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Jewish Journal

This Year in Orange County

by E. Scott Menter

May 2, 2002 | 8:00 pm

Next year in Jerusalem." We spoke these words at the end of our Passover seders, as we always do. But this year, we winced as we recited the familiar formula. Today, the ancient Jewish desire for a homeland is colliding with the modern Arab desire to deny the Jews a homeland in a battle that features suicide bombers, F-15s and automatic weapons.

So we hedge. I hear it in shul after services on Saturday morning. I hear it hanging around the nosh table at Jewish events and standing around the playground waiting to pick the kids up from day school. I hear myself saying it at home: "We were hoping to go to Israel this summer, but the way things are now...."

Next year in Jerusalem. This year, maybe Hawaii.

Our lack of enthusiasm is understandable. It's not as though tourists are immune to the suffering: 9-month-old Avia Malka, whose family was visiting from South Africa, was murdered in Netanya by a Palestinian terrorist on March 9.

And we're not just frustrated tourists: we're horrified onlookers. Ambulances with Hebrew letters, bathing the surrounding carnage in red strobe lights, fill our TV screens. Soldiers weep -- my God, those kids are soldiers? -- as their comrades are carried off. There's no use rationalizing that an average person in Israel is less likely to be killed (unless he's behind the wheel) than an average person in Los Angeles: we don't suffer through a parade of horrifying visuals from Los Angeles each night on the news.

Next year in Jerusalem. This year, safe at home.

As if the actual tragedy of attacks on pregnant mothers and infants weren't bad enough, we're regularly insulted by the coverage of the atrocities in the mainstream press. The names of Tracy Wilkinson and Mary Curtius, who cover Israel for the Los Angeles Times, are rarely uttered by O.C. Jews without an accompanying epithet. The Register runs hot and cold, depending on whose wire coverage they pick up for the day: Reuters, bad; The New York Times, good, or, anyway, not as bad.

Indeed, while the events in Israel seem to leave O.C. Jews with a deer-in-the-headlights helplessness, the coverage of those events drives us to an uncontrolled rage. Can you say "CNN" without a sneer?

Has your previous disdain of the Fox News Network turned into a giddy crush on Bill O'Reilly? As Americans, we demand objective reporting; as Jews, we know biased, slanted coverage of Israel when we see it.

Next year in Jerusalem. This year, in front of the computer, pecking out letters to the editor.

OK, we may feel we have some influence on the press. But can we possibly have any effect on the main event, the ongoing nightmare in Israel?

As a community, definitely. Our combined efforts have started to bear fruit in the attitudes of our neighbors and the actions of our president. As the death toll mounts, though, it is easy to feel despair, to decide that nothing I can do as an individual can possibly make a difference. It is in those low moments that I remind myself that I cannot stand by and watch as vicious and evil thugs, taught from birth to hate and trained from childhood to kill, take the lives of Jewish children.

Make no mistake: it is the children they are targeting. Near Tekoa, two 13-year-old boys were abducted and beaten to death as they hiked in the hills. On the Ben Yehuda Street mall, no victim was over the age of 21. At the Dolphinarium in Tel Aviv, teenage girls formed the majority of the victims. The list is sickeningly long.

So I can't sit still. Neither could Susan Glass, president of the Orange County chapter of the American Jewish Committee. Glass, who is also active locally in the Federation and Jewish Family Service, participated in a Federation Solidarity Mission to Israel in December. Although this was her sixth trip to the country, Glass saw the tragedies there as a call to action. "I felt I had to go," she told me.

Like others who have visited during the year-and-a-half Palestinian campaign of terror, Glass was received with warmth and gratitude by Israelis who don't always enjoy a reputation for either. "They know it's not easy" for Americans to visit during this time, she said. "Seeing how much they appreciate our visit, you get solid evidence that the visit is important to them."

Important to them, yes, but also important for us. There has been a Jewish state throughout my lifetime: will there be one for my grandchildren? And what will I tell those grandchildren when they ask me what I did to make a difference when Israel's existence was at stake, when Jewish blood was being spilled?

Next year in Jerusalem. This year, on the phone, at the keyboard, standing at rallies, calling congressmen, e-mailing senators, writing letters, organizing, speaking, demonstrating ... and yes, perhaps, for the sake of my future grandchildren, if only for a week or two: This year in Jerusalem.


E. Scott Menter is an Orange County businessman and writer.

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