Archive for February, 2016

MUSLIM BASHING AND ANTI-SEMITISM

Does anti-Muslim rhetoric relate to anti-Semitism? Yes, according to my friend Claudia Hagadus Long, an attorney and fellow novelist. Claudia has authored a trilogy about colonial Mexico—Josefina’s Sin, The Duel for Consuelo and (late 2016 or 2017) Marcela Unchained. Given her family’s challenging Jewish history, an undercurrent of anti-Semitism runs through all. Now, Muslim bashing has her on edge.

Claudia’s parents were non-observant Jews, her American-born father militantly so. Her mother was one of the few in her family to survive the Holocaust. When Claudia was a child, her parents, sister and brother moved from Pennsylvania to Mexico City. Her father’s sister had married a Mexican Jew, and the family practiced Judaism in Guadalajara. Claudia’s Mexican friends were Catholic. She and her sister often accompanied them to church. That was okay with her mother, who’d been protected by nuns in Poland and elsewhere. “They helped her survive.”

As a youngster, Claudia was unaware of her family’s history and attitudes. Anti-Semitism remained “the bear in the living room no one spoke of.” Eventually she learned of her mother’s Holocaust experiences. The story proved so painful, she has not been able to write about it.

But writers find ways to deal with pain. Calling on her early years in Mexico—the family eventually returned to New York, and Claudia attended Harvard—she began writing about conversos. These “secret Jews,” along with Catholics once Jewish, are pursued by the Inquisition. Josefina, heroine of the first novel, is introduced to poetry by a Jew, whose brief appearance lays bare his precarious position in the New World. Consuelo, protagonist in the second, is a converso’s daughter. Her mother and grandmother light candles on Friday night—in secret.

It’s hardly surprising that Claudia is finely attuned to anti-Semitism today. Terrorist acts against Jews throughout the world, she says, are reported with a yawn. Otherwise-thoughtful people and self-proclaimed anti-racists happily vilify Jews. Claudia sees much anti-Semitism in attitudes towards Israel, particularly on campus. She cites a vocal minority of students who consider themselves liberal seeking to exclude Israeli scientists or poets from being part of activities because of their country’s policies. “This allows for a refusal to look at an individual’s contribution to the greater good simply because he or she is Jewish.”

Claudia doesn’t always support Israel’s policies but distinguishes Israelis and Jews in the Diaspora from the Israeli government. Non-Jews are treated differently, she points out. No one seeks to exclude Egyptians, Syrians, Saudis or Iranians from international conferences and forums, although their nations’ policies often raise eyebrows. The United States has committed its share of violence, yet vocal students seeking divestment from companies that do business with Israel never say a word about divesting from American companies.

So how does anti-Semitism connect with Muslim bashing? We’ll always have bigots, says Claudia, but people “who should know better” are jumping on the anti-Muslim bandwagon. It’s now okay for them to be against a particular religion. That being so, anti-Semitism also becomes acceptable. It’s widespread in Europe and openly so.

Where might Muslim bashing lead the United States? While the U.S. offers “unbelievable freedom,” Claudia fears the tide may turn. “If it’s okay to be anti-Muslim then it’s okay to be anti-Semitic—the easiest anti of all.”

Read the first two chapters of FLIGHT OF THE SPUMONIS here at www.davidperlstein.com. You can get a signed copy from me or order a soft cover or e-book at Amazon.com.

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AFTER SCALIA, WHAT?

The death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has stirred quite a political spat. Republicans, like presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Donald Trump, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, demand that President Obama not nominate anyone to the Court given that the 2016 presidential election is less than a year off. This line of thought is interesting but could lead to unanticipated developments.

I get the Republicans’ point. A new justice will play a major role in shaping the nation’s direction. They want the American people to have a say in the matter. But questions arise. For example, should a lame duck, eighth-year president be forbidden to take action on all major issues? Digging deeper, since the formal election process, which includes primary campaigning, starts in a president’s seventh year—Mr. Obama’s eighth year began this past January 20—should a president be sent to the sidelines in that seventh year? Wouldn’t a president better serve the Constitution by being active for six years then becoming a figurehead for two more?

Then again, not all presidents serve eight years (up to a maximum of ten if succeeding to the presidency), which requires election to two full terms. In my lifetime, John F. Kennedy (assassination), Lyndon Johnson (personal choice aka Vietnam), Richard Nixon (resignation—Watergate), Jimmy Carter (defeat—Ronald Reagan) and George H.W. Bush (defeat—Bill Clinton) all served less than two full terms (Kennedy less than one). So we might limit a president’s active service to the first two years of any term. During years three and four, presidential activity would be put on hold. The president could not make Supreme Court or other judicial nominations, introduce legislation from the White House or even serve as commander-in-chief without Congressional approval.

So a president would work actively for two years until election results wore thin. But consider this: Members of the House serve two-year terms. Why elect a president to be inactive for two years in each four-year term when the Speaker of the House, chosen by the majority party, could serve as the nation’s chief executive officer? The House Majority Leader would handle that body’s day-to-day business. Sounds like a parliamentary system rather than our constitutionally mandated presidential system? Let’s not get picky.

But hold on. Representatives position themselves for re-election at the start of their two-year terms if not right after Election Day. It makes no sense for a speaker to serve as chief executive when a new election is right around the corner. The American people should have their say. Unless, having just voted, they had their say.

Logic dictates a simpler solution: Eliminate the positions of President and Vice-President along with Congress. None of these folks provide true representation to Americans since there’s always another election just over the horizon. Leave all government functions to the states, which will serve as sovereign nations. Whether the Republic of Texas will accept passports from the Republic of California remains a question, but minutiae shouldn’t derail democracy.

In sum, if reactions to Justice Scalia’s death have taught us anything, it’s that the Constitution can be quite plastic in defense of the Founders’ strict intent. So let’s put the United States on hiatus. Another upside: we won’t have to hear crowds in Tehran chant, “Death to America.”

Read the first two chapters of FLIGHT OF THE SPUMONIS here at www.davidperlstein.com. You can get a signed copy from me or order a soft cover or e-book at Amazon.com.

To respond, click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.

GOING HOME—MYTH AND REALITY

Carolyn and I went to New York last week to see Yosi and Hurray for the Riff Raff at Carnegie Hall’s sold-out Zankel Hall. New York is “home.” I grew up in Queens—Rego Park. But going home goes only so far. Time travel constitutes risky business.

On Friday, we took the subway to 63rd Drive and the Shalimar Diner, a location for the 2013 movie The Wolf of Wall Street. My parents ate thousands of meals and desserts there. Accompanied by my son Aaron and son-in-law Jeremy, we had lunch with my sister Kay and brother-in-law Herb. My mother’s favorite waitress, Denise, still works there!

After, we walked to the apartment building where I grew up. Then we stopped in a supermarket for matzo meal to take back to San Francisco. Carolyn makes her matzo balls from scratch. At Ben’s Best deli on Queens Boulevard, we shared a potato knish. Last stop: the Rego Park Jewish Center where I was bar-mitzvahed in 1957, and Kay and Herb married in 1960.

Next day, Carolyn and I went to the West Village for lunch with Aaron and Jeremy, and their lovely friend Allison. Strolling back to our hotel, we stopped at 100 West 17th Street at 6th Avenue. My grandparents Sam and Kayla Perlstein lived there in 1914 when they and three of their children, including my father Morris, became American citizens. The site has been a parking lot for years. We’d been there before. No wistful expectations disappointed us.

I love visiting the old neighborhood and other familiar places. But they belong to the people who live there now. The only thing to which I can claim ownership is memories.

I reflected on that following Monday’s Iowa caucus. The top three Republican candidates—Ted Cruz, Donald Trump and Marco Rubio—all appealed to voters who want to go home again. These folks, regardless of age, hold cherished memories of yesterday’s America—white, Christian and orderly—the last term meaning that people “knew their place.” Some of their memories ring true. Most are illusory. Think about slavery followed by segregation, hatred of Jews and other ethnic groups, the 60-hour workweek with no minimum wage, the lack of safety in factories and mines, old age without Social Security and Medicare, the Depression, the vicious McCarthy era in the 1950s and the painful waging of the struggle for civil rights.

Neither the candidates nor many caucus-goers understand that returning to the past is unwise and also impossible. Rego Park, for example, has changed dramatically for the simple reason that it’s a living neighborhood, not a museum. I can’t gripe. My grandparents helped change New York’s demographics when they arrived from Warsaw in 1906.

If we need inspiration to embrace change while still shaping it to America’s values, let’s look to the Middle East. Islamists seek to return to the 7th century—the time of the Prophet. In Israel, Palestinians long for the 12th century when Saladin defeated the Crusaders. The Jewish far right wants to retreat even further—3,000 years to the united monarchy of David and Solomon. History laughs.

The author Thomas Wolfe wrote the classic novel You Can’t Go Home Again. I suggest that we can—but only when we acknowledge that home can never be as it was.

Read the first two chapters of FLIGHT OF THE SPUMONIS here at www.davidperlstein.com. You can get a signed copy from me or order a soft cover or e-book at Amazon.com.

The blog will take a week off and return on February 19.

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