Thursday, March 25, 2010

Didi's Generation

I had lunch with my friend Didi Remez a week ago Wednesday in Tel Aviv. We had been working on a document, remotely and fitfully--and given that it is a kind of democratic manifesto, a little hubristically--and figured we were due for a little face time.

When we parted, Didi told me, among other things, he would be going to the West Bank towns of Bili'in and Nabi Saleh on Friday, where protests had been mounted for months: Bili'in over the route of the security fence, and Nabi Saleh over the appropriation by Jewish settlers of a local spring needed for farming. The army was trying to curtail the demonstrations by declaring the towns a closed military zone. "I'm going to go and dare them to arrest me," Didi said.

I hadn't heard from him since the weekend, and he owed me a draft, so I decided to call him this morning. "I'm sorry I've been late with the document," Didi said, a little sheepishly, "but I've been convalescing. Actually, I was shot last Friday. Plastic bullets in the groin and the back of my leg." He had had his arms raised, he explained, but was shot anyway. "There seems to be a new policy."

I was ashamed that the shooting had escaped my attention much as it now shocked me. None of the newspapers had covered it. Didi had decided not to make much of it on his widely read (and indispensable) blog, Coteret, though it was on his Facebook page, and mentioned on Philip Weiss's blog. "I felt I shouldn't make a big deal," Didi said, "because I was the 25th. person shot, and the soldiers aimed at my legs. They aimed higher at the 24 Arabs and others, and they are in much worse shape."

THE HUMILITY COMES with a pedigree, and the empathy with experience. Didi, or David, Remez is the great-grandson and namesake of the David Remez, one of David Ben-Gurion's closest friends, and the state's first minister of transportation, then education. His grandfather, Aharon Remez, was the (second) commander of the air force, and his father, Gideon, a veteran foreign affairs journalist. He is a scion of the country's labor aristocracy and knows its obsolescence but is also, in a way, the best of what's left of it.

Didi was himself a combat officer, and is still haunted by some of the actions he commanded in occupied territory a generation ago. He lived some years in the US (was actually a student at the Shady Hill School in Cambridge when his father was at Harvard) and flirted with emigrating, but came back, moth to flame, to "make a difference." Since then, he has been a managing partner of BenOr, Israel's hippest strategy consulting firm for NGOs operating in the region, whose clients include the World Bank. He is also a close advisor to Jeremy Ben-Ami at J Street, and to the young leaders of the Sheikh Jarrah demonstration committee. He doubts he is really making a difference, but I rarely see him without a smile.

JUST BEFORE I called Didi, I had gone on a mission of my own, to a local synagogue where a sweet young man stood in front of a boiling vat of water, and carefully dunked our pots to make them fit for Passover. I have written here last year about the child's play (as Yehuda Amichai called it) that typifies Passover preparations, the growing disconnect in this country between the rigors of Passover ritual and its meaning. Let's just say that talking to Didi made me feel fit for Passover.

In every generation, the Haggadah says, it is incumbent upon us to stand at Sinai ourselves. Didi knows something about standing, and generations, but also about the power of telling the story, especially in our generation. "The army withdrew from Bili'in when they saw the cameras and the crowds," he said. Didi won't make it tomorrow, but hundreds of us will be at Sheikh Jarrah, with the cameras and crowds and cautious cops, privileged to be led by young people.