The biggest surprise of living in San Francisco this past decade has been the number of excellent Arab restaurants that have opened in the area. Starting out with the first Truly Mediterranean falafel parlor on 16th and Valencia, to the Old Jerusalem on Mission and 26th, my greater neighborhood now boasts some of the best Middle Eastern food in the United States. As good as anything I've had in Brooklyn or LA.
So, it was with great pleasure that I discovered the other great local Arab restaurant: San Bruno's Mideast Market, on El Camino Real. Run by a guy from Bethlehem, together with an exhaustively stocked store carrying everything from cans of Ahmad Ceylon tea and fresh pita, to Marcel Khalife CDs and Elite Turkish coffee, once a week, my entire office will head over at lunch and imbibe the best falafel I've ever had in the US.
Call it a sign of feeling old. Or perhaps surprise that, after feeling so dislocated for so many years, those aspects of Middle Eastern life that I miss the absolute most would somehow find me here, in the middle of a war. Speaking in Hebrew with the owner as I paid for my food, giggling, my coworkers stood outside the entrance, marveling at the fact that the awning above included the Spanish word for "butcher."
Granted, if you want something like shakshouka, you still have to drive down to Los Angeles to get it. But, if what you want are the basics - falafel, hummus, shashlik, baklava and, as this establishment serves up, ezme (along with a few other curiously Turkish side dishes) - you can't find any better than what local places like this make available. There's so many surpluses to it all, in context, it feels positively utopian.
It was an event that held a little significance for everyone. For Israelis, because of the commitment that the US President reiterated to their security. For Americans, because of the opportunity that their leader took to excoriate their country's opposition in a foreign parliament. And, for Iran, which was once again reminded that, despite how poorly the US is faring in Iraq and Afghanistan, America would still protect Israel from any manner of threat. In other words, it was an exercise in consistency, one that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert duly noted by nearly falling asleep during the President's speech in Jerusalem on Thursday.
Notwithstanding the umbrage taken by the US press to Bush's address to the Knesset, for anyone familiar with the importance that the Republicans have attached to securing Jewish votes in the forthcoming elections, it all made sense. Of course the President would take advantage of such an ideal opportunity. The problem is that, aside from the advantages that Israel most definitely accrued from playing host to the occasion, it had less to do with Israel than it did with the United States, and the failings of the present administration to make any positive achievements in the Middle East during Bush's two terms in office. With the failure of Lebanon's government to contain Hezbollah, one cannot ask for a more timely display designed for domestic consumption during an election year.
As the United States slowly loses Lebanon to Iran, despite the immense investment the Americans made in the Siniora government, once again we have another example of how US intervention in the region has worsened Israel's security. Sandwiched in between an Iranian-supported state in the south, and not one, but now two in the north, Israel's situation, at the end of Bush’s final term in office, is actually worse than it was on 9/11. No wonder Israelis would want the kind of dramatic security guarantees that the US President has offered. No wonder they'd want it specifically from Bush, and that Israel would place so much value on it, too. Given how poorly the Israel Defense Forces have performed in recent years, the need for American reassurance, of the kind that the President reiterated, is that much more important. Its a horrible situation.
Yet, there is also good reason to argue that Thursday's event in Jerusalem had little to do with reaffirming the significance of Israel's security, however flawed America's conception of it might be. Bush's speech, as an editorial in Friday's Haaretz suggested, also signaled the President's willingness to use Israel's conflict with Iran as a way of maintaining control over US Mideast policy after leaving office. To implicate Israeli security requirements with such a possible maneuver can only serve to further damage Israel's long-term interests, not simply because precedent suggests that the US would lose such an engagement against the Iranians. But, as important, because it would implicate Israel's security interests in contravention of America's electoral process.
Americans may not have a clear idea of an effective Mideast policy alternative to that of Bush. Though the Democrats have not exactly offered any compelling options, the amount of energy that Republicans have expended trying to debunk Obama's alleged positions suggests that conservatives fear another emerging policy is surely out there, and that it really is different. For as nebulous as that position might be, the desire for such a policy change is an enormous part of what will motivate millions of Americans to vote Democratic in November's Presidential election. As the Bush administration's failures in the Middle East have repeatedly demonstrated, that's exactly why Israel ought to remain open to whatever alternatives an Obama-led government might have to offer.
Now closed, San Bruno's Golden Gate National Cemetery lives on 161 acres of land. Boasting 138, 352 interments, this enormous military graveyard sits at the northernmost end of Silicon Valley.
I pass by this spot every day on my way home from work. Yesterday, I got out of the car to take this picture. Looking north towards San Francisco, the city was invisible. All I could see were tombstones.
Three quarters of the way through his speech, the President's mouth
seized up, as though he were about to say something important that he
just could not figure out how to put into words. Alas, this moment
would be forever frozen in time, as the media player refused to
restart, prematurely ending George W. Bush's address to a gathering of
Israeli and foreign dignitaries at the Facing Tomorrow conference, held
this evening in Jerusalem.
Snapping a screenshot of this scene,
I could not help but giggle at what a great photo opportunity this was,
capturing the American leader stopped in his tracks, his mouth wide
open. No amount of contempt could sum up the tremendous satisfaction
that welled up in my chest as I imagined how speechless the President
really looked. The pleasures I've been able to derive these past seven
years are few, my revenge fantasies limited to short, ironic moments
Obviously, Bush is an easy target.
Provincial, religious, and inarticulate, he's the most opportune of
prey to have one's adolescent way with. A paradigmatic Philistine, or
an anti-democratic ideologue straight out of central casting, the
President's horrible record lends much credence to his critics, who
blame him for every ill that has befallen the U.S. since 9/11. From a
collapsing economy to the war in Iraq, Bush has left Americans feeling
poorer and more insecure than any President since Woodrow Wilson.
is why, at least for me, it's important to not over-emphasize the
singularity of this moment. As inclined as Americans might be to
harangue Israel for being so automatically willing to grant Bush such a
warm welcome, it's important to remember that Israel has never been the
President's sole foreign supporter. The governments of Tony Blair and
John Howard, Silvio Berlusconi and Jose Maria Aznar, were, of equal, if
not to greater degrees, supportive and admiring, as is French President
Nicolas Sarkozy today.
Though I'd prefer that Israel's Prime
Minister not be a member of this club, there was something positive
about being forced to watch this evening's proceedings.
With his days looking increasingly numbered, Olmert will not be the
last foreign leader to have such an intimate connection with the Bush
era. That honor will be left to Sarkozy, who, from the looks of it,
will end up outliving both besieged heads of state. No great shakes,
but at least, for once, it will be a European that will be the last in
line, and not another Israeli.
Amongst the photos we received from Reuters today, this remarkable shot of a young Hezbollah supporter chanting slogans in front of the UN headquarters in Beirut really stood out. Between the teddy bears, fake blood and barbed wire, Banksy has finally found his local match.
Today, Israel commemorates the sixtieth anniversary of it's founding. Unlike the celebrations of the country's 50th birthday in 1998, today's events have a far more somber quality to them, as though they are observing the passing of something far more tentative and fragile than we imagined back then, just before the peace process ground to a halt. Predictably, this month has witnessed the publication of a number of controversial articles questioning whether Israel will survive, generating, in turn, the expected reactions. In other words, business as usual.
As an Israeli citizen, and as an American-born editor working in English-language news publishing, I've resisted the temptation to draft my own thoughts on the subject, if only because I'm loathe to indulge the cliches that inevitably accompany the ritual of commenting on any specific nation's annual observation of it's independence. Especially those penned by U.S. Jews, which I read all of the time, and inevitably drive me nuts. Whether its spreading the love, or demonstrating disappointment, more often than not, it all reads the same.
This isn't to say that I'm not using the date as an opportunity to reflect on the nature of the state my friends and family continue to create. I am, just as I do every day, as someone who, for better or worse, always has Israel on his mind. If Israel has succeeded in establishing itself as it's own unmoved mover, to quote my divinity school training, it would make Aquinas proud. Nothing in my mind is not somehow related to or impacted by it. Israel is everywhere, and everything.
However, I don't feel the least bit sentimental about it, and there's something about recognizing this that I find relatively liberating. To wit, my wife and I will be going home to see my parents in a month's time, and the country will not feel any different than it did the same time last year I returned home, or, for that matter, this week, as I worried about the fact that I was not worried whether I'd write anything about this date at all. Israel, quite simply, exists, and feels more a part of my life than ever.
Of course, like the pundits I like to read, I could offer my own interpretation of the country's Italian-style political scene, and what I think the future holds in store for Israel under a coming Berlusconi-equivalent. Or I could offer it by way of talking about the remarkable films I saw this week at the San Francisco International Film Festival, such as Vasermil, Children of the Sun, or Under the Bombs, all of which offer rich insights into how Israelis and Arabs alike experience the country. At some point, I'm sure I will.
But, today, I guess, my point is far more mundane. For me, as it is for many Jews, Israel is something of a vocation. If that's what citizenship ultimately means, that's fine. I gladly accept it. As much as I'd like to find the identity somehow transformative or more involving, over the years, I've had to set certain instinctual limits to it because the psychic burden of being Israeli is traumatic enough. Adding anything else to the equation would be, for lack of a better of way of putting it, completely overwhelming.
In what could be one of the most crucial dub reissues of the year, Greensleeves has just published the sequel to my favorite King Tubby production of all time, Dangerous Dub. Out of print since 1996, this 1981 LP is the kind of record that teaches you to appreciate an entire genre.
Much brighter sounding than other Tubby recordings (at times the treble sounds an awful lot like Scientist) amidst a sea of never-ending reggae re-releases, More Dangerous Dub most definitely stands out. The mix is so clear and expansive, I can hear even the tiniest of details on my MacBook's crappy internal speakers.
One of the principle points Charlie Bertsch and I put forth in our presentation on Burial at the Experience Music Project conference last month is that dub's political meaning inheres in the way it uses reverb to symbolically create space, to enlarge it, as though the effect is it's own metaphor for freedom.
Given how bleak things looked in Jamaica when this album was recorded, it's no surprise that it sounds as optimistic as it does, especially by Tubby's standards. It is as though More Dangerous Dub is an exercise in irony, particularly given how dark dub first sounded during it's heyday under socialist rule in the mid-1970s.
When you compare the rebels on Masada to the wise men in
Yavneh, the rebels died as lions, and the wise men lived as dogs . But the dogs
had puppies, and we are those puppies. So, there was something about blowing up
Beaufort, blowing up the fortifications, blowing up the mountain, at the end of
the film, that was also about blowing up a symbol of (the lion's) power. It's
about our power to create something else that, at least for me, makes us
different from our enemies.
ZEEK: It means
that as Israelis, we can start over. That we have the ability to reinvent
CEDAR: Not only
that. It means that we have an identity without the geographical symbol, that
we have an identity that is as powerful and as firm as concrete and
fortifications, flags and pride.
To read the rest of my interview with director Joseph Cedar, check out the new issue ofZeek.