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Finding Ilene Jonathan Rosenberg

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(Erin Otwell / The Free Press)

While I have not lived past lives, I’ve had many past wives. And as it turns out, those do win you some wisdom. 

In my seventy-two years I’ve been married five times, once per decade beginning in my twenties. I’m not proud of this, but it does help define me. Some may call me naive, and I’m sure some of my ex-wives would call me worse. 

From those marriages came two children, two stepchildren, two grandchildren, and an all but empty bank account. And naturally, some lessons.

My first wedding was in 1973. She was 21 and I was 22. We were both young, inexperienced, and idealistic.

We lived in Kalamazoo, Michigan. We owned a house and I had a good job as a teacher. I enrolled in guitar lessons at a community college and started, almost immediately, to write my own songs. I earned my radio operator license and was a disk jockey at an independent music station. I wrote album and concert reviews for the local paper. 

But on the inside I was confused. I had a good life, but I wanted a bigger one. 

I fell in love with my coworker at the school, divorced my wife, and moved to San Diego, California. Both of us found new jobs within days. We got married one year after we moved there, had a beautiful baby boy, and bought “that house.” It was idyllic. I was attending graduate school part-time and working full-time. 

This was the era of women’s liberation and I was right there leading the charge, insisting that my wife and I have a hyphenated last name. I was the one who had the subscription to Ms. magazine.  

We were the model young professional, progressive couple—but still, a model. A facade. Not knowing what a healthy marriage looked like, I did a woefully inadequate job. I wasn’t making enough money to support us. Every month was a struggle. We didn’t know how to give up nice things. I couldn’t fix anything, which you have to do when you own a house and can’t afford to pay someone else to repair what’s broken. So, as it goes, divorce number two came along, accompanied by a healthy dose of karma. I was the one who got dumped this time, and for a much more traditional guy who knew how to fix broken toilets and repair car engines.

I met my next wife, a therapist, on a blind date. We were together for two years when, after being given the “marriage or it’s over” proposition, I popped the question. Standing before the rabbi at the ceremony I kept thinking, ”Really? Again?” She had a daughter, I had a son, and our parenting styles weren’t compatible, which led to arguments, which led to distrust, which led to divorce less than a year later.

I met my fourth wife on a Jewish dating service and got married two years after we met, when she got pregnant. Things fell apart immediately but I didn’t want to be a single dad again, seeing my child every other week, as I was for my son, so I hung in there. Nine years later, I knew that separation was the best thing for both myself and my daughter.

Divorce is never easy, but with wife number four it was excruciating. Papers were signed in December 2009, but custody wasn’t finalized until 2015. 

Thankfully, in that period, I met Ilene. 

It was February 11, 2010, a Thursday, soon after divorce number four was put to bed. I met her in the parking lot of a Rite Aid through the magic of Match.com. My goal, when I made my profile, was companionship. Someone to go to a concert with, share a meal with, laugh with. There wasn’t a lot of that going on lately. Laughter, I mean. 

And then I saw her. Sitting in her SUV, talking on her cell phone. It was 9:15 p.m. 

Ilene had to pick up some things at the drugstore, so I accompanied her. Valentine’s Day was just a few days away, so I bought her a red plastic heart filled with M&M’s, one of her favorite candies. 

We went to Jack in the Box, the only restaurant open at that time of night, and we talked and talked. It was easy. She’ll tell you that there were a number of things working against me—the aforementioned divorces, of course, and my 9-year-old daughter (she had just finished raising two of her own), and my dominating 95-year-old mother who lived a few exits away in a retirement community. 

But in spite of all that, she consented to a second date. She told me she agreed only because I was cute and she was shallow. I didn’t care. I had to see her again. 

Today, Ilene and I have been married for over ten years, which incidentally breaks the record for my longest marriage. And we’re going strong. Other than my two children, Ilene is the best thing that has ever happened to me. Ilene loves who I am, and I love who I am when I am with her. She is the funniest, most sarcastic person I know, and she has allowed my own sense of humor to blossom, though she’ll deny that I’m as funny as I think I am. (She’s wrong, by the way.) 

If I had known better, I would have never married until I had a stronger sense of self. My insecurity was such that when a partner put out the ultimatum of “marriage or it’s over,” I readily chose the former. And why not? Obviously, she wanted to be with me, and isn’t that all that I really wanted? I thought so. 

I say Ilene guides me, but I think it’s more accurate to state that Ilene tries to guide me. I was not, at times, a receptive student. I hasten to add that is still the case. My wife is a wise person. I am, let’s say, getting there. Ilene can be infuriating at times and I have to remind her that I am her husband, not her child. But she’s the one who has opened my heart and mind to possibilities I never dreamed of, and I have, in my older age, realized that I don’t know all that I think I do. 

All this because of Match.com and the date that changed my life.

My final piece of wisdom? Don’t settle. Find someone who believes in you, even if it takes a very long time. Someone who sees you clearly, in ways that you yourself do not see. Find your Ilene. 

Jonathan Rosenberg is 72. He’s a playwright and a producer living in San Diego. His musical,  East Carson Street, will have its world premiere in May 2024 in New Jersey.

Read the other Senior Essay Contest runners-up, Cheri Block Sabraw and Joan McCaul.

 

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Iran Comes Out of the Shadows Bari Weiss

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Iranians celebrate Iran’s attack against Israel in downtown Tehran, Iran. (Photo by Morteza Nikoubazl/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Over the past 24 hours, the war that has raged in the Middle East since October 7 took on a new dimension.

In a historic first, Iran directly attacked Israel from its own territory—launching more than 300 drones and missiles toward Israel.

As Free Press columnist Matti Friedman writes today from Jerusalem: “Like a flash going off in a dark room, the attack has finally given the world something valuable: a glimpse of the real war in the Middle East.”

Tehran’s strike on Israel—who thankfully had defensive help from the U.S., Britain, France, Jordan, and reportedly Saudi Arabia—should make clear, for those still in doubt, that this war is not about Gaza, or even about Israel and a single Iranian proxy in Hamas. It is about Iran.

“The importance of last night’s barrage was that for the first time, the full Iranian alliance gave us a practical demonstration of its scope, orchestration, and intentions,” Matti writes. “If you’d been watching from space, you probably could have seen the lines of this new Middle East etched in orange and red across the map of the region.”

READ MATTI FRIEDMAN HERE.

Some Americans understand that clearly—and aren’t condemning it, but cheering it on. Our Olivia Reingold found herself at a conference of anti-war activists in Chicago on Saturday. Activists were taught how to chant “Death to America” and “Death to Israel” in Farsi. Watch:

And, when news of the attack broke, the crowd cheered and burst into chants of “Hands off Iran.” 

READ OLIVIA’S DISPATCH HERE.

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April 13, 2024 Heather Cox Richardson

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Michael Oren: How Did the War Begin? With Iran’s Appeasers in Washington Michael Oren

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Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken. As Iranian provocations have mounted, the Biden administration has refrained from holding Tehran accountable. (Photo by Andrew Harnik/Getty Images)

JERUSALEM — Historians writing years from now about the Middle East conflagration of 2024 will undoubtedly ask, “When did it all begin?” Some will point to the Bush administration which, demoralized by its inconclusive wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, rejected Israel’s entreaties to take out Iran’s then-inchoate nuclear program in 2008.

Others might cite Israel’s willingness to play by the mullahs’ rules, retaliating against their Hezbollah and Hamas proxies rather than against Iran itself, enabling it to emerge from each round of fighting utterly unscathed. 

But the bulk of the blame, fair historians will likely agree, will have to fall on the policies of those in Washington who sought to appease Iran at almost any price and ignore its serial aggressions.

Those policies began in the week after President Barack Obama’s inauguration in January 2009. In one of the forty-fourth president’s first acts of foreign diplomacy, Obama sent an offer of reconciliation to Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. That June, in his historic Cairo speech, Obama became the first president to refer to Tehran’s regime as the Islamic Republic of Iran—legitimizing the oppressive theocracy—and stood aside while that republic’s thugs beat and shot hundreds of Iranian citizens protesting for their freedom.

Over the next four years, the White House ignored a relentless spate of Iranian aggressions—attacks against U.S. Navy vessels in the Persian Gulf; backing for al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups dedicated to America’s destruction; and barely disguised efforts to undermine pro-Western Middle Eastern governments.

At the same time, Iran supported Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad’s mass slaughter—often with poison gas—of his own countrymen. Obama had declared Syria’s use of chemical weapons as “a red line” that would have “enormous consequences” on America’s involvement in the war. It didn’t.

In Washington, the administration overlooked an Iranian attempt to assassinate the Saudi and Israeli ambassadors (including me) and ended a federal investigation of a billion-dollar Hezbollah drug and arms trafficking ring in the United States. Most egregiously, Iran constructed secret underground nuclear facilities and developed an intercontinental ballistic missile delivery system that threatened the entire Middle East and much of Europe.

Why would any White House, even one devoted to rebuilding America’s relationship with the Islamic world, seek rapprochement with such a regime? 

At the time, there were multiple reasons. First, there was the desire of the United States, tired of Middle Eastern wars and no longer dependent on Arab oil, to withdraw from the region and focus on the Far East. Next, there was the belief that the U.S. had traditionally relied on its Sunni and Israeli allies only to discover that Sunnis perpetrated 9/11 and Israelis defied American policy in the West Bank. The Iranians, stronger, modern, and open to the West—so many American policymakers concluded—offered a better alternative if only their leadership were assuaged. Lastly, and ultimately most decisively, was the Iranian nuclear program, a burgeoning strategic threat that the White House refused to interdict by military means.

The nuclear agreement reached in 2015 between the United States, the United Kingdom, France, China, Russia, Germany, and Iran—euphemistically called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—had three major objectives: to block Iran’s path to the bomb, ensure that Iran became what Obama called “a responsible regional power,” and, failing that, to kick the “nuclear can” down the road. The first two goals proved illusory. 

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei adjusts his eyeglasses after casting his ballots during the parliamentary and key clerical body elections at a polling station in Tehran on March 1, 2024. (Photo by ATTA KENARE/AFP via Getty Images)

Rather than block Iran’s path to the bomb, the agreement solidly paved it by allowing Iran to retain most of its nuclear infrastructure and to continue producing ever more advanced centrifuges capable of reducing Iran’s breakout time to mere weeks. The deal put no meaningful restrictions on Iran’s missile delivery systems or its clandestine weapons programs. And even then, the largely cosmetic limitations were set to expire in less than a decade. Well before that time, though, Iran harnessed the deal’s financial and strategic rewards to expand its sphere of influence across Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. So much for the responsible regional power.

In 2018, President Trump withdrew from the JCPOA, reinstated punishing sanctions on Iran, and retaliated for Iranian attacks against Americans, indicating a different approach to the issue, but that policy proved short-lived. A centerpiece of Joe Biden’s 2019 presidential campaign was his pledge to restore America’s adherence to the JCPOA. No sooner had the Democrats regained the White House than the Iranians began to violate the agreement on a massive scale, gradually achieving military nuclear threshold capacity.

Of the original motivations for the deal—blocking Iran’s path to the bomb and transforming Iran into a peaceful nation—neither remained. All Biden was left with was the ability to kick the can down the road and to uphold Obama’s singular foreign policy achievement.

As the Iranian centrifuges spun, the Biden administration entered into intense negotiations to renew the JCPOA. The talks were headed by Robert Malley, who was evicted from the Obama campaign in 2008 for meeting with Hamas. Under Biden, Malley became America’s special envoy to Iran, but he was recently ousted for mishandling sensitive information. Though the initiative to reinstate the deal eventually failed, the U.S. still provided Iran with at least $10 billion in funds that had been frozen, and reportedly much more than that in quiet sanction relief. 

Meanwhile, the Iranian provocations mounted. An ally of Russia, Iran provided thousands of offensive drones and long-range missiles used to kill America’s allies in Ukraine. Since the start of the war against Hamas, Iranian proxies have launched more than 170 attacks against U.S. military bases in Iraq, Syria, and Jordan, and all but blocked international shipping through the strategically crucial Bab al-Mandeb Strait. 

Still, the U.S. refrained from retaliating against Iran directly, or even holding it publicly responsible. When, in January, three American soldiers were killed by a drone strike by an Iranian-backed militia, the U.S. struck back at the militia and not at the country—or even the factory—that produced the bomb. 

Then, on Sunday, a historic first: Tehran directly attacked Israel from its territory with hundreds of drones and missiles.

Historians will survey this inexplicable record and wonder how the United States not only allowed Iran to repeatedly assault its citizens, soldiers, and allies but consistently rewarded it for doing so. They may well conclude that in a desperate effort to avoid getting dragged into a regional Middle Eastern war, the U.S. might well have precipitated one. 

While America’s friends in the Middle East, especially Israel, have every reason to feel grateful for the vital assistance they received in intercepting Iran’s missile and drone onslaught, they might also ask what the U.S. can now do differently to deter Iran from further aggression. Press reports about President Biden’s refusal to support an Israeli counterattack against Iran indicate, sadly, that nothing substantial in the U.S. position has changed. He has reportedly urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to see the coordinated response to the attack as a “win.”

The Iranians, though, will not see things that way. Tehran will see this weekend’s direct attack on Israel as a victory—their own—for their ability to continue threatening Israel and destabilizing the Middle East with impunity. If Israel follows Biden’s advice it will send one message to the ayatollahs: “You can launch another 350 missiles and drones at Israel or try to kill Israelis by other means. Either way, the United States won’t stop you.” 

Israel, of course, must respond differently. Our target cannot simply be the Iranian proxies that surround our country and that have waged war on us since October 7, but, as the Saudis call it, “the head of the snake.”

The story of America can end only one of two ways: either it stands up boldly against Iran and joins Israel in deterring it, or Iran emerges from this conflict once again unpunished, undiminished, and ready to inflict yet more devastating damage.

Michael Oren, formerly Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Knesset member, and deputy minister for diplomacy in the Israeli prime minister’s office, is the author of the Substack publication Clarity.

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