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THE CHANUKAH DILEMMA

’Tis the season when most Americans embrace Christmas. But not all. I have no intention of putting a damper on Christmas to explain the challenges this holiday presents American Jews.

I’ll start, as in the recent past, with a comic strip—this time, “Luann” by Greg Evans. On November 29, Evans began a new storyline. A secondary character, Leslie Knox, shows no interest in Christmas. His Uncle Al explains, “Les lived with a Jewish foster family till I took him in. I don’t do holidays, so he’s never had a big Christmas.” Uncle Al’s new wife states, “Well, he’s in for a treat.”

I hoped “Luann” would explore the reality that not every American celebrates Christmas, which shocks some Christians. The next two days showed Les being pessimistic about the gaudy Christmas decorations hauled out of storage. Then the storyline disappeared. Perhaps Evans was just noodling in public. Or maybe newspapers received negative feedback: Christmas and all its trappings being questioned? Un-American! I don’t know.

But what many Jews term the “Christmas Dilemma” got swept under the rug. Then the novelist and journalist Michael David Lukas wrote a New York Timesarticle titled “The Chanukah Dilemma”(12-1-18). His three-year-old daughter wondered why they don’t celebrate Christmas. He told her that Chanukah is their holiday. But he found his thoughts conflicted.

Chanukah, Lukas noted, marks the Jewish victory in 162 BCE over the Assyrian Greek king Antiochus IV, who polluted the Temple with pigs and statues of Greek gods, and attempted to destroy Judaism. The Jews rebelled, won and then cleaned and rededicated the Temple. What disturbed Lukas: The victory included killing Hellenized—assimilated—Jews. How can he teach his daughter to celebrate a holiday marking a victory over assimilation when they, American Jews, are assimilated?

Or are they? I suggest that Lukas’ desire to celebrate Chanukah rather than Christmas removes him from that “stigma.” Americans are free to choose their religious practices—or reject religion. Lukas chose Chanukah—and Judaism. He is, of course, free to choose more: Send his daughter to a Jewish pre-school then religious school at a synagogue. Later, a Jewish day school. And observe Shabbat however he’s comfortable, as well as other Jewish holidays.

Moreover, Lukas can study Torah and other Jewish subjects by reading and/or taking classes. Whatever makes him comfortable. Being an “authentic” Jew starts, as Orthodox Chabad promulgates, with performing one mitzvah at a time. Thus “authenticity” encompasses a very big tent.

“Assimilation” itself is a tricky word. Joseph married the daughter of an Egyptian priest. Moses married the daughter of a Midianite priest. Diversity in Jewish thought represents a near-2,000 year-old tradition with influence from both Christian and Muslim scholars. Jews have also welcomed elements of the cultures among which we’ve lived—food, music, language, dress. And most Israeli Jews—the “paragons of Jewishness”—exhibit little or no interest in Judaism.

Michael Lukas doesn’t need to grow a beard and wear a black hat to be Jewish. Nor does he have to hide his identity, which only gives haters the victory they seek.

The death of a non-Jew, President George H.W. Bush, who—whatever your politics—displayed admirable decency and civility, provides an important reminder. ’Tis also the season to be kinder and gentler to everyone—including ourselves.

Happy Chanukah (this is day five), and to all who celebrate Christmas, may the season bring you joy and peace.

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MBS SPEAKS

My dear American friends: I, Mohammed bin Salman, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, wish to offer perspective on the unfortunate passing of Saudi citizen Jamal Khashoggi. Prepare yourselves.

To begin, your CIA is mistaken—again. I told your president I had nothing to do with Mr. Khashoggi’s untimely demise. As he knows, when a foreign leader says “I didn’t do it” (do not see The Simpsons, season 5, episode 12), he didn’t do it. Mr. Khashoggi was strangled and dismembered. We Saudis only behead people—those who offend Islam as we define it, or commit murder (unless blood money is paid), adultery or witchcraft. I know. I not only represent Saudi law, I amthe law.

We seem to have a culture gap. Americans feel uneasy that Saudis (men only) wear beards like the Prophet, Jesus and ZZ Top, while Saudi women conceal themselves in public (eye slits do not restrict vision that much). This leads to confusion, such as Saudi’s “role” in 9/11.

Fully FOUR of the 19 hijackers were citizens of nations other than Saudi Arabia. Do the math. That’s a humongous (I love American slang) 21%. You would be thrilled if your portfolio increased 21% every year so you could experienced something of the financial fantasy enjoyed by loyal Saudi princes.

Also, some people think that as “kingpin” of OPEC, Saudi instigated oil’s rapid price rise in October 1973—and the West’s subsequent economic plunge—to hurt nations that supported Israel after Egypt and Syria attacked the self-proclaimed Jewish state. Fake news. We merely used the marketplace to express solidarity with our Arab brothers and attempt to forestall global warming. We know hot weather. And if we love big, high-performance automobiles, there are only 34 million Saudis among the planet’s 7-plus billion people. Again, do the math. How much pollution can the Kingdom produce?

Finally, do not take this Khashoggi nonsense as personal. It’s only business. My good friend Donald, who also loves gilt furniture and gold toilet seats—has explained that Saudi Arabia will purchase over $100 billion of U.S. weapons. What is a smattering of red blood against blue-collar jobs and corporate profits for white people?

In sum, America needs Saudi Arabia to depress oil prices and increase sales of American arms so we can defend your nation against our treacherous Arab brothers—Yemeni Shiites backed by Iran! Besides, their children would only grow up to be terrorists.

And without us, Jared Kushner’s secret peace plan for Israel and the Palestinians doesn’t stand a chance. Remember, Mr. Trump keeps campaigning to make America great again. Of course, he’s only had two years in office. Until America means something, the Kingdom will protect you.

A century ago, your President Calvin Coolidge said, “The business of America is business.” Would you risk your economy—especially after General Motors announced massive layoffs—by offending my Kingdom? Mr. Trump warns that we will buy arms from Russia and China, each headed by a good friend of his but nonetheless a hard-headed businessperson (I am PC).

I conclude that a so-called journalist lacking loyalty to his country (namely me) fell to a conspiracy of which I, as all-powerful Crown Prince, knew nothing. Actually, I was shocked! So dry your crocodile tears and get down to business by minding your own.

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THE SMALL THINGS

This Thursday, Americans will consume meals that leave us more stuffed than our turkeys. Hopefully, many will actually give thanks for the big things in their lives. Me? I’ve been lucky. But I’ll also give thanks for the little things.

Admittedly, I’m boring. (Read “The Least Interesting Man in the World.”) My day starts with a bowl of cereal topped with banana, blueberries and strawberries. Plus the sports section. I love it.

Then I take a walk of about a mile. I’m grateful I can still do that and pick up coffee, which I take home in a 49ers mug my son Seth bought me. I drink while I read part of the weekly Torah portion. I love that, too.

Then I write. It’s not about fame (yes, I fantasize) but passion. I had an earlier fiction-writing career decades ago, but in the face of constant rejection—even my agent couldn’t sell anything—I took a break to meet the demands of a growing family and the growing business supporting it. Years later, I wrote two non-fiction books. Solo Successwas published by Crown, New York. I independently published God’s Others—a fabulous learning experience. Then, moving towards retirement, I turned back to fiction and wrote Slick!

Another highlight of my exciting day. Carolyn and I eat dinner watching the news. (Are you nodding off yet?) Sometimes, we have leftovers. I’m thankful we can prepare enough food to have leftovers. Also to have meals delivered by Munchery for Friday night.

Shabbat delights me no end. I put the week, such as it is, to rest and seek new perspectives on life—the big picture if you will. At unfinished Friday business meetings, clients often said let’s continue tomorrow. I explained I didn’t work on Saturdays, but Sunday would be fine. We always continued on Monday.

I’m tickled about TV shows we enjoy. Cable unleashed myriad creative opportunities enabling many series to equal top independent films and novels. (Just finished Homecoming.) And reading. Especially in bed. I have a friend in Connecticut who was director of the Norwalk Public Library and sends or recommends outstanding works of fiction and non-fiction. Not everyone has their own literary curator.

I love having friends. As I’ve written before, I’m an introvert. But introverts can have very close friendships. My week’s highlight? Torah Study with my friends on Saturday morning followed by coffee and conversation ranging from deep (theirs) to inane (mine).

On Thursday, Carolyn and I will host family and friends for Thanksgiving. The sites I’ve seen include Stonehenge, the Colosseum, the Western Wall, Petra, Angkor Wat, the Taj Mahal, the Grand Canyon, Waimea Canyon and Yosemite. The most awesome? Family and friends around the table.

And I haven’t yet mentioned 30 years of The Simpsons, the view of Lobos Valley and the Pacific two blocks north of my house, praying in my synagogue Friday night followed by ice cream for dessert, doing research on the Internet (an author once told Terry Gross the Net is catnip for writers; true!), sunning (with a broad-brimmed hat) in my backyard and having ten people reading the second draft of my current novel.

Happy Thanksgiving! It’s a day to give thanks for the small stuff. To me, that’s a pretty big deal.

I’ll be teaching Torah Study tomorrow morning at Congregation Sherith Israel, 9:15–10:15 am. Join me. (Bagels and lox include.) It’s going to be “magic.”

The post will take off next weekend. It will return November 30.

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WHAT NOW?

The midterms are done. President Trump hailed a great victory (see Orwell, George, 1984). Republicans did expand their majority in the Senate, but Democrats took control of the House. What now?

I’ll begin by stating there’s no better time for Americans—religious or not—to heed Leviticus 19:18: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Espousing differences is legitimate, and recognition of this principle represents the essence of civility.

Alas, during the midterm campaigns, some on the left rejected the concept of civility. They viewed the other side, aka the far right or any conservatives, as inherently bad. Civil discourse cannot be permitted. Compromises cannot be reached.

Sadly, the nature of civility is misunderstood. Those who espouse it—centrists left and right—accept disagreement on policies and will work with their opponents to fashion win-win solutions, understanding that no one gets everything they want.

At the same time, civility’s proponents need not—shouldnot—accept the hateful rhetoric of demagogues and racists, including such statements as, “There were fine people on both sides” of the white-supremacist, anti-Semitic rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

What now? The House’s new Democratic majority, perhaps led by former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, has the opportunity to stand up for its ideals, propose legislation to transform those ideals into a reality—infrastructure for starters—and undertake governmental oversight consistent with the House’s obligations. All while reaching across the aisle.

Or, the Democrats’ left flank can inform their centrist party colleagues and Republicans that they refuse to support any legislation President Trump proposes. Period. Oh, and propose steps towards impeachment. More gridlock?

Trump and GOP members of Congress may launch their own gridlock initiative by blocking any and all Democratic proposals. Period. At least they’ll be consistent. The White House may also seek to impede the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 elections. On Wednesday, Trump asked for—and received—the resignation of Attorney General Jeff , whose recusal from overseeing the investigation angered Trump no end.

Trump filled the post of acting AG with Matthew Whitaker, who has publicly cast doubts on the Robert Mueller-led investigation. By the way, earlier this morning Trump said he doesn’t know Whitaker—just his reputation. Then again, Trump once denied knowing who former KKK grand dragon David Duke was. A true innocent!

The Whitaker appointment stirred a hornet’s nest. Some legal scholars believe that a constitutional crisis exists: the president cannot appoint an acting head of a cabinet-level department without consent of the Senate. And while Mueller may be overseeing the writing of the final report, will Whitaker attempt to withdraw funding for its completion. Or, if too late, will he withhold it from Congress? If he’s still around? Democratic pushback is a certainty.

And bank on this: A Democratic committee chair willsubpoena Trump’s tax returns. Trump will refuse. The matter will end up in the Supreme Court. Things will get uglier.

If we actually believed in our national motto E pluribus unum—Out of many, one—we’d find ways to accommodate each other. But centrists may represent only a minority of Americans. And Trump will do everything possible to divide rather than unite a nation inexorably headed towards a majority of minorities—many whites’ greatest fear.

What now? I can only propose that civility beats civil war.

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TRUMPINOCCHIO

I’m TrumPinocchio & I want to be a Real Boy, not a Wooden Knockoff. But my Nose grows every time I Lie. Which I NEVER. Hold on. Have to hold iPhone I’m texting on farther away.

Sure, sometimes I exaggggerate. That 400-lb. Guy in bed who hacked Democratic National Committee’s emails? He only goes 350. Not in shape like my Pal Vlad Putin, who told me Russia DIDN’T do it. That’s settled!! Wait. Have to push iPhone away some more.

I love the American people. But not Crooked Hillary. She put our security in jeopardy using her own email server. Treason! That’s why loyal Americans scream, “Lock her up!” I just use my iPhones. China listens? Xi Jinping’s my Pal. Time out. Another phone adjustment.

Liberals hate me because they can’t handle The Truth. Like Criminal Hordes trying to get into America through Mexxxico. Nine-year-old girls do Terrible Things when they run in Packs of Two. Enemies of the People—CNN & Failing New York Times—don’t report that half infant boys storming border are members of MS-13. Whoa.Tough to use phone at this distance.

So much Hate. Horrible. Can’t we respect different opinions? Fine People marched in Charlottesville along with what Fake Media—Enemy of the People—called White Supremacists. What’s wrong with saying America needs more Norwegians? Last Monday, why did Jews jump all over Mike Pence for inviting Messianic Rabbi to his campaign rally. Of course Rabbi prayed in the name of Jesus the Messiah. More Jews accepting Jesus every day like regular Americans do. Crap! Hard to poke right Keeyzs.

Real Truth? Election coming. Republicans will win 75% of seats. Why? America loves ME, the Great Uniter!!!! That’s why I didn’t call Barack Obama (Fake American!) or Crooked Hillary (lock her up!) or anyone else (like that Globalist—I never said Jewish—Immigrant Lover George Soros) after that “Bomb Stuff.” One cranky American with a van covered by Trump Stuff means nothing. Screen getting fuzzy. New glasses?

That “Bomb Stuff” & that synagogue Shooting? (Congregants should have been carrying!) Excuse for Enemy of the People to stop covering my campaign rallies. They sent crews to Pittsburgh. Squirrel Hill. Probably Democratic neighborhood. I went to Pittsburgh. Lots of protestors. Simple message for those traitors: Guns don’t kill People. Patriots riled up by Traitors kill people.

Night after the Shooting? I told Real Americans we can’t let Sicko interrupt Campaigning. Or Baseball. I campaigned. Also tweeted about terrible Dodgers pitching change in Game 4 of World Series. (LOSERS!!) Next day I tweeted about Guts, which I have more than Anyone (along with Very Large Brain): “Just watched Wacky Tom Steyer, who I have not seen in action before, be interviewed by @jaketapper. He comes off as a crazed & stumbling lunatic who should be running out of money pretty soon.” “Bomb Stuff” shows up on Wacko’s doorstep, he cries. BOO HOO!!!

They say President sets moral tone for nation. That’s why I’m bringing Ammerikka together in Peece & Harmonie. Damn! Phone duct-taped to wall. Hard to type with tip of Nose but getting Hannnggh of it.

Wait till Midterms. Then 2020. Americans will see me as a REAL Boy. Who knows? Maybe someday I’ll become a Real Man.

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BLOOD MONEY

In J.C. Duffy’s October 20 comic panel “The Fusco Brothers,” a waitress asks a brother, “How did you get hold of a kid’s menu?” Answer: “You’d be surprised how easy it is to overpower a 10-year-old.” There went the lame Saudi excuse about the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The Saudis first denied Khashoggi was murdered. Then they claimed he got into a fistfight and died from a chokehold. A 60-year-old man duking it out with 15 security men? The excuse was laughable—except to Donald Trump. But then, Trump thought a 400-lb. guy lying in his bed may have hacked Democratic National Committee emails preceding the 2016 election. Finally, the Saudis conceded the murder—a rogue operation—was premeditated.

Still, what’s wrong with violence against journalists? At a Montana rally, Trump supported Representative Greg Gianforte, who body-slammed journalist Ben Jacobs in May 2017 and pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault.“ Any guy who can do a body slam, he’s my kinda guy.”

Yesterday morning, Trump tweeted about pipe bombs sent to the Clintons, Barack Obama, others and CNN: “A very big part of the Anger we see today in our society is caused by the purposely false and inaccurate reporting of the Mainstream Media that I refer to as Fake News.” There’s a reason for pipe bombs. Maybe the suspect arrested this morning, Cesar Sayoc Jr., will enlighten us.

Re Khashoggi, Trump was not required to jump to conclusions and demand the ouster of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Sultan (MBS), Saudi’s de facto ruler. But he didhave to publiclyproject America’s concern about the U.S.-Saudi relationship. And mean it.

Trump hedged. So did investment managers who attended MBS’ three-day global investment conference in Riyadh. Some prominent Americans bowed out. They included treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin (who nonetheless went to Riyadh), the CEOs of Blackstone Group, JPMorgan Chase, and American, British and Dutch officials. Attendees remained hungry to do business. Many also seemed embarrassed. Alan Rappeport wrote in The New York Times (October 23): “Bankers kept their name tags obscured behind ties.”

But not too embarrassed. According to Rappeport, Tally Zingher, chief executive of Dawsat, a healthcare start-up, “considered not attending, but decided that she was not prominent enough to make a statement by skipping the conference.” Michael Slater of Northern Trust (disclosure: I wrote marketing pieces for Northern Trust years ago), said of the murder, “It’s just noise to me. The people I need to see are here, and that’s what I care about.” Deals made amounted to tens of billions of dollars.

The Khashoggi murder also seems to be noise to Trump. While acknowledging a serious cover-up, he refrains from halting arms sales of $110 billion to the Kingdom and withdrawing our support from its civilian-targeting war in Yemen. At stake: security (it’s against Iranian proxies), corporate profits (political support) and jobs (votes). To Trump, now a self-proclaimed “nationalist” with its dog-whistle implications, American interests come down to money. That includes blood money.

The world can be nasty. Accordingly, Washington often allies with nations of questionable—or horrible—political and human rights records. But presidents engaged in realpolitik still must advocate principles of law and decency and push nations to achieve them. Otherwise, like Lady Macbeth, they’ll never clean the blood off their hands—and ours.

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WHAT’S IN A NAME?

People often ask me how I pronounce my name: Perl•stine (long “i”) or Perl•steen (long “e”). The latter is accurate. I appreciate the inquiries. Most people try to get others’ names right as a mark of respect. Some self-important people don’t.

As it happens, my family name was probably pronounced Per•el•shtine when in 1906 my grandparents landed at Ellis Island from Warsaw with three young children, including 2-1/2-year-old Moishe Chaim (my father). Moishe became Morris, and everyone else took an Americanized first names. Still, the family’s naturalization certificate (1914) displays the name Perelstein. Shortly after, the second “e” disappeared.

We value our names. The Torah relates that people sought to build a tower to the heavens (the Tower of Babel) to make a name for themselves (Genesis 11). In Genesis 12:2, God promises Abram (later Abraham), “I will make your name great.”

Shakespeare throws this tenet a curve. “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” says Juliet in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. She’s a Capulet and loves a Montague—the name alone sufficient to earn her family’s displeasure. Call Romeo “a Montague,” and you label him a monster.

As kids, we defended ourselves from schoolyard bullies who mangled our names or hurled epithets with “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names (or words) will never harm me.” This lesson seems lost on our Schoolyard Bully-in-Chief.

At a recent political rally in Iowa, Donald Trump errantly referred to California’s Democratic Senator Diane Feinstein as Fein•steen. It’s Finestine(long “I” in both syllables). Am I quibbling? I think not. Senator Feinstein has become the latest object of Trump rallies’ chants of “Lock her up.” Because she opposed Trump in the matter of Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court, Trump sought a way to lash out. What better way for a 12-year-old to advance political discourse than to mispronounce the name of an opponent.

Also, to “dog whistle” a key message to his supporters. I suspect Trump well knows how Senator Feinstein pronounces her name but wanted to remind his supporters that the Senator is—gasp—Jewish. The real pronunciation might mislead them into thinking her background (and that of her second husband whose name stayed with her) German.

As it happens, Trump’s paternal grandfather Americanized his name from Drumpf. Nothing wrong with that. But Senator Feinstein had to be called out since a significant segment of the far-right exudes anti-Semitism, including those who marched in Charlottesville, Virginia last year chanting, “Jews will not replace us.”

Ah, you say, the President’s daughter Ivanka is Jewish. She converted to marry Jared Kushner. Good luck. When Trump stated re Charlottesville that there were good people on bothsides, he threw Ivanka and Jared under the bus. Unless he numbers these particular Jews among “the good ones” who toe the Republican line enumerated by Christian conservatives and white supremacists (they sometimes overlap) lamenting white people’s loss of their “rights”—a euphemism for monopolistic political, economic and social power.

Yes, sometimes people address me as Perl•stine. I correct them. They appreciate it. They understand the integrity names because they hold others in regard. Such esteem was offered a few years back in the Oval Office. I hope it will be again—soon.

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THE CORROBORATION CONUNDRUM

In February 1942, the notorious gangster Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel went on trial in Los Angeles for the 1939 murder of fellow mobster Harry “Big Greenie” Greenberg. One of the killers, Allie Tannenbaum, agreed to cooperate. However, District Attorney John F. Dockweiler faced a problem.

California law demanded corroboration by a second witness. The state had that witness: Abe “Kid Twist” Reles, a feared hit man for New York’s Murder, Inc. (Yes, there once were a lot of vicious Jewish gangsters.) Before the trial, the New York Police Department stashed Reles away under 24-hour guard at Coney Island’s Half Moon Hotel. Somehow, the canary flew out the sixth-story window. Lacking wings, he was unable to reach L.A. to sing.

No mob historian would exonerate Bugsy Siegel (a character in the new novel I’m writing). But the requirement for corroboration—or hard evidence—handcuffed Judge A.A. Scott. He dismissed the case.

The recent Senate Judiciary Committee hearing—not a trial—on now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh brings the Siegel trial to mind. Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testified under oath that as a teenager, she’d been sexually assaulted by a drunken teen-age Brett Kavanaugh. The charges came late in the day, and the committee reassembled to probe the matter. The hearing seemed awkward and incomplete. At the last minute, the FBI ran a short, limited investigation. No corroboration appeared.

Democrats, believing Dr. Ford, supported her. Republicans, with no corroboration to spoil their likely victory, supported Judge Kavanaugh. The 50–48 confirmation vote fell almost strictly along party lines with one crossover on each side: Republican Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) against and Democrat Joe Manchin (West Virginia) for.

The Kavanaugh nomination and hearing divided America. The Great Divider, aka Donald Trump, first found Dr. Ford’s testimony credible, then cited the lack of corroboration, then ridiculed Dr. Ford, then called her testimony a Democratic hoax.

Does corroboration matter? Trump declared that young men must be wary of being victimized by women who attack their character with false claims. He’s hardly a reliable source for such advice. Moreover, millions of women have horrible stories to tell. But Republicans correctly cited corroboration as a basic tenet of American jurisprudence. The accused is presumed innocent; the burden of proof lies with the state.

Still, lack of corroboration did not disprove Dr. Ford’s claim. Moreover, women who have survived sexual assaults ranging from thoughtless and disrespectful to violent often cannot provide corroboration. When they do, their complaints frequently are dismissed, generally by men too busy with “other important matters” and, frankly, unconcerned.

I believe that Brett Kavanaugh assaulted Susan Blasey Ford. However, I do not knowit. This I doknow: The oft-scowling Mr. Kavanaugh, through his belligerence, disrespect towards Democratic members of the Judiciary Committee and partisan statements, resembled a teenager caught with his pants down, snarling and screaming to apply a verbal fig leaf. For this alone, I would have voted against confirmation.

That said, corroboration matters and hence America’s conundrum. We must follow our judicial principles in spite of what we “know” about the accused. That’s why Bugsy Siegel had his case dismissed.

Justice, however, sometimes is served in other ways. In 1947, Ben Siegel met his through a gangland assassination. Regarding Brett Kavanaugh, history may render an unkind verdict.

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HOOPS, GENESIS AND CANCER

Last Monday, Boston Celtics basketball star Kyrie Irving apologized for saying that the earth is flat. A plethora of questionable beliefs challenge science. They threaten our individual and national health.

The Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky dismisses evolution. Its website states, “The Creation Museum shows why God´s infallible Word, rather than man’s faulty assumptions, is the place to begin if we want to make sense of our world.” Its exhibits include the Garden of Eden. Adam is seen only from above the waist—and he’s ripped! Down I-75 in Williamstown, Ark Encounter offers a life-size Noah’s ark and all the animals—including dinosaurs.

Dinosaurs? Despite the work of paleontologists, creationists believe the world is 6,000 years old. This is consistent with the Rabbis of the Talmudic era, whose math included the lifespans of the first humans, Abraham and his descendants plus various events and later monarchial reigns. So this past Rosh Hashanah, the world turned 5,779.

But other than perhaps some ultra-orthodox sects, Jews don’t take Genesis literally. Maimonides (1135-1204), the great Spanish physician/philosopher, even declared Torah to be metaphor.

The first chapters of Genesis (B’reishit) pose question after question that delineate Torah as mythos, not science. The sun was created on the fourthday. What constituted days one through three? A different concept of “day.” It required no sunrises and sunsets. “There was morning and there was evening” because God created light apart from the sun and separated it from darkness.

And who were the people Cain feared after he killed his brother Abel? Where did his wife come from? This puzzled the Rabbis, too. Some posited that Cain and Abel each had twin sisters, although the biblical text doesn’t mention of them. Adam and Eve conceived Seth, from whom all humanity descends. Did Seth have incestuous relations with one or more of his aunts? His uncle’s daughters? Or did God create other humans right after Adam and Eve and keep them in reserve? Beats me. But it’s fascinating.

Questioning has been the key to studying Torah for two thousand years. I deeply appreciate the scholar Richard Elliott Friedman (Commentary on the Torah) writing of Gen. 1:17 (“in the image of God”), “Whatever it means…” and of Gen. 5:24 (“and he [Enoch] was not”), “I do not know what this means.”

That’s precisely because Torah involves something other than science. According to Friedman (on Gen. 2:1), the biblical creation story “…conveys a particular conception of the relationship between humans and the cosmos, of the relations between the sexes, of the linear flow of time, of the Sabbath.” This provides lots to think about, which is why I’ve read the weekly Torah portion for the past 25 years and attended Torah Study at Congregation Sherith Israel for the past 20.

Science also thrives on questioning. Theories evolve. They must be proved. They can be disproved. New theories take their place. Empiricism, not faith, guides critical decisions. That’s why, despite the recent outbreak of global anti-vaccine hysteria, Australia just announced it could eliminate cervical cancer in the next two decades by vaccinating children against the cancer-causing papillomavirus.

Faith need not make apologies. It has its place. But faith should render unto science what is science’s. As when creationist theme parks harness computer science to advertise on the Internet.

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DEMOCRACY’S NOT DEAD YET

Several nights ago, I heard a symphony of foghorns. I live two miles from the Pacific and half that distance from San Francisco’s Baker Beach and the Golden Gate. Yet extended periods of time often pass between my visits to the beach to admire the ocean’s size, energy and mystery.

So it is with much in life. Beauty and wonder often are much closer than we realize. Politics, war and disasters—natural and man-made—attract our attention. We close our eyes and minds to the good that also surrounds us.

Another matter relates. Tomorrow (Saturday) night, Jews will celebrate Simchat Torah (Joy of the Torah). Then or on Sunday, synagogues will unroll a Torah scroll and read the last verses of the year’s final portion, V’zot HaB’rachah(And This is the Blessing), which concludes with Moses’ death. Without a pause, reading will continue with the first verses of B’reishit(Genesis) with which the Torah starts, presenting creation and life.

Why read the same text year after year? The scholar Jeffrey Tigay explains that we find new insights on every page (as we might at the beach or in a forest), “not because the Torah has changed, but because we have changed since we read it a year ago.”

Looking past immediate concerns, Americans can gain new perspectives on our present situation and our past—hear the call of the Liberty Bell too often drowned out by shouting. We may discover that the nation’s strengths outweigh its weaknesses.

I’m not wearing rose-colored glasses. As I write, I’m gazing at the cover of October’s The Atlantic. This special edition asks a disturbing question: “Is democracy dying?” Editor-in-chief Jeffrey Goldberg titles his introduction “The Crisis in Democracy.” A toxic brew of populism, tribalism, Donald Trump and technology worries a number of The Atlantic’s writers and contributors. Nothing new here. A recent edition of Foreign Affairsconsidered the same matter. The non-Fox media continue to do so.

Sure, there’s plenty of worry to go around. Witness the hyper-partisanship surrounding yesterday’s Senate testimony by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanagh. Yet America weathered previous storms.

White people enslaved black people. The Ku Kux Klan promoted racism and segregation not just in the South but all over the country. Universities and medical schools restricted Jewish matriculation. Women couldn’t vote until 1920. In the 1930s, upwards of thirty million Americans listened to Father Charles Coghlan’s anti-Semitic radio broadcasts. After Pearl Harbor, Franklin Roosevelt ordered the internment of Japanese-Americans. Throughout our history, the nation also suffered a series of economic depressions and, of course, 9/11.

Un-democratic, prejudicial laws and customs have always had strong proponents. Hence the secession of the Southern states leading to the Civil War, considerable opposition to women’s suffrage in Congress and later political maneuvering like Richard Nixon’s southern strategy. All these battered and bruised American democracy. We moved forward.

I’ll give the last word to New York Times columnist Roger Cohen, writing from Greece: “Democracy is stubborn. It raises our gaze. It is the system that best enshrines the unshakable human desire to be free. Athens reminds us of that. America reminds us of that. It fails. It falls short of John Winthrop’s ‘city upon a hill.’ It strives still to fail better.”

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