Thursday, May 21, 2009

Fleet Week, terrorist plots and Yom Yerushalayim

New York City's annual Fleet Week began yesterday, May 20, and will continue until May 27. Click here for a schedule of events. I visited the Intrepid Museum and spoke with some of the sailors. Like soldiers who fought in Vietnam a generation ago, they are being demonized by the media and the liberal elite, and can benefit from hizzuk from ordinary New Yorkers who are still mad as hell at the butchers who attacked us on 9/11. Too many of us have grown complacent. Here is a wake-up call for them. Authorities have just foiled a plot by homegrown Muslim terrorists to attack two Jewish facilities in Riverdale and shoot down American planes with Stinger missiles in upstate New York. We cannot afford to let our guard down; complancency is just what our enemies are looking to exploit.
Two nights ago I ran a race in Lower Manhattan that passed by the hole in the ground that once held the majestic Twin Towers; eight years later and all we have is that big hole in the ground. Wearing my "REBUILD" running top, I shouted "Build 'em both and build 'em high" as I passed and flashed the "V for Victory" sign. Fellow runners reacted as if I was crazy. People are forgetting, they have become apathetic, they just don't want to be bothered. It is therefore all the more important to show hakarat hatov to the brave men and women who sacrifice so much to keep America free. And we have to put our money where our mouths are - donate to the U.S.O., the Jewish War Veterans and such.
Of course, we've been through this before. בכל דור ודור עומדים עלנו לכלותנו. In every generation enemies rise against us and, with God's help, we fight and defeat them. One of those victories occurred 42 years ago Friday, and so on Thursday night and Friday, 28 Iyar, we celebrate Yom Yerushalayim. Ma'ariv begins with Barkhu (no v'hu rahum) and is chanted with the Yom Tov melody. We end hashkivenu with hapores sukat shalom as on Yom Tov. During Shaharit we say the long psukei d'zimra as on Yom Tov, along with Hallel. All this is according to the prescription of the Israeli Rabbanut. I also make a practice of saying the Shir Shel Yom for Monday, . . .גדול ה' ומהלל מאד בעיר אלקינו , after the one for the appropriate day. Hag Sameah.

Be happy. Be vigilant. Be grateful. Stay strong.

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Monday, May 18, 2009

Doomsday Canceled

Doomsday they called it. The day the New York City Transit Authority (NYCTA), bedeviled by a large budget shortfall due to the recession, was set to impose draconian fare raises and service cuts. Back to the 1970s and 80s, when service was spotty, derailments and breakdowns were the order of the day and riders deserted the system - and the city - in droves. Was there no institutional memory at City Hall and Albany? Albany, because NYCTA had long since been made a subsidiary of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA, no relation to the yeshiva), a state agency, in response to a previous budget crisis. The city, especially working stiffs like us, the majority of New Yorkers who do not own cars, was gripped with a sense of impending woe. The fat-cat bureaucrats, who more likely get to work in chauffeured limousines than on the subway, were determined to seal New York's doom for a generation. Against them were arrayed the poor shnooks: the Working Families Party, the Straphangers Campaign, Transportation Alternatives, and similar ragtag advocacy groups. The odds seemed insurmountable, but we triumphed over insurmountable odds before; was it not the month of Iyar? The Internet is free, and emails soon went out to us ordinary folks with phone numbers to call, addresses for email and snail mail, rallies to attend in New York and Albany. My state senator, Carl Kruger, was among the "Fab Six" who were blocking legislation in Albany that would rescue the MTA. The rescue, as nobody tried to hide, would have been at the expense of automobile drivers. Automobiles carrying only their drivers are the least efficient and most environmentally irresponsible way of commuting to work, and making driving a bit more expensive would accomplish a social good transcending the Robin Hood strategy. But - automobile drivers are more likely than subway commuters to have scads of campaign cash. Carl Kruger is a good senator with a strong record of cutting red tape for ordinary Brooklynites. He is also too smart a man not to know on which side his bread is buttered. There are more public transportation riders than automobile commuters in his district, as there are in the City as a whole. And so it was not without some trepidation that I placed a phone call to his office. I got a staffer, and told her that if doomsday happens because Senator Kruger blocked the relief bill, I would hold him accountable at the polls and so would many like me in the district. I also called the office of Congressman Anthony Wiener, whose staffer tried to cut me off by referring me to the state politicians. I reminded her that the federal government has a bottomless pool of bailout money for banks and bankers, and it was time for them to bail out ordinary people. She promised me to relay my views to Mr. Wiener. I don't know if she ever did, but federal assistance proved unnecessary. At the last minute Albany came through. We had exerted enough pressure on the fat cats to make them see that we may not have loads of money but we do vote, and our votes are not for sale. We are aware, we are involved, and we will not take abuse silently. The bailout provides for a reasonable fare increase that will not take effect until June 28. We are by no means out of the woods; the relief is a two-year stopgap and we still need a "Joseph strategy" to save money in good times for bad. But New York has a shot at remaining the greatest city on earth. And we learned again what one of my teachers at Yeshivah of Flatbush taught us: l'olam lo l'hitya'esh. Never give up. If you give up on something you lose it even if it's found. You can fight City Hall. And you can win.

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Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Yom Ha'atzmaut 5769

Last week I spent the evening and morning of Yom Ha'atzmaut as I usually do, at my alma mater, Yeshivah of Flatbush. Before Ma'ariv a teacher spoke about the significance of the day. He cited Rav Kook, who taught that the first war waged by the Jews in the conquest of Eretz Yisrael was against Sihon Melekh Heshbon. If we had put our faith in rational calculations - heshbon - we would not have won, not then and not now (see earlier post). A hazan (cantor) who also graduated the Yeshivah led us in Ma'ariv, including Hallel and the conclusion modeled after the end of Yom Kippur, as prescribed by the Israeli Rabbanut. After tfila we had an "Israeli cafe night" that was, if anything, too successful in that there were too many people for the available space. Much money was raised for Todah L'Tzahal.
The following morning tfila again followed the Rabbanut's prescription, including Hallel and the haftara for the last day of Pesah read with ta'amim but without a brakha. A festive breakfast followed, a tradition at Flatbush that I first saw as a student in 1967 (see earlier post), the twentieth anniversary of the state. 41 years later, all but one of my teachers have either retired or passed on. The students, and in some cases their parents, were not even born when I was a student there. Nevertheless, they would pull me into their dancing circles and I was able to keep up. Sometimes one kid would link arms with me for a two-person whirl. I am still able to feel the joy of Yom Ha'atzmaut as only a strong, healthy man can.
In the afternoon I suited up in a home-made sleeveless shirt with "HAPPY BIRTHDAY" and the Israeli flag across the chest and "61 YEARS YOUNG" on the back and ran through Brooklyn's Cobble Hill neighborhood and Atlantic Avenue. This is traditionally the borough's Arab stronghold, though like most neighborhoods in New York it has become considerably homogenized. I sometimes run there "out of uniform" during my lunch breaks at work, and I see Arabic-looking people going in and out of mosques, Arabic bookstores and the like. One might wonder why I would go out of my way to do something some might consider provocative, even looking for trouble. I certainly had no need to assert my right as an American to walk in any neighborhood in America; nobody was contesting that right. We learn the answer from Hannukah, like Yom Ha'atzmaut a time set aside to thank God for restoring Jewish independence through the victory of "the [relatively] weak over the strong, the few over the many." It is not enough to light Hannukah candles on the kitchen table as we do with Shabbat candles, though that is what we do in times of mortal danger, God forbid. We have to light them in a window facing outward, when people passing by can see. Pirsumei nisa is not preaching to the choir; it has to be "in your face," projecting outward to precisely those who would make themselves our adversaries. But on another level, our adversaries too benefit from the miracle. The ge'ula is not only for us; it's for the whole world, urbi et orbi. Emanations from our reborn state spread out and envelop the world in new strategies for arid-zone agriculture, new medical discoveries, new computer tech, the list goes on and on, as in the time of the Beit Ha-mikdash, where it is said that if the Romans had only known of the blessings they were getting from it they would have posted guards around it day and night.
I met up with a volunteer from Transportation Alternatives, an advocacy group for non-motorized (bicycling, walking, running) transport, doing a survey of traffic violations. He asked me where I got the shirt and we exchanged Hag Sameah salutes. And, barukh Hashem, I came to absolutely no harm. Nobody did anything, nobody said anything. It was as if God cast a spell on the Arabs and kept them in their homes (see Bereshit 35:5). I am reminded of what happened and did not happen over twenty years ago, when my newborn daughter developed a serious infection and for a while things were touch-and-go. She was in Long Island College Hospital, in Cobble Hill. It was summertime, and I ran to the hospital to be with my wife and daughter. The run took me down Atlantic Avenue, which was more Arabic then than it is today. I don't remember if I was wearing my Israeli flag shirt, but I wore my kippa proudly on my head, which at the time had enough hair to hold it on with a couple of bobby pins. I might have collected a dirty look or two, but nobody touched a hair of my head. And when I reached the hospital I turned to God: Okay, I conquered my fear and ran down Atlantic Avenue to show these people how You are giving Your people health and strength (Tehilim 29:11). Now You conquer whatever is bugging You and give me a healthy child. And He did.

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