“We” Are Not Winning The War

A prelude: For months I debated whether to publish this. I ask over and over again: Is the information current? Is it balanced and palatable to every position? Does it have to be April 1st? The answers inevitably return to a resounding “no”.  I must settle with that fact. Moreover, I speculate that publishing this is a way to sidestep people who will disagree with me instead of initiating conversation. I’ve seen these mistakes made in the past. I could simply ignore these hesitations and hit send, but no consideration is a luxury. 

Nevertheless, as guest speakers visit to inform us, and faculty host discussion rooms, I can only view these months as a historical moment for Olin, for which the most recent physical artifacts around the school are the advocacy flyers, whose messages boil away the nuance around the most complicated social issue I am forced to contend with. April is when the conversation has become relevant, and so this is when I will publish.

Preparing for my bar mitzvah, I planned to wrap candies in the Israeli flag as a thank you gift. My mother prohibited it. I didn’t understand at that time, but that was my first experience learning about the difference between embracing Judaism, my religion, and embracing the state of Israel. 

While I stayed in Edinburgh for a semester, I tried to reach out to the Jewish community in Scotland. I was not exceptionally active, but I went to one event. It was a Friday night Shabbat service, gathering Jewish societies from universities in the area. It was a pleasant service, and they invited an interesting speaker, a Scottish politician whose job it is to advise on Jewish affairs. He was an elegant speaker. Deceptively elegant, for he wove messages in his sentences that festered discord within me. He spoke about the success Scotland is making fighting hate crimes and hate speech. Then he said, “Right now, we are all fighting a war. And we are winning!” to a standing ovation… but that statement did not inspire applause from me. 

This ‘war’ refers to multiple conflicts, while similar, are separate in their goals. The first war is likely the one you are thinking of, the attacks in Israel and Palestine. The other ‘war’ is that of antisemitism, and the historical prejudices that perpetuate anti-Jewish sentiments. While both are systemic in nature, and the two are heavily intertwined, there are important differences. 

Israel is a country. Its actions should be treated as such, instead of pretending it acts on the will of the Jewish people. I, as a Jewish individual, do not necessarily align with the actions of Netanyahu and his cabinet simply because they head a predominantly Jewish state. My traditions and the way I was raised have little to do with Israel, if at all. My approach to antisemitism is never related to Israel. Not because of my alignment with the state, and not because I  strategically decide against invoking Israel. The fight for Israel is not the fight against antisemitism for me. 

This politician fused these two ‘wars’ together. He used the war in Israel to represent antisemitism at home and abroad. However, victory in one war does not necessitate the victory of the other. This is a common conflation, and a deliberate one. Israel the political body, the US, and other allied countries make this logical leap to expedite political support. They do this also to handwave political criticisms of Israel as bigotry: Align with Israel, or align with antisemitism. But I don’t need to agree with a government’s actions to advocate 

for my religious pride. I began learning this idea when I was thirteen. However, as I sat in the room with over 100 other Jews, I got a strange feeling that the sit-down from my mother is not one shared with the rest of my community. 

I thought I didn’t need to publish this for Olin. As I proofread these words, I speculate that I’m preaching too heavily to the congregation. Surely, I hoped, the people of this institution would equally make the distinction. However, I am confronted with flaws in that assumption. For many Jewish people, Israel is not a political entity, but a cultural entity. When interpreted from this view, an attack on Israel is an attack on the place that honors Jewish history in ways I cannot conceive. In this way, the tie between antizionism and antisemitism is recontextualized. I do not agree with this perspective, but I have learned it must be taken seriously.

After the service, I told a friend how the speaker’s words hit me so hard. Someone walking by missed the context, and asked what words they could have been. Providing the context, I repeated, ‘we are fighting a war, and we’re winning.”She paused, and replied, “No you’re not,” as she put a cigarette to her mouth. 

I don’t know what she meant by that. She could have referred to any of the things I talked about. But it doesn’t matter. I know it’s true regardless. 

Sure, Israel will win the ground war, no doubt about that, but Israel fights another war in the public eye. They are losing support from allies, with public support for Palestine in the US higher than it’s ever been. The UN condemns Israel’s actions, and now the country is under pressure for a ceasefire.‘We’ arenot winning this war.

The war against antisemitism persists, in stranger ways than you may expect. Of course, the anti-Israel voices are chock-full of antisemites, but Netenyahu protects them because he likes it this way. With these enemies, he can maintain the state’s image as the bastion against antisemitism, and he can pin dissent on alignment with Nazis. But there is antisemitism among zionists as well. John Hagee was a speaker at The March for Israel from last fall. He’s a televangelist, and his wikipedia has a whole section about his thoughts on Jews. My favorite line states, “[Hagee] claimed 

that the persecution of Jews throughout history, implicitly including the Holocaust, was due to the Jewish people’s disobedience of God”. It would take another 1200 words to explain why there are such prominent antisemitic zionists, but suffice it to say there’s more evidence to distinguish the two wars “we” are fighting. And we are not winning the war against antisemitism. 

But there’s one more war. It’s a war that I am fighting. I’m fighting for Jews and non Jews alike to thoughtfully continue the dialogue. I have seen the hostility from Oliners that keeps me from initiating more of these conversations. I’ve seen others fight this battle and lose their Jewish community over it. I’m scared to risk that. There are already so few Jews in the world to share solidarity, and every relationship like this is harder to find after one is destroyed. But this is a fight I must face, alongside other Jewish people who are torn between their nation of Judaism and the state of Israel. I hope I accurately described the difference between these battles, and how their conflation harms the success for Jews everywhere. And if I haven’t, well… 

then I’ve already lost this war.

No “Estamos” Ganando la Guerra

Un preludio: Durante meses debatí si publicar esto o no. Me preguntaba una y otra vez: ¿Es la información del día? ¿Está equilibrada y aceptable para todas las posiciones? ¿Tiene que ser el 1 de abril? Las respuestas inevitablemente devolvieron un “no” enfático. Debo conformarme con ese hecho. Además, puede que publicar esto sea una manera de evitar a las personas que estarán en desacuerdo conmigo en lugar de iniciar una conversación. He visto cometer estos errores en el pasado. Podría simplemente ignorar estas dudas y enviarlo, pero la falta de consideración es un lujo. Sin embargo, mientras conferenciantes invitados nos visitan para informarnos y el cuerpo docente organiza salas de discusión, solo puedo ver estos meses como un momento histórico para Olin, donde los folletos de defensa son los artefactos físicos más recientes alrededor de la escuela, cuyos mensajes simplifican la complejidad del problema social con el que me veo obligado a lidiar. Abril es cuando la conversación se vuelve relevante, y por eso es cuando publicaré.

Preparándome para mi bar mitzvá, planeaba envolver caramelos con la bandera de Israel como un regalo de agradecimiento. Mi madre lo prohibió. No entendí en ese momento, pero esa fue mi primera experiencia aprendiendo sobre la diferencia entre abarcar el judaísmo, mi religión, y abarcar al estado de Israel. 

Mientras pasaba un semestre en Edimburgo, intenté conectar con la comunidad judía en Escocia. No fui excepcionalmente activo, pero asistí a un evento. Era un servicio de Shabbat de viernes por la noche, reuniendo a sociedades judías de universidades en la zona. Fue un servicio agradable, e invitaron a un orador interesante, un político escocés cuyo trabajo es asesorar sobre asuntos judíos. Era un orador elegante. Engañosamente elegante, porque entrelazaba mensajes en sus frases que sembraban discordia dentro de mí. Hablaba sobre el éxito que Escocia está teniendo en la lucha contra los crímenes de odio y los discursos de odio. Luego dijo: “En este momento, todos estamos librando una guerra. ¡Y la estamos ganando!” ante una ovación de pie… pero esa declaración no inspiró aplausos de mi parte. 

Esta “guerra” se refiere a múltiples conflictos que, aunque similares, son diferentes en sus objetivos. La primera guerra probablemente sea la que estás pensando, los ataques en Israel y Palestina. La otra “guerra” es la del antisemitismo y los prejuicios históricos que perpetúan los sentimientos antijudíos. Aunque ambos son sistémicos y están fuertemente conectados, hay diferencias importantes.

Israel es un país. Sus acciones deben ser tratadas como tales, en lugar de pretender que actúa en nombre del pueblo judío. Yo, como individuo judío, no necesariamente me alineo con las acciones de Netanyahu y su gabinete simplemente porque lideran un estado predominantemente judío. Mis tradiciones y la forma en que fui criado tienen poco que ver con Israel, si es que tienen algo que ver. Mi enfoque sobre el antisemitismo nunca está relacionado con Israel. No por mi alineación con el estado, y no porque decida estratégicamente no invocar a Israel. La lucha por Israel no es la lucha contra el antisemitismo para mí. 

Este político combinó estas dos “guerras”. Utilizó la guerra en Israel para representar el antisemitismo en el país y en el extranjero. Sin embargo, la victoria en una guerra no implica la victoria en la otra. Esta es una confusión común, y deliberada. Israel como entidad política, Estados Unidos y otros países aliados hacen este salto lógico para acelerar el apoyo político. También hacen esto para describir las críticas políticas a Israel como fanatismo: Alinéate con Israel o alinéate con el antisemitismo. Pero no necesito estar de acuerdo con las acciones de un gobierno para defender mi orgullo religioso. Comencé a aprender esta idea cuando tenía trece años. Sin embargo, mientras estaba en la sala con más de 100 judíos, tuve una extraña sensación de que la conversación que tuve con mi madre no es un sentimiento compartido con el resto de mi comunidad. 

Pensé que no necesitaba publicar esto para Olin. Mientras corrijo estas palabras, especulo que estoy ya han experimentado estas ideas. Tenía esperanza de que la gente de esta institución haría igualmente la distinción. Sin embargo, me enfrento a fallos en esa suposición. Para muchas personas judías, Israel no es una entidad política, sino una entidad cultural. Cuando se interpreta desde este punto de vista, un ataque a Israel es un ataque al lugar que honra la historia judía de maneras que no puedo concebir. De esta manera, el vínculo entre el antisionismo y el antisemitismo se recontextualiza. No estoy de acuerdo con esta perspectiva, pero he aprendido que se debe tomar en serio. 

Después del servicio, le conté a un amigo cómo fue que las palabras del orador me impactaron tanto. Alguien que pasaba por allí y no tenía el contexto preguntó cuáles podrían haber sido las palabras. Dando el contexto, repetí: “Estamos librando una guerra, y la estamos ganando.” Ella se detuvo y respondió: “No lo están haciendo”, mientras se ponía un cigarrillo en la boca. 

No sé a qué se refería con eso. Podría haberse referido a cualquiera de las cosas de las que hablé. Pero da igual. Sé que es verdad de todos modos. 

Claro, Israel ganará la guerra terrestre, no hay duda al respecto, pero Israel pelea en el cual está involucrado el público. Están perdiendo apoyo de aliados, con un apoyo público a Palestina en los Estados Unidos más alto que nunca. La ONU condena las acciones de Israel, y ahora el país está bajo presión para un cese de hostilidades. Nosotros no estamos ganando esta guerra. 

La guerra contra el antisemitismo persiste, de formas más extrañas de lo que podrías esperar. Por supuesto, las voces anti-Israel están llenas de antisemitas, pero Netanyahu los protege porque le gusta así. Con estos enemigos, puede mantener la imagen del estado como bastión contra el antisemitismo, y puede atribuir la disidencia a la alineación con los nazis. Pero también hay antisemitismo entre los sionistas. John Hagee fue orador en la Marcha por Israel del otoño pasado. Es un telepredicador, y su página de Wikipedia tiene una sección completa sobre sus pensamientos sobre los judíos. Mi línea favorita dice: “[Hagee] afirmó que la persecución de los judíos a lo largo de la historia, incluido implícitamente el Holocausto, se debía a la desobediencia de Dios por parte del pueblo judío”. El artículo tarda otras 1200 palabras para explicar por qué hay sionistas antisemitas tan prominentes, pero basta decir que hay más evidencia para distinguir las dos guerras que estamos luchando. Y no estamos ganando la guerra contra el antisemitismo. Pero hay una guerra más. Es una guerra que estoy luchando. Estoy luchando para que los que son judíos y que no son continúen el diálogo de manera reflexiva. He visto la hostilidad de los estudiantes de Olin que me impide iniciar más conversaciones como esta. He visto a otros que lucharon en esta batalla y perdieron su comunidad judía por ello. Me da miedo arriesgarme a eso. Ya hay tan pocos judíos en el mundo para compartir solidaridad, y cada relación como esta es más difícil de encontrar después de que una se destruye. Pero esta es una pelea que debo enfrentar, junto con otros judíos que están divididos entre su nación del judaísmo y el estado de Israel. Espero haber descrito con precisión la diferencia entre estas batallas, y cómo su confusión perjudica el éxito de los judíos en todas partes. Y si no lo he hecho, pues…

Pues ya he perdido esta guerra.

What’s the Deal with slasreveR neveS?

Let’s begin at the end. I think that’s the most fitting for an analysis of a story like this. Reversal 6: The easiest scene to understand. The author has made a self insert from the character of Marla, and an insert for the audience in Jake. Jake is bored and confused because the play is not straightforward. Sure, the show is goofy, but it doesn’t feel substantive to him because it seems to have no cohesion. Jake calls her a Buttinski, which I learned means “One who is prone to butting in; a meddler.” The writer is literally butting in to tell the audience, “Hey! There’s something meaningful here!” Well, if the writer is so insistent on the layered meaning of this play, then perhaps we should do as Reversal 7 does: rewind, and start over. 

This will be a short summary/analysis of each of the main reversals present in slasreveR neveS. I hold a strong belief that each scene is trying to show the audience how the reversals they utilize each make a commentary about how we understand characters in other plays. I will not be engaging with any of the blue-out scenes. I find they encompass a different story. With that said, nigeb suh tel.

Reversal 1: Mixed speech. You kind of know what’s being said, but the longer you listen the less that makes sense. This is done to acclimate the audience to the zany nature of this show, but to also show us that words are not the necessary focus to understand the scene. The actors are forced to use their tone and physicality to convey the plot instead. The costumes do a lot of heavy lifting as well to represent character alignment. This is the more entertaining way to do it, after all. The lines should never be the sole focus of how a scene is told. 

Reversal 2: This scene does a reversal of character goals. Instead of putting focus on the time that is left, Ben and Robin focus on the game. That’s what’s important to them. And why shouldn’t it be? If Robin has cancer, will die very soon, and he got his will together and everything, then he deserves to see the Green Sox win. Who cares about the nuke? It’s not more realistic, but it’s a more honest and authentic way for these characters to live in the moment. Almost an anti-reversal of sorts.

Reversal 3: I don’t understand what is to be made of casting light on the actors before or after they take on the roles of their characters, but I have ideas about Nora, Martha, and Isabelle. The darkness indicates light, and the light is now darkness. Which means to me that when the spotlight shines in a certain direction as a character speaks, it is revealing darkness instead. For Nora, the spotlight is on Isabelle, as she laments about the optimism of her cousins. Nora can easily and succinctly identify the darkness within her cousins, making reasoned and self aware criticisms. Martha wishes to understand Nora, but cannot. That’s why the light moves to Nora’s book. Similar to my CD experience, she can only get external, surface level insights about the people she cares about. As Isabelle speaks, however, the light is brought to random locations around the set. She doesn’t care about the darkness within her cousins. She only cares about their capacity to serve her ends. To Isabelle, they are “2 halves of the same heart, that organ being [her] own.” This works the same, yet almost opposite to scene 1, in that we are removing our ability to perceive the physicality of the characters, but this time we learn about them through the range of the lighting. 

Reversal 4: I have a personal headcanon for this one. I believe that this scene is the position all the characters want to be in. The Villain, as a child, just wants to be loved. Gwen, now as a villain, gets to enjoy having the power to control other people, instead of other people controlling her. Mother, as the hero, has the resources to help all the people she cares about. Lastly, the Hero, now taking the role as the mother, gets to have a more personal role, not as a savior, but as a friend. It is a common narrative tool for characters to assume the role of another character. However, it’s rarely utilized so explicitly.

Reversal 5: Finally, we reach the end of the middle. The grand whodunnit. What’s great about this scene is that because of the main reversal, that of the murderers are now fighting for all the credit, additional, smaller reversals can be packed in. The detective, for example, is no longer the subject of admiration for skill or deductive reasoning. He is now only a vessel to direct admiration to other characters. The maid, which in many stories can also be the butler, is the only person in this house to have not made a kill. The primary reversal of this scene is similar to the second scene, about reversed priorities. But again, this becomes an anti reversal, because villains already love going on diabolical monologues about their evil plans. But don’t we all just want attention after a job well done?

Why He Smiles

Performing in FWOP, I most loved getting to scare the shit out of the audience as the Proprietor, for which I received the most praise for my smile. But when my dad asked me, “Why does your character smile so much?” I forgot that my reasoning isn’t intuitive. It took the entire production for me to get a small grasp of who the Proprietor is, and what motivates him. So why does the Proprietor smile? Allow me to offer my interpretation.

The Proprietor tells the audience his message most explicitly in one of the last songs, “Another National Anthem.” The Proprietor rejects the “song” sung by those who enjoy the fruits of America’s wealth. This contrasts with the Balladeer, who claims the anthem still rings true. Throughout the show, they both attempt to convince the Assassins, and thus the audience, of their position. Each scene the Balladeer is in, their goal is to prove how failure is a matter of work ethic. The Proprietor lures vulnerable Americans into his game so he can make his point: these assassins would never obtain their prize. Every game they played was rigged.

This leaves the audience with a seeming contradiction. If the game the Proprietor offers, that of shooting the president, is rigged by the Proprietor, then it doesn’t make sense for the assassins to side with him in “Another National Anthem.” They understand that the game is rigged. They should fight against the systems that rigged it, i.e. the Proprietor. The answer is because the Balladeer is wrong about the anthem. The Balladeer is the archetype of liberal capitalism, claiming the only quality needed to succeed is the hard work to win a prize. Sure, everyone lives in lies, but America is the place to “make the lies come true.” To the Balladeer, the assassins got what was deserved.

These assassins already played other games in the carnival. Czolgosz and Guiteau couldn’t get better work. Zangara doesn’t get treatment for his stomach. Fromme, Byck and Hinckley don’t get the attention they desire. Moore and Booth can’t make their statement. Now they are desperate, searching for someone who will validate their grievances. The Proprietor offers his hand. However, the Proprietor doesn’t steer these characters in a constructive direction. Instead, he fuels their spite. The assassins don’t care about fixing their problems. Instead, they vengefully shout to the country, “this is what you have done to me!” They conclude there is no solution. There is only destruction. 

The Proprietor is also driven by spite. He sees America’s inequalities too. To prove the Balladeer wrong, he turns Americans against the American anthem, and he finds sadistic glee in his success. He smiles when he finds victims to radicalize. He sits back when they aim for the president, and he is happy to be the executioner against each assassin. 

It is in his role as executioner where the Proprietor reveals his colors. He isn’t a rebellious outsider. Instead, he stands alongside the Balladeer as a part of the American machine. In this way, he displays to the audience that he didn’t just rig his own game—he rigged them all. The Proprietor is the one who keeps people from succeeding in America. He rigs the game, exclaims that it’s rigged, and then insists the way to fix it is by playing another extreme, rigged game. The Balladeer, in their effort to bolster the American dream, denies the Proprietor’s power, which leads to the anthem’s downfall.

The Proprietor represents something to me through the act of rigging the system, calling out that it’s rigged, and then rigging 

it further. It reminds me of a specific political block. It’s what Republicans do when they complain about national debt and then cut taxes for the rich. It’s what pundits like Tucker Carlson do when they fetishize freedom of speech but accuse protesters of being anti-American. It’s what Trump did when he sued over voter fraud while coercing governors to “find” hundreds of votes in their states in 2020. Then, just like when the Proprietor emboldened the assassins to attack the Balladeer, so too did Trump with his supporters on Jan. 6, 2021.

The Proprietor is a fascist; but he’s a specific kind. The Proprietor doesn’t care about the people he uses, only the pain he can inflict on his enemies for believing America could ever be good for its people. He only cares about the power he wields to torture those he hates. He’s an anti-American coated in the country’s flag, claiming to be a patriot when his actions contradict such claims. The musical, Assassins debuted in 1990. Even so, this other national anthem rings in my ears. I believe even today, the Proprietor still has something to smile about.