Donald Trump and David Grossman - A Study in Contrasts

 While Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump was bringing thousands of delegates to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee's (AIPAC) national conference to their feet the other night, a very different event took place just a couple of miles away where a theatrical adoption of Israeli author David Grossman’s moving novel “Falling Out of Time” had its US debut.

Grossman is a leading voice in Israeli culture whose book describes the mourning process he went through after the death of his beloved son Uri in combat in the Second Lebanon War of 2006.

While Trump wowed large sections of the AIPAC crowd with cheap slogans designed to appeal to their basest pro-Israel sentiments, Grossman’s play, which was presented at Theater J at the Jewish Community Center of Washington DC, reminded those lucky enough to be present of the real costs of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the failure to find a peaceful solution. (AIPAC later apologized for Trump's ad hominem attack on President Obama.)

“We lost our son Uri in a war, so we know intimately how there is a kind of nationalizing of the one who died when it is a fallen soldier,” Grossman said in a program note. “And so the book is also an attempt for me personally to reclaim this loss from the national, from the collective and to make it my private loss again.

“We, the Israelis, have this tendency to glorify and idealize soldiers who fell in war. Maybe because the country feels guilty for sending these young people to their deaths without really trying with all its might to achieve peace – really trying as strongly as it makes war to make peace.”

The previous evening, in a public discussion, Grossman talked about how Israelis had lost the ability to feel the pain or even to hear the voices of their Palestinian neighbors. 

“We come from a country so immersed in pain and wounds that nobody has the energy to see or feel the wounds and pain around us,” he said.

In Israel, Grossman is facing public pressure for his refusal to see the conflict in black-and-white terms and his insistence that peace with the Palestinians is both possible and necessary. Recently, a small but vocal group, Im Tirzu, criticized him and other prominent writers, actors and artists as “foreign agents in the cultural world.”

The contrast in the atmosphere at the AIPAC conference and at Theater J could not have been greater. At AIPAC, a demagogue appealing to the worst aspects of our nature, won rapturous applause for a series of bombastic, simplistic, inaccurate, slanderous and insulting statements. To be sure, many delegates, including dozens of rabbis and other communal leaders, boycotted the speech or sat on their hands and refused to applaud. But the fact remains that Trump was received by many as a hero.

At Theater J, the mood was somber as the audience was brought deep into the pain of a man who lost his son to a conflict which has gone on for far too long and who yearns for peace. Like many bereaved parents, both Israeli and Palestinian, Grossman does not seek justice – for there is no justice – or revenge – for there can be and should be no revenge.

He seeks a future in which no-one else will have to suffer as he has suffered.

In the Biblical Book of Kings, chapter 19, we read how the Prophet Elijah fled the wrath of a king and sought safety in a cave in the desert. He experiences a mighty wind, and then an earthquake, and then a fire – but we’re told that the Lord was not in any of these. And then he hears a still, small voice – and that was the voice he needed to listen to.

Trump summons winds and earthquakes and fires – but we should listen to the still, small voice of Grossman and those like him.