Archive for February, 2019

DON’T TURN AWAY

The January 25 issue of J! The Jewish News of Northern California reported on Jews of color rising to take their places in the Jewish community. I applaud this. But the article also made me nervous.

Yes, Jews of color have faced difficulties in a religious and cultural world led by Ashkenazim—Jews of European descent (like me). Yet the Jewish world is incredibly diverse. It includes those born of two non-Ashkenazi parents—of color or not—or one. And Jews by choice. At my synagogue, Congregation Sherith Israel, we’re majority Ashkenazi but include Sephardim (descended from the Jews of Spain), Mizrachim (Jews from the Middle East) and congregants with genes from Africa, Asia and Latin America. I’m not sure about Native American descendants, but that would be cool.

Still, Jews of color often are asked, “What brings you here?” and “Are you Jewish?” Many Ashkenazim have no idea regarding Jewish diversity and non-Ashkenazi legitimacy. It’s only natural and right that Jews of color demand an equal place at the table.

Lest you think this problem is confined to North American and Europe, consider Israel. Wander through its cities and towns, and you discover Israeli Jews’ wide genetic and cultural backgrounds. Jews have immigrated—or fled—from the West, Latin America, North Africa and the Arab Middle East, Iran, Afghanistan, India and Ethiopia. Some have come from Sub-Saharan Africa and the Far East.

Yet pre- and post-state Ashkenazim often exhibited racist attitudes. Sephardi and Mizrachi Jews were welcomed to swell the young nation’s population but under-funded regarding housing and education. In his book Spies of No Country, Israeli author Matti Friedman notes how Mizrachi Jews spied for Israel’s “Arab Section” during the War of Independence but were looked down on as “blacks.”

Racism isn’t gone, but it has been much reduced. Mizrachim and Sephardim make up half the population—and vote. Also, military service and a growing economy have brought together Israelis from all backgrounds. My cousin Maxine has a son-in-law whose family comes from Iran and Yemen. We spent last Passover with our cross-cultural family at the ancient fortress of Masada overlooking the Dead Sea. I love Tsachi’s family the way I love the varied backgrounds of my fellow Sherith Israel congregants and friends newer to Judaism—African-American, Korean, Mexican, Chinese and other. 

The Torah states, “The stranger (ger, later considered by the sages to mean proselyte) who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself…” (Leviticus 19:34).The commandment to love the stranger appears at least 36 times in the Torah. I hope Ashkenazim everywhere take this to heart.

I also hope that Jews of color will refrain from turning inward. Be’chol Lashon (“In every tongue”), headquartered in San Francisco, runs programs and a summer camp for Jewish kids of color. It enables them to look in the communal mirror and see themselves. That’s good. In a Christian-dominant society, Ashkenazi Jews don’t always get to do that, either. But will Be’chol Lashon remain necessary ten or twenty years from now? It would be wonderful to see the organization eventually disband because it’s simply not needed.

So, I extend a plea to Jews of color: Don’t turn away from me. That would hurt us all.

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STATE OF DISUNION

Tuesday night, as always, I watched the State of the Union address. As always, I suffered. I drew two conclusions: You’ve seen one State of the Union, you’ve seen almost all. And, it’s time to amend the SOTU, mandated by the Constitution’s article II, section 3, with seven new rules:

1. 30-minute time limit. Netflix’s “Grace and Frankie” can tell a story in 30 minutes or less, so can our president. For that matter, Congress has passed some legislation in less time. A president who can’t reduce his/her lofty platitudes to half an hour should one million dollars of campaign funds per overtime minute. At the 35-minute mark, TV and radio networks should be forced off the air. Disclosure: My mind turned to jelly well before 60 minutes into you-know-who’s 82-minute address.

2. No guests. This emotional manipulation is no less obscene than corporations’ TV commercials, which deliver platitudes but no specifics about what said corporations are doing to right the wrongs they’ve done—like overcharging for drugs and wrongfully foreclosing on people’s homes. Besides, TV’s few remaining soap operas appear mornings and afternoons. Disclosure: My mother Blanche was a big soap fan.

3. No standing or applauding. Do presidents and their staffs take us for fools? The answer is obvious. Members of Congress in the president’s party stand and whoop at least every sixty seconds while members of the opposition party sit on their hands. Except when the president forces the opposition to endorse motherhood, apple pie and the flag. Well, the flag gets contentious. What a waste of time. I could be watching Sports Center or the Warriors’ pre-game show.

4. No chanting, “USA! USA!” I’ll wager with anyone that the members of Congress, justices of the Supreme Court, military joint chiefs and assorted hangers-on know that they—and most of us—are citizens of the United States of America. If they’re unsure prior to the performance, they can check their passports. One allowable exception: Homer Simpson doing the chanting. If the White House and Congress are going to produce a comedy, they should do it right.

5. No bragging. Dramamine, please! It’s hard to escape the nausea caused by presidents regaling us with their fantastic accomplishments—all seasoned (i.e. skewed, slanted, distorted) with half-lies, outright lies and statistics. One bright spot: Many people get paid well by the media to serve as fact-checkers and shed light on presidential falsehoods ranging from slight to egregious. They get plenty of overtime, too. America needs growth industries.

6. No platitudes. Forget what I wrote in #1. Everyone agrees on national security, a growing economy and good infrastructure along with affordable healthcare and educational opportunities. Besides, if the state of the union is always strong, why do presidents keep carping on these issues? 

7. Eliminate calls for bipartisanship. More Dramamine! Presidents lead and are beholden to their parties. Sure, bipartisanship can bind many of our nation’s wounds. But the time to call for it is when presidential and congressional candidates stump for their parties’ nominations . . . Finished laughing? 

Let me know if you want to add anything—like a president who shuts down the government or rails against being investigated not being allowed to give the next year’s SOTU on Capitol Hill. That might unite us all.

Do away with the State of the Union altogether? Check Kevin Williamson’s “Great Caesar’s Ghost” in National Review (1-28-14). Thanks to Ron Eaton for sending it my way.

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SCHULTZ VS. TRUMP

Last Sunday, Howard Schultz of Starbucks renown announced he would explore a presidential run as a third-party centrist. Democrats attacked: He’d siphon away enough voters to give Trump a victory. Trump supporters celebrated. But let’s look closer.

While Schultz stands head and shoulders above Trump as a human being (and businessperson), I’m also not thrilled he’s exploring a presidential run. Of course, he’ll be his own man beholden to no one; he has enough money to fund his campaign. But Howard Schultz isn’t prepared to be president no matter how noble his thoughts and how civil his demeanor.

Disclosure: In my novel San Café, I drew on Starbucks for Mobys, the coffee-hustling corporation that seeks to control the affairs of the Central American nation of San Cristo. I presented Mobys’ chairman as a right-wing megalomaniac. He was not patterned on Howard Schultz. 

That said, Schultz has no experience in government. To many voters, that’s attractive—a man uncorrupted by the system. It’s also folly. Lack of government experience—witness Donald Trump—can be disastrous despite soundness of character (Schultz, not Trump). Example: several days ago, Trump called his senior intelligence officials “naïve.” Government’s complexities far exceed those of a private company or corporation. So do the consequences of its failings.

Michael Bloomberg, former Democratic mayor of New York, advised Schultz that he has no shot as an independent. Bloomberg may throw his hat in the ring as a Democrat. Yes, he’s a business titan (also way more successful than Trump). but 12 years in New York’s city hall offered preparation to take on the office’s challenges.

So, by this fall or winter at the latest, Howard Schultz will—pardon me—wake up and smell the venti-cinnamon-shortbread-latte-whipped-cream-for-sure.  He’ll also be done promoting his new book.  Howard Schultz will not run against Donald Trump. 

No one will.

“Donald Trump 2020” may cause the hearts of his MAGA base to flutter, but Trump is toxic. And you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. The Office of the Special Commissioner, aka Robert Mueller III, is tightening the noose on Trump and those closest to him. This is no rush to judgment. Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker said this week that Mueller is close to wrapping up his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. If Whitaker thinks Mueller’s report will appear in February or March, he’s wishing under the influence. 

The end, however, is approaching. Mueller obtained seven indictments against Trump sidekick Roger Stone. Stone approached WikiLeaks when requested by a “senior campaign official.” That official was prompted by a “higher up.” Mueller knows who they are. They know Mueller knows. Expect more indictments at the highest levels, very possibly including one or more of the Trump family—Donald Jr., Eric, Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner. 

When will Mueller release his report? May, June or early September. Summer’s a bad time. The report will provide American voters and politicians what they need to go forward. I suspect it also will reveal that Trump instructed someone to pursue the Russia-WikiLeaks connection or was advised about it and remained silent. Result: His resignation sometime between impeachment—unless he wakes up and smells the coffee (from McDonald’s)—and trial in the Senate. 

That will leave him even farther on the sidelines than Howard Schultz.

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