In the movie “Goodfellas” Tommy, the uncontrollable hood that did hits for the mob, is unceremoniously “wacked” when his behavior gets out of hand. Tommy, we are told, was a “good earner”-and so his behavior was tolerated. He screwed up once too many, and the “dons” could no longer bear him. They lure Tommy to his doom by promising to “make” him-and then he is killed. Once his usefulness ended, so did he.
Our Governor, who has literally ruined our state, has now been unceremoniously dumped from the Trump inner circle. Governor Christie succeeded for so long by playing by the unique rules of Jersey corruption-don’t get greedy, and make money for the other guy too. He was also protected by a thoroughly corrupt legislature and a largely ineffective, weak press.
What Christie didn’t realize is that while he was “a good earner” for the bosses, he simply screwed up once too often, and eventually the “Don” would not tolerate his behavior. Bridge gate, coupled with his insatiable narcissism, was his undoing. It gives me no pleasure to write this about our Governor. He has decimated our state, and it will take years to rebuild our infrastructure that has degraded and our treasury which he looted for his own ends.
At a meeting of the Federations General Assembly a few years back, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that “It is 1938 and Iran is Germany”. American Jewish supporters of Israel enthusiastically cheered his comparison of Iran to Nazi Germany and Mr Netanyahu continues to use this analogy to this day, as do many who support Israel against the Iranian threat.
If such comparisons to Nazi Germany are appropriate when discussing the threat posed by Iran, it is now time to abandon any pretense that it is inappropriate to use such analogies when discussing the rise of Trumpism. Anti-semitism has become a regular meme of his supporters, and Trump himself has been condemned by the ADL and other Jewish groups for using anti-semitic language. Now there is this at a Trump rally yesterday.
The campaign condemned the remarks, but I don’t recall such behavior at a Ted Cruz or John Kasich rally.
I was in Israel during both the Republican and Democratic conventions. During one Shabbat dinner, a close friend and colleague remarked about the nomination of Hillary Clinton for President-“I fear assassination”. At the time, I thought his comment was reflecting excessive concern.
Now that Mr Trump has called for Second Amendment supporters to potentially remedy a Clinton Presidency (He was calling for action after the election not before as his supporters have claimed) I wonder if my friend was not right. That same month, I visited the Yitzhak Rabin Center in Tel Aviv. Devoted to the late Prime Minister and his life, it was a somber reminder of the tragic effects of intemperate rhetoric. (You may wish to see Tom Friedman’s piece in today’s Times for a sobering analysis. The fact is that in the months leading up to his murder, there were heated calls for assassination, including rhetoric clearly and unambiguously spouted in the presence of his rival, Benjamin Netanyahu. The Likud opposition did not tamp down the heated jargon, and all it took was one sick individual to be influenced by the atmosphere and take action.
At what point will the American people, and American society in general recognize that this is not about politics but simple decency?
Many years ago, I read a collection of essays written by black and white authors in the wake of the school decentralization crisis in 1960’s New York. The movement to return control of school boards to local parent groups engendered a significant amount of tension between many black residents and a very large Jewish teacher population that served the inner city schools. I truly think the “knee-jerk” fear of so called “Black Anti-Semitism” was overblown, but it was true that for a terrible period there was genuine animosity between the African-American and Jewish population in New York. Many liberal Jews felt betrayed, feeling that their overwhelming support for Civil Rights deserved acknowledgment. Many Black residents resented the feeling of being patronized by Jewish teachers who lived largely in the wealthy suburbs. It was a bad time.
One of the essays in the book was written by a young liberal Jewish activist. He titled his piece “No Thanks for the Bullet” and he discussed the violent rhetoric directed against Jews by some African-American leaders in the community. He asserted his complete devotion to Civil Rights, his sacrifices in the name of that cause, but drew the line at passively accepting hateful rhetoric directed against him, refusing to see himself as somehow deserving of threats and opprobrium, and holding his Black allies fully accountable for their actions. What struck me was how clear he was-he would literally give his life for the cause of Civil Rights and equality, but would not accept being treated with anything but respect himself.
I was reminded of this as I read my colleagues’s anguished responses yesterday to the anti-Israel rhetoric in the “Black Lives Matter” manifesto. Many of my fellow Rabbis have marched side by side with African-American activists, and many, including myself, have made no secret of our belief that racism is the defining issue of our time. Some of my colleagues, whom I respect deeply, have chosen to excuse the anti-semitic rhetoric, others to overlook it, others to condemn while still supporting BLM in principle.
The BLM Movement has chosen a certain narrative to understand the Israel-Palestine situation. It is the narrative of Palestinian as eternal victim. This is understandable. This is the narrative the Palestinians often share about themselves. BLM has also chosen to see the Palestinians as fellow people of color oppressed by a colonial white power. This is far more problematic-and does not reflect in certain crucial ways the manner in which Palestinians see themselves. BLM has chosen to ignore entirely the Jewish narrative-that we have returned to our ancestral homeland and that the blood of the Land flows in our veins. BLM has also chosen to ignore the incredible complexity of the situation-and the fact that there is virtually no one who is willing to talk genuine peace on the Palestinian side. The majority of Israelis support peace-but see no viable partner. As one Palestinian negotiator said, “We are willing to be blind as long as we can make you (the Israelis) one-eyed”. Victim narratives do not lead to peace.
So-to my BLM friends and colleagues-and there are many-I ask you to do this. Just as I strive to understand you-understand me. I understand your struggle for dignity, safety, and your rage at the unending violence directed against people of color here. All I ask is that you understand my struggle as a Jew for self-determination in a complex and difficult world. But-no thanks for the hate.
Lysistrata was a play written by Aristophanes and performed sometime around 400 bce in Athens, Greece. The play concerns the bloody Pelopennesian war and the unsuccessful efforts to halt the violence.
Finally, the women decide to withhold sex from the men until they agree to halt the bloodshed. If I recall correctly, the men become so sexually deprived that they agree to make peace and the play ends with a big celebration.
As I write this, House Democrats are holding a sit-in at the Capitol to demand common sense gun reform. But frankly, if Sandy Hook, San Bernadino, Virginia Tech and Orlando could do nothing to halt the absurd situation of a country awash in military hardware in the hands of those unqualified and ill-suited to own them, then I am afraid that this effort will similarly fail.
So a modest proposal. Taking a cue from Lysistrata, women who are genuinely concerned for the future of their children make the same demand on the men of America-pass gun legislation or face a cold bed. I would imagine that after a week or two of forced abstinence, enraged husbands and boyfriends would be marching on their legislators and demanding action. Fear of the NRA pales in comparison.
Nothing else has worked. Its worth a try.
I train in the early hours of the morning in a gym located in a city about 15 minutes away from my doorway.
At the hour of 5:45, the streets of the city are empty-except for large crowds of Hispanic men lining the sidewalks waiting to be picked up by the contractors for day labor. Holding take out coffee and rolls bought from the Spanish grocery stores, the men congregate, talking and joking. Contractor’s trucks slowly cruise up and down, occasionally stopping to pick up their workers and drive them to the wealthy towns that ring the city.
Not long ago, I was stopped at a light, when I noticed that one man was wearing a sweatshirt that looked strikingly familiar. I quickly realized that he was wearing a “Temple Emanu-El Westfield” hoodie, one of those we give out to our student aides who work in our school. The light changed, and I had to drive off, but I saw him the next day, and the next.
Where did this gentleman get his Temple Emanu-El sweatshirt? It could have been one of many we give away to the homeless people that live in our building twice a year. It could have come from a clothing drive that we sponsor-it could simply be one that a Temple family donated in the course of time. Truthfully, who knows?
Either way, I feel a unique kinship with this man. Every day now I look for him, but he seems to be gone. I drive past his spot slowly, but I look in vain.
I now keep an extra shirt in my car in case I see him again and plan to give it to him. After all, we represent the same organization, and he deserves a clean shirt.