MY LLAMAS

There’s so much to write about, I had difficulty deciding on a topic. So I settled on something seemingly absurd but quite profound.

No, not the House’s impeachment inquiry (now, associates of Rudy Giuliani have been arrested). Or Trump’s throwing the Syrian Kurds under the bus—abandoning allies who helped dismantle ISIS’ “caliphate” and leaving Turkey to attack them. And threatening to dismantle Turkey’s economy.

I could ask—and answer—why members of Congress, sworn to uphold the Constitution, oppose it by supporting Trump. Although they might not agree with his Monday statement re the Kurds and Turkey self-praising his “great and unmatched wisdom.” Yes, he said that.

Instead, let me tell you about the herd of llamas—woolly Andean pack animals—living inside my head. And no, don’t call professional help to get me through some sort of breakdown. It’s simple. Really.

In March 2018, I posted “My New Favorite Word.” I focused on the Hebrew word lamah (LA-ma), which means why. Biblically, lamah often is short for l’mah yeud?—to what purpose? In essence, why would you do that?

The word moved me to consider what I’d gain if I dwelled on all the wrong and foolish things I’ve done in my life. All the things I regret. I’d already acknowledged them, often decades ago. Why torture myself, since I’ve tried to correct my behavior and apply what I learned to present and future actions?

Yet forgetting the wrongs we’ve done can lead us to abandon a sense of moral vigilance. That’s dangerous.

So, I came up with a visualization technique. My llamas enable me to remember past misdeeds but not get hung up on those transgressions and stupidities by stashing them in a special place in my mind. I’m guilty of compartmentalizing my emotions, something for which men frequently are assailed, but I claim extenuating circumstances.

After all, when I remind myself of something regrettable from the past—distant or recent—I ask myself, lamah? For what purpose should I rake myself over the coals? Depress myself? So I transform the misdeed into a llama and place it on a distant green hillside beneath a crystalline blue sky. It stands there among a vast herd of llamas occupying dozens of hillsides. They graze. They stare at me. Sometimes they spit in my direction. But they’re too far away to hurt me.

For sure, I acknowledge each and every llama, because they remind me that I can do better while lifting paralyzing guilt off my shoulders. Remember, they’re beasts of burden.

Last Tuesday evening and Wednesday, my llamas accompanied me to Yom Kippur services. On Yom Kippur, Jews recite the Vidui—a group confession. We acknowledge a great many sins. Individually, each of us may have committed only one or two. As a people of nearly 15 million, we’ve committed all, and we’re responsible, each for the other. Judaism is a highly communal religion.

My llamas enabled me to skip torturing myself with the past, as I used to, and focus on the future. How can I do better—not by repressing guilt but by bearing mine with a certain lightness? My llamas offered me comfort and hope that I’ll be a better person in 5780. And the best part: I can take them anywhere.

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WHALES, DOLPHINS AND AWE

I read Moby Dick ages ago and found myself fascinated by Herman Melville’s lengthy discourses on cetology, the study of whales. Last Wednesday, I joined my friends Ira and Dan on a whale watching trip hosted by the Oceanographic Society. In a word: awesome!

We departed on the Salty Ladyfrom the yacht harbor at the Marina Green off Scott Street. The two naturalists onboard and the captain all emphasized the incredible weather we’d have at sea: clear skies and mild—a relative matter—temperatures. (San Francisco hit 94 degrees that afternoon.)

On the way out, we spotted dolphins, porpoises, humpback whales and sea birds, including more than one albatross, and a rarely sighted skua. Because of the great weather, our captain decided to bypass the Farallon Islands at first and sail to the edge of the continental shelf. There, the seabed drops precipitously from 300 feet to 3,000. An upwelling of water brings nutrients and food sources providing great feeding to whales and other sea life.

Jaws dropped as humpbacks spouted then rose out of the water. We’d see their backs then a huge length of white foam as they submerged. Several jumped out vertically well past their heads. Others displayed their flukes—tails—as they dove.

At the peak of activity, we sighted a pod of at least three whales and maybe five. Spouts rose like the fountains at Las Vegas’ Bellagio Hotel. Dolphins and porpoises leapt by the boat with great frequency. A huge turtle came close—another rare sighting. An ocean sunfish swam alongside. I called out to the sea life, “Guys, slow down. There’s more to see here than we can take in!” They didn’t listen. No complaint from me.

Almost everyone missed the best sighting. After stopping by the Farallons to check out the birds and sea lions—we also saw houses for researchers and Coast Guard personnel—we headed back to San Francisco.

As we sat and chatted, Ira, who’d been seasick until noon and missed the action out at the continental shelf’s edge, spotted a humpback leap entirely out of the water and expose its white belly. By the time he called out, Dan and I could see only the splash. Only one or two others onboard saw the event. We were glad for Ira and had no problem missing what we’d love to have seen because we’d seen so much.

Sunday night, the Jewish world will observe Rosh Hashanah, marking the New Year 5780. The whales, dolphins, porpoises and birds I saw provided me with much added meaning. The ten-day period from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is known as the Days of Awe. As we contemplate how we’ve lived our lives and acknowledge the Source of Creation, the majesty of the synagogue service can raise our spirits only so far. We need perspective.

Being out on the Pacific, rising and falling with the swells, witnessing the sea’s sheer size and power, and seeing the magnificent creatures with whom we share the planet showed me how small I am and how huge is creation.

At this, or any, time of the year, a little awe-inspired humility can bring us closer to the marvels we can see and the mysteries we can’t.

The post will take next week off and return on October 11. For everyone celebrating Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, may you be written and sealed into the Book of Life.

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UNCERTAINTY

Benjamin Franklin wrote, “…nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes.” Mark Twain repeated that. But the real author was Englishman Christopher Bullock in 1716. Recent decades have supported Bullock and Franklin (and Twain) with the dictum that the only certainty is change. Look around.

The President of the United States fills each day with uncertainty. Will policy indicated in last night’s tweets be overturned in this morning’s tweets? This afternoon’s? Probably. So how do we as a nation plan for tomorrow?

Last Tuesday, the Federal Reserve sought to counter economic uncertainty. The economy’s tax cut-fueled sugar high is wearing off and our trade war with China continues. The dreaded “R” word (recession) is making the rounds. So the Fed lowered interest rates to 2.00 percent, its second cut of the year. I’m not betting that investors and economists are reassured.

Uncertainty is keeping us in the dark regarding the recent attacks on Saudi oil processing facilities. Directly or indirectly, the finger points to Iran. But where’s the proof? Washington hasn’t been terribly forthcoming. And how to respond? The president wants more information and a sense of direction from Saudi Arabia. Isn’t that turning things inside out? Shouldn’t the Kingdom be getting guidance from the United States? I’m uncertain, although I suspect some American and Saudi leaders have common financial interests.

I’m sure that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called the attacks an act of war. But on whom? Will the U.S. place more sanctions on Iran and Iranian leaders? Will we strike limited Iranian military targets? Sit on our hands? Of this, I’m certain: Whatever we prepare to do could change in a heartbeat. That happens in international matters, so let me be more accurate. America’s response may change on a whim (or Fox News editorializing).

The Middle East being a region of great uncertainty, let’s turn to Israel. Last April’s election was so close, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu couldn’t form a government by assembling a coalition requiring 61 seats (a majority) in the Knesset. A new election took place this past Tuesday. The Blue and White Party, headed by former IDF commander Benny Gantz, seems to have a seat—or two—advantage over Netanyahu’s Likud party. Not yet certain since final results won’t be announced until next week. Who will President Reuven Rivlin charge with forming a new government? Also uncertain.

Uncertainty in Israel can bring grave consequences, as it can in the United States. At the last minute, Netanyahu pledged to annex Israeli settlements in the heart of the West Bank. That would bring one certainty: the impossibility of a two-state solution. But few Israelis—even those who support that position—believe Netanyahu will do what he said. Still, Israel, the Palestinians and the rest of the world remain uncertain about where things will go.

Let’s be honest. People talk about loving adventures. That’s fine for a road trip or getting off a plane overseas and winging the experience. But it doesn’t work well for managing an economy. And it’s particularly dangerous for maintaining peace and stability anywhere in the world, especially in the volatile Middle East.

So I’ll paraphrase Bullock/Franklin/Twain: Nothing is as certain as the danger of uncertainty. Will world leaders take heed? I’m not sure.

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FIFTIETH ANNIVERSARY

Nine days ago, Carolyn and I celebrated our 50th anniversary. The usual question: “How did you guys do it?” The first part of my answer is simple.

You get up each morning. A golden anniversary requires longevity. When we were married, I was 25, Carolyn nearing 22. We maintained healthy lifestyles. My parents made it to almost 47 years; my father died at 80, just weeks before their anniversary. Of note, my sister and brother-in-law celebrate their 60th in March.

Not every 50th anniversary marks success. Old joke: “I’ve had 10 great years of marriage. Ten out of 30 isn’t bad.” Some couples are miserable but stay together because of religious beliefs. Others can’t imagine living separately minus sufficient income, housekeeping and someone to yell at if not converse with.

Here, the second part of my answer comes into play. It’s not enough to love each other. Or to define love solely as physical attraction, which may seem the case initially. Carolyn and I were attracted to each other from the beginning and still are. That helped. Having married a beautiful woman, I never wondered what it would be like to go after other women. Who could match up?

Still, sex isn’t enough. And when you’re bringing up three children (who surely are uncomfortable if they’re reading this; get over it; this is life), there’s not all that much time or energy left for sex. (Thankfully, there’s some.) Moreover, bringing up kids is a tough job—tougher than you ever imagined. Disagreements over what course to take for each child constantly pop up. You talk. You argue. You compromise. Sometimes, you even admit you were wrong. When you’re done with the theatrics, you get over it—or pay a price.

Carolyn and I were fortunate. Our backgrounds were very different, but our values very much aligned. We wanted children. A close family. We were willing to deal with them as individuals who might not fulfill our parental fantasies. We didn’t necessarily fulfill the fantasies of our parents. We had good days. We had bad days. The next morning, we put one foot in front of the other.

Eventually, the kids flew the nest. We raised them to do that. They had their adventures, and we weren’t always thrilled, but we stood behind them. That takes patience and a willingness to set aside your ego. We learned to cast off our last lingering daydreams and see them as they were. We guided them by setting an example of basic values. They learned from us. They learned from life. They’re doing well.

How did we celebrate our anniversary? Carolyn attended Burning Man for the second time—it’s not my thing—so we met in Las Vegas. I surprised her with a suite at Bellagio and a dozen roses. We ate at top restaurants. Saw Penn & Teller and Cirque du Soleil’s The Beatles LOVE.

Next? We know we won’t celebrate a second fifty years. So, as we’ve been doing, we’ll take it one day at a time. Carolyn’s acting and music classes. Auditions. Hopefully, more TV/movie roles. My new novel. New short stories. Another novel.

Fifty years seems hard to comprehend. I understand what went into them. I appreciate the full life we got out.

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CHOSEN FOR WHAT?

For many Jews, it’s an embarrassment: inspiration for both anti-Semitism and self-questioning. I refer to Moses’ statement to the Israelites in this week’s Torah portion, Re’eh (See).

The great teacher says, “. . . the Lordyour God chose you from among all other peoples on earth to be His treasured people” (Deut. 14:2). Many Jews and non-Jews misinterpret this as raising the people Israel above other nations for no discernable reason. But Israel’s selection entails not privilege but responsibility.

The Israelites, whose misdoings condemned them to wander in the wilderness for forty years, were not chosen for their size—they were a small people—or their merits. Deuteronomy 7:8 relates that they were chosen “because God ‘kept the oath he made to your fathers . . .’” The Rabbis term this zevut achot, the merits of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who held a special monotheistic vision. Thus a stiff-necked people was to be given a homeland. Why?

The late Israeli scholar Nehama Leibowitz comments, “the Almighty did not release Israel from the burden of persecution [in Egypt] in order to set them free from all burden or responsibility. He wished them to become free to accept another burden—that of the kingdom of Heaven—of Torah and Mitzvot [commandments].”    

Israel is to be a nation of priests. This represents a goal, a status of holiness to be earned by accepting responsibility and its consequences. Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch, the father of modern German Orthodoxy, points out that if God grants priests rights and privileges unavailable to ordinary people, God also places them under greater scrutiny. Hirsch imagines God saying, “The more a person stands out from among the people as a teacher and a leader, the less will I show him indulgence when that person does wrong.”

Israel must accept its special status with modesty. The prophet Amos preaches that God also watches over other nations. “True, I brought Israel up / From the land of Egypt, / But also the Philistines from Caphtor [Crete] / And the Arameans from Kir” (Amos 9:7).

Rabbi Joel Rembaum states that God “maintains relations with all nations, with regard to whom God can act either as judge or as redeemer.” God’s approval must be earned through right conduct, which all peoples can exercise.

The Canaanites sinned. Only for that reason did God cast them out of their land and give it to the Children of Israel. But the Rabbis do not denigrate the basic human worth of non-Jews. They also are created in God’s image. All people, the Rabbis maintain, contain the Divine spark.

A midrash—a story trying to explain the biblical narrative—guides the Chosen People to exercise perspective. While Israel (the people, not the modern state) is to be praised for accepting the Torah, God previously offered it to all the other nations. Moreover, the Talmud (Shabbat 88a) relates Rabbi Avdimi bar Hama’s view that God held the mountain (Horeb/Sinai) over the Israelites’ heads and said, “’If you accept the Torah, it is well; if not, there shall be your burial.” The Israelites did not make a moral choice. They had no choice.

Treasured on one hand, the Chosen People are tasked to set an example for their siblings. Being the “oldest spiritual child” represents a daunting challenge.

This post was adapted from a discussion in God’s Others: Non-Israelites’ Encounters With God in the Hebrew Bible, available from me or at Amazon.

The blog will take off next week and return September 13.

Big Truth: New and Collected Stories,is available at Amazon and bn.com in paper or e-book. Or, ask your favorite bookstore to order a copy. And, please leave a review on either or both sites.

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DUMB AND DISLOYAL

You’ve doubtless heard what the Sage of Mar-a-Lago declared on Tuesday: “Any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat—I think it shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.” My goose is cooked.

I’m a Jew who’s a registered Democrat and voted for Hilary Clinton in 2016. I wasn’t wild about Hilary but consider the alternative. In 2008, I might have voted for Republican John McCain given Barack Obama’s inexperience, but McCain chose Alaska governor Sarah Palin as his running mate. Deal breaker.

Trump’s statement concerned Democratic Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib (Michigan) and Ilhan Omar (Minnesota) recently planning to visit Israel. Trump suggested that Israel not allow them entry. Israel blocked them. Let’s be clear. I don’t like Tlaib’s and Omar’s positions re Israel. They’d basically like to see Israel disappear. Israel won’t do so any more than they represent the majority of the Democratic party.

So what was gained by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu barring two legally elected United States representatives? Nothing. Unless you consider Netanyahu believes he must kiss Trump’s rump given a new Israeli election takes place in several weeks. Israelis like Trump, though most American Jews don’t. But Netanyahu has his work cut out for him. In the April election, his Likud Party won all of 35 seats out of the Knesset’s 120. Not even one-third. That’s not unusual. What is: Netanyahu couldn’t assemble a coalition government.

Which brings me to loyalty. Evidently Israelis, with more to lose in the unsettled Middle East than Trump, must be disloyal since more than two-thirds voted against Netanyahu’s party. Or they lack knowledge. Although many know Netanyahu seeks to stay in office to keep from being tried on bribery charges and possibly imprisoned.

Me? I’m so dumb, I think The New York Times’ Tom Friedman was right when he wrote that barring Tlaib and Omar makes Israel look like “a Jewish banana republic.” Israel’s a thriving democracy, although Netanyahu seeks to curtail a free press and independent judiciary. He’s a Trump fan. This decision made Israel look weak.

If I’m not dumb, obviously I’m disloyal. But to whom? The United States? I served three years in the U.S. Army—as a volunteer. Trump claimed phony bone spurs to dodge the draft during Vietnam. I’ve always paid my taxes. Trump avoided paying federal taxes for years. Smart? He lost over $900 million dollars. Dumb.

Disloyal to Israel? I support Israel every chance I get. You’ve read that in previous posts. And Carolyn and I love visiting family there. Like Israelis, I call it as I see it. When I disagree with Israeli government policy, I say so. But I’ll always support Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. It’s the only one we have.

Or am I disloyal to Donald Trump. On Wednesday, Trump declared himself “the chosen one” and repeated conspiracy theorist Wayne Allyn Root’s claim that Israelis think of him as the “second coming of God.” Alert: Jews don’t believe in a first coming. That’s Christian theology, and Jews refusal to accept it has spurred centuries of persecution by Christians. As always, Trump’s cluelessness produces offense.

In 2020, I expect to dumbly and disloyally vote for the Democratic presidential candidate. But then, I’m a stubborn Jew who values conscience above rhetoric.

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YOUR HUDDLED MASSES

In 1883, Emma Lazarus wrote the poem “The New Colossus” to help raise funds for a base for the Statue of Liberty. We all know, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” What to make of those words today?

I love the Statue of Liberty. In February 1906, Chaim Shlioma and Kayleh Perelstein, their 2-1/2-year-old son Moishe—my father Morris—and two daughters, Elka and Etka, sailed into New York Harbor. They’d left Warsaw, Poland, then part of the Russian Empire, because opportunities there for Jews were scant and pogroms frequent, like those in Kishinev and Kiev in 1905.

I fantasize that my grandfather held little Moishe aloft and pointed to “The Lady.” America!

From 1885, Eastern Europe’s huddled masses—Jews, Poles, Slavs, Italians, Greeks (many Germans and Irish came earlier)—entered America by the millions. In 1924, Congress slammed the door shut. America, which long excluded Chinese and savaged its black citizens, had grown increasingly anti-Semitic. Only white Protestants need apply.

Sounds familiar? Yet the huddled masses continued to bring their dreams from every corner of the planet and helped build—and defend—this nation. In one generation, the descendants of the “wretched refuse” became “real” Americans. Should America now fear new additions?

It’s sensible to continually reassess immigration policy, because while history may repeat itself, it’s neither cyclical nor entirely linear. But change is real.

The Perlsteins (we later dropped an “e”) arrived in New York only 12 years after the American frontier was declared closed. Oklahoma, New Mexico and Arizona were territories. (Alaska and Hawaii became states more than 50 years later.) In 1906, America’s population was 85 million. The nation sought immigrants to work on farms and ranches, in mines, steel mills, factories, stockyards and urban sweatshops. Immigrant laborers would swell production and also serve as consumers.

The dream of America in a challenging world continues. But our population is 330 million while our land mass remains the same. That population has shifted. As eastern and northern cities aged, we flooded the Sun Belt. Oklahoma City has more people than Baltimore, Albuquerque more than Cleveland, and Phoenix—the nation’s sixth largest city—more than Boston and Detroit combined. Our most populous state? California.

We’re now post-industrial with artificial intelligence threatening millions of jobs. We need fewer strong backs, more education. As always, the poor will need help. A century ago, family along with religious and community groups helped pave the way. Public assistance wasn’t an option. There was none. Today’s non-profits will need to step up their game.

This stated, we can and should welcome new immigrants. We still need farm workers, meat packers, restaurant workers, roofers and healthcare workers. More doctors and nurses, too. So, how many of who?

We’ve yet to hold an objective, expertise-based national discussion. Congress concerns itself with the immigration’s politics. The president, a nativist, and his far-right supporters want educated Europeans—whites. The far-left preaches virtual open borders, leaving unconsidered impacts on federal, state and local budgets, as well as on social upheaval.

It’s critical to salute the ideals represented by the Statue of Liberty while seeing things as they are—to be hard-headed without hardening our hearts. I believe that “The Lady” I love gets that.

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GUILTY ME

Not to demean or dismiss America’s recent mass shootings in California, Texas and Ohio, but I want to point the finger at the next culprits: me and my family.

You can take President Trump’s word. Last Monday, he cited several factors contributing to the nation’s wave of mass shootings: the Internet and social media, “gruesome and grisly video games” and mental health laws. True?

I use the Internet, although I limit my social media to Facebook where someone I know occasionally re-posts vile stuff. So maybe social media doesn’t make me a threat.

Video games? My son Seth works as a hard-surface modeler for a New Orleans studio supplying visual elements to major video game publishers. He’s also a big gamer. Violent? No.

I don’t play video games, but I read books and watch TV. I recently finished The Thirst by the Swedish mystery author Jo Nesbo. Grisly. I’m concluding another Swedish mystery with a historical setting, The Wolf and the Watchman by Niklas Natt Och Dag. More grisly. Carolyn read them too.

TV? We loved The Sopranos, Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones. Also, we just finished season three of Stranger Things: a monster, gruesome deaths and legitimate killings by a police chief using a machine pistol. Are Carolyn and I candidates for mental health intervention? I don’t think so.

Yes, I believe hate posted on the Internet and violent media may stir those with mental-health issues to commit violence. Online white supremacy and anti-Semitism can, too. Do the latter represent forms of mental illness? They’re abhorrent, but I’m not sure. Either way, I support red flag laws and background checks. But consider this . . .

Americans are 10 times more likely to be killed by guns than people in other developed countries, according to The American Journal of Medicine. Yet our rates of mental illness are about the same. Moreover, people in other countries play violent video games and see violent movies as much as we do. So why are their gun-death rates so much lower?

Per capita, Americans own far more guns. These include military-style weapons designed solely to kill other human beings in war. What reason is there for civilian ownership? Military-style weapons have nothing to do with the Second Amendment—or the Second Amendment needs repealing. Such weapons, using high-capacity magazines and clips, deliver high rates of deadly fire that overwhelm the muskets and single-shot, ball-and-powder rifles and pistols of 250 years ago.

Will we get rid of all military-style weapons? Alex Kingsbury in today’s New York Timesdoesn’t think so. Many will be hidden away and, if cared for, remain functional for a long time. But criminalizing ownership along with the manufacture and import of these weapons can make a difference.

The NRA opposes this, and they exercise clout. Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell snuggle up together in the NRA’s pocket.

I don’t suggest that removing Trump and McConnell from office, while highly desirable, should involve violence or insurrection. That’s wrong morally. Also pragmatically. Federal law-enforcement professionals would be knocking on my door with their AR-15 rifles and similar weapons

And yes, the FBI’s weapons are similar to those we let anyone purchase in much of this nation.

Talk about mental health issues—that’s crazy.

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OUR CHILDREN, OUR CHOICES

Americans love choices. But choosing can be frustrating. Which flavor? Style? Color? Buy a house? Rent? New car? Used? Leased? But not everything in life involves choice. If a large segment of Americans comes to see that, our nation will come closer to upholding the family values they promote.

Last Sunday, Carolyn and I went to the brunch drag show at Hamburger Mary’s on Castro Street. A friend of Carolyn’s was performing. A ballet dancer and choreographer who grew up in London, Rex enjoys entertaining in drag and is a wonderful performer. No one high kicks like he does. Going on stage is Rex’s choice. Being who he is—a gay man—is not.

Many Americans still believe that people choose to be gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgender or “other.” Not so. I never chose to be a straight guy. I just am. Same for Carolyn as a straight woman. And our oldest son Seth.

On the other hand, our son Yosi never chose to be a transgender man. He discovered that’s who he was. His choices involve expressing who he is. The same is true of my son Aaron and his husband Jeremy (who celebrate their 7th anniversary in a week). Being gay is who they are. Yet they make an important choice every day—to be proud of who they are as human beings. And they have lots to be proud of.

Of course, Carolyn and I had a “choice”: accept or reject Yosi and Aaron. No contest. They are our children. We loved them from the womb. We love them still. All we wanted from our kids is that they be true to themselves and live their own lives, not lives imposed on them.

Still, choices confront us daily. Some are trivial, others critical. One supposed choice should be seen as no choice at all: Do unto others. Let all people live their lives unmolested as we wish to.

Unfortunately, bad choices have emanated from the White House. Donald Trump decided that transgender men and women may no longer serve in our military. Many patriotic trans Americans chose to shoulder their part of the burden of the nation’s defense. Some served in war zones. Yet our president, who chose to avoid military service during the Vietnam War, rejected them.

Yes, some choices are highly complex. The International Association of Athletic Federations (IAAF) is mulling whether woman runner Caster Semenya of South Africa, born with testes, should take drugs to reduce her high levels of testosterone usually found in males. I believe that Semenya, who was brought up and identifies as female, has an advantage over her competitors. Her levels of testosterone have produced greater bone density and more muscle mass. But world-class athletes, male or female, with “normal” hormone levels boast obvious genetic advantages over the rest of us.

I don’t know what the IAAF will do, but I hope they make the key choice to avoid determining whether Semenya is “really” female despite her intersex characteristics. Caster Semenya may not be usual, but she is normal because she is, above all, a human being.

We’ll soon hear a lot of political jabbering about family values. Fine. Let those who preach them walk the talk by choosing to love allour children.

Big Truth: New and Collected Stories,  is available at Amazon and bn.com in paper or e-book. Or, ask your favorite bookstore to order a copy. And, please leave a review on either or both sites.

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MY MOTHER THE CRIMINAL

A century ago, Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe produced many infamous American criminals. They included killers, such as Ben “Bugsy” Siegel (a key character in my novel in progress), Dutch Shultz and Abe “Kid Twist” Reles. Another legendary Jewish criminal was a woman. Well, not a criminal by yesterday’s standards. I give you my mother Blanche.

San Francisco recently passed a law making selling furs illegal. Criminal! Yet in New York back in the ‘50s, my mother sported a mink coat, mink stole and Persian lamb jacket with mink collar courtesy of the most honest man ever—my father Morris. So how would local progressives view my mother? Fuhgeddaboudit!

She also consorted with mobsters. Kind of. A friend’s husband brought his “business associates,” Johnny and Tommy Dio (Dioguardi) to the Queens League for Muscular Dystrophy’s annual dinner dance. My mother, active in the chapter, served as president. The Dio brothers’ contributions, like everyone else’s, went towards research. The police never cited my mother for meeting them. Ultimately, she received a certificate from the comedian Jerry Lewis, who raised millions to conquer the disease.

Big time as a mother, Blanche Perlstein was small potatoes as a “criminal.” Her nefarious activities focused on relieving airlines of blankets (remember them?) and coffee mugs. A pink floor mat in the bathroom of our apartment in Rego Park (Queens) bore the logo of Miami Beach’s Eden Roc Hotel. Fortunately, the statute of limitations has passed.

Still, when I graduated from college, my mother advised, “If you’re ever going to steal, steal big.”

Go ahead. Laugh. Done? Now, let’s get serious.

My mother wasn’t telling me to become another Meyer Lansky—the Mob’s money man and inspiration for Hyman Roth in The Godfather, Part II. She was letting me know that the occasional airline pillow or nightclub ashtray aside, real crime should never besmirch the family name. Before considering doing something wrong, I should ask myself, “Is it really worth it to disgrace my family? Can my integrity be bought?”

The only conceivable answer, no matter how large the score: “No.” The Perlstein name is not for sale (although my books are).

If only that message got through to the millions of Americans who sold their souls in the 2016 presidential election and are preparing to do so next year. I particularly address evangelical voters who, in the name of Jesus and morality, supported one of the most ungodly, immoral men in the nation. (Grab women by the what? Pay off a porn star for what?)

Their candidate promised to deliver on their social issues, chiefly abortion, secondarily opposition to LGBTQ rights. Many bought into now-Vice President Mike Pence’s assertion that God wanted Donald Trump to be president. (Maybe God told me otherwise.)

Thus people of supposed great faith defined hypocrisy by stealing from America’s integrity and, in doing so, greatly diminishing their own.

As I prepare to say Kaddish for my mother next Friday night—she died twenty years ago at 88—I remember her with great love. The legendary Jewish gangsters might have been disappointed that the beautiful doll Blanche Perlstein was, pardon the pun, a straight shooter. But I think they’d agree that in never letting greed erode her integrity, she set a standard even they could admire.

Big Truth: New and Collected Stories, is available at Amazon and bn.com in paper or e-book. Or, ask your favorite bookstore to order a copy. And, please leave a review on either or both sites. My mother would appreciate it.

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