“I fear Assassination”

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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?


I’m sorry-No thanks for the hate

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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 and the AR-15

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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.


My Temple on the Streets

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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.



The Seeds of Brussels were planted exactly twenty years ago-and we did nothing

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As the civilized world recoils in horror at the carnage in Brussels, it is instructive to look at the date of the attack on innocents using the  Belgian transportation system.   It was twenty years ago, almost exactly, in February and March of 1996, that a wave of suicide attacks struck Israel, targeting buses in Jerusalem and a major thoroughfare in Tel Aviv, Dizengoff street.   Nearly 60 Israelis were slaughtered by Hamas suicide bombers over the course of ten days.  Among the dead were at least two young American citizens and the twenty year old son of the prominent Haaretz columnist Nahum Barnea.

Arguably, the destruction on the streets of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv ushered in our modern age of the suicide bomber who purposely targets public transportation and places of assembly, shown to such awful effect in Belgium yesterday.  Yet twenty years ago, after the usual pious claims of sympathy, the Western world promptly turned its back on Israel and its suffering.  Had we as a civilized society worked together to end the scourge of suicide bombing and to address the growing terror apparatus, perhaps, just perhaps, the streets of Brussels would not have flowed with blood yesterday as did the streets of Jerusalem twenty years ago almost to the day.  But, dare I say it, because the victims years ago were largely Jews, and Israelis, the world, and its concern moved on.  But the world moved on, Benjamin Netanyahu was elected not long after, largely as a result of the terror bombings, and we are where we are today.

Recall that in Israel, the most popular bumper sticker went from “Shalom Haver” (goodbye friend) in memory of Yitzhak Rabin, to “Shalom Haverim” (goodbye friends) in memory of the scores killed.  Sadly, that bumper sticker is just as relevant today.

I am one of the Rabbis boycotting Trump

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I am proud to be a delegate to the 2016 AIPAC convention in Washington next week.  While I don’t always agree with the positions and decisions of AIPAC, I stand strongly with Israel and believe that AIPAC works tirelessly on Israel’s behalf, and for that reason deserves my support and participation.  AIPAC has made it abundantly clear that they more than welcome even those of us who differ on issues of AIPAC policy.  Further, AIPAC has some of the nicest people working for them I have ever met.

I will be at AIPAC, but I will not be at Trump’s speech to the group on Monday.  I haven’t decided to simply not go, or go and leave as he begins to speak, but I will not sit silently by as he addresses the group.

To paraphrase my beloved late grandmother, Trump is “not good for the Jews”.  He is a pathological narcissist who uses hate and violent rhetoric to feed his constantly needy ego.

He has disrespected women, Muslims, latinos, immigrants, journalists, in fact anyone who has challenged him.  He has encouraged violence and employs a private squad of paid enforcers who have beaten and struck protesters.

Yes, I’ve heard about his newly Jewish daughter and her supposed Orthodox lifestyle.  if you live in my part of New Jersey you are more than aware of the prominent family into which she has married.  My grandmother would also say, “Don’t gossip about other families”.  I’m taking your advice, bubbe.

I know that people I love and care about support Trump.  To them I would say, its been my experience that narcissists care only about themselves.  Nothing in Trump’s narcissism has made me think he is any different.  Nothing in Trump’s speeches or actions have shown that he cares a whit about anyone other than himself.

I will proudly be at AIPAC.  I will not be in the room when Trump speaks.