On Thursday morning, with the sun not quite done yawning and the day still rubbing the sleep from its eyes, I found myself in the subterranean world of New York City’s subway, rumbling down the green 4-5-6 line along Manhattan’s Lexington Avenue.
The morning commute is packed from ad to ad with the early risers reading the Metro Section from a classic newspaper quarter fold. People wear expressions on their faces that shout, “I’d rather be someplace else,” (which I take the liberty of translating as, “in bed,”) and their eyes have that blank look that is both conscious and unconscious all at the same time. Each is going their own way and I am on my way to Park East Synagogue, on East 68th at Lexington, for a breakfast meet with the Mayor of Jerusalem, Mr. Uri Lupolianski, and former Secretary of State, Dr. Henry Kissinger.
Amidst the lox, cream cheese and egg salad, a pretty diverse crowd of individuals has gathered to hear the mayor and statesman address Israel’s present-day challenges. Like the difference between a croissant and a bagel is the difference between Mr. Lupolianski and Dr. Kissinger – one is a Nobel Peace Prize statesman with a voice still tinged with a German accent and dryer than the Negev; the other is a small, bearded man with twelve children and the classic Israeli lisp.
After the ninety or so people have knocked back their orange juice and finished munching their muffins, Rabbi Arthur Schneier, the spiritual leader of Park East Synagogue since 1962, sets the program into motion.
“While Presidents come and go, the wise man always remains,” says Rabbi Schneier. Calling Kissinger a “scholar” and a “wise man” (“because not every scholar is wise”), Rabbi Schneier introduces Dr. Kissinger and invites him to share some of his wisdom.
“This is a very difficult time for all people who believe in freedom,” says Kissinger in regard to the situation with the Muslim world and the Middle East. “We are in a very dangerous moment; I think the most I can remember.” And that is no statement to be taken with a grain of kosher salt, coming from a man who fled Nazi persecution, was involved in Vietnam and Cambodia, and negotiated the end of the Yom Kippur War.
With a very different tone than he used in the 1973 negotiations, Dr. Kissinger said that, “The issue today [in Israel] isn’t so much borders anymore, as security within the borders. With today’s weapons, it doesn’t matter how far Israel retreats – they’ll still be in danger.”
After Dr. Kissinger finished his talk, Rabbi Schneier introduced the Mayor of Jerusalem. Where Rabbi Schneier labeled Dr. Kissinger a “wise man,” he called Mr. Lupolianski a man of “compassion.”
The mayor of Jerusalem since 2003, Mr. Lupolianski (pronounce at your own risk) spoke in Hebrew and stopped every few sentences to allow for English translation. Much was lost in the translation (on average, his thirty Hebrew words were somehow trimmed to five English words), but as my Hebrew is still manageable I think I got it all.
The gist of his talk was unity. “There are over 800,000 residents in Jerusalem, with around half a million of them Jews from over a hundred different countries, and most of them live in harmony.”
The mayor, who spoke rather briefly as he was on his way to a meeting with Mayor Michael Bloomberg, came across as a very optimistic fellow – almost to a fault. Whenever he was asked about the differences between the Jewish community and the Arab community, and within the Jewish community itself, the Mayor just shrugged it off with, “Most people just want to live together.”
Following Dr. Kissinger’s and Mayor Lupolianski’s words, there was a brief Question and Answer session.
Rabbi Schneier asked Dr. Kissinger what advice he would give Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, who was to meet with “our good friend” President Hu Jintao of China later in the day, in regard to Israel achieving peace with the Palestinians.
Dr. Henry Kissinger said that, “There is no magic potion” and Olmert should sit down with the United States and “make a good plan.”
The Q&A, as is the case with good Jewish mouths, was more a platform for opinions than questions.
“I think Israel has a major image problem and its most important initiative should be a good PR campaign,” said one woman.
“I think Jerusalem wouldn’t be in such a state of poverty if the people learning in the Yeshivas would go out and get jobs,” was another woman’s response to a poverty question posed by a man sitting at our table, an executive with one of Israel’s largest banks.
All in all, though I’m sure it was no Camp David, the lox and bagels were pretty good, the coffee and muffins were pretty fresh – and the former Secretary of State and present Mayor of Jerusalem made for some pretty interesting breakfast talk.