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One year later it remains difficult to believe

So much has changed, not least the US presidency, writes Erika Dreifus from New York

    (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

    What a difference a year makes.

    At the end of October 2016, I was travelling in Israel with a group from my home congregation. Our 10-day voyage was scheduled to return us to Newark Liberty International Airport early on Tuesday morning, November 7 — in time to vote in that day’s U.S. presidential election. But just in case we encountered any delays, I obtained and submitted an absentee ballot prior to departure.

    Much about those days lingers in memory: the Israeli hotel breakfasts — still incredible, even after two previous trips, and surpassed only in gustatory recollection on this round by my first taste of knafeh pastry one evening in Haifa. A pre-breakfast venture in Jerusalem to participate in a procession to the Western Wall, a march intended to emphasise principles of religious pluralism and gender equality. A visit to an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) base — and the oh-so-youthful faces that I saw there.

    I remember, too, my first-ever handshake with a Palestinian Arab, which occurred when our group travelled to the West Bank. And another first, a too-quick, tear-filled visit to the Yitzhak Rabin Centre in Tel Aviv. I recall prayers: at a memorial service at Yad Vashem; when a subset of fellow travellers became B’nai Mitzvah together; as we concluded Shabbat with Havdalah by the sea.

    Yes, for those 10 days we were wandering Jews. But we were, importantly, wandering Americans as well.

    And so my memory also flashes back to the pro-Hillary Clinton t-shirts worn by some in our group. The presence of others who supported the Republican candidate. A semi-official policy aboard our tour bus to keep campaign-related discussions to a minimum — a rule that didn’t necessarily apply once we dispersed into smaller clusters.

    I remember that when we visited the Palmach Museum in Tel Aviv toward the trip’s end, we shared an Anglophone tour with a group of Canadians from Toronto. I joked that depending on how things turned out that next week, some of us Americans might be joining them north of the border. Everyone laughed.

    Our return flight landed on time. That evening, I gathered with friends to watch election results at a viewing party in midtown Manhattan.

    One particularly knowledgeable companion predicted that the outcome would hinge on the states of Michigan and Wisconsin. Jet-lagged, I left the party before the returns proved how right he was.

    Back home, I fell asleep shortly before midnight. The television remained on. Sometime between two and three o’clock in the morning, I awakened to the news flashing across my screen.

    It seemed surreal at the time. One year later, it remains difficult to believe, let alone explain.

    Not that there’s been any dearth of analysis. Hillary Clinton’s best-selling book, What Happened, was published in September. Journalist Katy Tur’s Unbelievable: My Front-RowSeat to the Craziest Campaign in American History appeared at the same time

    I can’t help noting that I’d probably have read another volume on the 2016 campaign and election, one that was to have been co-authored by Mark Halperin and John Heileman. After all, I’ve watched every episode of The Circus, their television series on the subject. But last week, in the wake of sexual-harassment allegations against Halperin, Penguin Press announced that it had cancelled that book’s publication.

    (In case you haven’t been following other news from the USA, the Halperin story isn’t the only one about sexual harassment that’s been in the headlines lately; it’s not even the only one involving accounts centred around prominent men of Jewish background. But that’s another subject.)

    I trained as an historian, and I tend to focus on the past more than I suspect most people do. Still, we live in the present, and time moves us, inexorably, into the future. I cannot be certain what the next year will bring, but these days, that’s something I think about quite a lot. I can tell you that I’ve recently registered for my next trip to Israel — a one-week journey that I anticipate with eagerness.

    Glimmers of brightness notwithstanding, I wish that I could be as upbeat about day-to-day developments here at home.

    Erika Dreifus is a writer based in New York