Author Archive

DONALD TO KIM—GAME ON

Posted Jun 8 2018 by in OUR WORLD with 4 Comments

Preparing for the U.S.–North Korea summit on June 12, Donald Trump sent a letter of introduction to Kim Jong-un. It was leaked. I present it unedited.

Dear Kim:

Can I call you Kim? Call me Donald. I like first names. Hold that. This guy looking over my shoulder says Koreans put their family names before their Christian names. Dumb! But who am I to judge? Well, you know Who. But calling you Jong or Jong-un seems weird. Like that kimchi cabbage stuff you guys eat.

I’ll call you Kimmy. Like that character on TV, “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.” She’s not bad looking, but she’s a Redhead. I’m into Blondes. You probably know that. I bet you dig Blondes, too. Not that Mrs. Jong-un isn’t a Babe. From the photos and videos, I’d say so. Love to get to know her better (wink, wink). Even if she’s not a Blonde.

Anyway, I look forward to seeing you in Singapore. We have lots in common. Like our Hair. Not the same-old same-old. I had a Sofa in the Oval Office upholstered to match the color of my hair when I went from orange to yellow. People who see me on TV think Me and the Sofa are Twins. I’m the Smart One. And nobody sits on The Donald.

Nobody sits on Kimmy, either. I get that. We both have these disloyal Underlings. A shitload. But you’ve got it better. You get to blow them away with Anti-Aircraft Guns or whatever. All they let me do here is fire them. “You’re fired!” I love the ring to that. I’m dying to say that to a certain Attorney General. Wait. I’m not supposed to write that. Fuck the Underling looking over my shoulder. Donald Trump is the President of the United States and Everything in the World America owns. MAGA!!

What I’m saying, Kimmy, is that you and Me can do a lot in Singapore. Talk? Sure. We’ll talk. This Nuclear stuff? Important. I’m hitting the road (flying actually) to impress on you I’ve got more Nukes. A shitload more. Bigger, too. Yuge!!! I can charbroil your capital city (like I’m supposed to remember some crazy Asiatic name and how to spell it?) anytime I want!!!! Don’t expect help from my Underlings like the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. Who elected them?

Bet your ass I won My election by an even bigger percentage than you won yours!!!! Wait. They say you don’t have elections in North Korea. Really? Damn. I love that!!!!!

So—Singapore. We’ll shoot the shit. Talk about the Babes we’ve bagged. I’ve bagged way more than you, but that’s not the point. Well, it is. But Guys? That’s how we bond. Then we’ll see what the Underlings can do to get North Korea to get on its Knees to America. We’re the Big Dog, right? Except for Russia. Not as Big, but big (lower case). Love that Vlad!!!!!!

Anyway, we can play golf. Scarf up the McDonald’s I’m bringing. Definitely check out videos of some of my political rallies so you can see you’re dealing with a Guy from Queens.

See ya,

Donald

P.S. What kind of Christian name is Jong-un anyway?

To respond, click on “comments” to the right just below the title of this post. Then go to the response space at the bottom of the post.

THE MARVEL OF SMALL MUSEUMS

Back in the ’50s, American car companies introduced new models—radically different—every year. Advertisements touted that them as longer, lower, wider. Americans loved everything big. Many still do. Me? Take museums. I like small.

The best-known museums are—to use a term—yuge! In London this March, Carolyn and I again visited the British Museum. We’re members. I love lunch in the members dining room. Great soups! But the enormous crowds can make a visit a little—or a lot—less pleasurable. We’ve also seen the permanent exhibits—including the Rosetta Stone—many times.

I get worn out with the Louvres in Paris and New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. We went to the Met a few weeks ago. We do every time we’re in the Big Town. My favorite part? Walking up and back through Central Park. The crowds and exhibit choices—too big.

Thankfully, we discovered the Museum of Art and Design (MAD) at Columbus Circle. The building rises nine stories but has a small footprint. The rotating exhibits feature contemporary (or relatively so) artists and are modest in size.

We had the galleries almost all to ourselves. I loved the work by Derrick Adams, presenting the challenges African Americans faced traveling the nation before passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. MAD also hosts artists in-studio. We chatted with Katya Grokhovsky, who came to the U.S. from Ukraine as a child and creates fabulous installations.

My favorite museum is small—and hardly typical. SFO Museum places exhibits—small and smaller—throughout San Francisco International Airport. Accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, SFOM offers fabulous opportunities to see carefully curated, constantly changing collections of art, craft and design when you fly. And even if you don’t. Many can be accessed pre-security. The airport may be crowded, but with these exhibits, you can get up close and personal.

When Carolyn and I fly overseas, we take in the pre-security exhibits in Terminal A and Terminal G. Domestically, we usually fly out of Terminal 2 where we just saw an exhibit on Maneki Neko—Japanese cat statues bringing good luck to homes and businesses.

SFOM has hosted many exhibits since the concept’s inception in 1980. My favorites include radio bars from the 1940s (we have one that belonged to my parents), women’s shoes (over the top), typewriters, cocktail glasses, gambling devices, American folk art, Chinese porcelains and evolving flight attendant (nee stewardess) uniforms.

Small museums abound. We love London’s Pollock’s Toy Museum (oldtoys) and Florence Nightingale Museum. The Morgan in New York has offered wonderful exhibits (from Babylonian jewelry to Ernest Hemingway). Who but the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco would put on display Mahjong and its impact on American Jews? (My mother played; my sister still does.)

SFOM won’t achieve the fame of the Met, the Louvres or the British. And truly, you can visit many other wonderful large museums around the nation—the Chicago Art Institute, the Smithsonian complex—and the world. We love the Tel Aviv Museum of Art.

But size doesn’tmatter. A single, carefully curated exhibit in a modest space—like an informal dinner with family or friends—can deliver big rewards. That’s no small feat.

To respond, click on “comments” to the right just below the title of this post. Then go to the response space at the bottom of the post.

TWO KINDS OF THEATER

During a recent visit to New York for our nephew’s wedding, Carolyn and I attended six Broadway shows. One put in perspective recent Palestinian efforts to mark “Land Day” and the 1948 Naqba or Disaster stemming from the birth of Israel.

The Band’s Visit(11 Tony nominations)—a play with music rather than a standard musical—is based on the 2007 Israeli film. In 1994—a year after the Oslo Accords—a small Egyptian police band—it bills itself as an orchestra—visits Israel to play at an Arab cultural center in Petah Tikvah, a suburb of Tel Aviv/Yafo. Inside Israel, they mistakenly take a bus to the fictional Beit Hatikva—Home of Hope—in the Negev desert. They must wait until morning for a new bus.

The owner of a small café offers hospitality—hers and her employees. Only nominal peace exists between Egypt and Israel. But these men are strangers in a strange land as were the ancient Hebrews in Egypt. The band members spend a long and melancholy night discovering that these Israelis—these Jews—endure their own suffering. Beit Hatikva bears no resemblance to Tel Aviv with its office towers, lively beach scene, marvelous restaurants and vibrant nightlife. Its residents feel isolated, lonely and bored. Soured relationships and thwarted ambitions have left them wounded.

As the band and their hosts get through the night, all experience moments of understanding. Their mutual humanity becomes apparent. The show’s message is heartening. Real peace is possible if only Egyptians and Israelis encounter each other as individual human beings.

Demonstrations on Land Day and the Fridays preceding it constituted street theater. The results proved anything but music to anyone’s ears. Under cover of smoke from burning tires, Gazans failed to take down the border fence and intrude into Israel. About 60 were killed by the Israeli army. Most were members of Hamas, the thugocracy that runs Gaza and pledges to destroy the Jewish State.

The demonstrations revealed yet again that mob-to-army contact usually generates terrible—if desired—repercussions. Hamas supported the demonstrations hoping that the Israel Defense Force would kill enough Gazans to earn global condemnation. Some condemnation has come Israel’s way. But not much. Israel’s short-term policies—for good and bad—will remain unchanged.

Regrettably, Land Day never had to happen. In 1947, Palestinians and the Arab states could have accepted the United Nations partition of the British mandate. A Palestinian nation—one never existed before—would have had its capital in East Jerusalem. It also would have held more territory than after the 1967 war, which produced borders Palestinians now insist upon. What’s more, no refugees would have been created—those forced to flee by a war of their leaders’ choosing and the many who fled voluntarily at the urging of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem pending Arab victory.

Palestinian desire to eliminate Israel or trigger Israeli “one-state” national suicide reflects pure fantasy. Right-wing Israelis’ desire to ignore Palestinians represents a parallel fantasy. Peace can only be achieved by accepting reality and embracing our common humanity.

The Band’s Visitmay win many Tony awards. Future Land Days will bring Gaza only more losses. Israel won’t be a winner, either. Tikva—hope—remains in short supply.

To respond, click on “comments” to the right just below the title of this post. Then go to the response space at the bottom of the post.

FRIENDS

Studies show that people with friends live longer and healthier. As someone whose introversion ranges from moderate to—well, let’s say more than moderate—I attribute my own wellbeing to my friends.

I enjoy a range of friends. Each enhances my life in a different way. I’ll start with my Torah Study group. We meet on Saturday mornings and have coffee afterwards at CMPC hospital’s California Campus on Webster Street. Three of us started having coffee twenty years ago at cafés up and down Fillmore Street. All of which closed or became too small as our group grew. The hospital may not offer the best coffee, but the huge basement cafeteria remains almost empty throughout our visit. We never wait for a table or worry about privacy. (Yes, we get loud at times; friends do that.)

Our group occasionally goes to dinner and a few of us to Giants games. Five of us hover around 70. One isn’t Jewish but attends Torah Study regularly for the intellectual challenge. Two are decades younger. One just got married. She still comes by. The other found a distraction for Saturday mornings—a girlfriend he met on Jdate. We approve. All attend our evening study sessions, which we hold periodically.

There’s great joy in any bunch of guys—and a woman or women, including an ancillary woman member when she visits from Atlanta—sitting around a table talking and joking. Our conversations flow and morph freely. They cover topics from religion and politics to TV, personal anecdotes and observations. Whether a conversation reflects deep thought or inanity—I contribute both—this social interaction leaves us energized. It’s the highlight of my week.

I see other friends individually at different times and in different ways—often for weekday lunch or coffee. Carolyn and I have others to our house or go out with them to dinner and a movie. We don’t do so as often as we’d like given everyone’s busy schedules, but we look forward to each get-together.

Friendship is cheaper than therapy though there’s nothing wrong with seeing a professional. I can talk to friends about a range of issues that affect me. They can bring up issues that concern them. We discuss all topics free from judgement. In some of my more troubled moments, I get things off my chest—valuable in itself—and occasionally receive wise counsel offering me new perspective. Cheap therapy, indeed.

Not to mention that my friends buy my books and read my short stories. Some read them immediately and shower me with praise. I appreciate that. Others read my work a little later. A few just buy the books. No matter. Their support means the world to me.

Let me acknowledge my best friend: Carolyn. After nearly 49 years of marriage, Carolyn knows my emotional ins and outs. In fact, she knows me so well, it’s scary. That she not only signed on for “until death do us part” but lives up to the contract provides testament to her willingness to endure. And no one praises my writing more!

If there’s something I wish for everyone, it’s friends. And, that we consider people we encounter at random moments in random places as friends we haven’t had coffee with. Yet.

Last week’s post was mistitled, as my friend Tracy pointed out. It doesn’t concern victimlesscrime but nonviolentcrime. Its point, however, remains the same. If you haven’t read it yet, you’ll find it under the title “The Hoax of Nonviolent Crime.”

The post will take a break on May 18 and return on May 25.

To respond, click on “comments” to the right just below the title of this post. Then go to the response space at the bottom of the post.

THE HOAX OF NONVIOLENT CRIME

Several months ago, an East Bay detective—legit—called to say that an investigation on identity theft turned up a stolen piece of mail addressed to Carolyn in care of her manager. It contained a royalty check for one of Carolyn’s TV performances. The amount was small. The crime was big. People who would deny its seriousness are perpetrating a hoax.

Many people urge leniency for perpetrators of nonviolent crime. Bull! Every crime against property is a crime in which violence is done to a person’s sense of wellbeing. Because behind every piece of property lies a story.

Carolyn’s check didn’t come easy. TV viewers saw her as a nurse (“Chuck”—NBC), dementia patient (“Grey’s Anatomy”—ABC), a woman startled by Hugh Laurie (“Chance”—Hulu) and a homeless woman (“Bartlett”—Amazon Prime). They and the public haven’t witnessed the years Carolyn has spent attending acting and singing classes. Preparing for them. Rehearsing at home for auditions. And then auditioning in Los Angeles at her cost or videoing at our house (we’ll ignore my reading other characters’ lines to her).

An acting career makes no promise of success. But after thirty-five years as a professional storyteller, Carolyn decided to give it a shot. She studied and did plays but set her sights on TV and movies. She sweated to hone her craft, risked rejection and overcame it, and has enjoyed a few small triumphs.

That meant little to the woman recently convicted in the theft of other people’s mail to steal their identities, which can cost victims much money and considerable aggravation. I fear that the efforts of Carolyn and upstanding people in all walks of life get overlooked by those who consider nonviolent criminals the ultimate victims.

I get that many people grow up in difficult circumstances. Minority and immigrant communities often produce more than their share of criminals. That includes my own. Jews once played major roles in violent crime. From the 1900s through World War Two, killers such as Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, Abe “Kid Twist” Reles, Louis “Lepke” Buchalter and Dutch Schultz (nee Arthur Flegenheimer) abounded. Children of poor immigrants they possessed minimal education. Their turns to crime might be sociologically understandable, but their behavior was and remains illegal, immoral and unacceptable.

The thief who stole Carolyn’s royalty check will be sentenced in San Jose at the end of this month. The court invited Carolyn and her fellow victims to attend. Carolyn won’t. That would steal more of her time.

Carolyn has no desire to demand a lengthy sentence at hard labor or solitary confinement on bread and water. As bad as it can be, the California prison system offers far better treatment than the Soviet gulag or North Korea’s prison camps. Also, the judge possesses information about the thief Carolyn doesn’t and will be empowered to determine a reasonable sentence.

In writing this, I’m not seeking vengeance against those convicted of nonviolent crimes. “Lock ’em up and throw away the key” doesn’t reflect my philosophy. But it’s time that people who seek leniency for nonviolent criminals acknowledge that every nonviolent crime impacts one or more victims. And that those victims frequently pay a price beyond—often far beyond—the monetary value of their loss.

This revised post put up on May 4 includes a revised title. I erred in calling the theft of Carolyn’s mail a victimless crime. It was, indeed, a nonviolent crime.

To respond, click on “comments” to the right just below the title of this post. Then go to the response space at the bottom of the post.

IDRIS ELBA, EAT YOUR HEART OUT

Carolyn and I have a friend in London, Asif Khan, who’s a terrific actor. He’s now in San Francisco performing a one-man show consisting of four monologues, Love, Bombs & Apples, by Golden Thread Productions at Potrero Stage. It’s great. He’s great. British star Idris Elba should worry.

Asif and Idris are up for the same acting award in Britain—proof that Asif’s career is moving forward. Which it is. In March, we saw Asif in London starring in a stage version of E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India. Wonderful performance. Wonderful play.

Which brings me back to Love, Bombs & Apples, written by Hassan Abdulrazzak, a British playwright born in Prague of Syrian parents and brilliantly directed by Rosamunde Hutt. (We hosted Asif and Rosamunde for dinner at our house Wednesday night.) This show challenges American audiences as it did audiences in the U.K.—and in more ways than one. Recapping…

The first monologue presents Asif as a Palestinian actor in the West Bank searching for sex in a society which limits such opportunities. In the second, Asif does a chameleon-like transformation to bring us a nerdy Pakistani-British author (Asif’s parents are from Pakistan) so intent on realism that his huge novel strikes British security forces as a terrorist’s bomb-making manual.

The third monologue offers a young, restless Pakistani-Brit from Bradford, where Asif grew up. At an Apple store, he considers joining ISIS, since their members use iPhones to record themselves and their abhorrent acts as tributes to power and glory.

Surprise: Each piece is suffused with humor. These Muslim characters are funny. And human.

Something different happens in monologue number four. Asif plays Isaac Levy, a New York Jew whose father is a big supporter of AIPAC and defender of Israel. He’s totally believable. The passionate Isaac follows his father’s position until he meets a leftwing Jewish woman named Sarah. Sex brings them together. The Israel-Palestinian issue rips them apart.

Isaac wants Sarah and his family to discuss the situation rationally. I suspect he sees a middle ground between the views of his father and Sarah. But in the end, Isaac feels he must choose between them. His last line encompasses the conundrum faced by many—probably most—Jewish-American families regarding discussion of Israel: “It’s gonna get ugly.”

Does it have to? Recently, Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett (I spent Passover week with him at Masada) and leader of the rightwing HaBayit HaYehudi (Jewish Home) party, addressed the Israel Awards ceremony. (Leftwing novelist David Grossman won the literature prize for A Horse Walks into a Bar.) Among Naftali’s comments: “We are a nation of ideas and we are a nation of debates… We argue in loud voices, and in the middle of the argument we find the breakthrough moment…” Of great importance, he also stated, “…if I had a button which I could push and make all Israelis share my exact opinion, I would not push that button.”

Will Asif win out over Idris? They’re both terrific actors. In the end—I’m rooting for Asif—it won’t matter. Award contests don’t disturb the peace. Two peoples claiming the same land does. We know. It’s been ugly for years. I fear it’s going to get uglier. At the very least, as Love, Bombs & Apples prods us, we can start listening to each other.

Love, Bombs & Apples plays at Potrero Stage, 1695 18th Street, San Francisco, today through Sunday and again from April 26 through May 6. Information and tickets: goldenthread.org.

To respond, click on “comments” to the right just below the title of this post. Then go to the response space at the bottom of the post.

ISRAEL ON MY MIND, PART TWO

Two matters challenged me during my visit to Israel: family and God’s presence.

Carolyn and I spent Passover week at Masada by the Dead Sea. There, the last Jewish rebels against Rome held out until 73 CE. We joined my cousin Maxine, who lives in Karmiel east of Haifa, her children and their families, other relatives and friends.

Family is crucial to Israelis. They spend much time together. American families often seem fragmented, psychologically and geographically, separated by many hundreds or thousands of miles. Because Israel is small, families can “scatter” there yet remain close.

I wondered if Israelis’ family focus produced insularity and conformity. But my Israeli family’s views and practices cover a broad spectrum. Outside ultra-Orthodoxy—a minority—Israelis freely disagree and argue while accepting each other. Family is family. Carolyn and I share that value. Still, we have one son in Baton Rouge, Louisiana (grad school) and another in Tennessee, soon moving to Los Angeles. Our youngest, fortunately, lives in San Francisco. Being American comes with a price.

As to God’s presence, I regularly attend Friday-night services and Shabbat Torah Study at my Reform synagogue. At Masada, the services I attended were “traditional” and way different. I was totally lost as the men (no women) raced through the prayers. Did they find spiritual fulfilment when I didn’t? My friend Larry Raphael offered perspective: In the same circumstance, he let the rapid flow of prayers create a space for meditation. There are multiple ways to pray.

Then there was my visit to the Kotel (Western Wall) in Jerusalem. I had a brief conversation with God. Yes, we talk. Yet I experience God as much, if not more, at home. To be honest, I was put off by men in the plaza on cell phones and empty water bottles littering its stones. I wondered: Do visitors to the Kotel become too familiar with God?

Last week’s Torah portion (Shemini) offers the story of Nadab and Abihu, two of Aaron’s sons, both priests. They bring “alien”—not prescribed—fire offerings to the Tent of Meeting, which preceded the First Temple. Their zeal may have been genuine, but God kills them! Later in Deuteronomy, Moses warns the Israelites they should neither take away nor add to the commandments. In Judaism, boundaries are crucial. As at Mount Sinai during the giving of the Ten Commandments, we must keep our distance.

A contemporary commentator suggests that the many laws regarding ritual purity were written to keep Jews awayfrom the Temple. The priests might be overworked. And familiarity with the holy place might erode our sense of awe.

Not everyone feels this way. Hours before we visited the Davidson Museum of Archaeology near the Kotel, hundreds of ultra-Orthodox activists sacrificed two Passover lambs. They want to establish the Third Temple on the Temple Mount, an explosive proposition. I doubt that most Jews want to revert to sacrificing animals. Moreover, would this represent getting too close to the Holy One?

I love Israel, even in challenging times. And they’re always challenging. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks writes: “Jews belonged somewhere, not everywhere. Yet the God they worship is the God of everywhere, not just somewhere.” Israel plays a central role in Jewish life. Still, I live in San Francisco. Rabbi Sacks lives in London.

To respond, click on “comments” to the right just below the title of this post. Then go to the response space at the bottom of the post.

ISRAEL ON MY MIND, PART ONE

Carolyn and I just spent three weeks in Israel. Let me share some of the experience.

Let’s start with visiting leafy Perlstein Street in Bat Yam, south of Tel Aviv/Yaffo. In 2014, I discovered the street and “walked” it via Google Maps. It was a kick to be on a street bearing our name. Well, that of Jacob Perlstein (no relation), a developer. Life is good, right? But Elisha, our taxi driver, told us how hard life is in Israel. As in San Francisco, buying a home is out of reach for many people.

In high-energy Tel Aviv, we ate several breakfasts and a lunch (gigantic portions) at a café on Habima Square. It contains two theaters where large groups of new soldiers—men and women—see films and hear lectures there about Israeli history. Recruits—military service is mandatory except for the ultra-Orthodox, some of whom serve voluntarily—also visit museums like Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem, and archaeological sites. All to better understand what they’re defending. By the way, the Tel Aviv Museum of Art and Israel Museum in Jerusalem are standouts.

The young soldiers made me want to cry. They’re drafted after high school at about 18. (Torah sets military service—men only—at 20.) Why should young people—Israelis and Palestinians—continually face death? Chalk that up to the intransigence of Iran-backed Hamas and Lebanon’s Hezbollah. Former prime minister Golda Meir said it best when she castigated the Palestinians not for killing Israeli children but forcing Israelis to kill theirs.

I mention this because English-language newspapers reported Palestinians in Gaza being killed during Friday protests near Israel’s border fence. It’s terrible. But let’s not delude ourselves. Protests urged by Hamas don’t seek a Palestinian state alongside Israel. The goal remains getting “their” land back—the right to return to all of Israel. Which would annihilate the world’s lone Jewish State.

Note: Fifty-seven totally or heavily Muslim nations belong to the Organization of the Islamic Conference. Fifty-seven!

Do Gazans and West Bank Palestinians expect Israel’s 6.5 million Jews to desert the thriving nation they and their ancestors built over 70 years of statehood and in previous decades since the late 19th century? In 1947. the U.N. partitioned Palestine—an administrative area, not a nation. Israel accepted partition. A Palestinian state was available. The Arabs rejected it.

Easily overlooked: Many “Palestinians” migrated to what is now Israel from other nearby regions of the Ottoman Empire and following World War One, the British Mandate. Jewish economic development created jobs.

I’m no fan of the Israeli right’s desire for either a single state—which likely would disenfranchise Arab citizens—or Palestinian autonomy in part of the West Bank rather than independence. The former, would legitimate Palestinian cries of “Israeli apartheid.” Palestinians show no inclination to accept the latter. Meanwhile, Hamas continues to oppose Israel’s right to exist. Gaza’s suffering worsens.

Israel is a marvelous country built with pluck and brains. Still, beneath the glow of technology, medical breakthroughs, great restaurants and superb arts—in Tel Aviv, we attended a Batsheva company dance performance—an undercurrent of anxiety remains.

It’s easy to comment—and sometimes condemn—Israeli politics from the safety of North America. Also, no matter how well-intentioned—a bit dishonest.

Next week, I’ll offer thoughts on religion based on visiting the Western Wall and family re our Passover stay at Masada.

To respond, click on “comments” to the right just below the title of this post. Then go to the response space at the bottom of the post.

MY NEW FAVORITE WORD

People become attached to certain words. They—particularly slang words—can help someone display distinctiveness or demonstrate belonging to a group. Many decades have produced cool, dig it, boss, bitchin’, yo, wassup, Bart Simpson’s partee and the now widely accepted— and often-used F-word. For some years, I’ve been partial to grace and dignity. Now, I have a new favorite word—and it isn’t English.

My new fave appears in the Torah’s story of the Golden Calf (Exodus 32:1ff). For it, I’m indebted to Cantor David Frommer of San Francisco’s Congregation Sherith Israel and last week’s citing of commentary by Rabbi David Fohrman.

Our story: God becomes angry at the “stiff-necked” Israelites after they compel Aaron to make a young bull of gold to replace Moses, still meeting with God atop Mount Sinai. Knowing of the calf, God says He will destroy the children of Israel and make a great people of Moses’ descendants. Moses’ response: Why? Why be angry at Your people? Why enable Egypt to say You freed Your people only to slaughter them in the wilderness? What will that do for Your reputation?

The Hebrew word used here for why is lamah (rhymes with mama). Yet there’s another word for why in the Torah—madua (ma–doo-ah). Why (madua) lamah?

According to Rabbi Fohrman, “Madua, from the word mada, is the scientific ‘why’. … When Moses looked at the burning bush … [he asked] what is it about this bush that causes it not to burn? It is a question about the past that would explain the present.”

Lamah,” Rabbi Forhman explains, “is a contraction of ‘le mah’, to what, for what, for what purpose. It is a question about the future.”

I’m into lamah. When I get angry or down, when some disappointment induces me to react negatively, I ask myself, lamah? Not why I feel angry, down or disappointed. That’s a madua question. Rather, what purpose will be served by lashing out at someone—or myself?

Lamah constitutes more than a lesson in linguistics. We’re talking real life. Berating others might make us feel better momentarily when we feel questioned or put down. But how will we feel later if we damage or sever a relationship? How many times do we fly off the handle only to regret our words and deeds? Often, we apologize. Maybe the offended person forgives. But does that person forget?

Most of us learned the wisdom behind lamah as children: Think before you speak. If you get angry, count to ten. But in adults, the desire to get in the next word or the last—and do it immediately—often overpowers our learning and judgment.

The rabbis of the Talmud considered gossip—lashon hara—and negative statements sins akin to murder. They kill the soul. Thoughtless words, they advised, resemble arrows. Once released, they can be regretted but not recalled.

If only we, from the humblest citizens to those at the pinnacle of power, could remember daily that lamah can prevent fomenting confusion, resentment, hatred and violence. That words matter. That measuring our responses to others’ words can defuse rather than fuel challenging situations.

If only.

This post marks number 350 since I began since September 2010. It marks a good time for me to take a lengthy break and focus on some other things for a while. The post will resume on April 20.

To respond, click on “comments” to the right just below the title of this post. Then go to the response space at the bottom of the post.

IN THE NAME OF GOD

The famed evangelist Billy Graham was buried today. As a kid in the ’fifties, I saw bits of his massive TV revivals. Later, more evangelical leaders spoke publicly in the name of God. Is God pleased?

Since the social upheavals of the ’sixties, many evangelicals have circled the wagons. A movement that shunned politics turned highly political. Issues ranging from abortion to gun control became emblematic of Christian identity.

The result? Many evangelical leaders will back any politician—no matter how un-Christian his speech and behavior—who supports their objectives. If the president of the United States—or any other politician—talks and acts in ways ecumenical leaders would condemn in their own families and churches, they give him a pass. Why such tolerance for sin?

David Brody, evangelical author and host of “Faith Nation” on the Christian Broadcasting Network, explained in last Sunday’s New York Times, “… the goal of evangelicals has always been winning the larger battle over control of the culture, not to get mired in the moral failings of each and every candidate. For evangelicals, voting in the macro is the moral thing to do, even if the candidate is morally flawed.”

In the name of God, proponents of morality support immoral men and excuse their iniquities to control America—Brody’s word. Sadly, some politically conservative Jews do the same. If Donald Trump professes staunch support for Israel, Torah doesn’t matter. Barack Obama’s $38 billion aid package to the Jewish State? Dismissed.

I have no desire to bash evangelicals. The movement includes Christians of good faith. I understand their pain that the percentage of Americans identifying as Christians continues to fall. But many evangelicals also fear the demographic reality that whites soon will comprise less than fifty percent of the population. Women can exercise their own judgment to have an abortion. LGBTQ Americans maintain their right to live unhindered by others. And most Americans support common-sense gun control.

There’s a meaningful difference between upholding a religious mandate for yourself and forcing your views on others. Evangelicals should feel free to interpret the Christian Bible any way they like. They owe the rest of us the freedom to uphold our own views—religious or secular.

Billy Graham saw the light. Laurie Goodstein wrote in The Times last Monday that Graham admitted in his later years he had been mistaken in becoming too close to politicians. He also admitted that as a confidante of Richard Nixon, he not only listened to Nixon’s anti-Semitic remarks without protest but responded with anti-Semitic remarks of his own. It takes a big man to fess up.

These days, big men are hard to find. Franklin Graham runs the ministry his father began. In the name of God, Franklin called Islam “a very wicked and evil religion,” proclaimed Barack Obama a Muslim and loudly supports Donald Trump.

Sweeping immoral acts and offensive speech under the rug to advance causes in the name of God only undercuts religious leaders’ credibility. That’s why so many young evangelicals are turning away from their sin-blind elders.

They say politics makes strange bedfellows. Toss religion under the covers, and the nation winds up with the Golden Calf—or at least, Rosemary’s Baby.

What? You don’t know Rosemary’s Baby? Check it out!

To respond, click on “comments” to the right just below the title of this post. Then go to the response space at the bottom of the post.