Archive for December, 2019

QUEENS SYNDROME

I’m not spoiling season three of Amazon Prime’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel when I say I love the show, but one episode offended me.

Midge Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan) declares that her son will attend private school on Manhattan’s Upper West Side and not a public school in Queens. With those people. I’m one of those people—P.S. 174, Russell Sage Junior High (J.H.S. 190) and Forest Hills High. I’m no big deal, but many outstanding people (and some less so) come from Queens and the other “outer boroughs”—Brooklyn, the Bronx, Staten Island.

As a kid, I never heard the term outer boroughs. It’s a pejorative used by Manhattanites—many from Ohio, Nebraska, Alabama and California—describing the uncouth working people whose sole function is serving the interests of the educated, taste-making elite living on the only island worth inhabiting. Until rents forced many trendy, stylish citizens to flee to Brooklyn (Park Slope, Williamsburg) and from there to—gasp!—Queens (Astoria, Long Island City).

Actually, I’m not all that terribly put out, but— Okay, I am. Queens Syndrome is typical of attitudes throughout America. Manhattan looks down on Queens. New York City looks down on New Jersey and, well, almost everywhere. The coasts look down on the heartland. The East Coast looks down on the Atlantic shore south of Washington, D.C. excepting South Florida.

Those put down as near-Neanderthals (who were quite accomplished) return the favor. The heartland condemns coastal elites as fake Americans surrounding themselves with dangerous immigrants (to garden, work in restaurants).

Note: Chicago is the hub of the Midwest, but Cook County’s Mexican-American population numbers over 750,000. Then there’s the Windy City’s huge African American population. And history as a Democratic bastion. For many conservatives, Chicago is a city to scorn along with New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland and Seattle. Faux-heartland cities like Dallas and Atlanta are also upsetting the conservative apple cart.

America’s problem is that many people refuse to look past geography and ethnicity. Different becomes a synonym for bad. Differences exist among varying cultures but also considerable similarities. Still, how can you possibly talk to thosepeople. Those Queensites!

Sadly, America’s divide—hardly new but more public these past three years—has encouraged the rest of the world to widen its own long-standing rifts. It’s okay in Europe to be anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant. Look at the U.S. It’s fine for India’s Hindu nationalists to bar immigrant Muslims from citizenship. (As it stands, India has 200 million Muslim citizens.) And if China terrorizes its Uighur Muslims, so what? Hiding behind security concerns, Donald Trump signed an executive order banning immigrants, refugees and visitors from seven nations, five predominantly Muslim.

Of course, Islamists seek to impose their version of Islam on fellow Muslims. Blood flows. They also target others. Christians in Muslim lands are suffering. Jews—not only Israel—remain objects of hatred. But don’t confuse Islamists with Muslims who wish to live in peace with the world.

Entering 2020, my Queens soul offers bad news and good. The bad: Baseless hatred will continue. Half the world believes I’m going to hell. The good: We can abate such hatred if only we demonstrate the will.

We could start by trashing the term outer boroughs.

In spite of what you just read, Happy New Year!

The post, following this feverish bout of writing, will take two weeks off and return on Friday, January 17.

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WHAT IS A JEW?

On December 11, President Trump held a Chanukah party at the White House where he signed an executive order combatting anti-Semitism. The New York Times reported that the order defines America’s Jews as sharing a national origin. It doesn’t. So what is a Jew?

The order relates to Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibiting discrimination based on, among other things, national origin. But the order targets not discrimination against Jews but those who call for the delegitimization or destruction of Israel. It also states that federal agencies “shall not diminish or infringe upon any right protected under Federal law or under the First Amendment.” Confusing.

There should be no confusion that Jews are not defined by country of national origin. Many American Jews were born overseas. Most were born in the U.S.A. So what is a Jew?

To many Christians, a Jew is an adherent of the Jewish religion. But Judaism defines only part of the Jewish world. Most American Jews maintain no synagogue affiliation yet still identify as Jews.

Jews are a people. We’re joined not only by religion but any combination of secular factors such as family descent; shared history; use—even limited—of Hebrew, Yiddish, Ladino or Jewish Arabic; Israel; humor; education and attitudes; and to no small extent food.

Jews do not constitute a race. For over 2,000 years, Judaism identified anyone born of a Jewish mother as a Jew. Four decades ago, the Reform movement accorded Jewish identity to children of non-Jewish mothers but Jewish fathers if the children received a Jewish education. In either case, the “other” parent can be of any ethnicity.

Sadly, genetics have doomed non-Jews. Nazi Germany’s Nuremberg Laws  defined a Jew as anyone with one Jewish grandparent. Many “Jewish” Holocaust victims were Catholics or Protestants. In response, Israel’s Law of Return allows anyone with one Jewish grandparent to reside in the country, although he or she may not be considered Jewish by government-sanctioned religious authorities.

More reason to abandon the racial hypothesis: Anyone may convert to Judaism. At the recent Biennial of the Union for Reform Judaism, URJ president Rabbi Rick Jacobs pointed out, “Between 10 and 20 percent of North American Jews are Jews of Color.” Many are born-Jewish children and grandchildren of converts.

Anti-Semites, alas, will keep hating Jews, even if they have no idea what a Jew is, believes or stands for. Sadly, the White House again offered anti-Semites a measure of support.

When the president signed his executive order, guests included the evangelical Christian leader Robert Jeffress. An ardent supporter of Israel, Jeffress, like many evangelicals, believes that only when all Jews go to the Holy Land will Jesus return. Jews then can accept Jesus or go to hell. As Jeffress said in 2010, “You can’t be saved by being a Jew.”

I wonder how the president’s daughter Ivanka, son-in-law Jared and grandchildren take the news that they can’t go to heaven.

Here on earth, Jeffress’ and other pastors’ statements, made in the name of theology and thus supposedly above reproach, create an image of Jews as “less than.” As Chanukah nears, they not only fail to light a candle in the darkness, they add fuel to the fires of anti-Semitism the president claims he wants to put out.

Happy Chanukah, Marry Christmas, Happy Kwanzaa—Peace!

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BLACK IS WHITE

In 1949, George Orwell published his iconic novel of dystopia, 1984. It presented the world divided into three with Orwell’s England part of Oceania, ruled by the tyrant—or perhaps an avatar—Big Brother. The key to Big Brother’s power was twisting language: war is peace, freedom slavery, ignorance strength. The two articles of impeachment brought against Donald Trump bring Orwell to mind.

On November 21st, Joe Garofoli in the San Francisco Chronicle assessed Republicans’ take on the impeachment inquiry. The conservative writer Brent Bozell tried to undercut a witness who appeared before the House Intelligence Committee, U.S. ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland. Sondland testified that yes, there was a quid pro quo. Bozell’s tweeted observation: “Listen to Sondland and you’ll understand why Americans elected Donald Trump to get rid of people like Sondland.”

Black for Bozell and countless others is white. Gordon Sondland, whom Donald Trump claimed not to know all that well—after Sondland testified—donated one million dollars to Trump’s inauguration. Hard to miss a guy like that. In turn, Trump appointed Sondland, who made his fortune with hotels, to his ambassadorial post. (Reminder: Wealthy donors with no experience in statecraft often receive such posts, sometimes critical ones, from presidents of either party.)

It appears that Americans had no intention of electing Trump so he could get rid of people like Sondland, because Sondland represents not the “deep state” but the moneyed state to which Trump caters.

And there is another Orwellian-type term: Deep state. This nation has—at least, had—a large roster of career professionals in the State and Defense Departments, among others. These folks, unlike Sondland, are not political appointees but career civil servants carrying out the nation’s business with hard-earned expertise.

But what better way to whip the far right into a frenzy than to claim a plot by these unelected professionals without whom the nation faces dissolving relationships with other countries, challenges to forming and maintaining economic and military alliances, and roadblocks to gathering intelligence regarding hostile nations and terrorist groups such as ISIS.

Then again, the far right believes in Fortress America going it alone. Yet for me, the image ofDeep Stateconjures not a threat by invisible men and women bent on violating our Constitution but the classic TV show, X-Files. The show loved conspiracies and portrayed a fictional deep with tongue in cheek.

During one meeting of the deep state’s small committee of movers and shakers, their leader, the Cigarette Man (played marvelously by William B. Davis), takes the group through the day’s order of business. In concluding, he insists that the Buffalo Bills never win the Super Bowl. Football fans got the joke. The Bills had appeared in four straight Super Bowls from 1991-94 and lost them all.

Now let’s go to last Monday. The Justice Department’s inspector general determined that the FBI had mishandled some of the processes regarding investigating foreign interference in the 2016 presidential campaign but the decision to investigate was proper and devoid of political prejudice. Trump’s response: The report was worse than he thought it would be. The FBI engaged in an “attempted overthrow” of the government.

So yes, black is white. Take it from the Oval Office. Or should I say, the Ellipsoid Headquarters of Alternative Reality?

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GOD SETS THINGS STRAIGHT

Days before Thanksgiving, energy secretary Rick Perry reassured Donald Trump that God mandated his election to the Oval Office. Perry told the president “. . . if you’re a believing Christian you understand God’s plan for the people who rule and judge over us on this planet in our government.” As a Jew, I wondered. So I went to the Source.*

God anticipated my first question. “This guy wrote this book God’s Others. He says the Jewish view is, I’m the universalistic God—the God of all the earth—of a particularistic religion, in his case Judaism.’” This guy, I said.That’s me! “I figured you could use a plug. Anyway, long story short, I created the heavens and the earth and all humanity. Religion? Whatever’s comfortable. But no religion can claim to know it all. All I ever wanted from any religion was two things.”

What’s the first? I asked. “Go with some form of the Ten Commandments. Eleven? Twelve? That’s cool. The Jews, I gave 613. But you don’t have to have a formal list. Which means? “Just be good to each other. I said that in that old movie, Oh, God. Well, George Burns said it. Nice casting.”

And the second thing? “Be careful about claiming to speak for me.”

But Rick Perry said you put King David and King Solomon on the throne and like Trump, they were imperfect. “Perry—anyone—really knows what I was thinking? I saw potential in David and Solomon, and they delivered on some things. They also screwed up. Bigtime. David with the killing and the women. Solomon with the 300 wives and 500 concubines, and all those taxes. I didn’t let David build My Temple, and after Solomon died, his kingdom split in two. After that, I left people to their own choices—if and when they could make them. Know why?” No, why? I asked. “Parents have to let their children grow up.”

God was on a roll. “Genghis Khan, Oliver Cromwell, Kaiser Wilhelm, Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Kim Jong-un in power? Wasn’t me, either.”

But some Christians insist You made Trump president. “I fixed 63 million votes for Trump, 66 million for Hillary and six million or so for third-party-candidates? I made other voters stay home? You want a president, you elect him. Or her. You screw up? It’s on you. Besides, I have better things to do with My time.”

Like what? “Crewel work. There’s also My nightly mahjongg game with the heavenly host. You sound like my mother. Blanche is her own dynamic force and I respect that, so she sits in on Tuesdays. Sometimes, she lets Me win. In return, I keep your father Morris well-fed in My Great Deli in the Sky. Not to mention supplying him cigars ten times better than those four-for-a-buck Garcia-Vegas he had you pick up at the candy store when you were a kid.”

So then maybe you could . . . “Break the rules? Make you president so you can fly on Air Force One and on Chanukah light the national chanukiah in one of the White House’s front windows? I love to see you enjoy yourself, Dovidl, but fixing America’s elections is someone else’s shtick.”

You mean? “Yup. That job was seized by the Kremlin.”

*God’s comments constitute fiction and are not meant, in whole or in part, to represent God’s actual thoughts as related to me in confidence.

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