Monday, July 31, 2017

The Bankruptor-in-Chief Gambles on Healthcare, N. Korea, and Dumping Mueller

If there is one thing Donald Trump knows how to do it is bankrupting a business. So even though the Republican controlled Congress has not been able to repeal Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act is still in jeopardy because the bankruptor-in-chief is committed to shutting it down without so much as a thought to the tens of millions whose lives would be placed in financial and physical jeopardy from illness that could lead to poverty and/or death. 

The irony in all this is that a healthier America is better for business, which is what Trump claims to be all about. 

For more irony, Trump is touting invigoration of the coal industry—a dying segment of the energy sector with dying companies that provide lethal work for coalminers—at a time when solar, wind and other alternative energy sources have far surpassed coal’s attractiveness as a resource and employment prospect, not to mention its environmental concerns. But then what do you expect from a businessman who could not turn a profit from gambling casinos?

Behaving like a spoiled child holding his breadth because his parents deny him an extra portion of dessert, a ticked off Trump has threatened to curtail subsidies that underpin many insurance providers. Without the subsidies insurers may abandon markets, leaving individuals without insurance options or with drastically higher premiums many couldn’t afford.

Trump is gambling his threat will force Republicans and Democrats to come back to Washington to vote to repeal and replace Obamacare. But keep in mind, four of Trump’s six bankruptcies came from his inability to run a successful gambling casino. Should anyone with such a sad, sorry record be playing with the health and safety of our citizens? 

How Big a Gamble: To get his way Trump has shown a willingness to gamble with the health of millions. He now has an international dilemma with even more certain deaths if he places his money on black and the roulette ball lands on red.

What should he do with North Korea’s relentless march to nuclear warhead and ballistic missile capability? Does North Korea pose an existential threat to America or any of its allies? Should he order a pre-emptive strike on the missile staging area?

Even if we could knock out the missile development region, we probably could not prevent massive conventional retaliation on Seoul with massive loss of life and physical destruction of the South Korean capital. Are we willing to sacrifice the citizens and capital of our ally so easily?

I’m inclined to think we should not. Here’s an analysis from the Centre for Research on Globalization worth reading:

Breaking the Silence: In the war on Islamic terrorism it is often asked, where are the moderate Muslim voices? Sadly, under threat of actual death, they remain all too silent. 

But one can equally ask, where are the voices of reason within the Republican Party? How can they let this misfit of a president stand for the party of Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan? 

To be fair, many conservatives have spoken out and written about their disdain for Trump and his co-opting of the Grand Old Party and conservative values. Even some religious leaders have expressed consternation that their brethren have forsaken Christian teachings by supporting Trump’s extreme positions, including his stances against Obamacare, immigrants, Mexicans, Muslims and voting rights. 

Until recently, the real silence, however, has been heard in the halls of the Capitol. For eight years Republicans decried the power of the executive branch under President Obama. Now that a so-called Republican sits behind the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office, watching their reaction and their determination to express congressional authority is a study of evolving expectations. 

Now that he has removed Reince Priebus in favor of John F. Kelly as his chief of staff, commentators are saying Trump has severed his strongest ties to the Republican Party establishment. Will he try to push through an agenda without care or consideration for traditional GOP values, or will he try to work with an increasingly independent Republican controlled Congress?

Senators Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski and John McCain showed profile-in-courage independence by voting down the last ditch GOP effort to repeal Obamacare. But others who privately did not like the “skinny repeal” bill voted for it anyway, a true example of profiles-in-cowardice.

Meanwhile, The House and Senate overwhelmingly voted for more sanctions on Russia, Iran and North Korea along with a proviso that Trump could not unilaterally lift sanctions on Russia. Trump has indicated he will sign the bill as he doesn’t want to risk the embarrassment of having a veto overturned. 

Republican senators have also been out front warning Trump not to dump Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Sen. Charles Grassley, chair of the Judiciary Committee, has threatened not to hold hearings on any replacement for Sessions nominated by Trump. 

The end game for Trump is to get rid of Robert Mueller III as independent special counsel. Aside from the investigation into possible collusion with Russia during the election last year, Trump fears Mueller’s probe into his finances. Trump well knows that developers are ripe pickings for investigators looking for shady deals. 

Trump might be looking alarmingly at Pakistan where the Supreme Court last week removed from office Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif because of alleged financial corruption. 

On the other hand, he might be gazing longingly at Vladimir Putin’s strong armed rule in Russia where opponents are jailed (“Lock her up”) or mysteriously die, or to the Philippines where President Rodrigo Duterte conducts summary executions of alleged drug dealers and users (Trump last week suggested police treat suspects more roughly), or even to Venezuela where President Nicolas Maduro has rammed through the election of a constituent assembly that will rewrite the country’s constitution more to his liking (Trump wants the Senate to abandon filibuster rules that he views as constraining his legislative agenda). 

He definitely won’t look for inspiration to Poland where President Andrzej Duda vetoed two proposed laws that would limit the independence of the judiciary.

This Isn’t Funny: OMG, how are we supposed to survive the Trump administration if our favorite foils keep getting whacked? First Sean Spicer resigns, no doubt moments before he would have been axed by his new boss, communications director Anthony Scaramucci. Then a short 11 days later Scaramucci is dumped by new chief of staff Kelly. 

Spicer and Scaramucci were made-for-TV-satire-comedy. Melissa McCarthy made Spicer into an Emmy-nominated caricature. And it was impossible not to be amazed and amused by Stephen Colbert’s spot-on mimicry of Scaramucci. 

It will be tough replacing these comic inspirations. Ex-Marine general Kelly just doesn’t have the same je-ne-sais-quoi. I guess we’ll just have to be content with Alec Baldwin’s Saturday Night Live send-up of Trump and Kate McKinnon’s portrayal of Kellyanne Conway. 

Friday, July 28, 2017

A Schnorrer's Cry: Baseball's Been Good to Me

I’m a baseball schnorrer.

Theres no getting around it. As I reviewed in my mind my visits to Yankee Stadium, I see a definite pattern of schnorring.

Now, for the uninitiated let me first decipher the meaning of the Yiddish word schnorrer. It may be best defined in my case as a moocher, someone who gets something for nothing or otherwise would not partake in the experience.

Eight years into the new Yankee Stadium I finally made it, with Gilda, to the big ballpark in the Bronx Thursday night, courtesy of our friends Jane and Ken G., who themselves were recipients of four complimentary $150 field level tickets about 12 rows in and a third of the way up the right field line. Great seats.

During my years at Lebhar-Friedman (1977-2009), I was fortunate to be among the privileged to receive the company’s four box seat tickets once or twice a season. They, too, were great seats perhaps a dozen rows behind the Yankee dugout near first base. They were so good they spoiled me for sitting anywhere else.

Unfortunately, along with the building of the new Yankee Stadium came a dramatic increase in season ticket prices which dovetailed with the recession that struck publishing especially hard. L-F made the tough but economically prudent decision to not renew its ticket subscription. 

I, as well, did the financially prudent thing. I forsook going to games. I even turned down a suggestion by Ellie and Donny that we go one Father’s Day several years ago. Instead, I convinced them that rather than spend a minimum $400 on tickets alone, plus food, parking and other incidentals, we should go to a Brooklyn Cyclones minor league game in Coney Island, have dinner at a nearby Russian restaurant and stroll the boardwalk, all for less than the cost of one Yankee ticket. It was a most enjoyable Father’s Day.

I didn’t always use the L-F tickets for my own enjoyment. I would give them to Dan and Ellie. I even gave Dan tickets to the seventh game of the 1999 World Series because it was to be played on his 21st birthday. Baseball aficionados no doubt realized the gift turned out to be a beau geste as the Yankees wrapped up the series against the San Diego Padres in four games. 

I was fortunate enough to go to a World Series seventh game in 1975. I scored a free ticket from the sports editor of The New Haven Register where I worked as a bureau chief. Happy to report the Cincinnati Reds came from behind to win the title against the Boston Red Sox. Aside from the Reds’ wives and front office personnel, I was probably one of the few people in Fenway Park pleased with the outcome. I was intelligent enough to keep my delirious contentment to myself that evening, even from my fellow Register reporter John Membrino, a die-hard Sox fan.

After moving back to New York in 1977, the only time I went to a Yankee game other than with L-F tickets was with John and Gilda to watch the home team play the Red Sox. We sat high in the upper deck along the left field foul line. I have no idea why people pay good money to sit in those far-away seats. 

My baseball ticket schnorring began as a child. My brother Bernie and I would go to Yankee games using tickets provided by one of our father’s sales representatives, a Mr. Schaeman. Half the fun was going on the ear-popping elevator to pick up the tickets at his office in the Empire State Building. Back then, in the late 1950s early 1960s, when the last out was recorded, on their way to the subway fans could walk on the ball field toward the exit gate in center field. Police would keep you from running on the infield diamond, but to tread where Mickey Mantle patrolled was a thrill to be savored.

We didn’t always go to Yankee games. Bernie rooted for the Dodgers. We went to Ebbetts Field virtually for free after eating 10 Elsie the Cow ice cream treats and sending the wrappers along with 25 cents to the Bordens Company. Mr. Shaeman also provided tickets to Mets games at the Polo Grounds and Shea Stadium.

For the record, I’m not just a baseball ticket schnorrer. For many years now Gilda’s brother Carl sends us two tickets to four regular season and one pre-season game of the New York Giants football team. They, too, are really good seats, though in recent years I’ve mostly chosen to avoid the two hour drag-of-a-ride home from the Meadowlands in heavy traffic. It’s a lot more comfortable watching the game on televised tape delay skipping through commercials. If Dan and Allison or Donny and Ellie can’t use the tickets, we give them to friends, Gilda’s co-workers or donate them to charity auctions.

By the way, at Thursday night’s Yankee game, the Bronx Bombers won in true bomber fashion. Brett Gardner hit a tie-breaking walk-off home run leading off the bottom of the 11th inning. Too bad we headed to the parking lot at the conclusion of the 10th inning. Ah well, at least we heard John Sterling’s call on the radio, “It is high, it is far, it is gone. The Yankees win!”

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The Trump Saga in Four Acts Continues

I am no fan of Attorney General Jeff Beauregard Sessions, but his treatment by the bully-in-chief is turning him into a sympathetic character. Even in the best of times Beauregard looks like he is about to spout a torrent of tears. But ever since he is being greased for a Trump dismissal, or resignation, he seems even more pathetic. 

It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.

Keep in mind that though the attorney general is supposed to be the country’s top legal representative sworn to uphold the Constitution, Sessions earlier this year questioned how a federal judge on an island in the Pacific could thwart a presidential executive travel ban order. Apparently, he thinks Hawaii doesn’t have the same statehood standing as his native Alabama. Equally troubling, he must believe the judicial branch of government does not have review authority over presidential and legislative actions.

Sessions also showed a disturbing lack of memory in not recalling several meetings with Russian officials prior to his confirmation hearing. He is a former prosecutor. One can only imagine how he would have excoriated a witness who not once, not twice, but three times failed to recall pertinent testimony.

Trump’s pas de deux with Sessions shines a spotlight on the one-way loyalty the blowhard-in-chief practices. In simple terms, Trump is a “user.” And a bully who prefers to publicly humiliate a supporter rather than have the courage to fire him to his face. Running the government is not a reality TV show. There are real consequences to his actions. 

Transgender Service: I’m happy Trump has barred transgenders from the military. No, I do not support Trump’s decision. Rather, I am happy because it again exposes the duplicity and contradictions behind promises Trump and Republicans make and their actions.

The reversal of the policy promulgated under President Obama is another example of Trump reversing his predecessor’s actions not based on any study or open debate but rather on cold political calculation. 

These are self-inflicted wounds. By running his administration through tweets, Trump presents the impression (often accurately) that he does not weigh the issues deeply, that he fails to consult divergent views before letting his fingers do the governing. By saying he acted after consulting with unnamed “my generals and military experts,” Trump blindsided his own secretary of defense who weeks ago ordered a six month delay in a transgender policy review.

Sadly, we should no longer be surprised by Trump undercutting his own appointees.

No matter the outrage by the LGBTQ community and its supporters, some of whose members took Trump at his word that he, not Hillary Clinton, would be their advocate, the rejection of transgender military personnel will go down easy for his voter base of soul-less religious believers from the evangelical Christian, Jewish Orthodox and conservative Catholic communities. They’re soul-less in sticking by politicians who would cavalierly cut Medicaid from millions of the needy and infirmed.

History Repeating Itself? When I was in high school back in the early 1960s, my social studies teacher, Lewis Moroze, cautioned his students that the United States had a financial reason for fighting in Vietnam—offshore oil! 

Now, nothing came of it during the war years, but oil companies are there now. Why do I bring it up? Because the Trumpster is considering military options in Afghanistan—our longest war—based on the possibility rare-earth minerals could be extracted from that beleaguered country. His two predecessors also considered the mining possibility, but keep in mind that Trump once said he would have taken Iraq’s oil had he been commander-in-chief when our troops invaded that country. In case you missed it, here’s a New York Times article:

Montezuma’s revenge? Papaya from Mexico is being recalled because of an outbreak of salmonella linked to the fruit. Just wondering … how long will it take for the Twittersphere to say it’s Mexican retaliation for Trump’s disparagement of their country and people? 

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Memory Unearthed: My Ties to the Lodz Ghetto

Here’s what I know about Łódź (Lodz).

My maternal grandparents were married in that Polish city at the beginning of the 20th century. Separately, they emigrated at different times to New York. First to arrive in America was my grandfather, Louis Gerson. His wife, Sarah, came later with their son, Solomon, and three daughters, Pola, Sylvia (my mother), and Victoria. A fourth daughter, Lily, would be born in New York. Sylvia was four when they landed at Ellis Island in 1921 from one of the last ships before immigration quotas were initiated that would ultimately doom hundreds, thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands even a million Jews who would have sought refuge from the darkness engulfing Europe in the 1930s.

My mother and aunts were too young to remember and pass down details of life in Lodz. Except, that their regal mother would complain that compared to her apartments in the Bronx, her house in Lodz had parquet floors and was staffed with servants. Louis was a jeweler in Lodz, a trade he continued in New York. 

And one more story. Pola was once kidnapped by gypsies, but like the boy in O. Henry’s classic tale “The Ransom of Red Chief,” she was soon returned no worse for the experience. 

Unlike the immigrant benevolent society my father joined in New York from his hometown shtetl of Ottynia, to my knowledge and that of my brother and sister, our mother’s family did not keep up with relatives or friends back in Lodz. Accordingly, I was only aware of Lodz as a big city and would comment casually that my mother emigrated from there whenever mention of Lodz came up in conversation, in a film or TV show. 

So I was deeply intrigued by a recent CBS Sunday Morning segment of an exhibit at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) entitled, “Memory Unearthed: The Lodz Ghetto Photographs of Henryk Ross” (

The exhibit would run through July 30. Serendipitously, Gilda and I would be visiting the Boston area last week. Last Friday, we went to see the exhibit with Allison, our daughter-in-law. (There are no immediate plans for Memory Unearthed to tour other cities. The exhibit will return to the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, where its condition will be assessed, and a determination made whether another venue is in the best interest of the collection, according to an AGO representative.) 

As TripAdvisor notes, “The third-largest city in Poland, Lodz’s historical and global significance is largely due to the ghetto that was built there during World War II.” 

Lodz fell to the Nazis on September 8, 1939, one week after Germany invaded Poland. According to Wikipedia, “The Nazi authorities soon established the Łódź Ghetto in the city and populated it with more than 200,000 Jews from the Łódź area. As Jews were deported … for extermination, others were brought in. … Due to the value of the goods that the ghetto population produced for the German military and various civilian contractors, it was the last major ghetto to be liquidated, in August 1944. ...

“Prior to World War II, Łódź's Jewish community numbered around 233,000 and accounted for one-third of the city’s total population. The community was almost entirely wiped out in the Holocaust. By the end of the war, the city and its environs had lost approximately 420,000 of its pre-war inhabitants, including approximately 300,000 Polish Jews and 120,000 Poles. ...

“When the Soviet army entered Łódź on 19 January 1945, only 877 Jews were still alive, 12 of whom were children. Of the 223,000 Jews in Łódź before the invasion, only 10,000 survived the Holocaust in other places.”

Two of those 877 survivors in Lodz were Henryk Ross and his wife Stefania. A photographer, Ross had been tasked by the Nazis to chronicle the “good” life in the ghetto, but he also surreptitiously focused his lens on the inhumane conditions in the ghetto and the cruel life its inhabitants endured and succumbed to. 

Ross buried more than 6,000 negatives hoping someone would unearth his documented history after the war. After he was liberated Ross himself dug up his cache. Water had damaged about half of the negatives. The MFA exhibited about 200 negatives and prints. (For a more complete background on Ross and the exhibit, follow this link:

My mother and her sisters never spoke of any surviving relatives. In truth, they never spoke of Lodz, other than the comments noted above. 

Perhaps I was imagining a connection, but there in Negative 268 of Ross’ treasured records, a face hauntingly stares out at the camera. It is of a woman on a bed taking off or putting on a nightshirt. It is a face that to my eye resembles that of my mother and her sisters. A relative? I will never know. It doesn’t really matter. Jews have a saying, “All Jews are related to one another.” 

Monday, July 24, 2017

No Confidence in Senate Vote on Obamacare

I have no confidence Republicans will do the right and honest thing. 

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is expected to begin the process of holding a Senate vote to repeal and replace, or just repeal, Obamacare Tuesday even though it is expected he lacks the necessary votes for passage of either option. 

I don’t believe Republican senators will not undo the Affordable Care Act. Maybe not in the current iteration of either bill put forward by McConnell. But sooner or later, enough pressured-and-scared-of-an-ultra-right-primary-foe GOP senators will choose re-election tenure over the good of the country. They will parse out false and misleading statements explaining their vote, but it will be pure political survival rather than their constituents’ health, welfare and longevity that will motivate their vote. 

Why do I take such a cynical viewpoint? Because when confronted time and again by the incompetency, mendacity, outright fabrications (lies) and debasement of our national heritage and standing among nations by Donald Trump and his family, Republican legislators in the Senate and House may have spoken out against him but when voting time came they backed him.

On Sunday’s Face the Nation, according to The New York Times, John Dickerson “bluntly asked Mr. (Anthony) Scaramucci (Trump’s newly appointed communications director) if Mr. Trump would get what he wanted in repealing and replacing President Barack Obama’s signature health legislation.

“‘I don’t know if he’s going to get what he wants next week, but he’s going to get what he wants eventually, because this guy always gets what he wants,’ Mr. Scaramucci said. “O.K.?”’ 

In pressuring senators Monday to follow through on their seven year pledge to dismantle Obamacare, Trump—flanked by a score or more of healthy-looking, almost all white people he said could not obtain affordable coverage under Obamacare—argued that the law has been a job killer. 

Perhaps. No doubt there have been instances where small businesses were affected. But no one died because they were forced to obtain health insurance coverage. 

Yet, if upwards of 20 million people lose coverage should the law be repealed, as forecast by the Congressional Budget Office, tens of thousands will die because they would not be able to afford medical care or the prescription drugs they need to sustain life. 

It’s another example of Republicans putting financial considerations—especially the huge tax relief targeted for the super wealthy in the bill—above the safety and welfare needs of the American public. 

It’s another example of the mean-spirited manner in which Trump has formulated his administration. The very people who have benefited from Obamacare and who paradoxically voted for Trump would be most affected by its repeal. 

Friday, July 14, 2017

Gentrification Took Its Toll on Broadway

The tale of New York City mayoral indifference to the plight of small business owners as described by Jen Rubin in a Friday op-ed piece in The New York Times struck a chord in me (

Just as Rubin’s dad unsuccessfully sought municipal assistance and relief to forestall the gentrification-based elimination of affordable commercial rents on Broadway’s Upper West Side that was forcing independent shopkeepers to close, my father tried in vain to thwart New York University’s transformation of small apparel manufacturing factories along Broadway north and south of Houston Street into apartment lofts, some for student housing but many for wealthy tenants.

From the 1950s through the early 1980s, my father operated a lingerie factory on Broadway, shifting its location whenever his lease would expire, from 718 Broadway near 8th Street down to 692 Broadway (the old Tower Records building) to 683 Broadway to 611 Broadway at Houston Street (where Crate & Barrel now occupies the ground floor). 

There was a whole community of moderately priced lingerie makers. Nearby, Joe Buchwald had a factory. To me he looked like the character actor James Gleason, a mainstay of films of the 1930s-1940s-1950s. There was Dora the lacemaker, a short, full-bodied woman my father befriended, perhaps because she shared a name with his first love back in Poland before they both sought refuge from Hitler, he to America, she to Australia. At the end of the day, and whenever the factory had to be moved to a new location, there was Sidney, a red-cheeked, always smiling, independent trucker with beefy hands and a fondness for my dad that overlooked his shouting to be quick and make his delivery to the Railway Express drop-off point a few blocks away so his slips and panties could be transported to stores across the country without incurring a late shipment deduction from the invoice.

NYU was the landlord for several of the buildings where my father leased whole floors. Back then NYU converted many of the buildings to loft apartments or studio space for artists. Doing so effectively put out of business many of the small lingerie manufacturers who for decades operated in the area. 

When it was 611 Broadway’s turn to be converted, my dad organized a march on city hall to protest the city’s silence as jobs were sacrificed in the name of gentrification. All the rally did was get him a few seconds on the local news, Channel 7, I believe. He moved his factory to Brooklyn, into the Howard Bros. building just south of the Manhattan Bridge. By then, in the mid-1980s, the lingerie business was not strong, nor was the T-shirt business he has transitioned into. He was losing about $1,000 a month. 

In his mid-70s, he couldn’t abide the thought of losing money. My brother and I counseled against closing the factory. It was, we told him, better therapy than seeing a shrink. It kept him active and out of the house, meaning, not in our mother’s hair 24 hours a day. As she used to say, she married him for breakfast and dinner, not for lunch. They had worked together for some 30 years, he in charge of the factory operations, she in charge of the office. When he ventured into her sanctuary, decibel levels invariably rose. Now in retirement, she had no desire to have him poking around her domestic domain all day. 

Despite our best efforts, he chose to close his business. All he could see was red ink.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

From Israel It's Getting Harder To Be Called a Jew

First and foremost I am a Jew. Not an America-Jew or a Jewish-American. Just a Jew.  

History, centuries and decades old, even into current times, has shown bigots and anti-Semites make no hyphenated distinction. So neither do I. I am just a Jew.

Not a particularly observant Jew, as regards devotional prayer, though I attend synagogue services most Saturdays and on most holidays. I fast on Yom Kippur and conduct family seders for Passover. 

It might appear I am observant, but I am not. Rather, I am a religious Jew based on values honed by my ancestors over 3,600 years, from the example of Abraham to be welcoming to strangers, to the promulgation of 10 basic commandments by which to live one’s life, to the precept of Hillel that the centrality of Judaism is, “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.”

Judaism, of course, did not stop evolving from the time of Hillel (roughly the beginning of the Common Era, some 2,000 years ago). As with other religions, evolution meant division, whether it was the Pharisees, Sadducees and Essenes of Second Temple latter days, or the Reform, Conservative, Hasidic, Reconstruction and Haredi movements of the last hundreds of years that broke away from traditional Orthodoxy. 

Living as minorities in lands not their own, traditional Orthodox Jews could rail against what they considered unacceptable, even blasphemous, heretical alterations to their religion. But their anger and disapproval could not and did not result in physical persecutions, though spiritual punishments were meted out (google Baruch Spinoza to see how free thinkers could be treated by the Jewish establishment).  

No one, however, was burned at the stake. Unlike what transpired in Europe and the Middle East, no armies assembled and marched on heretics or infidels, no blood was shed among different sects in their ideological dispute about the ideal way to serve God, though, for the record, when Jews lived in what we now call Israel in the first century CE, fratricide did occur before the Second Temple fell. Indeed, some rabbis have taught that religious differences were the cause of the Temple’s destruction and Jerusalem’s defeat by the Romans.

Once Judaism evolved into a religion of rabbinic tradition, bloodletting was not part of its template.

Which brings us to contemporary times and a schism that threatens to do more harm to Jewish unity than any despot could have imagined. Israel’s multi-party political system has invested an ultra-Orthodox segment of the society (the Haredi) with power and influence that may well transform the country away from its pluralistic, multi-cultural, egalitarian roots into a repressive, religious regime that restricts freedoms and norms common to Western civilization. 

In addition, the schism has global ramifications as non Haredi Jews in the diaspora, despite their financial and political backing of Israel, feel marginalized by the Netanyahu government’s support for the Haredi chief rabbinate’s exclusionary dictums.  

The current fight is over two issues. The first is appropriate access to the Western Wall (the kotel), Judaism’s holiest site. The second is over recognition of religious conversions by non Haredi rabbis.

Assessing the merits or details of each dispute is not my intention here (you can research the issues on your own). Rather, my concern is the presumption of one sect to have the right to determine the religious validity of the remaining people who classify themselves as Jews along with their respective religious practices. (There’s no doubt they have the power to do so because of their leverage in keeping Bibi Netanyahu’s coalition government in office. But that power does not imbue moral authority.)

“The reason why Judaism is the only religion that survived throughout thousands of years and all the massacres and all the attempts to destroy it is that ours is the only religion that has always been the same, the way it was given to us on Mount Sinai,” Nachum Eisenstein, chief rabbi of eastern Jerusalem’s Haredi Maalot Dafna neighborhood, said in an interview with The Jewish Week. “Who gave you, the Conservative and the Reform, the authority to make up a new religion?” (

On the other hand, as Morris Allen, rabbi of Beth Jacob Congregation, Mendota Heights, MN, wrote in the Forward newspaper, “The secret of our longevity during the generations of our statelessness was the vibrancy of open and competing views for Jewish meaning. It is evident in our exegesis, in our rabbinic texts and in our philosophical works. The imposition of an official doctrine is now sowing the seeds of our own destruction.”

Let’s put some of Rabbi Eisenstein’s claims in context: Jews do not practice their religion as given to us on Mount Sinai. We don’t indulge in ritual sacrifices. Prayer was not authorized on Mount Sinai. It is an invention of rabbis, a substitute for ritual sacrifices. Indeed, the position of rabbi was not part of the revelation. It is a construct centuries in the making. After the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, Judaism evolved into a set of rules promulgated by rabbis in diverse regions, generally agreed to by a majority but not the totality of Jews. To this day there are rabbis who issue guidelines on what is acceptable Jewish practice given changes in society and technology. But they are not universally accepted as gospel by all denominations. 

So who’s to say Judaic law has to be rigidly set in stone, so to speak? 

Apparently, the Haredi, under the auspices of the chief rabbinate of Israel, do. Their followers have even gone so far as to assert Reform, Reconstruction and Conservative Jews are not really Jewish. Sounds like the Sunni-Shia battle without the bombings.

It is ironic to note that even as Israel is fighting a political battle around the world against forces that want to delegitimize its existence, its Haredi rabbinate, with a complicit Netanyahu government, is engaged in a process to delegitimize the authenticity and practices of a majority of Jews the world over. 

Regrettably, in Israel too many Jews, the vast majority of whom are secular, do not really care about egalitarian access to the Western Wall or control over conversion policies unless they are personally affected when a marriage inside Israel is proposed. But diaspora Jews do care and claim skin in the game because of their previously unflinching support for the state of Israel. 

I agree with Rabbi Allen: “The unhealthy and unwise intertwined relationship between a state and a particular stream of Judaism is destroying the contours of the Jewish people. There can be no possibility of restoring the glitter and joy of being Jewish when an official state religion dices and slices our people apart.” (

Here’s an example of that slicing and dicing. According to the Associated Press, “Israel’s Chief Rabbinate has compiled a blacklist of overseas rabbis whose authority they refuse to recognize when it comes to certifying the Jewishness of someone who wants to get married in Israel.” The list includes 160 rabbis from 24 countries.

Israel’s Jewish future, of course, involves more than just prayer at the kotel and conversion laws. How Israel deals with the Palestinians within the land captured in the Six Day War 50 years ago is a stress point separate and apart from the religious issues. 

I don’t have a solution for any of these trouble spots. But as a Jew I am conflicted by any attempt to minimize my Jewishness, regardless of its originator. 

So I read. Here are a few recent articles worth considering.: 

Sunday, July 9, 2017

News and Views of Friends and Family

David Pecker controls the National Enquirer and a handful of other sensational tabloid newspapers that assault or entice, depending on your perspective, your senses as you wait to check out at the supermarket. Pecker is chairman and CEO of American Media Inc., publisher of National Enquirer, Star, Sun, Weekly World News, Globe, Men’s Fitness, Muscle and Fitness, Flex, Fit Pregnancy and Shape plus the recently acquired Us Weekly.

To his stable of publications Pecker is said to want to add Time magazine as well as People and Fortune.

Pecker, who at one time helped John F. Kennedy Jr. launch George, is a friend and advocate of Donald Trump, which beggars the question, do we want a publisher who printed truly fake and misleading headlines and stories about Hillary Clinton and whose Enquirer was recently at the center of the Trump-Morning Joe dustup to assume editorial control of some of the most respected mass journals of our country?

Your political leaning will inform your response to that question. My answer, not surprisingly, is no, a thousand times no. But in this age of financial feebleness for far too many media companies, including Time Inc., the shareholders of Henry Luce’s trailblazing weekly might not be able to refrain from accepting a solid offer, even if they disdain its originator.

What America doesn’t need at this time of national division is a further erosion of integrity in the media. Time, People and Fortune have been stalwarts of independent, objective journalism. Under Pecker that impeccable position could be compromised.

By the way, it might interest you to know that “pecker” is Yiddish slang for penis. How fitting. (For a longer look at David Pecker, here’s a profile from the New Yorker:

If the Shoe Fits: I have a long held bias against women wearing open-toed shoes. I trace it back to my antipathy toward my mother’s choice of footwear. I know I should get over it, but it is there, I admit it and have never sought to impose my prejudice on Gilda, Ellie or Allison, not that they would have let me had I tried.

Anyway, long lead in to another example of too much government regulation, in this case, Republican desire to control attire, mostly that worn by women. 

It seems that at the direction of Speaker of the House Paul Ryan there is vigorous renewed enforcement of a dress code for appearing in the Speaker’s Lobby of the House of Representatives. It pertains to all elected congressmen, their staff and reporters. Sans proper attire one can be evicted from the area. 

Men have to wear coat and tie; women must be dressed appropriately, which has been interpreted to mean no sleeveless dresses/blouses and no open-toed shoes, preferred items by many women during Washington’s hot and muggy summer.

I found it particularly amusing that Elaine Quijano of CBS News reported on this brouhaha while sitting behind the anchor desk wearing a red sleeveless outfit. She did not reveal what type of shoes she had on.

Clothes Make the Woman: As long as we’re on the subject of women’s clothing, there’s no denying Melania Trump brings her A game to every public event (and probably to every private occasion as well).

Her popularity is soaring but indicative of how shallow Americans and other nationalities can be. They project her eye-candy appeal to positive status (much the same way Michelle Obama’s scores reflected her fashion sense even as she championed better nutrition and physical activity for children) but the public fails to consider Melania’s to date empty portfolio of first lady endeavors, particularly her expressed desire to reduce the incidence of cyber bullying, her husband’s favorite response-to-criticism tool. 

Ivanka on the Hot Seat: Despite criticism from many anti-Trump quarters, I have no problem with Ivanka sitting in for her father at the G-20 meeting while he met with the leader of Indonesia. She is as credible as any of Trump’s aides. 

But as I noted the other day when she, not he, visited a memorial to the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, there are some symbolic functions that demand no substitute for presidential attendance. 

Thursday, July 6, 2017

In Poland Trump Snubs Jewish Memorial to Warsaw Ghetto

So here’s what Donald Trump said, and didn’t say or do, in Warsaw Thursday:

According to the transcript of his remarks in front of the Warsaw Uprising Monument in Krasinski Square, Trump’s speech included the following: 

“In 1920, in the Miracle of Vistula, Poland stopped the Soviet army bent on European conquest. Then, 19 years later in 1939, you were invaded yet again, this time by Nazi Germany from the west and the Soviet Union from the east. That’s trouble. That’s tough. 

“Under a double occupation the Polish people endured evils beyond description: the Katyn forest massacre, the occupations, the Holocaust, the Warsaw Ghetto and the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, the destruction of this beautiful capital city, and the deaths of nearly one in five Polish people. A vibrant Jewish population—the largest in Europe—was reduced to almost nothing after the Nazis systematically murdered millions of Poland’s Jewish citizens, along with countless others, during that brutal occupation.”

Later in his speech he recalled the heroism of the Polish resistance during the Warsaw Uprising.

“In August of 1944, Jerusalem Avenue was one of the main roads running east and west through this city, just as it is today. Control of that road was crucially important to both sides in the battle for Warsaw. The German military wanted it as their most direct route to move troops and to form a very strong front. And for the Polish home army, the ability to pass north and south across that street was critical to keep the center of the city and the uprising itself from being split apart and destroyed.

“Every night the Poles put up sandbags amid machine-gun fire -- and it was horrendous fire -- to protect a narrow passage across Jerusalem Avenue. Every day, the enemy forces knocked them down, again and again and again.
Then the Poles dug a trench. Finally, they built a barricade.

“And the brave Polish fighters began to flow across Jerusalem Avenue.

“That narrow passageway, just a few feet wide, was the fragile link that kept the uprising alive. Between its walls, a constant stream of citizens and freedom fighters made their perilous—just perilous—sprints. They ran across that street, they ran through that street, they ran under that street, all to defend the city.
“The far side was several yards away, recalled one young Polish woman ... That mortality and that life was so important to her. In fact, she said the mortally dangerous sector of the street was soaked in blood.

“It was the blood of messengers, liaison girls and couriers. Nazi snipers shot at anybody who crossed; anybody who crossed, they were being shot at. Their soldiers burned every building on the street and they used the Poles as human shields for their tanks in their effort to capture Jerusalem Avenue.

“The enemy never ceased its relentless assault on that small outpost of civilization. And the Poles never ceased its defense. The Jerusalem Avenue passage required constant protection, repair and reinforcement.
But the will of its defenders did not waver even in the face of death.

“And to the last days of the uprising, the fragile crossing never, ever failed.

“It was never, ever forgotten. It was kept open by the Polish people.

“The memories of those who perished in the Warsaw Uprising cry out across the decades. And few are clearer than the memories of those who died to build and defend the Jerusalem Avenue crossing.”

All very appropriate. But as the Associated Press reported Thursday morning, “Poland’s Jewish community is expressing deep ‘regret’ that President Donald Trump has not scheduled a visit to a memorial honoring those who fought and died in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising during his short visit to Warsaw.

“The community issued a statement late Wednesday noting that all U.S. presidents and vice-presidents visiting Warsaw since 1989 had visited the monument, a tribute to the Jews who took up arms against all odds against the Nazi Germans in the Warsaw ghetto.

“The statement said that, to the Jews of Poland, ‘this gesture meant recognition, solidarity and hope.’

“It added: ‘We deeply regret that President Donald Trump, though speaking in public barely a mile away from the monument, chose to break with that laudable tradition, alongside so many other ones.’”

It seems that even when Trump tries to act presidential and respectful he winds up dissing Jews. (Here’s a wacky notion: Could Trump have thought that Jerusalem Avenue provided Jewish cover for his failure to visit the Warsaw Ghetto memorial? Given his penchant for crazy ideas, I could be right.) 

Too many times he or his minions disrespect anything of Jewish heritage or symbolism. Compared to previous presidents, when he visited Israel he made a short, perfunctory pilgrimage to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial museum in Jerusalem. The note he left there was short and perfunctory compared to previous presidents. Prior to his visit to Jerusalem an aide tangled with Israeli representatives saying the Western Wall was not Israel’s. Barack Obama hosted Passover seder meals at the White House. Trump did not. Trump leaked Israeli intelligence information to Russia. During a press conference he was disrespectful of an Israeli reporter and an obviously Jewish reporter who wanted to know how his administration would counter rising anti-Semitism. 

Trump extolled the 150,000 Poles who died in the Warsaw Uprising of 1944 but didn’t mention by number the near 400,000 victims of the Warsaw ghetto or their heroic struggle against Nazi SS troops from mid-April to mid-May 1943 when some 7,000 perished and another 50,000 were sent to extermination camps. 

For Trump, everything and anything Jewish seems to be an afterthought. Yes, his daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner visited the Warsaw Ghetto memorial, but they are not the leader of the free world (who seems to be trying to transfer that honor to Angela Merkel of Germany or Emmanuel Macron of France or Justin Trudeau of Canada or anybody with a sense of history and sound judgment). 

Perhaps I’m being too tough on The Donald? Some might think I’m making too much of these slights. But when you’re a member of a minority, no matter how high a profile that minority enjoys, I believe you have a right to be sensitive. Here’s a headline (and article link) from an analysis by Ofer Aderet in Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper, of Trump’s Warsaw visit: “By Sidestepping Jewish Victims of Holocaust, Trump Helps Polish Government Rewrite History” ( 

That history recalls how the Polish Underground during World War II did not support the Warsaw ghetto uprising. That history recalls virulent anti-Semitism in Poland before and after the war, including pogroms against the survivors of Nazi genocide after the war ended.  

To quote an often-used Trump commentary, “Sad!

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Lessons Still To Be Learned From the Holocaust

Donald Trump landed in Poland Wednesday but he was not the only bombastic Republican to make news in that country. As you might have heard, Congressman Clay Higgins of Louisiana had to apologize for making a selfie video inside the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp, specifically inside a gas chamber and crematoria where visitors are requested to be silent to honor the memory of the thousands who suffered and died there (

For his part, Higgins thought his video would convincingly portray the need for vigilance and greater deterrence of outside threats to America. “This is why Homeland Security must be squared away, why our military must be invincible,” he said, adding at the end of the video, “It’s hard to walk away from gas chambers and ovens without a very sober feeling of commitment, unwavering commitment, to make damn sure that the United States of America is protected from the evils of the world.”

Higgins completely misunderstood the meaning of Auschwitz. It is not a call for more armaments. It is a memorial to what happens when governments demonize the vulnerable, different religious and ethnic minorities and enable persecutions and restrictions on their personal liberties. It is a memorial for the living to remember the past in all its barbaric detail so that “Never Again” is more than a catchphrase.

Auschwitz is a reminder of what could happen when evil thoughts are legitimized by an election, when a leader’s often repeated bigoted statements are discounted by politicians sworn to uphold democratic values, when a populace allows itself to be succored by false promises and jingoistic jargon meant to incite passions not principles.

Higgins apologized for disrespecting the solemnity of Auschwitz-Berkenau and for violating the memorial’s specific admonition not to talk (much less film) inside the gas chamber and crematoria areas.

But if you managed to view his video before he took it down you will be struck by an even more egregious sin. Not once during his five minute film (which might still be viewed by clicking on the previously linked Times article), while recounting the horrors more than 1 million “poor souls” went through, did Higgins say almost all of them were Jews. Not once!

Yes, he ended the video standing before American and Israeli flags, but he was silent, SILENT, about exactly who were the victims—Jews, Poles, Roma, Soviet prisoners of war. 

It is that type of selective memory that undermines the commitment government officials have to the lessons of the Holocaust. Higgins was as tone deaf to the Jewish genocide as Trump was earlier this year when on Holocaust Remembrance Day his official message failed to mention Jewish victims. 

Well, Trump is now in Warsaw, Poland. He will give a speech commemorating the 1944 uprising in Warsaw against the Nazis. But will he also mention the Warsaw Ghetto rebellion by Jews in 1943? 

I wonder …