Bulvon in a China Shop
(Post–Election Day, 2018)
In 1985, when I had been living in Israel during the first years of the Lebanon war, Israeli singer-songwriter Shalom Hanoch released his album מחכים למשיח, Waiting for Messiah, in which he ruminated on the state of political, social, and economic affairs in the country. The general tone of the album was melancholy and pessimistic, even while most of the songs were upbeat and rocking. The title track seemed to sum up the whole attitude: While the country is going to hell all around us, there is little more we can do but to wait for the Messiah to save us—but the Messiah won’t come. Worse yet, he won’t even phone in.
Several songs in the album took aim at specific public personages, even though Hanoch did not mention them by name. One of these songs was הוא לא עוצר באדום, “He Doesn’t Stop at the Red.” There could be no question that this song was about Ariel Sharon, the defense minister who pursued the aggressive course of the war. Sharon was known for achieving his results by pushing forward relentlessly, damn the torpedoes (i.e., any objections or warning signs). Alarming casualty rates, power vacuums filled by foes deadlier than the ones removed, internecine massacres occurring under his watch—no problem, as long as the goal was achieved.
Sharon was a physically large man who threw his weight around. Never mind that it was this very attitude that gained him his victories in the battlefield (most notably in 1973 when a large part of the credit for Israel gaining the upper hand in the Yom Kippur War was rightfully his); he made many political enemies throughout his career and was roundly disliked by many for his damn-it-all demeanor.
There is a Yiddish word for someone like Sharon: bulvon. A big bruiser, often uncouth, who doesn’t give a shit about anything and anybody.
The Israeli right didn’t mind Sharon’s bulvonness when it came to pursuing and punishing enemies, or when acting on behalf of the burgeoning settlement movement in Judea, Samaria, Gaza, and prior to 1982, Sinai.
They didn’t like it so much when he deployed it against the residents of Israeli towns established in the Sinai, most notably Yamit on the Mediterranean coast, when it came time to implement the terms of the Camp David Accords with Egypt. Most residents left of their own accord, but many others held out, determined to stand in the way of any further Israeli retreat. Sharon had these holdouts removed by force. Once they were all removed, he had IDF bulldozers level the entire town and dump the rubble just inside the Israeli border abutting the Sinai and the Gaza Strip. (It was this, not his relentless drive in Lebanon, that earned him the derogatory nickname “the Bulldozer.”)
The Yamit debacle was a portentious precursor to the events of 2005, when Sharon forcefully and unilaterally implemented the removal of all Jewish residents of Gush Katif, in the Gaza Strip—thus setting the stage for the terrible situation in Israel today, with Hamas sending all manner of incendiary and explosive devices over the border fence, and attempting to breach the fence itself by brute force or by tunnel.
This is the lesson to be learned from blithely adopting the “he may be a bulvon, but he’s OUR bulvon” attitude that too many Israelis on the right adopted: Beware of anybody who won’t stop at the red signal, per Hanoch’s song. A bulvon like Sharon can easily turn around in the blink of an eye and turn his bulvonness against those who had supported him all along; the results are unpredictable, and often lethal.
Up until recently, I had a friend who could fit the description of a bulvon. A large man, opinionated, outspoken, bullheaded; an unequivocal supporter of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, taking all Kahane’s religious and political opinions as superseding all others; and passionate in his defense of Israel and Jews. Unfortunately this friend was the type of person who never met a conspiracy he didn’t like—even conspiracies that are usually taken as antisemitic; those, he found creative ways to spin around with a pro-Jewish twist. He took all of these theories as absolute truth, and if you dared question him, he found a hundred different ways, many ridiculously farfetched, to refute your questions. And he took it personally as well—as if to say, how dare you question me? I thought you were my friend!
There was more. He was my friend in person as well as online. He was a prolific contributor to my Facebook profile, responding to my various music-related memes and questions voluminously. Unfortunately, the problem with someone like him—and anyone who could be characterized as a bulvon—is that he has no boundaries. He feels entitled to post as much as he feels like, sees everyone else posting as competitors, and is insulted if G-d forbid anyone tells him to cool it.
I put up with all of my friend’s mishugass over the years because we had several big things in common: love of Israel and Jews, the belief that we must defend our people and land by any means necessary, and love of rock music from the 60s through the 80s. I was willing to overlook his other faults, even when sometimes they would upset others in our vicinity, in real time and online. Once again … “he may be a bulvon, but at least he’s OUR bulvon.”
All this came to a crashing halt last week when he had the temerity to state that the Jews who were murdered in the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh were killed because they were excessively liberal—not because they were Jews. I told him to stop while he was ahead; even Aaron the High Priest, in the Torah, knew to hold his tongue after a calamity like his sons being killed. My friend doubled down and responded that he only speaks the truth, and there is never a time not to speak the truth. I told him in no uncertain terms to cut it out, and this is me being nice for the last time. Well, he tripled down on his attitude; once again, like Ariel Sharon, a bulvon who will not stop when the light has turned red.
So I responded by blocking him. Not only did I block him, but I went to every thread and meme in my musician profile where I could find his responses and deleted them, one by one. I didn’t and don’t want his bad vibes on my pages, anywhere. A bulvon is always a bulvon—whether he is “ours” or not. And I decided that life is much better without any bulvons in my life. I know that I feel that a big weight has been lifted from my shoulders, blinders removed from my eyes, and the air cleared of noxious toxins. I believe my friends who witnessed all this will agree with me, and that they are breathing much easier without him around as well.
As far as my friend is concerned, if he truly values our friendship, perhaps he’ll think a little bit about why I reacted the way I did, and possibly reach out and do teshuvah (atone) for his insulting behavior. But somehow, I know that he won’t; his slavish devotion to what he unquestioningly perceives as “truth” trumps all relationships and friendships, and to him, I am probably no more than collateral damage in his relentless pursuit of such “truth.” So I won’t be banging my head on the wall or waiting around to hear from him. Life goes on, blissfully, without him.
Which brings me to the current President of the United States, Donald Trump.
I am not going to go into any detailed discussion about him here, and I have no desire to debate the subject. I am not going to say whether or not I voted for him, whether or not I approve of his performance or policies, or anything of that sort. All of this is constantly rehashed, ad nauseam, pro and con, in millions of different venues, and I will not add to the tiresome clatter and claptrap.
I will say this, though: President Trump fits the characterization of bulvon perfectly. And like Ariel Sharon, Trump does not stop when the light is red.
I daresay that it’s the president’s sheer bulvonness that makes his haters hate him the way they do. More than anything he actually did or is doing in office, it’s his bulvonic demeanor that is triggering those who cry “impeachment now.” For what has he done, any differently than any other president save Bill Clinton, Richard Nixon, or Andrew Johnson, that would warrant impeachment proceedings, other than the ‘crime’ of being Trump? Last I heard, that was not an impeachable offense, whether or not anyone finds it offensive.
However—as in the cases of Ariel Sharon, and my unnamed friend—bulvons are loose cannons, and they can turn against their supporters in any number of ways; I hope and pray the president does not do the same type of thing. Because—like Sharon in Lebanon, Yamit, and Gush Katif—the results are potentially lethal. And—like my erstwhile friend—he can prove to be no friend at all, and the air would be a lot clearer without him throwing his weight around.
I hope and pray that the remainder of President Trump’s term will not see such potentially lethal turns. So far, despite all the negativity and adversity, we are all still here. May it stay that way.
©2018 The Hesh Inc.
Music: Shalom Hanoch, הוא לא עוצר באדום, "He Doesn’t Stop at the Red."