What signs will tell us when the Moshiach (the Messiah) has finally arrived?
That question was far from my mind when, recently, I booked a short stay in New York City. I made a reservation at a convenient hotel and received, along with a confirmation of my reservation, a letter from the manager. He wrote that a “diplomat” would be staying at the hotel during the days I had booked, and, as a result, there would be heightened security in place. None of that, he assured me, would detract from my stay.
I promptly forgot about the letter… until I arrived. The hotel’s perimeter was ringed by massive concrete blocks, each about a meter apart from the next. It looked like the builders of Stonehenge had been at work on Park Avenue. 61st Street, which bordered the hotel to the south, was closed to traffic. Police were guarding the street, questioning would-be pedestrians before allowing them to pass.
There was more: besides the New York City police surrounding the hotel, there were teams of body-armored officers with guns strapped to their chests, tasked with searching everyone who went into the hotel. “Secret Service” was stenciled in bold yellow letters on their vests, making their identity less than a mystery. Searches were conducted with an x-ray machine, wands, a bomb-sniffing dog, and plenty of pat-downs.
The mystery that had the guests guessing, of course, was the identity of this “diplomat.” To my inexpert eye, the security looked heavy enough for the world’s most powerful leader, President Biden, or perhaps its most threatened one, Ukraine’s President Zelensky. According to news accounts, neither was in town. But, because the United Nations General Assembly was meeting then, there were many other leaders nearby. Which one, we asked each other, were we sharing the hotel with? Which of them had sufficient status to require locking down the block and deploying a small army around the building?
My first clue came when I went to the gym on the first morning of my stay. Two young, super-fit men were pushing each other to the limit of their strength and endurance, urging each other on in rapid-fire Hebrew.
Confirming evidence came from a fellow guest, a balding man wearing green shorts and horn-rimmed glasses. He and I rode the elevator to the lobby with six heavily armed not-so Secret Service members.
“Well, at least we can feel safe,” I said.
“They’re here for Herzog… the president of Israel,” he said.
I asked him how he knew. He wrinkled his nose and said, “Why do you think there are so many yarmulkes around?”
On the morning of my last day, all the security—the concrete blocks, steel gates, x-ray machine, small army and sniffing dog—vanished without a trace, as they had been part of a dream. A hotel employee said, yes, President Herzog had indeed been staying there. He had addressed the General Assembly, a reasonable walk from the hotel.
The president of Israel is a largely ceremonial role. The office has prestige but little power. Sadly though, it is an office that requires heavy security.
I wondered if, on his way to his speech, Mr. Herzog had lingered at the monument outside the UN on which Isaiah’s prophecy of an age of eternal peace is carved: “Nation shall not lift sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”
In the same verse, Isaiah foresees that nations “will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks.”
And, reflecting on what I had seen, I would add that when that golden age of peace arrives, the President of Israel shall walk alone from Park to First and will fear no evil. For, in that time, Israel’s head of state will be protected not by concrete and steel but rather by “the law… from Zion and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.”
May that time be at hand.
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Alex Troy worked at two Jewish schools, teaching history at one and serving as head of the other. He has written a novel inspired by his time as an educator, which will be published in 2023. Alex also worked as a lawyer and investor. He and his wife, Dale, have three grown daughters. They live in Florida and Connecticut.