A Job at the Pentagon, and a Lesson on Kosher Food From a Senior Palestinian Official

Dov Schwartz met his wife Revital while serving as a diplomat in Israel: 'I'm Ashkenazi, my wife is from an Iraqi home, and a Christian Arab thought we would get along'

Revital, Dov and Kate Schwartz.
Tomer Appelbaum

Revital Schwartz, 48; Dov Schwartz, 54; Kate Schwartz, 4; live in Washington, D.C.; Dov is arriving from Toronto

Hello, can I ask where you got the T-shirt?

Dov: From Kate and Revital, as a gift for Father’s Day.

Kate: And I have a Supergirl shirt.

What do you do in Washington?

Revital: I work for a travel agency.

And what do you do, Dov?

Revital: Dov is a public affairs officer in the Pentagon. He’s lived in Washington for many years, and I moved in with him after we got married.

What was it like moving to the United States?

Revital: The first year was hard. I wasn't 20, and it wasn’t easy to start a new life, but then I got pregnant with Kate and we found our place in a wonderful Jewish community. I taught Hebrew in the Jewish school on a voluntary basis. You get accustomed slowly. And when you have a child, it’s a different life.

Tell me about it Where did you meet?

Revital: Here in Israel. Dov was a diplomat – he was an assistant and adviser to

Dov: I was the senior adviser to [U.S. Army] Lt. Gen. Keith W. Dayton, who helped in coordinating with the Palestinians. I was supposed to be stationed here six months and in the end I stayed six years.

Why did you stay?

Dov: I grew up in a home that was very committed to the Zionist project and I volunteered to come here. It’s rare that you get the possibility to be part of something historic, and just having the opportunity to work here and make things better was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. Professionally, it was the best job I’ve had.

Sounds like you liked your time here.

Dov: The general was a very focused person and full of passion. We worked 16 hours a day; that was a challenge you couldn’t say no to. When you come here and have the chance to stay not for two months or even two years, but six-and-a-half years – you have an opportunity to move beyond what the average Jewish American knows about Israel.

What did you learn about Israel?

For example, I was in [Israel Defense Forces] Southern Command with Gen. [Dan] Harel not long before the [Gaza] disengagement. What amazed me was to see how focused and determined they were – the soldiers. You could see they were stressed, and I don’t know what their political views were, but they were committed to obeying orders, and under very tough conditions. They were a group of very young people who still succeeded in creating a sense of security, even though it was clear that some of them were conflicted. That taught me a great deal about the IDF’s professionalism. I was always moved by the IDF, and that was just one more example.

Didn’t it bother the Palestinians that the chief adviser to the coordinator of activities was a Zionist?

Dov: Sometimes you have to be receptive to learning new things, and everything I learned in the Jewish summer camps I attended as a boy actually helped me. For example, when a very senior figure from the Palestinian security forces referred to the Altalena, I knew what it was and I thought it was fascinating that he could come up with that.

Weren’t you treated different because you were a Jew?

Dov: I wasn’t treated differently at all. I remember that at the end of the Ramadan fast, a senior Palestinian called me over to the buffet, pointed to the table and showed me what was kosher and what wasn’t. It was an interesting experience, and I feel that I am a better person for it.

Do you feel that you were able to do good?

Dov: I met an Israeli fellow who’d come from reserve duty in Jenin, and he saw what was going on at the checkpoint and came over and gave me a hug. I was stunned. He told me that he felt obliged to thank me, that everything had changed at the level of day and night.

Wow. Well done, and thanks.

Dov: Serving here was very interesting. I felt that I was helping and making a contribution, and I learned a lot. I spent lots of time in Bethlehem, Tul Karm, Ramallah, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. I traveled between the north and the south and I met many wonderful people. And then, just before the end of my service [turning to Kate], I met Mom.

Revital: We met on a blind date. I had no idea what he looked like or the way he spoke, but somehow I knew – I told a girlfriend that I was going to meet my husband. It was totally insane.

Dov: I’m an Ashkenazi Jew, and Revital is from an Iraqi home, and a woman who’s a Christian Arab thought we would get along.

Kate: I saw a movie of the wedding.

Revital: And what do you always ask?

Kate: “Where was I?”

Dana Negev.
Tomer Appelbaum

Dana Negev, 60, lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico; flying to Toronto

Hello, can I ask how you came to live in New Mexico?

I moved to San Francisco after the Gulf War in 1991. Because of it I decided to try to live somewhere without all this tension, which was beyond my understanding.

Well, there were a few wars here before that, too.

That’s true, I went through a few wars in Israel, but there was a lot of denial in me, the family, the surroundings, as though this is reality and that’s that. No one referred to the fact that it’s really terribly hard.

Yes, we all repress things.

Because I was born in the United States and have American citizenship, I realized that there was another possibility. It was hard to leave friends and family – everyone’s here and my roots are split – but I decided at some stage that I was an international person, that I belong to many places. It was a wonderful period. I lived like that for 15 years at least.

Why the past tense?

I fell ill two years ago, but I’ll talk about that later. In short, I landed in New Mexico. I wrote a lot there, and then I would come here and really fill up and go back there to write again, in my quiet, and calm down.

Is that what you do in life – write?

I worked as a teacher, but I’m a poet.

What language do you write in?

I write poetry in English. I used to write in Hebrew.

Why did you stop?

Poetry has a lot to do with rhythm, and I noticed that the longer I am in a particular place, the more its language penetrates. Besides which, there are a many new words in Hebrew that I don’t know, all the English that’s turning into Hebrew. I like the old-time Hebrew better, it’s more poetic, without all the technological jargon.

Do you make a living from it?

I was never materialistic, and I didn’t pursue money, but I had ambitions in areas of culture. I had a small production company, I brought artists to Santa Fe.

Anyone I know?

Mostly musicians. For example I brought [Israeli oud player and violinist] Yair Dalal three times.

How was he received?

It was the time of Operation Pillar of Defense [in 2012], and the Americans were attacking in Iraq. I presented him as an Iraqi Israeli and organized an encounter on stage with an Iraqi refugee living in New Mexico, and they played. I made the connection, bringing in someone with Iraqi culture in order to reduce people’s fears of Arabs.

I take it you’re not a Bibi fan.

I was a left-wing peace activist – at least I was.

That’s more than most of us.

But I was hurt by my ideals. Even now, recently, I was hurt by them.

How do ideals hurt someone?

I was very naive about the world, about peace, about nonviolent communication. I thought I had tools and I went to Mexico to work with children. You come to a place and there are all these posters – students who disappeared, women who were murdered. And you understand that you can disappear like that, too. It’s totally corrupt, there’s no law and there’s a great deal of cruelty. I couldn’t take the cruelty of Mexico. It was a breaking point. And there were medical things, too; I’m not healthy, and now I’m trying to rehabilitate myself.

Is there anything specific that can help?

I don’t know what exactly will rehabilitate me; maybe a Buddhist monastery and daily meditation. I don’t know for how long. Whatever works.

Then why did you come to Israel?

I’m alone there, and the friends I have here didn’t let me down for a minute. Every day someone looked after me and fed me.

Then why go back?

Because of the shouting here. On the one hand it was marvelous, on the other hand, the shouting. You need restaurants here with a sign, “Quiet-only zone.” My nervous system is sensitive now, and it was hard for me. I’m a sea and nature type. The whole speedy style – what do we call it, the electromagnetic, internet, digital? – is very hard and is becoming dominant. For people my age, or for me, at least, it’s difficult. There is more and more of everything, and we also don’t exactly know how to read it. I think that if you’re a media person like me, you have even more of a problem with the internet; suddenly you see that you’re into it all day.

What would be preferable?

It makes me happy to be with people like me, who think like me, and to feel that we are together, and experiencing reality in a similar way. Beauty is important to me, whether in art or in nature. And love, of course.