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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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THEY

On HBO’s Homeland, they attempted to assassinate the president of the United States. Another they—the president herself—curbed Constitutional rights. In real life, survivors of the mass shooting at Parkland, Florida’s Stoneman Douglas High School demand greater gun control. In response, some Americans believe they have created a conspiracy against gun owners.

Pioneer America accepted citizens’ possession of rifles and pistols. The closing of the frontier and growing urbanization necessitated curbs on weapons for public safety. Over recent decades, the gun lobby pushed back, exhibiting religious reverence for the Second Amendment: A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a  free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

Questions abound. Must the right to bear arms be unmindful of technology? Muskets and muzzle-loading, single-shot rifles are relics. Who, boar hunters included, needs an AR-15 semi-automatic weapon—adaptable to automatic—designed for combat? Can any ad hoc group call itself a “well-regulated militia?” What is the National Guard? And are our armed forces our defenders or oppressors?

A large majority of Americans favor stricter gun control rather than abolition. Hunters and people in self-defense mode would not be affected. But a minority holds sacrosanct the position of the National Rifle Association, a political donor with major clout. The NRA, as does President Trump, points to mental illness as the cause of mass shootings. Their solution? Arm teachers.  

Per capita, the U.S. suffers no more mental-health problems than the rest of the world, which experiences far fewer per capita mass shootings. Further, as Dr. Amy Barnhorst of the University of California, Davis, wrote in Tuesday’s New York Times, “The mental health system doesn’t identify most of these people because they don’t come in to get care. And even if they do, laws designed to preserve the civil liberties of people with mental illness place limits on what treatments can be imposed against a person’s will.”

It’s our stock of weapons—about one for each of us—that’s sets America apart.

Still, the slippery slope theory underlies opposition to common-sense gun measures: They want to ban assault-style weapons first—then confiscate all guns. The NRA and its adherents support that position with a second theory.

They plot against the people. On Wednesday, NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre excoriated Democrats and liberals: “Their goal is to eliminate the Second Amendment and our fire arms freedoms so they can eradicate all individual freedoms.”

Stoneman Douglas survivors disagree. These young people, at the muzzle-end of real horror, have been eloquent in calling for banning assault-style weapons and determined in confronting politicians. So?

A Florida legislative assistant claimed that two students are actors; he was dismissed. A YouTube video singles out one student as an actor; it may still be online. Rush Limbaugh claimed that the students are being used by the Democrats; he’s still on the air. And Internet broadcaster Alex Jones—on whom Homeland based a major character—preaches that the dead children of Sandy Hook, Connecticut (2012 shooting) and their parents were actors.

Top that? Last Tuesday, as Stoneman Douglas students bused to Tallahassee, the Florida House voted 71–36 against discussing banning assault-style weapons and large-capacity magazines.

Now I’m wondering, exactly who are they?

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TEOTIHUACAN

An “us vs. them” world tends to produce belief in cultural superiority. But human beings share more in common than perceived—and, admittedly, sometimes real—differences that may separate us. Exhibit A: Teotihuacan.

Teotihuacan is a sprawling pre-Columbian archaeological site northeast of Mexico City. Famed for its huge pyramids, Teotihuacan once contained 125,000 residents. Carolyn and I went there over 40 years ago. So naturally, we attended the recent exhibit of Teotihuacan artifacts at San Francisco’s de Young Museum.

One piece particularly fascinated me: an incense burner dated 350–550 CE. No photo—at least taken by me—can do it justice. Fifteen to 18 inches high, it depicts a king or priest with a huge headdress. Its multi-planar construction could suggest a 21st-century artist. I didn’t over-think the piece. I just stared in awe.

Some Americans might think this piece primitive since it’s highly stylized rather than realistic. But such art, found worldwide, speaks to me far more than European art of the medieval and Renaissance periods, at first stylized then trending towards realism.

The Teotihuacan piece led me to wonder: How do Americans who don’t visit museums view art from outside the U.S. and Europe? Do they consider valid only European art of the 12th through 19th centuries? Do they think that legitimate art comes only from white Christian civilization, and its Greek and Roman antecedents?

No knock on European art, but my preferences run to Native-American, Latin-American, African, Middle-Eastern and Asian art—along with anything from antiquity. Also, the European Impressionists and many modernists. Why?

Stylized or representative art involves me precisely because it isn’t photo-realistic. Here I turn to Plato, who wrote of numina and phenomena. Simply put, all physical objects in the world represent—but cannot duplicate—their conceptual ideals, known as numina. For example, all physical chairs—phenomena—cannot replicate the ideal no matter how beautiful or utilitarian.

Likewise, no painting or sculpture of a horse can depict the ideal horse. By definition, any physical image is too specific and thus limited in scope. But artists still grapple with numina. Picasso drew a horse utilizing a single line—what appears to be a simple outline. The viewer’s imagination fills in the details and comes to some understanding of the concept of horse. That’s what makes representative art so engaging.

Regardless of style, representative art—like realistic art—expresses the universal human desire to understand the world in which we live and in doing so, ourselves. With clay, wood, metal and plastic; on board or canvas or rock; in leather and fabric; on slabs of stone or cave walls, artists from all places and times have sought to come to grips and move us with a greater reality.

The need for art is so basic, all cultures pursue it. Placing geographical constraints on art’s value dehumanizes artists—and ourselves. Moreover, variance in form and style does not make one culture’s art superior to others. There’s art well-done and art not particularly accomplished. Art presents is with a win-win proposition.

We can learn much from the art of other cultures, past and present. Their history and religions can inform us, too. As the old saying goes, we’re all different just the same.

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IL DUCE LIVES

In 1900, Theodore Roosevelt, then governor of New York, wrote in a letter what became his presidential philosophy: “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” If only Donald Trump had the judgment to heed TR.

Trump wants to hold a grand military parade in Washington. The U.S. last held one in 1991 after a U.S.-led coalition drove Iraq’s Saddam Hussein from Kuwait. I suggest that the parade under the auspices of President George H.W. Bush sought not only to honor our troops victorious in a 100-hour war but also make amends for the terrible treatment of American military personnel during and after the Vietnam War.

Why a parade now? Trump was impressed with the Bastille Day parade he attended in Paris last summer. But France long has been a secondary military power. In 1914, Germany overran much of France. In May 1940, Germany outflanked the heralded Maginot Line. France fell in six weeks. In 1954, the Vietnamese defeated the French at Dien Bien Phu. France bid adieu to its Indo-Chinese colonies. French forces have fought well in Afghanistan, Iraq and its former African colonies. But French military parades honor ancient glories.

What other countries hold military parades? Dictatorships and autocracies. Vladimir Putin loves seeing soldiers, tanks and rockets roll through Moscow’s Red Square. Kim Jong Un shows off the same in Pyongyang. China also gets in on the act. And Iran, under supreme leader Ali Khamenei, showcases rockets and missiles to menace America and Israel.

All draw on precedent. Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler loved military parades and being worshiped at enormous theatrical rallies. So, too, Josef Stalin. Dictators believe in speaking loudly and brandishing their big sticks. This enables them, they believe, to both cow other nations and intimidate internal opposition.

All of which paints Donald Trump as something of a junior Mussolini. Like Il Duce, Trump struts, glowers and preens. Hurls insults with abandon. And equates dissent with treason. Duce Jr. demands personal loyalty at home while disdaining America’s allies and eschewing diplomacy. This provokes hostile nations and troubles our friends, all of whom understand that America’s stick is very big indeed.

Still, even the biggest (read nuclear) stick can be challenged. Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq taught us how critical it is to know when to hold back. And that small nations and non-state actors can vex us with asymmetric warfare and terrorism.

But Duce Jr.’s bloated ego demands showing off his big stick—a sign not only of U.S. military might but of his own manliness. When the troops pass the reviewing stand, Trump will applaud not them but himself. He will believe that the troops are saluting him personally. And he will, again, be wrong. They will salute his office. That’s how the Constitution rolls.

A lover of our military, Trump never served (military school doesn’t count) unlike Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), whom he publicly disparaged as a prisoner of war. During Vietnam, Trump received five deferments—four for college and one medical deferment after graduation.

Last Saturday, U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) referred to Trump as “Cadet Bone Spurs.” She earned the right, having lost both legs flying combat helicopter missions in Iraq. I might rephrase that, “Cadet Bone Spurious.” This all would be funny if it wasn’t so frightening.

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THE REAL STATE OF THE UNION

Delivering his first State of the Union address, Donald Trump stuck to his script. Although often wandering from the truth, he saluted an improved economy and painted a rosy picture of his presidency and the future. Beware! The real state of the union is far gloomier.

Trump’s speech featured heavy doses of self-congratulation. It also engaged in shameless pandering with guests sobbing on camera as Trump told stories of violent crimes committed against their families. Still, seventy-five percent of people who heard the address approved. But Trump did no more than present a Potemkin Village.

A more accurate portrait of this presidency emerges from the ongoing lies, attacks on American intelligence and law enforcement agencies, and inability to deal straightforwardly with Congressional leaders—of both parties.

In terms of breaking news, Trump continues trying to thwart the Mueller commission’s investigation into his connections to Russia. This morning, Devin Nunes (R-Cal.), chair of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, released a memo written by his staff casting a negative light on the FBI. Bureau director Christopher Wray—chosen by Trump to replace the fired James Comey—had condemned releasing the memo, as did leading members of Congress, intelligence experts and journalists. They believe the memo to be out of context and distorted. They fear it will reveal Bureau sources and methods, putting American intelligence operatives at risk. Trump permitted its release.

Back to the State of the Union and something you may have missed. Trump concluded by calling for Americans to maintain “trust in our God.” Our God? Do all Americans believe in the same God? If they believe in God at all?

Given Trump’s support by ecumenical Christians, I assume he referred to Jesus. I’m a Jew. Jesus isn’t my God—or the God of American Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and others. “Our God” is not the God of Israel, Saudi Arabia, India and Japan. Vladimir Putin promotes Russia, despite its large Muslim population, as a Christian (Orthodox) nation, but referencing “our God” can only heighten tensions with China, Iran and North Korea. Will our God battle their Gods?

The comment served to send a clear message to the Trump base: that America remains a white, Christian nation. That, re Charlottesville, Virginia, “good people” can march alongside white supremacists and neo-Nazis. That immigrants from Haiti and Africa really do come from “shithole” countries.

For Trump, the State of the Union was all about money—with no acknowledgment of Barack Obama’s role in moving the economy forward. Economic growth is good. Mammon is not.

This week’s Torah portion, Yitro (Jethro), presents the Ten Commandments. The commentary Etz Chayim examines the (Jewish) First Commandment, “I am the Lord your God who brought out of the land of Egypt.” Egypt, a nation of great wealth, was the house of culture, science and mathematics. All good. But for Israel, it was the house of bondage. The scholar Benno Jacob (1862–1945) comments, “If freedom and culture cannot coexist, we should bid farewell to culture for the sake of freedom.” Money cannot be “our God”.

Trump continues to widen American divisions. No matter how strong the economy, bigotry and hatred—espoused and supported by the president of the United States—can only turn America into Pharaoh’s Egypt. And we know how that story turned out.

As I publish, the Dow-Jones Industrial Average has plummeted over 800 points since last Friday. Will Mr. Trump, as the force behind the American economy, accept responsibility for this?

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GAS PUMPS AND IMMIGRATION

Gridlock in Washington reflects Republicans and Democrats—and many Americans—refusing to listen to each other. It takes active listening to bridge gaps. Many years ago, an old friend revealed a great example.

Sam Smidt was a brilliant graphic designer in Palo Alto with whom I worked early in my freelance career. He told me a story that always stuck with me and should be the subject of a mandatory class for anyone holding political office.

Sam once was designing the gas pumps for Chevron. A major oil company’s gas pumps represent a corporation’s brand. The client, not satisfied, asked Sam to make the logo bigger. Sam complied. The client wanted the logo even bigger. Sam did that. The client remained unhappy. Then the answer occurred to Sam. “You want the logo to be more prominent,” he said. “Yes!” the client answered, realizing that size and prominence don’t necessarily equate. Sam shifted some design elements without supersizing the logo, and the client was delighted.

Often, people get bogged down in specifics without communicating what they really want. This leads to wasted time and energy, and often to antagonism. It doesn’t have to be that way.

In a New York Times interview on Wednesday, columnist Frank Bruni interviewed two Democrats—former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick and strategist Joe Trippi. Both agreed that Democrats’ chances in the 2018 Congressional elections hinge on standing for something rather than Trump bashing. Patrick hit it on the nose: “What matters most is that we agree on and fight for the ends, not so much the means. For example, we want every man, woman and child to have access to quality, affordable health care. There’s more than one way to skin that cat, and we should be open to debating all those ways.”

I imagine that Gov. Patrick is willing to listen to Republicans. Would they return the favor?

As with all major issues, politicians—and many voters—too often demand specific solutions rather than define outcomes. This parallels the Chevron executive, who ultimately realized that increasing the size of his logo wasn’t the key to meeting his objective.

Immigration poses this same challenge. Donald Trump wants a wall. It’s “wall or nothing.” But does a wall represent a “bigger logo?” Ultimately, several key questions concern the nation. Should we take in immigrants? Most people would say yes. Should we control immigration? Again, most people would say yes; the numbers and sources appropriate to a separate discussion. What are our immigration needs? What do we expect immigrants to contribute to the nation? And if we make new laws, are we willing to uphold them while finding humane solutions to tricky problems?

Start there, and Americans could find a measure of common ground.

There’s lots to discuss, and no black-and-white approach—pun intended—will serve us well. But rather than demanding the means—a wall or blanket amnesty—let’s discuss the ends. How can immigration strengthen the United States in the next quarter-century and beyond?

If Americans start expressing their vision and listening to each other, we may find our views far closer than we imagined. Then we can forego pumping up the volume and discuss, rather than argue, the practical means to achieve our objectives.

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THE HOLER PERSPECTIVE

Soon after the president of the United States reminded us of his “stable genius” by asking why America wants immigrants from “shithole” countries (if he said “shithouse,” does that make a difference?), a friend asked if I was speechless.

My answer, even recovering from a bad flu (haven’t kicked it yet): “Hell, no!” The latest racist blather by Donald Trump offers lots to write about. Failure to do so would make me a traitor to the nation I’ve sworn to uphold and defe.

I am what The New York Times’ Bret Stephens terms a “Holer.” So is he. Our grandparents came to America in what were clearly called shithole countries over a century ago. Mine from Poland and Belorussia, parts of the Russian Empire. For that matter, my father was born in shithole Poland. Worse, we’re Jews! To many Trump supporters, we’re still Holers.

Fortunately, America at the turn of the 20th century continued welcoming—if often grudgingly—Holers from eastern and southern Europe: Jews, Greeks, Italians, Slavs. A growing nation needed more people to work on farms, and in mines and factories. But the picture wasn’t perfect. Although we Holers eventually became successes, we weren’t White Anglo-Saxon Protestants. Grassroots anti-Semitism swept over the nation. In 1924, Congress through the Johnson-Reed Act basically banned Jews and southern Europeans from entry.

Still, we Holers retained our devotion to America and served it well. Ultimately, attitudes towards us changed. Following World War Two, some restrictions against Jews—refugees from the Holocaust—were lifted. Moreover, we could buy a house in most neighborhoods and attend almost any university.

The establishment of the State of Israel touched many American Christians, if perhaps because Christ’s second coming, according to many, depends upon the Jews being in their homeland so we can finally accept Jesus as our savior. Or perish. Israel’s victory in the 1967 Six-Day War raised the Jewish state to near-mythical status and brought American Jews a great measure of respect. Better late than never.

Holers from all over the world came to the U.S. Filipinos, Nigerians, Haitians, Dominicans, Syrians, Egyptians, Indians, Pakistanis, Chinese, Vietnamese—and sí amigo, Mexicans—became Americans. They worked at some of the hardest jobs available. Opened businesses. Served and died in our military. Earned college degrees. Cared for us as doctors, nurses and orderlies. Became actors, musicians and sports stars. And brought us new foods.

Now, the president seeks to return America to its white-supremacist ugliness of a century and more ago. He wonders why we don’t just take in a lot of Norwegians—16 percent of whom are Holers. Okay, white, ethnic Norwegians. I like Norwegians, and Swedes, and Danes. But the people Trump most wants coming to the U.S.—western and northern European Caucasian stock—won’t likely immigrate. Over seventy years ago, their grandparents learned the perils of racial animosity. Now, they believe that all human beings should be treated with equal rights and respect. The president of the United States doesn’t come close to sharing that value.

I’m proud to be a Holer. An added bonus: I can see and smell a pile of bullshit a long way off. For for the sake of accuracy, the distance between San Francisco and Washington, D.C. is over 2,400 miles.

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