On Monday evening, protesters gathered outside the Metropolitan Opera in a demonstration against the opening night of The Death of Klinghoffer, an opera that has received much criticism for the way in which it tells the story of Leon Klinghoffer’s death at the hands of PLO militants. Among the protesters was former governor George Pataki, former mayor Rudy Giuliani, and several congressmen.
But just 10 blocks away from Lincoln Center, at the JCC, another, quieter protest of the Met’s opening night of Kinghoffer, organized by the Jewish Community Relations Council, was brewing. The JCRC, to join forces with the Metropolitan Opera’s critics, decided to screen a three-hour made-for-TV movie from 1990 that tells the real story of Klinghoffer’s death starring an old Burt Lancaster as Leon Klinghoffer. Unlike the opera, this film recounts the events of Klinghoffer’s death without giving a voice to the militants who killed him.
For a number of reasons, I’ve never been one for protests.
I saw Doctor Zhivago at a very young age and the Cossack scene really made an impression on me. It taught me that even at a peaceful protest, a mounted paramilitary unit is still liable to show up and cut you down. But really, I’ve stayed away from protests because I don’t really have many convictions. I narrowly dodged a few awkward moments in high school when student activists groups planned bus trips to D.C., and again a few weeks ago when the People’s Climate March took place.
Over the years, I’ve softened, and even started to lament my complete uninvolvement with political protests. So when the opportunity to attend a protest of sorts presented itself, I decided that at 24, it was about time I bite the bullet (or Cossack’s Shashka, if you will). No, I did not intend to demonstrate beside Giuliani, but I thought I’d ease myself into it by going to the JCC.
Doors were meant to open at 6 p.m. It felt a bit early and I wasn’t thrilled about protesting on an empty stomach but I reminded myself that protesting is about putting aside your needs for the good of the mob.
Upon my arrival, however, a JCC coordinator informed me that the screening was not an official JCC event, and that nobody from the JCRC had shown up. She also explained that a few other people had asked about the event but seem annoyed after learning that there was a rather large discrepancy between the advertised start time and the actual start time. I felt bad for the older Jews who would have wanted to take a stand on the matter but couldn’t quite commit to the full Lincoln Center protest, and would now have to go home dissatisfied.
As the hour passed and it neared 7 p.m., it became clear that the screening might have fallen through. With my first opportunity at public moral outrage at risk, I started to feel anxious. I was all riled up and I knew that if I didn’t use the momentum to break into the protesting scene now, it might never happen. If I hurry, I thought, I might be able to make it to the protest at Lincoln Center before the opera starts. But I knew that if I left the JCC, there was a chance that the JCRC would show up 10 minutes later and start the screening without me, and that I might miss Giuliani either way.
And the bigger problem was that I’d been promised a movie about Klinghoffer, and since that probably wasn’t going to happen the next best thing would obviously be to see the opera in question. Would it be possible to sprint down Broadway, find Rudy, do a little shouting if I felt up to it, and then, after putting my foot in one camp, I could double down on protesting—play both sides of the field—and get it all out of my system in one night by going to see if there were any standing room opera tickets available for ‘The Death of Klinghoffer?’
Alexander Aciman is a writer living in New York. His work has appeared in, among other publications, The New York Times, Vox, The Wall Street Journal, and The New Republic.