I fully expected last week to be kicked out of an activist meeting for a leftist group at a private home in Mar Vista. I wasn't invited, but after hearing about the meeting from a friend, my curiosity got the better of me and I decided to take my chances and go.
I had promised myself that I wouldn't lie if they asked me who I was and where I stood politically. It turns out that was a moot point, because someone quickly said, "Aren't you that guy who writes in The Jewish Journal?" "Yes, I am," I said.
At that moment, with about a dozen peaceniks in their 30s, 40s and 50s looking straight at me in a living room, probably wondering what I was doing there, I said the only thing I could think of that would be honest but still keep them from calling the cops and charging me with trespassing.
"I live in Pico-Robertson," I told them. "Everyone's pretty much right-wing over there. And that's a lot of what I hear, right-wing views. I came tonight because I was curious to hear other views."
Well, wouldn't you know it -- I got smiles all around. It felt like one of those Alcoholics Anonymous meetings where people feel your pain and can't wait to help you.
Maybe they thought I was ready to "convert" to their side? Who knows -- all I know is that they accepted me, and if I could control my Sephardic hothead impulses for a couple of hours, I would be there for the duration.
There were a few things in the invitation that had especially aroused my curiosity, like the word "Jew" in the group's name -- LA Jews for Peace -- and the first item on their agenda, what they called the Freedom Flotilla. A representative of the Free Gaza movement came to brief us on several items related to the flotilla, such as: the origin of the movement, the press bias in favor of Israel, upcoming flotillas, the status of legal action against Israel, planned protests in Los Angeles and so on.
Overall, while there were a few times during the evening when I felt like throwing sharp objects, I managed to escape with my love for Israel and the Jewish people intact. I think two things helped. One, I came in expecting some heavy-duty beating up of Israel (and I got it), and two, most of the people were really nice.
In fact, one of them even came to my defense. There was a moment when one of the presenters was going on and on about Israel's brutal treatment of Palestinians in Gaza. Hoping to inject a little "context," I asked about the thousands of rockets that Hamas had dropped on Israeli civilians for so many years before Israel took military action.
"What do I tell the people in Pico-Robertson when they ask me about the rockets?" I asked.
The presenter had a pat answer. Most of the rockets were cheap and homemade, she said, and, in any event, only three people were killed.
As if feeling my agony, one of the leaders of the group quickly jumped in and said, "That's not a good answer. Dropping rockets on civilians is never right." Of course, he did pull out some graphs to try to make the point that many of the rockets were in response to Israeli aggression. At least his tone was friendly.
That might be the one optimistic thing I took away from the evening -- the tone. No matter how painful the subject and how sure people were, there was no anger or bitterness.
For example, one of the items on the agenda was "Continue Our Study of the Goldstone Report." They do this at every meeting. It's like Bible class. That night, the person in charge took us through chapters 12 and 13. It was gruesome. He handed out pictures of the effects of phosphorous on the human body and described in talmudic detail the types of weapons used by Israel. He said it all with a matter-of-fact tone. There were sad faces all around, but no anger.
I almost jumped in to ask if anyone had read the many critiques of the Goldstone report, but I didn't want to wear out my welcome.
By the time the evening wound down and people started milling around, I could have been at any Jewish event in any Jewish home. I hugged and thanked the hostess (a Sephardic Iraqi) and took plenty of e-mail addresses. Feeling somewhat relieved that the serious part was over, I shmoozed with a writer from the Huffington Post, a self-described anti-Zionist former Communist from Israel, a recent candidate for Congress (Marcy Winograd), a well-known local poet and the woman from the Free Gaza movement.
I was happy and encouraged that the tone of the evening was so respectful. But I couldn't help feeling a little sadness that everyone was so sure of themselves.
As I walked back to my car, I wondered if we were all guilty of the same thing -- meeting only with like-minded people and becoming more and more sure of ourselves.
Add up all those meetings, I thought -- whether in Mar Vista or Pico-Robertson -- and the distance between us only grows. Maybe we ought to crash more of each other's parties -- even if it's only to see each other's faces.