Ugliness rules

Joseph Aaron

It’s important to always be a mensch. Even when it comes to emails.

My greatest fear about the Trump and Bibi regimes is how their behavior is eroding civility in my two favorite countries. When leaders like them talk like they do, lie like they do, ignore democratic norms like they do, call the media ‘fake news’ like they do, dismiss any and all of the many criminal investigations into their behavior as a ‘witch hunt,’ savage their enemies, name call like they do, act on their psychological impulses like they do, it all filters down to the people.

What happens is that things that are not normal come to be accepted, we become numb to it, and little by little things take place that we used to be outraged by but which we barely notice now.

Both of them are totally free and empowered to act out all their fantasies. Trump, who has always skirted the law, done all kinds of shenanigans to make as much money as possible, is now in charge of the whole shebang. So he can pass tax cuts that benefit mostly the ultra-wealthy like him. He can eliminate regulations that make it easier for people like him to do their business no matter the consequence, he can appoint people to major positions that allow him to reward his buddies and punish his enemies. The kid truly is in charge of the candy store.

What’s interesting about the many things Trump and Bibi have in common is that they both were shaped by and very influenced by their very domineering fathers. Trump’s father taught him to be a ‘killer,’ his word, meaning someone who would do anything to anyone to further and enrich himself.

Bibi’s dad, a historian, was convinced that history has taught us that the world has always hated the Jews, will always hate the Jews and that only the Jews can protect the Jews. And so not to worry about what the world thinks of us because in the end the world is out to get us and will do nothing to help us.

It’s a lesson Bibi has learned well. And with his twin, Trump, now in the White House, he can give full vent to his psychoses. And so he’s going about systematically making second class citizens of minorities in Israel, since they are not Jews; alienating and insulting Diaspora Jews, since if they were good Jews they would be living in Israel; and eroding the foundations of democracy since democratic norms can’t be allowed to get in the way of making an Israel that he sees as strong. There’s no room for anyone who isn’t totally on board with his view of how a Jew is supposed to be.

We saw that yet again recently when two American-Jewish activists who live and work in Israel were detained by Israeli authorities for more than three hours at Egypt’s border with Israel. Simone Zimmerman and Abby Kirschbaum were returning from a weekend in the Sinai with friends. They both carry type B1 work visas registered with Israeli nonprofit human rights organizations.

Zimmerman said in a series of tweets that she was questioned by the agents from the Israel Security Agency, or Shin Bet, and they asked her why she came to Israel to work with Palestinians as opposed to with Jews. She also told the Israeli media that the security agents asked her about what places she has visited in the West Bank and what she thinks about Netanyahu.

This happened soon after Israel denied entry to Jewish-American activist Ariel Gold, who is involved in the social justice NGO CodePink, despite having a valid student visa. And after prominent Jewish philanthropist Meyer Koplow, chair of Brandeis University’s board of trustees and a longtime donor to pro-Israel causes, said he was aggressively questioned by Israeli airport security before leaving the country after going on a Jewish tour of Palestinian areas of the West Bank.

They might all be Jews, but evidently they don’t think like Jews are supposed to according to the current Israeli government. Look, you don’t have to like these Jews or what they believe or what they are doing. You can indeed be disgusted by it. But the whole point of a democracy and a Jewish state is that Jews are able to express whatever their opinions are, are not harassed for not toeing the government line.

You might not agree, might indeed be offended that I am bringing this up. And indeed it wasn’t what I intended to write about this time. And indeed I am sick of writing about Trump and Bibi, sick of watching things that were unimaginable not that long ago taking place every day, with too many not caring and too many cheering for they feel their day has come. Israel will be the Israel they want it to be, and if you don’t like it, tough. Sit down and shut up.

It’s all part of the wearing away of social and societal norms, of civility, of menschlichkeit. We are all staring at our phones all day, all busy not living life but making note of our lives for our next Facebook post, busy thinking up what our next clever tweet will be, no matter how ugly it is or how offensive it might be.

What particularly gets my goat are emails. People don’t seem to know how to act like a human being, act like a Jew when it comes to emails. I am sick of the fact that I email people and they don’t respond. At all. Even if I send a follow up email. Now I realize they might not have an answer I will like or want to hear but dammit, respond. An email is someone talking to you and it is beyond rude, beyond disgusting to just choose not to respond.

I can’t tell you how many emails I send out and get no response. And when people do respond, they seem to feel that they are free from social pleasantries. No ‘hi’ as a salutation, no ‘hope this finds you well.’ It’s usually just a curt, abrupt something and that’s it. No ‘be well’ at the end or ‘best regards’ or anything. They just vomit something out, which I guess is better than not responding at all, but I’m really not sure.

I am sick of it, just as I am getting sick of today’s world and of today’s Jewish world. For example, this column had to be written twice. That’s because when I was in the middle of writing it the first time, the screen out of the blue went blue. I was informed that ‘updates are now being installed’ even though I was in the middle of writing something, that it ‘would take a while’ and that there would be ‘several restarts’ before I would once again have control of my own computer.

And, of course, when it did finally come back, the column I had written was gone because I hadn’t yet saved it. Didn’t expect the computer Nazis to simply take over as I was writing, arbitrarily decide now was the time to install updates and not care that it would take a while even though I was on deadline.

Of course, I guess it was my own fault. After all, every hour or so a box popped up on my computer saying it would install updates in an hour but at least giving me the option of saying not now. I kept saying not now for a few days and so I guess it got tired of me not cooperating.

I am sick of how people act, and since most of those I deal with are Jews, I guess I am saying I am sick of how Jews behave these days. Sick of Jews who show no loyalty, no courtesy, who say they will get back to you but don’t, who tell you a story of what’s going on but then you see they have not been giving it to you straight, people who only do what’s good for them, people you have been working with for years suddenly deciding to ignore all that for whatever new thing has caught their fancy.

This behavior has been accelerating over the years, made worse by all the gadgets that have imprisoned us, caused us not to know how to look someone in the eye because you don’t have to anymore, can just shoot off a text or an email or a Facebook post or a tweet.

And watching Trump and Bibi ascend to the heights of power while behaving in ways that are not very nice only solidifies peoples’ belief that there is no price to pay for not being nice, indeed that there are great rewards to be had only looking out for yourself, treating others like dirt, failing to respect those who see things differently than you do.

I am depressed, feel like giving up, know I sound like an old fogey but things used to be different, people used to act differently, people related to each other differently, people lived by certain rules and norms and codes of conduct, used to value loyalty, used to value long relationships, used to believe in responding and to telling you the truth and being nice. Used to care more about being righteous than self-righteous, used to care more about values than about power.

I would so badly like to name names of people who have exhibited behavior lately that I find nauseating, people who have told me one thing but not done it, and maybe one day I will. I really feel like I’m at the end of my rope.

But then thankfully I had a nice phone call with Jerry and got a nice email from Batya.

Jerry told me everyone at his shul avidly reads the Chicago Jewish News every week and is always eager to read this column. They might not always agree with you, Jerry told me, but they make it a point to read you.

That made me feel good. Because among the many things that has got me down is how Trump has so distorted the role the media plays and the way journalists operate. I can tell you that after more than 40 years in journalism, almost every journalist I have ever known really cares about getting the facts right, really sees reporting as a calling, really works very hard to tell the whole story, is really committed to providing people with the best obtainable version of the truth.

I believe in quality journalism, in working hard to produce a publication that is engaging, gives all sides, tells interesting stories in engaging ways. But increasingly people seem not to want that. They only want journalism that agrees with them, don’t care about the quality of the journalism only that it matches with their political or religious view. If it does, the journalism can be garbage but people are happy. I have dedicated my life to quality journalism and am starting to feel it’s all for nothing in a world where people just want you to agree with them, never challenge them, never tell them anything they might not like, always and only give them what exactly matches with their point of view.

Which is why I so appreciated an email I got from Batya. It said, “keep it up!! Your column of July 27 was perfect, keep speaking truth to power. I live both in Evanston and Haifa, and the more voices we have like yours gives us all hope. More, more, louder, wider.”

While I so much appreciated her words, I fear she, and I, are increasing alone. We are living in a Jewish world increasingly devoid of menschlichkeit, a Jewish world where everyone is looking out for themselves and not giving a damn about anyone else.

1 Comment on "Ugliness rules"

  1. A Chicago reader | August 10, 2018 at 3:02 am | Reply

    Way too long…good points but you lose the reader after 10th paragraph. Common problem in these web posts.

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