Sunday, February 22, 2015

   I notice that I have not added to my blog since Purim.  Actually, a Jewish publishing house based in Germany (of all places) noticed and asked me to send in samples for possible publication.  I would welcome my work being introduced to a wider audience, and a foot in the door of commercial writing would also be welcome. 
   Probably the most significant event affecting the Jewish world since Purim 5774 was the war in Gaza.  Israel finally had enough with the daily rocket fire from Gaza, which they evacuated in 2005 in return for empty promises quickly repudiated by Hamas once it violently seized power.  In addition, Hamas was busy digging tunnels under the border, with the intention of kidnaping Israeli civilians and committing other acts of terror.  So the Israelis invaded Gaza, destroyed the tunnels and some of Hamas’s military assets and returned.  Israel seems to do this every few years, as Hamas quickly rearms and the world does nothing. This strategy is sometimes referred to as “lawn mower operations” since despite all the rhetoric on both sides everybody knows that the “grass” will regrow and Israel will have to enter Gaza later to re-mow it.  Every time Israel conducts one of these operations it is excoriated by the United Nations, the European Union and the liberal mainstream media in the United States for the heavy collateral damage, particularly the deaths of many children.  This damage is made inevitable by Hamas’s cynical tactic of placing its military assets in hospitals and schools full of children, as well as in private homes whose occupants are not allowed to leave, in order to score propaganda points with the above-named entities.  Israel has always done, and still does more than any other army on earth to prevent civilian casualties.  It even drops flyers and knocks on roofs to warn civilians of the precise buildings to be attacked, so that civilians may leave.  Those civilians must then choose between leaving and being killed by Hamas if they are discovered, and staying and being killed or injured in the military operation.  Imagine the United States and its allies doing that in World War II.  I say that next time Hamas’s shenanigans force Israel to invade, it should leave the lawn mowers behind, enter with overwhelming force, clean out the vipers’ nests once and for all and STAY.  Show the Arabs as much mercy as the allies of World War 2 showed the Germans.  Destroy any buildings used to attack Israelis, no matter who else is inside.  If so much as a cap gun goes off from a mosque, level said mosque.  Let the world rant and rave all it wants to, remind the media that they went in because the enemy deliberately targets Israeli civilians, including children, and that no other country would tolerate such conditions.  The world will condemn us anyway, so who cares?  Rebuild the settlements that were evacuated; no doubt most of the evacuees will be only too happy to return to their homes and make the land flourish as it did before the expulsions.  The war sparked outbursts of anti-Semitism all over western Europe, especially in France.  French Jews are still afraid to walk the streets wearing kippot (skullcaps) and police must be deployed around synagogues so that Jews can enter and leave peacefully.  Many of them decided that they have no future in France and are leaving for Israel.  They can be helped to build homes in Gaza (city and strip) and strengthen the Jewish presence.  Same goes for the haredim with their high birthrates and low levels of education; let them work the soil and justify their existence. 
   Close on the heels of the Gaza war came the Yamim Noraim (high holidays) and my own personal misfortune.  On the Sunday morning of Selihot (penitential prayers recited during the season) I missed a step at home, fell sideways and twisted my knee.  Somehow I made it to the nearest emergency room, where they took x-rays, ascertained that I did not break a bone, gave me a brace and a cane and told me to see an orthopedist.  The orthopedist ordered an MRI and diagnosed a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and meniscus (cartilage).  I already had two arthroscopies on the same knee to repair damaged cartilage.  So another arthroscopy was done to remove the damaged cartilage and replace the ligament with tissue from a cadaver.  The ACL injury is the same one suffered by professional football and basketball players; it inevitably sidelines them for the season and I was promised a similarly long recovery.  I am still assiduously doing physical therapy to rehabilitate the injury. 
   On the evening before my accident I attended the Selihot at Kingsway Jewish Center.  For several reasons I found it difficult to relate to.  Many of the piyutim (liturgical poems) are very difficult to understand because they are written in an abstruse style of medieval Hebrew (unlike the amidot, which anybody who understands Hebrew can comprehend) and the authors assume a broad knowledge of Talmud and Midrashim that we moderns do not possess.  These poems are valuable, but are better studied than recited in prayer.  Sefaradim begin Selihot on Rosh Hodesh Elul; perhaps we should convene starting then to study the more esoteric texts.  Many of the poems that we do understand portray the Jewish people as weak, helpless and hounded, which was true when they were written but not today, when Barukh Hashem we are witnessing and participating in the unfolding geula (redemption).  One in particular describes two nations, Sheba and Dedan, which refer to Arab provinces where Jews were living as dhimmis (second-class citizens), as possessing mighty armies while we are helplessly subjugated to them.  Huh?  In my mind’s eye I see the piles of shoes and burned-out equipment that the Arab armies left for us in June 1967.  Sometimes changing the tense of a verb or two will make the poem consonant with reality on the ground, but sometimes it will not.  In that case I cannot get the words out of my mouth; doing so would show a crass ingratitude to God, Who is turning our fortunes around before our very eyes, just as the Prophets told us He would.  Finally, the hazzan (cantor) pronounces the holam (vav with a dot above it) as if it was followed by the letter yod, i.e. an “oy” sound.  He also, as is customary on the Yamim Noraim, sprinkles “oy vey,” liberally throughout the text.  All of this has an unmanly, and therefore unwelcome, ring.  We are not an “oy vey” people anymore; we have earned the world’s respect and admiration for our ability to kick butt.    Neither the pronunciation nor the textual emendation is wrong per se; I cannot fault a man for following his family minhag (custom), but every “oy” and “oy vey” grates on my macho ears, and the older I get the more it grates.  I would like to hear the Selihot and the services on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur from an Israeli hazzan who pronounces a holam the Israeli way and does not add “oy veys” that are not found in the printed text.  I would also like the piyutim that describe our past subjugation as if it were present, and that cannot be fixed, simply passed over.  Perhaps people more creative than I am can compose piyutim expressing our gratitude to God for the unfolding geula; these can be substituted for the traditional piyutim that, praise God, no longer have a basis in reality. 
   On a happier note, I became a grandfather for the first time when my daughter gave birth to a daughter on the first day of Shavu’ot 5774.  My granddaughter was named Lianna Batya or Lilliana Beth, but we call her Lily.  We’re all delighted with our cute little girl, but I want her to grow into a big strong girl, in body, mind and spirit, able to advance the geula.  My son got married in Israel on 27 Tevet 5775 to a Sabra girl from Yemenite stock.  They live in Petah Tikva.  I and my wife traveled to Israel for the wedding and sheva brakhot.  May it be God’s will that I should soon return to Israel for a brit milah and pidyon ha-ben, and that we all merit to see the completion of the geula and, before I get too old and weak to put one brick on top of another,  the rebuilding of the Beit Hamikdash.

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Monday, March 17, 2014

Dodgers to Return to Brooklyn

Shushan News Service – 14 Adar II 5774


    It’s been 57 years since the Brooklyn Dodgers broke our hearts by moving to California.  They will remain there for the time being, but Brooklyn is getting a new bunch of Dodgers from Israel.  A groundswell of disgust at the thousands of young Israeli men who evade army service apparently came to a head yesterday when large groups of secular youth raided synagogues and yeshivot in Jerusalem, Bnei Brak and elsewhere.  Wearing masks and colorful costumes and gregging up a cacophonous din, they rounded up all the draft dodgers they could find, most of whom were in a state of intoxication from the Purim festivities.  When this reporter asked several yeshiva rabbis how they could allow such drunkenness in the name of a Jewish celebration, they replied that the young men are forbidden all year to have fun: no movies, no hip-hop, no meeting girls without the permission of a matchmaker, no secular books, no short pants and short-sleeve shirts in the hot summer. . .they need some outlet for all that pent-up energy.  Before the Dodgers could get their wits about them, they were loaded onto waiting lorries and brought to the port of Ashdod, which was undergoing a rocket barrage from terrorists in Gaza.  When the more sober yeshiva students wept and wailed that they were all going to die, their captors replied, “We have everything well in hand, no thanks to you and your draft dodging ilk.  We have Giants here.  Our soldiers are shooting the rockets out of the sky with the Iron Dome, and our flyboys are over Gaza bringing justice to Haman, oops, Hamas.  We have the best flyboys on earth, you know.  They don’t even have to look at girls when they’re on a mission, since there are no lady pilots.” 

“So where are you taking us?”

“To Brooklyn, in America.  It’s the best place for Dodgers.  There’s no draft in America, and the streets are paved with. . ., well, the streets aren’t paved with gold but you’ll be able to learn in yeshiva and nobody will force you to learn a little English, math and science so you’ll be able to get a job and earn some dough.” 

“Science?  Feh!  Apikorsus!  And dough?  Goyishe dough?  We can only smoke Pot Yisrael, and what do we know about growing the stuff?” 

“Feh you say?  You schmoes have no problem using refrigerators, cars, medicines and all the other goodies science gave us to make our lives easier, do you?”

“Oy, oy, what are we going to do?  Soon we’ll all be strangers in a strange new place.”

“Don’t worry.  You won’t have trouble finding a Jewish face.  They look like dumb Polacks from the 17th century.  Come to think of it, they look a lot like you.  Oh, I almost forgot to tell you.  Brooklyn is crawling with black dragons three times your size and built like Greek gods chiseled out of granite.”

“Voos iss Greek gods?  Every chayder boy knows there’s only one God.”

“You’ll find out soon enough.  They knock nebbishes like you out with one punch and eat them for breakfast.  Over there you won’t have the protection of the state you don’t recognize and the army you refuse to serve in.  Well, here’s the ship.  We have a passable navy too, you know.  Our sailors will get you to Brooklyn and serve you great glatt kosher food on the way.”


   While the Dodgers were boarding the ship this reporter sought out Lazer Gantzashvantz, self-styled chairman of the Bring the Dodgers Back to Brooklyn Committee.  “So Mr. Gantzashvantz, shalom Aleichem.  How are things going on your end?”

“Oy vey is mir.  We found an empty lot and we’re building the Ebbets Yeshiva with all the modern conveniences, even a baseball diamond for your Sandy Koufaxes to use in their ten-minute recess, but where are all these boys going to live?  Housing isn’t the easiest thing to come by in Brooklyn, and what with our women popping out a baby every year starting at age 18 our neighborhoods are already packed like sardines.  And the cost?  These people are poor.  They have nothing.  Absolutely nothing.”

“They’re our very best Torah scholars.  They have more under their big toe than American yeshiva bochurim will ever get in a lifetime of learning.”

“Very good, but that won’t pay the rent and it won’t put food on the table.”

“So there’s no room Lazer?  That’s your headache.  And as for poverty I say to you, Lazer, that’s your headache too.  It won’t be as hard as settling tens of thousands of refugees from backward Arab stink holes coming to us with nothing but the clothes on their backs.”

“Well, we’ll have to manage.  We always have.  And at least when our bochurim secretly watch baseball, they won’t have to watch the Goyishe Dodgers in California.  They’ll have real Jewish Brooklyn Dodgers.”

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Monday, February 10, 2014

I need a little summer. . . .

I  need a little summer.  Right this very minute.

   I need a little summer. . . .

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Sunday, January 12, 2014

A New Year - A New Mayor

   An era ended two weeks ago for New York City.  Twenty years of Republican mayors are over and for the first time in a long time this city, where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans four to one, is being governed by a Democrat, a Democrat for whom I voted with much hope and confidence.  When I vote for Republicans, which I do more often than I’d like, I vote for them with a heavy heart, knowing that if they win I and other liberals (there, I just said the L-word) would have to watch them like a hawk.  We are coming off eight years of Rudy Giuliani and twelve of Michael Bloomberg.  Their record is mixed, but far more positive than I would have expected from Republicans.  Giuliani entered City Hall with a city awash in crime and a deteriorating infrastructure whose middle class tax base was leaving in droves.  We all were resigned to double locking our doors, driving our cars in summer with windows locked and gas-guzzling air conditioners at full blast, and not letting our children out of our sight in a city which we simply assumed was ungovernable.  After Mayor Giuliani’s first term the city had done an about face.  Crime rates were the lowest in memory, children played outside, and we still double locked our doors but more from force of habit than fear of actual danger.  The city was never ungovernable; it was merely ungoverned for too darn long.  Giuliani appointed several get-tough police commissioners and a novel “broken windows theory” of policing; sweat the small stuff and you don’t get the big stuff.  Arrest petty vandals, grafitti “artists,” turnstile jumpers and such and they don’t graduate to armed robbery, rape and murder.  At the first sign of any trouble in Crown Heights, which suffered a terrible pogrom a year and a half before Giuliani took office,  a phalanx of riot-equipped police with a mobile command post and the whole nine yards descended on the neighborhood and did not leave until the trouble was over.  Cynical New Yorkers pooh-poohed the new policies but they worked.  Serious felonies took a nose dive and there were no Crown Heights riots in Crown Heights or anyplace else.  The City became a safe place to live and work, the exodus to the suburbs ended and people who had fled actually started coming back; there is little to recommend a long automobile commute on snowy highways and with gasoline prices sky high.  Freshly minted energetic and creative college grads flocked to New York and reinvigorated deteriorating neighborhoods like North Williamsburg, the Lower East Side and even Harlem.

   Giuliani’s second term brought still more reduction in crime, but there were stirrings of too much of a good thing.  Law-abiding people were being gratuitously harassed by the police, some of whom seemed to actually enjoy harassing them.  Being a teacher in an inner-city school, I would overhear the horror stories of students and teachers of color about being randomly stopped by cops and asked for ID (which no American civilian is required to carry), thrown up against a wall, invasively searched without a warrant, and the like.  Certain neighborhoods in the City were turning into a police state and affluent New Yorkers who held the power didn’t seem to care.  You did not even have to be black to be harassed by Giuliani’s cops; it happened to me.  I was attending teachers’ meetings in a high school in Bensonhurst, and was running north at lunch time to a kosher Dunkin Donuts to grab a bite when I was stopped by two people.  They asked me what I was doing in the neighborhood.  Being Jewish I answered their question with another question: What’s it of your business?  They showed me shields that identified them as police and resumed their intrusive questioning.  When I told them that I was in the neighborhood for teachers’ meetings at the high school, they told me the schools were closed for Election Day.  I replied that the schools are closed for students, but teachers have meetings and they can check that with the Board (now the Department) of Education.  What do you know about drug dealing over there (pointing south toward Coney Island)?  I don’t know what you’re talking about.  Why are you running?  I like to run.  They looked at me like I was crazy.  Never mind that I was wearing a baseball cap emblazoned on both sides with “New York City Marathon” and it was the week before the Marathon.  What freaking planet were those guys on?  They asked me for ID and I gave them my driver’s license.  What’s your address?  I told them.  That’s not the address on your license.  I recently moved; that was my old address and I filed the required form with the Department of Motor Vehicles.  One of them took the license into his car and ran it through the computer; of course it checked out fine.  Then one of them told me to open my mouth, and when I did so he swept the inside of my mouth with his finger (I don’t remember if he was wearing a rubber finger cot or rubber gloves), “checking for drugs.”  Of course he didn’t find a thing.  Only then did they let me go my way.  Several years later I recounted my experience to a lawyer acquaintance who told me that if the statute of limitations had not run out he would advise me to hire a lawyer and sue the city and the police department, as I had been subjected to an illegal and invasive search.

  Then came Michael Bloomberg, a billionaire Manhattanite aloof from New Yorkers in the outer boroughs who actually had to work for a living.  Never having had to deal with unions in his businesses where he made his billions, he made an art form out of demonizing the city’s unions and not bargaining with them in good faith, when he bargained at all.  At the end of his tenure he deliberately forced the unions into time-consuming and unwieldy impasse procedures so as to “kick the can” to the next mayor.

   This analysis would not be complete without mentioning a sea change in quality of life in New York’s public places, besides the dramatic reduction in crime.  A city that was choked with pollution from automobiles now encourages people to ride bicycles, both for fun and to travel to and from work.  Bike lanes and even bike rental stations are now a common sight.  Herald Square and other heavily trafficked public places now have protected areas where pedestrians can sit down and enjoy a snack and unrushed conversation, weather permitting.  We no longer have to inhale poisonous cigarette smoke as a condition of holding a job, shopping for groceries, waiting on line in a bank or being in any other indoor public space.  Prospect and Central Parks are free of automobile traffic much of the time; Transportation Alternatives is trying to make that all of the time.  Organized running and bicycle races are now common in those and other parks on weekends and summer weekday evenings.  Children and adults now enjoy the parks without having to inhale automobile exhaust and dodge speeding automobile traffic.  New Yorkers resisted all of these improvements at first, but eventually got used to them and even began to like them.  

   After 20 years with the same party in power, Americans usually vote for change.  So it was in New York, as Democrat Bill de Blasio was sworn in January 1.  He lived in Brooklyn (as mayor, he will live in Gracie Mansion) and has a son attending prestigious – and public – Brooklyn Technical High School, “Brooklyn Tech” to New Yorkers.  Like most Democratic public officials in New York, he is union friendly.  He can be expected to drive a hard bargain, but he will bargain in good faith.  Perhaps the greatest change we can expect to see – and soon – will be in the quality of policing.  One of the major issues in de Blasio’s election campaign was Bloomberg’s “stop and frisk” policy, whereby police could detain anybody they deemed suspicious and frisk him for weapons.  Very few weapons were found or arrests made, but very much distrust and animosity was created between the police and the people they are supposed to protect and serve.  In theory the police had to have “reasonable suspicion” (a lesser standard than the “probable cause” required to obtain a search warrant) to perform a stop and frisk.  In practice “reasonable suspicion” could mean that the cop didn’t like the way somebody looks, the way he is dressed, or that he walks with a swagger (they should have seen me in the summer of 1967; I walked with the granddaddy of all swaggers).  In other words, breathing while black was enough to get you stopped and frisked in majority-black neighborhoods.  The new mayor pledged to end all that, and we have the technology to do so without sending crime rates into the stratosphere.  Policemen can be outfitted with cameras on their uniforms (the courts have held that there is no right to privacy on a public street) that can show a suspicious bulge in somebody’s pocket, gang signs or colors and similar bases for reasonable suspicion.  Another likely change will be “community policing,” whereby cops are taken out of their patrol cars and put on their feet, getting to know the area and its people, who the troublemakers are, who bears watching and so forth.  It works in most places where it was tried.  I don’t place much credence in fears of a return to the crime-ridden 1970s and ‘80s; New Yorkers simply won’t allow it.  For example, before Mayor Giuliani took office, “squeegee men” would hang out at key intersections offering to wash motorists’ windshields for a fee and harassing them if they declined.  Giuliani cleared them out.  During Bloomberg’s administration they tried to make a comeback.  The news made headlines in the tabloids, and the next day the squeegee men were gone.  We like our safe, people-friendly city and no official who values his political hide will allow a return to the bad old days.


תכלה שנה וקללותיה.  תחל שנה וברכותיה.

May the old year with its curses end, and a new year with its blessings begin.


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Friday, November 22, 2013

John F. Kennedy in His Own Words

   It's that time of year again, the terrible anniversary engraved forever in the minds of all those old enough to remember.  But this time it's the fiftieth, and the media are replete with retrospectives.  There isn't much I can add in that genre that I have not written in previous anniversary posts on this blog, so I will simply post one of his famous speeches, the "Negro baby" civil rights speech delivered in June 1963.  One might reflect on the progress we made as a nation since then; that American soldiers would have to be deployed on American soil to ensure that a black American could attend college seems almost unbelievable today, and who would have dared imagine 50 years ago that we would have an African-American president today?  Here is the speech that would bring this country closer to its founding principles:

Radio and Television Report to the American People on Civil Rights
President John F. Kennedy
The White House

June 11, 1963 

     Good evening my fellow citizens: 

     This afternoon, following a series of threats and defiant statements, the presence of Alabama National Guardsmen was required on the University of Alabama to carry out the final and unequivocal order of the United States District Court of the Northern District of Alabama. That order called for the admission of two clearly qualified young Alabama residents who happened to have been born Negro. 

     That they were admitted peacefully on the campus is due in good measure to the conduct of the students of the University of Alabama, who met their responsibilities in a constructive way. 
     I hope that every American, regardless of where he lives, will stop and examine his conscience about this and other related incidents. This Nation was founded by men of many nations and backgrounds. It was founded on the principle that all men are created equal, and that the rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened. 

     Today we are committed to a worldwide struggle to promote and protect the rights of all who wish to be free. And when Americans are sent to Viet-Nam or West Berlin, we do not ask for whites only. It ought to be possible, therefore, for American students of any color to attend any public institution they select without having to be backed up by troops. 

     It ought to be possible for American consumers of any color to receive equal service in places of public accommodation, such as hotels and restaurants and theaters and retail stores, without being forced to resort to demonstrations in the street, and it ought to be possible for American citizens of any color to register to vote in a free election without interference or fear of reprisal. 

     It ought to be possible, in short, for every American to enjoy the privileges of being American without regard to his race or his color. In short, every American ought to have the right to be treated as he would wish to be treated, as one would wish his children to be treated. But this is not the case. 

     The Negro baby born in America today, regardless of the section of the Nation in which he is born, has about one-half as much chance of completing a high school as a white baby born in the same place on the same day, one-third as much chance of completing college, one-third as much chance of becoming a professional man, twice as much chance of becoming unemployed, about one-seventh as much chance of earning $10,000 a year, a life expectancy which is seven years shorter, and the prospects of earning only half as much. 

     This is not a sectional issue. Difficulties over segregation and discrimination exist in every city, in every State of the Union, producing in many cities a rising tide of discontent that threatens the public safety. Nor is this a partisan issue. In a time of domestic crisis men of good will and generosity should be able to unite regardless of party or politics. This is not even a legal or legislative issue alone. It is better to settle these matters in the courts than on the streets, and new laws are needed at every level, but law alone cannot make men see right. 

     We are confronted primarily with a moral issue. It is as old as the scriptures and is as clear as the American Constitution. 

     The heart of the question is whether all Americans are to be afforded equal rights and equal opportunities, whether we are going to treat our fellow Americans as we want to be treated. If an American, because his skin is dark, cannot eat lunch in a restaurant open to the public, if he cannot send his children to the best public school available, if he cannot vote for the public officials who will represent him, if, in short, he cannot enjoy the full and free life which all of us want, then who among us would be content to have the color of his skin changed and stand in his place? Who among us would then be content with the counsels of patience and delay? 

     One hundred years of delay have passed since President Lincoln freed the slaves, yet their heirs, their grandsons, are not fully free. They are not yet freed from the bonds of injustice. They are not yet freed from social and economic oppression. And this Nation, for all its hopes and all its boasts, will not be fully free until all its citizens are free. 

     We preach freedom around the world, and we mean it, and we cherish our freedom here at home, but are we to say to the world, and much more importantly, to each other that this is the land of the free except for the Negroes; that we have no second-class citizens except Negroes; that we have no class or caste system, no ghettoes, no master race except with respect to Negroes?
     Now the time has come for this Nation to fulfill its promise. The events in Birmingham and elsewhere have so increased the cries for equality that no city or State or legislative body can prudently choose to ignore them. 

     The fires of frustration and discord are burning in every city, North and South, where legal remedies are not at hand. Redress is sought in the streets, in demonstrations, parades, and protests which create tensions and threaten violence and threaten lives. 

     We face, therefore, a moral crisis as a country and as a people. It cannot be met by repressive police action. It cannot be left to increased demonstrations in the streets. It cannot be quieted by token moves or talk. It is time to act in the Congress, in your State and local legislative body and, above all, in all of our daily lives. 

     It is not enough to pin the blame of others, to say this a problem of one section of the country or another, or deplore the fact that we face. A great change is at hand, and our task, our obligation, is to make that revolution, that change, peaceful and constructive for all. 

     Those who do nothing are inviting shame as well as violence. Those who act boldly are recognizing right as well as reality. 

     Next week I shall ask the Congress of the United States to act, to make a commitment it has not fully made in this century to the proposition that race has no place in American life or law. The Federal judiciary has upheld that proposition in the conduct of its affairs, including the employment of Federal personnel, the use of Federal facilities, and the sale of federally financed housing. 

     But there are other necessary measures which only the Congress can provide, and they must be provided at this session. The old code of equity law under which we live commands for every wrong a remedy, but in too many communities, in too many parts of the country, wrongs are inflicted on Negro citizens and there are no remedies at law. Unless the Congress acts, their only remedy is in the street.

     I am, therefore, asking the Congress to enact legislation giving all Americans the right to be served in facilities which are open to the public--hotels, restaurants, theaters, retail stores, and similar establishments. 

     This seems to me to be an elementary right. Its denial is an arbitrary indignity that no American in 1963 should have to endure, but many do. 

     I have recently met with scores of business leaders urging them to take voluntary action to end this discrimination and I have been encouraged by their response, and in the last 2 weeks over 75 cities have seen progress made in desegregating these kinds of facilities. But many are unwilling to act alone, and for this reason, nationwide legislation is needed if we are to move this problem from the streets to the courts. 

     I am also asking the Congress to authorize the Federal Government to participate more fully in lawsuits designed to end segregation in public education. We have succeeded in persuading many districts to desegregate voluntarily. Dozens have admitted Negroes without violence. Today a Negro is attending a State-supported institution in every one of our 50 States, but the pace is very slow. 

     Too many Negro children entering segregated grade schools at the time of the Supreme Court's decision 9 years ago will enter segregated high schools this fall, having suffered a loss which can never be restored. The lack of an adequate education denies the Negro a chance to get a decent job. 

     The orderly implementation of the Supreme Court decision, therefore, cannot be left solely to those who may not have the economic resources to carry the legal action or who may be subject to harassment. 

     Other features will also be requested, including greater protection for the right to vote. But legislation, I repeat, cannot solve this problem alone. It must be solved in the homes of every American in every community across our country. 

     In this respect I want to pay tribute to those citizens North and South who have been working in their communities to make life better for all. They are acting not out of a sense of legal duty but out of a sense of human decency. 

     Like our soldiers and sailors in all parts of the world they are meeting freedom's challenge on the firing line, and I salute them for their honor and their courage. 

     My fellow Americans, this is a problem which faces us all--in every city of the North as well as the South. Today there are Negroes unemployed, two or three times as many compared to whites, inadequate in education, moving into the large cities, unable to find work, young people particularly out of work without hope, denied equal rights, denied the opportunity to eat at a restaurant or lunch counter or go to a movie theater, denied the right to a decent education, denied almost today the right to attend a State university even though qualified. It seems to me that these are matters which concern us all, not merely Presidents or Congressmen or Governors, but every citizen of the United States. 

     This is one country. It has become one country because all of us and all the people who came here had an equal chance to develop their talents. 

     We cannot say to 10 percent of the population that you can't have that right; that your children cannot have the chance to develop whatever talents they have; that the only way that they are going to get their rights is to go into the streets and demonstrate. I think we owe them and we owe ourselves a better country than that. 

     Therefore, I am asking for your help in making it easier for us to move ahead and to provide the kind of equality of treatment which we would want ourselves; to give a chance for every child to be educated to the limit of his talents. 

     As I have said before, not every child has an equal talent or an equal ability or an equal motivation, but they should have an equal right to develop their talent and their ability and their motivation, to make something of themselves. 

     We have a right to expect that the Negro community will be responsible, will uphold the law, but they have a right to expect that the law will be fair, that the Constitution will be color blind, as Justice Harlan said at the turn of the century. 

     This is what we are talking about and this is a matter which concerns this country and what it stands for, and in meeting it I ask the support of all our citizens. 

     Thank you very much.



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Monday, July 15, 2013

Tish'a B'Av


    Tomorrow we will have plenty to mourn; the failings that led to the Hurban nearly 2000 years ago are still with us, impeding the completion of the geula. 

   First, more of the financial skullduggery for which “frum” Jews (God, save us from such frumkeit) have become (in)famous.  One Rabbi Ya’akov Weingarten, who lives in my neighborhood of Midwood, allegedly set up charities with solicitation material made to resemble that of real charities that collect for Magen David Adom, Zaka and similar outfits.  But this operator allegedly converted most of the money to his personal use.  The Attorney General of New York brought civil charges; criminal ones might follow.  So now we have to be extra judicious about where our tzedaka dollars go.  I have long ago stopped opening my door to the ubiquitous door-to-door schnorrers that plague my neighborhood; for all I know they could be armed robbers wearing kapotas; stranger things have happened.  Now when I get letters purportedly from well-known charities I will have to make sure of the address, or locate the websites of the legitimate charities and donate online.  Another tactic is to look the charity up on Charity Navigator; a four-star rating means that the charity is well-run (fund raising costs and overhead under control) and everything is on the up-and-up – what we used to take for granted if a charity was run by observant Jews.  Unfortunately, Charity Navigator does not rate all faith-based charities, both because its own resources are limited and because the charities might not be required to file the usual forms with the federal government.  It would also be useful if New York State would require all charities operating in the state to post their financial statements on a website maintained by the Attorney General’s office, instead of our having to request these statements by snail mail.  But that will require fixing Albany, which probably won’t happen in our lifetimes.


   Last week another sex abuse scandal surfaced, this time at Modern Orthodoxy’s premier institution Yeshiva University, specifically the boys’ high school that it runs.  The case will be difficult to pursue, since the statute of limitations expired long ago and the plaintiffs (allegedly abused students, now in middle age) have the burden of proof.  If the case ever reaches a jury, it will need more than “he-said-she-said” to find for the plaintiffs.  I wish I could say that Orthodox institutions should be above such sordidness, but the yetzer hara is universal.  More upsetting is the now-familiar cover-up; instead of taking measures to protect its students, Yeshiva University circled the wagons to protect its finances.  The cover-up goes all the way to Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm, the chancellor who recently retired.  And there’s a deeper problem.  The victims were not little kids, as in the case of Yehuda Kolko and other well-publicized pedophiles, but high school students well past puberty.  The problem thus is not pedophilia (operationally defined as a sexual attraction to pre-pubescent children) but homosexuality.  Would these students not have been victimized if their abusers had been able to be openly gay, have relationships with gay adults and remain in our community?  That could be the subject not only of another post but of a whole book.


   And in Israel, the haredim (aka khnyocks) are up to their old tricks.  Now their target is Women of the Wall, a group of women who go to the kotel every Rosh Hodesh and daven, wearing tallitot and tefilin and reading from a Sefer Torah.  Their actions appear to be within halakha, since none other than Bruriah, wife of the Tanna Rabbi Meir, and perhaps Rashi’s daughters, wore tefilin.  Several contemporary halakhic authorities permit women to read from a Sefer Torah in women-only prayer groups, e.g. Women of the Wall.  Nevertheless, it is difficult to defend these women; they seem less interested in enhancing their spirituality than in calling attention to themselves and scandalizing others praying at the kotel. If their intention is to scandalize and offend, the haredim consistently take the bait.  Hooligans, male and female, throw objects at them, spit at them and shout epithets such as “Nazi” and “Reform Jew,” as if the latter was a curse.  Calling our political opponents Nazis is an insult to Holocaust survivors and to the memory of six million dead, who were not all religiously observant despite what some haredi propaganda would have us believe.  And “Reform Jew?”  My thesis adviser a”h was a Reform Jew, a serious and committed one.  I could have trusted him with uncounted money.  I wish I could say the same about some so-called frum Jews (see above) who stoop to every low-down trick in the book as long as it gets them cash.  These rascals possess the outer trappings of frumkeit but if one is not frum inside then the outer trappings are not worth a dime.  They confirm all the negative stereotypes about Jews and money, echo the Jews against whom Isaiah inveighs in the haftara for Shabbat Hazon, and make me ashamed to call myself an Orthodox Jew.


   So we have plenty to work on in the coming year.  When people can point to an observant Jew and say, “That is how I want to live,” we will be a lot closer to Tisha B’Av being transformed into a Yom Tov in the rebuilt Beit Hamikdash.



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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders Fields
by John McCrae, May 1915


In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Some (I would hope many) of us have seen this poem, written in 1915 by a Canadian soldier in the First World War.  It appears in many newspapers on Memorial Day, along with the ads for all the store sales.  Today people wish one another a Happy Memorial Day.  Happy?  We were a richer country when Memorial Day was Decoration Day, a solemn day of reflection on the high cost of our freedom as Americans, and not an excuse for a shopping spree and the “unofficial start of summer.”  When this was written the United States had not yet entered the war.  We were Johnny-Come-Latelies in both world wars, which would almost certainly have ended sooner and been less costly in blood and treasure if we had entered together with the British and Canadians.  My parents were not yet born, and their parents were still in Eastern Europe.  “Between the crosses, row on row”?  It wasn’t only crosses.  Jewish blood was spilled on every American battlefield since the Revolution, but until very recently America was overwhelmingly Christian.  There were relatively few Jews in America, and fewer still in Canada.  In those days before refrigeration, fallen soldiers were buried near where they fell, but Jewish ones would almost certainly have been buried in Jewish cemeteries.  Hence the crosses, row on row.
Truth be told, both my grandfathers fought in the Austro-Hungarian army, i.e. on the wrong side.  The same was true of the grandfathers of many if not most of my generation of American Jews.  My mother’s father was brought here as a prisoner of war, and my father’s parents came here fleeing the Nazis in the 1930s.  Our grandfathers’ having borne arms against America was not something we talked about much, even in the safety of yeshiva.  We were not proud of it.  For those who attended public school, talking about it would have certainly landed Jewish kids in a few fistfights.  But time, they say, heals all wounds and from nearly a century’s distance we can see a reflection of both the tragedy of galut (exile) and the greatness of America.  Up to and including the First World War, Jewish soldiers fought on both sides.  There is an account from either the First World War or the Franco-Prussian War of a Jewish soldier stabbing an enemy soldier with a bayonet (a lot of the killing was still up close and personal) and hearing him cry out “Shema Yisrael.”  The Jew who did the stabbing is said to have spent the rest of his life in a mental institution.  But here in America something happened that could not possibly happen anywhere else.  When my maternal grandfather refused repatriation to Hungary after the war and took the oath of citizenship, and when my paternal grandfather took his oath, they were accepted as Americans in every sense.  They started businesses, rebuilt their lives, married and, on my mother’s side, had American born children who looked and acted American and spoke English without a trace of an accent.  For this country was founded not on blood and iron but on an idea, rooted in our Tanakh (what Christians call the Old Testament), that all men are equal, before God and before the law.  People can come here and leave the Old World’s broils behind.  In my first year of teaching I had a Greek student whose best friend was a Turk.  A Turk!  Greeks and Turks were mortal enemies at each other’s throats for centuries.  My student laughed when she told me this.  Only in America!  And one of my best students ever was an Arab from Ramallah.  This great American idea was radical when America was founded; every dollar bill carries the Great Seal on which is inscribed “Novus Ordo Seclorum,” a new order of the world.  Every coin carries the inscription “E Pluribus Unum,” from many, one.  But our new order is still not universally adored. In every generation people rise against us to eradicate us, not only to kill us physically but to exterminate the idea on which we stake the very existence of this country.  Early in the past century it was the Nazis, then the Communists.  Now the enemy is Islamism.  Islamofascists don’t hate tall buildings, or they would have destroyed the world’s tallest building in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  They don’t hate marathons; there are plenty of those in their own benighted lands.  Islamofascists hate America.  For as long as America remains a beacon of hope and freedom for the world, they will never be able to march the world back to the seventh century.
And so we must once again take up our forebears’ quarrel with the foe, grab from their hands the torch of freedom and hold it high.  We dare not break faith with the heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice, and who now sleep in Flanders Fields.




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