Monday, June 2, 2008

Back again and still whining

Remember me? The Lens has been clouded since March 12, for a number of reasons that I won't go into here. But here we go again, with a mix of back-patting and whining about my world, nation and city that I call looking through Len's Lens.

But it's June 2, a beautiful day in the neighborhood if you live in Connecticut. I'm sitting in a chaise on my deck, looking out at the green, unruly swath that is my backyard, with the carpenter bees dancing in the air. Yes, I know they're eating holes in my shed, but everybody's got to eat. Where did I see that recently. Here's where.

Speaking of the New Haven Independent, I've been doing a bit of reporting and writing for that spunky Internet publication. Although Editor Paul Bass' politics are to the left of mine, he's a smart and ethical guy. I have a lot of fun covering part of the economic development beat I covered for The New Haven Register nearly two decades ago.

Speaking of New Haven, my wife and I went to Lighthouse Point Park, a beautiful seaside place that is free to New Haven residents. As I pulled up to the toll booth, the young man looked at my auto registration to see that I was indeed a resident, then deftly stripped the year-old resident windshield sticker and replaced it with this year's model. It was quick and efficient.

Well, that's enough of sweetness and light. I wouldn't want you all to think I'd gone soft.


A post card arrived last week inviting me to attend an information session for the new Davis Street School. I'm not sure I'd have gone, but alas, I cannot because it's scheduled for June 10, the second day of Shavuot, a major Jewish holiday. For a city that prides itself on being inclusive, scheduling a meeting on a Jewish holiday, especially in a neighborhood that houses a large Orthodox Jewish population, is disappointing. The Westville Synagogue, an Orthodox congregation, is around the corner from the school.

So, I called the school department to ask why this was. I called Craig Russell, the contact listed on the post card, and his voice mail message said he wouldn't be back until June 5. So I called Catherine Sullivan-DeCarlo, the head of communications. She's one of the good ones -- we worked together years ago at the Register. She was surprised, to put it mildly, about the scheduling gaffe and said she'd spread the word.

Anniversary celebration, New York Times style

That leads me to The New York Times' coverage of a major event -- Israel's 60th Anniversary. It's been 60 years since Holocaust survivors and other Jewish pioneers went back to the land, from which they had been exiled 2,000 years before, and established a country. Israel remains a democratic, inclusive refuge for Jews from the Arab world (tens of thousands were tossed out of Arab countries after their goods were confiscated), the Soviet Union, Ethiopia and other places.

So, how does the New York Times celebrate this occasion? The front-page story was about some Israeli Arabs whining about their lot in this nation. I'm not talking about Palestinians, but Israeli Arabs who chose to stay in Israel after 1947. They were complaining about being Arab and Muslim in a Jewish state.

I know how they feel. I'm an observant Jew in a Christian country. But, compared to the lot of observant Jews in 90 percent of the world's nations, I have it pretty good.

So do the Arabs who were whining in the Times story. They are a minority. I'm not part of even a minority because there are too few Jews to be counted as a minority.

They complain about their treatment by the government. The Israeli government is one of the most nutsy bureaucracies there can be. Check out the stupidity about the Fulbright scholars from Gaza. Some idiot bureaucrat decided they're a security risk and said they couldn't leave. So some idiot bureaucrat in the U.S. canceled their fellowships.

Thank heaven higher and smarter heads prevailed on both sides. The mess was cleared up and the fellowships are uncanceled. All's well that ends well. By the way, the Times played the story about the cancellation on its front page and the resolution inside. Hmmmm

The U.S. bureaucracy can be pretty silly, too, such as the passport mess last year when the Bush administration decided we'd all be safer if Americans had to carry passports to go to Canada and Mexico, two nations where that hadn't been required. The result was a rush on passports to the point where it was taking months to get or renew one (the government hadn't geared up for this, natch). It's better now -- I got my renewal in little more than a week last month. On the other hand, my wife, who wears a hat for religious reasons, had to resubmit her application because the bureaucrat who reviewed her application didn't see the letter she enclosed explaining why she wore a hat in her passport photo. I'm sure it will all come out OK eventually.

I can whine, too, about being an observant Jew in a Christian country. Let's look at a few silly examples. If some store runs a great sale on Friday night and Saturday only, which many have, I'm cut out of it. If I lived in Nevada or South Carolina, I couldn't vote in presidential primaries. All Broadway plays start at 8 p.m. on Saturday night. I have to go to the theater during the week, an imposition if I'm working.

These things are a pain, but measured against the real freedom that I have in this nation and that Israeli Arabs have in Israel, it's a no-brainer. The Arabs are millions of times better off in Israel than in many Arab countries. Their kids get free schooling. They don't have to serve in the Army, as most Jewish kids do. They serve in the parliament and hold government ministry portfolios. The Israeli economy is going great guns and the standard of living is equal to many European Union nations. Yes, there is bias against Arabs in Israel, just as there is bias in the U.S. against blacks, Hispanics and, by the way, Jews.

The New York Times knows this, but decided to celebrate Israel's 60th with a woe-is-me story about Israeli Arabs.

Let's hope the Arabs, and the Times, grow up by the 70th Anniversary of one of the most democratic and vital nations in the world.

Until next time...

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