By Richard E. Noble
I had never been to a Synagogue before. Actually I had never seen the inside of any pagan place of worship. I was at this particular Synagogue on this particular evening, at my older brother's request. Strangely enough, we were both here at this Jewish temple, on this cold winter evening, due to the fact that my brother was dating a very lovely older Arab woman. She had dark Arabian-night eyes, black shiny hair, and a warm sweetness that could be enjoyed even at a distance. She wouldn't be with us on this occasion but her other potential suitor would be. He was not Jewish either. He was the American Ambassador to one of the Arab nations. He would be lecturing here tonight, at this Synagogue, on the Palestinian problem in the Holy Land.
Although it did seem interesting to be pondering the thoughts of an Arab Ambassador expounding his views on the Palestinian problem in the Holy Land to a room full of black beanies in a tiny local Jewish Synagogue, I suspect that, though it was never mentioned by my brother, we were in attendance this evening scoping out the competition.
My brother's competition for the fair Arab maiden's hand was very eloquent indeed. But not only was he eloquent, he was also fairly handsome, well educated, well dressed, worldly, knowledgeable, mature. My brother actually liked the guy which was the first indication of his defeat. But, of course, we were not there to make chauvinist comparisons, or to butt male egos. We were actually present on an expedition of intellectual enlightenment. What the hell was a Palestinian anyway?
The Arab Ambassador gave his speech. It was filled with facts and figures and lots of things that I never heard about in the newspapers. I felt that it was information well stated, and, of course, very diplomatic. Actually, I didn't hear anything that I considered radical. Basically, what he said was that with the establishment of the state of Israel after World War II, a lot of Arab people ended up homeless. He didn't really explain why, or how or even discuss who was to blame. He simply pointed out that there had been an injustice perpetrated in some type way, manner, or fashion. But, quite to my surprise, the Jewish people were very much upset by what the Ambassador had to say. All during his lecture, they were huddling in their chairs and sputtering and whispering at various sentences and phrases. I confess I was not very well informed. At the time my Arab knowledge consisted of an intense love for fresh, hot, flat, unleavened Syrian style bread, and a tremendous respect for lamb on a stick served on a bed of rice pilaf. I also had a passable knowledge of stuffed grape leaves dipped in a mixture of homos and tahini, stuffed tripe, baked squash and a delicious hamburger type mixture called baked kibbie.
As for the Jews, I had read numerous accounts of the Nazi attempt to annihilate their whole race. I had heard of a Matzah ball, but had never eaten one, and I was well aware of the fact that all peoples of virtually every national origin love to hate a Jew. And armed with this knowledge, I sat quietly as a self appointed judge and jury.
After the speech a question and answer period ensued and the cover heads were bouncing out of their seats: And what about this! And what about that! - the Jewish attendees were screaming. Some stood up and read statements. Others scolded and shook their finger menacingly at the Ambassador. But the Arab representative stood his ground. He was very calm; very even tempered. He uttered one particular statement that literally shot the patrons from their seats. "Yes that is true," he responded to a wagging random finger, "but what about the Israeli run concentration camps constructed for the segregation and internment of formally free innocent Palestinian residents?"
"Those are not concentration camps!" one Jewish man screamed.
"Those are not prisons!" roared another.
"Then why are they surrounded with barbed wire and armed guards?" the Ambassador questioned, for the first time revealing the heat of his inner spirit.
As we left the temple that evening, a little man, obviously a spokesman for the temple group, grasped onto our hands at the door. His eyes burnt with sincerity as he thanked us for taking an interest in the problems of "others."
This temple gathering took place in the early sixties. Years before the hostage crisis and terrorists and the Kennedy assassinations and the death and slaughter of thousands and thousands of Syrians and Lebanese, and Egyptians, and Israelis - before the war between Iran and Iraq which stole over a million lives, and thirty years before Operation Desert Storm where four hundred thousand have been estimated dead as a result. And now, of course, we have Desert Storm part II.
I felt rather guilty as I left the temple that night. I could see the Rabbi's burning eyes staring up into mine, and I could still feel the strong, hard press of the palm of his hand against mine as he praised and applauded us for our interest and concern for the distant intellectual and political problems of others. I felt guilty because I didn't go there because of a concern and interest in the intellectual and political problems of others, but, primarily to scope out my brother's romantic competition, and to indulge my sincere hopes for an Italian veal cutlet sandwich and a few beers after the lecture with my brother.
It is amazing (not the above monologue) but the fact that it has been a couple or three million lives past that I knew nothing of the Palestinian problem in the “Holy Land,” and today, even after all of this human slaughter and sacrifice - after our own country's involvement in two wars in the area - after all of the news banter and bluster, I still don't know a damn thing. I certainly know nothing of the Palestinian point of view, other than they hate Jews, and very little of the Jewish point of view, other than they hate Arabs. And I don't dislike or hate either group.
Both Arabs and Jews lived in my neighborhood. I was employed in my working career by both an Arab and a Jew. They were very memorable men. I think of each of them often. As children I played in the school yard with Arabs and Jews. I hope for the day when the United States of America will again be a Peacemaker. I wish for peace in the Middle East – it is way past due.