For each of the past 16 years, I have written an annual Yom Kippur greeting. Yo
m Kippur is one of the holiest days of the Jewish calendar and part of our New Year cycle. The holiday is an opportunity to restart the clock and wipe away the mistakes of the past. However, the Yom Kippur prayers and fasting only serve as a vehicle to wipe away our sins against G-d. To clear away our sins against our fellow man, we must secure forgiveness from them directly. And so it is a Jewish custom to ask those whom you may have hurt during the year for forgiveness. It generally takes the form of a short note or a brief question – in my case, I have written a more involved piece each of the past 16 years. You can think of it as a very well maintained, but infrequently updated, blog.
Normally this message is quite general – and almost poetic. I have never discussed anything other than interpersonal behavior. This year is an exception.
The man sticks his hand out to shake mine. He is wearing a cobbled-together set of winter clothes. His hands are protected against the cold by a pair of garden gloves.
“Jim,” he says, in a friendly tone.
“Joseph,” I say, extending my own hand. I am lucky enough to be wearing real gloves.
“What do you do, Joseph?” he asks.
“Analysis,” I answer, although I haven’t touched a spreadsheet in months.
“IT for me,” he replies, a bit of a wistful look in his eye.
It was painful, but in these times people continue to define themselves by what they used to do. There is no room yet for their new reality.
“You have a family?” I ask.
“Two kids,” he answers, “A wife and two kids.” He smiles now. But only for a moment.
We are, after all, standing in a breadline.
It had all started one perfect Tuesday afternoon. A converted fishing trawler had entered Israeli territorial waters. Flying a Greek flag, it was ostensibly en-route to Ashkelon to deliver aid to Gaza. It had gotten within 5 miles of the coast when it was intercepted by the Israeli navy. We still have many of the audio tapes. An astute naval officer had noticed something wrong: there were only two visible crew members. Shortly before the Navy boarded the trawler, the unexpected happened. The ship detonated.
The explosion was nuclear.
Instantly, the waterfront of Tel Aviv was erased and tens of thousands were killed. Thankfully, the weapon had been far enough to sea that only the waterfront was erased. The bulk of the city was spared.
Moments after the weapon was detonated, Hezbullah launched its own rockets en-masse and Syrian tanks began to roll towards the border. In a desperate bid to survive, Israel began to fight back – brutally.
All fingers pointed to Iran. Israeli leaders and American hawks called on the US and the UN to retaliate with a nuclear assault of their own. A nuclear war had been launched and protocol demanded a powerful response. The President of the United States addressed his nation. Yes, he said, a nuclear assault had been launched. And yes, it was likely that Iran had launched it. But it was not moral to kill millions of innocent Iranians for the probable sins of a few men. No nuclear response would be forthcoming. A massive conventional assault was being prepared.
Minutes later, Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, broadcast his own message. He explained that although he supported the attack on Israel, and although he regretted Israel’s tight border security, his country had not launched the assault. Nonetheless he had foreseen the possibility of unwarranted Western aggression. As other countries lacked Israel’s security, Iran had taken the precaution of placing heavily shielded nuclear devices within their major cities. Any assault would be met with a truly destructive nuclear response.
For a few hours the world watched as Washington wavered. And then it folded. The assault was called off.
Hours later, the Gulf states realigned themselves with Iran and politely asked their US soldiers to leave.
Saudi Arabia tried to resist. In another TV address, they were supplied with an address in Riyadh. A functional nuclear device was found there. They were warned that there were many more. Their fancy American-supplied Air Force had come to naught. Iran controlled the region.
Iran then used the leverage they had. They turned off the supply of oil to the West.
Now, without significant oil imports, and limited domestic production, the US government has cut off the use of private cars. For the most part, the economy has collapsed. While some could telecommute, nobody else can drive to work or shop. Non-emergency medical care has ceased. Most schools and shops have closed. Foreigners have stopped buying US debt, and most of the government has simply ceased to function. Goods that wore away – from bike parts to kids’ shoes and from dish detergent to refrigerator parts – are not being replaced. Slowly, our reality is decaying. Europe is worse.
All food is coming from a breadline – like we are refugees in a foreign land.
Those unready for the change in seasons – like Jim – find themselves wearing garden gloves in winter.
Truly, we have all been caught by surprise.
Everybody knows the United States cannot allow the nuclear blackmail to stand. We suspect that the US is shipping arms to Israel – the only country in the world that is somewhat secure from the Iranian threat. But something more is needed.
And we know that when it comes, the price will be terrible.
With the belching of ad hoc repairs, a truck begins to come up the street. The crowd, orderly, gathers around the designated spot.
Jim rubs his cold hands. Then, with a wry smile, he expresses the thoughts of millions.
“All of this,” he says, “Could have been prevented.”
My traditional Yom Kippur greetings stress core midot (good behavioral attributes) like living every moment, seeking opportunity to add to the world, celebrating the life of others and using your blessings for good.
In pre-war London, you could do all of the above – and it would not matter if you had not given every pense you could to rescue soon-to-be-orphaned Jewish children from Europe. I know a Jewish street tough and talented Jazz musician from East London who went to 1930s Nazi party rallies and literally bloodied and beat the attendees. For me, at least, that action overshadows whatever else he accomplished in that era.
In that time, the mitzvah (good deal) of saving lives and resisting evil overwhelmed the personal and interpersonal middot. The midda of action in the face of evil took over.
This year, sadly, I believe we are once again at such a point.
Another comical dictator threatens the democratic powers. His population is roughly the same size as Germany’s was. Like Germany, Iran is a country on the rocks, but filled with educated and technically skilled people. It, too, is promising the destruction of the Jews. And the proper powers that be, gathering together international consensus, are failing to respond to the threat. Iran’s dictator, like Hitler in Czechoslovakia, is a master of playing on the weakness of the West. Finally, once again, we are underestimating the threat.
The Stalinist regime of North Korea has 20 million people, a pathetic educational system, regular famines, extremely limited trade and per capita ‘purchasing power’ income of $1,800. Iran, on the other hand, is a country of 66 million highly educated people. Iranian universities place a special emphasis on technical and engineering skills. Per-capita income is almost seven times that of North Korea. They have launched a satellite into orbit. How is it possible that Iran, with the help of North Korea, can not nuclear weapons in less time than the North Koreans did? In my opinion, it is not.
The fact is, Iran is aiming for more than a regional deterrent (as Pakistan sought in their own surprising nuclear development). They are seeking regional dominance and global power. Ahmedinejad’s speech about wiping Israel from the map was not fully reported by the Western Media. The entire Anglosphere was the target – including the US, Britain and Australia. Here is an image from that speech. The United States, not Israel, is the first to shatter.
Nuclear blackmail is the obvious way for the regime to pursue its goals. We pretend that our promise of mutual destruction is a promising line of defense. But it isn’t. I agree with the President in my story. If G-d was willing to spare Sodom and Gemorrah for the lives of 10 righteous men – how can we consider it a moral foreign policy to promise the deaths of tens of millions of innocents for the crimes of a few dozen? Almost any defensive policy, including preemption, is more moral than Assured Destruction.
In my mind, the facts remain clear. There is an evil man in power and he is close to having far greater power. He has forged alliances with brutal dictators South America. His own defense minister is wanted by Interpol for killing 87 people when he bombed the Buenos Aires Jewish Community Center. His proxies in Lebanon have asked all Jews to come to Israel – to spare them the challenge of hunting us down globally. He has made repeated threats against the United States. “Death to America” is the regime’s marketing slogan.
And yet we sit, waiting for him to make his move.
And I, unfortunately, am a part of this. For too long I have watched, but I have not acted.
This year, this has been my single greatest sin against all of us. It is like I have followed the news of the Nazi rise but never hit the streets to drive the ideology from my city – or given money to save children marked for near certain death. I can imagine living in that era and pushing those concerns from my mind.
And so, as my program for improvement and as my obligation to all of us, I want to lay out the following agenda for the coming year. Perhaps you’ll join me?
** Political Advocacy **
Understand that while we may not hold the reins of power, we are the horse. Write your Congressman, MP or MK and ask them to publicly support pre-emptive strikes, whether by Israel or the US. Support early action by the United States. Make this your single most important voting issue. It is.
** Supporting Iranian Dissidents, the “Greens” **
We all saw the headlines and we assume the revolt has passed. But it hasn’t. The regime can’t trust the regular military and has even had to remove 250 ‘Green’ officers from the elite Revolutionary Guards. In the North, Kurdish resisters continue to cause trouble and in the South Baluchi Sunnis do the same. There regime still lacks the power to kill the heads of the opposition – although they have been beaten. Members of the paramilitary Basij militia have even been arrested for refusing orders.
So, there is hope. But how can we help the Greens? While demonstrations will have no effect on the regime itself, they can bolster the moral of the Greens. And the stronger the Greens, the greater the chance that the government will lose the ability to turn its guns on its own people.
Because of the power of demonstration, Persians who demonstrate here have found their families back home punished. Clearly the regime finds these protests threatening. So stand-in for the Persian protesters. Wear a Green wristband in public. Put abumpersticker on your bike. Publicly mock the manhood of Persian soldiers who beat unarmed protesters and rape women so that they can be legally executed (here).
Do what you can to raise awareness and let Greens know Americans stand with them. A ‘Green’ Iran, nuclear or not, is no threat to the world.
** Other **
I will, bli neder, endeavor to serve as a clearing house for ideas. There are many people involved out there, if any of you have ideas or want to get ideas from me, let me know. A few quick thoughts include ‘adopting’ political prisoners and going beyond government fines to personally boycotting banks and companies that do business in Iran or give a voice to Ahmedinejad. If you want to be on an email list tell me. If you have ideas tell me. I will gladly spread the word.
When this is all done, I believe Iran’s leaders will be dead and the West will be secure. The question is, at what price? Do you want to tell your children and grandchildren that you stood by as it unfolded? I don’t. My life doesn’t have to be Iran, but I can’t just watch. On the eve of World War II, those in London who gave a little money for the ransom of children in the KinderTransport saved lives. They didn’t have to organize the transport to do so. A little effort by us, now, can convince our leaders to act and can reinforce the will of the Persian resistance.
In conclusion, if there is any slights or sins I have committed against you – whether known or unknown by either of us – I apologize and ask for your forgiveness. And if you have committed any slights or sins, known or unknown, against me – you should consider them forgiven.
I pray that this year we may we all experience a year of life, a year of blessing, a year of health, a year of prosperity, a year of family, a year of honor and a year of joy.
And, G-d willing the coming year will be a year when this threat is lifted without bloodshed.
May we all be inscribed in the Book of Life.