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September 7, 2018

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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, SEPTEMBER 7, 2018 PAGE 5A By Jonathan S. Tobin (JNS)--Anybody who pays attention to the sorts of things honored by contemporary pop- ular culture knows that stories about heroism are passe. But why then do we still long for them? One example comes from an incident that took place almost a century ago. In March 1920, Arab gangs attacked the Jewish settle- ment of Tel Hai in the Upper Galilee. Josef Trumpeldor led the defense of the isolated farming village. He was a rare Jew who had served in the army of the Tsar and then helped lead the first contin- gent of Zionist Jews fighting with the British against the Turks in World War I. He returned to Russia, organized Jewish self-defense against pogroms and then headed back to Palestine, where he wound up defending newly established Jewish farming villages near the border with Lebanon. Trumpeldor was mortally wounded during the exchange of fire at Tel Hai. But before he died, he was reported to have consoled his companions in Hebrew, saying: Ein davar, tov lamut be'ad artzeinu--"Never mind, it's good to die for our country." As was fitting for a secular Jew like Trumpeldor, his words echoed those of the Ro- man poet Ovid's Odes--dulce et decorum est pro patria mori ("it is sweet and fitting to die for one's country") more than any traditional Jewish text. But his sacrifice inspired generations who followed in his footsteps rebuilding and then successfully defending the Jewish homeland. Just as important, he was embraced as a hero by both the Jewish right--the Betar national youth group founded by Ze'ev Jabotinsky and later led by Menachem Begin was named for Trumpeldor--as well as by their Labor Zionist rivals on the left. But to future generations of Israelis, the authenticity of Trumpeldor's final utterance was called into question. He may have just cursed in Rus- sian about his bad luck. His shaky command of Hebrew might also not have enabled him to say something so elo- quent. It's a dispute that can never be definitively settled. More important is that many also came to doubt the validity of the sentiment behind those noble words. To the cynics of the last 20th and early 21st century, the idea of there being something glori- ous about bloody sacrifice for the sake of a national ideal was exactly the sort of talk that starts wars. To some, patriotism was not just old- fashioned, butalso dangerous. That is especially true for Americans who came of age after Vietnam, Watergate and countless other scandals that have robbed the nation of much of the idealism about patriotism that was once taken for granted. It's in this context that we should think about the life of Sen. John McCain, who passed away this past weekend at the age of 81 after a long battle with brain cancer. McCainwas a central figure inAmerican politics for a gen- eration and twice unsuccess- fully sought the presidency. An independent spirit, he was often an unpredictable guided missile, taking up causes that struck his fancy regardless q of whether they fit in with his generally conservative approach to politics. Sadly, in his final years, he was subjected to a torrent of abuse because of his feud with U.S. President Donald Trump, who started the spat by wrongly calling into question McCain's status as a war hero. Some on the far right, especially on social media, even continued call- ing him a "traitor" after his death, though in doing so they demonstrated their own ignorance and lack of grace. That echoed the abuse he had always gotten from the far left, which viewed his unswerving support for Israel and belief in a strong U.S. foreign policy advocating American values of freedom of democracy with equal contempt. But what is important about McCain is that he lived his life in the same spirit as Trumpeldor's famous quota- tion. His was a life lived in service to his nation. There is no denying that his brav- ery in enduring torture and imprisonment at the hands of his NorthVietnamese captors. And whether you agreed with him on every issue or not, the fact that he continued serving his country throughout the rest of his life completed a legacy that was based more on character and patriotism than anything else. McCain mattered because unlike most politicians, his claim to office was based not so much on ideology as it was on biography. Not many U.S. presidents have been truly great men. And while we can't be sure that he would have been a good president, the main reason he came so close to that goal was because so many thought he deserved the honor as a result of his life story. In that sense, he was very much a throwback to an earlier time in American history, when the presidency was seen more as a reward for meritorious service or heroism than a mere political contest. We may not need presidents to be heroes, but the found- ers of the American republic believed that civic virtue was essential to the survival of their experiment. The man- ner in which Israel's founding generation lived was a testa- ment to the same sentiment. Cynics and those who decry even the most democratic forms of nationalism often dismiss patriotism and the idea of sacrifice for the nation. We no longer engage in hero wor- ship of the kind that produced generations of Americanswho thought George Washington never told a lie or Israelis who believed in the Zionist equiva- lents of that myth. We're right to keep even the most seemingly exemplary leaders' feet of clay firmly in view. But we still need heroes because they are essential to perpetuating the ideals that are the foundation of Ameri- can society. Nations like the United States and Israel are, after all, based on ideals more than other considerations. That's why we need the Josef Trumpeldors and John Mc- Cains. They point the way for the rest of us towards the values to which we aspire but so often fall short. May the senator's memory be for a blessing. Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS--Jewish News Syndicate. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans tobin. By Sarah N. Stern (JNS)--U.S. President Donald Trump gave the Jew- ish people a gift of historic proportions by taking the is- sue of Jerusalem off the table back in December. On Aug. 25, President Trump gave a gift that is arguably of equal or greater value to the Jewish nation by significantly reduc- ing by $200 million the aid that the United States gives to UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine. PLO Secretary General Saeb Erekat predictably called the decision "disgraceful," and said that President Trump was "meddling in the internal affairs of other people in an at- tempt to impact their national options." Since when is it that an American president deciding how to spend U.S. taxpayer dollars is considered "med- dling in the affairs of other people"? Beyond that, according to an Aug. 25 report on Israeli Channel 2 news, the Trump ad- ministration announced that it will oppose the Palestinian claim for the "right of return" for the descendants of the original Palestinian refugees displaced by the 1948 war. If true, this would be a his- toric development--not just to the American taxpayer, the Jewish people and the State of Israel, but to the Palestinians themselves. UNRWAwas formedin 1949, in the aftermath of the 1948 War for Palestinian refugees. These refugees, fleeing from the war (Dec. 1, 1947 to June 1, 1948), originally numbered 550,000 to 600,000. Because the Palestinians have inflated the number--and because they count multiple gen- erations of descendants--the figure that Palestinians and their advocates now invoke is 5 million. The U.N. High Commission of Refugees defines a "refu- gee" as "someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecu- tion, war or violence." Only in the case of the Palestinians is this status passed down for generations. And only in the case of the UNRWA is there a refugee agency exclusively for one particular refugee group. In 1950, in the aftermath of World War II, the United Nations High Commission of Refugees was established to deal with the millions of displaced refugees. However, the Arab League refused to allow the Palestinian refugees to go under that rubric. Why? Because the mandate of UNHCR is for the refugees to be settled and integrated into their host country as soon as possible. The Arab League, however, wanted to keep the Palestinian refugees in a perpetual state of limbo in order to use the Palestinian refugee issue as a thorn in the side of Israel. The Arab world seems have no concern over their Pales- tinian brethren, apparently preferring to keep generations of Palestinians in a perpetual state of victimhood, squalor and conflict. According to David Bedein of the Center for Near East Policy Research, "the right of return is the focus of the entire life to take back their homes that were abandoned in 1948 The children are taught you have to go back to these homes and kill the people who live there." Upon entering the Aida UNRWA camp, for example, one immediately sees a gate adorned by an oversized key, symbolic of their ancestor's house left behind in Israel. The symbol of the key is used constantly in pageants that UNRWA schools put on, where the message is constantly drummed in that they will someday return to their an- cestor's orchards and vineyard in pre-1948 Israel. UNRWA on page 22A By Ari Roth WASHINGTON, D.C. (JTA)--On Sunday, the the- ater community's reactions to the death of playwright Neil Simon came even as social media were still pro- cessing the death the day before of Sen. John McCain. The homages to McCain bor- dered on the hagiographic until fights erupted (this being Facebook) between those who remembered the Arizona senator's opposi- tion to Martin Luther King Day and those who admired his bipartisanship and self- scrutiny. Almost everyone remem- bering Neil Simon, on the other hand, did so with wist- fulness, because everyone in the theater business had been touched by the breadth of Simon's achievement. Playwrights remembered how Simon crafted a line and set up an entrance; more than anything, they appreciated the crest of his career: how it shot forth like a cannon yet managed to sustain and grow ever more impressive, penetrating and personally revealing with the writing of the Eugene Trilogy-- "Brighton Beach Memoirs," "Biloxi Blues" and "Broadway Bound." Actors remembered what it was to perform Simon. "It was almost impossible," said Broadway veteran and now writer Peter Birkenhead, "to go fully up on a line in a Neil Simon play" (that is, improvise a forgotten line of dialogue) "because the next thing out of your character's mouth always followed natu- rally from the last thing and pointed towards the next." Producers remembered the dependability of the Simon brand and the vast volume of it. They remembered Simon either as their "bread and but- ter" or their "stock and trade." Then therewere those like me who, once upon a time, as a younger renegade, remember condescending to Simon, referring to him as a "sop to subscribers; a thing to define oneself against--until grow- ing out of such sanctimony to embrace his achievement." Producers would sneer at Neil Simon for other reasons too. I remember a goyishe the- ater company in the middle of Michigan, not far from Ann Arbor, back in the '90s, where the artistic director said that they defined their brand of comedy as being "the oppo- site of Neil Simon. Less New York in our references, less guilt-ridden, less neurotic, or driven by a particular kind of rhythm." That struck me as vaguely anti-Semitic at the time--and strikes me as less vaguely and more explicitly so today, despite the admirable cultivation of "local voices." Neil Simon, it appears, was so big that he became something to rebel against, for Jews and non-Jews alike. My first reflection upon hearing of Simon's passing was to think of the death of Philip Roth almost 100 days earlier: twin towers of literary and theatrical achievement now gone. Prolific, uninhib- ited, and unapologetically gifted, Simon and Roth in their passing seem to have left a hole in the fabric of Ameri- can Jewish culture. The very garment of that fabric is now moth-eaten: that power suit of the Straight White Jewish Male Secularist who, in the cases of Roth and Simon, spawned their own veritable one-man industries. That period of immense dominance is now done. Theirs were the careers to look up to, back in the day, if you were dreaming of a life as a writer. Surely there were differences between them beyond discipline; Roth the provocateur and prolix subversive; Simon the pleas- ing jester, chafing at life's annoyances, who played conflict and odd couplings for theatrical laughs. But their shared vibrancy, moxie and attitude--unapologeti- cally Jewish yet secularized; worshiping the ironies of the American experience more than the signposts of Jewish history--were instructive tickets that they passed onto their progenitors and col- leagues. They each had their particular American Voice down pat: urban and urbane; assimilated with healthy shmears of cultural quirks and loyalty, along with a cranky independence, inter- woven into an identity that could clearly be demarcated as "New York Times Arts Section Jewish." I'm glad I met Neil Simon when I did, in the early '90s, while on a trip to L.A. for a reading of a play of mine. I was at a lunch meeting, pitching a project to a friend in the business from Chicago at an upscale Hamburger Hamlet in Westwood. We spied Neil Simon sitting alone reading "The Jordan Rules" by Sam Smith, right after the Bulls had won their second NBA championship. Simon was then on the crest of what seemed to be a career high point, soon to earn a Pulitzer Prize for "Lost in Yonkers." Perhaps Simon could identity Simon on page 21A Letters To The Editor We are a diverse community and we welcome your letters and viewpoints. The views and opinions expressed in the opinion pieces and letters published in The Heri- tage are the views of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of The Heritage Florida Jewish News or its staff The Heritage reserves the right to edit letters for clarity, content, and accuracy. And respectful of lashon hara, we will not print derogatory statements against any individual. Please limit letters to 250 words. Send letters to P.O. Box 300742, Fern Park, FL 32730. Or e-mail to news@ American Jewish Congress mourns loss of John McCain Dear Editor: To lose as titanic a war- rior and statesman as John McCain at any time is cause for national sorrow. As Jews and as Americans, we are filled with sadness at the loss of this implacable ally of the Jewish people and Israel who served as the epitome of American patriotism. It is our hope--and we will do all that we can to ensure--that Senator McCain's legacy of courageous, moral leader- ship will endure, and help light the path out of the darkness in which we now find ourselves. Thank you, Jack Rosen, president Dr. Munr Kazmir, vice president Dr. Ben Chouake, secretary