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Updated: Jun 4

The recent student protests on campuses across the country have broken through my news barrier. Wave after wave of nostalgia rolls over me. The protests take me right back to the Viet Nam war. A few weeks ago, I went out to dinner with a friend, and we were talking about the protests. Bill was having the same reaction I was. The students are feeling their power. We had forced desegregation. We were determined to end the war in Viet Nam, and we did. 

I said over dinner that the students have access to power levers now that we were clueless about. During the anti-apartheid campaign, the lever of divestiture had been discovered. “Wait ‘til the students push that button on Palestine,” I said. Maybe they had already, but the news of it didn’t get through to me until the next day. 

It’s more than 50 years since I was among those who didn’t trust anyone over 30. But it is wonderful to feel the energy of youth. And strangely all these years later, I still believe in the wisdom of youth. 

I have spent years on my meditation cushion, peeling away the layers of conditioning. How many layers have been added since our helicopters got the Americans out of Saigon. I have acquired so many layers of conditioning since then. Some of them are my Zen conditioning.

A few days ago I heard — given my barriers, this may be old news — that the President said that protest was okay as long as it didn’t violate any laws. As Yogi Berra would say, “Déjà vu all over again.”

I hear a voice calling from a Birmingham jail cell. “I wish you had commended the Negro sit inners and demonstrators of Birmingham for their sublime courage, their willingness to suffer and their amazing discipline in the midst of great provocation. One day the South will recognize its real heroes.”

Well, today at least, King is a hero, and we celebrate his birthday as a national holiday, but of course he is safely dead and buried and silent. Where would he be in jail today? Los Angeles? New York? What would he be writing from jail?

I trust the young people. When they are willing to get out there and put their bodies on the line, to stand up without waiting for adult approval, they — I can’t say we anymore — are channeling the energy of the future.

I feel their courage and I feel old, although I am sure there are people out there with the student who are as old as me or older. My guilty conditioning rattles on. I should be out there with the children, but I have to keep my appointment with my cardiologist. I have to do my writing.

Recovering from surgery, I am not sure my body could cope with being manhandled by arresting officers.  My guilt is rattling, “Excuses, excuses.” I was never injured during a civil rights or anti-war demonstration. I was only arrested once. I was never a hero, I did not stand tall among the brave, even when I was in my 20’s. What do I expect of myself now?

But I am listening to the children’s voices. It’s one of my favorite council instructions: “Don’t talk over the children’s voices.”


I grew up feeling the wrongness of the situation in Palestine, and conditions there have only grown worse. My family was shaped by the pogroms and traumatized by the holocaust, but we were not Zionists, even though David Ben Gurion and other founders of the Israeli state had hung out in my grandmother’s living room while they sojourned in Halifax. We always worried about the Palestinians who were being displaced by new, Jewish settlers. That was the conditioning that I grew up with. Probably, as I grew up, genocide sat at the apex of the pantheon of sins. 

Is what is happening in Palestine “genocide”?  For sure as a Jew, I am ashamed. I hear the objection: To be “genocide,” the atrocities must occur as a result of a policy of extermination. I am told by Israeli friends that genocide, extermination, is not the Israeli intention. I don’t know. Are they quibbling? If the destruction of a nation is the consequence, does the intention matter? But I will not fuss about the word. What word we use to describe what is happening in Palestine is not the important thing. What is important is that what is happening stops.

When Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin said, “You don’t make peace with your friends, only with your enemies,” I cheered. Within two years, Rabin’s commitment to peace cost him his life. 

But as I have gotten older, things not just in the Middle East but everywhere, have become more complicated. Has the world become more complicated? Or has my world just become less black and white? There are always at least two sides to every argument. 

I also grew up with a deep sense of Jewish insecurity. As my mother expressed it, “Fascism is always just around the corner.” I hoped I would never need it, but there was comfort in the haven for the Jews that Israel promised. It's emotionally complicated. What if the security, the existence of Israel were threatened by an end to the repressive conditions in Palestine?

It’s complicated, but the kids on the campus have cleared the fog. Whatever the complications, whatever we call it, whether we call it “genocide” or not, we know what “it” is, and it has to stop now. 

I am enjoying my moment of clarity. How long will this clarity last?

It was so nice when everything in life was clear.

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