Tisha B'Av and Jaws II
Watch the Demons Disappear
Every blockbuster must have its sequel. This piece that I wrote:
was published on Friday just before Shabbat. It is a story that I have carried with me for about thirty years, along with a certain attitude that I held concerning Richard Dreyfuss. I struggled with it for reasons that are explained within but particularly because of the very dear memories that I have of the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center and the people associated with it. See, for example:
I needed to adjust my approach to the subject matter. I would not be writing about the venue; I would be writing about an encounter with Richard Dreyfuss that had started for me far away in Israel with a chance encounter with a newspaper article in a newspaper that I seldom read, and for which I had no respect. It had been a bad time for the Jews in Israel. Why did Dreyfuss have to go stick his nose in the Intifada and come away pronouncing that both sides were at fault. From my point of view that was a time to take sides, to show Jewish solidarity. That was my angle. That angle changed dramatically as I was writing. Then, from a totally unexpected direction, a ready-made coda to my article arrived. I discuss that below.
I remembered that for all those years I carried the tears of those two girls as a general insult gratuitously offered by Dreyfuss to those who did not see the genius and the hope of the Oslo Accords. I intended to return the insult with interest. You can see that in the setup. I also intended to wrap my description of his talk with the wacky “breakfast on a fast day” theme. What kind of Jews are these?
I first hesitated when I remembered that touching moment when Ruth Stiller approached me and gently scolded me for not being there the previous evening. She had earned the right to scold me. She was the mother of my classmate Neil Stiller, but more importantly, she was the secretary to the Principal of Tisbury Grade School, and in that capacity was responsible for insisting that a Hannukah song or two were included in the yearly Christmas choral concert. That was my first taste of Yiddishkeit, long long before I ever dreamed of being a Yid myself. I still remember one of the songs and sing it every Hannukah for my grandchildren.
Oh Hannukah oh Hannukah a festival of joy A holiday a jolly day for every girl and boy Spin the whirling dreidel all week long Tell the age-old story, sing a happy song.
It is a big laugh for them. It is difficult for them to understand the connection between Hannukah and a foreign language. Why would anyone be celebrating a Jewish holiday in America, in English? They can only imagine it in Hebrew, in Israel. A new generation is rising, not engulfed by exile and its torments. On each of the four sides of a standard dreidel their are four letters, abbreviations of: “Great Victory Occurred There.” My children and grandchildren grew up playing with those same dreidels, with one significant change. The last letter is different and that makes all the difference: “Great Victory Occurred Here.”
I realized that my memory of “Bagels and Bonds” was turning out differently than the memory that I had held of the event in my head for many years, classified under “give Dreyfuss what he deserves.” The process of writing itself was affecting my “angle.” I fought it at first. The tears of those girls (and my girls by extension) needed to be redressed. It was at this point that Dreyfuss popped up on my twitter/x feed. I know what you are thinking: I was writing about him and the all-seeing-eye of the internet picked it up, like when I call out to my wife that we are out of toilet paper and then am bombarded by toilet paper adds for the next few days. Who knows? The point is, at the time I did not click on the tweet to find out what it was about. As I continued to write I was aghast at the feeling that I was developing a grudging respect for Dreyfuss.
This was a very similar process to the one I experienced when writing about Chappaquiddick. There, I had begun writing with the Ted Kennedy saga set in my mind: irresponsible drunk who abandoned a young woman in peril. As I focused on the victim, Mary Jo Kopechne, my preconceptions became discombobulated. Teddy remained the disappointment that he was, but there was more to the story:
That article and this one were well received compared to my other posts. I tend to think that it may be the names Ted Kennedy and Richard Dreyfuss that drew the crowd. If so, they have my thanks.
Before I published the last piece, I scooted over to X to see why Dreyfuss had appeared out of the blue. He had just been interviewed by Glenn Beck:
It seemed an incongruous meeting. It was, but that in turn proved to be what it was all about, or more precisely, what Richard Dreyfuss is about and what he has been about for some time now. He was pitching his recently published book:
I bought it but haven’t read it yet. I hope to review it soon. He is committed to a revival of civics education in public schools. He set up a non-profit in 2008, The Dreyfuss Initiative, and it seems to be picking up steam.
Now stop for a minute. Shoot over to the website and see if you do not agree that this is blessed work. As I was looking at the site, I had in the back of my mind the screeching and the hate of Israeli politics and was thinking that we need the program in Israel. I quickly checked with the teachers in our family (four!) and learned that Citizenship is a required course for high-schoolers. Seeing the results in our public sphere, I adopt Dreyfuss’s approach: start young, in grade school.
I returned to my writing as a Richard Dreyfuss Enthusiast. He has been living the need for civilized conversation for fifteen years, and putting his time and his money where his mouth is. That is life-affirming enthusiasm. We could all use more of that.
Have that conversation. Argue your side, listen as the other person argues theirs. Watch the demons disappear.