Thermal Shock

[Note: This was posted three days after Donald J. Trump assumed the office of president of the United States.]

I’m feeling a type of thermal shock that I haven’t experienced in nearly 40 years.

Between 1976 and 1980 I had the good fortune of completing my mandatory Israeli military service in the Israel Defense Forces Band and Orchestra. This was a double blessing, because it both kept me off the battlefield and enabled me to participate actively in the historic Israeli-Egyptian peace process. Along with friends like Micha Davis, Lior Eitan, Roni Benjamin, Avi Adrian, Dudi Davidov, Rafi Primo, Haimd Haim, Dov Gordon, Eyal Bor, and others, I came to Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv to greet Egyptian President Anwar Sadat with his own national anthem, and then performed again and again shoulder-to-shoulder with the Egyptian band (that’s a whole other story!) as chunk after chunk of the Sinai peninsula was returned to Egyptian sovereignty.

One of the first of these chunks was the Northern Sinai coastal town of El Arish. On May 25, 1979, the band drove to the ceremony overland, through Ashqelon and Gaza, in our usual wooden-seated chartered Egged bus. As we drove into the sleepy town, we passed the usual signs in Hebrew and Arabic on ramshackle garages offering cheaper car repairs than their Israeli counterparts, as well as billboards advertising Israeli junk food. We arrived at the camp, played the marches and anthems, and watched the Israeli flag come down to the tune of one bugle call, and the Egyptian flag come up to another. Those in attendance cheered and threw confetti at huge portraits of Anwar Sadat in military garb, flanked by copious amounts of bunting in the Egyptian national colors.

Then, as our bus departed back for Tel Aviv, hell seemed to break loose. What seemed like hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Egyptian armored vehicles materialized on the streets. Crowds roared and threw candy. Egyptian police motorcades passed repeatedly along our route, sirens wailing. The Hebrew billboards had vanished. Egyptian fallaheen in long robes jumped up and down on the roofs of their pickup trucks, waving Egyptian flags and rifles and hoisting fists. And the entire region was united in a boisterous chant of “Allahu Akbar! Tihya al-Misr!” (God is great! Long live Egypt!)

Everything was utterly transformed from what it had been just a couple of hours before. And most of the musicians on the bus – soldiers only in name – were scared out of their wits. I had never seen a rickety old Egged bus approach 100 kilometers per hour on a dirt road before, but on that day it was pedal-to-the-metal all the way back to the Israeli border.

That was the last time I experienced the depth of sudden, frightening change that I have now felt since Friday morning.

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