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Of Yom Kippur and baseball

A riff on Amichai Chasson's ‘America’


Three moments in front of a television span 44 years of Israeli-American relations, on both national and personal levels. Let’s assume the narrator is the poet (and filmmaker and curator) Amichai Chasson, who was born in Ramat Gan in 1987 to a father from Tripoli, Libya, and a mother from New York.

On October 6, 1973, way before his birth and shortly after the conclusion of the Yom Kippur fast – which in Israel entails a total blackout of radio and television broadcasts – then-Prime Minister Golda Meir (also an immigrant from the United States) spoke about the war that had broken out, literally in black and white. Most of the Western world already had color television, but the sole (state-run) Israeli channel at the time transmitted only in black and white, aided by a device called the Mehikon (or color eraser, from the Hebrew word for eraser), because the government felt color television was costly and decadent. (Some proto-high-tech Israelis invented an anti-Mehikon to override it.)

The moment was also figuratively black and white: There were not even gray areas in the country's absolute shock. Retrospectively, the poet is grateful for the American airlift, which must have sounded absolutely astounding in his grandfather's stories – the phrase for airlift in Hebrew depicts a train in the sky.

The second stanza is set some time after 1989, when Michal Yanai starred on children's television. Yom Kippur does not figure explicitly but the World Series does, and the conjunction of the baseball championship and the fast day is emblematic: Detroit Tigers slugger Hank Greenberg in 1934 and 1938, and Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Sandy Koufax in 1965, both refused to play on Yom Kippur and have been held up as paragons of how to be American Jews.

The grandfather fails to teach the boy the rudiments of America's national pastime but he, like America at least until now, was "indulgent."

The scene then shifts to March 2017. The grandfather doesn't appear. Is the poem elegiac? Chasson – a graduate of the Otniel Hesder Yeshiva for combined military service and religious studies in the West Bank as well as of the Sam Spiegel Film & Television School in Jerusalem – laughs aloud at the Israeli team's baseball achievement by the "lineup of young Americans" with Stars of David on their skullcaps.

Does he enjoy that other American staple, peanut butter? He doesn't say. The disassociation from the sport and the uncertainty hint at how to read "Make America great again."

© Vivian Eden

Source: 17 September 2018 Haaretz English edition

• Editors & Translators (Israel)

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