Clash of the Titans

            You know why New Yorkers are so depressed?  (beat, beat) It’s because we have seen the light at the end of the tunnel,
and (sigh) it is New Jersey. Ba-dum bum.

As an undergrad at Columbia, I worked as a receptionist in the School of Engineering.   I loved my job for two reasons: first, because I had a lot of time to do my own work while I kept watch on the front desk and fielded questions; and second, because I could listen bemusedly to the idle gossip of the students and professors who were constantly milling about the offices.

A favorite topics of discussion, and one that kept the entire entourage laughing, was the preponderance of New Jersey residents who commuted to Columbia for work and study.  Considered an inferior lot by the resident New Yorkers, they became the butt of a favorite euphism.  “No, s/he’s not dumb; s/he’s from New Jersey.”

New Yorkers and New Jerseyans have always rankled  one another.  And for good reason: we’re a lot alike.  Despite some historical divergences, we come from a nearly identical background.  The Dutch and the English — followed by at least a smattering from every other nautical country in the world  — settled in both places and created a multicultural community conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all merchants are created equal to the task of making money.  New York and New Jersey have beaches and farms and cities and quaint small towns, and their people are reputed to be abrasive, loud and insistent.

Since the 19th Century, people have chosen to live in New Jersey in order to work in New York or have chosen to work in New York because that is where the jobs are. New  Jerseyans have been subjugated to service of the big brother state as well as the city, and the citizens of NJ have had to pay two tax masters for their incomes, one in a state that offers no benefits for the money charged.  When I was young, the resentment toward my city was palpable; today it’s more subtle.

New Jersey and New York have a lot in common and a lot to compete over, and the states have had a tradition of rivalry that has, at times, been less than congenial.

I often imagine what it might be like if one day the people of New Jersey felt that New York had dominated them long enough and signed a pact to obliterate the city and its environs, replacing it with Jersey City as the Big Apple.

It wouldn’t be a difficult task to target NYC for ill.  A few well-aimed scuds or rockets, and whole sections of the city would fall before any defensive measure might be taken.  The playgrounds in lower Manhattan would easily be destroyed, and the bodies of small children would make appropriate poster photos for use in the manipulation of public opinion. In no time at all, NY would return fire, and all too soon, the children of Secaucus and Newark would be lost in heaps of flames, and their photos, too, would adorn the banners of the righteously infuriated.

Whose side would the world take?  The people on both sides of the Hudson look alike, smell alike, sound alike — most people outside the area can’t tell the difference between a New Jersey and a New York accent.   To a Californian, residents of New York and New Jersey are roses that pretty much smell the same.

You can see where this is going, and I am sure you get the drift of my parable.  I apologize, but I can’t help it that there is an obvious, albeit overly simplistic, kinship between this scenario and Israeli-Palestinians conflict.

Both New York and New Jersey were populated by people who arrived from somewhere else with nowhere else to go.  They over-ran the locals and set up shop, creating a refuge for others in a land that had once been hostile but now offered succor.

Palestinians and Israelis are in the same place because they are unwanted anywhere else.  They live in a hostile environment that needs considerable adaptation before it provides sustenance, but both peoples have learned a way to get what they want from it.  Both peoples need to live in the land called Israel, and both peoples deserve to stay and call one another equal.

What they need from the worldwide community is assistance in finding a way to make peace, to find a way to live together without killing one another’s children.  Both sides have suffered greatly, both sides need to stop fearing the other. But instead of encouraging peace,  the world seems eager to cheerlead for a war. Television and the web casts encourage us to be spectators, to take our lunches to a hill and root for one side or the other while we watch them gouge one another.  And the attention does little more than to egg the violence on.  Facebook is covered in posts about the evil Jews — why is it still okay to openly hate Jews and women? — and the bloodied Palestinian children and  with retorts reminding the world about the so-called Holocaust (as though there haven’t been numerous holocausts in the past century and its successor) and the horrors wrought against the Jews.  Antisemitic diatribe, answered by indignant defenses, fuel the fires of dissension between the peoples, and the violence simply escalates.

Whenever I pass through the Columbia campus, I am reminded of how similar today’s students are to my classmates and me back in the olden days.  Much as we were during the Viet Nam War, students are out in varying numbers, marching with placards, chanting, demonstrating.  Only there’s a marked change in the sound and feel of the presentation today.  Most of the protesters on College Walk favor the violent overthrow of the Israeli government.
.

“Violence is justified,” chants one large group holding a poster bearing a Magen David (Star of David), an equal sign and a Nazi Swastika; “when the people are occupied.”  “How many babies will you allow Israel to kill?”  “How many babies will you allow Hamas to kill?” Someone answers from a shadow. The chanting gets louder, the peripheral voice is hushed.

I find myself nostalgic for the good old days of anti-war protesting on campus.  Whatever happened to “Give Peace a chance”?  Or “Stop the violence.”  “No war. Peace now.”

Where are the cheerleaders for peace?  Where is the outcry against the jihad to eradicate the Jewish people?  Where is the nonviolent pressure brought to bear toward an independent Palestinian state and the coexistence of two equally liberated, fully empowered peoples to live alongside one another . . . kinda like New Yorkers and their counterparts in New Jersey?

There’s enough vitriole out there.   No one wishes for war.  Ask a Palestinian mother what she wants, and she will reply the same way a Jewish mother will respond:”I want my children to be safe and to live in peace.”Shalom and Salaam are the same word.

Hey, neither New York nor New Jersey ever really needed to be the conqueror.

I, Mother

Every year on Mother’s Day I feel let down.  Everywhere I look are reminders that it’s Mother’s Day.  In the street, when I take my morning walk, I see children carrying flowers to Grandma’s house, and families decked out in their Easter Sunday best coming out of restaurants sated from celebratory Mother’s Day Brunch, and strangers call out, “Happy Mother’s Day!”  When I get to work today, the dispatcher who supervises the buses during my shift, whom I have come to like and look forward to seeing, won’t be there.   Her husband bought her an I-Phone 4S for this day, and she booked off  to enjoy a day with her feet up, learning the in’s and out’s of her new toy.  My Mother’s Day is just another Sunday, except that I write anti-war emails and FB posts while I watch a flurry of new ads telling me what I should be receiving as gifts.  How can I not succumb to jealousy?

I have to remind myself that I made it so.  When my kids were little, I scoffed at the ads for the Hallmark Holiday the day had become, and I told them that I didn’t subscribe to the notion of a day to say thank you.  I have a day already; it’s my very own day, my birthday.  Honor me and respect me and love me all the days of your life; celebrate my birth on its day.  But don’t buy into the aberration of this day.  Let’s keep Mother’s Day as it was originally intended: a day of contemplation on the horrors of war.

In 1870, Julia Ward Howe, the poet who (perhaps ironically) authored The Battle Hymn of the Republic, pushed for the adoption of a day, a mothers’ day, set aside to remind people of the true nature of war, the true  cost.  War was, in her estimation, a simple carnage, the wasting of mothers’ sons’ lives by other mothers’ sons.  Later, she averred that the “collateral damage” of war was also the annhilation of mothers’ children, and Mother’s Day should be a day when mothers stand up and insist that their children not be slaughtered and that their children not be sent out to destroy other mothers’ lives.

I take this day very seriously.  I am a mother, neither a good mother nor a bad mother, but a mother who would be devastated by the loss of any of my children.  I weep for women who do not predecease their offspring; it’s a suffering I never want to endure.  I don’t need flowers or candy to prove to me my kids and grands love me; each of them shows me that in her/his own way.  What I do need is to be sheltered from the worst horror I could imagine: one of them being swept up by hatred and bloodlust, by politics and insanity, by the firestorms of war.

Julia Ward Howe

It’s Mother’s Day.  Let there be peace.

Arise, then, women of this day!
Arise all women who have hearts,
Whether your baptism be that of water or of tears
Say firmly:

“We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies
Our husbands shall not come to us reeking of carnage
For caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of
charity, mercy and patience.

We women of one country
Will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs. . . .”

                                                         Julia Ward Howe
                                              Mother’s Day Proclamation
1870