TT with HD: Henry Herskovitz
HH: How much do you weigh?
HD: Like 160?
HH: I'm about 148.
HD: I know you're a retired engineer. Do you know the Law of the Lever?
HH: Oh, sure.
HD: Which is?
HH: Well, it's just my weight times this distance and your weight times that distance, so you may have to get closer to the fulcrum center than I. Do we have to be moving the whole time?
HD: Well ... there's no hard and fast rule but I mean as long as we're here we might as well. I would prefer to sort of totter along through the conversation. I'm not sure what that popping noise is. It emerged during my last tottering session. I think it's of no concern.
HH: All I can do is fall three feet ... unless something seriously goes wrong with the gravitational system.
HD: Alright, well, you said it was almost warm enough for a motorcycle ride, but in one of the emails that you sent when we were arranging a tottering time, you said that really it didn't matter what the temperature was, as long as it was above freezing?
HH: Yeah, mostly. I was just stressing that if it's something that I like enough, like motorcycling, then I'll get uncomfortable to do it.
HD: But not to the point of going below freezing?
HH: Well, then you get into dangers. If there's ice on the road or something like that, with a motorcycle, I don't think that would be good.
HD: So is that how you get around? Is that your personal transportation?
HH: No, I have a car and a motorcycle. I don't know, I think motorcycling is either in your blood or it's not. I would hate to convince somebody to try it and then have them have an accident or something like that. I mean, I turn people onto it and they either love it or don't. Ten, eleven years ago, I joined a club out of Youngstown, Ohio. I thought I was a long-distance rider before that. But then when I rode with these guys, it was like a new world. They came up from Youngstown one year when the rally ... 'rally' is another word for idiot convention ... the national rally for BMW motorcycles was in Missoula, Montana. So they come and pick me up and we go north to the bridge and at the end of the first day we're at the Wisconsin border, which is about 610 miles.
HH: And the second day was about 750. We were on the Montana border with North Dakota at the end of the second day of travel. And I said, These guys really pour on the miles! There's no fooling around!
HD: So how does that work if you're riding along with a group and you've reached the end of your tolerance?
HH: They made fun of me a lot. I tend to want to take a nap and sometimes forced the group over to wait 20 minutes. Because if I can take my nap, in 20 minutes I'm good for the rest of the day.
HD: So you're able to just pull over and nap for 20 minutes? You can actually fall asleep?!
HH: I can sleep on concrete.
HD: But I mean just instantaneously?
HH: Just about. When I'm that tired, I can.
HD: But you have to be trying to fall asleep?
HD: Okay, well I just wanted to ask because, How much attention do I have to pay to make sure you don't fall asleep and fall off the totter, is really what I'm asking.
HH: If I get tired I'll tell you I'm tired! But you know, in riding or driving, I do get tired. I get sleepy. But I just need that 20 minute down time, then I'm good.
HD: What is it that is so enjoyable about it, but that doesn't keep you say constantly alert and refreshed?
HH: Well, I just think it's very, very relaxing and then the payoff for riding two and a half days to Colorado is you get to ride in the Rockies. And unlike Michigan, where the roads are pretty much straight, I mean, we think that Huron River Drive is a curvy road. The Rockies are something else. You've got uphill, downhill ... I knew a woman, she was married to a man who was a computer gamer and he would play live war games. At first I just said, Jeez, that's a stupid way to spend your time, it's just mindless! And I realized, quite shamefacedly I think, that it's exactly what I do when I'm riding the motorcycle. Because when you ride the motorcycle you have to be aware of a zillion different things more than you would, if you were just in a car: road conditions, gravel, oncoming traffic, traffic going this way, partners in line. Mostly it is picking a line in a curve. For instance, for safety, if the curve goes to the left, you want to be on the far right part of the the road. On a left-hand turn, you want to stay in the right tire track so oncoming traffic will see you quicker ... There's a zillion things you gotta think of. And when you're executing a curve at speed, you are just like the computer gamer. You are mentally processing information, which then becomes useless. Because once the curve is back there, then it doesn't matter any more and the next curve is coming up.
HD: Right, you either stayed upright or you didn't. So the rallies that you mentioned, you go just to ones specific to BMW or also general motorcycle rallies?
HH: There's some of each. We mostly go to the BMW ones. It invites other bikes, too. In other words, if you were my motorcycle friend and you had a Suzuki, you could come to the rally.
HD: So there's a certain brand loyalty you have to BMW? What is it, the ride itself? Is it the mechanics involved? As an engineer, do you take the thing apart and put it back together?
HH: No, I'm not that good. I can work on it for oil changes and certain maintenance. My job this month or next is going to be to order new shock absorbers and install them. And that will about the height of my wrench ability. Taking the gas tank off this particular bike is challenging. I've done that before, but that kind of a mechanical engineer I wasn't. I wasn't a very hands-on kinda guy. But I can do my own oil changes.
HD: So what is it about the BMW as a brand that appeals ... ?
HH: I think there's an arrogance about it, which I enjoy. I met a man once who was an older guy. He said, Let me tell ya, there's two kinds of motorcycles. And I said, Oh yeah? What? And he said, There's BMW's and there's all the rest. And I said, You arrogant guy. That was before I owned one. Then I bought one at the Manchester Chicken Broil.
HD: I've never been to that, but I've heard about it.
HH: The Manchester Chicken Broil? I haven't been in a long time. But this one was parked there and said, Buy Me! And I did.
HD: So you bought it used.
HH: I bought it used. It was a 750cc motorcycle. At the time I had a 450cc Honda. And it was kind of like a joke how slow the BMW was off the line. Then I realized it was like a semi. I mean, you can beat the semi off the line no matter what. But the semi is on the road all day long and he's going 70, 80 miles and hour. And that's what this bike'll do. Pick any speed you want and it will do it. Whereas the Honda felt a little stressed after 65 miles an hour. Since then I've been nothing but BMW, and I've been loyal.
HD: What kind of mileage do you get?
HH: About 45. If we ever behaved ourselves, it would be a little bit better. I got a speeding ticket coming out of Colorado this year. I said to a friend in the Youngstown club, I got like an 80 in a 65. And he said he got written up for 114 miles an hour. But to answer your original question, what I think is good about BMW is, this particular model that I have comes in second in every category. So in other words, through the twisties in the Rockies, the Honda, Kawasaki crotch rockets are a little faster, but ...
HD: ... okay, is that the actual model name?
HH: Crotch rocket? No that's just a slang term for it. It looks like it would make your back hurt if you just sat on it.
HH: And if you just had to stay on the interstate and go from here to LA and back, you'd be better off on a Honda Gold Wing, what we call a land yacht. You know, rrrrrmmm down the road, but they're helpless once you get them into the twisties. So with all the categories stacked up, nimbleness, comfort, etcetera etcetera etcetera I think the Beemer comes in first overall. Even though it doesn't score first in any of the categories. So that's my shtick on that.
HD: You mentioned misbehaving. Speeding is one way to misbehave on a motorcycle. Another way, I guess, here in Michigan is not to wear a helmet. How do you feel about helmet laws?
HH: Well, I feel you should always wear a helmet.
HD: But there's a difference between believing you should always wear a helmet ... For example, I believe that I should wear a bicycle helmet, but I think it'd be a bad idea to introduce legislation that would require bicyclists to wear helmets.
HH: I see the personal freedom issue, too. But I'm not clear, and I guess I should be in order to really voice an opinion, ... you know, find out if the non-helmet-wearing motorcyclists cause my insurance rates to go up or not. If I want to take a risk that you don't want to take, I see that as my personal choice. But if my choice causes you to pay more insurance to ride your motorcycle with your helmet on, that, to me is, is unfair. Have I researched that to find out if that's true? No, I don't know. I sense it is true. So that's one reason why I'll say, Helmet! The BMW model that I have is part of the windstream. So take my helmet off, and I could go about 50 miles an hour before it's just too much. Whereas with the full-face helmet, it just becomes part of the package. So for me it's a no-brainer, it's automatic.
HD: A couple of minutes ago, that cat wandered by. He's not our cat, but he thinks he's our cat sometimes. You mentioned in one of these emails that we sent back and forth that one of my neighbors buys your cats Christmas presents every year?
HD: I guess the obvious question is: what'd they get for Christmas this year?
HH: Oh, they just got a couple of mice. You know, furry things. And of course the one cat liked the little origami for the package, so that was kinda cute.
HD: So you have how many cats?
HH: I have two. Two now. You have none?
HD: We have two. They're extremely shy so, they tend to dive under the nearest piece of furniture or down to the basement if they hear a strange voice
HH: That's too bad. I just lost my third one. Well, didn't just lose. In March, but it was a painful loss.
HH: Yeah, he was my boy.
HD: How old was he?
HH: He was eighteen. It was probably time. He went down fast so that was probably in some ways a blessing.
HD: So do you let'em go outside and roam around?
HH: They're out now. They're cute in their own way, but they're not like Roger.
HD: Roger? I don't think I've ever heard of a cat named Roger. Is he named after somebody?
HH: He was named after a guy, yeah. You know, I'm in this very confrontative business, and egos are a big part of what I deal with and see and observe in other people. And, of course, in myself, too. Because we always need a mirror. And this man named Roger came to my house to do some electrical work. He appeared to me to be like a man without an ego.
HD: Hmmm ...
HH: He just was nice, a really nice guy. And I knew I wasn't going to see him any more and I'd just gotten this orange cat from the Humane Society. So I gave him the name. I thought he was quality enough to take this guy's name. Roger was sweet. I'd come home from work and I'd pick him up and he would smell like different perfume every day.
HD: Hmm, so was he visiting the neighbor ladies?
HH: Yeah, the neighbor ladies would come over and pick him up you know and he'd love 'em. I could tell you, well, we wouldn't have enough daylight to tell you all the Roger stories.
HD: You mentioned the 'business' that you're in. That's a reference to the vigils specifically or just in general the ...
HH: ... in general the topic. Because this is a topic that nobody wants to touch. Even liberal lefty progressives. Even people that call themselves progressives will be 100 per cent on every other issue except Palestine. And there they back off. What we're doing, people say, it's too outrageous, it's too in-your-face. Immediately they go, What's his problem?! What's Henry's problem? He's got a huge ego or something!?
HD: Well, it's easier I think to turn it into an ad hominem argument, because then it becomes about you, personally ...
HH: Yeah, well, strange that you should mention it. The powers-that-be, and we don't need to turn on any kind of spooky music when I talk about powers-that-be. It's very straightforward. There is the Hillel Foundation in many universities and they have a very strong Hillel Foundation here in this community. They have produced a 135-page handbook called the Hasbara Handbook and it teaches students how to argue in Israel's favor on campus. They have to teach them how to argue, because they don't have truth on their side. It includes chapters on name-calling. There's a rabbi saying we're a bunch of psychotics, because if you can label me as a psychotic on a teeter totter here, then your audience doesn't need to really care what Henry Herskovitz has to say. And we have a very strong organized Jewish community whose interests are served by the silencing of this debate. In fact, it was the silencing that brought me to the table to do anything. All this is kind of my canned introductory story to the synagogue vigils. Three years ago I went to Palestine and worked for the International Solidarity Movement.
HD: Was that your first time to visit there?
HH: That was my second. The first time I went was with a local peace activist and she organized, and I think she still organizes, tours into the West Bank. She would organize tours and we would go meet people like teachers, university professors, independent business women, medical facilities, ...
HD: ... sort of a cross-section of society?
HH: Well, I thought, Not. I called it a high-brow tour. We would stay at an East Jerusalem Hotel. We would get picked up by a bus everyday and we'd drive through this and that. We'd park and we'd get off and we'd see kids. At one point she made us get off the bus and walk through a military checkpoint. These checkpoints are not like the Ambassador Bridge where the checkpoint separates Canada from the United States. These were military checkpoints within a land. It was from Palestinian territory into Palestinian territory. What's the checkpoint serving? Pretty much to hassle people.
HD: Well, okay, this was the central point that you made in your last letter to the editor.
HH: Oh, you did read that?
HH: I guess that's what it's there for. Yeah, absolutely. Because most people don't know. When they quote [Council Member] Joan Lowenstein in the paper, she says checkpoints are like what you have at the Mexican border. Wrong, Joan! She has another agenda. And her agenda is very easy to understand.
HD: As long as you brought her up, I want to assure you that whatever happens after this, I'm not going to turn around and ride the teeter totter backwards.
HH: Um, why would you do that?
HD: I'm alluding to the city council meeting, where she swiveled her chair around ...
HH: Ah, I see, yes. Yes, very good. This would be a suggestion for you: get Joan on the other side and you sit there [pointing to lawn chair?].
HH: Well, there or anywhere else.
HD: So, you mean, you and Joan would teeter totter?
HD: Well, I've got no objection to that. Although ... I'd be missing out on the teeter tottering fun.
HH: That's right.
HD: Well, teeter totters occurred to me as a possible metaphor for some of the level of rhetoric that you and your group are associated with. And I'm not even sure if this is correct, but was it your group that put out the pamphlets that talked about the city council being the 'Ku Klux Klan Council'? Or was that just some one ...?
HH: That's someone in our group that in many cases acts in an ill-advised manner. But he is my friend. And I know where he's coming from. He's done for 25 years what I've done for three or four years.
HD: Well, my analysis of that is sort of in terms of the teeter totter, the Law of the Lever. That if you want to have a balanced public discourse and you're in the minority ... [cell phone ring] You want to get that?
HH: I should have turned it off, I'm sorry! ... I'm on the teeter totter ... Remember? Homeless Dave? My interview? ... Yeah, you caught me. Now I'm down. Now I'm up ... I'll call you, when I leave here. Okay, thanks. Sorry!
HD: So anyway, if you apply the Law of the Lever to public discourse, if you're in the small minority, and if the weights stay the same, then you're forced to go away from the middle in order to achieve balance. You have to go as far out as you can in order to achieve balance. If you have a teeter totter of infinite length, then theoretically, no matter how small a minority you are you can always find the extreme point that you have to go to have an effect and balance out the discourse. So when I see something like that [Klu Klux Klan Concil] I can analyze it in those terms. At the same time, I kind of feel like, it's really the verbal equivalent of taking a crap on someone's head. It certainly gets their attention. But the response is not gonna be, Oh I see how serious you are now and how much you care, so let me sit down and talk to you now. The response is going to be, Well, that's just frickin gross. You know what I'm saying?
HH: Yeah, I can see what you're saying. But you've said a lot of things. The teeter totter, I hadn't thought about it. But I even carry one with my talks, though it's not a teeter totter. It's a scale of justice. And what I do, it's not quite teeter tottering, but it does involve balance. I'll show a slide and the slide says, This is just one measure of the total imbalance. I say, Which side has tanks? And the numbers are 2950 tanks for Israel, Palestine has zero. F15 fighter jets: 230, zero. Apache Helicopters Huey Cobra helicopters? Palestine, zero. You know what I'm saying?
HH: I have my scales like this: completely out of whack. I get accused all the time of bringing an unbalanced view to the situation. That I don't take the Israeli side. That I don't take Ariel Sharon's side on this issue. And of course, I don't. The situation is unbalanced. If I take a balanced side, let's say I put five pounds of weight on each of these scales, what's going to happen? Nothing's going to happen, because I will maintain the existing imbalance. My job is to focus on this bucket here. And in my talk I put little grains of corn in it and we achieve balance.
HD: But here's where I think the teeter totter's a better metaphor. With a teeter totter, you can focus not just on the weight in the bucket, this bucket here, or on that bucket only. I also don't have to necessarily slide away from the middle and become more and more radical. I can work on trying to talk the guy on the other end into also getting closer to the middle because that would also balance it out.
HH: Yeah. Well, then that would cause me to ask you, Who is the other guy on the end? As far as you see the vigils?
HD: As far as I see the vigils? Because it's a very local event, I see it as the Beth Israel Temple.
HH: The congregants inside?
HD: Well, whoever. Whoever speaks for them. I assume it's rabbis. I don't know, having grown up a Methodist. I'm not really well-versed in how the structure works. What does the org chart look like for a synagogue? I have no clue. I mean, I did look at their website. And I have to say, I was surprised by some of the positions taken in some of the sermons. So for example, some of the settlements are destructive and are harmful to Palestinians. There's an acknowledgement of that. So I thought, Well that's not the most conservative position you could possibly take. So the guy on the other end of the totter, from my perception, ... the way the guy on the other end of the totter could move closer to the center, would be if they invited you into the synagogue for a discourse? That's the specific request?
HH: Yeah, or make any noise.
HD: Is it important that it actually be into the synagogue? I understand the symbolic importance of that for your group, but would it work for you and one of the rabbis to have a teeter tottering session? Would that say be enough to say, Okay we'll stop the vigils?
HH: We have in our own minds things that the synagogue could do to end the vigils. I think they have the power to end the vigils. They have exhibited nothing in that arena that indicates to me or anybody else that they're interested in doing that.
HD: So it's more than inviting you to a conversation then?
HH: Well, one conversation ain't gonna get it. It would probably be series of discussions over a period of months. And we would probably end the vigils out in front of the synagogue.
HD: But what if the outcome of the series of discussions was, Yeah, we're gonna keep doing what we're doing, and we're glad we did this and we're glad we know a little bit more about you, but basically we're not going to change the way we do business? I'm saying, putting myself in the shoes of whoever might be the actual guy who gets on the other end of the teeter totter or invites you into the synagogue: We're going to go to all of this effort, the vigils might be suspended during this time, but at the end if Henry and his group don't get what they want somehow, then it's back to vigils. And they'll find some way to figure out how they really didn't get what they want.
HH: That puts a lot of power in my court, that I don't think is really there. I think it's interesting that you've likened the vigils to crapping on somebody's head.
HD: Well, not the vigils. I didn't mean the vigils. I meant specifically those pamphlets that introduced the Ku Klux Klan in connection with the city council.
HH: Well, I'm not trying to give you a hard time. I'm just saying that whatever irritative effect that we might have on this community needs to be juxtaposed, needs to be teeter tottered with, to use your term, with the atrocities that Israel is performing daily on the Palestinian people. Which goes far beyond crapping on someone's head. I mean, I'm not trying to defend Blaine Coleman. He's gonna do what he does. Maybe this is a failure in what we do. We fail to really focus on what's happening over there. I mean we haven't even talked about that yet on the teeter totter here. We start off saying, The vigils are really an assertive, confrontative method, what's it going to take to end the vigils? It could be a whole other conversation: what are the vigils trying to say? What elevation and awareness are we trying to achieve? And this is where I was going [in asking who the guy on the other end of the teeter totter is vis-a-vis the vigils] In a big sense, we have morphed over the two years. Yes, our initial audience was the congregants. We wanted them to change their ways. To stop funding Israel. Basically that's our goal, and to have the organized Jewish community be the key player in that. I talked earlier about Hillel, and the force of the organized Jewish community on campus. And the Hasbara Handbook. On page one of this manual is that the target is not people like me, but it's the general public. It's people like you. That is the target. We've taken a page out of that Hasbara Handbook and said, The congregants are no longer our target.
HD: I see.
HH: It's the 98-percent of the country that isn't Jewish. We get an awful lot of support from the traffic on Washtenaw, because what's happening is ... this is conjecture on my part ... but non-Jewish people are driving by and they're somehow seeing a protest in front of a synagogue. And they sometimes see the word 'Jewish'. And they may assume that some of us are Jewish and some of us are.
HD: ... how ...
HH: A third of us. And that enables non-Jewish people who might be hesitant to criticize Israel, it gives them a little more spine, a little more courage ...
HD: But I have to say that's a pretty easy and empty thing to do to, honk your horn ... so I don't know.
HH: It could be. But I do know that the ability for the Christian world to criticize the Jewish world is very tiny. The theologian Marc Ellis, a Jewish professor at Baylor in Texas, talks about the 'Ecumenical Deal'. Here's the ecumenical deal: you're a Christian, I'm a Jew. I won't hold you responsible for the Holocaust, if you don't criticize Israel. And people buy into that very strongly.
HD: I think it's generational guilt that plays into it. What do you think about the possibility that it's just really gonna take the passage of time, not vigils, not protests, not speeches, not the best efforts of politicians, but the passage of time, so the last generations who had that mindset, they're dead and buried and it's new generations?
HH: Well. That brings forth a couple of comments. One is that if anybody, you included, can show us a better way to deal with this issue to protest this issue to bring awareness about this issue, about this horrendous genocide that's happening as we teeter, I'll do it, we'll do it. We don't have the arrogance to think that this is the be-all end-all in things to do in activism. But time is running out. Israel is winning. The supporters of Israel in this country are winning. You could see it last month when they held the fund-raiser for Jewish Federation of Washtenaw County. A million dollars was raised or 950 thousand. Palestinians don't have the luxury of time. The scales are so unbalanced as it is, the teeter totter is so overwhelmingly in favor of Israel at this point, that left to its own devices, the tanks are just going to run right through. Jerusalem, as we teeter, is being sealed off by the illegal settlements. They're going to seal off Jerusalem from the West Bank. The point that you made about the people who have the memories will be dead and buried? That ain't gonna happen, because you got guys like Steven Spielberg cranking out Holocaust movies. Think of our mindset. We have a National Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC, but it's not a National Holocaust Museum about the slavery Holocaust, which happened on this soil. It's not a museum dedicated to the native Americans who we ran off all this land and slaughtered. It talks about a war that didn't happen anywhere in this whole country. I mean, talk about power! By the way, is the sun too much in your eyes?
HD: No, I'm good, actually. I'm just thinking we might want to switch ends when we shoot the picture. When you mentioned the sun earlier, I thought, I don't know what Henry's talking about with the sun, because we're not going to be teeter tottering that long, you know ... go ahead.
HH: ... Now Ariel Sharon is being portrayed as a man whose life was cut short just as he was about to execute peace. He's already pulled out of Gaza! This was a man of peace! George Bush said he's a man of peace. Wow! That should tip us all off. Sure, he pulled out of Gaza. What does that mean? When I rob your house and then get found guilty and give it back, I shouldn't be given an atta-boy for giving back what I stole. That was stolen land. And the big shell game is that 8500 settlers came out of Gaza, 15,000 went into the West Bank at the same time. This is the urgency with which we have to deal with this issue. Since 1989 there's been 175 Holocaust movies cranked out of Hollywood. So you may think, Oh yeah, time will heal all wounds. It's in the Zionists' best interests to not let that happen. And they're doing at a fantastic rate. Last month, Congress 423 to nothing voted January the National Jewish History Awareness Month.
HD: I thought January was Black History Month.
HH: Well, surprise. You hear me talking about this imbalance and this power [nationally], but the organized Jewish Community is incredibly powerful in this city. I have a copy of a letter, it's from Dr. Barry Gross from Beth Israel synagogue to the mayor. And it says, We have been picketed ... and that's an incorrect assessment of what we do, we hold vigils, but he uses the word 'picket' and it's a free country he can write what he wants ...
HD: ... well, I mean you hold signs, right?
HH: We hold signs, yes.
HD: Well, I mean just semantically, I think that it fits ...
HH: I would offer that the difference is that a 'picket' tries to keep people out of Kroger's: Please honor our strike and don't shop here. What we say is, Please come into the synagogue and pray. Look at our signs and think about it when you're praying. Give it some thought. That's all we're saying. But please come in. We keep nobody out. In fact, one day early in the vigils, they needed another Jewish man inside for a minyan, that's the minimum number of Jews you need for a prayer to take place, and I went in. So I fully support the right of Jews to pray. You had a question?
HD: I was just wondering, you said you went into the synagogue to help them form the minyan. Did that raise any eyebrows?
HH: Yeah it did, but I was only there for a short time. And then two other men trickled in. And then I could leave and my job was complete for the day.
HD: Okay, so I derailed you from talking about the letter.
HH: Well, it's to the mayor, and it says, We've been picketed for X number of months and ...
HD: Is this the letter that ... I think I may have already read it online or about it ... that makes reference to, We'll be watching with our votes? Or something to that effect?
HH: We represent 470 families, we vote, and we'll be watching carefully for your reaction. What happened 53 days later? The city council passed a resolution condemning our vigils. Is that a show of power! This isn't a conspiracy theory. All I can say is a letter happened, and a resolution followed. And that's not the only case we had from pressure from the organized Jewish community. A year ago last month, 33 clergy members of this community signed a letter critical of our vigils. I don't think they used the word 'condemn'. The Ann Arbor News editorial staff editorialized against our vigils calling them a 'cynical' exercise. I don't know what 'cynical' means. I mean, I didn't understand how they used it. Like we had another issue? The police chief, the recently departed Dan Oates, would carry on a clergy-police conference and last year, they were going to talk about the vigils. And he called me downtown to his office and he asked that I not specifically not attend ...
HD: ... not attend your own vigils ...?
HH: Not attend the conference between the police and the clergy. It happens every year. There was enough wind in the mill that he heard that they were going to talk about the vigils. So the quid pro quo was that he read a 3-minute statement from me and I promised not to show up. I was a person of my word, you know, and didn't [attend]. But that's the effect that the organized Jewish community can have. Just recently the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice Steering Committee wrote us a letter asking us to stop the vigils. We wrote back a letter asking them a couple of questions of clarity within their letter. They're not even going to respond. Because they did what they were supposed to do. The organized Jewish community said, Help us! And they said, What if we write them a letter and say quit the vigils? And they said, Okay that's good enough. I mean it's gangster tactics. We have people who are afraid to write who are afraid to stand with us because they have teaching jobs and they don't want to lose them.
HD: At the university or public schools?
HH: At a university here in town. ... ... ... A friend of mine and I were asked to speak at the Neutral Zone and I'm talking to these kids, a good number of which are Jewish kids. Jewish families raise their children the same way, the same way I was raised: that Israel is a little country besieged by all these Arabs, ...
HD: ... needs all the help it can get ...
HH: ... want to push the Jews into the sea, Arabs hate Jews. And when you as an adult de-mthyify a myth, you can never go back. Once you learn that Israel is the fourth mightiest military in the world with 200 nuclear weapons, you can't go back to little tiny David-and-Goliath Israel.
HD: But if we go straight to a solution where there is no State of Israel, which I take is the central goal of your group? or am I wrong?
HH: Well, our goal is to stop US aid. But if you want to talk about the morality of an ethno-religious supremacist state, you know, we can talk about that too.
HD: I don't think I'm actually equipped intellectually to do that.
HH: Well, just hear your own words: There'd be no Israel.
HD: I'm asking, What is the solution, if you eliminate the State of Israel?
HH: It's the solution that looks exactly like South Africa. Where the country still stays but the racist laws are abolished. And everybody lives as equals.
HD: So that would be the model for the end result? Historically I'm not really familiar with what the mechanism was for getting from an apartheid state to where we are now. For all I know it could still be in process.
HH: In South Africa you mean?
HH: I don't know. I'm not a historian. I don't know all this. I just know that it began with truth and reconciliation. And what Israel doesn't want is truth and reconciliation. Think about what we do on Saturday morning. People say, Oh that's so distasteful! Standing in front of a synagogue?! Why don't you let them pray?! If we held signs that said, We Stand with Israel! We support Israel!, they would love us out there. They wouldn't care that we were making political reference in front of a synagogue. So it's our message that is the issue.
HD: Let me ask you just a nuts-and-bolts question about signs. From week to week, since you are out there every week, I imagine the signs wear out? I mean they have a certain life span. So what's the actual physical nuts and bolts of making new signs? Is it a group activity? How do the messages get chosen? Do people just make them up on their own? Do they have to be submitted to some group consensus approval? Tell me about that process.
HH: Okay, I can speak to that. I have a friend in town who's a sign maker. These signs aren't going to wear out for a long time. They're weatherproof signs, plastic on plastic board. They're gonna last a while. I had initially modeled our vigils after the Chicago group, Not in My Name, who hold vigils at Water Tower Plaza. It's a shopping area. They do it on Sunday's and their signs say, End Israeli Occupation, Chicago Jews Against the Occupation, blah blah. And we had signs initially like that. Then they evolved. I had different ideas and I put them out there. We have coffee debriefings every Saturday ... they're not really 'debriefings' we're just trying to warm up, ... and they say, Hey, Henry, how about a sign like this? And I'll say, Okay, I'll have him make us a sign. For instance, someone just came up with a sign that said, Ethnic Supremacy: Wrong in Germany, Wrong in Israel. And she holds that. Her mother wanted a sign with red and green, Human Rights for Palestinians. So we made that. And on the other side of the fence, I'll tell you that sometimes people have signs made that we don't feel that they're effective or they are ...
HD: What's an example?
HH: An example is Blaine's sign that says, Stop Crucifying Palestine, and we felt ...
HD: Hmmm, the word 'crucify' has a certain inflammatory effect ...
HH: Well, I'm not afraid of being inflammatory. I'm afraid of giving people a hammer with which to hit us. We just didn't think that was smart. And there was a lot of inner turmoil and there still is in the group. And in fact Blaine doesn't stand with us any more.
HD: Really? Is he still a part of the group?
HH: He's still part of the group. He's still my friend, you know? And he does things that are just, in my view, incredibly gutsy. I mean by himself he would wear a Free Palestine sandwich board and walk down busy Main Street during the dinner hour while people were sitting outside. You know, that takes some balls to do. I mean I modeled my baseball cap after that. But that's as far as I go really. You're talking to a guy who spent 32 years as an engineer. I would never have thought that I would be outside holding signs. I don't even like waiting for city busses, because I feel so exposed. This is not easy for me. People think, Oh he's just a street urchin, he does all these kind of things. It's an effort, really. I don't like it. But my change started in the year 2000 when I went to Iraq for a relief organization out of Dearborn. I went there and worked with them and observed the effect of the then 9-10 year old sanctions. I came back from that trip thinking I could now hold a sign and stand on a street corner. Then a year later when I went to Palestine, as a Jew I said, This is my thing. If I could be cloned I would do Iraq as strongly as I do Palestine, but as a Jew, I feel the responsibility to stand up and say, This isn't fair! To bring it home. It's like, if teeter totters were only available to people with first names with the letter D, I wouldn't be able to teeter totter ...
HD: ... no, you wouldn't, but I would ...
HH: ... but I think that you would say, This is not a fair rule.
HD: Right. Let me pick at something you just said. That as a Jew it's your responsibility to address the Israel question first. So if it's your responsibility as a Jew, why is it anybody else's responsibility, who isn't Jewish?
HH: Well, for one thing it's a moral issue. There is an oppressed and an oppressor. You know as Desmond Tutu says, if you come upon a elephant who's got his foot on a mouse and you proclaim your neutrality, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality. And in fact moral people have a duty to do something. And the other thing I would try to sell to you is that your tax dollars are supporting this. Israel is the largest recipient of foreign aid. What we're doing with our money is we're helping Israel oppress the Palestinians. We're helping them continue their illegal settlement construction. I think you alluded earlier to 'some good settlements and some bad settlements'. They're all illegal, every one. Maybe you didn't say that.
HD: I think I was just pointing out that there's room for finding common ground even in the sermons that the rabbis preach at Beth Israel. It's not simply a knee-jerk, Everything Israel does is fine! That there is room in the language of the sermons to find not complete agreement with your position, but they're not on the very end of the teeter totter, either. I'm just saying that the sermons that I read through, it seemed to me that they did not adopt the most conservative view I've ever heard, which is, All the settlements are fine.
HH: Yeah. Well, okay. But my feeling on that is that, though sounding reasonable, sounding maybe balanced, does not deal with the issue. And we liken the issue to slavery. In other words you can imagine the similarities with the rabbi's comments. You know, The conditions for the slaves in the winter time are really bad and maybe we should be kinder and heat the slave cabins. So I'm going to go on a campaign to heat the slave cabins. Similarly I'm going to go on a campaign to remove a couple of settlements or bring some of the tanks out of Ramallah or Nablus, make it a kinder and gentler occupation, or a kinder and gentler slavery. But the rabbi's not, and this is conjecture on my part, but I think it's solid conjecture, he's not going to want to talk about the slavery of an apartheid state that gives privilege to the Jewish citizens of Israel. And that depersonalizes the non-Jewish citizens of Israel and certainly the non-Jewish population in the occupied territories. And it is a manufactured consent because even in your mind, if you hear the word, what was that word game ... Password ... are you young enough to remember?
HD: This was a TV show?
HH: A TV show named Password, where I had to get you to say a word without telling you. You know, if I wanted you to say 'cup' I would say 'coffee ...'
HD: ... got it.
HH: And you would say 'cup'. Or if I wanted you to say 'terrorist' I would say 'Palestinian ...' and, because you read the paper all the time and you see that phraseology you go, Yeah, 'Terrorist!' Oh I got it right! But you would never think that if you heard the word Palestinian, you would come up with the word 'benevolence', 'graciousness', 'kindness', 'caring', ... and I've experienced all that. I went three years ago and worked in the refugee camp. And one cold rainy evening I was having a sandwich in a shop and I was talking to the Palestinian shop owner. And he had three friends, hanging around there. He made an assumption. He said, You know Friday is the Muslim holy day, and your holy day must be Sunday. And I look around and it's just me. And I said, I guess this is as good a place to die as any. And I said, You know, I gotta be honest with you, Saturday is my holy day, I'm a Jew. And he without flinching said, Welcome to Palestine, with a big smile on his face.
HD: So you were in his house?
HH: I was in his shop. He had a sandwich shop. And this was in the refugee camp called Balata. It was a terrible place with people just packed in. Raining and sewage in the streets and stuff like that. It's hell. There he was, welcoming me as a Jew. And I came back to Ann Arbor thinking, This story needs to be told. I went to Rabbi Dobrusin ... and I said I want to speak your congregation and they said, Sorry, ain't gonna happen.
HD: So is that a story you've told at city council at all?
HD: I mean just that little vignette that you just told?
HH: I don't know when I did. But I'm sure I did. And I don't want to make it into an oh-poor-Henry thing. This is much bigger than me. This is the silence of a very powerful segment of our community that nobody wants to confront. So we're the ones doing this confrontation. And people say, Well that's not the proper way to do it. And we say, Show us the way, we're willing to follow it.
HD: Well, I don't have any specific suggestions ...
HH: ... well I'm not putting the burden on you ...
HD: ... but it just occurs to me, just as far as addressing city council, I think the general perception in the community, I mean, I don't speak for all of Ann Arbor, but I think the general perception is, that at every city council meeting there's going to be somebody talking about this issue, so it's easy just to mentally go, Click. Or to spin your chair around, however you want to do it. But in the world of advertising, there is this notion of episodic or serial advertising. I think Maxwell House might have been the first one to do it, where each successive ad builds a story. Right now, Bud Light has a campaign where there's a stunt man and he performs various stunts. Like staying at work two minutes past five o'clock on a Friday, and then his reward is a Bud Light.
HH: Is that the guy with the gas mask or something like that?
HD: Well, he has a crash helmet and knee pads. But anyway, what those kind of campaigns have in common is, you know a bit of entertainment, but it's a threaded story. So I don't know what the episodic story might be, that would be told at city council. But maybe something like that vignette that you described of the hospitality that you experienced in that guy's sandwich shop. But instead of trying to make any particular rhetorical point, just telling a story that threads together. So that people might well look forward to the next one. They say, I remember there was something about the sandwich shop and so how does that story continue? So that there's sort of an evolving story line. So that it's more of a creative performance than it is a classic rhetorical speech that you would deliver to city council.
HH: Yeah, well sure. I mean, we're not the best. We could take advantage of a Madison Avenue type approach. If you know anybody who wants to work on this issue ...?
HD: I don't!
HH: Well, see, that's just it. We don't have the power of the New York Times. We don't have the ability to compete on that level. So we say, if you're a flea and you have to go into the ring against an elephant, you don't go around stomping. You don't compete on your opponent's strengths. You have to compete on your opponent's weaknesses. And as flea, you jump into the elephant's ear and you buzz as loud as you can. And you become the biggest annoyance that you can. If there is even any way to fight an elephant, if you're a flea.
HD: Well, just to pursue the flea-and-the-elephant analogy, instead of getting inside his ear and buzzing away, what about buzzing around in front of him in an artistically pleasing loop-de-loop fashion and mesmerizing the elephant and causing the elephant to follow you and to go down the path that you want him to go?
HH: Again, if you think in terms of slavery, how are you going to appeal to the slave owner to give up the plantation life, which has to have slavery in order to exist? You'll convince him to run hot water to the cabins. You'll convince him to heat them in the winter time. So he can appear to be benevolent, the way the rabbi is appearing to be benevolent, but he's not going to tackle the issue of slavery. And I would follow a story like that if there was a success story where we dealt with the slave owner and we walked him down this path and we were nice, and were kind, and we were generous, and he said, By Gum, Henry, you're right, and I'm going to stop slavery! It didn't happen that way. And it's not going to happen that way this time. And I hear what you're saying, I absolutely do. I wish there were a nicer, kinder, gentler way to do this. But if there is, it would have been done by now. And you would have been able to say, Henry, why didn't you do it like these other people did? Because they got their synagogue to come out and say, Occupation is wrong, funding Israel is wrong, we take a stand on stopping it. There hasn't been a synagogue in this country that's done that. There's a couple of Jewish groups that do some good. But when you scratch-n-sniff that veneer, you end up with another kinder and gentler slavery situation. Ending the occupation isn't going to end the conflict. You're still going to have de jure racism. Encased in law. Israel's racism is encased in its laws. It's a state for the Jews. If you and I got off the teeter totter and went to Metro and bought tickets and flew to Tel Aviv, I'd be a citizen before the sun went down, because I'm a Jew. And you'd never be a citizen. Is that fair? Shouldn't I as one of the privileged class be the mensch to stand up and say, This is wrong! Dave has as much right to be a citizen of this country as I do? These are the things that the rabbis could say to end the vigils. But they want to keep you thinking that the Jews are the chosen people. I'm not a better person than you because I'm a Jew. I might be a good underhand softball pitcher ...
HD: ... do you actually play softball?
HH: I used to play softball and I worked on that. And I was a damn good pitcher, but it wasn't because I was Jewish! Jews aren't even athletes, you know what I'm saying?
HH: Unearned acclaim. You know, We're the chosen people! If the rabbi rejected that, I'd stop the vigils right now. If he's a real believer in equality of the masses, of the people, if we're not better than black people because we're white, we're not better than people without facial hair because we have facial hair ... You know, are we better than them?
HD: Actually I sometimes kinda feel like I am better than people without beards. And you know for guys who have short beards, I tend to like to walk up to them and say, You know what, mine's longer than yours.
HH: Oh, well, now I know who I'm dealing with then! ... ... ... I did want to tell you one more thing. Of course, you've got so much work ahead of you, you're not going to break this news before I do.
HD: You've got breaking news?!
HH: Breaking news. It happened two days ago, three days ago, at the city council public commentary. Someone in our group wanted to show a video. There's a woman in our group, who's like everybody's grandmother. But her granddaughter is an artist and she made a film called Meen Erhabi, which is Arabic for 'who is the terrorist?' It's a short film and she wanted to show it at city council as a part of the public commentary. She brought her own laptop and the mayor said, No, you can't show it. The meeting was stalled for 25 minutes while they hemmed and hawed and two cops came out. One started fiddling around with the computer to pull the cords out ...
HD: ... why did they need ...
HH: ... they got the assistant city attorney and he came down. She said, Show me where you can't do this, and I won't do this.
HD: ... wait a second, they had police officers on the scene to try to figure out computer cables?
HH: No, they had them there to enforce the ruling of the mayor. Which was just out of whole cloth, There shall be no audio visual materials presented during public commentary. There is no rule about that. This city attorney came in and said, See? the rules don't have anything about audio visual material so, therefore we're gonna not let you do it! So she said, No, if you don't have a rule about it, that means you can do it, you'd have to proscribe this. And I said, I show maps all the time so there's visual materials all the time ...
HD: ... ah, but your maps, maybe, aren't electronic, Henry ...
HH: ... well, is there a rule against electronic? That's why we have movies. That's why we have film. Because it conveys a concept better than words can. So we're now going to make a complaint with the ACLU.
HD: Oh. I thought the punch line to the story was going to be, We won this victory and we're going to be allowed to present next city council meeting.
HH: Well, it ain't over. Sorry it wasn't this earth-shattering breaking news.
HD: Well, the way you were telling it, I was literally on the end of my teeter totter in anticipation.
HH: So how do we get off?
HD: Well, it requires coordination and teamwork. I'm going to suggest that we swap ends for the picture because of the sun.