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 (

“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): 

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? 

Monday, October 16, 2023

Redeem the Hostages, Destroy the Missiles

Did anyone really believe Israel would have unlimited support to bomb Gaza back into the Stone Age after Hamas’ ruthless attack on October 7?

Cracks in the wall of almost universal Western sympathy and support for Israel were not too surprising given media saturation of Israeli bombing of building after building in Gaza and the resulting deaths of more than 2,300 and 8,700 casualties. 

In an age of battlefield news immediacy, public opinion wavers depending on which side cries out the loudest and most often, which side can caramelize the most intense images of grief, which side can even fabricate with pictures the most outrageous charges of brutality. 

Equivalency has little regard for who started it. In any war all sides share responsibility for untold, innumerable disasters far beyond military targets. 

The pope along with other world leaders has asked for restraint, that civilians not be attacked. A little late for such counsel considering some 1,000 Israeli civilians including mothers, children and grandparents were killed by Hamas terrorists. Should the residents of Gaza be considered civilians or complicit members of Hamas subject to the same punishment as Hamas fighters for their support of the evildoers, a moral equivalency standard set by Hamas which considers any Jewish resident, regardless of gender or age, a member of the military that oppresses Gaza?

Gaza residents voted in Hamas some 17 years ago. While Hamas has denied them any followup elections, residents could have warned Israel about the pending attack. Surely it was well known beyond the Hamas troops. Silence, in this case, is tantamount to support. 

The battle between Hamas and Israel is manifestly a war of divergent cultures. Hamas strictly applies selective quotations from the Koran, specifically the prohibition on giving up any land previously owned by a Moslem and, most heinously, a directive attributed to Mohammed to kill Jews wherever they may be hiding. 

Judaism at one time bade its followers to annihilate people who lived in Canaan, but for the last 2,000 years has followed a Western, more humanistic theology.  Revenge killings are rarely preached, much less practiced. 

Redemption of hostages, however, trumps any thoughts of restraint. 

And, Israel is driven by a further necessity to declaw its enemy of its cache of missiles compiled over years. Thousands of missiles are buried within Gaza. Any invasion by Israel would not be complete until the missiles are neutralized. 

By the end of this war Gaza will resemble a junk yard, a vast tangle of concrete and steel. Sure, there will be pledges of aid to rebuild Gaza, but safeguards must be put in place to insure well-meaning monies are not siphoned off by Hamas or other terrorists as happened in the past. 

A central question, for which we surely know the answer, is what did Hamas do with the billions upon billions of dollars given to Gaza to make it a better place to live? Did it create businesses and schools and hospitals to enrich the lives of the populace, or did it funnel the funds into tunnel building and war materiel production? Did it generate loyalty out of fear or gratitude? Did Hamas believe Israel would simply accept terror attacks, or did it simply reason that Palestinian deaths were of no worth other than as political pawns in the court of international deliberations? 

The next few days, weeks, even months will be hard to stomach. Massive casualties on both sides. A strong resolve is required. 

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Aftermath of the Attack: Another Voice

There are so many articles to read, so many telecasts to view, so many podcasts to listen to. 

I admittedly limit my absorption of them all. There is a limit to how deep a depression I can self-inflict. 

Sure, I will miss some details of the tragic attack inside Israel that has shaken the very foundations of the country, its belief in the military, its government, its ability to rebound from evil. I will miss scale but not concept of the assault on innocents by terrorists.

Indeed, it is not new information that Hamas considers all Jewish Israelis—men, women, children of all ages—to be military personnel in a state they have vowed to eradicate. For that matter, Hamas also consider Christians fair game for death. 

A terrorist organization, Hamas is the de facto government of the Gaza Strip. Hamas runs a repressive region where those who voice opposition are killed, where international funds intended for humanitarian aid are siphoned off to finance bombs, combat tunnels, missiles to be used against Israel, and of course, monies to line the pockets of Hamas leaders. Gaza could have become an enclave of industry and tourism, its people industrious, its Mediterranean beaches warm and inviting. Instead, Hamas has cultivated a strip of squalor. 

Among my readings today was an article in Tablet from Yasmine Mohammed, described as a “human rights campaigner,” who “advocates for the rights of women living within Muslim majority countries, as well as those who struggle under religious fundamentalism anywhere. She is the author of “Unveiled: How Western Liberals Empower Radical Islam” and the president of the nonprofit organization Free Hearts Free Minds.” 

Her family came from Gaza. I commend her article:

Sunday, October 8, 2023

The Next Phase of the War Will be Under Ground

The world awaits a meaningful Israeli response to the surprise attack by Hamas, to its brutally vicious effectiveness, to the incomprehensibly horrific reality of more than 600 Israeli deaths. Toppling large and small buildings in the Gaza Strip with Israeli air power destroys offices and homes but does little to engage Hamas fighters, much less their leaders.

It does not take a military genius to know that under the surface Gaza is an interconnected series of tunnels where Hamas terrorists hide from missiles and bombs dropped from the sky. 

Any attempt to wipe out or severely cripple Hamas would require a massive ground assault and an even more dangerous underground mission to infiltrate and destroy the terrorists’ ant colony-like subterranean maze. 

It would be a painstakingly slow endeavor with a level of military casualties Israel rarely encounters. 

For history buffs, for movie buffs, the situation parallels what American ground forces in World War II encountered in Iwo Jima, as depicted in Clint Eastwood’s film “Letters from Iwo Jima,” miles upon miles of tunnels that shielded Japanese soldiers from naval and air bombardments.

What comes next must be said, because ignorance of the consequences is not acceptable: 

An even bigger decision involving an underground campaign concerns the fate of the unknown number of hostages, estimated to be at least 100, kidnapped by Hamas. No doubt they will be used as human shields. 

In any combat, casualties—deaths— are a factor in pursuit of a objective. If the goal is the eradication of Hamas, a steep price in more Israeli lives would be inevitable. Will the government and the Israeli people accept the possibility that no hostage would return alive? 

Bibi Netanyahu and his government’s fate is not tied to the decision. Security and intelligence failures that enabled the breach of the border by Hamas probably have doomed their continuation in office once the war campaign has concluded. 

It will take a long time to overcome the trauma of October 7. But a nation that was built with the remnants of the Holocaust, which rebounded from the early setbacks of the Yom Kippur War, that has time and again sustained itself from decades of terrorist attacks, will surely find the inner strength to move forward, never forgetting what happened and resolving to never let it happen again.


Saturday, October 7, 2023

Awaiting a Triumphant Response to Hamas Terror

I did not plan to attend services at temple today, even though it was the Sabbath and the last formal day of the holiday of Succoth, Shemini Atzeret. But I did. 

All day I dressed up in blue and white. The colors of the Israeli flag. Blue pants. White shirt. Blue sweater. Even my rain jacket was blue on the outside with a white lining. 

I awoke this morning at 3:45, more or less when nature calls every nocturnal passing. Before trying to go back to sleep I typically access The New York Times online to work on the newest Spelling Bee puzzle which goes live at 3 am. Headlines and news briefs on the surprise attack on the settlements adjacent to the Gaza Strip by Hamas and its allies gripped my consciousness. 

It is a recurring nightmare that the enemies of Jews attack them on Jewish holidays. Fifty years ago, October 6, 1973, Egypt and Syria started the Yom Kippur War on the holiest day for Jews. Today, October 7, is the holiday of Shemini Atzeret in the Diaspora and Simchat Torah in Israel, Simchat Torah being the most joyous day. Eighty-one years ago, on the eve of Succoth, September 25, 1942, Nazis rounded up and killed most of the Jewish residents of my father’s family in Ottynia, a shtetl village in what is now western Ukraine. 

After Israel turned over Gaza to the Palestinian Authority, Hamas supplanted the PA in an election. Rather than develop the area into an economically productive region, Hamas turned it into a nest of terror. Prior battles with Hamas failed to eliminate the threat to Israel’s citizens. 

Now it seems Israel might well not settle for a less than complete eradication of Gaza-based Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and other terrorist groups, even if it means Hezbollah in Lebanon would open a second front. 

A short while ago Israelis and Diaspora Jews debated what many considered an existential threat to Israel—Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu’s proposed overhaul of the judiciary. The attack today re-centered thinking to concentrate on an immediate life and death threat, a threat that will unite all but fringe elements of Jewish society in advocacy and support of total victory.  

Unlike many of my friends I have not embarked on round the clock painful capture of news and videos of the fighting and geopolitical musings. If we learned anything from coverage of the Six Day War (my sister was studying in Israel when that conflict erupted) and the Yom Kippur War, it is that news from the first 48 hours of battle can leave many of Israel’s friends anguished. 

So let’s wait and see. Grieve for the already acknowledged heavy loss of lives, pray for the safe return of hostages, and trust that Israel will confront, control and construct a triumphant response to this unparalleled aggression. 

Friday, October 6, 2023

America Is a Nation of (Immigrant) Grandchildren

A nation of immigrants has forgotten its roots.

And history. 

We have outsourced the battle against tyranny and autocracy to Ukraine. But our stomach for financing the fighting is waning under our ages-old selfish streak of isolationism.

“Why should we be sending American tax dollars to Ukraine when we don’t even know what the goal is?” Congressman Jim Jordan said Thursday on Fox News. “No one can tell me what the objective is.”

Perhaps Jordan, who aspires to be the next Speaker of the House, second in line to the presidency, just has not been paying attention. Or he is just stupid. 

The goal for Ukraine is to recover territory Russia has stolen. It is fighting for the principle of territorial integrity, that no country has the right to invade another without provocation. Ukraine is in a war that, if Russia wins, could lead to its total control by Vladimir Putin. Ukraine is the first line of defense against Putin’s plan for the eventual re-amalgamation of Eastern Europe under Russian hegemony. 

One wonders if Jordan paid attention during class when the history lesson of World War II was studied. 

From the anti-Irish immigration crusades of the mid-19th century, through the anti-Asian immigration and anti-citizenship laws of the late-19th-early-20th centuries, continuing into the anti-Eastern and Southern European immigration quotas of the first half of the 20th century, “America is for Americans” seems to be the mantra of those already here. 

Like Jordan, they seem to have forgotten, or perhaps never realized, that, in the words of Liev Schreiber, “America is a nation of grandchildren” of people who came here to build for their children and grandchildren a new, freer, more economically viable life than in their origin lands. 

Schreiber is an actor, director and writer, but also the co-founder of BlueCheck Ukraine, which “identifies, vets, and fast-tracks urgent financial support to Ukrainian NGOs and aid initiatives providing life-saving and other critical humanitarian work on the front lines of Russia’s war on Ukraine.”

Speaking on a recent PBS “Firing Line with Margaret Hoover,” Schreiber described Russia’s actions as an “attempt at genocide. To wipe a people and culture off the map.” Schreiber’s Jewish maternal grandfather emigrated to America from Ukraine. 

America had a chance 100 years ago to parlay its late involvement in World War I into global leadership. Woodrow Wilson championed the League of Nations but Republican isolationists torpedoed our entry into the global parliament. In less than two decades, without the United States flexing its muscle and influence inside the League, Europe descended into another world war and the resulting Holocaust of European Jewry. 

Now, eight decades later, Jordan and too many Republicans do not recognize that failure to learn the lessons of history dooms us to repeat the sad consequences.   

Civics Classes: Our Constitution permits free speech, even of animus thoughts. It is a price of liberty. So is the right to vote for all eligible citizens. Before any immigrant can achieve citizenship status, he or she must pass a civics test on U.S. history and government.

Much like outlawed poll taxes in Southern states that sought to restrict voting by Afro-Americans, it would be unconstitutional to require any voter to pass a test before being allowed to cast a ballot. But the necessity for greater knowledge of our history and values cannot be denied, at least by any rational mind. 

Over in Britain, Bernard Trafford, an educator and journalist, writing about Ukraine’s battle with Russia,  opined, “We Brits, enjoying an old democracy, too easily take for granted things that to those nations which, until only thirty years ago, suffered under totalitarian regimes controlled by the Soviet Bloc, were new, exciting, but also challenging. Their citizens, their parents, their grandparents and, in many cases, generations far further back, had no previous experience, and therefore no inherited grasp, of what living in a democracy means and demands.”

Trafford is not just a keyboard intelligentsia. “Following the collapse of Soviet communism, then, the Council of Europe identified the need to prepare children for becoming active, engaged citizens, particularly in the new democracies. Accordingly, it launched its Education for Democratic Citizenship and Human Rights Education Project (EDC/HRE).” The Council of Europe enlisted Trafford to co-author a manual for students. 

A deeper knowledge and understanding of civics is required. Sadly, civics classes have mostly been eliminated from school curricula, though Stanford University should be applauded for requiring all incoming freshmen to take a civics course. 

The war in Ukraine is another example of why we need presidents who understand foreign affairs, presidents who, like Biden and George H.W. Bush, know how to cobble together international coalitions to combat evil.     

Leaders are supposed to lead, not be led by the nose as Kevin McCarthy was by a handful of Republicans who would like nothing more than to tear down the last 125 years of progressive government laws and institutions advanced by Democrat AND Republican lawmakers and presidents. 

Whether it be Jim Jordan or another conservative Republican as Speaker, let us hope for a wider view of their responsibilities than just obstructing President Biden’s agenda, particularly as it applies to defending freedom in Ukraine and throughout Europe.