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Drumbeat (2003)

Cantor Rafael Ben-Berak heard the drone of the omnipresent Fox News channel coming from the caterer’s office before his wingtips hit the top step of the central stairwell at Temple Beth Torah in Port Jefferson, New York. He, Segal, their baby Eitan, and the dog Jezebel had been on Long Island for a total of six months. Segal had found a twelve-step group. Jezebel had found an off-leash trail. Eitan had experienced his first snowfall. Rafi had found a choir, a budget, a salary, and some peace. The country had found Osama bin Laden and let him slip through the tunnels of Afghanistan’s Tora Bora mountain range. And now, it seemed that there was an old enemy to confront anew.
“Hey, Cantor, you’ve gotta hear this!” Jerald Ben-Sasson, the caterer and a Jew who could trace his Revolutionary War roots, called Rafi into his office. “Colin Powell is speaking at the U. N.!”
“No – gotta see this,” Rafi said, half to himself. It seemed that the Bush Administration ws trying to blame Iraq for the terrorist attacks in New York City since a week after they happened. Now, the Secretary of State was making the case for war on a second front on the floor of the UN Security Council. Now Rafi heard the statesmanly voice of the U. S. Secretary of State intoning a list of Iraqi misdeeds to the world.
 “… cannot tell you everything that we know. But what I can share with you, when combined with what all of us have learned over the years, is deeply troubling. What you will see is an accumulation of facts and disturbing patterns of behavior. The facts on Iraqis’ behavior–Iraq’s behavior demonstrate that Saddam Hussein and his regime have made no effort–no effort–to disarm as required by the international community. Indeed, the facts and Iraq’s behavior show that Saddam Hussein and his regime are concealing their efforts to produce more weapons of mass destruction.”
This is it, thought Rafi. I hope they still have their civil preparedness drills on the kibbutz.
“You came just in time,” said Ben-Sasson, whose own political philosophy made Reagan look liberal. “Bush is gonna let ‘im have it.”
“Do you really believe Saddam attacked us on 9/11?”
“…from Iraq’s elite military unit, the Republican Guard. Let me pause and review some of the key elements of this conversation that you just heard between these two officers.
First, they acknowledge that our colleague, Mohamed ElBaradei, is coming, and they know what he’s coming for, and they know he’s coming the next day. He’s coming to look for things that are prohibited. He is expecting these gentlemen to cooperate with him and not hide things. 
“Yeah, that’ll be the day,” muttered the caterer.
“What are they moving. Jerald? They are moving whole napalm factories? Ultracentrifuges?” Rafi had been on edge about an attack in Israel since 9/11. He trusted the Israeli security on airlines; ever since the rescue at Entebbe, Uganda in 1972 they had created an airtight shield from the sky. Rafi was worried about the run-of-the-mill suicide attack. The Kibbutz was a low-priority target, but Arabs and Israelis lived kippah-to-kaffiyeh in Jerusalem, Haifa, Tel Aviv. He had breathed easier every week that the Northern Alliance held Kabul, As the Allied/NATO forces that were fanning out over the country let Osama bin Ladin out the back door at Tora Bora,  Rafi’s nerves started jangling again.
“…Here, you see 15 munitions bunkers in yellow and red outlines. The four that are in red squares represent active chemical munitions bunkers.
How do I know that? How can I say that? Let me give you a closer look. Look at the image on the left. On the left is a close-up of one of the four chemical bunkers. The two arrows indicate the presence of sure signs that the bunkers are storing chemical munitions. The arrow at the top that says security points to a facility that is the signature item for this kind of bunker. Inside that facility are special guards and special equipment to monitor any leakage that might come out of the bunker. The truck you also see is a signature item. It’s a decontamination vehicle in case something goes wrong.”
The fly on the wall saw a contrast between the demeanor of a war hawk practically rubbing his hands with glee and a knee-jerk pacifist who had carried a weapon against every instinct in his body. The more excited the caterer became, the greater the furrow in the cantor’s brow. As Secretary of State Powell was finishing his argument, Rafi thought back to his friend Jackson, the peace activist sound engineer in Cleveland, and wondered why he felt so out of step with this community. Was this how suburbanites thought? Maybe it’s just that this was the side of the country that had been hit by 9/11. After all, wasn’t it just the previous year that the Jewish Family and Children’s Services of Long Island had been stretched so thin for speakers on the Saturday night before the Jewish New Year that the best that Rabbi Landau could get was a Hillel counselor with some pastoral care background?
After playing politics with the Ben-Sasson for a little bit, Rafi walked back to Rabbi Landau’s office. Not there – probably preparing his Wednesday Adult Ed class at home. Fortunately, home was across the parking lot in the parsonage. Rafi checked at the front office. Rose said that the Rabbi was on the line for Rafi.
“What do you think?” Rabbi Landau offered.
“I think the Long Island Ducks are going to win the independent league. What should I think? We haven’t done anything yet to Bin Laden, and now they try to prove Iraq is complicit. Al shileishim v’al ribeiim, (visiting the sins of the fathers on) the third and fourth generation, Rabbi. I think George’s dad wanted a pretense to go into Baghdad in ninety-one.”
“I really wasn’t being sarcastic! That’s what you really think? Maybe you’re right! Oh – oh – oh,” the boyish-faced fortysomething rabbi gasped like the too-eager schoolboy at Yeshiva, “are you saying…”
“Sorry, Rabbi, if you are looking for a conspiracy theorist, you won’t find it here. But I think that it couldn’t have taken long for Bush 43 to see this as an opportunity to atone for a policy failure of Bush 41. After Saddam crushed the people that the CIA so enlightenedly called the ‘marsh Arabs’ when daddy Bush called for regime change, Saddam has had one up on the Bush family. I think this guy ran in 2000 just to be ready for this opportunity.
“Cantor, the more I think about it, the less I like the idea of this war.”

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About Ronald FIschman

I am a public school teacher who had a prior career as a cantor, opera singer, and composer. My greatest notoriety comes from my settings of Dylan Thomas's "Vision and Prayer" and Percy Byssshe Shelley's "Ozymandias" for singers and large instrumental ensemble. My first poetry collection, "Generations," honors the roles of son, husband, and father, and is available at

6 responses »

  1. I love the opening paragraph of this post,featuring these sentences: "Segal had found a twelve-step group. Jezebel had found an off-leash trail. Eitan had experienced his first snowfall. Rafi had found a choir, a budget, a salary, and some peace." Great use of diction and syntax! I also like the Cantor. Thanks for sharing this one.

  2. Ron,Sorry for contacting you through comments. I tried to email you.Anyway, you won the gift card from Kim Miller. If you can contact me with your address, I can send it to her. ThanksJ.L. Spelbring

  3. Thanks! my best contact email is I'd give you a phone number, but my phone was stolen! My physical address is 256 E. Phil-Ellena St., Philadelphia, PA 19119

  4. Thanks for the comment, and thanks, for the read! I figured that since all four characters were looking for something to make their move to Long Island livable, that parallel syntax would be a good choice.

  5. The description of Anna Garcia reads like a poem. The phrasing and imagery made me feel as if I was in Mexico. There is a strong hispanic flavor to the dialogue. The chapters left me hungry to consume the next chapter.

  6. Ron,thanks for the read! I hope you like it well enough to keep reading. As you noticed,I put a lot into the dialogue.


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