In classic Israeli style, my invitation to the United States Embassy’s Fourth of July barbecue came by way of an old army buddy in what Israelis refer to as ‘protexia’, the friendly cronyism that keeps our tiny country humming along like a multi-generational family business. Even the most venerable Jewish politician has relatives who sat next to him at the children’s table on Passover Seder night.
Almost 30 years ago, I went through basic training with US Ambassador David Friedman’s first cousin. At the embassy’s gala affair, I was a friend of the family. Feeling like Cinderella two minutes before midnight, I found myself rubbing elbows with MK’s and foreign elites. IDF officers in somewhat dowdy dress uniforms and a few tiny specks of color on their chests chatted with their foreign counterparts, bedecked in starchy plumage and an impressive array of medals.
But an astonishing thing happened at the entrance. The intimidation I felt upon seeing the VIPs quickly disappeared as I immediately began to bump into people I knew; true friends and fellow travelers. Zac Waller, the executive director of Hayovel, appeared out of nowhere. Could it be that this embassy affair was not merely political but was actually another step in the strange road to geula (redemption) camouflaged as politics? Yishai Fleisher, the inimitable international spokesman for the Jewish community in the holy city of Hebron, took me aside, fixing my collar and giving me brotherly advice that helped me to get my bearings in the strange surroundings. Everywhere I turned, mingling with the politicians were people whom I knew were more interested in the yet-to-be Third Temple than the already-present Knesset and White House.
But patriotism and diplomacy cannot exist on an empty stomach and the cornucopia buffets reflected the event. Glazed donuts, an American treat that melts under the Mediterranean sun, were arranged as flags to honor both America and Israel. Hamburgers and hotdogs, an everyday event in the US, became a source of wonder and excitement at the Tel Aviv venue. The obligatory holiday fourth of July hot dogs were served American style with sauerkraut and mustard rather than the Israeli non-Heinz ketchup that every Sabra child knows and loves. Single-malt whiskey provided by an event sponsor, flowed freely, making an already happy event even more joyous. And the sailors in their old-time spiffy dress-whites sure could jam out and that certainly helped pump up the atmosphere.
Why were we happy? For sure, some people were quite serious and money talk was heard passing between men in tailored suits. Israelis and Americans alike were happy that the United States had achieved 242 years of independence. But this 4th of July gathering had a distinctive flavor. A feeling was welling up, just below the surface, something that everyone was aware of but the awesome truth, the words that were in everyone’s heart, was waiting for Prime Minister Netanyahu to give it a voice.
“Next year in Jerusalem,” he said in his speech, a phrase that has been repeated on more than 2,000 Passovers since the destruction of God’s house in Jerusalem. It was now the mantra for this political event in Tel Aviv. A door had opened just a few months ago when President Trump made good on his campaign promise to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. But the spiritual tremors of that political move were beginning to be felt. Now, once the prime minister actually said it, we all knew that there was no turning back.
David Friedman is the duly appointed US Ambassador, but his family line has made him a Kohen, a priest whose destiny it is to bless Israel and the nations in the Holy Temple. The Talmud teaches that since the Temple was destroyed, there is no joy for Israel except for meat and wine. Meat there was aplenty, so when Friedman donned a kippah to recite the blessing over wine with Netanyahu and their respective spouses, we all knew that the pale replacements that had held the Jewish people over for so long would not have to suffice for too much longer.
Yes. We all knew that ‘Next Year in Jerusalem” was not just for Passover. This year, it was also for embassy barbecues.