The good old days

Can you conceive of a Stalin singing the praises of Jews, or proudly showing off his Jewish grandchildren, as President Trump does today?

‘AGE IS just a number, isn’t it?’ (photo credit: DARK DWARF/FLICKR)
‘AGE IS just a number, isn’t it?’
(photo credit: DARK DWARF/FLICKR)
Ah, nostalgia. I am feeling quite sentimental as I sit here contemplating my latest birthday. Now bear in mind that I don’t actually know exactly how old I am, because I decided to stop counting at age 50. After all, age is just a number, isn’t it? (Although the lapel on a prison uniform is also a number, a correlation I’m not prepared to take any further). But since my devoted and sensitive wife keeps singing that jingle from the now 60-year-old TV show, “I’m getting my kicks on Route 66,” I get the subtle hint that, well, I’m not getting any younger.
And so I begin to lapse into that familiar fantasy world where I imagine I am back to my high school days, a happy-go-lucky, hormone-driven typical teenager immersed in the both the (counter) culture of the Swingin’ Sixties and the spiritual scene of the yeshiva world. I close my eyes and whimsically imagine that I possess all the strengths, skills and sense of youthful excitement that I once had. My clothes fit perfectly, I could go all week with just five dollars in my pocket, and I am convinced that I can change the whole world without changing myself at all.
And then I am suddenly confronted by two of my alter egos from the past. One tells me, “Hey old man, don’t you remember when I – I mean you! – said, ‘Don’t trust anyone over 30?’ And now you’re what, more than twice that age?!” (Ouch, there goes the blissful ignorance of my age, darn me!) “You better take it easy, slow down, take your meds and pace yourself. Be content with what you’ve already accomplished in life and settle into mellow ‘middle-age plus.’ Too much ambition – at your age – will only raise your blood pressure and lead to an emotional train wreck!”
I reel back, trying to catch my breath, when my other former self steps up to the conversation. “Forget him,” he says, with a glance at the other me. “He’s a downer, a naysayer, a sad seller of sour grapes. Truth is, you’ve still got plenty of gas in the engine. You might have to slow down a bit around the turns, but there’s a whole world out there still waiting to be conquered, and there’s no way you’re a quitter. I know you – after all, I am you – and I know that whatever drove you at 18 is still behind the wheel, raring to take you way past Route 66 into the future.”
WE JEWS have always had this knack for waxing sentimental when we recall our past lives. We’ve lived in so many different places throughout our history – way more than any other civilization – and we tend to look back fondly on most of them, regardless of how unpleasant or terrifying they really were. Even in the Torah readings of the last three weeks, the nascent nation of Israel reminisces about the pleasures and pampering they enjoyed in Egypt, even referring to that desert prison as “a land of milk and honey,” with lots of free and delicious food. Egypt?! Are you kidding me?! Where we spent more than a century as slaves, tortured and tormented by a cruel Pharaoh?
But the self-delusional syndrome was only beginning; it would afflict us to this very day. How many times do you hear people dreamily talk about life in the shtetl, with its heimishe cooking and pristine Jewish environment? Or those who lust for the early days of Israel, where everyone was a brave and sturdy pioneer, enjoying the simple things like Botz coffee-mud in modest little homes, in pastoral moshavim free of traffic jams and telephones.
Well folks, truth be told, while there were indeed delightful elements of those past lives, they pale in comparison to today’s Jewish world. The shtetl life was marred by pogroms, by hateful Cossacks, spontaneous expulsions and Holocausts of varying degrees that forced us to live in fear from year to year. And the state we have built in Israel – as well as the elevated status of Jews worldwide – is an outright miracle we could hardly have imagined. Can you conceive of a Stalin singing the praises of Jews, or proudly showing off his Jewish grandchildren, as President Trump does today? Can you appreciate how far Israel has come in just two generations, from a struggling, besieged social experiment – largely dependent upon handouts from generous benefactors – to a pricey world leader in technology, commerce and military expertise? If ever there was a Golden Age of Judaism, it wasn’t in Spain; it is right here, right now, in your living room.
Psychologists tell us that human beings overwhelmingly retain good memories, while discarding the negative ones. This, says Dr. Tim Dalgleish, a clinical psychologist from the University of Cambridge, helps individuals to process negativity and adapt to changes in their environment while retaining a positive outlook on life. All well and good, but memory should never distort reality or dampen our appreciation for the amazing blessings God has bestowed upon us.
Still, occasional bouts of fantasy can be an awful lot of fun. So, as a combined birthday-anniversary present to ourselves, my wife, Susie, and I traveled to Manchester last week to attend a concert of the Eagles, the world-famous folk-rock band formed in 1971 that has sold more than 100 million albums. We combined that with a day trip to Liverpool to commune with the legacy of the Beatles, the lads who in just eight short years, changed the face of music forever.
That was a beautiful blast from the past. And now it’s time to settle back in at home. I’d go on, but it’s time for my favorite afternoon radio program, Radius 100’s Twilight Time. Love those old tunes. Hope they play one of my favorites: Carly Simon’s “Anticipation,” with the closing lines, “I’m no prophet, I don’t know nature’s ways... So I’ll stay right here, ‘cause these are the good old days.”
The writer is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra’anana.