Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Time to Educate the Young About What's at Stake

 The chatter surrounding Joe Biden’s age is intense and interminable. It is mingled with laments that young voters do not identify with the 81-year-old president and may not vote for his re-election, or may just not vote at all. Either scenario would help his expected Republican opponent Donald Trump recapture the White House. 

As Biden appears unlikely to step aside in favor of a younger Democratic candidate, it is now time for Democrats and others who fear a second Trump inauguration to mount a concerted effort to educate through advertisements and one-to-one conversations with disaffected and dispassionate voters all that is at stake next November. 

The ads and talks should, individually or collectively, include the following themes:

*Are you concerned about the future of reproductive rights?

*Should privacy and lifestyle rights be protected? 

*Is the separation of church and state important?

*Do you favor tighter gun control laws? 

*Should we do more to protect the earth’s environment? 

*Is saving democracy, the rule of law and free elections, at home and abroad, worthwhile? 

*Should Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) be protected?

Joe Biden has championed these causes. His likely opponent has not. 

Over and over it must be stressed that a vote for Joe Biden, no matter how unenthusiastic it might be registered, would help sustain a positive future. 

The MAGA alternative would produce a mega disaster. 

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

CJ's Creative Thanksgiving Story

I’m a reporter and analytical writer. Which possibly explains why I never tried creative writing (though some would argue many of my blogs contain a fair share of whimsy). 

My eight year old granddaughter, CJ (Cecilia Jane), on the other hand, has displayed a flair for storytelling. Here’s her third grade Thanksgiving Wacky Doodle and Writing assignment, to write a wacky story in which a turkey hatches a diabolical escape plan (if you can’t read her handwriting I’ve transcribed it for you, complete with the occasional misspellings):

“Now there once was a big fat turcky. He loved his life, he loved to eat,. He loved mash potatos, he liked cranbary sauce, he liked pie. But most of all he liked apple pie. So one day … Well to be precise the day befor Thaks giving. he was wallking along a garden gate. when he stepped in red goo. He looked at his foot & went “mmh.” Then a cage fell on him. A man came out of the house next to him. he was capturd. When he rvivd he was in a pot & alredy thinking of a way out. Now there was a hole in the wall & remember this turky was very fat & the hole was very small. But he was not smart. He lungd towd the hole but did not fit he was sooo mad he bangd his belly agenst the wall. crack! He was exided he did it agen. there was now another hole in the wall still not big enof for him. He saw the mans shado coming from the stairs in the corner holeding a knife. The turcky did it agen the hole broke open! he ran out in th open he was free! the end or maby not … A new story is olways starting.”

I’m admittedly prejudiced. I give CJ an A for creativity, extra credit for appropriate use of ampersands, and a gold star for penmanship.

Happy Thanksgiving to all. Enjoy your families.   

Monday, November 20, 2023

Tesla Isn't Your Only E-Car Alternative

For many decades Henry Ford’s antisemitic bigotry kept Jews from patronizing his automobile company. It was only after his passing and his successors’ repudiation of his venomous philosophy that Jews en masse started driving Fords. My two cars today are Fords. My first car was a 1966 Mustang. Fire engine red. 

Consumer boycotts were not confined to Ford. After World War II many Jews refused to ride, much less buy, German cars in all price ranges, from Volkswagens to Mercedes, even though during trips to Israel Mercedes taxis were omnipresent as part of Germany’s reparations for the Nazi-run Holocaust. 

With antisemitism on the rise, and given a worldwide soap box platform on Elon Musk’s X, formerly known as Twitter, it is time for a new boycott to take hold. 

Anyone, especially any Jew, that henceforth buys a Tesla should be shamed and ashamed. There are now sufficient electric vehicle alternatives besides those produced by Musk’s Tesla. 

Musk claims free, uncensored speech is his mantra, even if it costs him revenue. It is unfortunate that a multi-billionaire like Musk, who does not really have to answer to shareholders or a board of directors because of his large holdings, can shrug off criticism. 

But other companies and executives not so cushioned from public outrage are displaying their rejection of Musk’s endorsement of antisemitism by canceling advertising on X (https://www.nytimes.com/2023/11/18/technology/elon-musk-twitter-x-advertisers.html?smid=url-share).

Corporate action is not enough. Musk’s abhorrent antisemitism demands an individual, personal commitment. 

Cease Fire Perspective: In the war against Hamas, Israel is said to have three main objectives: repatriation of the near 240 hostages taken by Hamas and it co-terrorist organizations on October 7, the destruction of Hamas infrastructure and the elimination of Hamas leadership in Gaza. 

I would specify another objective—the discovery and destruction of rockets targeted at Israel. Since October 7 Hamas has launched an estimated 9,500 rockets, including 3,000 in the first hours of the assault, according to the Israeli Defense Force as reported by the Times of Israel. 

Many of these rockets are launched indiscriminately, a “moonshot” meant to infuse terror among Israelis. 

Israel has dropped many thousands more bombs, killing more than 13,000 Palestinians, prompting international calls for a cease fire. But, as Hillary Rodham Clinton, former U.S. secretary of state, told “The View” on November 8, “A cease fire done prematurely benefits those who do not abide by any laws, by any rules, by any character values of human life.” 

She noted that a cease fire existed on October 6 which Hamas brutally and inhumanely violated on October 7 (https://abcnews.go.com/theview/video/hillary-clinton-explains-recent-comments-israel-hamas-war-104730226 ).

Thursday, November 2, 2023

Redeem Hostages: From the Beginning a Jewish Imperative

Three times a day observant Jews recite the “Shemoneh Esrai,” also called the “Amidah,” a central prayer cataloging God’s blessings and seeking God’s interventions. One of the first paragraphs of the prayer is: 

“Sustainer of the living with kindliness, Resurrector of the dead with great mercy, Supporter of the fallen, and Healer of the sick, and RELEASER OF THE IMPRISONED [emphasis added], and Fulfiller of His faithfulness to those who sleep in the dust. Who is like You, Master of mighty deeds, and Who can be compared to You, King who causes death and restores life, and causes deliverance to sprout forth.”

According to the Bible (Genesis XIV, 1-17), one of the first exploits of the patriarch Abraham after he left his father’s home in Haran to settle in the land of Canaan was the rescue of his nephew Lot who had been taken hostage by Chedorlaomer, king of Elam and allied kings. 

Is there any wonder, then, that Israel and world Jewry are fixated on the release of the imprisoned hostages taken by Hamas? 

Equally important to the safe return of the hostages are the discovery and destruction of the missiles Hamas has hidden inside Gaza. Any ceasefire undertaken before those objectives are accomplished would simply guarantee future aggressions by Hamas.

Charlie’s Bat-Mitzvah: Through tears, hearts filled with sorrow, stuck in our throats, we partied. 

News of Middle East atrocities reverberated throughout the week. And yet, hundreds gathered from near and far to celebrate a rite of passage, the entry of a Jewish girl to adulthood. 

All had been planned for a joyous weekend in London, three weeks ago. Our grandniece Charlotte, Charlie to most everyone, was celebrating her bat mitzvah with all the pomp and circumstance and 21st century party planning her parents could muster. 

It was, however, impossible to ignore the elephant in the room. So her father David didn’t. 

“This isn’t the speech we wanted to write, but we can’t ignore the horrific events of the past week,” David said. “Given the number of children here, I don’t intend to say too much, but clearly many of us have been deeply affected by the evil attacks by Hamas against Israel, and our hearts go out in sorrow and solidarity to all those affected.  

“However, even in times of sorrow, Judaism commands us to be joyful. In fact, the word joy is often used as a translation for the Hebrew word “simcha”, which is Charlotte’s Hebrew name, while Joy is her middle name. When we chose these names for her, it was primarily to give her my grandfather Sam’s Hebrew name, as well as to recognize his long term partner, Auntie Joy.

“But today we have another reason. Jewish people throughout the most dire times in our history have gone to extraordinary lengths to celebrate our joys. As we read in Ecclesiastes, in Megillat Kohelet in shul last week, ‘To everything there is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven.’ And we hope that despite experiencing one of the most painful weeks many of us can remember, we can still find time to show joy and celebrate together.”

Resiliency runs through Jewish blood. 

I could have said Jewish genes or DNA. No, blood was the right word, for in each generation, as our Passover Haggadah relates, an evil rises up to try to spill our blood, to destroy us. 

As Hamas has done this time, lots of blood soaked our homes. But, as in times past, the Jewish people refuse to go away.  

Friday, October 27, 2023

A Call for Action on Military Style Arms

The horrific slaughter Wednesday night of 18 innocents, many of them children, and the wounding of 13 more in southern Maine by a gunman using an AR-15 style semi-automatic assault rifle defies understanding. Not understanding of how and why someone could perpetrate such an evil. Rather, it reinforces the difficulty understanding those who believe owning military equivalent arms should be a protected right in America.  

I have yet to hear or read about someone who used an AR-15 to legitimately defend their home from invasion. Or from an attack by a wolf pack. Or any other danger that could be countered just as competently by an ordinary rifle or handgun. Those standard firearms would suffice in almost all instances. 

I am not against gun possession as guaranteed in the Second Amendment to the Constitution. But the right to bear arms meant something entirely different in 1789 than it has come to mean in 2023. The Founding Fathers never contemplated the firepower now available. They did not foresee everyday citizens possessing cannons or other means of mass destruction.

Back in colonial times, all the way to the Civil War, muskets, rifles and handguns fired single bore bullets. A shot in the arm or leg was not life threatening or life changing, unless it struck a major blood vessel. Even if a bullet got lodged in one’s torso it could be extracted, albeit by a delicate operation. 

That changed during the Civil War. Why? Because the type of bullet changed. Instead firing a round, smooth bore bullet, soldiers shot a French-designed Minié ball which, upon entering a body, shattered bones in its path (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mini%C3%A9_ball).

“The large number of amputations performed during the (Civil) war was the result of the severe nature of the wounds caused by the Minié ball, the number of wounded needing immediate treatment, and the often poor condition of the patients,” according to the National Museum of Civil War Medicine (NMCWM) in Frederick, MD. 

War is often said to be a catalyst for invention, for military hardware (the atomic bomb being the most horrific) and medical improvements (the development of pavilion hospitals to treat Civil War casualties). Indeed, as the NMCWM explains, “Many of the advancements made during the war still influence our modern medical practices. Those ideas—a structured ambulance system, on-site response by trained personnel, the use of triage, a focus on logistics, a hospital system with tiered levels of care—are still relevant today.”  

(Editor’s note: From the outside, the NMCWM hardly looked worth entering when Gilda and I, along with my brother and his wife, visited it pre-Covid. It is in an old building in downtown Frederick. Once inside, however, the multi-level museum was chock full of interesting and enlightening information about wartime medical care.)

The AR-15 style rifle predominantly used by mass murderers inflicts harm not seen except on battlefields. Yet, Republican legislators, backed up by conservative judges, have blocked repeated efforts to minimize the availability of the weapon, suppressing even the requirement of background checks before a purchase can be made. 

While elected officials, including the new Republican Speaker of the House Michael Johnson, expressed the standard call for prayer and healing after Wednesday’s slaughter, a more pointed call for action was made Thursday by CBS Late Night host Stephen Colbert. Spend a few minutes watching him eviscerate Johnson and all those who time after time fail to address our nation’s gun problem (the first five minutes of Mike Drop” are generic monologue; stay tuned for the passionate call for action): https://www.paramountpressexpress.com/cbs-studios/shows/the-late-show-with-stephen-colbert/yt-video/?watch=C__x_wuG8s8. 

Is the Country Ready for a Jewish President?

What is it about Minnesota that inspires politicians to challenge incumbent presidents from their own party?

Fifty-five years after Minnesota U.S. Senator Eugene McCarthy shocked the nation by seeking to unseat President Lyndon Baines Johnson in the New Hampshire primary, Congressman Dean Phillips of Minnesota is taking on President Joseph Biden in New Hampshire. Actually, Biden is not on the ballot in New Hampshire as he has chosen to kick off his primary schedule in South Carolina.

McCarthy didn’t win in New Hampshire, but his strong showing based on opposition to the Vietnam War prompted LBJ to announce 19 days later he would not seek reelection. 

Ultimately, McCarthy did not secure the Democratic Party’s 1968 nomination. It might well have gone to New York Senator Robert F. Kennedy. RFK was assassinated after winning the California primary. 

Eerily, RFK’s son, RFK Jr., is running for president this year. He recently changed from seeking the Democratic nomination to running as an independent. Back to 1968: Democrats chose LBJ’s vice president and former Minnesota Senator Hubert H. Humphrey who lost a squeaker election to Richard M. Nixon. 

Phillips not only faces the challenge of unseating an incumbent who clearly relishes his job, he also must overcome the nation’s electoral history—voters have never chosen a Jewish president. No Jew has ever won his party’s nomination. 

Is the country ready to jump from a Jewish “second gentleman” husband of Vice President Kamala Harris to a Jewish president, in a time of rising antisemitism and a war between Israel and its Moslem neighbors? 

If Phillips shows Biden is vulnerable—his main reason for running is his belief Biden is too old for a second term—other, more widely known Democrats, including Senator Amy Klobuchar, also from Minnesota, might join the contest. Klobuchar sought the nomination in 2020. Klobuchar resides in Phillips’ congressional district. 

The 54-year-old Phillips is a three term congressman. He has consistently voted to support Biden’s legislative package. 

Polls have shown most Americans, even among Democrats, are wary of Biden’s age. He will celebrate his 81st birthday November 20. Political insiders also opine that a younger candidate espousing Biden’s agenda would fare better against Donald Trump, the 77-year-old projected Republican nominee. 

Phillips has been a successful businessman. His family history includes being the grandson of Pauline Phillips, better known throughout the world as Abigail Van Buren—the original Dear Abby! 

Another intriguing Phillips factoid: Should he succeed in winning the presidency in 2024 he would be sworn in on January 20, 2025, his 56th birthday. 

Monday, October 23, 2023

Messages From the Front Lines

“Dear friend,” Esti wrote, “we are in an inferno that is difficult to explain. In a nightmare we never dreamed

was possible. I have no doubt that we will win, just as I have no doubt that this war will leave a deep scar on the people of Israel. We need friends like you!

“The people of Israel are alive and well forever.

עם ישראל חי! (The people of Israel live!)”

A principal of the Naval School in Acre, Esti lives in Kibbutz Sa’ar along the Mediterranean coast just about seven kilometers (four miles) from the Lebanese border. Like many of her compatriots, she lives in a region targeted by Hezbollah missiles. The Israeli government has relocated residents from much of the northern territory as a precaution should conflict with Lebanon-based Hezbollah develop into a second front, full-scale battle even as it wages war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Perhaps the harshest, most devastating attack by Hamas against the settlements adjacent to Gaza occurred in Kibbutz Be’eri, where Shani, a social worker, and her family live.

“Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Me and my family are safe. We lost about 100 close friends from our kibbutz and our hearts are crushed. We hold in our hearts hope to rebuild our homes and pray to the world to help us achieve a sense of security. Many of our friends, children, women and the elderly are being held captive by Hamas, we are praying for their speedy release.”

Esti and Shani are two of the 86 women I have met since 2010 as part of the three-decades-old Shalom Yisrael of Westchester program that forges relationships between Israelis and Americans. Since 2010, extraordinary women—first responders, social workers, educators—all living in the shadow of Israel’s enemies have benefitted from the program. (Before 2010, wounded male Israeli veterans were guests of the program.)

Esti was one of six Shalom Yisrael participants earlier this year; Shani was among eight who visited in 2013. 

For this American Jew, expressing solidarity with Israel by attending rallies, donating money to relief organizations, communicating with legislators, and praying for a positive resolution to the crisis is a mostly vanilla exercise lacking a personal touch. Like many, I am engulfed in a suffocating malaise, a depression that sours every other activity despite my intellectual understanding that life must go on even in the face of disaster of incomprehensible barbarism, as it did for Holocaust survivors. 

My sister, who was in Israel during the Six Day War in 1967, says she is having bouts of PTSD. I avoid watching any video associated with October 7. I cannot comprehend how anyone can torture themselves by constant viewing episodes of the attack.  

Yet, I am one of the lucky ones. I have a means of making personal connections. I have sent emails to our 86 Shalom Yisrael guests, though about a third of the addresses no longer appear operational. Israel is a country with citizens who feel isolated, surrounded as they are by tens of millions of Moslems from countries that would like nothing less than its destruction. 

The simple act of sending an email of support and concern can be comforting and reassuring that they are not alone. Slowly, responses are trickling in.

“Thank you for your concern for us,” Malka wrote back. “We live in Acre. And with us now it’s quiet. Say hello to everyone.”

“Dear Murray, thank you for your deep concern. I will ask the other girls if they got your e-mail; if not I will send it over to them. Yes, we feel the same—we are still in a shock. As if the Shoah is here again. We have never experienced such an atrocity. No doubt we have experienced a great tragedy and we are very worried because we don’t know what lies ahead. What might happen to all the soldiers who are preparing themselves for a counter attack? What is Hezbollah planning? This is very frightening, to say the least. I hope Israel as a state and we as Israelis will survive. Again, thanks for your nice letter and deep concern.

“All the best,” Ruthie. Ruthie teaches English in the north.

Alegra also lives in the north, in Nahariya, along the coast. 

“Thank you so much dear friend. We are all here in a collective trauma in Israel by the cruel attack and the loss of so many people. Hope that the north side won’t get in a war also, but we are getting ready for this.

“I will send your letter to my friends and I appreciate your and Shalom Yisrael attention to us in these difficult days.

“Hope for better days.”

Shalhevet’s family lives in Kibbutz Zikim, just north of Gaza.

“Dear Murray, I have no words to express how we feel these days. We left the kibbutz at Saturday night, and now we are at Ma’ale Hachamisha (west of Jerusalem) with other families from Zikim and Nativ Ha’asara. Fortunately the terrorists didn’t get into our kibbutz. 

“Hoping for better days.” 

A retired elementary school principal from Nahariya, Aliza sent a poem in Hebrew “so everyone will see our feelings in Israel especially about the kidnappings:”

My baby boy,

How are you ?

What is your name in Gaza?

Does someone pick you up sometimes?

Do you swing your small body?

And a pacifier? Do you have one?

Do they know that you only fall asleep on your stomach and love warm porridge?

Do they understand that you can already be given crushed fruit?

And what about a clean diaper?

And a bath? Is the water nice?

And maybe a mobile above the crib? And a little fluffy teddy bear?

Do they cover you at night? So you wouldn't be cold? And what about a hat over the ears?

Have you seen the sky lately?

And the sun?

And maybe you have already lost your first tooth?

Can you sleep at night? Perhaps dreaming rosy dreams?

Do you smile there sometimes?

My baby boy,

Is there anyone looking you in the eyes? Comforting you?

Explains that soon mom will come?