Postcard from the End of America: Ann Arbor, Michigan

Say Ann Arbor and people will think of Michigan football, with the second biggest stadium in the entire world, behind only North Korea’s Rungrado May Day Stadium. The annual marijuana rally, Hash Bash, may also come to mind.

Downtown is filled with hip cafés, trendy shops, comfy brewpubs and sophisticated restaurants. These kids have money, I thought as I roamed around, searching for cheap beer. In-state tuition, in turns out, is $28,776, and out of state is $59,784. Michigan has plenty of international students, most notably Chinese.

At Curtain Call, the 30-something bartender, Chris, was from Hawaii. Her dad owned a Maui bar close enough to the beach for surfers to down a few at dawn before hitting the waves. Sounded like paradise. Chris couldn’t work for her old man, however, because he was so cheap, so she ended slinging beer in Ann Arbor. Chris had originally gone there to study biochemistry at the university.

This was her first Friday night off in eleven years, Chris confessed, “I don’t know what to do with myself.”

“You should go somewhere and drink.”

“It’s been eleven years since I can do that!”

“That’s interesting.”

“For me, it doesn’t matter if it’s one drink or ten drinks, I’ll still get a headache in the morning.”

“You should drink ten then!”

We laughed.

Jewish, Chris told me Ann Arbor’s best deli was Zingerman’s.

In my late 20s, I took a girl to a Philly diner. I ordered chicken liver, a favorite to this day. Maria looked at me in horror, “What the fuck are you eating?! Chicken shit?!”

Did I tell you that Jews have been most instrumental in my life? In college, my three most supportive professors, Boris Putterman, Stephen Berg and Eileen Neff, were Jews, with Berg and Neff practically my surrogate parents, they nurtured me so much. Berg bought a painting of mine to put over his fireplace, and lent me money several times. My fiction publisher, Dan Simon, is Jewish, and Jewish Ron Unz has treated me better than any other webzine editor. Novelist Matthew Sharpe has talked me up in the fiction world. I can go on and on. Hell, my first date was with a Jewish girl, and I even lost my virginity to a Jew! I traveled through remote northwest Vietnam with photographer Mitch Epstein, and with 6–9 Lloyd Luntz, explored the Mekong Delta. Jews swarm me, fill my head, course through my veins. I can go on and on.

My next time at Curtain Call, I chatted with a 28-year-old who wished he was 25. “My last birthday, I said it was the 3rd anniversary of my 25th.”

Overhearing this, a guy down the bar shouted, “I wish I was 50!”

Another old head jumped in, “I wish I was 60!”

With two friends threatening suicide, I brought up the topic to this just-arrived, incipient man who’s already mourning his lost youth. “Don’t do it before you’re 50!” I joked.

Outside the Federal Building on Liberty Street, I ran into two people protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline. Their signs, “I STAND WITH STANDING ROCK,” “CAN’T DRINK OIL / WATER IS LIFE / #NODAPL” and “BE A TSUNAMI,” among others.

Jeff’s a retired lawyer, and Mary’s a former elementary school teacher who worked at Crazy Wisdom, a tea room and bookstore. This month’s book picks include Mediumship: An Introductory Guide to Developing Spiritual Awareness and Intuition, Magicians of the Gods: Fingerprints of the Gods, Rest in Power: The Enduring Life of Trayvon Martin and The Education of Will: a Mutual Memoir of a Woman and her Dog.

I asked what they were about. Jeff, “If you feel connected to Mother Earth, then you’re going to protect Mother Earth, and you’re going to relate to the Native Americans, and what they stand for. We don’t own any of this. We think we own it, but that’s an illusion.”

Ellen, “People will say I’m not doing it, but we’re all one, so we are all doing it. We live in homes that use electricity and gas. The America first mindset has been going on for a while. Not enough of us realize that we are one with the rest of the world. If they starve, so do we. Our hearts do, even if our bodies are not. I feel responsible for the world.”

“So what are you doing personally to help?” I asked.

“Personally, I am keeping my temperature lower. I’m using less water. I am signing every petition that comes my way that I believe in. I’m contributing money to the bigger organizations that I feel can, perhaps, get their voice heard more than I can.

“So many people don’t know any different, and so they assume that everything they’re doing is fine. Many people don’t know that a lot of people in the world are suffering. They just don’t understand, and if they do know, they don’t care. It’s not their own family.

“My own stepson and his family, they work at home, they love their children, they’re good people, but he says, ‘This is my world.’ It’s his home and his family.”

Jeff, “I think the culture is so isolating. You get in your car and you drive around. You look at your phone all day. We do things that separate us, you know.

“Look where we are, close to Detroit, where they make automobiles. For me, I don’t particularly enjoy driving around in a car all day.”

I brought up the election. Ellen, “What happened is a huge amount of people who felt like they didn’t have a voice, and it was a contemptuous voice, were given it by he who should not be president. And, they feel really good now, but nothing is really going to happen for them, but they were heard. To be heard is going to be enough for them for a while.

“I do yoga with a quite introspective man, and he thinks something went wrong with America this time. It’s been building up, and I’ll admit that Hillary was a part of it too, but this election is proof positive that we are fucked!”

Jeff, “People need to speak up, and not be afraid to speak up, you know, whatever their conscience is. I’m not a fan of the media at all. People will try to steer you in their direction. You need the courage to stand alone and be a voice, a different voice. It takes courage to do it.”

Ellen, “It does, it does, and courage isn’t something Americans have in huge, ah, commodity.”

College towns proliferate in approved political statements, so in Ann Arbor, I saw a “Black Lives Matter” banner at a church, “Black Lives Matter” signs outside homes, a rainbow flag in front of a church with “God is still speaking” and a “WITH ISRAEL WE STAND” sign at a liquor store, etc. A house displayed a “PEACE” rainbow flag and a bed sheet painted with “WE SUPPORT OUR MUSLIM NEIGHBORS.”

Nowhere did I see “STOP BOMBING MUSLIMS,” “STOP SUPPORTING THE TERROR STATE OF ISRAEL” or “STOP SLANDERING AND PROVOKING RUSSIA.”

A progressive American is mostly a jerked puppet that’s outraged solely at preselected triggers. At his Deir Yassin Remembered website, lifelong Ann Arbor resident Henry Herskovitz explains:

Jackie Robinson and Jewish Power

Emotions naturally flare at watching the PBS special shown on MLK day of the career of baseball icon Jackie Robinson. Who could not grow emotional when reminded that Jackie and wife Rachel were bumped twice from the planes carrying them to a spring training camp in Florida? What outrage is felt by viewers recognizing that this discrimination they experienced came merely because of the color of their skin and nothing else!

Yes, we get it. And we feel for the Robinsons; their plight was genuine. Racial discrimination still exists in America.

But what about Muhammed Ali, my friend and sandwich shop operator in the Balata refugee camp near Nablus, Palestine? Muhammed grew up in Haifa, graduated high school there and earned a technical degree before being bumped, not just from an airplane, but from his home town. Yes, he cannot return to Haifa and swim in the Mediterranean the way his family did before him. He cannot even travel to the Haram esh-Sharif/Noble Sanctuary to practice his religion. Like Jackie Robinson, Muhammed is the wrong “color”: neither ethnic Jew, secular Jew, nor religious Jew.

Isn’t there a story here as well, PBS? Perhaps even more compelling than Robinson’s, because Muhammed has yet to break his “color” barrier. Hello, Hollywood, isn’t his story worthy—at least—of a two-hour documentary?

Born Jewish, Herskovitz soured on his tribe after a trip to Israel. He saw firsthand the gross brutality of the illegally founded terror state. Back in Ann Arbor, Herskovitz wanted to give a presentation to his synagogue, Beth Israel, but the rabbi nixed the idea. Outraged, Herskovitz has staged an anti-Israel protest outside Beth Israel each Saturday for 13+ years. Though Herskovitz loves to ride his motorcycle long distances, he always come back in time to stand with his signs. A small band join him.

Last year, I visited Herskovitz at home and saw anti-Israel messages everywhere, including on the salt shaker, the fridge, the car, the garage and even the fireplace’s ember screen. To some neighbors’ dismay, Herskovitz paid to have “STOP US AID TO ISRAEL” and “LIBERATE PALESTINE/END ISRAEL” incised into the sidewalk outside his house.

Herskovitz routinely wears an anti-Israel T-shirt and baseball cap, and on his car are several anti-Israel stickers.

In 2015, Herskovitz and his allies paid for a billboard in Detroit, “AMERICA FIRST NOT ISRAEL.” Herskovitz:

The strategy behind this billboard’s statement, ‘America First, Not Israel,’ is to drive a wedge between those who feel American interests are not served by fighting wars for Israel, and the Israel-firsters in this country who manipulate our leaders into the false premise that Israel is the ally of the United States.

Charges of anti-Semitism quickly flooded in, and the message was taken down, so it was put up at another, more out of the way spot, until this second billboard company was also pressured to remove it. Henry:

Jewish Power Never Sleeps

Like Michigan rust on vehicles, Jewish Power remains relentless at getting its way. Just when Witness for Peace was to announce the installation of a local billboard—sponsored by sister organization Deir Yassin Remembered and carrying our message “America First, Not Israel”—we get “the call.” The billboard [ . . . ] was taken down by Adams Outdoor Advertising one week after installation, effectively terminating a three-month contract.

That’s how long it took for Jewish Power to pressure Adams’ executives into seeing things their way. The call came from General Manager Mike Cannon, who admitted to receiving phone calls asking that the billboard be taken down. Mike claimed he was not the one who made the decision, and provided the phone number of Vice President of Human Resources Brian Grant to field my questions.

Brian developed a mantra for the conversation we shared: “the decision to remove the billboard was a collective decision and was made because the message did not meet Adams’ company standards. We removed the billboard and refunded your money. And that’s all I can say.” Brian fell back on this mantra at least a half dozen times during our 20-minute discussion. And reminded me that, since a clause in the contract allowed Adams to terminate at any time, there was no “breach of contract.”

Q: What were the company standards?

A: [Brian was not going to go into that.]

Q: How do you square the fact that the message was initially approved by Adams?

A: It should not have been approved; due diligence was not applied.

Q: Who were the people complaining about the billboard?

A: [Would not answer that.]

Q: What were the organizations calling for the billboard to be taken down?

A: [See above.]

Q: Would the decision to pull the billboard have been the same had the message been simply America First?

A: Well, you’re asking a hypothetical.

Q: You mean Adams would NOT run a billboard saying America First?

A: [No answer.]

And so it goes. By deception shall you make war. DYR and WfP lose the round; Jewish Power wins. We move on.

When Russia Today reported on this billboard controversy, the first commenter said, “Calling Americans to put interest of America ahead of Isreal is branded as anti-Semitic ? That goes to prove how much the Zionist wants the Americans to be brain dead!”

Brainwashed, Americans also cringe at “Jewish power,” but it’s OK so declare and celebrate “black power,” “Latino power,” “gay power” or “women’s power,” etc. Aren’t AIPAC, the flushing of the U.S.S. Liberty down the memory hole, the abject kowtowing of DC politicians to Tel Aviv and our endless war against Israel’s enemies all examples of Jewish power?

But you’re dead wrong, anti-Semite! As eternal victims everywhere, Jews are always powerless, so only Jew haters would dare to suggest otherwise.

“Are you a Jew hater?” I asked Herskovitz. His answer:

“Hate” is a term used by my opponents, not by me. “Hate speech” is used by the Hasbara folks as an epithet thrown at their perceived enemies. Like “Holocaust Denier,” the users of these terms do not define them, but merely slime those whose voices they want to silence. I’m a “hater” because Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center says I am. Could Mr. Potok be a child molester because I make the claim?

I try not to play defense. My experience in these matters tells me that once I start down the slippery slope of “denial,” or defending my position, this tactic merely fuels opponents’ appetite for further questions. It answers nothing. The best defense is a good offense.

Even if I were to admit a hatred of an ethnic/religious group, an interesting question arises. Assume this group was Irish Protestants, and I said I hated them. Who would care? But admitting to hating Jews is another story altogether. Perhaps the phrase “To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize” makes sense when used in this context.

And the question becomes rather ludicrous when you consider that I love my sister, her children and grandchildren; ditto for my Virginia cousins, their children and grandchildren. I’m even scheduled to attend a Bat Mitzvah of one of these kids this summer. If you were to tell this group I’m a Jew hater, you would not be believed.

So no, Herskovitz has no beef with ordinary Jews, or he would have to disown his entire family, but haven’t Jewish policy makers, media masters, opinion shapers and bankers used their disproportionate sway over the makeup and direction of this country to harm not just their Muslim enemies, but ordinary Americans?

In putting up the billboard, “AMERICA FIRST / NOT ISRAEL,” Herskovitz merely wants our country to serve its own citizens, and not be distorted, corrupted, discredited and destroyed by a foreign agenda, and I, as an American, can’t help but concur.

Linh Dinh’s Postcards from the End of America has just been released by Seven Stories Press. He maintains an active photo blog.

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2 Responses to Postcard from the End of America: Ann Arbor, Michigan

  1. Tony Vodvarka

    One of the most surreal political events I have ever witnessed was PM Netanyahu’s March 2015 speech to a joint session of Congress. Our Congress critters leapt to their feet in joyous rapture twenty-eight times in forty-seven minutes. To quote John Stewart, “this speech was, by far, the longest blowjob a Jewish man has ever received.”

  2. Yes, yes, yes…

    “STOP BOMBING MUSLIMS,”
    “STOP SUPPORTING THE TERROR STATE OF ISRAEL” “STOP SLANDERING AND PROVOKING RUSSIA.”

    Thank you, Linh Dinh! Unfortunately, folks just don’t seem to get it.