Thursday, May 18, 2023

A Day in Court, Tracking Body Armor, Question for Trump, Book Bans

 I fulfilled my civic responsibility as a citizen Wednesday by presenting myself as a potential juror for the New York State Unified Court System. 

My original reporting date had been May 12, but my call for duty had been deferred three times until May 15. So by 9:15 am, when I am normally still in bed, I found myself inside the Westchester County Daronco Courthouse in downtown White Plains awaiting possible selection as a juror for one of my peers either seeking redress for a perceived financial wrong or a verdict on their guilt or innocence for an alleged infraction of the penal code.

With some 90 other civic-minded citizens I sat through orientation films about the judicial system, one featuring Janet DiFiore, former Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals of the State of New York, another narrated by Byron Pitts, a former CBS News correspondent. I admit to falling asleep through parts of both films, though my transgression was not as obvious as the man several rows behind me who audibly snored his way through much of the double feature, much to the amusement of everyone within earshot.

The clerk segregated us into three groups, the first being told they were to report to the courthouse in Yonkers the next day. Two groups including mine were sent to second floor waiting rooms awaiting trials that might begin depending on attorney consultations currently underway. After waiting 30 minutes, my group’s case was settled. Thanks to Commissioner of Jurors Dr. Betty L. Campbell’s “one (case) and done” policy, we were dismissed from any further New York State jury obligations for the next six years.

I cannot say justice was served Wednesday, but my portion of the judicial system was resolved to my satisfaction. For the record, I awoke this morning at 9:45. 


Body Armor: Given that under the guise of defending the Second Amendment Republicans will do nothing to try to prevent the proliferation of military-style assault rifles like the AR-15 frequently used in mass killings, perhaps governments should try a different tack. 

How about tracking people who buy body armor, as it seems the vast majority of mass murderers dress in body armor during their killing sprees? Look no further than Monday’s murderous attack in Farmington, NM. The 18-year-old who killed three women wore body armor as he wielded an AR-15. 

While it could be argued an AR-15 might be grabbed quickly to defend one’s home if under attack, donning body armor is not top of mind during a home invasion.  Authorities would be wise to monitor those who purchase the preferred outfit of mass murderers. 

I can think of no legitimate reason why a civilian needs body armor. It is not meant to be worn for target practice, or for mock war games. It is worn only if one expects to be shot at, as when one becomes a mass shooter. 

Question for Trump: CNN’s Kaitlin Collins was rewarded for her persistence in interviewing Donald Trump last week. She will host a new weeknight show CNN is putting together for the 9 pm time slot.

Try as she might, she couldn’t get Trump to commit to accepting the results of the 2024 presidential election. He would only say he would accept the count if the election “was not rigged,” his code words for “only if I won.”

My good friend Richard Greenfield thinks the proper question to ask Trump is, “Mr.  Trump, should you win the 2024 election, will you leave office on January 20, 2029, regardless of who your successor is, as required by the Constitution’s requirement that no one can serve more than two terms as president?”

Richard believes Trump “would not answer that with an unequivocal ‘Yes,’ but would say something along the lines of, ‘We’ll see,’ or ‘If it were a fair election.’ 

“Anything other than a ‘Yes’ would be truly informative.”

Banned in Boston: From the mid-19th to mid-20th centuries, books and other media that were “banned in Boston” used to be a source of pride for the creative, cultured community. But today’s proliferation of book and other media bans has spread disturbingly wide across America. It includes materials that spotlight our nation’s history of slavery and repression of minorities, the struggles of the LGBTQ community and extreme violence including warfare. 

So what should be done with a book that includes depictions of incest, rape, genocide, fratricide, witchcraft, slavery, infidelity, torture and idolatry? 

All that and more uncivilized behavior can be found in the Bible, Old and New Testament. Should Bible stories be banned, or at least withheld, from the impressionable minds of toddlers and young elementary school children? 

Imagine if atheists gain control of a city hall or school board. Could they, would they, ban the Bible? 

The absurdity of that possibility highlights the absurdity of any media bans, though I do believe anyone who seeks “Mein Kamph,” “The Protocols of Zion” or similarly extremist, racist, repressive media should be counseled and monitored. 

Which brings me to a recent notification I received from which hosts my blog. For writing about Trump back in August 2017, Blogger sent me the following three weeks ago: “This post was put behind a warning for readers because it contains sensitive content as outlined in Blogger’s Community Guidelines.”

Damned if I know who and how I offended. I asked Blogger for clarification but have not heard back.   

Friday, May 12, 2023

Kudos CNN for Showing Future Choice We Face

Bravo CNN.

The town hall forum the news network aired this week from New Hampshire, attended mostly by Republicans and GOP-leaning independents, enabled Americans of all stripes to see in sharp relief Donald Trump as he mauls his way to a third presidential nomination. 

Bluster. Disdain for the truth. Revulsion at being questioned. Misogyny. Equivocation. These traits and more were visible for all to see. 

If they were so inclined.

Unfortunately, judging from audience reaction and subsequent news articles, many, too many, Republican voters are willing to accept his character flaws. He is, after all, entertaining, and that, it seems to me, to be the primary reason he is able to garner votes from almost half of the electorate that chooses to cast a ballot for president.

CNN was gutsy in producing the Trump-a-thon (hard to call it an interview when Trump repeatedly talked over attempts by his interlocutor Kaitlin Collins to ask new questions and to pin him down when he spoke mistruths or failed to provide concrete answers. Should Trump be part of any candidate debates it would be wise for the sponsoring organization or network to insist on a “pitch clock” of, say 90 seconds, for him to talk before his microphone would be cut off. The same 90-second rule would apply to all speakers.).

What we learned from the CNN encounter is that Trump relishes living in the past, or at least what he perceives as his “past glories.” And that Granite State Republicans like that. 

As gutsy as CNN was, most Republican bigwigs have displayed twin gutlessness, first in not calling for the expulsion of deceitful George Santos from the House of Representatives and, second, for not saying Trump Redux is too much to abide, even against a flawed Joe Biden candidacy.  

Sure, some highly placed GOP’ers decried a return to pettiness, falsehoods and unpresidential behavior. None renounced his policies, just his decorum and truthfulness, though on the issue of support for Ukraine, Trump seems to be out of step with more global-thinking Republicans. 

Will Trump be able to reel in enough suburban voters, especially women, to win in November 2024? It is a sad commentary on the psyche of the American electorate that the question is not an idle one.  

Monday, May 8, 2023

A Visit by Shalom Yisrael Puts Focus on the Past

 In case you’re wondering where my acerbic wit and incisive commentary have been hiding these last few weeks, let me assure you I have not been practicing my Rip van Winkle impression. 

Rather, for the last two weeks I have been engrossed in Shalom Yisrael of Westchester’s post-Covid reconstituted program of bringing deserving Israeli women to New York and Washington for a fortnight of touring and, more importantly, relationship building between Jewish communities. 

This year’s six-pack of guests came from northern Israel, near the Lebanese border. All but one retired, they all stay active by volunteering at the local regional hospital, Western Galilee Hospital in Nahariya. The youngster, at 50, supplements work and hospital duties by being an EMT Ambucycler. “Ambucycles are regular motorcycles used by United Hatzalah volunteers throughout Israel to make sure they get to emergencies within the first few minutes,” often before ambulances can arrive. 

Since 2010 I’ve been involved with Shalom Yisrael, with Gilda sometimes housing a guest, hosting a buffet dinner for participants and SY volunteers, but mainly coordinating a three day trip to Washington, DC. 

The Vietnam Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, a tour of the Capitol, a stop for pictures at the statue of Albert Einstein, and visits to several Smithsonian pavilions. I’ve been to the National Holocaust Museum more than a dozen times. 

Each visit I am impressed with the number of students from across the country that are exposed to the evil and depravity of Nazi Germany and its henchmen in lands conquered by Hitler. And I wonder, how is it that there can still be Holocaust deniers among us? 

Each walk-through I find samples of exhibits current with news and events of our time period. 

One of the first pictures displayed is of General (and future president) Dwight D. Eisenhower at Ohrdruf concentration camp April 12, 1945, with his explanation, three days later, as to why he bore witness: 

“The things I saw beggar description…the visual evidence and the verbal testimony of starvation, cruelty and bestiality were…overpowering … I made the visit deliberately in order to be in a position to give first-hand evidence of these things if ever, in the future, there develops a tendency to charge these allegations werely to ‘propaganda.’”

How unfortunately prescient Ike was. 

A few steps further in, as the tableau laid out in blood-curdling detail the rise of Naziism, more chords of today’s reactionary thinking were evoked—book banning. 

To my knowledge we haven’t had formal book burning escapades, but can it be too far off when local activists have successfully had books like “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Beloved,” and “Of Mice and Men” removed from schools and municipal library shelves? 

Here’s how the Holocaust Museum described events 90 years ago: 

“In the spring of 1933, party officials and members of the Nazi students’ organization raided libraries and bookstores in 30 cities and towns across Germany. They removed truckloads of books and cast them onto bonfires. On May 10, more than 25,000 books were burned in Berlin alone. The book burnings were not spontaneous: they were a calculated, coordinated effort to ‘purify’ German culture. The students worked from prepared blacklists of books deemed ‘un-German.’ Some of these books were by Jewish authors; most were not…

“Also incinerated were books by the non-Jewish American novelists Jack London, Sinclair Lewis, Theodore Dreiser, Ernest Hemingway, and John Dos Passos. Writings by the American women’s rights activist Margaret Sanger were destroyed, as were those by Helen Keller.”

As writer and philosopher George Santayana wrote in 1905, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Given that American eighth grade students are falling behind—The New York Times reported last week that “about 40 percent of eighth graders scored “below basic” in U.S. history last year, compared with 34 percent in 2018 and 29 percent in 2014—our future increasingly is looking grim. 

Friday, April 14, 2023

Memories of Seders Past

Went to temple Thursday. It was the last day of Passover. More importantly, it was the day yizkor was recited, yizkor being the prayer of remembrance for the departed. 

This is not a posting about how wonderful my parents were. In some ways they were. In other ways they weren’t. 

They did, though, cultivate memories around the Passover holiday that are still very much alive in me, and within my brother and sister. 

One of my earliest recollections is of a seder in the basement of our row house on Avenue W in Brooklyn. I was less than 10 years old, probably closer to five or six. Tables were set up in a huge U-shape with chairs on the outside and inside of the formation. There must have been 40 attendees, many more than our aunts, uncles and their children would total. The other attendees were friends and distant relatives almost exclusively of my father’s, immigrants, perhaps refugees, from Ottynia, his home shtetl in what is now western Ukraine that was conquered first by the Russians, then by the Germans and again by the Russians near the end of the Second World War.

One person in particular stands out in my memory—Kobi, a handsome, youthful Israeli who worked for Zim shipping lines. I never learned how my father knew him, but it was obvious my parents held Kobi in great esteem. Perhaps he was a friend or relative of one of my father’s relations in Israel and, being in America, needed a seat at a seder. 

My father practiced in real life the Haggadah precept, “Let all who are hungry come and eat. Let all who are in need come and celebrate Passover (with us).”

He left it up to my mother to figure out how to feed them. Should an unexpected guest show up she’d nonchalantly quip, “No problem. I’ll just throw another cup of water into the soup.”

My mother made great chicken soup. Our son Dan always looked forward to spooning down her soup with egg noodles. For Passover, soft matzah balls accompanied the broth.  

I emphasize “soft” because one year she secretly chose to put a “surprise” inside each matzah ball. Expecting the usual softness, her guests luckily did not chip any teeth while biting into a matzah ball with a solid, blanched almond hidden inside. 

Whether it was 40 or a more manageable 25, my siblings and I never figured out how our mother was able to cook for the hordes of hungry invitees. Or where she stored the food she must have prepared weeks in advance. Our house had a small stovetop, oven and refrigerator. No doubt she procured refrigerator and freezer space from nearby friends she repaid with samples of her delicacies.

The night of the seder attendees had to contain their appetites. She served no hors d’oeurves prior to the seder beginning around sunset. The pre-meal ceremony took over an hour with only a cup of wine and a piece of boiled potato or sprig of parsley passing through one’s lips at the beginning. Everyone was hungry by the time we tasted some matzah, horseradish and charoset just prior to the meal being served. 

The meal had multiple courses: a sliced hardboiled in salt water; homemade gefilte fish; the aforementioned matzah ball soup; for a lucky few, a rib or two of crown roast or rack of lamb; for everyone else, roast chicken and brisket; potatoes, vegetables and a stuffing of matzah farfel and mushrooms. 

In our home, we deviated from strict religious protocol that prohibited eating anything after the afikoman was redeemed and eaten. Dessert of fresh fruit along with an assortment of home baked and store bought cakes came after we read and sang our way through the second half of the Haggadah, usually not before 11. 

A seder for 20-25 was the usual number my parents hosted. Those seders would be held in our living room after couches and armchairs would be shifted into the adjacent dinette. Sitting around the series of tables extending some 25 feet, my brother, sister and I craftily chose our seats on either side of our father or Uncle Willy as they both formed an afikoman bag children were expected to “steal” from them, to be returned for a price after eating concluded and the second half of the Haggadah would be read. Aside from being crafty enough to steal the afikoman one also had to be wary that another youngster didn’t pilferage it from your hiding place. The redemption prize went solely to whomever possessed the afikoman.

Securing a prime seat had a downside. It meant being next to my father and uncle as they chanted in Hebrew in their Eastern European trope from the Maxwell House Haggadah. As my brother, sister and I attended Hebrew day schools we were expected to drone along with them. Our public school educated cousins, as well as their parents, were exempt from singing. Instead, they filled the room with small talk, often loud enough to prompt my father to bang on the table for silence. He threatened to stop the reading, thereby prolonging the wait for food to be served. Decorum would be restored, for about 10 minutes. 

Aside from how she prepared and stored the food, I am ignorant of another crucial part of the evening. Who did the cleanup? Everyone ate on full sets of china and silverware. Nothing disposable. Yes, we had a dishwasher but it would have taken multiple washes to clean everything and I can recall no mounds of stacked dirty dishes awaiting their turn in our Kitchenaid. 

I can’t remember any hired help. Perhaps my mother’s three sisters donned aprons to help out while the second half singing filled the house with song. 

It’s a mystery I’ll have to ask my brother and sister to unpack. All of my aunts and uncles have passed. 

Gilda’s and my seders of a dozen to 16 participants are more child-oriented. We start way before sundown so the children are not sleepy. Nor are they and the adults fidgety from hunger. Gilda provides ample finger-food treats prior to the formal beginning of the seder.

Most of the prayers, even the songs, are recited in English. We alternate readers. Though this year we used the PJ Library Haggadah, in the past we read from a Haggadah pieced together from a variety of sources. Questions and commentary are encouraged. We read the Haggadah while sitting comfortably in our living room, not squeezed in on folding chairs around the dinner table as in my parents’ home. 

It’s been a little more than three decades since Gilda and I assumed responsibility from my parents for preparing and conducting the seders. Our seders have evolved in detail but not in concept—they are touchstones of connection between family, friends, tradition, heritage and culture.  

Sunday, April 9, 2023

More News Linked to My Life

The news media keeps coming up with articles that touch upon my life. Here are news stories just in the last two weeks with links to my past. 

Mimi Sheraton died last week. I became aware of her existence when I worked as a field editor for Nation’s Restaurant News, sister publication of Chain Store Age, and she was the food and restaurant critic of The New York Times (

In the fall of 1977 I was looking forward to my first visit to New Orleans, that year’s site of NRN’s annual foodservice conference. Gilda would be accompanying me, but our excitement was tempered by a review Sheraton wrote of the food scene in the Crescent City. She found it wanting, except, she noted, for an out-of-town humble shack called Mosca’s where she had the most divine fried oysters, garlic chicken and barbecue shrimp, all cooked Creole Italian style.

Naturally, we decided to go there, cautioned by Mimi’s article that no reservations were taken and that the last guests must arrive by 9 pm. Along with a fellow editor, Connie, and her husband, Bill, we left plenty of time to taxi from the Fairmont Hotel in downtown New Orleans down Highway 90 to Avondale, almost 20 miles away. 

Though the cabbie claimed to know how to get there, it quickly became evident he did not. We kept double-backing and crisscrossing roadways, looking for Mosca’s. This was way before cell phones; there weren’t any public pay phones along the dark roads we rambled on. We were four hungry and squished adults sitting in the back of a Mercury Marquis (the unofficial New Orleans taxi model). Since I had recommended Mosca’s, my seatmates were getting quite upset with me. 

Finally, at 9:05, we came upon two whitewashed buildings supporting a backlit Budweiser sign. Lots of cars out front, on the grass. We begged entry, explaining the taxi driver couldn’t find Mosca’s. They took pity on us, but advised it would be an hour and a half before we’d be seated. We could stand at the bar. 

Gilda, Connie and Bill were not happy, even with $1 drinks, 25 cents for sodas (remember, this was Louisiana, 1977). We waited just 45 minutes to be seated, a few tables away from where Momma Mosca sat watching over her customers. We ordered Mimi’s recommended dishes. They were more than divine. They melted away Gilda, Connie and Bill’s collective anger. It was, we all agreed, one of the best meals we ever ate. 

Shun Lee Shines: Unlike the current brouhaha over the quality of Shun Lee 98th Street on Manhattan’s Upper West Side (, some of the best Chinese food I’ve eaten was inside Shun Lee Palace, the much-lauded, and rightly so, restaurant on East 55th Street between Lexington and Third Avenues. Because the restaurant was around the corner from my long-time office on Park Avenue my colleagues and I ate there quite often, at least once every two weeks. 

The food was so good that it smoothed over a major rift between Chain Store Age and Sears, Roebuck & Co. 

In 1983 we ran a long article about problems at Sears, Roebuck & Co. Upset, the CEO of Sears dispatched the head of the public relations department from Chicago to express corporate displeasure. I took him and his assistant to Shun Lee Palace. Considered by some to proffer the best Chinese food in the city, Shun Lee melted away any semblance of protest from my Windy City visitors. 

They so thoroughly enjoyed the meal that we ordered a second round of each dish. For such an honor, the chef emerged from the kitchen to personally bow his respect. 

Balancing Act: The other day National Public Radio interviewed one of the hosts of its “All Things Considered” program, Mary Louise Kelly. She has just written a book, “It. Goes. So. Fast. The Year of No Do-Overs,” a memoir about balancing parenting and work.

Kelly turned down a second assignment to cover the war in Ukraine so that she could spend time with her son James during the last weeks of his senior year in high school. She previously had to miss seeing him play soccer because most games started at 3 pm when her radio show is broadcast live. 

By making time for family she was able to be at a game when he scored a winning goal with just three minutes remaining. “Oh, it was not just any soccer game. The soccer game in question was James’ senior year. It was for the state championship. He scored with a header with three minutes on the clock,” Kelly related.

I, too, missed seeing our son, Dan, play for his high school soccer team. Work. Travel. Travel for work. But I did show up, for an away playoff game against Mamaroneck in his senior year. 

I got there at half-time. The score was 0-0. Dan was the starting goalie for White Plains. As the second half began Dan was not in goal. He wasn’t sitting on the bench. I asked some spectators what happened. They said Dan had been injured preventing a goal. A few minutes into the second half Mamaroneck scored the game’s only goal.

Dan didn’t play college soccer. He played Ultimate Frisbee. Gilda and I travelled to watch him play tournaments in the New York metro area, and went to Boise for the college championships (the Tufts men’s team finished 11th in the country). And we were in Sarasota, Fla., when his post-college club team finished second in the country (we did not go to Prague to watch the team earn the rank of fifth in the world). 


Tuesday, April 4, 2023

The Spectacle of Trump in Criminal Court

Not since O.J. Simpson led police on June 17, 1994, on a near hour-long chase of a white Ford Bronco he was riding in along Interstate 405 in Los Angeles has the nation been treated to as mesmerizing a motorized spectacle as it was Tuesday. O.J.’s caravan of police cars in tempered pursuit ended when the Bronco parked in the driveway of his Brentwood home. Police arrested him for the alleged murder of his wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman.

By contrast, it took just 15 minutes for Donald Trump to be driven from his one-time main residence at Trump Tower on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue down the east side FDR Highway to the Manhattan Criminal Court Building where he was arraigned on 34 counts of Class E felonies of “falsifying business records in the first degree.”

Seven cars comprised Trump’s “honor guard,” a white police car in advance of six large, black SUV’s manned by an assortment of security personnel guarding the former president. 

On the way down to court, traffic had been cleared along the highway. On his exit from court as an indicted suspect, Trump’s motorcade had to deal with afternoon traffic along the FDR as it made its way to LaGuardia Airport where his private jet awaited his return to Mar-a-Lago in Florida. 

As Manhattan District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg began a short news conference following the arraignment in New York State Supreme Court, a split television screen displayed Trump’s jet at the head of the runway awaiting takeoff.

As New York is the financial capital of the country if not the world, Bragg emphasized that Trump’s alleged crimes, falsifying business records, were the bread and butter of his office’s criminal prosecutions. 

Another Indignity: When it was time to leave the processing area before entering the courtroom, Trump emerged after two uniformed court officers. Neither of them held the door open for him. He had to push it open himself. 

If you’re looking for numbers to play for your next Power Ball or Mega Millions purchase, you might want to use Trump’s criminal indictment number—71543-23. 

Returning to the O.J. parallel, Trump, no doubt, is hoping for a similar court result—not guilty. 

Historical Perspective: Thanks to Gilda, here’s an article on the last time one of our most senior elected officials had to appear in court to answer a criminal indictment: 

Friday, March 31, 2023

Passover Preparations Through the Ages

In Jewish homes across America and the rest of the world, energetic if not frenzied preparations are underway for the start of Pesach next Wednesday eve. So it was not surprising to read an article in The Forward, the “American news media organization for a Jewish American audience,” about Jewish Union soldiers frantically organizing a seder during a lull in Civil War fighting in West Virginia ( 

How touching that the holiday that celebrates the Israelites’ release from bondage in Egypt would be commemorated during the war to free the enslaved from servitude in the South.

Yet, I am reminded of an even more unusual seder observance, the type organized in colonial Charleston, SC, by Jewish merchants, “merchants” being code word for slave traders. As Gilda and I learned from a Jewish tour guide during our visit to Charleston a few years ago, the merchants would conduct their seders with their personal slaves sitting around their table as participants. How surrealistic that must have been for their slaves to hear, though probably not fully comprehend, the Hebrew text recounting the exodus story.

There could be no glossing over the story of slavery and freedom as described in the haggadah. 

Other slaves, slaves not owned by Jews, were exposed to an edited version of the Bible. As Sharon Braus recounted in The New York Times a year ago, they were read Bible stories from a “Slave Bible” that was “carefully redacted to exclude all references to the Exodus from Egypt. Imagine a Bible with no Moses, no burning bush, no Israelites fleeing slavery, no split sea and no revelation at Sinai” (

Charleston, for those not familiar with the city, was a major port for inbound slaves. Forty percent of the near half million souls who survived the barbaric, inhumane voyage as cargo from West Africa across the Atlantic Ocean on a journey from freedom to slavery in colonial America and the nascent United States came to our shores through Charleston (another 12 million were sent to South American and Caribbean lands). Charleston was considered the richest city in the New World until the importation of slaves was halted by Congress in 1808.

In the days before Passover begins, foods and utensils considered to be hametz—foods with leavening agents and kitchen housewares that prepared and served them—are being segregated in cupboards while, through a peculiarly Jewish workaround, they are “sold” to a gentile for the duration of the holiday and “bought back” at its conclusion. Rabbis creatively ruled that the prohibition on eating and possessing hametz did not forbid its presence in a household as long as it was sealed off and not “owned” by the family. 

Most of the time the hametz is communally sold by a rabbi or sextant. In Morocco, as Gilda and I recently learned, Jews individually sold their hametz to their Islamic neighbors. At the conclusion of Passover, when the food would be returned the Jewish and Moslem families would get together for a feast, a mimouna, validating their friendship and peaceful coexistence.

Jewish law is not monolithic. Different rabbis divine different rules. Geography could inspire local interpretations. Take, for example, the status of the lowly green pea. Eastern European Ashkenazi Jews generally avoid peas and other legumes on Passover. Sephardic Jews do not. 

For more than 60 years my family refrained from eating beans, rice, corn and peas on Passover. Several years ago the Conservative movement lifted any prohibitions on eating those foods during the holiday. I couldn’t be happier (