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Hey Donald Trump, Israel called — they want their ancient oil lamps back

Exactly how did historic artifacts wind up in Mar-a-Lago, and what do they tell us about the indicted former president?

It’s not just top-secret nuclear plans: Turns out that Donald Trump has also been hiding ceramic oil lamps from ancient Israel in his Mar-a-Lago estate.

No wonder he had to stick the classified documents in the bathroom! The sock drawer was already full of menorahs.

This is not a parody news story, though it sure sounds like one.

As Haaretz first reported yesterday, the archaeologically valuable lamps were initially brought to the United States in 2019, for use at a White House Hanukkah Party. 

Then, the woke police inside the Trump White House decided not to use them at the party, because they might have come from the occupied West Bank. Which is strange, because you’d think that provenance would be a gimmel (take the pot, in dreidel), not a shin (throw one more into the pot), for Trump’s right-leaning dreidel partners. Oh, it’s from Judea and Samaria! Even better.

Apparently not. So, according to Israel Hasson of the Israel Antiquities Authority, the lamps were entrusted to Saul Fox, a donor to the antiquities authority who had attended the Hanukkah party — I imagine him slipping them into his jacket pocket the way my grandmother smuggled Sweet-and-Low out of Manero’s.

The plan was to ship the things back to Israel by special courier — until the coronavirus pandemic hit and special couriers stopped schlepping ancient relics across the ocean.

There the trail goes cold … until the lamps somehow turned up under the Spanish tiles of Mar-a-Lago, where one may rent a guest suite for around $2,000 a night. Attempts by the antiquities authority to retrieve the treasures have been unsuccessful.

How did this happen? Did someone give the treasures to the ex-president as thanks for moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem? Did Trump purloin the precious artifacts himself? Has someone notified Jack Smith?

One thing is for sure: if Israel Hasson is going public with this story, Israel wants its farkakte lamps back.

Stacks of boxes in a bathroom and shower at Mar-a-Lago. No ancient oil lamps visible. Photo by Getty Images

Then again, maybe the revelation is a tactic to distract from the on-again/off-again Biden-Netanyahu meeting, the mass protests in Israel, and the Bibi bribery scandal. Maybe it’s all a ruse. A misdirection. A red herring.

Or maybe it’s another example of the extreme messiness of this phase of Trump’s career, in which he is both the frontrunner in the Republican presidential primary and soon to be indicted, yet again, this time for obstruction of justice and conspiracy to defraud the United States by attempting to steal an election he knew he lost.

Admittedly, a few unreturned lamps pale in comparison to boxes of top-secret files, multiple criminal prosecutions, and a stated plan to centralize power in the office of the presidency, which is literally what demagogues from You-Know-Who to Emperor Palpatine have always done when they plan to end democracy as we know it.

But they are a bit of a tell.

As someone who works as a rabbi and meditation teacher, as well as a journalist, I’ve often wondered about (and discussed with friends) Trump’s inner life — what, if anything, he really feels. Does he wake up in the middle of the night, suddenly shaken with panic and despair at the webs of lies he’s woven for so long? Is he a schemer, an egotist, an intuitive reader of minds? Is he happy?

Or is there, as many of his closest confidants have reported, really no there, there. That behind the façade there is … only more façade. There is no one minding the store, no master plan, nothing, really, other than the frantic, momentary operations of the ex-president’s ego and id. (The superego seems to have long ago left the building.)

This is, in a way, disappointing to some of my left-wing friends, especially in the rabbinate. Imbued with a respect for teshuvah — for introspection, reflection, and the possibility of return to our best humanity — they believe that someone who causes as much harm as Trump does, who spends so much time both enraged and enraging others, must have moments of self-realization — brief instants in which the sun peeks through the clouds and the president wonders, like David Byrne, “My God, what have I done?”

I’ve never felt this to be true. Wherever we sit on the political spectrum, we all have our rationales, and Trump’s are probably better than most, wrapped as they are in the protective armor of narcissism.

So, to me, the case of the missing oil lamps is a tell. The guy is a mess: His legal team, his finances, the incriminating statements that can and are being used against him in courts of law, everything. So of course his staff, which is probably in constant disarray, lost track of some priceless archeological treasures and stuffed them in a closet in Mar-a-Lago, maybe next to those portraits Trump couldn’t unload on the art market. And now no one knows where they are; after all, those aides have been fired already.

Then again, maybe my friends are right. According to the Kabbalah, the pure light of an olive oil flame is especially conducive to meditation.  Maybe Donald Trump lights his stolen Israeli lamps at midnight, gazes into them, and contemplates his deeds and the sublime interpenetration of earth, air, and fire.

A rabbi can hope.

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