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Biff America: Victims of ideologies

Jeffrey Bergeron
Biff America

Max was an old Jewish man from New York City. Michael is a retired college professor married to a Palestinian. Their contrasting opinions were cemented by their varying life experiences and perspectives.

Doing the math, Max is no longer among the living. He was closing in on 80 when we last spoke about 25 years ago.

He lived with his wife, Ada, in a 25-foot motor home, which had an engine clean enough to eat off of. He spent his summers in Colorado, back in the days when the local policies were friendlier to people camping in parking lots.



Max grew up in New York City, but he spent much of his life in Israel as an engineer. Ada is Israeli and was born in Haifa.

For two summers they parked their rig in vacant lots around Breckenridge and Frisco; I would visit them about once a week. It was a match made in heaven: I was too lazy to read history and Max had lived it.



Max graduated from Columbia University and had traveled all over the world. You could ask him about almost any historical event, and he would know something about it.

We would sit in his camper drinking weak Lipton tea and eating stale saltines while Max pontificated on my chosen subject. When my attention span faded I’d leave, but before I did I might say, “Next time I want to know more about the cause of World War I” (the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand was only an excuse) or “What might have happened had the South won the Civil War?”

Ada would later tell me that Max would often go to the local library to bone up on my requests.

When I asked him about the Palestine and Israel conflict, he needed no research.

He began with the Ottoman Empire, part of which became Israel. He mentioned “political Zionism” and the Balfour Declaration; I’ve forgotten much of what those were about.

When he spoke of the Holocaust, he would both shout and weep.

While Max pontificated and strutted, Ada grew quiet. She had lost family members in the various conflicts.

Max summed up the situation this way: “When you are surrounded by countries that want your extermination, and fighting zealots who would gladly kill themselves in order to kill children, mercy is a luxury you cannot afford. Israel just wants to be left alone.”

Now granted, I was hearing just one emphatic side offered by a guy who had a dog in the hunt. I walked away from the history lesson convinced of the sanctity of Israel and in awe of the resiliency of its people.

About three years ago, at a campground in California, I met Michael. Mike was a retired college professor from Oregon. He was born in Italy and raised in Damascus, Syria. His wife, Katrina, was born in a Palestinian refugee camp. We camped in that spot for a few nights, and Michael was as talkative as Max but with a polar opposite perspective.

Michael was about the same age as Max was the last time we sat in his camper. Mostly we talked about skiing, biking and wildflowers, but one night, over cocktails, I broached the subject of Gaza. I had a vague recollection of Max’s take, but much of it I had forgotten.

Michael spoke of oppression and overreaction at the hands of the Israelis. According to Michael, after one of the Arab-Israeli wars, Israel increased its territory by almost half. Katrina’s parents lived in that area, so she grew up in an occupied country. He mentioned checkpoints that prevented Arabs from traveling from home to work and civilian homes being leveled by missiles and bulldozers.

Michael acknowledged that Israel is surrounded by enemies. Still, he maintains that much of what is now Israel was territory claimed in battle, and America would not have allowed that to happen to a Christian nation.

“That would be like America claiming Germany and Japan after World War II as part of the United States,” he said. “Even rational people will behave irrationally when they believe their country is occupied by a foreign army of a strange religion.”

Now granted, Max’s and Mike’s inverse convictions were on either end of the spectrum. I would guess there was much room in the middle; all history is seasoned by opinion.

Had they ever met, I have little doubt (avoiding that one subject) Max and Mike would have enjoyed each other’s company. I don’t have a clue whose take is more valid. But they both reminded me that, while governments and political parties can be enemies, the average people who belong to them are simply victims.


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