The deeply moving 14th Annual Ariel Avrech Lecture was the anchor for an inspiring weekend that cemented old friendships and introduced me to new friends.
Some of you may remember that, about a week ago, I wrote a post saying that I’d be flying down to L.A. to attend the 14th Annual Ariel Avrech Lecture, which Robert Avrech, of Seraphic Secret, and his wife, Karen, sponsor annually in honor of their dear son Ariel, who died in 2003. That weekend (which I extended into Monday) has now finished and I am home again. It was a very wonderful weekend in so many ways.
To begin with, I got a chance to know my in-laws so much better than before and with greater knowledge comes greater appreciation for what great people they are. I know I’ve boasted for years that I have the best in-laws, but in the past I’ve always seen them in a pack, at mass get-togethers. This time, I stayed with my sister-in-law, her husband, and their son. They could not have been more gracious.
I felt genuinely cared for while I was in my in-laws’ house. As a mother, that’s a rare and wonderful feeling. After all, the normal state of the world is that the mother and homemaker cares for others — which is as it should be. That doesn’t mean, though, that I don’t appreciate a break in the routine.
The fact is that my in-laws are ferociously intelligent, informed people, and conversation with them is as stimulating as it gets. It wasn’t just politics. Both of them are luminaries in their respective fields, and that too made any conversation interesting.
I love their dogs too.
Having that kind of visit with relatives by marriage could have been enough for a wonderful weekend, but there was more.
On Sunday, as I mentioned at the top of this post, I attended the 14th Annual Ariel Avrech Memorial Lecture, at which Daniel Greenfield spoke. Before I get to his talk — which was, as one would expect, brilliant — I want to talk a bit about the entire event.
Robert and Karen hosted the lecture at a Jewish girls’ school in Los Angeles, which was a very comfortable venue, with readily accessible parking, restrooms, and a comfortable lecture hall. Because we are Jews in early 21st century America, an armed guard was stationed at the entrance to the school. He checked all bags and patrolled the area throughout the lecture and post-lecture buffet. This is an American tragedy and travesty.
I met Robert almost immediately upon entering the foyer. He is a slim, dignified, gray-haired man, with marvelous old-fashioned little-round glasses that, on him, look a little trendy and edgy. Despite the fact that this was an extremely emotional, significant day for him, Robert greeted me with such warmth. I don’t know how to describe him other than to say he has “hamischkeit,” a word that may be German, or Yiddish, or unique to my family, but that I translate to mean a person who makes you feel instantly at home in his or her presence. I felt such gratitude to be able to attend the event held in honor of a special young man who, for G*d’s inscrutable reasons was called away so soon, and yet Robert managed to make it feel as if I had honored him.
Robert introduced me to Karen, the love of his life. Seeing them side by side, you could tell that these two people are deeply connected to each other. Karen is a mere wisp of a women (she made me feel huge, even though I’m only 5′ tall and have a regular weight for my frame), but there is an inner strength there. That strength came through very strongly when Karen welcomed attendees to the lecture and spoke briefly about her son. This is a kind woman on whom one can rely. In other words, a mensch.
I also, at long last, met Rob Miller (aka JoshuaPundit), who has been a blog friend for well over a decade; Mark Tapson, whose writing I have admired for many years; and Kyle Kyllan, a long-time email correspondent and the producer of Trevor Loudon’s The Enemy Within, a movie about the Democrat party’s long-standing ties to communism. I can give blanket praise to these three men: interesting, charming, informed, and musical. Yup — all three tried their hands at making a living with their musical skills before politics sucked them in. Like me, both Rob and Mark made a journey from left to right.
The event’s format was simple. Robert and Karen both welcomed the guests. Karen read a beautiful lette she recently rediscovered that Ariel wrote to them when he graduated from high school and went away to study. It’s funny how people reveal themselves in even the shortest missives. Ariel was celebrating the return of spring, something he spoke of in both personal and religious terms. Within the few sentences he penned to his parents, his personality came through so clearly: loving, thoughtful, alive to the beauty of G*d’s creation, and with a huge intellectual hunger.
My sense about the kind of young man the world lost when Ariel passed away was reinforced when his best friend from school spoke of him. Because this friend got to continue the journey into adulthood that was denied Ariel, I found his talk especially poignant. He got tearful at the end and then I, always a sympathy crier, got tearful too. Even though I never got the chance to meet Ariel, I felt so strongly the pain that came with his passing.
After Daniel’s talk, a cantor with a really beautiful voice (which I cannot say about so many of the cantors I’ve heard over the years) sang a hymn. The event closed with Robert reciting the mourner’s Kaddish for Ariel. It was that moment that made it viscerally, rather than merely intellectually, clear to me that when a parent loses a child the pain never dulls. One learns to live with the pain and perhaps live around it, but its rawness is unending. Robert cried and I cried too.
As for Daniel Greenfield’s talk, well, it was everything I expected it to be: Brilliant, out-of-the-box thinking, delivered in a lucid style, with ideas flowing so quickly that, as an audience member, I had to work (in a good way) to process everything he said. I keep harking back to the same word: Inspiring. As an aside, Daniel also brought with him his bride of six months, who is a lovely and charming lady. I wish them a long lifetime of happiness.
Robert will post the video of Daniel’s talk in a week and a half or so, and I’ll re-post it here on the blog. In the meantime, lest I make a hash of Daniel’s words, here’s how Robert summed up the talk:
Daniel spoke about Israel, about Jew-Hatred, and the BDS movement. Using Biblical and historical sources, Daniel pointed out that when Judaism appeared on the world stage, the hatred of Jews soon followed. Daniel believes that Jewish Jew-hatred is the most destructive force acting upon the Jewish people. Jewish Jew-hatred comes in many guises, but it most frequently presents itself as the need to be loved by Judaism’s most implacable enemies. From the court Jews of Egypt’s Pharaoh who scolded Moses and Aaron, to the Jews who agitate for the genocidal IslamoNazis who call themselves Palestinians, it is the Jew-hating Jews who step forward on the world stage to persecute Judaism and the Jewish state.
Our need to be loved by the non Jewish world is not just pathetic, it is suicidal. Said Daniel, there were Jews who would have joined the Nazi party but they were not allowed in to that particular club. But now Jewish Jew-haters have found a safe space in the anti-Israel and the BDS movement.
Taking this thread to its next logical step, Daniel maintained that the reason the world is against Israel because a majority of the Jewish people—and this includes successive Israeli governments—do not believe that we have a right to the Jewish State.
When Jews offer to be reasonable, when Jews crawl to their enemies begging to compromise on land, on boundaries, on our very right to exist, this tells the world that we are not really serious about a Jewish state.
When Jews internalize and use words like occupation and settlement, that means we accept not only the language of our enemies but their genocidal intentions.
We should stop boasting of how many Nobel prize winners are Jewish. We have to stop telling the world about all the medical cures Jewish scientists in Israel have invented. The world does not love us because of our well-intentioned humanism, but, in fact holds us in contempt.
Quipped Daniel: Do Norwegians sit around explaining why they have a right to exist? Of course not.
So why do Jews constantly explain why they have a right to Israel, a right to exist?
Ultimately, says Daniel, Jerusalem will only be Israel’s capital not when President Trump or the State Department says it is, but when Israel and the Jewish people truly believe it and act upon that belief without hesitation and without apology.
I wish all of you could have attended this inspiring event. Being in the presence of such a powerful mind, and seeing it brought to bear on a seemingly intractable problem, was energizing. I left the room feeling smarter than when I entered.
After the event ended, Rob Miller and I went off to a nice deli and had a four-hour lunch. Actually, a one hour lunch followed by three hours of the waitress endlessly replenishing his coffee and my tea. Four hours was barely enough to contain our conversation. As one would expect from his posts, Rob’s fund of knowledge is bottomless and his analytical abilities extraordinary. He’s something of a polymath, with a mind that can encompass a seemingly endless variety of topics.
Don’t think, though, that Rob’s a dry, prosy bore. One only has to see Rob’s impish smile to appreciate what an enjoyable speaker he is — and quite a funny one too. He has old-fashioned manners, although he’s not old, and I so appreciated the courtesies. Rob is also someone who’s nice to all those who cross his path, rather than being nice only to those from whom he wants something. I consider that a very good yardstick for measuring someone’s decency.
When I finally returned to my in-laws, I was a very happy person. A few hours of conversation with them added to that happiness. The cherry on top was when I joined my brother-in-law to meet my nephew-in-law for a late-evening oyster binge. (Actually, for me, a cheesecake binge but you get the idea).
I’ve only met my nephew-in-law in crowded family situations and he is a quiet, humble guy who doesn’t put himself forward in a room of what Seinfeld would probably call “loud talkers.” That means that, despite knowing this young man for years, I didn’t seem to know him at all. My brother-in-law, whose opinion I trust completely, had long assured me that the nephew is a genuinely good guy, not to mention very quick-witted and thoughtful, but I like to see those things for myself (and I like to meet young, quick-witted, thoughtful, conservative people).
My brother-in-law, of course, was right. So, that’s another wonderful in-law added to my family!
But wait! There’s more! After I asked in my blog if anyone would be able to meet me before I left L.A., I received so many nice notes from readers who said that they wished that they could meet me, but that either they were nowhere near Burbank Airport or a Monday morning meeting was impossible. As to all, I hope there’ll be other opportunities.
One reader, however, was near Burbank Airport and could make a Monday meeting. I won’t reveal her identity, because she hasn’t put herself out in the public the way we bloggers have, but I can certainly say that it was immediately apparent that we were meant to be friends. Although we could not have had more different life experiences, there was just something . . . similar values, similar responses to situations . . . something . . . that told me I didn’t make a new acquaintance; I made a new friend.
And that, my friends, was why I haven’t blogged in three days.