By Harriet P. Gross
For today, I wanted to write something “sweet” about a former local who’s now prominent in Israel: Benji Lovitt, 39, son of Bob and Zelene Lovitt of Dallas. His mother says he’s “an internationally award-winning blogger and lecturer…an all-around Renaissance man.”
Well, mothers are always proud, aren’t they? But after a few back-and-forth emails with Benji, I had to agree. He’s made his name as both a stage comedian and a serious print commentator. He’s funny, and he makes folks think.
Then, before I could tell you any of this, three Israeli teens had been brutally murdered by Arabs, and a young Arab similarly slain by Israeli Jews. And even before it had been determined that the latter was indeed an act of revenge, Benji expressed some potent, not so “sweet,” opinions about this very real possibility. These are his no-minced words of July 2:
“…Within minutes, the talkbacks of the Times of Israel were filled with defensive comments telling us not to rush to judgment…Apparently the idea that Jews could be responsible was too much to consider…”
As this blog entry’s preamble, Benji quoted Rabbi Daniel Gordis: “We say we’re better than this. The test will be how hard we look for the Jewish perpetrators…” To which he responded: “It’s clear that many Jews have already failed the test. I am sick and tired of the total inability of too many people to look in the mirror… How does someone miss the irony of claiming that ‘we are a people of love, not hate,’ in the same breath as ‘let’s kill them all’?
“We clamor for the Palestinians to take responsibility for their actions, to bring terrorists to justice, to condemn perpetrators of horrible crimes. [But] when Jews are in Jerusalem chanting ‘death to Arabs’ and attacking innocent bystanders, they must be condemned. If it turns out that the Arab boy was killed in an act of revenge, it must be condemned. Not only by the government, but by all of us. On Facebook. In Shabbat dinner conversations. In our minds. It doesn’t matter that they killed three of ours, an unspeakable, horrible tragedy. It doesn’t matter that Arafat said no in 2000 at Camp David. It doesn’t matter that Hamas are rejectionist animals. Those have nothing to do with the killing of a boy. It doesn’t make us weaker or compromise our values to be human and acknowledge suffering when it exists on the other side.
“We claim to be better than they are. Are we? If we can’t take responsibility…admit that we are also capable of terrible things, admit that our actions contribute to making things worse, then are we sure? This is not the time to answer ‘yes’ and point out all the ways we are better. It’s not always about them. It’s about us, too. It’s about who we want to be…
“When I am no longer frustrated by the situation here, either we’ve made peace or send me back to America, because I don’t want to live here any more….”
Benji does want to live in Israel. He made aliyah through Nefesh B’Nefesh back in 2006, during the second Lebanon War. One of the many things he writes that make him well-known and respected there is his annual May 14 list of “Things I Love About Israel,” all new every year, the number matching the country’s age. Ironically, Number 30 of this year’s 66 was “I love that you can pick up a hitchhiker holding a gun and not think twice about it.”
Benji’s words aren’t all “sweet.” But he’ll be back stateside in late August for a nephew’s bar mitzvah and a major comedy tour, so maybe we can get him to share a few of them with us here. In the meantime, let’s follow him at www.benjilovitt.com. And you can read his 2014 tribute to his homeland, a compilation both sweet and bittersweet, at http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/66-more-things-I-love-about-israel/.