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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.


  1. Tracy on September 28, 2018 at 5:57 pm

    Interestingly, V’Zot (which may or may not be my Bar Mitzvah portion, ahem). In this portion, Moshe (Moses) is called “a man of G-d.”

    The Midrash Psikta D’Rav Kahane say that, “Moshe was not called ‘the man of G-d’ until he spoke in defense of the Jewish people.”

    I think it’s impossible to be an “American man (or woman)” unless one speaks in defense of the subjegated or oppressed.

    Shabbat Shalom

    • David on September 28, 2018 at 6:54 pm

      One must, Tracy. The President will not.

  2. David Newman on September 29, 2018 at 6:26 pm

    As someone has said recently, democracy is not a spectator sport. It’s on all of us to get on the field. That means voting, writing your representatives and all the other dirty work of being an active citizen.

    If you’re interested in a deep investigation of what the threats to democracy are, there will be all day program on October 14, sponsored by the JCRC and a number of other Jewish organizations. The information is at

    • David on September 29, 2018 at 10:05 pm

      Good comment, David. Good program.

  3. Sandy Lipkowitz on September 30, 2018 at 12:13 am

    I think Kavenaugh will be a critical test to our democracy. November will be crucial for all to vote.

    • David on October 1, 2018 at 5:08 pm

      The Kavanaugh matter is unsettling to say the least, Sandy. Let’s see what the FBI comes up with. Not likely a smoking gun but possibly testimony regarding the nature of Kavanaugh’s drinking. I was not impressed with his belligerence before the Senate Judiciary Committee. November’s almost here. Indeed, this will be a very interesting—and important election.

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