Friday, November 23, 2018

I Don't Wear My Kippah at WalMart

Several years ago I was sitting in a cafe with someone who suggested I take off my kippah.  The neighborhood we were in was a predominantly Catholic and so she thought it might make people uncomfortable and could result in a response.  I normally wear my kippah when I am doing something related to my work so I tend to have it on a lot.  Her request seemed odd but I realized I do take it off in some places, so I wrote an essay that I don't wear my kippah at WalMart.  I am not a frequent WalMart shopper but at the time it was a place I went for certain items.  I found wearing my kippah that was not something that put me in a form of danger, quite the opposite.  What it did was create a chance for people to talk to me about Judaism.  Total strangers would either ask me questions, tell me they loved the Jewish people or worse ask try to preach to me.  While I am always up for a good theological discussion, that was not the place.  It seemed that it was the only place that this happened here in Indianapolis.  When I lived in the south however, a kippah was like Lucy's psychology stand in Peanuts.  I didn't wear it nearly as much as I do now but when I did I could expect a conversation.  Only once did I feel threatened wearing it.  One day I came back to town from shul and forgot I had my kippah on, I went to the post office in downtown Milledgeville.  As I crossed the street I heard someone yell from a pick-up "Christ Killer".  It reminded me that there are people who still feel that they can shout out hateful things.  That was 20 years ago, now there is a feeling in the air that simply yelling isn't going to be enough for some.  The recent attack on the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh is the worst of what has become a significant increase in antisemitic attacks in the US.  White Nationalist groups are coming out into the daylight and seem to feel they have a friend in power.  Some have even run and received the nomination of a major political party.  So today public Jewish expression can be an act of bravery and defiance. 

A recent Facebook post from a friend, a young woman living in a major US city, a city with a large Jewish population and a high level diversity, put today's world into perspective.  Since Pittsburgh she has stopped wearing her Hebrew name necklace.  She, like many Jews, feel that it is important to be careful when in public.  The rise of comfort with antisemitic voices scares many people and the results of that are clear.  So recently in Philadelphia the Proud Boys, a white supremacist group, rallied near the center of town, the cradle of freedom and near the American Museum of Jewish History.  I was planning to walk there as I was in Philly for a convention.  Several friends were nervous about me walking down there and I had to promise not to wear anything that identified me as a Jew.  Again, in an large American city being Jewish in public is seen as dangerous.  We should not have to live like this.  Nor should Muslims, Sheikhs. or any other group whose appearance identifies them to a particular group.  Our country was founded in diversity and has struggled for decades to make more room at the table, we must push back at those wanting to take away the chairs.  I am not sure the answer.  Around the world nationalists and authoritarian leaders are gaining power and influence.  As one of the world's strongest liberal democracies the people must stand up for what American values are and fight to keep us at least where we have grown to today.  Wearing religious or cultural clothing or symbols should never have to be an act of bravery in a country that has valued equality, even if it took some groups decades of fighting to achieve a taste of that.  Let's all call out hate where we see it.  Be it in a small group of men and women who are angered that the world is changing too fast for them, or if your political party nominates someone who feels that humanity has a pecking order based solely on genetics.  We don't and should agree on everything.  Diversity of thought is a value and strength.  But one thing we can all agree on is that hate and fear have no place in our society and kippah, a hijab, a turban or mere Hebrew letters can be worn proudly in public.  

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Did You Buy a Monkey's Paw

A story by W W Jacobs called the Monkey's Paw tells the story of a couple who are in need of money and come into possession of a monkey's paw, brought to England from India.  Told there is a curse on the paw though it will grant three wishes. After thinking about the curse and fretting over what might happen they wish for money to pay off his mortgage.  That afternoon their son is killed in a horrible accident and to compensate the family they are given the exact amount they wished for earlier.  Later, the boys mother wishes their son to return and as there is a knock at the door, but before the door could be opened, the father, knowing that destruction the body had suffered and the decay the week since his death would have on body makes a final wish and when the door is opened there is no one there.  Another version of the story known as Button Button  has a couple who are in difficult financial straits visited by a stranger who gives them a box with a button on top and says "If you push the button you will receive enough wealth to live comfortably but someone you don't know will die"  After a similar discussion of the morality they push the button.  The stranger returns the next day to get the box and gives them a briefcase of money that will solve all their problems.  When he is asked by the couple what will happen to the box, he assures them he will now give it to someone that they don't know. 

For many I feel like they were handed a monkey's paw or the button box in 2016 and they gleefully pushed the button for President Trump.  A President who has given then a very conservative Federal judiciary, deregulation of industry, tax cuts that seem to be helping many in the upper middle class and of course has kept the economy growing, evidenced by recent jobs and wage numbers.  But in the end the consequences:  giving voice to white nationalism, openly racist activity including from elected officials, the collapse of the United States as the moral standard bearer worldwide, and the most incompetent and corrupt cabinet of my lifetime.  Future consequences on the horizon seems to be the destruction of health care and financial safety nets for many of Trump voters (so much so Republicans are lying about their history on health care) and a ballooning national debt. 

The old adage that all politics is local has seen people voting for their own personal interests but what the last election cycle showed some of that personal interest was purely emotional.  We see it in the midterms as ads are not about accomplishments of the last two years but trying to gin up fear of immigrants.  When you go to the polls in this election cycle remember that you have been given a box to push a button.  Think about the consequences of what you may get short term.  Educate yourself as to what you want this country to be, for yourself, for your neighbors and for all Americans.  Ignore the ads and look to the reality that is out there.  Because someone else has a box and they don't know you. 

Friday, November 2, 2018

Jews for Jesus and the Struggle of Multi-Faith Work


A liberal Jew and an Evangelical Christian walk into a Franciscan bar in Bethlehem.   That is not the start of a joke but a decade long friendship.  Some people think this is an unusual friendship but in fact I believe there are many such friendships in the world.  How is it possible?  We both respect each others vision of the Divine and how we practice that vision.  Do we clash at times?  Sure, but we work through them and acknowledge our own shortcomings.  This is what living in a multi-faith world.  My friend has reached into the interfaith community of Indianapolis, bringing a much needed evangelical voice to the diversity of faiths seeking a better world.  So when confronted with someone who mocks true multi-faith expressions things become difficult.

Earlier this week a Michigan rally for a House Election invited the Vice-President to speak.  In the wake of the anti-semitic attack in a Pittsburgh synagogue that left 11 dead they wanted a Jewish voice to share prayer.  They sought a man who calls himself Rabbi but is a Christian.  A Jewish man who converted to a form of Christianity called Messianic Judaism.  When Noah was little he asked about a congregation of messianic Jews we would drive by daily, I said they are Christians who pretend to be Jewish.  That is how I feel about them.  They are clearly Christian, celebrating Jesus as not only the messiah of the Jewish people but as part of the trilogy of the Christian God.  But their practice uses Jewish ritual and language in services.  Which wouldn't bother me so much if they didn't also include in their approach a rejection of classic Jewish understanding of text, call traditional Jews incomplete and wrong minded, and pretend to be a Jewish congregation to young people and in many reports tricking them into their sphere of influence with the idea of converting them.  They look at people like me in a negative fashion and as less than them.  So when trying to dialogue with people who see me as second-class it is difficult.

I have worked in multicultural and multi-faith communities my entire adult life.  I have had people put me on prayer lists at churches for my very soul.  I had a friend tell me that her preacher preached that Jews were going to hell and it hurt her so much that I am going to hell that she couldn't be my friend anymore.  I understand that people look at the world differently, but when it comes to their worldview including looking down on me inviting them to the table means there is someone there who wants me or what makes me me gone.

The reason that the man who gave the prayer and spoke along side Vice-President Pence is a problem also goes beyond just what group he associates himself with in his religious faith.  In fact he was defrocked by the messianic movement over some libel and apparently theological issues.  He didn't really pray to the healing of the survivors and the souls of the dead, he prayed the Republicans win in the midterms.  He appeared more a costumed prop than a man of faith.  The candidate and the Vice-President could have easily found a thoughtful Rabbi to do a prayer and a moment of ministry for those reeling from horror.  They didn't and the criticism is warranted.  I would have also been critical if they had brought in the Orthodox Rabbi who didn't see Tree of Life as a synagogue or the one who said  the shooter was God's retribution for the fact a brit milah was happening for the child of a same-sex couple. This is not about being anti-Christian or anti-messianic.  It is about how you act for people who are in pain.

And thus the series of questions that always come up when you reach across faiths, cultures and nations.  How to you sit down with someone so different?  So here is what I say.  Meet people, not their faith tradition.  Just because someone comes from a particular branch of a particular faith doesn't mean you know anything more about them than where they go to get fed spiritually.  On any given day of the week, rooms in houses of worship are filled with people, all singing from the same hymnal but hearing the words differently.  Don't let the stereotypes block you from adding someone wonderful to your life.  Simply having a meal with someone might change the way you see them.  Might change you whole world view.

But in the same token, if you do encounter someone who is hurtful to what and who you are, it is okay to reject them.  I am always struck by people who question my tolerance when I speak out against bigotry, lies and hate.  The goal in life is not to tolerate differences, I tolerate the fact that I can't get buy decent kosher meat in Indianapolis, that doesn't mean I like it nor do I order from St. Louis.  I embrace who, even if they are different, find God in places I can't and read the poetry of scripture with a different tune can acknowledge that their view is theirs and my view is mine and neither is better or worse.  That is how you be a human being.  That is how you approach the vast and wonderful diversity that is our nation, one of the highest and most important values that we share.

Tonight, synagogues across the country will be filled with people coming from a variety of faith traditions to stand in solidarity with Jewish communities.  As they hear the words of psalms we sing as we invite Shabbat into our homes they may see God differently in the words or not at all there.  But that is not the point.  The point is, they share a human connection to their neighbors, and that is Godly in any language.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Women Must Be Heard

Before Judge Bret Kavanaugh was nominated to the Supreme Court two things happened.  One was that members of the Senate Republican leadership didn't think he would be a good candidate because of his time in the White House with President George W. Bush in highly partisan time with questionable legal decisions being made.   The other thing is that Dr. Christine Blasey-Ford sent letters to her representative in Congress and the tip line at the Washington Post with her story of Kavanaugh assaulting her.  These are facts that are not in dispute.  As the GOP hid most of the White House records of his time in office the new narrative developed through a slow release of Ford's story led to a new round of Senate questions and a delay for an FBI investigation into a growing number of accusations.  It was a flawed and limited investigation by most objective accounts.  So today, despite a partisan rant by the nominee, despite a majority of Americans feeling he didn't belong on the court and despite credible accusations of sexual assault, the Senate voted to confirm Kavanaugh.  And that is politics, elections have consequences.  So when it comes to this November and 2020 we have to remember that.  But there is something else.

For the last two weeks women on social media, in the streets of cities around the country and in the Senate office building have been telling their own survival stories or sexual assault.  Millions have shared, some for the first time ever, some for the first time outside of their closest friends and family, and some who have been talking about it for years and justice failed them.  Many bold women traveled to Washington DC to confront the Republicans supporting Kavanaugh to share their history.  But they were rebuked, arrested, and some of their Senators ran away from them.  Lindsay Graham, for example, when a constituent approached him to say that she had been raped, wanting to share her story of disclosing, his response was "call a cop".  Yes, let that sink in.

But the worst thing about what these women endured was beyond the lack of support of so many in the Republican party.   It was what the President and Senator Grassley have said about these protesters.  They have attacked them as liars, paid by George Soros.  Now some have seen an anti-semitic dog whistle, I am not sure.  What it is is a disgusting attack on women, some of whom gave a few days pay and jumped in cars, buses and on planes to confront those who are supposed to represent them.  What they ran into were cowards and abusers who called him liars and ignored who they are.  This is the failure of the new Republican party.  It was clear, beyond the politics of the confirmation, many of the GOP Senators had no interest in what the people felt.  In fact they were willing to attack them for simply exercising their right and to be frank, their responsibility to petition their government and the representatives.  The system is totally broken if this goes unchecked.  The check is the ballot box.  Register, vote, hold these desperate and disgusting people accountable.  These women are not paid to challenge the people who are supposed to work for them.  They aren't lying when they tell their story.  Oh, and they are not going away.  Let's stand with them.  I am not suggesting we shout people out in public.  But go to townhalls, campaign events, and call their offices.  Ask them if they believe the numerous women protesting are paid liars.  Don't let them back away from it.  Tell them to condemn the President for saying so, Senator Grassley for saying so, Senator Graham for saying so.  If they won't then tell all your friends that your Senator believes that women who are telling their stories are lying.  This is the only moral thing to do.

Friday, September 28, 2018

The End of Reason

Yesterday, America watched as two people testified to the Senate Judiciary committee about an incident that is alleged to have occurred some 35 years ago.  One person answered the questions, gave precise timelines about information as best recollected and stood firm on issue.  The other, wept and yelled and attacked the Senators.  The later was the candidate. 

When Dr. Christine Blasey Ford saw Brett Kavanaugh's name on a short list for the Supreme Court she had a decision to make.  That was to tell the story she had only recently disclosed to people close to her and remain safe and anonymous or share her story in the hopes that the man she remembers attempting to rape her in high school doesn't get a life time appointment to the highest court in the land.  She chose to tread lightly but move forward.  Quietly at first, but when her story was sniffed out by reporters she went public telling of a man who forced her down and only failed to rape her because of his drunken state.  That led to yesterday when she was accused by Senators and the nominee of being a part of a Democratic conspiracy to smear Brett Kavanaugh.  But here is the thing.  She went to her member or Congress BEFORE he was nominated, she told the Washington Post BEFORE he was nominated.  There are notes and emails that she has talked about it years ago.  This is not a last minute made up story.  But yesterday we saw that repeated again and again by the nominee and by temper tantrums like that of Lindsey Graham and others.  It is sickening that yesterday it appeared that facts and reality had no place the the Republicans thinking.  Calls for independent investigations have been shot down.  Calls for witnesses have fallen on deaf ears.  Calls for a waiting period so facts can be looked at more closely have been rejected.  By lunch time today Senators will have to decide if Judge Kavanaugh becomes Justice Kavanaugh.  Not to mention that there are other allegations of sexual misconduct against him that no one has even tried to vet. 

But this is the work of a Senate that is so polarized by an incompetent President that the GOP is using to get a far right-wing agenda passed they don't care about issues like nominees lying to Congress, having a weird financial past, or perhaps a drinking problem.  They want to simply "plow through".  But what is worse is the sentiment that came out from some people as the media explored the issue.

Yesterday I was struck by the number of women posting on social media their own stories of sexual assault.  Some when they were as young as 5 years old.  Some when they had grown into strong women but in the moment and in the aftermath were unable to tap their strength.  I hope it helps change the conversation moving forward but the pit of my stomach was reeling as I read the words of so many some famous and some just not.  Lawyers, writers, doctors, waitresses, teachers, police officers, all with similar tales of how they were not believed, that they were told not to raise an issue, that it was embarrassing for the family.   Worse were those who blamed them.

CNN, in there continued efforts to find two sides to all issues, interviewed a group of Republican women, one said all 17 year old boys do the kinds of things that were said that Kavanaugh did.  I was once a 17 year old boy, who drank, who went to parties, I don't think any of my close friends EVER held a woman down and tried to remove her clothes.  If they did I would think many of the people I knew at the time would have been outraged and took matters into their own hands.  In another stunning media segment a woman, standing next to her two teenage daughters, said groping is no big deal.  Let me help you with this one.  Groping another person against their will is not only a big deal it is a crime.  Plain and simple.  But this woman and so many others want to excuse it. 

We saw yesterday a nominee who was being credibly questions about his past drinking habits ask Senators about theirs instead of answer the question.  We saw him become unhinged to the point his own wife looked shocked.  We saw a candidate say it was a conspiracy created out of revenge from the Clintons.  We saw a nominee who is not fit to serve functionally in a moot court, let alone the highest court in the land. 

We also saw that there is a still a large number of people in this country, some of whom in positions of power, who don't think women own their own sexuality.  That women are there to be pretty, smile and be available for physical contact to men.  That they should just swallow and pain they get from being treated poorly by men and that if they speak up that they will be taken down with lies and questions about their own past.  This is wrong. 

When you go to the polls this November, remember this day.  Remember how the party that decided to silence women in a public forum, to attack a woman with a credible story, and who didn't want to look behind the curtain because I can only assume they are afraid of the mirror they might find.  Let's find people to lead this country who will seek justice and facts over party.  It may be a heavy lift but it is worth it, the country is worth it and woman are truly worth it.  

Saturday, September 22, 2018

You Were Asking For It



In the following situation, a holdup victim is asked questions by a lawyer.
Mr. Smith, it says here you were held up at gun point. 
Yes
Did you struggle with the robber?
No.
Why not?
He was armed.
Then you made a conscious decision to comply with his demands rather than resist?
Yes.
Did you scream? Cry out?
No, I was afraid.
So you just let him take your money?  Did you do anything to get away?
Well it was difficult he had me trapped. I also was afraid he would kill me if I didn't do what he said. 
Have you ever GIVEN money away?
Yes, of course.
And you did so willingly?
Of course, I participate in a number of philanthropic organizations.  My name is well known in the community.
Well, let’s put it like this, Mr. Smith. You’ve given money away in the past and you have quite a reputation for philanthropy. Are you sure you weren't on some level looking to give money away and he just saw that in your eyes?
What? I wasn't looking to have him take my money, how can you suggest that? 
I am just trying to see all perspectives.  There have a number of times people who gave money away and when the person didn't thank them they regretted it and filed charges.  Could this really be what happened here?    
Now listen I didn’t want to be robbed, what are you saying? 
Let’s move on.  What time did this holdup take place, Mr. Smith?
About 11:00 P.M..
You were out on the street at 11:00 P.M.? Doing what?
Just walking to my car. 
You know that it’s dangerous being out on the street that late at night. Weren’t you aware that you could have been held up?
I walk to my car every day and I didn't expect to have someone rob me, I know it was late but this is near my office so I didn't think I would be robbed.  
What were you wearing at the time, Mr. Smith?
I had my suit on. 
A suit, like a nice tailored suit?
Well a nice suit I often where a nice suit to work.  
Did you think that a nice suit on a man with a reputation for giving money away might have sent some mixed signals, that this man who may just be trying to help you get what you wanted, a chance to help you get over the hesitation to enjoy the feeling of giving away money.  I mean to me it will be difficult to prosecute with your past and your not crying out and the ease you let him take your money.   
You are suggesting that it is my fault.
No no no, I am not saying it, but even I can see that there is a an argument that you may have given the money freely and then regretted, or that you teased him in that suit to the point he couldn't help himself.  Look it sounds like he may have needed the money to help his family and made a simple mistake, why ruin his life over a few dollars.  Go home, call you insurance company and try to use this as a learning experience to be safe in the future. 

This may sound repetitious but I think it is important to keep this in mind. I  have rewritten a well known story that we used to teach about sexual assault when I was in college.  In the last few days I have seen several versions of this floating around in light of recent issues with the Kavanaugh appointment.  Too often women who are sexually assaulted run into a stone wall trying not to believe it happened or protect the assaulter.  Funny when a recent story of sexual abuse among priests became a national story again several men came out declaring they were victims, no one seemed to think they were lying or threatened them or looked for excuses.  Is this simply a thing about women as evil seductresses?  I think we need to do a real gut check as a country and to start the Kavanaugh nomination must end here and a deeper investigation must be done.  But it brings up the bigger issue of women and sexual assault.  The #whyIdidn'treport has become a study of the mindset of our country, women who when faced with the choice of telling anyone and being called every name from slut to whore to gold digger etc or being told they just regret having sex, even if bruised and beaten.  If Kavanaugh gets on the bench the Republican party is saying to women "we don't believe you" and is telling us that sexual harassment and assault are not something they care about.  If they did they would do a deeper investigation.  Not only of the event in high school, but why Yale warned law clerks about Kavanaugh and his mentor Alex Kozinski, who resigned from his judgeship over sexual harassment charges.  Why not look into the organized effort by the GOP and probably Kavanaugh himself to smear a fellow classmate to muddy the waters.  We can also ask why the person Senator Chuck Grassley wanted to investigate the allegation also posted tweets calling for confirmation right away.  Investigators usually don't reach a conclusion until after the investigation is done.  There is no indication that Dr. Ford, who is accusing Kavanaugh of the assault is lying.  There is zero upside for her to do it.  In fact it has ruined her life.  There are witnesses who can testify under oath that this was a known thing back in school.  There are notes from 6 years ago that include the assault in a therapy session, and of course what was Yale warning students about.  This isn't about politics.  If Kavanaugh gets rejected by the Senate or withdraws the President will nominate another conservative judge and the confirmation hearings will go forward.  It may be the next Senate will have a Democratic majority but I can't imagine that it would change the politics of the nominee.  This now has become about women and how we see them when they tell us they have been attacked.  It is time, long past time, long long past time, that we take them seriously and investigate and prosecute fully those that commit these crimes.  As for the GOP, it is time to be true to your oath or you can be true to Trump.  You can't do both.  I believe Dr. Ford and I believe that those smearing her and those who support them are evil.  I also wonder if they have something to hide.  

PS This just in Garrett Ventry who is the communication aide to the GOP leadership on the judicary committee has resigned over past sexual harassment allegation that cost him a job.  His joy was to coordinate the response to Dr. Ford's allegation.  

Friday, September 14, 2018

The Current Has Been Torn Away

Anyone who has paid attention to Donald Trump over the last three decades has been aware that he has the empathy of Joseph Stalin and the narcissism of Madonna.  It was no surprise, while still jaw dropping, that yesterday he tweeted that the approximately 3000 dead in Puerto Rico because of last year's hurricane Maria was an inflated number to hurt him personally.  Seriously, two independent studies showed the numbers between 2750 and 3300 dead were a result of the devastation that occurred and the feeble response to the disaster.  It wasn't that he was deflecting the blame as much as he was saying the people didn't die.  This is Alex Jones territory who often claims after a school shooting that children didn't die and families are crisis actors.  So to be clear, the President of the United States has said that his political opponents have made up the death of thousands of Americans to hurt him.  It is the weird but clearly well within the President's character to say something like this.  But it has consequences.  Among those could be how people believe facts moving forward as a hurricane makes landfall on the East Coast.  There are those who believe the President when he lies like this and that is a problem.

But the problem is bigger than just the Trump supporters believing his lies.  His bluster in situations like this, his border policy he blamed on Democrats and of course his ability to give cover to the racists online and who march in the street creates an alternative reality that has allowed some pretty horrible voices to explode in both new and old media.

It didn't take long for ultra-right wing Lou Dobbs to use his media voice to say the President was right.  Dobbs, who has a long anti-immigrant view of the universe, challenged the methodology of the studies without expertise or data. We understand Dobbs shares the crazy conspiracy theories the the President does, like birthism and the Deep State nonsense.  

Rick Santorum, a former Senator and right wing media darling, who has run for President twice blamed the country of Puerto Rico for their response.  (Hint:  PR is part of the United States).  This was an attempt to back up the ridiculous tweet by the President.  I don't know what to say. 

The President and his continued vomiting of ridiculous opinions and lies have lead many to speak their own nonsense out loud and in front of people.  Recently Dana Loesch, NRA spokesperson and radio personality did a segment on NRATV on Thomas the Tank Engine.  If you haven't had children in the last 30 years in the US or 50 years in England you may not know Thomas.  The stories are about anthropomorphic trains that have taught lessons to young people.  She was outraged by the fact that the long-running television show based on a book series will include a train from Kenya.  Some how a gun rights organization, on their YouTube platform, decided that there is something wrong with a British television program for children including a Kenyan character.  This isn't the first blatantly racist thing she or many others on the right have said on various media platforms but they are becoming more common.  This, I believe is the result of a President who seems to share those views and give cover to those that have them.  

The President of the United States, Donald Trump, did not create the hateful opinions shared by so many on the right.  He has just made it less socially unacceptable.  When challenged these opinions are met with people suggesting we are just being politically correct as if the fact that wanting to take hate out of our public conversation is a bad thing.  I mean if you flip out over a children's television show responding to a growing audience to include more explicit diversity maybe you shouldn't talk out loud, for your own sake and the sake of decency.  But just wait, FoxNews will have Tucker Carlson do a segment on the liberalism of children's television the President will tweet about trains not being made in shit hole countries.  Meanwhile, I am called a snowflake for questioning children separated from parents at the border, millions of dollars being taken from FEMA for ICE and of course questioning the blatant lies the leader of the free world.  I guess I have to start sewing the curtain again. 

Sunday, September 9, 2018

YOU ARE NO HERO

Since before his inauguration, many people reported and knew that the current President was not up for the job.  Beyond his personality and lack of clear knowledge of some basics of history, reality, how government works and current world order, he was unwilling to learn and chose advisers  based on person loyalty and not competence.  The massive turn-over due to criminal behavior, gross mismanagement and serious graft in office showed deep lack of concern for what it means to run this great nation.  Coupled with the fact that the President of the United States is a pathological liar who states that objective facts are wrong and has had people use phrases like "alternative facts" when speaking to the press.  It is as bad as we said it would be and is getting no better as time goes on.

Report after report coming out of the White House and sometimes from the West Wing clearly shows a President who has no patience for comprehending the important issues of the day, wants to be praised by a team of sycophants and speaks without thinking.  We can see in real time often how the President says one thing publicly, only to have a cabinet member or staffer say the exact opposite.  Sometimes during the same hour.  It would be comical if the stakes weren't so high.  

So when the excerpts from Bob Woodward's book Fear: Trump in the White House were released to the press, it was unsurprising, however frightening.  As a reporter, Woodward nailed down quotes from current and former staffers that paint a picture of a White House seemingly operating around the President more than under the command of one.   A recent New York Times Op-Ed written anonymously by an apparent  senior official in the Executive Branch of the government paints and even starker picture.  

Writing, in what only be described as a jaw dropping essay, the author writes:  The dilemma — which he does not fully grasp — is that many of the senior officials in his own administration are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations. Think about that, the unelected and unaccountable members of the administration are allegedly standing in the way the President of the United States.  Not by arguing points but by not following through.  The Woodward book seems to add to this stunning set of actions being taken.  They include the Secretary of Defense ignoring a directive from the President of the United States and and economic adviser taking documents off the desk in the Oval.  This is simply not how our government works. 

I truly believe that Donald Trump is a terrible President and frankly dangerous to all of us.  I fear he could start a war over a fit of pique and cares little about the economy if it doesn't help him personally.  However, if you chose to work for the President, even a bad one, you have an obligation to implement the policies of that President as long as they are legal.  If you disagree with him or her.  It is cowardly and frankly unhelpful to write an anonymous Op-Ed and continue to think that you and your compatriots should be the arbiters of what you should let the President do.  What you should do is publicly resign and state exactly what the problems in the administration have been, including anything illegal, even if it you are a partner in the crime.  But what is more likely is that the President is unable to do the job but is doing enough as a puppet of the right wing noise machine that certain conservative ideals are being implemented.  And that is where you fail if you are in the White House and you plan is to use this President and pretend to be the hero for America.  

The Trump administration is a disaster on many levels.  Policies that will have short-term financial gains will have long-term disastrous results both financial and otherwise.  But the idea that someone or many someones, inside the administration, are actively trying to thwart policy making and implementation is frightening, even if  I agree that those policies are against American interest. My advice to the OP-Ed writer:   

Stand up to the President in a way that matters.  Resign, speak out, gather allies and challenge him in the right way.  That is how government is supposed to work.  That is how it can only work.  That is how to save the Republic.  Stop pretending to be a hero and be a leader.  We know Congress doesn't want the job, I really wish you did. 

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

An Open Letter to Louis C K

Dear Louis,

I don't know you, I know your work.   You have always been funny and intellectually stimulating in your humor.  I sometimes had questions about the direction you took things but comedy should make the audience uncomfortable or at least make us think.  But what you did back stage was atrocious and troubling on many many levels.  You have rightfully been forced in exile in the celebrity world and I believe that you owe a lot more to the women you hurt by your actions then you can ever repay.  Your recent attempt at a comeback makes it seem like you don't understand the severity of your actions and that makes me sad.  The fact that so many people have since tried to justify you coming back also tells me we have a long way to go before we can fully make work places, be they comedy clubs, sound stages or board rooms fully safe for women.  That is something that must change and frankly men need to listen to women on this and then act.

Louis, in the current awakening of so many who are finally seeing the lives that women must endure when they are just trying to earn a living or work their craft I would think that you would have been more sensitive to the issues and pain you had caused.  You always seemed like a nice guy in interviews and there are people who know you that have suggested as much.  You could have reached out to a number of women comics who have been vocal in the #metoo movement or just wise women who have lived through the evolution of women in comedy.  You could have spoken to up-and-coming woman comics who are struggling with the sexism and sexual harassment that exists in so many industries but still lives in the late-night clubs in big cities and small towns.  You could have talked to a councilor who could explain the trauma you may have caused the women whom you violated by your actions and the extent of that trauma that was visited on other women who felt betrayed by you.  Surprising, when you walked off the public scene you said, "I have spent my long and lucky career talking and saying anything I want. I will now step back and take a long time to listen."  I am not sure who you listened to but coming back as you did and not addressing the issues that had you leave was not what smart people would tell you.

Look I know, I am just one person who used to call myself a  fan.  I don't have pull to help or hurt your career.  I write a blog that less than 100 people read.  In fact you will likely never see this.  But it makes me feel better to have written it.  You see men like you have made women on edge around so many men and all men are suspects.  Your lack of contrition and now your attempting to return in the hopes that many will forgive and forget is like continuing to assault the women and build barriers to their career. 

Look it isn't simple, it shouldn't be.  If you are suffering in your exile then that is just.  I am also a Jew who believes in T'shuvah, especially this time of year.  But asking forgiveness requires that you make up for the actions that caused others pain and strive to never make the same mistake again.  There are people who might be able to get you there.  Reach out to them.  But until that time popping up in places to perform because you need to do it is just not how to do it.  Please stop and please get help. 

Sunday, August 5, 2018

QAnon and The Growing Dark Nonsense of the Right

Conspiracy theories are as old as civilization.  We have found rumors on the walls of ancient Roman cities.  Some were designed to hurt individuals and others entire people.  The blood libel of the Middle Ages led to the death of many Jews and laid the foundation for what was the 20th century's worst result of conspiracy theory belief, the Shoah (Holocaust).   But some are not so drastic.  The idea that Elvis still lives, that Men in Black run a secret alien control program or that moon landing was faked.  In previous generations these ideas, considered part of a lunatic fringe were shared via late night radio and mimeographed newsletters.  The dawn of the internet however made spreading all kinds of stories easier and influencing the person who may not have had a way to connect to others with similar ideas.  Like in ancient Rome where politicians were attacked with graffiti today a message board can start a story and before long it is popping up everywhere.

During the 2016 election, a story went around the right wing noise machine of a pedophile ring in Washington DC being run out of the basement of a pizza parlor by the Democratic National Committee.  Called Pizzagate the creation of this story on a dark corner of the internet rose to the level to be referenced by General Mike Flynn and his son.  Flynn for a brief time was the National Security Advisor and his son was on the Trump transition team.  This story was believed by many including a man from North Carolina who brought a gun to the place identified as the center of this false tale firing the gun.  He wanted to go into the basement, which doesn't exist.  Some denounced this long debunked story but it still comes up.  But now something more insane the Qanon conspiracy and this one is getting more mainstream followers.

The theory is a muddled group of accusations and stories.  Some that are mutually exclusive.  The main focus of this theory is the Robert Mueller is not investigating the President but is in-fact investigating Secretary Clinton, Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, Senator John McCain among many others.  The charges are anything from their own collusion with Russia to a Global child trafficking ring (similar to Pizzagate).  It started with an anonymous post by a person referring to themselves as Q posting that he has a top-secret security clearance and that he has evidence (never produced).  This has been fully debunked over and over.  The favorite part for me is that the principles in this fictional idea all have ankle monitors on and will soon be picked up. As if they know they are under investigation and are doing nothing about it.  I mean we saw President Obama in France recently, what is the point of the ankle bracelet?  This is all part of the deep state argument that the President makes, that there is an internal opposition standing in the way of the President's vision.  That is a problem.

We expect that there will always be a handful of people who believe such nonsense, even when it makes absolutely no sense.  But recently the Q crowd is marketing to a larger group and are showing up at Trump rallies as he goes around the country to promote Republican candidates.  People seem proud of wearing t-shirts and hats suggesting the conspiracy is true.  There is a larger profile on social media and while some people are just bandwagoning on this pro-Trump movement, some are trying to convince others that this is really true and they are succeeding with many.  People will always believe stupid things, this feels different, it seems to be getting a foothold in the more mainstream Republican population.  People will go to the polls in November believing this garbage.  Believing that voting against Democrats is a vote against an evil secret attack on Donald Trump that is being administered by current and former government officials.  That is a dangerous way to choose our leaders.  So please don't ignore this like it is easy to ignore those that believe the moon landing was faked.  Learn to counter the stories you see, you may only change one mind, but each voter informed by facts and not some fictional construct is better for the country.  That is how democracy stays healthy.  That is how we can take our country back to reality.  

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Never Forget

So I woke up this morning to this in my inbox.  Some person or persons has decided to vandalize a synagogue, Shaarey Tefilla , in Carmel, IN, a suburb of Indianapolis and about 4 miles from my house.  This is the Conservative synagogue where Noah became Bar Mitzvah.  A place that that is part of our greater Indianapolis Jewish community and an established synagogue that in recent years moved north to area where more Jewish people live.  This is a disgusting display of hate and I believe a form of terrorism.  I can't begin to understand the reasoning behind it.  But frankly it appears that this is becoming more common around the country.

Indiana has had a reputation of hate in the past.  The KKK was founded just 2 hours north of Carmel.  But in Indianapolis there has been a real effort to be more interfaith than many places I have lived.  I personally belong to at least 3 specifically interfaith organizations and there are many more in town that our synagogue has been part of for decades.  The interfaith community has included our Rabbis for over 30 years, and Sha'arey Tefillah has been part of a growing interfaith community in Carmel and the community has embraced the synagogue as a part of the city.  Yet hate grows in the dark corners of every place in America.

Hate grows out of fear.  We continue to live in a country where the other is seen not as an opportunity to expand who we are but as something to frightened of attacking our life and life style.  The immigrant, Muslims, People of Color, and yes even the Jews.  Recently on a west coast political appearance the President of the United States said something about "New York money".  That is a dog whistle heard by bigots as Jewish money.  The White Supremacists who are planning a rally in the Nation's Capital, who rallied last year in Charlottesville chanted "Jews will not replace us"  and used Nazi slogans like "Blue and Soil".  We can't ignore these kinds of antisemitism, and we must work to purge it from our culture.  We must stand against any expression hate in this country, against anyone, anywhere.  There are more people in Carmel, in greater Indianapolis, in Indiana and in the country who want to live in peace and community with those who believe differently, come from different nations, cultures and ethnicities.  We are stronger and have the numbers to continue the tradition of the United States of being a welcoming place to all.  We have not always been perfect and we have a long way to go, but as a culture these expressions of hate are known to be wrong.  So we must work to fight back against this and all hate.

In Indiana this should add to the push for a hate crimes or more accurately a bias crime law.  Something that has failed many times in our state government.  Some feel like it criminalizes thought.  So when caught the people who did the vandalism will be charged with a property crime.  But this is a form of terror on the Jewish community.  Many Jews will feel the fear that has been part of Jewish history.  It is not an attack a building it is an attack on a community and I would argue the entire community, Jews and those who welcome Jews.  A bias crime law would make this crime worse than egging a house.  This most certainly is worse than that. It isn't about the cost of cleaning it up, it is about what this means to those who encounter it.   The majority of people in Indiana stand against hate.   I also think the government should stand with that majority.

Today, we live in a world where every day brings a new bomb shell story in the news both on the national and local level.  But this is moment we can use to talk about the issue of the growth of hate in the country.  We need to remember that hate, left unchecked escalates.  We need to remember that if you have a neighbor who is part of a minority group, don't be scared of them, get to know them.  We need to remember that our country's greatness comes from our diversity.  Attacks on immigration was recently met with a quote, "Imagine London without Indian food".  Homogeneity is only good for milk.

Chances are we will find out who painted these walls with symbols of hate.  We may learn why they chose to do it.  But they are symptom and the disease is currently in a stage where we can expunge it.  Let's see if we can work together to do that.


Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Who You Going to Believe Me or Your Lying Eyes






President Donald Trump said yesterday that the American people should believe what they read and what they see.  This Orwellian statement could easily be seen as him trying to work the referees when the media reports don't go his way.  But one of the things we are seeing is that Trump has been using Russian propaganda on his twitter feed, retweeting a doctored video of Secretary Clinton from a government outlet.  What is worse is that the press conference in Helsinki included a question to Vladimir Putin asking if he wanted Trump to win the election and if he ordered his people to help.  Putin said yes he did and it was because then candidate Trump wanted to build a better relationship with Russia.  The official White House release of the video and transcript of the press conference erases the question about Putin helping Trump.  Let me repeat, a video of a broadcast of a press conference that many people saw has been altered to serve President Trump's agenda.  Donald Trump is living the the Saggy song It Wasn't Me.  It doesn't matter what reality is, it appears to be what the Trump administration wants you believe.  That is a serious problem in a Democratic Republic.  Facts are facts except for this White House.  There is always a political position to change the narrative and people will tell you all politicians lie.  But they don't tend to lie about objective facts in a way that basically says reality isn't real.  In fact on the same day the White House released this altered video and transcript the President tweeted that the Russian will work to elect Democrats because they hate Trump.  So this, of course, is a pattern.  Every reporter should ask every Republican or member of the administration about this, but they are obsessed with the Cohen tapes.  So we should ask.  Call your representatives and ask them, do they think it is appropriate for the President to share Russian propaganda and to alter videos of important press conferences.  If they don't answer, ask again.  If they do nothing about it, vote for someone who will.  The beauty of our country is that you have the power to make this better.  Or we can sit back and try to understand why the media think a payment for sex is important and if Rosanne will be back on TV.  Then you are just helping the propaganda.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Contractions Are Difficult

Two days ago the President of the United States, in a press conference in Helsinki, along with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, denied that Russia tried to influence the US elections by hacking the Democratic campaigns computers.  This is direct opposition to his own intelligence officers, including Dan Burton, who he named in his rant.  Also 15 Russian intelligence officers have been indicted for doing just that.  (Oh missing from some news reports is that the indictment includes unnamed Americans including a Congressional candidate).  At one point in the presser Trump said, "Putin 'just said it’s not Russia I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be, but I really do want to see the server," shifting to a crazy conspiracy theory about the DNC server and the FBI.  This was a moment that jaws dropped around the world.  The President of the United States, facing overwhelming information that Russian officials tried to influence the election in the US in 2016, basically said he is fine because a thuggish dictator who kills detractors, lies to his people and is a master of propaganda told him he didn't do it. This caused a stir even among SOME of his supporters.  So 24 hours later he came out with an explanation for this anti-American statement made on foreign soil.  He said that he meant to say WOULDN'T instead of WOULD.  I will give you a minute to laugh.  Yes, he suggested that he didn't get the idea of the contraction or as he said a double-negative.  Now if you believe he simply misspoke, congratulations you are the reason that peanut butter has on its label:  CAUTION CONTENTS PEANUTS.

As some members of the GOP are now trying to run cover for this disgraceful leader I think we need a call to people who are hired to represent us to act now.  At the very least Congress should issue a joint censure.  Hearings should be held to find out exactly what the President talked about in his private meeting with Putin.  If they don't act then we should vote them out, this isn't about party, this isn't about tax cuts, it isn't about SCOTUS, it is about the integrity of Western Democracy.  Last night he suggested that the US shouldn't have to respond to NATO's Article 5, the mutual defense article (only invoked ever on behalf of the US after 9-11.) specifically singling out Montenegro.  Here is the thing, Montenegro is a place that Russia wants more influence.

Donald Trump has always been unfit to be President of the United States.  Nothing in the process that got him elected worked.  So now it is up to us, the people, the majority that doesn't want him to have free reign as President, must act.  Call, write, harass your representatives.  If they apologize for his actions, challenge them.  Use facts not emotional nonsense.  Keep within the Constitution (some nut suggested we should install Hillary Clinton by fiat)  and vote.  Vote for Democrats even if they aren't perfect.  Vote against anyone that has sat by and did nothing during the last 18 months or worse tried to run interference for this President.  We are a great country and have been long before Trump bought his first red hat.  We are in crisis but we are stronger than people think.  Come on America, this is US.Two days ago the President of the United States, in a press conference in Helsinki, along with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, denied that Russia tried to influence the US elections by hacking the Democratic campaigns computers.  This is direct opposition to his own intelligence officers, including Dan Burton, who he named in his rant.  Also 15 Russian intelligence officers have been indicted for doing just that.  (Oh missing from some news reports is that the indictment includes unnamed Americans including a Congressional candidate).  At one point in the presser Trump said, "Putin 'just said it’s not Russia I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be, but I really do want to see the server," shifting to a crazy conspiracy theory about the DNC server and the FBI.  This was a moment that jaws dropped around the world.  The President of the United States, facing overwhelming information that Russian officials tried to influence the election in the US in 2016, basically said he is fine because a thuggish dictator who kills detractors, lies to his people and is a master of propaganda told him he didn't do it.This caused a stir even among SOME of his supporters.  So 24 hours later he came out with an explanation for this anti-American statement made on foreign soil.  He said that he meant to say WOULDN'T instead of WOULD.  I will give you a minute to laugh.  Yes, he suggested that he didn't get the idea of the contraction or as he said a double-negative.  Now if you believe he simply misspoke, congratulations you are the reason that peanut butter has on its label:  CAUTION CONTENTS PEANUTS.

As some members of the GOP are now trying to run cover for this disgraceful leader I think we need a call to people who are hired to represent us to act now.  At the very least Congress should issue a joint censure.  Hearings should be held to find out exactly what the President talked about in his private meeting with Putin.  If they don't act then we should vote them out, this isn't about party, this isn't about tax cuts, it isn't about SCOTUS, it is about the integrity of Western Democracy.  Last night he suggested that the US shouldn't have to respond to NATO's Article 5, the mutual defense article (only invoked ever on behalf of the US after 9-11.) specifically singling out Montenegro.  Here is the thing, Montenegro is a place that Russia wants more influence.

Donald Trump has always been unfit to be President of the United States.  Nothing in the process that got him elected worked.  So now it is up to us, the people, the majority that doesn't want him to have free reign as President, must act.  Call, write, harass your representatives.  If they apologize for his actions, challenge them.  Use facts not emotional nonsense.  Keep within the Constitution (some nut suggested we should install Hillary Clinton by fiat)  and vote.  Vote for Democrats even if they aren't perfect.  Vote against anyone that has sat by and did nothing during the last 18 months or worse tried to run interference for this President.  We are a great country and have been long before Trump bought his first red hat.  We are in crisis but we are stronger than people think.  Come on America, this is US.

Friday, July 13, 2018

A Tale of Two Scandals

While anyone who knows me knows I feel the Republican party has many problems and it is in fact ready to die a painful death at the hands of its leader Donald Trump, this problem is one that I think is more systemic and predates Trump by many years.  You see there are currently two high-profile Republicans dealing with accusations of sexual misconduct at two different degrees.  The first is Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, who, it is alleged, did nothing as an assistant wrestling coach at Ohio State to stop a serial sexual abuser of students in his charge.  The other is the Attorney General of the State of Indiana, Curtis Hill.  Hill was the most popular Republican in the last election garnering more votes than the Republican Governor and the current President who easily won the state.  Hill is accused of groping a female elected official and several legislative aids at a party at the end of the legislative session. 

Both men have denied the accusations, while Jordan has changed his story from not knowing about the situation to basically suggesting it was locker room talk and not an official reporting of the behavior, Hill have vehemently denied the charges and had a press conference to say so.  But here is the thing.  Their actions have only made things worse. 

The accusations against Jordan grow out of a probe by the university into the doctor who was the alleged abuser.  In the process they spoke to several athletes who claim that doctor touched and/or ogled them inappropriately.  The stories are disgusting.  Now one wrestler suggested the Jordan knew about it and that became a news story.  Jordan's denials and efforts to call these men liars actually brought out more and more wrestlers confirming that Jordan knew what was going on and acted as if it was a joke.  While Jordan is not being accused of participating, like the situation at Penn State, he is being accused of not dealing with the situation in an appropriate manner.  My guess is he will have no repercussions for this because amazingly the same people who attacked others for sexual misconduct (and I believe allowing sexual abuse to go on unabated is sexual misconduct) are loudly defending Jordan without knowing the whole story and even after he admitted knowing something was wrong.  Some are even calling it part of a deep state conspiracy against Jordan.  Seriously, all he had to do was say "I had no direct knowledge of the abuse and its extent.  I apologize for not being pro-active in my role as an assistant coach but I did mention a concern to my boss at the time.  I believed the university would handle it and thought they had.  I am hurt that I helped cause pain to young men in my charge and I hope they will forgive me".  It is easy, and hell he doesn't even have to mean it.  But he gins up the foil-hat crowd with deep state nonsense and more truth runs out of the grip he is trying to put on the story.  At some point he can no longer deny it.  

Now Hill is another matter.  While he thinks that accusations are politically motivated as does Jordan, but the problem is that the accusations suggest he was a bi-partisan groper.  After his press conference one of the alleged victims came forward with a convincing story that includes witnesses of the AG touching her inappropriately.  She was a Republican staffer and someone who has worked for many in the GOP.  Hill also suffers from having no support from the leading Republicans in the state.  The Governor, the Speaker of the Indiana House and the Republican candidate for the US Senate have all called for Hill's resignation.  They feel he can't fulfill his duties and the evidence is strong in their favor.  While he should be assumed innocent of the charges, the investigation clearly has created a firestorm around him both from his political opponents and allies.  

I am not sure that either way of handling a scandal of this kind is the right way, but somewhere there is truth and we should be seeking it.  For  Jordan the truth keeps changing because people have come forward, and for Hill, his truth so far hasn't.  But at the heart of this is a clear issue.  In a political climate where people are more likely to circle the wagons than seek answers truth is a causality.  In Hill's situation the partisanship is not an issue and that is good.  I hope the women, if they are truthful, (and oh I believe them) will get justice.  As for Jordan, his district may like his crazy firebrand approach to attacking anything he deems against his vision of what America should be but if there is a way I too hope he will be made accountable if this accusation are true (and I believe they are).  

Yesterday, America and world watched in stunning horror as a lead counter intelligence officer in the FBI was harassed, threatened and personally attacked by members of Congress because he had the audacity to open a counter-intelligence probe into the Russian attacks on our elections and at the same time be a flawed human who expressed his disgust with Donald Trump ( and to be fair Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and many many others).  The partisan attacks on this man to suggest that the probe into Russian interference to benefit Donald Trump was a witch hunt and should end.  Today the Department of Justice indicted 12 Russians for hacking the DNC, the Clinton campaign and the DCCC during the election and disseminating the information through with Russian intelligence officers who are known to have contact with Trump confidants.  If only the GOP cared, do you? 

Friday, June 29, 2018

Opening a Diary

I wrote this a couple of years ago when I was inspired by the woods of great storytellers at a conference.  I was inspired but this confessional of weakness was difficult for me to share.  But a school shooting a few miles from my home and yesterday's attack on a newspaper had me reread and rewrite this piece that I would like to share.  I am not sure if it means anything to anyone else.  I sometimes feel helpless in a world of uncertain situations and the daily drum of nonsense.  Maybe this is just me giving you a peak at my diary.  Look in, perhaps I need to do more writing.


I only ever saw my dad hit my mom one time. It wasn’t out of anger but frustration. We were in the car, traveling during a terrible thunderstorm.  My dad pulled over as the wipers couldn’t keep up with the rain. My mother was crying and screaming, she wanted to get out of the car to run into the near-by church. The rain, then hail, made the two block walk dangerous and my dad tried to tell her.  She wasn’t able to listen, my dad slapped her, then grabbed her and held her tight.  The storm eventually passed and my dad took us all home, in silence. 

We were in the car because whenever a storm came my mother had to get out of the house.
We would leave and go somewhere else, anywhere with people. During the day, if a storm came we would go to the Ames Department store.  We would go inside and walk around, I would mainly look at the toys. We could watch the storm through the big windows to the parking lot but it was impossible to hear the thunder.  

But the real fun came at night.  If a storm was predicted, when we went to bed we would be told to keep our clothes nearby on the floor. Like fire fighters socks in the shoes, pants and shirt handy, we needed to be ready to go when the call came.  


“Wake up, there’s a storm”

We would get up and pile into the car and go out.  Good nights we went to the hospital, the big waiting room that people sat in waiting to visit someone upstairs in a room or being treated in Emergency.  My mom chose there because it was a fallout shelter.  The yellow and black sign that looked like a weird pizza to me, the result of Cold War fears, hung outside the building.  For mom that was safety.  We would go in, climb a set of hard stairs and then sit in plastic covered furniture under the watchful eye of the Pinkerton guard at his desk.  I always tried to getting pennies for the gumball machine and loved I could get two squares not one round one.

The large window that look out toward the river and the church parking lot gave us a clear view of the storm as it passed. Once, my mother went into the back and came out calmer and more comfortable. She fell asleep on the ride home.

Great nights we would go to the all night truck stop at the edge of town,aptly named The Edge of Town. There we would cram into a booth as the server brought the children chocolate milk and my parents coffee.  We sat among overnight truckers, drunk college students (Denny’s had not come to the North Country) and often women seeking comfort from a driver or offering it for coin. 

This was my normal.  Storms meant you awoke, went someplace and waited them out.  I didn’t realize how strange that was until college and my first real apartment.  One night I was sharing my bed through a late night storm.  I awoke and quickly turned on the TV to watch the storm information on the weather channel.  I felt anxious and wanted to leave but didn’t know where to go as my companion grunted questions about why I was up and to go back to sleep.  I realized that maybe not everyone reacts to the storms the way my family did.  She fell back asleep in the glow of the TV on mute as I watched the radar show the storm move off to the east.  As the weather quieted I slipped back under the sheets and continued the night.  

Over the years I have mellowed on my reaction to storms.  I watched my son grow up not caring about them.  But I still have to follow them, where they are, where they are going, when the threat is over.  Smart phones allow me to monitor this with stealth I didn’t have before.  But even today as the father of an adult child I still feel the need to know about storms when they come.  Storms are always my nemesis and I feel I must conquer them each time they come.  

Now you might ask why I carry this through life.  It is simple.  For my mom every time lightening flashed and was followed by a clap of thunder she was no longer a mother of 8, a wife, a survivor or the warrior that I saw her as most of the time.  She was the small child, one who heard the planes fly overhead in Mannheim 150 times in the years before she was 10 years old.  A child who hid in stairwells and basements and prayed with neighbors that the next bomb wouldn’t destroy their house, their school or their lives.  A child who saw the flashes of light at the city edge and waited for the thunder of the bomb’s concussion as it rolled down the streets in the dark of night.  I have never faced death at the hands of an anonymous pilot dropping explosives on my home, but I inherited the fear that was delivered with each payload.  I carry with me the scars that she earned as a girl who for her 5th birthday saw her cousin’s house go up in flames from a British incendiary device.  The flash of lightening and the sound of thunder of a simple summer storm carried so much more for my mom, and still today for me.  A legacy of a war fought against an unspeakable evil that spawned this irrational response of punishment on the people of Germany.  My mom is gone, but that punishment lives on in me, a little less pronounced than in her, but still there.  I hope my son didn’t pick up on my reaction to the weather.  I hope my son will be able to sleep through the storms in his life.  But I worry about others.  

Today there are children in parts of the world who will be experience terror by drone strikes and suicide bombers.  Children on the US border who will feel the trauma of being ripped from the arms of their parents and put in cages.  And young people sitting in classrooms that have seen bullets tear into their classmates' and teachers' bodies.  What will they fear when they get older?  Will their children carry the weight of the horrors into their day-to-day lives in the coming decades?  What can we do to break this cycle.  

Thursday, June 21, 2018

You Can't Measure Your Success With Your Own Failure

I once heard a professor say she was proud to give out so many failing grades in her class.  She saw that as being tough and a gate keeper to some storehouse of knowledge, or something.  As an educator I cringed and decided to ask, "Isn't your job to get the students to know the material?  I mean if they don't know it isn't that your failure?"  The conversation didn't go well but that is part of the vision of many in education, sadly.  We also see that in many areas where people have power over others seeking something.  Rejection is seen as more a value than it should be.

Recent events at the border have highlighted the terrible state of our immigration system in this country.  We are the shining city on the hill and people want to come here.  Why?  Our entire history has shown that this is one of the places that you can come here with nothing and work hard and build a life within and apart from you ethnic community.  Waves of immigration, celebrated by a statue in New York Harbor, made this country the strongest and most welcoming country in the world.  Studies show that immigrants make for a better country and a stronger economy as well as enhancing the fabric of what it means to be American.  Now we often hear about illegal immigration, crossing the border without the proper procedures and documentation.  But there is a new voice in Washington working to limit legal immigration.  Looking to limit people coming from countries the President himself referred to as "shit hole" countries.  In fact the director of homeland security  DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was supporting more immigration from Scandinavian countries. (She later said she didn't know that those countries were mostly white)  So when we hear rhetoric about keeping people out as a measure of success we have to ask ourselves:  Why?  Perhaps this is about the changing demographics of the country.

Current trends show that be 2045 we will become a white minority country, meaning whites will no longer be a majority demographic group in the nation.  I think that this may be a little too conservative and we may reach that (depending on how we define white) sooner.  This idea scares some people who hold to the notion that this was a country built by and for people of European ancestry.  While that has never been true it has been a theme over time that has led to some horrific events in our history.  The notion has always bubbled below the surface and reared its ugly head during the Presidency of Barrack Obama, which included the anti-Muslim hate that was ginned up after 9-11.  But in the last 3 years the worst of the worst of this has gained a more public voice with literal White Supremacy rallies like the one in Charlottesville, VA which apparently will be repeated in Washington DC this summer.  It was this fear that helped Donald Trump become the President as he catered to the notion of a nostalgic America that was whiter and more homogeneous in thought or at least thought that was allowed.

People fight this growing diversification of our culture in many ways.  One is the rise of backlash to many formerly ignored public practices causing consequences for people.  Using racially charged language, treating women as objects, and certain jokes have caused people to lose their jobs, their public standing and even their freedom.  Not that long ago they would simply be ignored or lauded.  I remember when I first moved to Georgia I was in the library and I heard an older women tell the librarian when she was searching for a book, "I don't want to do the n-word work".  That was 25 years ago.  She was anachronistic at the time, but no one confronted her.  I imagine today they would, it wouldn't be so common place that it is ignored.  I know someone told me that is just "the old way of talking" when I asked about it.  But there are some who would call anyone confronting her politically correct.  In fact, I hear that all the time now.  But I think it is better that we avoid language that dehumanizes and I think most people would agree.  You have a right to think that way and we have a right to tell you that you shouldn't say such things around us.  This mindset that there very act of promoting a language of inclusion and universal acceptance is some how destroying America has gotten new roots in a movement that if not led by the President, has his ear.  I think that energy put into dehumanizing people crossing our southern border is a symptom.  Remember they are coming for a piece of the American dream, they are bad.  But the dozens the Trump company brings in for cheap labor to work in his hotels apparently are fine.  The difference is that he can control the later.

Now I am not an open borders person.  But in a world where borders seem to have less meaning I think the idea of being open to immigration under many circumstances is a good thing.  I grew up in a border town.  We were heavily influenced by the Canadian culture that was similar to our own but had some different quality.  Growing up the border was more about crossing the bridge than going to another country.  My mother shopped at a little market run by German/Canadians every couple of weeks.  Friends parents would go to dinner at a Chinese restaurant on the other side of the river.  Crossing the border was less of a hassle than a typical subway ride from Midtown to Brooklyn in NYC.  Today it is different and I understand why.  We need security.  But I wonder how concerned we would be if a group of Scandinavian refugees were trying to seek asylum here.  I don't think it would be so easy for these people who cheer and make fun of kids in cages would be quite so comfortable with blond haired blue eyed toddlers in virtual kennels.  And that I think is the real problem.


Wednesday, June 20, 2018

My Well Runs Dry

Last night we had a great board meeting at the shul.  We are so excited about our new Religious School program so we spent a great deal of time talking about the kids and families we have in our congregation.  I am happy our board is so supportive of the program and I left feeling pretty good about the what we are doing.  Then I got home. 

In the course of 1/2 hour I learned the President of the United States referred to people coming to the US to seek asylum are considered an infestation.  That sounded bad.  Then I watched as Rachel Maddow broke down on air upon reading the story of the opening of detention centers for babies and toddlers.  Then I saw that Corey Lewendowski was on Fox News and debating about the inhuman policies at the border.  To illustrate the pain being caused a panelist started talking of a young girl with Downs Syndrome taken from her mother.  Lewendowski interrupted him saying "Wah Wah Wah".  To be clear a former campaign manager to the President and an adviser to the President and apparently who may be in the pay of the Vice-President's PAC has made fun of the horrific story of a child with a disability being taken from her parent.  This is where we are, as a country we are setting up facilities to put babies in jail without their parents, calling human beings an infestation and making fun of disabled children.  All because a President, with the mental capacity of Simon Says Toy thinks that it would be good for the country. 

Now the question is why are there so many asylum seekers?  Well the reason is simple, in the late 80s and early 90s the insatiable desire for recreational drugs like cocaine in the United States made it a no-brainer for many in these countries to produce and smuggle loads of these drugs.  This wasn't simply street dealers in bad neighborhoods but the joke was that on Wall Street everyone had an 8-ball close to them.  So much so that the statue of a trader in lower Manhattan with his open briefcase often was adorned with an added plastic bag of white powder, simply to make it more authentic.  Among those whose cocaine habit drove the rise of lawlessness and violence in those areas was Larry Kudlow.  Now the President's top economic adviser, Kudlow was fired from Bear Stearns and struggled with a habit until simply going to rehab.  As thousands service prison sentences for using pot and smaller amounts of drugs, he never served a day in prison.  Now he supports the idea of destroying the lives of people fleeing the cartels he helped create. 

I don't understand how anyone can support what is going on at the border.  I can't understand how anyone can be comfortable with calling human beings an infestation.  I can't understand how making fun of a scared young girl with Downs Syndrome can be ignored by people with good hearts.  I call on everyone, conservatives and liberals, republicans, libertarians and democrats.  Let's stop simply being outraged and do something productive.  Challenge the lies of this administration and their elected supporters.  Hold news organization accountable for the hate they allow to be spewed on their air every single day (looking at you CNN)  and educate yourself and everyone you know about what is true and what is nonsense.  Start by reading PL 104-208 about immigration that is being used as an excuse.  Look at what actually occurred under the Obama Administration when unaccompanied minors came in large numbers and note that there were some of us who challenged their handling of it.  Be a good consumer of news and information and avoid thinking that news comes from the guests on the evening cable news stations.  And when Rachel Maddow breaks down crying, it is time to take notice.

I Don't Wear My Kippah at WalMart

Several years ago I was sitting in a cafe with someone who suggested I take off my kippah.  The neighborhood we were in was a predominantly...