Thursday, Jul 25, 2024

Planet of the Fakes

It happened nearly thirty years ago and no one has learned anything since then. He was not a teenager. In fact, he was 69 years old. He was not nimble. In fact, he was in a wheelchair. And he was not hitching a ride near a settlement on the West Bank of the Jordan River. No. He was on a boat, an Italian cruise ship named the Achille Lauro. But they shot him just the same.

He was not on their land. He was not on their roads. He was not even on their boat. But they shot him just the same. Because he was a Jew.


They shot him in the forehead and in the chest and then they pushed his wheelchair off the boat, into the sea. And it was in those murky waters where Leon Klinghoffer, Leib ben Avrohom, a World War II veteran from New Jersey, finally succumbed to the wounds they had inflicted. His body was found by the Syrians weeks later.


In what I must assume was something etched into the terrorists’ playbook, they did not tell Mr. Klinghoffer’s wife what they had done. They not only kill, they leave next of kin in suspenseful terror, with no resolution in sight. It’s all part of their evil game. They said that he had been moved to the infirmary. She only learned the truth after the hijackers left the ship at Port Said, in Egypt. 


The game of making absurdist statements in order to obscure the most heinous crimes is also not new. The PLO’s notorious foreign secretary, Farouq Qaddumi, said that perhaps the terminally ill Marilyn Klinghoffer had killed her husband for insurance money.


The more things change, the more they stay the same. More than adding insult to injury, these animals know how to amass malice onto murder. After the initial kidnapping and murder of the three young kedoshim, families of the accused kidnappers along with Hamas and Palestinian leadership called it a stunt. It probably came out of the Jewish bag of tricks, together with the one that half the Arab world still believes: The planes that crashed into the Twin Towers were really piloted by Mosad agents as part of an Israeli plot. Indeed, the bigger the lies, the greater the deflection, the better the chance that the world in which we are exiled will believe the bunk. They will say anything and somehow they know that they will get away with it.


Even worse, if in any way, one of us, or even a suspected one of us, stokes the fires in any form or manner, our tragedy is forgotten, replaced by the folly of our response. The horrific crime is now forgotten and it is almost impossible to find a news story about the audacious kidnapping and murder of three young yeshiva students. Trying to find out any information about the kidnapping and murder of our brothers is nearly impossible. The words “kidnap,” “murder,” “Israel” and “Jews” won’t get you there. Those search terms only conjure up the story of a Palestinian youth being burned alive by Jewish settlers in retaliation for an attack on settlers.


Somehow, the world has the ability not only to forget our pain and obscure the mindset of the criminals, they have the ability to romanticize it. I know nothing of the opera, but what got me going was an article that someone sent me about the opera.


I would not know an opera from someone singing in the shower, but this person asked me to read the article, so I did. I could not believe what I read. 


The tragic story of the hijacking of the Achille Laura, the murder of Mr. Klinghoffer, has been made into an opera, in which the terrorists, played by professional actors, get to sing their side of the story. This opera was to take place in the middle of Manhattan, at the Metropolitan Opera, one of the most prestigious stages in America. And to add insult, or perhaps you may want to term it as artistic affront, to the sensibilities of civilization, the Met, as it is known, was going to broadcast this “work of art across the world.” “The Death of Klinghoffer,” they said, is “not anti-Semitic.” 


Thanks to hundreds of emails and letters, in what he called a compromise, Mr. Gelb, director of the show, bowed to the wishes of the Klinghoffer daughters and other Jewish critics of the opera written by a fellow named John Adams.


Mr. Adams called the broadcast’s cancellation “a deeply regrettable decision” and said it promoted “the same kind of intolerance that the opera’s detractors claim to be preventing.”


TheNew York Times, the bastion of liberal absurdity, called it a “step backward for both the Met and for Mr. Gelb. Art can be provocative and controversial. Many critics of this opera have not actually seen it, though they are certainly free to express their concern or even outrage. Their political and personal views, however, should not cause the Met to reverse its artistic judgment.”


The Times gives a gasp of a voice to critics, including the daughters of Mr. Klinghoffer, who challenged the way the opera portrays his murder, showing how Palestinian terrorists killed Mr. Klinghoffer, who was confined to a wheelchair, and pushed him into the sea.


But wait. The Times wants us to understand that “the opera gives voice to all sides in this terrible murder. The audience hears from the Palestinians who killed an innocent man, but most powerfully from Klinghoffer, who indicts the gruesome cruelty of the terrorists and whose final aria is particularly moving.”


And since this is art and art can be controversial, the New York Times wants the New York Metropolitan Opera to broadcast those voices – all of them, mind you – to the entire world. All for the sake of art.


There is a wonderful little story about a man who came crying to one of the great Torah leaders of the previous generation. I believe it is told of Rav Chaim Brisker. The man yelled incessantly at Rav Chaim how he had been duped and cheated by people he believed were Orthodox Jews.


Rav Chaim told him the story of a group of men dressed as police officers who barged into the home of one of the wealthiest men in town, demanding that he open his safe.


“There has been a flurry of counterfeit money spreading around town and we must make sure that you have not been duped by these terrible counterfeiters,” the men said.


They told the wealthy man to give him all the money in the safe. They looked at it meticulously and then counted it methodically, making sure that they wrote down every bill in every denomination. They then wrote him an official-looking receipt detailing the transaction and noted every zloty of the large sum of money that they had taken.  


“These bills and notes look fine, but we will be giving them to the bank to review. Tomorrow, take this official receipt to the bank, where they will be processing your money and analyzing it for any counterfeit bills. They will return all of this money to you.  Thank you for your cooperation.”


Sure enough, the next day, all the man received from the bank were blank stares. “What money? What kind of receipt is this?”


“But they were the police!” shouted the man. “They could not commit such a crime!” 


The banker laughed. “They may have dressed like the police and talked like the police. And they may have called themselves the police. But, my friend, they were not the police.”


The nimshol is obvious, but it transcends religion or Yiddishkeit. We are living in a world of smoke and mirrors. Atrocities can be glorified in the name of art. Children can be murdered in the name of freedom and equality. A band of marauding animals are uprooting the seedlings of normalcy in Iraq, cutting down the branches of any tiny growth as easily as they cut off the heads of those charged with being infidels. They declare a state and a caliphate, and soon enough the world will consider their claims as true.


As I drove home last night, I could not help but notice a large billboard with a hideous picture of an enormous gorilla on it. I would have liked to think that it was an advertisement for the Bronx Zoo, but, alas, it was not. The large words next to it said, “Planet of the Apes.” I will admit that in the dormitory in which I once resided as a high school student, a book by that title, written by French author Pierre Boulle, was floating around.


It was about explorers far in the distant future who come to a place on earth where the world was topsy-turvy. The apes ruled the world and men were put in cages. It was a frightening book (especially for a ninth grader sneaking in pages while hiding from the mashgiach). But the ending was the scariest. The explorers found the Statue of Liberty buried in the sand; the only part exposed was her head. They realized that they were on the planet once called Earth, in what was once the greatest city, New York. But the animals had now taken it over.


My friends, we are only getting closer and closer to that day.



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