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Naphatli Lau-Lavie (Israeli Counsel General in NY) and Shimon Peres (Prime Minister), plotting, 1984

Happy birthday Mr. President!

JFK got Marilyn to sing to him and blow out the candles (and then some.)

Peres got Barbara Streisand, Bill Clinton and a bunch of other VIP’s to come celebrate his 90th birthday with him in Israel this week . Babs will sing.  Jerusalem is yet again a traffic nightmare.

Look,he’s great and all, deserving love and praise and blessings, cakes and songs and adoration of the public, including Sharon Stone, but more and more Israelis are looking at this blowout with some suspicion. This feels more monarchic than ever, with an obvious national agenda/propaganda. This old man’s birthday, all over billboards and TV ads, has become the talk of the town. Is it Peres we are celebrating or some nostalgic vision of an Israel that no longer actually exists? The line up of guests is impressive, but not a single Arab leader is expected to attend – and what does THAT say about us? So much for the Noble Prize winner for Peace’s talk about the New Middle East.

Some grumble about the cost of this affair. the 11 Million NIS celebration is funded by private Jewish funders, we’re told. Great. It’s not like income tax didn’t just go up, again, and next year’s government budget, up this week for vote, preserves most of the wrongs that got us into the streets in protest, just last summer. is this expense really the right way to mark this milestone?

I heard a man on the radio yesterday suggest that instead of a celeb-glitz Peres should have invited every 90 year old person – and older – to his mansion for a dinner and a medal. Share the blessings – esp. with so many seniors in bad financial health, among them many struggling Holocaust survivors.  A little more humility and a lot less media buzz.

I like that idea. Let Streisand sing to the ones who built this country, not just those who can fork up a minimum $350 for her sold out shows. (I was really really tempted, btw.)

But I got other birthdays to deal with.

Peres isn’t the only senior celebrating  this week. My father, Naftali, an old friend and colleague of Peres ( I have memories of Peres calling our home phone and asking for my father at odd hours. He’s always say ‘ It’s Shimon’ in his heavy smokers voice and Id know to go find my father..), a brave Holocaust survivor and builder of this state, turns 87, and this week’s Torah portion, Balak, is his old Bar Mitzvah chant.

Balak is all about a curse that turned to blessing  , and, perhaps, about how blessings can sometimes be found in disguise. And vice versa.

Balak is a king that is an enemy of Israel, sending Balaam, a one-eyed wizard, to curse the nomads on their journey to their promised land.

God intervenes, through dreams and a talking donkey, and instead of cursing, Balaam spews forth poetry that has become the gist of prayers and songs, with one of them a daily prayer (Does Streisand have a cover?): Ma Tovu “How beautiful are the tents of Israel. “

The word ‘blessing’ shows up over and over in this week’s text, competing with the toasts and wishes that at least two elder statesmen that I know of will receive this week.

Turning curses into blessings is an ancient alchemy of hope, a persistent attempt at going beyond the negative to honor the good in everything, and strive for more.

My father’s autobiography, from the ashes of the camps to his peace work at Camp David is focused on this theme and aptly named “Balaam’s Prophecy” – a compelling and highly recommended read.

So in that spirit.

Let’s bless our elders:

Mr. Peres. May your vision of peace in this promised land survive and be your lasting legacy, and grow, and nourish many dreamers and become reality for many many more. May you enjoy the love you’ve always wanted from so many adoring fans.

And to my beloved father: Days of kindness, little smiles of simple joys, as healthy as possible and protected from all worry and all harm.  You are the blessing for us all, a source of inspiration, pride and purpose.

Got blessings for these gentlemen? please share.

Mazal Tov and Shabbat Shalom



Amichai Lau-Lavie is the Founder and Executive Director of Storahtelling, Inc. creating sustainable solutions for life-long Jewish Learning since 1999. storahtelling.org

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