The Year of the Stroke

It's been barely a week since the clock struck 2006, and yet the world has already received enough ominous strokes from the finger of G-d, and man-made wallops, to fill an entire edition of Time magazine's "Year in Pictures".

Ellen W. Horowitz

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It's been barely a week since the clock struck 2006, and yet the world has already received enough ominous strokes from the finger of G-d, and man-made wallops, to fill an entire edition of Time magazine's "Year in Pictures".

The Reverend Pat Robertson may claim to understand the specifics of the Almighty's plans according to the gospel, but based on the type of devastation felt in America's Bible-belt last week, perhaps he best stick to prayer. Mankind makes a lot of mistakes and we know that G-d gets angry, but none of us are especially privy to the who's, why's, what's and where's of His next target.

Week one of the new year showed itself to be a universal, inter-faith kind of apocalypse - where both the G-d fearing and the godless were, together, thrown into some very miserable waters. Texas towns went up in flames and folks were buried alive as structures collapsed in West Virginia, Bavaria and Mecca. Record-breaking floods hit America's Northwest, while devastating landslides and rivers of mud swept hundreds of lives away in Southeast Asia.

Across the violence-saturated Middle East, last week saw much more than the usual quota of carnage, kidnappings and chaos. With 130 Iraqis and 11 American soldiers killed in one day alone, democracy in the region does seem to be exacting a toll. And Hamas, drunk with new-found liberty, continues to terrorize the streets of Gaza while maintaining a healthy showing in the polls. One has to wonder what would happen if President George Bush and Dr. Condoleezza Rice would take some of that emphasis off of the emancipating effects of the ballot box and recall that the region is thirsting for a touch of law, order, justice and morality.

Unlike the previous few years, when media correspondents were scrambling to find 101 creative ways to say terror and terrorist - without actually using those terms - this year's journalistic challenge may very well be how to best describe the level of upheaval that's ensuing in this world without tiring the readership with an overuse of the words "unprecedented", "unparalleled", "record-breaking", "history-making", "earthshaking", "unpredictable", "unforeseeable" and "unexpected".

CNN correspondent Guy Raz did his very best to analyze the lunacy. In a piece called, "Gaza spirals into lawlessness", he inserts the telling sentence, "Gaza was not supposed to turn out this way."

Yes it was, Guy. It really was supposed to turn out this way. And this kind of chaos was predicted and predictable, as was last week's firing of Kassam rockets towards the power plant, fuel depot and population centers of the Israeli city of Ashkelon, as well as other towns in Israel's southern Negev. And yes, it was also expected that Palestinian Arab terrorists would be launching their rockets and other attacks from their newly formed bases in the ravaged and pillaged communities of what were, up until five months ago, thriving Jewish towns and agricultural centers.

It was also foreseeable that the forced expulsion of 8,000 Israelis from their homes in Gaza would result in gross mismanagement and create a humanitarian crisis that would be largely ignored by the Israeli government, media and Diaspora Jewish leadership.

And long before last week's resignation from the Israeli parliament of Omri Sharon, due to an indictment for fraudulent financing of his father's 1999 campaign for Likud party chairmanship, many already knew that that Ariel Sharon had quite possibly accepted millions of dollars in bribes from the Austrian owners of a casino in Palestinian-controlled Jericho.

All this and more was known and reported by the those who are contemptuously referred to as Israel's "extreme right".

That we were extremely right (as in "correct") about the dangers of local terrorism and global Jihad, the failings of the Oslo Accords, Road Map and unilateral Disengagement, and that we warned of flagrant government corruption, is nothing to gloat about - but we will continue to get sick over it as this region, our people and the rest of the world continues to hemorrhage. This is the stuff strokes are made of.

And so, the day Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was scheduled for minor surgery to repair a congenital hole in his heart - a day after banner headlines screamed $3 million worth of bribe-taking allegations, and just hours after Palestinian terrorists hijacked a bulldozer and plowed through the Israeli-erected wall on the Egyptian-Gaza border in Rafiah in a seemingly unstoppable rampage - Israel's very own bulldozer, Arik Sharon, was halted in his tracks.

There are many who are reciting prayers for the health of our prime minister or for our nation at this time. Some are familiar with the following sentence, which is a portion of a larger prayer recited before reading Psalms: "May You not take us from this World before our time, before completion of our years (among them are seventy years), so that we can rectify anything that we have ruined."

That's a very human prayer, because it assumes that in our lifetime we will make mistakes and cause destruction in the process. It's also a hopeful prayer, because it implies that we will want to strive to live responsible, long lives in order to repair the damage that we've done.

I'm quite sure that, at least in a figurative sense, we all have holes in our hearts and stains on our brains. We just don't know how and when they will manifest themselves. They may become evident through our waistlines (or lack thereof), Diagnostic MRI, mental breakdown, abusive behavior or in the metaphysical realms. But, eventually, those defects will put in an appearance. Trust me.

And I guess that's why the revelry surrounding the onset of January 1st has always disturbed me. While a good part of the Western world opts for champagne, balloons, fireworks and fatalism, the aura of anticipation and hope prior to the Jewish New Year is replete with a sense of awe and trembling before G-d.

The strokes we receive personally, nationally and universally are sometimes inexplicable and, more often than not, deemed to be unexpected occurrences. It's the ones that were foreseeable and preventable that might be worth exploring.