Birthday thoughts

On my 72nd birthday a couple of days ago I ate dinner at the Zatar restaurant in downtown Berkeley and then watched the Welcome to Hebron movie at the Berkeley Community College.

Zatar is well known locally and I join the many customers who sing its praises.  The fare is an eclectic mix of Mediterranean cuisines prepared entirely with organic and, to the extent possible, locally grown ingredients.  We kept the party very small: just my wife, Sheila, and my son Jack, who is in town working at the Berkeley Rep.  (My son Fred is on tour with his new album and will be in town Oct 6 at the Hotel Utah Saloon.)

Sheila had a vegetarian tagine.  Jack had a calamari dish.  I ordered the leg of lamb.  My photo of the tagine came out blurry, but the lamb and the calamari are publishable; here they are.











Is that not beautiful?  It was as delicious as it looks. What a privilege to be alive at 72 and enjoying such wonderful fare.  On my desk is a clipping from the N.Y. Times, the obituary of Marshall Berman, a much-loved radical professor in New York, who died at age 72.  Why am I still alive, when so many others are gone?

Downtown Berkeley was on the cool side as we walked the few blocks from Zatar to BCC, where MECA (the Middle East Children’s Alliance) was hosting the Hebron movie.  The downstairs auditorium was nearly full.  The star of the movie is Leila, a 17-year old Palestinian girl who speaks good English and narrates much of the action.  Hebron is the largest city in the West Bank of occupied Palestine.  A quarter of a million Palestinians live here, along with fewer than a thousand Jewish settlers. Leila lives in a part of the old town where the Israeli government is implanting the settlers.

Israeli soldiers carrying automatic weapons and (some of them) flame throwers constantly patrol the streets, firing randomly into the air.  There are armored checkpoints at many corners.  Palestinian children on their way to school have to open their backpacks to armed soldiers with metal detectors.  The soldiers string barbed wire across Palestinian properties to prevent the owners from harvesting their olive trees, but settlers are free to steal the crop.  Only one Palestinian school remains here, and the students have to run a gauntlet of stone-throwing settlers screaming “Slaughter the Arabs, slaughter the Arabs,” while the soldiers look on.  Graffiti like “Gas the Arabs — JDL” (Jewish Defense League) deface the streets.  Mobs of ultra-orthodox men parade the streets shouting slogans.

The worst are the settler children.  Like the racist white children who spewed venom at Ruby Bridges when she became the first black child to attend a white Southern elementary school, these brainwashed Jewish youth know no boundaries; they yell, spit, throw rocks and broken glass, with all the unbridled meanness of which children are capable.  Amidst all this, Leila is unbowed.  She maintains a sense of humor and a burning desire to live a full life and see the world.

People of my generation have lived through many changes, both political and technological.  Russians and Chinese are capitalists; the American president and a leading golfer are black; Germany and Vietnam are re-united, Yugoslavia is off the map … the mind spins.  Of all these changes, one of the hardest for me to process is Jews becoming Nazis.  Yet there is no other word for it.  These Jewish settlers are members of a self-proclaimed and heavily armed master race, burning with an all-consuming racial hatred, with no veneer of reason or compassion, and all in the service of the most venal of motives: the theft of another’s property.  The zone of Hebron where Leila lives is a contemporary version of the Warsaw Ghetto, and the Palestinians today are the Jews.  Don’t believe it?  Watch Welcome to Hebron.  Here’s the trailer:

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