Censorship by Brandeis



1.  The leftwing fascist "Reform Rabbi" and Haaretz columnist Eric Yoffie endorses the censorship at Brandeis, where Brandies decided to deny a critic of Islam an honorary degree:   Brandeis Gets it Right on Islam



Yoffie's position was also endorsed by ultra-liberal Deborah Lipstadt.  She has also recently endorsed the pilgrimage of Harvard students to Arafat's grave and has been lobbying against the release of Pollard.  A few years back she called me a moron for trying to get the Neo-Nazi Norman Finkelstein fired at DePaul University, insisting it would backfire and DePaul would not fire him.  Well it did not backfire and my campaign was instrumental in getting Finkelstein fired there.  The DePaul Senate was officially directed to read my analysis of the Finkelstein fiasco and I exposed the pseudo-academic anti-Israel streetwalkers who were rallying to defend Finkelstein and help get him tenured. 


Lipstadt also recently signed a petition endorsing Kerry's initiative.  While Lipstadt deserves enormous credit for her valuable work on the Holocaust, she has long been undermining that legacy with her obsessive shallow ultra-liberalism.   



2.  Ron Pundak, the clueless halfwit who was sent by Shimon Peres illegally to "negotiate" with the PLO in Oslo in 1992 in preparing the Oslo "deal" and "accord," died on Friday.  Haaretz and the Left are unable to control their tears.  Obituaries in the press from J Street (which recently demanded that Israel stop insisting that the "Palestinians" recognize it as a legitimate Jewish state) and Meretz pretty much tell you all you need to know about Pundak.


Pundak was a pseudo-academic with virtually no academic credentials who teamed up with Yair Hirschfeld, another failed wannabe academic, and set off at the behest of Beilin and Peres to conduct "negotiations" with the PLO behind the back of the democratically elected government of Israel.  Naturally, these "negotiations" consisted of the non-elected duo agreeing to most of the demands of the PLO while getting no concessions at all in return.  In particular the rejected the idea that the PLO should be subjected to any tests to see if its "moderation" and interest in peace were genuine.  Of course, they were not  genuine, but the Pundak formula was: Damn the Tests of Behavior, Full Speed Ahead into Oslo Oblivion.


Pundak was a leading advocate of the idea that peace in the Middle East can be achieved by pretending that war does not exist.   The obstacle to peace was, in his view, Israel refusing to conduct "talks" with terrorists who were conducting mass murder of Jews and claiming that Jews drink the blood of gentile children for Passover.  Pundak believed that Israel must abandon all of its positions and agree to pretty much everything the PLO demanded.  He later teamed up with Yossi Beilin in proposing the "Geneva Agreement," an outline for a final solution of the Middle East conflict based upon near-complete Israeli capitulation.


Pundak, in short, was the epitome of everything that went wrong in Israel over the past 2 decades.  He embodied and symbolized the detachment from reality of the Israeli Left, and also the Left's deep loathing for Jewish self-respect and Zionism, as well as its disrespect for elections and democracy.  


Israel is far, far worse off thanks to the "career" of Pundak.   He was the poster boy for abandoning the idea that analysis and thinking and history are things that should guide Israeli public policy.  He believed that Israel should adopt positions that make people like him feel good, that would allow leftists to feel righteous, that would allow them to feel comfortable when hanging about with their leftist gentile friends from other lands, and never mind how much worse the consequences that any implementation of their "ideas" would be for Israel.   He was the symbol of the replacement of the thinking Jew with the wish-upon-a-star Jew, the Jew who was willing to ignore reality and concentrate on fantasies about a "New Middle East."


He, Hirschfeld, Beilin, and Peres are directly responsible for the nearly 2000 murdered Israeli victims of Oslo, and for the thousands of rockets that have been launched into Israel by their "peace partners."  Yet none of these has ever been made to pay a price for their folly.  Pundak is now beyond caring.


Thursday, April 10, 2014

Poof the Clueless Kerry



As you know, John Kerry recently used the term "poof" to describe what happened to the "peace talks" when Israel refused to capitulate any further to the demands of the savages.   Curiously, none of the caring crowd denounced Kerry for using such a homophobic expression as "poof."


Nevertheless, the use of the term by His Poofiness raises some interesting thoughts.  Among these are the need for new lyrics to that classic by Peter, Paul and Mary:




Poof the Clueless Kerry 



Poof the Clueless Kerry, traveled overseas, 

And frolicked in the springlike mist in a land called Iz-Ra-Lee, 
Little Barack Bama loved that rascal Poof, 
And gave him Secretary perqs and other fancy stuff, oh 

Poof the Clueless Kerry, traveled overseas, 

And frolicked in the springlike mist in a land called Iz-Ra-Lee, 
Poof the Clueless Kerry, traveled overseas, 

And frolicked in the springlike mist in a land called Iz-Ra-Lee.

To Ramallah he traveled in his diplomatic ride 
Obamie kept a lookout back in Foggy Bottom's tide, 
Arab kings and terrorists would bow whene'er he came, 
Abbas counted chickens every time Poof squeaked his name, oh! 

Poof the Clueless Kerry, traveled overseas, 

And frolicked in the springlike mist in a land called Iz-Ra-Lee, 
Poof the Clueless Kerry, traveled overseas, 

And frolicked in the springlike mist in a land called Iz-Ra-Lee.

The Big Lie lives forever about Palestinian "rights," 
Like Santa Claus and Obamacare, imaginary plight, 
One grey night it happened, Bibi caved no more 
And Poof that Foggy Bottomer, he vanished from our sight. 

His weird head bent in sorrow, green tears then fell like rain, 
Poof no longer went to play the terrorizers game. 
Without his life-long jihad, Poof could not be brave, 
So Poof that Secretary sadly slipped into his cave, oh! 

Poof the Clueless Kerry, traveled overseas, 

And frolicked in the springlike mist in a land called Iz-Ra-Lee, 
Poof the Clueless Kerry, traveled overseas, 

And frolicked in the springlike mist in a land called Iz-Ra-Lee. 

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

The Passover Peacock

The Passover Peacock

By: Steven Plaut

Published: April 25th, 2012


It was a few days before Passover when I first heard the horrific cackling. “What,” I asked family members, is that? It sounded just like the longtime leftist agitator Shulamit Aloni. But it wasn’t.

Soon thereafter my wife came running into the house.

“There is a peacock downstairs in the yard,” she proclaimed.

Hmmm, just in time for Passover, I said to myself.

Down I went to investigate. And there standing in our yard was a giant turkey, like something out of a Thanksgiving poster in a Walmart store.

We live not far from the Haifa zoo, and various critters, especially those in possession of wings, tend to escape the place in search of friendlier, quieter surroundings.

The zoo, you see, is rather noisy. Late at night throughout our neighborhood one can hear the elephants in the zoo making loud noises. And – how shall I put this delicately – the noises they are making are not from their mouths.

Zoology is not my wife’s strong point, so you will have to forgive her classification error in ornithology. But she had good reason for mistaking the turkey for a peacock. Years back we actually had a male peacock refugee – long blue peacock feathers and all – take refuge in our yard.

The kids were young back then and nicknamed the peacock “Notsi,” from the Hebrew word for feather, notz. The yard guest lost a feather, which we saved and still use to this day in the late-night search for any crumbs of chametz the night before the Passover Seder.

The kids discovered that peacocks really like Bamba, a peanut butter-tasting Israeli puffy snack. Bamba, by the way, is kosher for Sephardim during Passover, and it seems peacocks must be Sephardic because they love gobbling up Bamba even during Passover. We know, we fed it.

The newest “Notsi” was, however, an obnoxious and aggressive male turkey. The various cats on the street found themselves intimidated and chased down the block by the monster whenever they came to investigate and got too close.

No one quite knew what to do with the turkey. Being the only American around, I of course proposed fattening it up and trying to keep it around until the last week of November, when all Americans know just what the proper use for such yard guests should be.

The neighbors, however, cringed at the thought of the noisy gobbling lasting that long.

Meanwhile, the children all along the street were carrying plastic bags full of chametz out to the garbage containers. I invited them over to feed the scraps to our Passover turkey instead of dumping or burning them. I am sure it was the highlight of Passover for many of them, and for years they will remember feeding the beast far better than they will recall reading about Pharaoh in the Haggadah.

The Passover turkey did have some problems during the actual days of Passover, though. It was not crazy about matzah – not even egg matzah or French toast-style matzah.

Anyway, the parking situation near the zoo was horrendous during Passover, with some cars stopping as far away as the front of our building just to get to the zoo. But the lazier families halted their climb up the hill when they got to our yard. They let the kids chase and photograph the Passover turkey.

Alas, the turkey did not last very far into the counting of the Omer. One morning it was just gone, and I suspect one of the other critters that lives in the Haifa wadis or gorges came out one night and had its own snack. There are wild boars and huge porcupines down there.

There went my plans for Thanksgiving!

But all is not lost. I went for a climb up the Carmel today to get some serious coffee, and a few buildings up the hill from my own I heard a new but different cackle. It wasn’t Shulamit Aloni this time either. (She has never quite recovered, by the way, from letting Hansel and Gretel escape her clutches.)

This time it really was a peacock, the newest refugee from the zoo, though a female this time, meaning she did not have any of those glorious blue feathers. If she hangs around until Shavuos, I’ll let you know if she eats cheesecake.


2.  I have posted the following story regularly, but a few asked me to re-post it for Passover.

A few years back, I took the kids to the Haifa beach promenade during Passover, where they had French fries. While sitting there, some Russian Jews who had not been in the country very long came and sat down. They ordered some salads, and asked the Arab waiter to bring it to them with Matzos because they did not want to eat Chometz during Passover. Then they asked the Arab to also bring them beers. The Arab stood and explained to them that it was not only bread that is Chometz but actually beer is also considered Chometz and so is also prohibited for consumption by Jews during Passover. The Russians thanked him enthusiastically for explaining that to them.

I was reminded about the section in Pirkei Avot where it says one must feel beholden and gratitude to anyone who teaches one Torah or even a single Hebrew letter. These Russian Jews were beholden to their Arab waiter for teaching them Torah.

Only in Israel!

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

The Tale of Two Passover Beggars

A Tale of Two Beggars

Published: April 14th, 2009

Once upon a time, somewhere in the steppes of Eastern Europe, in the Pale that contained many a Jewish village, there roamed two beggars. One of the hobos was a Jew, the other a gentile.

The two transients were friends and far too lazy to hold any job or do any real work. So they wondered carefree, aimlessly and uselessly from village to village, begging for food, sometimes collecting discarded things to sell, here and there stealing some eggs or fruits off farm trees. It was a hard life and they often found themselves on the brink of starvation.

One day, as the two were looking for someone from whom they could shnorr some food, they came upon a shtetl whose residents were all buzzing about, hurrying, scouring pots and pans, cleaning their homes and cooking.

The Jewish beggar suddenly realized it was but a few hours before Passover was to begin.

“We have extraordinary good luck today,” he said to his comrade. “Tonight begins Passover, a Jewish holiday. Indeed, it is in many ways the happiest holiday of the year, with mountains of food and drink. So here is my plan. Let us come into the village just before evening. We will stand in the back of the synagogue. We will tell them that you and I are both Jewish wanderers, far from home, traveling to do some trading and seek our fortunes. And the local Jews will invite us to the most wonderful banquet of our lives!”

Just as the Jewish beggar had predicted, the plan went off like clockwork. The locals competed with one another to see who would have the honor of hosting one of the beggars at his own Passover Seder. After the evening prayers, the Jewish beggar went off to feast with one family, while his gentile friend, pretending to be Jewish, went off to dine and celebrate with another family.

The gentile beggar’s mouth was already watering with the thought of the wonderful delicacies he was about to devour. His belly was grumbling with anticipation. But things were not going the way he had expected.

His hosts ushered him into a chair at a large table set with candles and many empty dishes.

In the center of the table he saw nothing but some pathetic hard-boiled eggs, a few leaves, and a single small shank bone of meat.

“This is for the entire assembly?” he thought. Then, instead of pouncing on the food, his host poured everyone a single tiny cup of wine.

Things just got worse. The hosts finished drinking their wine and offered everyone at the table a few small leaves to nibble. Not even enough to satisfy a rabbit! And they even insisted he dip these into an awful salty solution, which only made him more thirsty and desperate to drink some real grog. Then, to celebrate this “meal,” they broke into song and laughter, which went on for a whole hour.

When he was expecting them to serve dessert, they handed him instead a piece of bread, but one unlike anything he had ever seen before. It was dry, evidently having been left out in the sun for a week, and barely resembled real bread. It was hard and it crackled when he chewed on it. Moreover, it was served plain, with no oil or molasses or fat.

“This is the feast my friend promised me?” the beggar said to himself. “This is the mountain of food these Jews eat to celebrate their happiest holiday?”

And just imagine his horror at what came next. Each of the people at the table was given the most bitter and disgusting glob of horseradish, something he would never ordinarily eat even if he were famished. They even blessed God when they swallowed that horrid-smelling and evil-tasting slop!

Convinced the “meal” was over, the beggar excused himself, saying he was needed elsewhere with great urgency, and left his hosts with an apology. In a rage, he wandered the streets of the village, looking for his Jewish friend and intending to thrash him and scream at him for his empty promise of a full stomach and a glorious meal.

Four hours later, he finally found his Jewish friend. The Jewish beggar was wandering through the alleys, shirt buttons popping, belly overfull, picking at his teeth and belching his pleasure. His gentile friend was so weak with hunger that he was unable even to pummel his friend. The Jewish beggar examined his starving comrade with surprise.

“Some feast you promised me!” grumbled the non-Jewish beggar. And then he told the Jewish beggar what had happened, how his hosts had offered him a thimble of wine, less than a handful of pathetic leaves in brine, a stale piece of bread of some sort with nothing on it, and some horrid bitter glob.

“At that point I decided enough is enough,” he explained, “and I got up and left.”

The Jewish beggar could not control his laughter. “You do not understand,” he said. “Those were simply the earliest preliminaries of the feast. You snatched hunger from out of the horn of plenty! Had you stuck things out for just a few more minutes, you would have been served the most sumptuous feast of your life, a meal for kings, food that would have sufficed you for a whole week of wanderings. But, you see, you abandoned hope only a few moments too soon. Because you were impatient, you spoiled everything.”

* * *

The story of the two beggars is neither a fairy tale nor for children. The gentile beggar in the story, the one who spoiled everything because of his own ignorance and impatience, is the state of Israel.

Like the beggar who did not understand where he was or what was going on, the state of Israel was on the verge of entering the most wonderful, prosperous and liberated period of its existence in the early 1990s.

Had it listened to the Jewish beggar, all would have been well. Had it found patience and stamina to stick things out for just a little longer, it would have achieved its deepest desires and fulfilled its strongest yearnings.

By 1990, the first Palestinian intifada had been put down, suppressed by force of Israeli arms. The dimensions of Palestinian violence were dropping each month. It would likely have ended altogether had Israel used even more vigorous force against it.

In fact, Israelis who felt Israel should use greater force to end the violence outnumbered by perhaps four to one those saying less force should be used. It was a landslide consensus. Israelis were in no mood to appease or capitulate.

In 1990, Palestinian terrorists were so desperate for weapons that they were reduced to concocting zip guns out of household materials and Molotov cocktails far more likely to scorch the throwers than any targets.

The best the terrorists could do in most cases was toss rocks at Israeli troops in the Gaza Strip or in parts of the West Bank, a phenomenon unpleasant but not life-threatening, and one that certainly posed no existential threat to the survival of the state. Many sections of the West Bank were fairly tranquil, including Bethlehem and Jericho. Jews could walk or ride in security in many parts of the “occupied territories,” as they could in all of Israel.

The leaders of the Palestinian terrorists were off in distant Tunis, with a few others in Damascus, places from which they could do little more than pout and bluster. The world – or at least the United States – had made its peace with the Israeli position that the PLO was not an acceptable partner in any Arab-Israeli peace talks. The most the Palestinians could hope for was a limited autonomy, with no role whatsoever for the PLO.

The number of Israelis who took seriously the notion that the Palestinians deserved their own state was relatively small. Israelis were willing to treat them as the Palestinian branch of the Arab people, entitled perhaps to control their own lives and conduct their own local affairs – but only on the condition that they would eschew further violence. This was also, in essence, the formula backed by the United States.

The Israeli economy in the early 1990s was booming, riding the crest of the high-tech revolution. The country was flooded with immigrants from the nations that had comprised the Soviet empire. The standard of living in Israel had reached the levels of the middle tier of Western European countries.

While many Israeli Arabs voted for anti-Zionist parties to show their solidarity with Israel’s enemies, many others did not and voted for Zionist parties while maintaining cordial relations with Jews.

Into this relative tranquility burst the Oslo “peace process,” led by the ignorant beggar who did not understand that the greatest of feasts was nigh.

Oslo was based on the proposition that economic interests and consumerism had replaced military power as the determinants of international relations in the post-modern world – that armies are obsolete, as is patriotism; that appeasement of fascist terrorists is the surest path to true peace; that Israeli self-abasement is the highest form of Jewish nationalism; that cowardice is the highest form of valor; that the best way to end war is to pretend it doesn’t exist.

It sought to reduce tensions with the Palestinian Arabs, who had just been defeated in their intifada, by importing the PLO leadership from Tunis and Damascus into the “occupied territories” and then allowing it to build up an army in the suburbs of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, bankrolled and armed by Israel itself.

Like the beggar who snatched starvation from the jaws of plentitude, the Israeli government of Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres succeeded in snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

Peres and Rabin became convinced that the most promising path to a full and permanent peace with all of Israel’s neighbors lay in Israeli capitulation to Arab demands and appeasement of the planet’s worst Islamofascist terrorists.

They took to lecturing the country on how the utopian state of affairs they envisioned had not yet come about because Israelis were not strongly enough desirous of it.

The Oslo era was defined by a massive assault on Israeli pride, morale and confidence by its own leaders and intellectual elites. Israeli academics wrote books and articles castigating the country for its shortcomings, both real and imagined.

“New historians” and “post-Zionists” zealously set about the task of rewriting history texts and school curricula to debunk what they regarded as pernicious Israeli propaganda, promoting instead the Arab “narrative,” beginning with the Original Sin of Israel’s founding.

The Israeli media, heavily leftist on nearly every level, bludgeoned the country on a daily basis, promoting the Palestinian position in editorials, op-ed columns and even ostensibly objective news stories.

This self-flagellation produced a situation in which each and every atrocity committed by Arabs was greeted with calls from the Israeli chattering classes for further concessions and appeasements by Israel. Some, including tenured extremists at the universities, went so far as to justify and celebrate Arab acts of terror as necessary to force Israelis to come to their senses and make peace on terms favored by the extremists.

The Left promoted insubordination and mutiny by Israeli soldiers, with not a few leftists endorsing boycotts of Israel by overseas anti-Semites. The Israeli press adopted the practice of overseas Israel-bashers in referring to Palestinian terrorists and suicide bombers as “activists” and “militants.”

In return for its endless goodwill gestures and masochistic eagerness to placate its enemies and world opinion, Israel got a campaign of Nazi-like hatred led by the Palestinian Authority, down to and including virulent Holocaust denial accompanied by Holocaust justification (never mind the contradiction).

* * *

For 16 years now, Israel’s elites have been living in a make-believe world in which Jews are to blame for nearly everything and Arabs are merely expressing “frustration” at being “mistreated” for so many years by Jews.

And the psychological war mounted by Israel’s elites against national pride, dignity and self-respect – indeed against national existence – has been accompanied by a set of diplomatic policies expressing little more than self-loathing – policies that in effect allow no act of Arab violence to go unrewarded.

The Oslo and post-Oslo eras will be known in history as the period when it became evident that a great many Israelis – and nearly all the Israeli elite – had lost the will to survive as a nation.

After centuries during which Jews maintained the most militant self-assurance even while being mistreated, despised and humiliated, here were the Israelis – possessing one of the great armies of the world and a record of achievement on a variety of fronts that put far older, larger and wealthier countries to shame – abandoning all pride and promoting self-humiliation and self-destruction.

An Israel no more than two generations removed from the Holocaust was willing to hold “peace talks” with people who denied there ever was a Holocaust and who insist that Jews use the blood of gentile children to make Passover matzos.

The nation that had fought against enormous odds and won spectacular battlefield victories was acquiescing in a “peace process” that involved unilateral gestures from Israel in exchange for Arabs continuing to make war against the Jews.

Israel’s leaders chose to behave like the foolish beggar in the story who had no idea of what was going on, who let his hunger get the best of him, and who stormed out of the house in irritation, just before the delights of the feast were to begin in earnest.

Because of frustration that Palestinian guttersnipes were tossing rocks at Israeli troops, Israel swapped the stone-throwers for suicide bombers exterminating hundreds of Jewish children and other civilians in Jerusalem and Haifa.

And while the events of the past decade and a half have taken the shine off the visions offered by Rabin and Peres and all the others who brought us the Oslo disaster, make no mistake: the foolish beggar is still with us.

But where is the Jewish beggar – the one who understood the rituals of the Seder and knew his heritage, the one who had the wisdom to wait patiently and achieve the delightfully bloated belly of satisfaction and prosperity?

I search, but cannot find him anywhere. Can you tell me where he’s gone?

Monday, April 07, 2014

Chalk one up for the Zio-Gipper!



1.   Tel Aviv University once ordered its student union to remove an exhibit protesting human rights abuses in China, because the Chinese embassy griped. It also censored what governors of the University can say at assemblies of the governors.  This is the same TAU where a gang of professors organized a petition to prevent a female army colonel from lecturing in the law school because as a military lawyer she had defended Israel. 


Freedom of speech on campus? Only, it seems, when terrorists are invited to campus.  


As you know, the TAU brass had approved the request by the local chapter of the Arab communist party HADASH to host a convicted terrorist as a speaker on campus.  THAT, you see, is protected speech and academic freedom!

But then, even the TAU bolshies were afraid of their own outraged students this time!   The TAU students went on the warpath to attack the University's approval of the speaking gig for the terrorist.   The TAU brass were frightened by the unanticipated and unwanted patriotism.


So they backed off:,7340,L-4507517,00.html


Tel Aviv University cancels lecture by Palestinian terror aide

Convicted terrorist Mohammad Kana'neh will not give Land Day lecture at university conference, due to 'concern for public order'; 'Justice has prevailed', say student groups who protested Kana'neh's participation.
Shachar Chai

Tel Aviv University announced on Sunday evening their decision to cancel the participation of Mohammad Kana'neh, who was imprisoned after being convicted of contacting a foreign agent, in a Land Day conference on campus scheduled to be held on Monday.


A statement released by the university explained the reason for cancelling Kana'neh's participation: "In light of concern for public order in the Land Day events scheduled to be held tomorrow, and since the request to approve Kana'neh's participation was only received recently, leaving no time for preparations, the University does not approve his participation in the event."


Earlier Sunday, the students wings of Bayit Yehudi, Im Tirtzu, Likud and Yesh Atid announced that they would hold a two-hour strike from 8 am Monday to protest the lecture scheduled as part of the Land Day conference, organized by the Hadash and Al-Awda student groups. Following the decision, the planned strike was cancelled.


Protest at Tel Aviv University against Mohammed Kana'ane's lecture
Protest at Tel Aviv University against Mohammed Kana'ane's lecture


Nearly 300 students held a protest Sunday morning against the decision to allow Kana'ane to speak at the Land Day conference. Kana'neh had served 30 months in prison after being convicted of contacting a source working for Hezbollah and transferring information to Palestinian terror activists.


Last Thursday, the university's directors voiced a different opinion.


"The university maintains freedom of speech on campus, and it allows public activity initiated by the students in accordance with the rules of conduct of the State of Israel and previous court rulings, as long as the following conditions are kept: Keeping the law of the State of Israel; maintaining university regulations, procedures and property; keeping public order and the proper order of the teaching, research and work on campus. In the case in question, all of these conditions were met and thus the university approved the activity."


Earlier in the day, Gilad Arditi, chairman of Tel Aviv University Students Union, issued a letter to the various representatives of the political parties' student wings, writing that the Union had turned to the university administration as early as Thursday, in demand to record the scheduled lecture as to ensure that no words of incitement are said.


He added that "we held discussions with the Hadash student group and university administration to figure how on the one hand we can hold an activity permitted by the law, and on the other hand, how to prevent a chaos on campus and hurt feelings of students."


"As public representatives, we must remember and understand that we represent all students on campus, and that our actions and statements have meaning. We should not fall into a dissenting, excluding discourse. It's our responsibility to enable discourse and student activity from all sides of the political spectrum, out of a belief that the student body is diverse and holds a variety of different opinions."


The four student groups leading the protest to cancel Kana'neh's participation praised the university's decision.


"Justice has prevailed and terrorism lost. We congratulate the university's decision to withdraw their approval for Kana'neh's participation. We proved that terrorism is not part of an academic discourse and that a university in Israel does not lend a hand to terrorism. The strike tomorrow is cancelled and classes will be held as usual."



Chalk one up for the campus Zio-gipper!



2.   Something rather amusing happened over at Haaretz, the Palestinian newspaper published in Hebrew.   They ran a very nice pro-Israel Op-Ed by Prof. Eugene Kantorovich, ran it in Hebrew only, one defending Israel and accusing all those who call for sanctions against Israel as discriminating against Jews and Israel.  This is newsworthy for two reasons.  First, Haaretz almost never allows pro-Israel Op Eds to run in its "newspaper."  Second, Prof. Kantorovich recently tore Haaretz a new posterior when he accused the "newspaper" of Holocaust revisionism.


The Hebrew Op Ed today appears here:


The early piece by the professor is this:



Haaretz’s Holocaust Revisionism

Eugene Kontorovich |


A new level of vileness has been reached in the pages of Haaretz. It has already published work extremely critical of the State of Israel–even running columnists that support boycotting the state. But regardless of one’s opinions on the Palestinian issue, the paper has now shown that it exists in a world entirely divorced from any Jewish consensus, and cannot claim the title of loyal opposition. It has crossed all prior bounds of decency and published a criticism of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, calling it a “myth,” and accusing its heroes of being responsible for the ultimate liquidation of the Ghetto. Despite disagreements on diplomatic, territorial, and religious issues, the memory of the Holocaust–its heroes and victims–had been the great unifying porch in post-War Jewish consciousness.


Now the Holocaust is fair game too.


The article’s argument is that maybe if the fighters had not been so uppity, if they had not made a fuss–then the Nazis, who had already murdered 500,000 Jews of Warsaw, might have let the remaining 50,000 live. Maybe! It is not a new argument. Rather, the author amazingly resurrects and endorses the arguments of the Judernat, the Jewish collaboration government of the Ghetto. With every new deportation, they urged restrain with increasing urgency–maybe they will let the rest of us live, and if you fight, all the past deportations would be a sacrifice in vain.


There can be no more terrible case of “blaming the victim” than laying any responsibility for the liquidation of the Ghetto at the feet of the fighters. It is true, the Jewish “communal leadership”–and the rabbis–opposed the uprising. That is what made it brave. The Judenrat had no right to decide if residents of the Ghetto died in gas chambers or fighting for their freedom.


Of course, Haaretz wants to be “edgy,” “iconoclastic,” and debunk cherished myths.


But despite the article’s headline–“The Warsaw Ghetto Myth”– it reveals no myths at all, only a lack of precision where we always knew it existed. It claims that it turns out that not many people participated in the uprising–a well-known fact. Then it

attempts to introduce confusion by saying the precise figures are “murky,” and endorses the low-ball estimates based on the recollections of one person. Playing such counting games is vile. No one knows the number of participants, just as no one knows the number of Holocaust victims. And “revising” such vague numbers downward is now the standard canard of Holocaust deniers.


Again, the small numbers do not “debunk” any myths–they reinforce them. This was a small group of young people who bravely risked capture and death by slow torture, in contradiction with the collaborationist leadership that had thus far been wrong about everything.


Ultimately, the article’s target is not really the Holocaust. The author objects to the glorification of the glorified by the Zionist movement in the early years of the state. Perhaps the fighters should have awaited deportation and seen themselves as “sacrifices for peace,” to use the buzzword of the Second Intifada.


No doubt this is why Haaretz has, somewhat oddly for a newspaper, chosen to revisit the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.


The newspaper has long tried to persuade Jews in Israel that they need no longer fight–they can trust someone to save them. John Kerry is coming to Jerusalem next month with just such a pitch. In order to advance their political agenda, the newspaper does not stop at besmirching one of the proudest pages of our history, nor at aligning themselves with the most shameful, the Judenrat.


The sanctified memory of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising is not based on its military significance, its size–or its conformity to the Zionist ethos. Rather, it is the considered, consensus judgment of Jewish history that the fighters were right.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

My Passover with the KGB

Subject: My Passover with the KGB (1978)

My Passover with the KGB (1978)

By Steven Plaut

We thought we had lost the KGB agent who had been tailing our every movement since we arrived in Kharkov. We tried pathetic Hollywood tricks, walking quickly through some back alleys, ducking through stores whose shelves were invariably bare, doubling back, and cutting through urban parks. Finally we hopped into a taxi when it was the last moment at which we could still make it in time to the illegal Passover Seder.

We were pretty sure we had lost our tail. We were wrong. Later it turned out he had noted down the number of the taxi into which we had hopped, passing it on to his superiors, leading to the  harassments and our interrogations.

The year was 1978. It was long before perestroika and glasnost. The place - deep inside Soviet Ukraine. Kharkov is a large ugly Stalinist industrial eyesore, today with about 1.4 million people. It was largely destroyed in World War II, changing hands back and forth between Nazis and the Red Army six separate times. Before the war it had been larger than Kiev, the capital of the Ukraine. Its Jews suffered the same fate as those of Kiev, although the killing field in Kharkov (called Drobitsky Yar) is not as well known as is Babi Yar in Kiev.

My "mission" to the Ukraine in 1978 was being shared with my buddy David Mallach, today a prominent leader in the Jewish community of New Jersey. We had grown up together in Philadelphia Habonim, had both lived in Israel and were both fluent in Hebrew. In those days, no one with an Israeli passport could enter the Soviet Union. The gates of Jewish emigration from the Soviet fortress were just starting to crack open. There was interest in finding Jews like David and myself who had already lived in Israel and could speak intelligently about daily life and  conditions there to interested Jews in the Soviet Union. Soviet Jews knew little about such things, due to the totalitarian controls still in effect.

I agreed to go even though it was just days before I was due to give my PhD defense at Princeton. I sounded out my thesis supervisor. He was the son of the great gentleman who had originally set up AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobbying group. He did not oppose my going on the trip but demanded that I contact him at once should I be arrested there.

The main avenue for communication with Soviet Jews in those days was through the "refuseniks," Jews who had applied for permission to leave the Soviet Union but were turned down for one reason or another. Since they were generally also fired from their jobs and stigmatized for having made the application, they had little to lose from being contacted by us.

We began our trip in Kiev, meeting with local refuseniks and their families. They had promised to pass on word to the Kharkov family where we expected to celebrate Passover that we would be coming to them for the Seder. Curiously, the police left us alone in Kiev. We were expecting worse because we had been nabbed at the airport when we entered the country with about 40 pounds of illegal books in Russian about Judaism and Israel hidden in our overcoats. The KGB sequestered the books but eventually let us pass through customs. They knew we were up to no good but figured correctly we were basically harmless.

Later we also spent some time in Moscow. The temperatures there were below freezing. A meeting was arranged at the home of one of the refuseniks. When we arrived, the place was packed. Some of those present had known Natan (Anatoly) Sharansky personally before his arrest and imprisonment by the KGB in the gulag.

When they heard I was an economist, they wanted to spend the evening asking questions about economic conditions in Israel. Only one thing, said the host. You will have to give the entire talk in Hebrew. At the time there were numerous underground "ulpanim" or Hebrew classes operating in Moscow. Everyone in the apartment spoke basic Hebrew and the host would assist the rest with anything that was not clear. It was the first time in my life I was to give an economics lecture in Hebrew.

At one point I tossed into the discussion a few words in Arabic as a pathetic attempt to show off (I had just finished a year's course at Princeton). The host answered me in flowing fluent Arabic, which effectively put an end to my pretensions.

But back to the evening of Passover in Kharkov. The taxi took us to a ramshackle but endlessly long apartment block, with leaking faucets everywhere and broken lighting fixtures in the yard. Aging "civil guardsmen" with red armbands and rifles patrolled the yards between apartment blocks with bored indifference. After the war, Kharkov had been rebuilt as a planned Stalinist industrial town, containing some of the ugliest architecture on the planet.

The two of us were in holiday mood, dressed in our best. We knocked on the door of the apartment to discover that our "hosts" were not expecting us at all. The Kiev people must have been unable to get word through to them. Soviet phones worked only on occasion back then and were often bugged. Not only were our hosts unaware of our planned visit, but they did not even know that this evening was the start of Passover.

The Soviet regime at the time was hostile to Jews but had a bizarre attitude towards Judaism. Passover matzos were freely available throughout the country, I guess as a sort of public relations pretense that religion and pluralism were being tolerated in the "workers' paradise." But no other symbols, objects, or expressions of Judaism were. Prayer books were strictly prohibited and no traditional Passover Haggada booklets were available.

Our rather surprised hosts were a married couple with two young daughters. The father had been fired from his job as a metallurgical technician when he had applied to leave the Ukraine. He spoke a passable English, studied as part of his training. Tonight is Passover, we explained. We would like to make a Passover Seder with you.

But we have nothing ready, they explained, except for matzos. That's fine, we said, we will figure out the rest as we go along.

They had plenty of matzos. As for the other Passover traditions, we decided that borscht would serve as the sour herbs of the Seder. Vegetables were almost impossible to get in communist Kharkov, so we decided to "dip" in memory of the parting of the Red Sea with cabbage chunks. But without any Haggada, how could we carry out the main commandment of Passover, the telling of the story of the Exodus from slavery in Egypt to freedom?

By improvisation, we decided. By ad lib. David and I took terms trying to tell the story from memory as well as we could, interrupting one another to try to get the details correct. The father translated our words for the girls into Ukrainian. We taught them the songs of the Seder and sang together. We feasted on cabbage and borscht. The parents barely held back tears.

What will you do if the police figure out what you are up to, the father asked. Oh they know already, David said, because of the airport incident. How will you handle them if they interrogate you, he asked?  Using the Jewish secret weapon, I said, something called "chutzpah." What is that, he asked. We had to look up the word "insolence" in his English-Russian dictionary before he understood what we meant.

It was taken for granted that all rooms in the Kharkov hotels had microphones and possibly cameras, so we were careful never to speak unguardedly there. The next morning we were informed that our presence was required in a special room in the hotel. We entered to find a senior KGB officer with the Intourist guide serving as his interpreter. Having considered the possibility that we would face interrogation at some point, we had earlier decided that the best manner to adopt in such a case was one of spoiled arrogant Americans talking down their noses to the Soviet
officials. We figured the worst thing they could do to us was expel us back to the US.

The KGB officer glared and yelled at us, demanding to know what we were doing in Kharkov and why we had gone to visit that family the evening before. Our taxi driver had obviously been tracked and interrogated by him, tipped off by the tail. We went to wish them a happy holiday, we replied. We have a religious holiday today.

We consistently addressed the KGB officer as "young man," even though he was 20 years older than we were. In the middle of a particularly belligerent set of questioning, I asked the KGB officer to make us some cups of tea with one sugar each please. Later I repeatedly asked the interpreter if the officer was new at his job (which he translated dutifully for the officer). I also told him to ask the officer what his salary was.

The KGB officer was obviously used to locals cowering and groveling before him. He was outraged at our impudence but was also clueless as to how to deal with it.

All in all, we were interrogated by the Kharkov KGB officer in a nasty manner twice, but otherwise left to tour the ugly town. We were followed everywhere we went by the KGB tail. Hollywood spooks notwithstanding, the tail was clumsy and made no effort at all to hide his presence. Possibly this was intentional, to warn off people like us from getting into mischief.

It was a few days later, on the Sabbath of Passover week. It was also Lenin's birthday. The hotel manager told us that the custom on Lenin's birthday was for all staff at the hotel to donate a full day's labor to the state without getting paid and so honor Lenin's legacy. He asked if we wanted to get into the spirit of things and join in. No way, we said, and that is for two reasons. First, we explained, today was the Sabbath and we don't work on Saturday. Second, we are running-dog selfish capitalists and do not work unless we get paid or at least get stock options with a dental plan. The manager had trouble hiding his chuckle.

What can we do this evening, we asked. What is there to do in Kharkov on a wild Saturday night? Our guide considered the matter. You could go to the opera, he said. Kharkov has a massive Opera House, like most Soviet cities, and that night a special political opera was playing about the life of Lenin, in honor of his birthday. Can you get us tickets for it, we asked? Well, it is sold out but there are a few specially saved for  tourists. Hey, Italian opera we can see anywhere, said David, but an opera about Lenin - that is a once in a lifetime opportunity! Only thing though - the opera is in Russian, said the guide. All the better, we answered, that
way we will be able to enjoy the music without concern for the plot and content of the arias.

In the evening we arrived at the opera house 15 minutes before the show was scheduled to begin. We got ourselves into the mood and cushioned our stomachs by downing quite a bit of the vodka in the hotel before we left, vodka being one of the only consumer goods available in those days in the Soviet Union. But something seemed wrong. The opera house was empty. Maybe we got the time or the day wrong?

We quickly figured out what the problem was. The workers in various local factories had been coerced into buying tickets for the show until it was sold out, but they could not actually be forced to come to attend it. None of them did. So when we entered the huge empty opera auditorium, no one at all was there except we two Americans and our KGB tail. Well, almost no one. Up in the balcony was a young couple who had no doubt figured they could have the whole warm building for themselves for an evening of groping in the dark, now terribly disappointed to see us violating their privacy.

But the show had to go on. It was state diktat. The curtain rose and a large opera company came out onto the stage, with a full orchestra in the pit. The problem was that the singers and players ALSO knew the auditorium was empty, yet had to do the performance anyway. So they did so with obvious indifference and resignation. In the middle of one scene, several of them started bickering on the stage about where some props should be standing.

Neither of us understood a word of Russian, yet the plot was not too subtle to follow. It is the Russian civil war, in which the bulk of Ukrainians actually were supporting the anti-bolshevik "whites." On stage the "white" soldiers are evil people who come to the village and whip the farmers. Eventually the "reds" come and rescue the farmers from the "whites." They are led by a singing Lenin himself, with his characteristic haircut. A farmer kneels as if to treat Lenin as a king, but Lenin
magnanimously raises him to his feet and embraces him.

The vodka was kicking in by this time, and after each song the two Americans in the audience were responding with thunderous applause and confederate yee-haws. When my side was aching too much from laughter we left, a few arias before the finale. The couple up in the balcony breathed a sigh of relief.

Out on the street in the cold, our heads stopped spinning. We went to the central square near the opera house, in the very middle of which was the obligatory giant statue of Lenin. With our KGB tail watching us in disbelief, we stood before the statue and sang at the top of our lungs, "Happy Birthday to You, Happy Birthday Comrade Lenin." In English and Hebrew.

We were the only people in the entire city actually turning Lenin's birthday into a street party.

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