IT WAS ONLY A PRE-GAME SHOW
By Micah Halpern
Monday December 3, 2007
Uriah P. Levy, a fifth generation American, left home at the age of ten to become a cabin boy on American ships. Ten years later he was fighting in the War of 1812 as a member of the United States Navy. Levy would eventually attain the rank of Commodore, the highest rank attainable in the US Navy at the period in history, equivalent to the rank of Admiral in today's Navy.
To the distinction of Commodore, add another distinction. Uriah P. Levy was the first Jewish American to reach the rank of Commodore. The road to leadership was not smooth for Levy. He also had the distinction of being court-martialed six times, more than any other sailor in US military history. He received a total of three presidential pardons from United States presidents Monroe and Taft. Owing to his vast personal experience, President Abraham Lincoln personally appointed Levy to head the court martial board of the United States Navy.
Uriah Levy is responsible for abolishing the act of corporal punishment known as flogging in the United States Navy. He is also the man who purchased and refurbished the famed landmark Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson, a man whom Levy admired for his strong belief in freedom of religion.
Uriah Phillips Levy was a man with a vision. He was a man with perspective. He suffered greatly because he was a Jew in a non-Jewish world, but he persisted and he prevailed. And because of Levy's suffering it is much easier to be a Jew in today's United States Armed Services. The newly-designed Jewish chapel at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland is named in memory of Uriah P. Levy.
The Levy Chapel is a magnificent structure. I had the opportunity to visit the Chapel during one of many breaks in the proceedings during the Peace Summit known as the Annapolis Conference. Hundreds of journalists from around the world attended the Conference, many of them Jewish, many of them Israeli. Tens of diplomats, career and political appointees, attended the Conference. The Chapel was open and visitors were welcome. I was the only man to walk through the large glass doors, to open the ark, to pay tribute to my religion and to a man who fought a valiant battle to maintain his religion.
I was also the only man to enter the Muslim prayer room, an interfaith room that has no markings or art work, a comfortable environment for prayer and introspection outfitted with six prayer rugs spread out on the floor in order to accommodate the many Muslim diplomats and journalists in attendance at the Annapolis Conference.
Middle East Peace Summits are usually hotbeds of tension and unrest, negotiators engaged in diplomatic combat, journalists struggling for exclusive interviews and looking for news leaks. What will Israel's Arab counterpart demand? What will Israel abandon, give up, negotiate out? Will the United States save Israel or sell Israel out? Annapolis, in contrast, was easygoing and actually quite fun. I felt less tension and less pressure than at any previous Summit I have attended.
The stakes were minimal, the negotiations non-existent, the outcome pre-determined. Tensions are still to come, when the real negotiating begins, when real details are brought to the table, when the parties are no longer in the glare of newspaper headlines and television lights. Annapolis was the pre-game show.
The Conference was a huge success for the United States, for the moment. It was a blatant American-orchestrated affront to Iran and to the extremists in the Muslim and Arab world. The United States successfully coerced a large group of countries, including many Arab and Muslim countries, in a way that has never been done before. The United States succeeded in an unstated but implicitly understood goal of creating a behind-closed-doors groundswell of concern over Iran and Muslim Fundamentalist extremism.
The Israeli/Palestinian peace issue was just an excuse manufactured in order to deal with much larger and more significant regional and global objectives. The principles knew that going in. The Israeli team assured me that there was no pressure put on them about anything. No new commitments were made. Instead, a previous commitment, to move forward with the Road Map, was re-affirmed.
For the involved parties, the Annapolis Conference was all show. The substance was obvious only in the well-intended preparations made by the Annapolis Naval Academy itself. Like the open and welcoming chapel and the properly laid out prayer room. And like the fact that along with Navy trinkets, cold drinks and candy bars, the concession sold kosher brown bag lunches properly sealed and prominently stamped with the symbol of a reliable rabbinic authority. For $6 Jews, Muslims and even gentiles were able to buy kosher corned beef and turkey sandwiches.
What a shock that would have been to Uriah P. Levy.
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