When Charles Dickens began “A Tale of Two Cities” with “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,…” could he possibly have realized how extraordinarily useful that sentence would be?
It’s useful in part, of course, because it’s a lazy way out of explaining what you’re talking about. It’s shorthand. But it’s also useful because life seems to be teaching us that it is one of those self-evident truths. (Yeah, thank you too, Mr. Jefferson.)
These are not the worst of times. The Holocaust still is within living memory. For that matter, chattel slavery, as practiced in the United States, did not end in New Jersey until 1866. There have been many terrible historic periods that make this one look like it’s nearly idyllic.
But it’s not.
As we know, antisemitism is on the rise; even those of us who are native to the New York metropolitan area and have never experienced it firsthand know that by now. The dinner that former president Donald J. Trump shared with the clearly decompensating Ye and the purely evil Nicholas Fuentes is a serious danger sign, and although none of us want to believe that, all of us should. (The oddness of Ye being Black and Fuentes the son of a Mexican father just makes it all the more muddled.)
Abe Foxman, the retired longtime director of the Anti-Defamation League, is not more worried now than he has been for some time, though. He’s picking out some slivers of gold in the dross.
“The January 6 committee was more successful than most people thought it was going to be, because the people again in the middle, who gave Trump all sorts of excuses, all of a sudden saw how serious his words and deeds were,” Abe said. In reaction to what they saw and heard, “The American people acted sanely.”
He sees hope. It’s possible for those Jews who thought that because Trump moved the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, he was adamantine in his love for Israel, to be more nuanced. “I have said from Day One that we have to learn to walk and chew gum at the same time,” Abe said. “Why can’t we say thank you but no thank you?
“I think that people are beginning to say that. Thanks for Jerusalem, but no thanks for discrimination and racism and letting lose all that hatred. No thank you for all the other ugliness.
“We have to be able to do it. And we have to be able to do it with every candidate. Just because somebody does something we like, that doesn’t clean the slate on everything.”
(And to those of our readers to whom the concept of having to be weaned from Trump is foreign — that includes most American Jews — don’t worry about it. Some things are just incomprehensible.)
And then there’s the beauty of the world that continues to surround us.
On Monday, an unseasonably warm-ish, wettish day, I walked my dogs west on 135th Street in Manhattan, on an elevated stretch of Riverside Drive, high above the Hudson.
The Jersey side of the river was pure gold. Just pure molten gold. Windows, buildings, the sky — all of it. Pure molten gold.
And there was a thick, highly defined, massive rainbow spanning the sky, from as far north as I could see to as far south. Each color was distinct. Both bases, the north and the south ones, looked as solid and real as the huge structures that hold up the George Washington Bridge, but while the bridge is gray, this arc had every color in the world in it. There was another, fainter arc behind the main one.
I knew with my brain that I was looking at light refracted through water — which to be fair sounds amazing enough — but my heart told me that I was looking at magic.
The rainbows stayed in the sky for a long time, and then shimmered away to memory.
Yes, this is a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad world, but it also has beauty and magic in it.