Revenge, followed by Revenge (38 cents)

Sunday morning’s program at Adas Israel was beyond fascinating. Journalist Tom Friedman interviewed journalist Laura Blumenfeld about her book “Revenge”, this year’s “Adas Reads” selection.

First, Friedman was the perfect interviewer. He asked just the right questions, smiled and laughed at the right time, and went out of his way not to one-up his interviewee by inserting any of his own thoughts.

Not that Laura Blumenfeld would be easy to one-up.

Her story is as follows:

In the early 1980s, her father, an American rabbi, was shot in the old city of Jerusalem by an Arab, as one of a series of attacks. He was injured, but recovered. His daughter was in college at the time.

She decided to get revenge, and years later, as a Washington Post journalist and new bride, she and her husband spent a year in Jerusalem. Her stated purpose was to study revenge, and this she did, not only amongst the Palestinian community, but world wide, visiting societies were revenge was encouraged by and often programmed into the social fabric. She went to Sicily, to Albania and even to Iran. All by herself, never apparently identifying herself as Jewish and certainly not as the daughter of Rabbi Rosenfeld.

But what is most amazing, after she learned the identity of the shooter (who had been sentenced to 25 years in prison), she located and befriended his extended family, who lived somewhere between Jerusalem and Ramallah, visiting them (as an American journalist writing about revenge) over a period of months and months. And, through the family intermediaries, she corresponded extensively with the shooter, Omar, while he was in prison.

In most society, revenge is a vicious affair – eye for eye, tooth for tooth and all that. But Blumenfeld’s father talked to her about “constructive revenge”, where the goal was to build yourself up so that you did not feel inferior to, but rather became superior to, the object of your revenge. And she had a goal for Omar, as well: transformation.

In her initial contacts with Omar, he came across as ideological and strident. She wanted to break him down by showing him herself as a person, just as he was doing to his large family. And it seemed to have worked over time, as he told her (while in jail) that if he ever got out, he would not attack anyone again.

I don’t want to give away the climax, although Blumenfeld did on Sunday, because I think you should read the book. But even if you knew what happened, there are so many important issues raised by her half-crazed scheme to find and make contact with the man who shot her father, that the book would still be a worthwhile read.

At least that’s what I think. I haven’t read the book, either. But I will.

And revenge seemed to be the theme of the day, as we spent the evening at the Rockville Music Theatre’s wonderful production of Leonard Bernstein’s “West Side Story”, where Jets and Sharks plot out and carry out revenge against each other throughout the show.

The cast was superb, including of course Michelle’s Rosalita (she who wants to go back to San Juan, to the dismay of all of her friends), but also Tony and Maria and Riff and Anita and all the others. Without great publicity, the show virtually sold out all performances. Everyone involved should feel very proud.

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