One of the literary icons of the modern era is Ezra Pound’s Imagist poem “In a Station of the Metro.” Here is the entire poem: “The apparition of these faces in the crowd; / Petals on a wet, black bough.” Whereas the face of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, here seen singing the national anthem amid a crowd at a reception ceremony for just-arrived new immigrants brought to Israel by the Nefesh B’Nefesh organization, suggests a faded flower on a stalk of fresh blossoms. On Netanyahu’s left is the minister of immigrant absorption, Sofa Landver, with a Sofia Loren look; and on his right, wearing delicate glasses, is Tony Gelbart, the chairman and cofounder of Nefesh B’Nefesh, a nonprofit organization established in the past decade to bring North American and British Jews to Israel as immigrants.
Netanyahu is apparently very fond of Gelbart. In 2003, as reported by Haaretz correspondent Chaim Levinson, he wrote an effusive “To whom it may concern” letter recommending Gelbart: a “good friend,” a “close confidant” and a “family man” who “exemplifies the highest standards of integrity and commitment.” So it is not surprising to see the prime minister taking part in the organization’s ceremony, which was held in the old terminal of Ben-Gurion International Airport on August 14, or to see Gelbart singing wholeheartedly. The brutal heat outside has apparently not yet affected the 350 arrivals, half of whom will be inducted into the Israel Defense Forces immediately as part of their aliyah adventure.
According to its website, Nefesh B’Nefesh assists its new immigrants “by removing the logistical obstacles” − in other words, to obtain a new-immigrant card and a health insurance card and an ID card and generally to avoid the debilitating ordeals that are the lot of others who come to Israel. Nefesh B’Nefesh, which gets a third of its budget from Israel even though it is an American organization, also takes pride in declaring that it has brought 25,000 Jews to Israel as new immigrants, some of them even physicians, and that 98 percent of them (!) are still here. This, then, is another successful landing in a chain of successes. The young people who have just immigrated to Israel danced, and sang, “The main thing to recall / Is not to be afraid at all,” boys and girls together, thrilled, brimming with energy and still untainted by the knowledge that singing in mixed company (males and females) is no longer to be taken for granted in Israel these days, not even in the IDF, to which many of them will be sent straight from the airport. We can’t enter their minds − maybe one of them views all this differently − but in general, it’s likely that the flight and the ceremony and the looming induction into the world’s most moral army and the thrills of summer and what they went through at home and a sense of mission and finding their identity are having their effect. There is not one iota of doubt or cynicism on their faces at this moment. They are energized by the force of the group, draw their strength from a society of equals and are impelled by the liminality of the moment of transition, as they cross the threshold into Israelihood − and in the presence of the prime minister, too.
Reader, it works. That much is obvious from the broad smile on the face of the girl with the thick braid and the shiny pendant who stands next to the bodyguard wearing a black jacket and a receding hairline in the left corner; and even on the face of the girl at the bottom of the photograph who looks straight into the camera with the coquetry she brought with her.
But what strikes the eye in this well-composed shot by Tomer Appelbaum is Netanyahu himself, who as always looks as though he is drawing the air out of the room and whose garish blue tie is simply askew. His pale, smooth, perhaps made-up face, his astonishingly wide brow, his odd haircut, his angular eyebrow somehow contribute to the information conveyed by his expression, which these young immigrants will imbibe in due time: worry and dissatisfaction, anxiety and clumsiness, pessimism and an eve-of-destruction atmosphere. Even here, Netanyahu, whose crooked tie might have suggested a laid-back feeling in any other situation, even human carelessness like other mortals − even here he looks stressed and isolated. Even when he is surrounded by the kind of people he believes in most of all − proper Jews and not, say, J Street Jews who have something to say about the settlements and the never-ending war and the isolation and discrimination against citizens and the creeping Orthodoxy.
Nevertheless, Netanyahu-of-the-crooked-tie isn’t there only to reassure the immigrants or to rejoice. He is there to ensure that we know they have come.
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