Yerushalyim Shel Shalom

Yesterday, the US officially moved its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. It has brought up a number of discussions, so I thought I would share my thoughts this morning before I start the day. I refer people to my statement of core values from a few days ago.

Why was the embassy moved? Ostensibly, it was in recognition of Jerusalem’s status as Israel’s capitol, but as that had been on the table for a long time before, it wasn’t the real reason. The timing behind it being done now was to please Trump’s evangelical base: it fulfills a biblical prophesy that supports Covenent Theology and hastens the end of days. If you read my core values, you know my thoughts on that: I think it is presumptuous for humans to take the place of God and to do things to fulfill prophecies of a particular religion. Let God fulfill God’s prophecies in God’s time.

I saw others seeing yesterday as a “dark day for the US” because no Democratic Congresscritters attended. Given the Congress normally doesn’t attend embassy openings, I’m glad they didn’t waste the money. In the long run, who attended the ceremony won’t matter one bit. Unless is it the catalyzing action for a war, even moving the embassy won’t matter 100 years down the road. All that is significant is US support for Israel, through monetary support and military and trade alliances. For some segments of Judaism, moving the embassy is vitally important (again, often for prophetic reasons). For most American Jews, however, it is more problematic. It is likely good that it is in Jerusalem, but the timing is problematic. Right now, there was loads of violence and death as protests erupted; and unsurprisingly, the Israeli government may have responded in a way that hurt their image. Did the Israeli government overreact? Probably, but I don’t always agree with what the Israeli government does, nor do I have to. I do predict there will be chaos over this for a while, but eventually things will settle back to the normal level of hatred between the parties. After all, it’s just an embassy. In fact, one article I read noted an interesting side effect: It might lead to the opening of an embassy for the Palestinians, also in Jerusalem, which they consider as their capitol.

Finding peace in the region is a difficult goal, and it ultimately depends on the parties agreeing to compromise with each other — and that means formally recognizing each other. Palestinians must recognize that Israel must be allowed to exist in peace in some form; that to achieve their nation means not wiping Israel from the map. Israel must agree that that Palestinians have the rights to some land and some level of reparations, and that how their government has been treating them has been wrong. Both are hard recognitions to make. Trump may stumble into a solution (just has he has in Korea), not through any particular action other than pandering to his base and being batshit crazy and having a much more personal style. Being crazy and focusing on personal relations is normal operations in the Middle East, and I’ve at least one article suggesting the Palestinians work with Trump. Consider that his pulling out of the deal with Iran has not only given Iran the power to look like a good guy by staying in the pact with the Europeans, but has put fear into the Saudis and gotten them talking … to Israel. Who knows what will happen because of the unpredictability of Trump, and the fear of the unpredictable may push parties together. If in the long term the balance of powers shifts in the Middle East so that the US’s power is diminished, well, at least the US is taking care of itself, right? After all, that’s worked with China and Russia? Right? Bueller? Bueller?

However, the point of this is that the opening ceremony for the embassy in Jerusalem is noise in the larger geopolitical issues. It may seem a big deal now, but it will be overshadowed by other things quickly. Despite evangelicals seeing it as important and the fulfillment of prophecy, it ultimately is at most a sentence in a history book (if indeed there are history books — the world is coming to an end, right?).

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Core Values

Let’s get this out of the way. My core values are 0 and 1.

Are we going out on that joke? No, we do reprise of song. That helps, but not much.

I’m here all week folks. Try the fish. Early in the week.

Being serious, a recent discussion on a friend’s FB threat that devolved into a discussion of religion and values got me thinking about my beliefs and values. As this is a discussion that comes up on a regular basis, I thought I would write them down so I could point others to them. Your values may differ, and that’s fine.

Respect. Let’s start with the basics: I attempt to respect others, and to keep discussions focused on ideas and not individuals. I encourage others to do the same. What this means is that I do my best to eschew ad hominem attacks and name calling. I do not feel it is ever appropriate to make fun of people, nor do I feel that someone else making fun of someone is an excuse to make fun of that person. And before you ask: Yes, that does extend to the President. As this post will discuss later, I do not agree with President Trump’s policy and approach. But I do not feel it is appropriate to make fun of his appearance or his children or staff’s appearance. There’s plenty to criticize on what they do that we don’t need to make fun of what they are.

Especially in my interactions on the Internet, I ask for (nay demand) mutual respect. Listen and consider other arguments, and let people make them (within reason). You do not have to agree to listen, but through listening there can be at least understanding.

This is something I have learned over many years, and I will admit that even 15 years ago, I wasn’t as good at living up to these ideas (translation: I regret how I behaved in political discussions during the Bush 43 presidency).

Belief. I am a life-long, 4th or 5th generation Reform Jew (not “Reformed”), which is called Progressive Judaism outside of the US. For those unfamiliar with term, I direct you to the FAQ. The key notion is that the Tanach (Torah, Prophets, and Writings) is not the literal writing of God, but divine inspiration written in the language and mores of its time, subject to reinterpretation to adapt the timeless values to today. With respect to God, I tend to take the Deist view of a disinterested God who may have started everything in motion and inspired the moral and legal system, but then let us take it from there. I strongly believe in personal choice and its importance, and that it is up to us to choose to do the right thing. More on that later.

As a result of the above, there are only a few places where I am truly spiritual. For me, Judaism is the moral and social justice precepts, which I find vitally important, and the community and the shared values and culture.

Is there a God? That’s an interesting question, and an issue that cannot be proved one way or the other (and please, don’t try). Those who try to prove God exists invariably do so by pointing to faith texts, which are not proof. Those who try to disprove God point to science, but science cannot disprove God — especially a disinterested God. Hence, to me, atheism is a belief system just built on a different faith. Some call that religion; I reserve the “religion” term for organized, structured, and formalized belief systems, often with central organizations. I’ll argue that the existence of God may not matter, for we should be good and moral whether or not God exists. I believe we have the capability to do good without the promise of reward or the threat of eternal damnation. To quote Penn Jillette, a noted atheist:

The question I get asked by religious people all the time is, without God, what’s to stop me from raping all I want? And my answer is: I do rape all I want. And the amount I want is zero. And I do murder all I want, and the amount I want is zero. The fact that these people think that if they didn’t have this person watching over them that they would go on killing, raping rampages is the most self-damning thing I can imagine. I don’t want to do that. Right now, without any god, I don’t want to jump across this table and strangle you. I have no desire to strangle you. I have no desire to flip you over and rape you. You know what I mean?

Legislating Morality. This leads to the next subject: Is it our place to legislate morality? Do we need laws to prevent abortion or homosexuality or any of these myriad of things that various religions have taught over the years. To answer that question, we need to go down a few paths first.

Mutual respect, in my eyes, goes hand in hand with freedom of religion. That means you are welcome to practice your belief systems, and I mine, and we should be able to do so without interfering with each others. It is not your place to impose your religious values upon me, nor me to impose mine upon you. Furthermore, it is not Government’s place to impose a specific religion’s values over a different religion.

Morality means nothing when we do not choose to do the right thing. Even if abortion is legal, that does not mean it should be done or encouraged. That is up to the woman and her values, and most woman do not want to have abortions — situations and circumstances (often not of their choice) force them into it. We should build a society that values more than just the unborn life, but that supports life through out the lifecycle: from the children born into poverty and degradation to our seniors.

But if we legislate that only what we think is the right thing, then we remove the ability for people to be good and to choose the right thing. For those that so believe, I’ll note this is fundamental in Deuteronomy: “I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. You shall choose life, so that you and your offspring will live;” You shall choose — not that society shall choose for you, but that you need to choose to do the right thing. You can’t choose if society takes that choice away from you.

In this, I subscribe to the talmudic and kabbalistic notion of ha-Satan, which the Christians mistakenly treat as Satan, the Devil. ha-Satan is a different notion: the notion that ha-Satan puts temptations in our path specifically so we have to make that choice to do the right thing.

Does this mean that I think murder should be legal, or that rape should be legal? No. I do believe there is a distinction between crimes against others without their choice, and things we do to ourselves. Murder, rape, theft, and such, are non-consensual crimes against others. Things like drugs and such are choice we make to ourselves. This invariably leads to the question of whether abortion is murder, and that really devolves quickly into when there is an other to commit a crime against. Note that I did not say “when life begins”, for cell division arguably begins the mechanics of life. But living — existence — being — is something different. There is a time during gestation — quite likely not exact — when that begins. When that occurs is a matter of belief, and this then becomes a matter of not pushing your beliefs onto me. Legally we impose a compromise: a time when we believe that existence independent of the mother is possible.  Recognize that is what it is: a compromise between differing beliefs, and one that — even though we might not like — it is what we can accept for society. Does that mean we should encourage abortion? Of course not, but it ultimately should be the mother’s choice, dictated by their beliefs and their relationship with God as they understand God. We must respect their beliefs. Does this mean some promising lives will be lost? Quite probably, but we seem to have no problem as a society when equally promising lives are lost on the battlefield or to poverty or to sickness. Argue with me about the sanctity of life and that we must value life when you demonstrably and through actions value it equally after birth. Then, and only then, will I respect your call for valuing the unborn life throughout its lifecycle.

Christianity. This, then, brings us to my views on Christianity. As I noted at the start, my fundamental value is respect. Judaism does recognize that other religions exist, and that other paths to enlightenment are valid. The Mi Chamocha prayer, recited regularly, acknowledges this when it asks, “Who is like unto you, O God, among the Gods that are worshipped?”

I have no problem with Christian beliefs, nor people who follow Christianity. I do not view them a backward or archaic. Their belief system is simply that — theirs. It is not mine, and as long as they do not attempt to “save” me or impose their belief system upon me, we can live harmoniously. I do not believe that Jesus is the Son of God or the Messiah (he doesn’t meet the job qualifications), but that doesn’t mean there isn’t value in his teachings. Just as the Torah contains divine inspiration, so do the teachings of Jesus (as a child of God, as are we all). They deserve study and interpretation for modern times.

On the other hand, there are some Christians….

I do believe that many Christians today do not act as Jesus taught. My understanding of Jesus is that he taught love for one’s fellow man (as a general term), to treat others as we want to be treated, to care for the fallen and the sick, to treat the least among us as an equal. It was Jesus who reached out to the whores and beggars to help them. It was Jesus who saw the good in people.

Far too many Christians in name fail to recall those ideas. Too many believe in the gospel of prosperity, and worship the god of wealth instead of the god of compassion. I think that notion — which is practiced by far too many of our political leaders — is wrong and non-Christian (at least as I understand things). I’ll gladly debate those ideas. Note that I didn’t say anything about the individuals — it is the notion I disagree with. They are welcome to their beliefs, but I don’t have to agree with them.

Armageddon and the End Days. One of the key differences between Judaism and Christianity is the view of the end days and the afterlife. Some have characterized the difference as Judaism focusing on this world and the rewards in this world, and Christianity focusing on doing good for the rewards in the world to come. The latter explains why Christianity became so popular during the middle ages: in horrible and horrid times, one gains comfort in trusting the world after you die will be a better one.

But does believing in the end days, Armageddon, and an uplifting of the dead to heaven a reason to hasten the end? Some in Salvation Christianity appear to believe that, and there appear to be leaders who are pushing that — or at least acting that way. I’ll argue that to do so is presumptuous and to put yourself in the place of God. If there is to be an end of days and such, it is God that must establish the timetable and bring it about, not man. Man’s job, as noted above, is to make the conscious choice to do the right thing and to make the world a better place. It is our job to be responsible stewards of the world and ensure its survival. It is our job to treat our fellows on this planet the best we can, to make this a world of justice and respect. If God then wants to end the world, it is his or her choice and timetable, not ours.

Life on Other Worlds. Is there life on other worlds? Probably, but it doesn’t make a difference. Given the billions and billions of worlds and conditions, it is statistically unlikely that some other form of life didn’t start on another world, and likely even evolved to be intelligent. But given how short of a time period intelligent life, able to communicate, has been on this world compared to the life of this world, the odds that our time period coincided with that on another world is small. Further, the distances between planets would make it such that even if our intelligent life periods overlapped, we likely could not communicate. As such, it really doesn’t make a difference. We shouldn’t think other worlds are coming to destroy us; nor should we believe that another world will come and get us out of our dilemmas. We have to choose to do the right thing.

Similarly, we should not be so presumptuous as to assume we are the only intelligent life on this planet. Other species do communicate with each other — in different ways. Other species are intelligent, but we just can’t communicate with them in the same way. Treating each other with respect includes doing the same for other species. I don’t go so far as to be vegetarian, but I do believe we should treat animals humanely, not kill just for the sport of it, and if we eat other animals, we should ensure that their life does not go to waste by wasting the food that they give us. If God exists, we can’t presume to fathom God’s plan for us and our world. In particular, we don’t know what species God might choose to promote next, and we shouldn’t put a stumbling block in front of those plans. We will be judged, if we are judged, by how we treat others, and that includes our animal brethren.

Wrapping It Up with a Bow. Ultimately, it comes back to where I started: Respect for others. Discuss the ideas and the actions, not the person. Consciously make the choices to do the right thing, as you have been taught through your belief systems; don’t depend on the law to impose it on you, nor use the law to impose what you think is the right thing upon others.

Oh, and my favorite adage: Never ascribe to malice what you can to stupidity.

 

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But Is News Chum Kosher?

Busy weeks mean the news chum gets pushed to the weekend, because I have no time at lunch. Here’s a collection of Jewish themed news items that caught my eye. As I say over on AAroads, ready, set, discuss.

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Changes and Opportunities

By now, many of you have figured out the some of the story behind my post the other day: the Board at our congregation dismissed our Senior Rabbi for some reason; the other Rabbi resigned shortly thereafter. Whatever reason the board had, I’m sure, may come out over time — at this point, it doesn’t matter. There are “town halls” today and next Sunday to discuss the situation. I’m not attending today; nor do I plan to attend next week. I wanted to explain why, and where I stand on this issue.

First and foremost, although I can speculate on a reason, at this point it is none of my concern. The Congregation elects a Board and expects that Board to work in the interest of the Congregation. The current Board has had a thankless task: there were some significant budget shortfalls going in, and a large group of members didn’t renew. It was clear that what we were doing was not attracting new members from the community. In this environment, it was time for review of the Rabbi’s performance and consideration of a new contract. The Board obviously did that, received some information, debated things vigorously, and came to the conclusion that resulted in the situation we are now in. For legal reasons — in particular, to protect the employee — they cannot disclose any more publicly. Think about it: If you were let go, would you want your employer disclosing the reasons for doing so to the world?

Any Rabbi has supporters and detractors. At the Town Hall, those who support the Rabbi will try to convince the Board to change their decision. At this point, that will not happen and should not happen. Here’s why: Even if the Board made a mistake (and I do not know whether it did or didn’t), any damage and divisiveness has been done. The split has already occurred. If the Rabbi came back, those who saw or experienced what problems occurred will now be on the short end, and that wouldn’t be good for a congregation’s future. It is an unrealistic expectation.

The followers of the Rabbi — if the Rabbi wants — may try to form a new congregation. That is their prerogative, and I wish them luck. In this era where many congregations are having trouble, it will be difficult. But this is often how new congregations form. In fact, it is how the current congregation started: one of its forerunners was a split from another congregation.

I won’t be going with them. Most of the folks who I have noted commenting in favor of the Rabbi are folks that haven’t been active on the Boards over the years. The Board members and Past Presidents have mostly been silent; presumably, they are supporting the current Board. During my stint as President of the Mens Club, I’ve gotten to know these people very well: I know they will work hard for the congregation’s survival.

I view this as an opportunity that has been given to us.  The situation is what it is and not of my making; whether I agree or disagree (and I’m not saying publicly), I can only move forward. Forward means remaking the congregation into something that works, for what we have been doing is no longer working. The face of Judaism — and especially Reform Judaism — is changing. I heard somewhere that the reason our parents (and my generation) joined congregations was continuity: giving Judaism for their children.

But the youth of today aren’t looking for that. They are looking for a community that cares and listens to one another. They are looking for authenticity — real Judaism, not the cruft that has accumulated over the years. I believe they are looking for what Reform Judaism should be: understanding all of Judaism, and then picking community and individual practices that add meaning based in Jewish values. For some, that’s worship. For some, that’s study. For some, that’s social action. But it all needs to be in an accessible language and with accessible means.

The unfortunate situation of the last week provides the opportunity for our congregation to be a phoenix of myth: born out of the fire of conflict into something newer and better. We have a Board and a collection of congregants that are likely to be willing to work. Now it is time to rebuild and move forward.

 

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What Makes a Congregation?

What makes a congregation? Is it the people in the community, and their relationships to one another? Is it the leader of the community, and his or her relationship to the people in the community?

Here’s why I’m asking. As background: Our congregation has had a bad fiscal year. Budget spreadsheet errors and other factors led to a greater than expected deficit (hint, Mr. President, budgets with large deficits are not a good idea, but I digress). At the same time the process was continuing of finally getting  the people side of the house in order: ensuring contracts were reviewed regularly, and getting processes in place for regular employee performance reviews and assessments. Two years ago as this process was gearing up the Cantor’s contract came up for review, and the decision was made by the board not to renew it. That upset some in the congregation (although the Cantor herself bounced back and found a job at another congregation in the area — together with our Cantor Emerita, I might add).

Yesterday, we received a letter from the President of our congregation. In it, it said: “… the Board of Trustees of [the congregation] has decided we need a new voice from the Bima and will begin the process to select a new Senior Rabbi effective immediately. Rabbi [name]’s contributions to [the congregation] over these many years have helped to make our congregation what it is today and his work will be honored and appreciated long into our future. We will be honoring Rabbi [name]’s service to the congregation at a later date and more information will be available as soon as possible.” (I’m intentionally keeping the congregation and rabbi’s name out of it, to focus the discussion on the broader question).

I wasn’t on the Board for this decision (although I was two years ago when then Cantor’s contract and performance were reviewed). I do know that the Rabbi’s contract was up for renewal this year and that the performance review process was now in place, and that if one is not renewing a contract, it must be announced by November to allow the timing of the search processes to work.  I am well aware that the Board cannot legally state the reasons behind their decision: this is covered by labor law and is there to protect the privacy of the employee.†  For those who understand Judaism, it is also covered by Jewish law on gossip. Much as the Congregation would want to hear those reasons, disclosing them would start the rumor and innuendo, and that would be completely inappropriate.

Of course, I have my thoughts as to some of the factors. They are my opinion, of course, and don’t relate to the question. I may put my thoughts as comments on the blog post, so you’ll have to go read them there.

After the announcement yesterday, the Rabbi posted (on FB) his personal email address for those that wished to contact him. That prompted a series of “how could this happen”, combined with the inevitables: (•) I’ll go with you where ever you end up; (•) I’m resigning my membership immediately; (•) after all these years of service, the board was destroying the congregation; (•) you’re the only reason, and I mean the only reason I go to [congregation];  (•) if this board thinks they can come in and wreck the institution overnight, well that’s what they’ll get; … and so forth.

Now I’ve been with many congregations — some of which seemed to change Rabbis every few years. I’ve seen people want to leave when a Rabbi left, and I’ve even explored creating a new congregation around a Rabbi when they left (it didn’t happen). I’ve come to realize that a congregation is not its leader — it is the people that make up the congregation and the relationships between those people. It is the friendships that form between families, the caring about one another. I care about Joe and Bob and Frank and Dave and Bill and Mike and Ron and … and their families, and hopefully, they return that care (those are representative names). If the only relationship that holds a congregation together is the one between a family and the clergy, then the congregation is weak indeed.

Yet in the responses I’ve seen on the Rabbi, that appears to be what is on the mind of a number of members. Saying “If the Rabbi goes, then I go” says to me that you have formed no close relationships with others in the congregation — that your view of the congregation is only what services you get and who gives them to you, not the other members. In many ways, that fits with the names I see: most are folks who haven’t been regularly and heavily involved; folks who may have a relationship with the Rabbi through the school or specific activities, but haven’t formed that larger bond with the congregation.

Hence, my opening question: What makes a congregation? Is it the relationships that form within and between the members — the community and family that is created? Is it the leader, such that when a leader leaves, everything falls apart because they were the only glue? I opine that it should be the former: that if a congregation is strong and has done its job right, then the community cares for each other and will move on. It will grieve for the transition of the leader, but the survival of the community is more important than one individual. The congregation exists to serve the community and keep the community alive, not to employ one person, no matter how good that person may be. It is the community that makes Judaism, not a specific charismatic leader.

[†: This is something I wrote in response to another post on FB: Under labor law, job performance and job review is confidential between the employer and the employee. So the specific reasons need to remain within the employment subcommittee — not only to protect the employer, but to protect the employee from gossip. I’m not on the board now (I was when I was MoTAS president 2 years ago), but that’s why we couldn’t say anything regarding the former cantor. Think about it this way: If you were let go from your employer for job performance reasons, would you want those reasons spread around to your fellow employees or to other employers? [That would also go against the Jewish prohibition of spreading gossip]. We simply have to trust that Board — with its variety of opinions — and all the past Presidents consulted — came to the right conclusion regarding what is best for the congregation.]

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Essay Prompt: ‘We are stopping cold the attacks on Judeo-Christian values’

userpic=trumpA friend of mine from our synagogue brought to my attention a wonderful article that serves as an essay prompt. This article is about Trump (heh heh, I first typed Tramp) attending the Voters Values conference — an evangelical voting group — and wading into the culture wars. Some relevant quotes from the article:

“We are stopping cold the attacks on Judeo-Christian values,” Trump said to applause, before slamming people who don’t say “Merry Christmas.”

“They don’t use the word Christmas because it is not politically correct,” Trump said, complaining that department stores will use red and Christmas decorations but say “Happy New Year.” “We’re saying Merry Christmas again.”

I’m sorry, but what Trump is promoting is NOT Judeo-Christian values. If it was, it wouldn’t be shaming Jews who say “Happy Chanukkah” or “Happy Holidays”. In fact, it isn’t even Christian values, which are much more accepting of people and socially forward. It is specifically Evangelical Christian values, which promote the idea that you are not saved by Jesus unless you have accepted him and all the tenets of their version of Christianity — and to many extents, it goes beyond that to White Evangelical values, which view Jesus as a white man, and view every other religion and skin color as not worthy of being saved, and hence inferior and of no value.

This is a view that was related last night on the new Fox series The Orville, with a storyline about an alien race who believed that its religious doctrine gave it the right of superiority of other races and species. It was the only species with a soul, and that gave it the right to destroy anything it deemed inferior, and to devalue anything developed by a soul-less people. The skin of these people was pale white, and what destroys them is transparency.

I’m sorry, Mr. Trump, but the values you and your core followers are trying to protect are not Judeo-Christian, and are barely even Christian, based on my understanding of Christianity.

  • Judaism teaches the value of human life, and putting the life of the mother (who can go on to have more children) over the life of an unborn child. Abortion is permitted, and birth control is permitted. Your actions to limit both are against Jewish thought.
  • Judaism teaches the value of human life, and thus, the value of healthcare. If it is within your power to provide such care, you do. Your policies are actually making health care less available and of lower quality, injuring life.
  • Judaism constantly reminds us that we should always remember that we were once slaves, and watch out for the poor among us. It also teaches that the greatest charity is that which comes when you don’t know the giver. Thus, Judaism supports all the social programs that provide safety nets without guilt or shaming. You want to dismantle those programs.
  • Judaism emphasizes the importance of Justice. You work against that when you mistreat minorities and others with pre-existing conditions (race, sex, orientation, religion, gender).
  • Judaism understand the importance of the separation of Church and State, and that the State should not be imposing any particular set of religious values. Whenever that has happened, it has been bad for the Jews. Yet what you have been proposing and encouraging is just that: enforcing values that are not Judaism on Jews.

Further, your administration has been tacitly encouraging white supremacists,  neo-Nazis, and antisemites. Instead of harshly condemning them, you equivocate and indicate that both sides are at fault. Since when are Jews worshipping at a synagogue in Charlottesville at fault for their worship, worthy of having antisemites with swastikas pointing weaponry at them. Is that a Judeo-Christian value that you uphold?

Would you stand against mistreatment of Jews by law enforcement — if it came to that — just as we’ve seen you standing up against law enforcement’s mistreatment of blacks and hispanics and people from the Middle East? Oh, right, you haven’t done that.

Would we see you speaking out against any double standard for serial sexual abuse and harassment? You’re quick to condemn Harvey Weinstein — a white Jew and a liberal. But where is the acceptance of your own sordid history of equivalent or worse behavior? If it disqualifies men like Weinstein and Weiner, why isn’t it disqualifying people like Newt Gingrich and you? It is acceptable if it is done by a White Christian, because we know they are superior and thus have the right to do so? Is that the Judeo-Christian value that you defend?

You constantly speak out wanting to muzzle the media, but what media do you want to muzzle, and what is that code for? It is a coincidence that the organizations you want to muzzle are the ones not espousing a strictly evangelical-supportive view? When you listen to the hateful rhetoric of antisemites, who are they saying controls the media organizations you hate, vs. the media organizations they love. Is that a Judeo-Christian value?

In truth, Mr. Trump, the only value you respect is the value that lines your pocket or massages your ego. But the gospel of prosperity — and especially Trump prosperity — is not a Judeo-Christian value. It is worship of the self, without any regard for your place in the Kingdom to Come. It is living for what you can get now, not the value you would have in the afterlife by living as Jesus taught, caring about others and going out of your way to life up the whores in the street. For someone who purports to be a Christian, where is your demonstration of Christian values (as opposed to your pandering for Christian votes).

Mr. Trump, there is no “war on Christmas” (except by those commercial entities who have made the focus profit, instead of the birth of Jesus). I won’t get upset if you wish me a Merry Christmas. But I’ll get really upset if you shame me for wishing you a Happy Chanukkah back. I’ll get really upset if you push your evangelical values on me claiming they are Jewish or even real Christian values.

In the episode of The Orville last night, the Krill were destroyed by sunlight. In political parlance, sunlight laws open up what is being done for all to see — no secret meetings, no secret agendas, no countries behind the scenes working on other agendas. Mr. Trump — you are Krill — and continued sunlight by the media and investigations will be your downfall, especially as people learn the truth about what you are doing.

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Life Lessons

round challah userpicThe Jewish New Year started Wednesday night; perhaps you saw my post on it.  For us, this service was a little different. Our daughter had just moved out of state to go to graduate school in Wisconsin. In turn, we had acquired a pseudo-daughter: the daughter of my cousin had moved in with us six months ago and was turning 18 on Rosh Hashanah. Our role with respect to her was not just to provide housing, but to provide lessons in “adulting” — helping her transition to being an independent adult. The effort has been quite challenging; she is very different than our daughter in many many (or so many) ways. She joined us at services Wednesday evening, and all I can say is that the Universe must have known.

The service opened with a very interesting story from the rabbi about a man who complained about the adversity in their life. This man went to a rabbi and asked how to deal with that adversity. The rabbi asked him to bring three pots of water to a boil. In one he was to put a potato, in one an egg, and in one a scoop of coffee. After twenty minutes, he was to turn off the water and examine each pot. All three objects were subjected to the same adversity. One, the potato, became soft and weak. Another, the egg, became hardened. The third, the coffee, changed the water into something better. Adversity isn’t the issue. How we respond to it is.

During the sermon, the rabbi read a letter she had written to her daughter, who was going out of town for college. She has subsequently posted that letter, which I urge everyone to read. There were numerous sections relevant to the young woman currently living with us. Here’s an example of a particularly good paragraph:

You will make mistakes. Some will be small and easily repaired, like missing a deadline. Others will be devastating and not so easily repaired. There are some things that you will only learn the hard way, and it will be painful. Mistakes are a part of life and part of growing up and learning; and you can’t avoid them no matter how old you are. It is up to you to decide to learn from your mistakes. The lessons of the High Holy Days can teach you how to do tshuvah, to truly make repentance. First you must admit that you have done something wrong — and not in general, but in detail; you must recognize your wrongdoing, without downplaying it or making excuses for yourself. You may want to hide from your mistakes sometimes, but owning up to them is the only way you will change. If you hurt another person, you need to apologize. Not a generic blanket apology on Facebook, not a text, not an insincere “sorry, not sorry” but a genuine apology where you acknowledge your part in causing hurt. Yes, this might be an awkward conversation, but it is a necessary part of the process. In the words of Dan Nichols, “embrace the awkward,” and your relationships will be stronger. If you can learn to take responsibility and apologize for the small hurts you cause, you will have the tools to do the same for the harder ones. And then, forgive yourself. It is OK to make mistakes; you don’t have to be perfect. Don’t beat yourself up over your missteps — learn from them, so you can do better in the future.

Part of the discussion touched upon areas we’ve discussed with our daughter. She went to Berkeley for her undergraduate, is passionate about social justice, and is a devoted Yiddishist (for all that means). She is less than enamored with Israel, especially for its treatment of minorities and the Palestinians. She has fallen into the understand of what many see Zionism as today, which has morphed from its original meaning and intent. Therefore, when I heard the following in the Rabbi’s sermon, I though of her:

Stand up for what you believe in. If your relationship with Israel was a Facebook status, you would label it as “complicated.” For years you have been hearing about the dangers of anti-Zionism on campus. Make no mistake: anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism. BDS, the movement to boycott, divest and sanction Israel, is anti-Semitic — but they are attracting Jews, especially Reform Jews, by pretending to be a social justice movement. You have learned here at TAS how important it is to stand up to oppressors, to fight for rights and to make sure that all people are treated equally. BDS preys on that by telling you that if you really, truly care about social justice you will recognize Jews as oppressors and will stand against Israel. There are people who will tell you that unless you denounce Israel you can not have a voice in any other issues.

This summer Jewish groups were asked not to participate in the Chicago Dyke March because a rainbow flag with a Jewish star on it was considered threatening and against the values of the marchers. Similar things were said by the organizers of that city’s Slut Walk. There are people who will try to tell you that you can not be a feminist if you are a Zionist. They are wrong. This is anti-Semitism. Calling it anti-Zionism does not change the fact that it is anti-Semitism. Zionism is the belief that Jews are entitled to a nation in our ancestral homeland, Israel, and modern Zionism encompasses our values of democracy, pluralism, and equality. A love of Israel demands honesty and a commitment to the continuation of building a morally exceptional society — to be a light to the nations.

The good news is that your relationship with Israel should be complicated. Israel is not perfect. The Israeli government is not perfect. Just as we can love America without loving everything our government or leadership does, you can love Israel without loving everything its government does. The treatment of Bedouins and discrimination against non-Orthodox Jews are just two of the serious issues that are deeply problematic. Loving Israel does not mean you agree with everything; it does not mean that you will not have reasons to legitimately criticize — there are legitimate problems and you should criticize when it is called for.

This dovetailed with another post I had been saving for my News Chum from the “This is Not Jewish” blog: A post on how to criticize Israel without being Antisemetic. This is an important subject: my daughter is right that much of the behavior of the Israeli government is wrong (as is much of the behavior of the Palestinians — this is one area where both sides have deeply flawed behavior). As this post puts it:

For those good-faith people, I present some guidelines for staying on the good side of that admittedly murky line [of not being antisemetic], along with the reasoning why the actions I list are problematic. (And bad-faith people, you can no longer plead ignorance if you engage in any of these no-nos. Consider yourselves warned.)

I particularly like their item 5:

Don’t say “Zionists” when you mean Israel. Zionism is no more a dirty word than feminism.  It is simply the belief that the Jews should have a country in part of their ancestral homeland where they can take refuge from the anti-Semitism and persecution they face everywhere else.  It does not mean a belief that Jews have a right to grab land from others, a belief that Jews are superior to non-Jews, or any other such tripe, any more than feminism means hating men.  Unless you believe that Israel should entirely cease to exist, you are yourself Zionist.  Furthermore, using “Zionists” in place of “Israelis” is inaccurate and harmful.  The word “Zionists” includes Diasporan Jews as well (most of whom support a two-state solution and pretty much none of whom have any influence on Israel’s policies) and is used to justify anti-Semitic attacks outside Israel (i.e., they brought it on themselves by being Zionists).  And many of the Jews IN Israel who are most violent against Palestinians are actually anti-Zionist–they believe that the modern state of Israel is an offense against God because it isn’t governed by halakha (traditional Jewish religious law).  Be careful with the labels you use.

This is the reason why “anti-Zionism” is considered by most to be a synonym and cover for antisemitism. There is a big difference between the beliefs of Zionism and the behavior of the state of Israel. It is like equating Libertarians with Republicans.

I strongly urge anyone with children to read the first link, and those with Jewish children to teach the second link.

 

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L’Shanah Tovah – Happy New Year – 5778

Apple in Honeyuserpic=tallitRosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, starts at sundown tonight, September 20th. Thus, it’s time for my annual New Years message for my family, my real-life, Blog,  Dreamwidth, Google+, Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook friends (including all the new ones I have made this year), and all other readers of my journal:

L’Shana Tovah. Happy New Year 5778. May you be written and inscribed for a very happy, sweet, and healthy new year.

For those curious about Jewish customs at this time: There are a number of things you will see. The first is an abundance of sweet foods. Apples dipped in honey. Honey cakes. The sweet foods remind us of the sweet year to come. Apples in honey, specifically, express our hopes for a sweet and fruitful year. Apples were selected because in ancient times they became a symbol of the Jewish people in relationship to God. In Song of Songs, we read, “As the apple is rare and unique among the trees of the forest, so is my beloved [Israel] amongst the maidens [nations] of the world.” In medieval times, writes Patti Shosteck in A Lexicon of Jewish Cooking, apples were considered so special that individuals would use a sharp utensil or their nails to hand-carve their personal hopes and prayers into the apple skins before they were eaten. And the Zohar, a 13th-century Jewish mystical text, states that beauty – represented by God – “diffuses itself in the world as an apple.” With respect to the honey: honey – whether from dates, figs, or apiaries – was the most prevalent sweetener in the Jewish world and was the most available “sweet” for dipping purposes. And as for the biblical description of Israel as a land flowing with “milk and honey,” the Torah is alluding to a paste made from overripe dates, not honey from beehives. Still, enjoying honey at Rosh HaShanah reminds us of our historic connection with the Holy Land. Although the tradition is not in the Torah or Talmud, even as early as the 7th century, it was customary to wish someone, “Shana Tova Umetukah” (A Good and Sweet Year).
(Source: Reform Judaism Website)

Rosh Hashanah ImagesAnother traditional food is a round challah. Some say they it represents a crown that reflects our coronating God as the Ruler of the world. Others suggest that the circular shape points to the cyclical nature of the year. The Hebrew word for year is “shana,” which comes from the Hebrew word “repeat.” Perhaps the circle illustrates how the years just go round and round. But Rosh Hashana challahs are not really circles; they are spirals… The word “shana” has a double meaning as well. In addition to “repeat,” it also means “change”. As the year goes go round and round, repeating the same seasons and holidays as the year before, we are presented with a choice: Do we want this shana (year) to be a repetition, or do we want to make a change (shinui)? Hopefully, each year we make choices for change that are positive, and each year we will climb higher and higher, creating a spiritual spiral. The shape of the Rosh Hashana challah reminds us that this is the time of year to make those decisions. This is the time to engage in the creative spiritual process that lifts us out of the repetitive cycle, and directs our energies toward a higher end.
(Source: Aish Ha’Torah)

There are also apologies, for during the ten days starting Sunday evening, Jews examine their lives and see how they can do better. On Yom Kippur (starting the evening of September 29th), Jews apologize to G-d for their misdeeds during the past year. However, for an action against another person, one must apologize to that person.

So, in that spirit:

If I have offended any of you, in any way, shape, manner, or form, real or imagined, then I apologize and beg forgiveness. If I have done anything to hurt, demean, or otherwise injure you, I apologize and beg forgiveness. If I have done or said over the past year that has upset, or otherwise bothered you, I sincerely apologize, and will do my best to ensure it won’t happen again.

If you have done something in the above categories, don’t worry. I know it wasn’t intentional, and I would accept any apology you would make.

May all my blog readers and all my friends have a very happy, healthy, and meaningful new year. May you find in this year what you need to find in life.

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