Friday, May 31, 2019

Thoughts on Anti-Semitism

The first time I heard, in person, an anti-Semitic remark I was 24 or 25. It was not directed at me. I was in the Ansonia, Conn., bureau office of The New Haven Register writing a story while two late-teenage girls in the next room discussed their car buying adventures. Unhappy with the price she was offered, one of the girls said she would try to “Jew them down.”

I remember recoiling at the words but remained silent. The bubble I had grown up in had been punctured. I was no longer in Brooklyn. 

In the Brooklyn of my youth almost everyone I encountered was Jewish. I went to Jewish day schools through twelfth grade. My summers were spent at Jewish sleepaway camps. Brooklyn College was overwhelmingly Jewish. All my friends outside school were Jewish. 

Indeed, the only gentiles I interacted with were the workers in my father’s factory and the housekeeper-cooks my mother employed so she could join my father at what she euphemistically called “the Place.” I knew most of them by name and task: Eloise who sewed lace onto the slips and panties pieced together by Big Mary and Little Mary, Solita who packed the finished goods, a dozen to a box, Ricky the piece goods cutter, James the shipping clerk and overall heavy lifter, and Lucy, the floor lady who supervised all the workers and who, in my parents’ later years when they no longer required a full-time housekeeper-cook, came every week to their home to clean and sit with my mother. Our housekeeper-cooks were mostly black—Bertha and Virginia being the most prominent and long-tenured. Bertha baked the best butter pound cake I ever tasted. Virginia was a better cook than baker. She and James chaperoned my sister Lee’s Sweet 16 party in our basement, though our parents were not too thrilled to discover Virginia had laced her several glasses of milk with scotch. 

One of my high school social studies teachers tried to enlighten his students about ignorance in the outside world, ignorance that can lead to violence. Lou Morose grew up in Albany in the 1920s and 1930s. Often, he told us, gentiles would rub the top of his skull. They were searching for his horns. Boys and men who barely had an appreciation of any artwork were instilled with the canard transmitted down from Michelangelo’s famous statue of Moses from whose forehead the sculptor fashioned two goat horns, a misrepresentation of the Bible phrase that light emanated from the lawgiver’s head when he descended a second time from Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments. 

While I was enjoying a shtetl-like sheltered life among fellow religionists, Gilda’s childhood in Saratoga Springs in upstate New York was far different. During the winter gentile boys threw rocks encased in snowballs at Jewish children as they exited a school bus outside their Hebrew school. When they sought relief from their rabbi he simply suggested they move faster from the bus to the school door. 

I didn’t encounter any discrimination at The Register. If anything, I benefitted from reverse discrimination. The managing editor who hired me grew up in Brooklyn, went to a rival Jewish high school and, perhaps most serendipitously, shared my first name. Murrays stick together. 

To my knowledge, I never encountered any anti-Semitism during my subsequent career as a journalist at Chain Store Age, though I do recall a Rose’s discount store manager in rural North Carolina saying he immediately recognized me and one of my staff, Marty Brochstein, as visitors from New York the moment we walked into his store. Marty and I had no difficulty understanding his drift.

As parents, Gilda and I observed incidents that challenged the protective bubble in which any good parent tries to envelop their children. 

One December, when Dan was about seven and Ellie four, he asked why so many Jewish homes displayed Christmas lights. For him and Ellie their only reference were friends from their Jewish day school. They thought everyone in White Plains was Jewish. Thus began their education into the real world. 

Five or so years later Dan and his school basketball teammates encountered overt anti-Semitism. Players on the opposing public school team taunted them by throwing pennies on the court. 

Though my brother and I attended modern Orthodox religious day schools, we never wore yarmulkas before or after classes. It had nothing to do with fear. Our safety was pretty much assured in our neighborhood. At Brooklyn College our friends, almost all graduates of similar Jewish day schools, didn’t wear them either, even when eating. The symbols of religious observance were not as openly displayed 50 years ago. At least not by my crowd.

I suspect no Jew, even the most religiously garbed, presumes he or she will be attacked on the street, much like the public at large does not feel they will be mugged when outside. 

For a time back in 1968 assaults on individual Jews and Jewish institutions seemed to be daily transgressions in New York City. To combat the appearance of Jewish passivity Rabbi Meir Kahane founded the Jewish Defense League. The objective was “to combat anti-Semitism in the public and private sectors of life in the United States of America.”

I recall discussions about the JDL among my friends as we sat in the Brooklyn College cafeteria, but no one I knew joined the JDL, for sure after it turned more extreme, eventually to be labeled a “right wing terrorist organization” in 2001 by the FBI. 

Antisemitic attacks domestically and abroad have risen to intolerable levels. Some reasons can be traced to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Some to religious bigotry. Some to gang membership practices. Some to economic imbalance. Some to the very conditions JDL identified 50 years ago: “political extremism” and “racist militancy.” And some to that same condition my teacher Mr. Morose related—ignorance. Plain and simple ignorance that shuts out the humanity and tolerance of anyone different. 

Monday, May 27, 2019

Three Weeks Since My Last Post

With Donald Trump a) threatening to totally annihilate Iran, b) obstructing congressional inquiries by ordering subordinates past and present to ignore subpoenas, c) vindictively planning to send asylum seekers to Democratic strongholds in Palm Beach and Broward Counties in Florida, d) hurling insults at Democrats and Republicans who question his fitness for office, and while Mother Nature imposes her will on the heartland through rains, floods and tornadoes, and a human traffic jam at the top of the world kills those making the quest of their now ended lifetime, you might be wondering what have I been doing since my last post May 7?

An appropriate question. Let’s see. For two weeks beginning May 5 I was engaged with the eight guests of Shalom Yisrael Westchester, eight extraordinary women from the communities in the northwestern Galilee in Israel close to the Lebanese border. 

This was the second consecutive year Shalom Yisrael hosted women from the north after eight years of bringing first responders from the border area with the Gaza Strip. The north has been comparatively quiet since the second war in Lebanon in 2006. But memories linger of rocket attacks and firefights. 

Life in a free fire zone can alter everyday events. Pizza delivery became dependent on the range of Hezbollah rockets. Prior to the second conflict, any address north of a specific street in coastal city Nahariya was too risky for drivers as it was within range of Hezbollah rockets. With greater firepower, Hezbollah rockets can now reach Haifa and beyond.

Engaged with the everyday concerns of work or what movie to see, the long-term concern of war with Hezbollah is never far from their thoughts. “It is not a question of if, but when will be another war,” said Alegra, a social worker from Nahariya specializing on prevention of violence toward the elderly.

Two weeks is a long time to be separated from family, even if it’s for a well-deserved respite from tension. During their fortnight in New York, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia, they visited some of our national treasures, monuments and museums, including the Freedom Tower, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Vietnam and Lincoln Memorials, the Liberty Bell, the Capitol. But perhaps the most relevant and impressionable parts of their trip were visits to three Jewish day schools in Westchester and Rockville, MD, and a community-wide commemoration of Yom Hazikaron (Israel’s Memorial Day) at the JCC of Mid-Westchester where they met American Jews who were fully invested in the people and future of Israel.  

Okay, Time for Some Trump: Naturally, some of my time was spent in Internet dialogue about The Donald and the many contenders for his Oval Office seat. One, in particular, centered on whether Democrats had become the party of freshman Congresswoman Ilhan Omar and her in-league-radicals Representatives Rashida Tlaib and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. 

“The Democratic party will be the party of whomever secures the presidential nomination,” I wrote. “Last I checked she wasn’t running for president.”

I also provided some cautionary thoughts about getting too crazed about the three showstoppers: “Stop falling into the trap of making her and Tlaib and AOC the Democratic Party. They are merely the media’s squeaky wheel getting all the attention because they are different. Trump was different. He got the attention. He was running for president. They aren’t. He changed the GOP. They cannot change the Dem Party unless you fall into the media trap and let them.”

But for a more dystopian view of our political future, I wrote the following to a friend this morning: 

“Regardless of who wins the presidency, stability in our democratic republic is lost for the foreseeable future, a legacy of the Tea Party or actually to Newt Gingrich’s ‘us vs. them’ governing strategy rather than a joint governing philosophy. 

“If Biden or any Dem wins we will have a more mature, hinged person in the White House. If Dems don’t carry both houses then GOP will thwart any initiatives and they will investigate everything.  

“If Trump wins and GOP controls both houses he will unleash Armageddon on all aspects of federal government. Say goodbye to social welfare programs and every regulatory agency. Dems will be powerless to stop the dismantling of more than a century of progressive government. 

“If Dems keep the house they will continue toothless investigations but not be supported by a gutted judicial branch. If Dems win the Senate but lose the House expect no more court confirmations, though Trump would try to make executive appointments. If Dems win both House and Senate expect impeachment and perhaps conviction which Trump would challenge and set off a never before experienced constitutional crisis. 

“I stand by my months ago prediction that if Trump loses Electoral College tally he will invoke emergency powers to void election results by claiming fraudulent voting. 

“In other words, wear your seatbelt at all times. The road ahead is rocky and we have no brakes.”   

Death on The Mountain: During the course of my 30-plus year business publishing career, I must have listened to more than 150 motivational speakers. Terry Bradshaw gave one of his first public speeches at one of my publication’s conferences, a talk he mostly reprised when he was inducted into the football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. During the first keynote speech I heard back in 1977, I learned from Ken Blanchard how to be a One Minute Manager. 

Perhaps the most memorable keynote speaker was Jim Hayhurst, the oldest member of the 1988 Canadian Mt. Everest climbing expedition. Hayhurst used his experience to craft a message that explained success comes from teamwork, from trusting in the competence of others, that you can’t do everything yourself. 

He related those truths as he told of the moment during the climb when his 20-year-old son lost his footing and got wedged on an outcropping over a sheer drop of several thousand feet. Hayhurst wanted to be the one to toss him a lifeline, but he realized someone else had a better chance of success, for one inadvertent move by his son reaching for the rope could mean he would lose his balance and fall to his death. His trust in another was rewarded. 

I can still picture Hayhurst as he delivered his talk. Middle aged—47–when he undertook the climb, Hayhurst did not project the image of an intrepid, athletic climber. Rather than stride confidently he seemed to galoomph across the stage. 

Aware of his limitations, Hayhurst emphasized the value of preparation and setting realistic goals. Death can come swiftly without warning in the frigid, oxygen deprived atmosphere near the summit. Many expire on the trek down. Caution is more than a byword for climbers. 

Ultimately, the expedition failed to reach the peak—two climbers came within 2,000 feet of the summit—but they all came back alive. That was their realistic goal.

I think of Jim Hayhurst every time I read or hear about the unfortunate men and women who have lost their lives clinging to their dream of conquering Everest. 

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

When Will This Nightmare End?

The other day I read a Letter to the Editor in The New York Times from Jay Markowitz. Commenting on a May 2 Op-Ed piece by former FBI director James Comey entitled, “How Trump Co-Opts Leaders Like Barr” (, he crisply wrote, “In William Barr, President Trump has found his Roy Cohn. When will this nightmare end?”

First, let me say that in the two-plus years that The Donald has been our fearful leader, this is the first time I wrote the consecutive words, “President Trump.” Oh, the downside of accurate reporting!

Now, to respond to Jay Markowitz’s obviously plaintive plea—Not until January 20, 2021, at the earliest, but only if the American people wake up from this nightmare, only if they have not become inured to Trump’s assault on the Constitution and its tricameral form of equal branches of government, only if they have not been lulled into submission or complacency by an economy that continues the remarkable rebound initiated by Barack Obama, only if they have not become complicit or accepting of his destruction of the rule of law, only if the American people believe again that their country’s values are the best export we can offer the world and the best import are people from all creeds, religions and regions who are dedicated to equal opportunity and freedom for all. 

It will be impossible to remove Trump from the White House through impeachment, unless he fulfills his wild 2016 campaign boast—that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and not lose any votes—and Senate Republicans defy all reason and excuse his assault as, in the words of Attorney General William Barr, that of someone “frustrated and angry.” 

It was just such reasoning that enabled me to co-win a friendly contest predicting the length of Trump’s presidency. All but two of the 15 contestants thought he would vacate the White House by April 6 of the second year of his term. Connie Goldberg and I chose his full term as the end date.

Of course, I previously opined that Trump might be emboldened to declare a national emergency and not recognize the 2020 election if he loses. He’s already started to lobby for a six year first term, retweeting a Jerry Falwell Jr. comment that he deserves a two year extension because the first two years of his tenure were “stolen” because of the Mueller investigation. 

The man’s chutzpah knows no bounds.

Trump’s defiance of constitutional norms goes beyond the actions of most presidents to minimize scrutiny of their administrations by Congress. James Reston Jr. argued in The Times that failure to comply with congressional subpeonas is an impeachable offense, as Richard Nixon found out during his impeachment proceedings 25 years ago (

But Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is in no rush to impeach. “Trump is goading us to impeach him,” Ms. Pelosi said at a Cornell University event in Manhattan, according to The Times. “That’s what he is doing, every single day he is just, like, taunting, taunting, taunting. Because he knows that it would be very divisive in the country. But he doesn’t really care; he just wants to solidify his base.”

Her reticence or political savvy aside, the Democratically-controlled House might be more willing to act if it is able to secure testimony from former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III and former White House counsel Donald F. McGahn II, both of whom Trump has said should not appear before Congress. Both are privy to information on alleged obstruction of Mueller’s probe into Russian interference with the 2016 election by Trump and his gang of family and aides. 

McGhan is a private citizen; Mueller attains that status at the end of the month. Thus, their willingness to testify would not be subject to Trump’s authority. 

Rather, it would position them as either patriots or more Trump dumpster detritus. 

Trump has repeatedly degraded the FBI, the Justice Department and members of the judiciary. Lately, he has cast the FBI investigation of his campaign as “spying,” a term repeated by Barr during Senate testimony last month. But the current FBI director, Christopher A. Wray, refuted the characterization during a Senate hearing Tuesday (

And so, the nightmare continues. Trump’s handpicked FBI chief is staying independent as an officer of the law, even as Trump’s handpicked attorney general, ostensibly the people’s lawyer, has shifted the interpretation of his  role to be defender of the malevolent.  

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Interference at KY Derby a Metaphor for Election

Lots of people are talking about the stunning results from Saturday’s Kentucky Derby. Of course, Donald Trump has tweeted his opinion, as well. I’m okay with that. There’s no reason he shouldn’t express his views. 

For the record, Trump believes the “best horse did NOT win” because “political correctness” influenced track officials to declare apparent winner Maximum Security (how could Trump not like a horse by that name?) interfered with other horses on the final turn (naturally, Trump would disagree with any suggestion interference affected the outcome of a race. He also took the time Sunday to opine that special counsel Robert Mueller should not testify before Congress. Obstruction, or as the Churchill Downs stewards called it, interference, was clearly evident in Trump’s post-election actions by anyone save sycophantic Republicans). Track judges stripped Maximum Security of the title and awarded the race to Country House who had finished second by about a length and a half. 

Let’s leave it to racing touts to work out the final results of the Kentucky Derby. I’m more interested in handicapping the 2020 presidential race.

First, a short review of 2016. Trump lost the popular vote but won the presidency by securing 304 Electoral College votes; 270 being the threshold required to win. Despite more voters preferring Hillary Clinton, she captured just 227 Electoral College votes. 

Conventional wisdom has it that Hillary lost the election by not attracting a combined 80,000 more votes in Michigan (16 EC votes), Pennsylvania (20 EC votes) and Wisconsin (10 EC votes). That would have given her 273 Electoral College votes, a slight but sufficient margin of victory.

By my calculations, the 2020 race will be determined by more than just the outcomes in those three states. Indeed, the field of battleground states is 12, divided equally between states Trump won and those that polled Democratic in 2016.

Trump starts out with a lock on 195 EC votes from states across the South and the middle of the country. He needs 75 more to win reelection. But 106 of his remaining 109 EC votes in 2016 can be considered in play. 

He won Florida’s 29 EC votes by (round numbers) 100,000; Michigan by 13,000; Pennsylvania by 44,000; Wisconsin by 20,000; North Carolina (15 EC votes) by 170,000; and Georgia (16 EC votes) by 200,000. Given the razor thin Republican gubernatorial victories in Florida and Georgia in 2018, it is conceivable Democrats could flip those states in 2020. Dems won governors’ seats in Wisconsin and Michigan in 2018 after flipping North Carolina in 2016. They retained the governorship in Pennsylvania in 2018. 

For the Democratic standard bearer the challenge begins with a lower sure-win number. He or she can expect 182 Electoral College votes mostly garnered from Northeast and West Coast states, 88 fewer than the needed 270. 

In 2016 Hillary Clinton amassed 227 EC votes. But 44 of those nods could turn to Trump in the following states: Clinton won Colorado (9 EC votes) by 120,000 votes; Minnesota (10 EC votes) by 40,000; Virginia (13 EC votes) by 200,000; Maine (2 EC votes) by 20,000; New Hampshire (4 EC votes) by 3,000; and Nevada (6 EC votes) by 27,000. 

What the numbers tell us is that it is waaaaay too early to provide meaningful predictions on who will emerge successful. It’s rather like the recent National Football League draft of college players. Experts try to rank the potential of players, but nothing is certain. For every “sure thing” top draft choice there’s a bust. Considered by many the best quarterback ever, Tom Brady was not drafted until the sixth round, almost as an afterthought. 

Your choices are to tune out political pablum and prognostications for the next 18 months or sit back and enjoy (Is that the right word?) the race, without, hopefully, any interference.