“Israel’s secular vs. ultra-Orthodox conflict is heading for war” by Allison Kaplan Sommer, Haaretz

May 21, 2023

Note: This is a very important story playing itself out in Israel that has to be resolved by cooler heads now to avoid not only war in the near term, as Allison suggests, but to deal with dramatic demographic and financial implications of the most rapidly growing sector of the Jewish population in Israel, the ultra-Orthodox, who have between 6 and 8 children per family as opposed to 1.5 children per family in the secular Israeli population.

Allison writes:

“Tensions between the ultra-Orthodox community and secular Israelis are hardly new, but the conflict has reached unprecedented levels over the past four months as the groups find themselves in opposing camps in the struggle over the government’s judicial overhaul.

Secular Israelis are incensed over the billions of shekels earmarked for the Haredi community and their educational institutions in the budget set to be passed this week, and legislation enshrining into law gender segregation and exemption from military service for yeshiva students.

Aware of the resentment against their community, ultra-Orthodox leaders have tried their best to keep the flames low. When angry anti-judicial overhaul protesters marched through Bnai Brak – including this past week – they were met with tables of food and drink, and a population under strict marching orders not to respond, even if they felt provoked.

But the mood turned uglier a few days later, on Saturday, in a violent clash in the northern city of Harish. Ultra-Orthodox residents of the Toledot Aharon sect affiliated with a nearby yeshiva walked into a children’s center and began shrieking and chanting to protest that it was open in violation of the Sabbath.

It wasn’t the first time. The clash has been taking place over the past month and videos of the incidents have circulated on social media.

But when members of the two sides began to push each other, at least two of the ultra-Orthodox protesters allegedly assaulted a woman who had brought her children to play, breaking her arm. The men were arrested, according to police, who said more arrests are likely.

Comments on the videos shared on Twitter called for secular Israelis to show up en masse at the center over the weekend to protect the children there as a show of strength.

MK Merav Cohen of the opposition Yesh Atid party publicly warned ultra-Orthodox leaders that if the violence from “extremists” in Harish doesn’t stop, “you are going to force us all to begin jumping on a play center trampoline as an ideological matter. You are going to make us all violate Shabbat and come to Harish to protect the rights of secular and traditional families to spend their Shabbat in the way that they see fit.”

“The eyes of the entire liberal public are on Harish,” Cohen said.

The same eyes were also fixed on the storm unleashed by Channel 12 anchor Galit Gutman, who let loose an on-air rant when discussing the budget allocations for ultra-Orthodox institutions, saying, “How much can you burden a third of this country to support all of the Haredim who suck our blood?”

After ultra-Orthodox groups called for Gutman’s suspension and for the television station to be fined for statements they said were both “antisemitic” and “defamatory,” Gutman apologized, saying her critique stemmed from the fact that she “loved the State of Israel” and that her wrath was aimed at Haredi political leaders alone.

As Haaretz columnist Anshel Pfeffer noted, secular Israelis view their protests as “a preemptive strike on a grim future” in which an overburdened secular minority carries the economic and security load for an entitled religious majority.

Pfeffer asks if the displays of “misdirected rage” by the secular public toward the ultra-Orthodox are ultimately useful or whether they are simply bringing Israel closer to civil war. Productive or not, it certainly looked like the latter.”

Read more about the secular and ultra-Orthodox public:

As Haredi parties’ demand budget increase, their pupils already outpace secular in funding

Hundreds of economists warn Netanyahu’s budget will propel Israel backward

Israeli TV host under fire after accusing Haredim of being bloodsuckers

Don’t miss today’s best reads on Haaretz.com

Nathaniel Berman explains how Israel really silences Palestinian human rights advocates

Ofer Aderet says mass grave found at Polish site where hundreds of Jews were murdered by the Nazis

Tzach Yoked interviews the professor who says Yuval Noah Harari is wrong

A New Book Celebrating Jerusalem

This Thursday (May 18, 2023) is Jerusalem Day, also known as Yom Yerushalayim, a national Israeli holiday commemorating the reunification of Jerusalem and the establishment of Israeli control over the Old City after the 1967 Six-Day War.

Jerusalem is a singularly wondrous place for Jews, but also for Christians and Muslims around the world. Despite its so-called “unification,” Jerusalem remains a divided city straddling uneasily the fault lines between ultra-Orthodox Haredi Jews and secular-non-Orthodox Jews, and between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs.

That holy piece of real estate, sacred to three great religions, is among the most dysfunctional cities in the world. Its ancient Wall, its Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and its iconic Golden Dome lift billions of the faithful towards a vision of a heavenly Jerusalem.

For Jews, it is a place where prophets preached, psalmists sang praises, mystics sought oneness with divinity, sages taught wisdom from ancient texts, tribes and nations battled for control. This complex ancient and modern city nestled between valleys sparks the imagination, passions, and yearnings of Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike, and so the threatening march of hundreds of extremist settler Jews carrying flags through Arab neighborhoods in the Muslim Quarter on Jerusalem Day every year is fraught with potential violence.

History ought to be a warning of what can happen if events and passions aren’t held in check and respect for the “other” fails to unite religions of the west. In its 4000-year life, this co-called “City of Peace” has rarely known peace. It has been attacked 52 times, captured and recaptured 44 times, besieged 23 times, and destroyed twice.

Often in my visits to the city I climbed to the roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher to see the sweep of the landscape, and I marvel every time that one can see so much in a glance – Old City Streets – Jewish, Christian, Armenian, and Muslim Quarters – the ancient Mount of Olives Jewish cemetery – medieval Churches – the Temple Mount and Noble Sanctuary – the Western Wall, Dome of the Rock, and Southern-Most Mosque – Mount Scopus and the Hebrew University – a plethora of embassies and  the Intercontinental Hotel – the City of David and the Palestinian village of Silwan – the sloping  convergence of the Valley of Hinnom and the Valley of Kidron – the Security Fence – West and East Jerusalem – and the Seam Line.

I love this ancient-modern place. One thousand years ago, the Spanish poet, philosopher, and thinker Yehudah Halevi spoke words that resonate with me here in California where I was born, raised, and have lived for most of my life: “My heart is in the east and I am at the far reaches of the west.”

This past week a new volume was published called What Jerusalem Means to Us – Jewish Perspectives and Reflections. The publisher describes the book as “address[ing] the intimate and unique connections among Jews, Judaism and Jerusalem along a variety of dimensions – religious, spiritual, historical, cultural, political, psychological, and social. These are manifested through the perspectives and reflections of sixteen Jewish leaders representing different backgrounds. The resultant essays present a rich array of personal and professional transformations, extraordinary love and hope for Jerusalem as well as an honest appraisal of some of the challenges of daily living.”

The book is a publication of The Jerusalem Peace Institute and is edited by the Jerusalem-born Saliba Sarsar, Professor of Political Science at Monmouth University in West Long Branch, New Jersey, and Carole Monica C. Burnett, Secretary of the Jerusalem Peace Institute the mission of which is to “highlight Jerusalem as humanity’s shared gift … and cherished by three faiths, and its centrality for a just peace through advocacy, programs, activities, interdisciplinary research, and publications.” It is the final book of a trilogy, the first two being reflections by Christians and Muslims of Jerusalem.

I am one of the 16 Jewish contributors in this newest volume, and this past week as I read my fellow contributors’ pieces, I was inspired by their perceptions and experiences, each different from the other, a kaleidoscope of insights based in love for this remarkable and uniquely sacred place on earth.

I recommend the book to you. It is available on Amazon.

Crash Course on Israeli government’s Judicial Reform crisis, Israel’s Image, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, & American-Israel Relations

Nadav Tamir is the executive director of J Street Israel, a member of the board of the Mitvim think-tank, adviser for international affairs at the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation in Tel Aviv, and a member of the steering committee of the Geneva Initiative. He was a close adviser of the late Nobel Peace Prize winning former Prime Minister and President of the State of Israel Shimon Peres, served in the Israel embassy in Washington, D.C., and as Consul General from the State of Israel to New England.

Nadav spoke last week at my synagogue in Los Angeles, and I had the chance to interview him and moderate questions in a forum sponsored by J Street, a number of LA synagogues and progressive Zionist organizations. Nadav is an articulate and thoughtful progressive Israeli and Zionist, as his writings below in The Times of Israel (TOI) and the Jerusalem Strategic Tribune reveal.

I provide links below to five of his articles written over the past couple of years as well as the link to the conversation he and I had at Temple Israel of Hollywood on Sunday, May 7. If you need clarification about the complexities, subtleties, and nuances inherent in the Arab-Israeli conflict and an optimistic way of re-framing that conflict that can move both Israelis and Palestinians forward towards a peaceful resolution of their conflict into two states for two peoples, as well as insight into how the so-called Judicial Reform efforts of the current right-wing extremist Israeli government is likely to play itself out, and the implications of all of this on the image of Israel around the world, and the Israeli-American relationship, I encourage you to read Nadav’s columns and listen/watch the link to his talk.

Nadav is a brilliant, inspirational, well-informed, and intelligent voice in his roles as a past Israeli diplomat, advocate for peace and democracy in Israel, and J Street Israel leader. If you don’t know him, I suspect you will come to respect him and be inspired by him as all of us do in the J Street community.

Video – Democracy in Israel – at Temple Israel of Hollywood – https://tioharchive.s3.us-west-2.amazonaws.com/Video+Archive/Misc/Israel+In+Democracy/Israel+In+Democracy.mp4

Times of Israel Blogs (#1-4) and an article from the Jerusalem Strategic Tribune (#5)

  1. Insights about the Image of Israel – https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/insights-about-the-image-of-israel

2. A Joint Problem Solving Approach – A joint Problem-Solving Approachblogs.timesofisrael.com

3. The Peres philosophy and its impact on my career – https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/the-peres-philosophy-and-its-impact-on-my-career/

4. Insights from my American Journey – https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/insights-from-my-american-journey/

5. Israel relations with Diaspora Jewry – https://jstribune.com/nadav-tamir-israel-relations-with-diaspora-jewry/

Endorsement of Rabbi Ammi Hirsch’s New Book “The Lilac Tree”

Few American rabbis write and speak with the eloquence, compassion, and moral urgency of Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch. His new book The Lilac Tree – A Rabbi’s Reflections on Love, Courage, and History is a series of essays reflecting his lifetime of learning, thinking, doing, preaching, teaching, and serving the Jewish people. It is a must-read for anyone seeking what lies at the heart of Judaism as it evolved over the centuries, the significance of the State of Israel as the embodiment of the Jewish people’s highest spiritual and moral aspirations, and the centrality of the time-tested Jewish ethical impulse that offer the world a means to repair its brokenness, polarization, and immorality.

Rabbi Hirsch is a rabbi’s rabbi. He is not only learned in ancient, medieval, and modern Jewish sources and Hebrew literature, but he is widely read in history, world literature and thought. He identifies as an Israeli where he was educated and served as a tank commander in the Israel Defense Forces, and as an American Jewish and liberal Zionist thought leader who serves a major synagogue community as Senior Rabbi in New York City, the Stephen S. Wise Free Synagogue. He was ordained at the Reform movement’s seminary and is an attorney.

In 2018, the Jerusalem Post named Ammi among “The 50 Most Influential Jews of the Year” and City & State New York magazine praised him as “the borough’s most influential voice” for Manhattan’s more than three hundred thousand Jews.

A public intellectual whose message is rooted in Judaism and is broadly universal, Rabbi Hirsch speaks to the heart, soul, and conscience of the reader regardless of one’s faith, social, political, ethnic, or cultural background. With fluidity and superb writing skills Ammi weaves together the most important ideas and ideals of Judaism with compassion and wit thereby offering the contemporary reader a way forward through turbulent times characterized by moral confusion and moral relativism. Rabbi Hirsch’s book ought to be on the reading list of every American, Jew and non-Jew alike.

A Disclaimer – Rabbi Hirsch is a dear friend. However, I would recommend this volume even if I did not know and love him. It is that good. And, while I have you, I highly recommend that you listen every other Wednesday to a new episode of his superb Podcast that he calls In These Times with Rabbi Ammi Hirsch. The Podcast is described this way: “Unbound by politics and untethered by party lines, Ammi and his expert guests discuss everything from race and antisemitism to all the other issues that keep you up at night.”

To purchase The Lilac Tree – go to https://www.amazon.com/Lilac-Tree-Reflections-Courage-History/dp/1637587465

To listen to Ammi’s podcast In These Times with Rabbi Ammi Hirsch – go to https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/in-these-times-with-rabbi-ammi-hirsch/id1622485978

Thoughts about King Charles and the Coronation Extravaganza

What do we make of the United Kingdom’s new Monarch and the extravagant Coronation? That’s the question I’ve been asking myself since Queen Elizabeth died and all day during Charles’ coronation as King.

I’ve been slogging through reading The Idiot, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, admittedly with difficulty trying to remember the plethora of characters on every page bearing complicated Russian names. The titled character, the “Idiot” is anything but. He’s a Prince of sorts, the victim of childhood epilepsy and mistakenly called an “idiot” in 19th century Russia due to his constant seizures. As a child he was sent away to Switzerland to heal, and when he returned to Russia years later his epilepsy had abated dramatically thereby revealing his wisdom and charismatic appeal. He had many talents not the least of which was the ability to read faces as the outward manifestations of an individual’s character, attitude, and emotions.

I borrowed the idea of attempting to read the face of the outwardly stoic King Charles as he moved through the day revealing very little of the emotion that had to have bubbled to the surface as he became the focus of all the ceremonial and thousand year-old pomp and circumstance. The pageantry of the events was eye-popping. So many participated including the top leadership (past and present) of the British government and the remaining colonial realm, thousands of armed forces many hundreds of whom rode on horseback, flags flopping in the wind and rain representing every nation in the remaining British Empire, elaborate and gorgeous costumes of every color and design, world political and religious leaders from more than one hundred nations and every religious community in Britain (including the Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom Efraim Mirvis), and millions upon millions of viewers watching on television. The music was magnificent, though far too much of it for me dragging the ceremony on at least an hour too long.

I attempted to glean what messages Charles’ face might have revealed about what he felt and thought about as he rode with Queen Camilla in those two remarkably beautiful centuries-old vehicles behind teams of horses, the second of which was a two-hundred and fifty year-old gold plated carriage. Pulled by eight magnificent white horses, the symbolism perhaps associates the newly crowned Monarch with a mythological sun chariot and as an end-of-time savior. As the anointed Sovereign of the British realm, the 74 year-old Charles’ identity was transformed before the eyes of the world as he assumed the burdens of the crown. The gleaming golden orb beneath the cross that he carried from the thousand year-old Westminster Abbey symbolizes his assuming, in humility and with commitment to his faith and the doing of good works (Christian virtues) and in service to his nation and the world, elevated (according to British tradition) his assuming the role of Christ on earth as the leader of Britain’s Anglican Church much like the Roman Pope is to world Catholicism.

(I’m leaving aside my thoughts about Charles’ treatment of Diana, the role of royalty and the relevance of inherited British aristocracy in today’s world, the massive expense of the coronation to the British economy given the depth of poverty in Great Britain and throughout the realm, and the almost decadent display of wealth throughout the day – all a complicated matter, to be sure. All that said, those protesting the continuing existence of the crown on London’s streets (“Not our King”) in light of the enmeshed power of the British Monarchy as a cultural and national tradition all ought to know that it is highly unlikely that any change will come relative to that old, venerated, and beloved national royal tradition to millions of people.)

Charles seemed most likely to be feeling the burden of the exalted position he now assumes even as he likely feels gratified that finally he ascended to the role of Monarch. There was outward serenity about him, and by all accounts he is very happy with Camilla as Queen. Probably, he is frustrated, saddened, and disappointed that his sons don’t get along (if they ever did, assuming Harry’s memoir Spare is accurate and to be believed) and that Harry feels so alienated from him, his brother, and the royal family, though he demonstrated in the Church an appropriate and respectful demeanor. Charles may blame himself for what has transpired with Harry, and he should, though it’s difficult to know how much self-insight he has or what understanding he possesses about the impact of the projections of millions on him as King and on everyone in the royal family.

To my mind, Charles is not – taking away all the trappings of the British crown – an inspirational figure. The institution of the British Monarchy is what excites most people, not necessarily the individual man who now sits on the throne and beneath the crown. That said, the pageantry, jewels, wardrobe, Church, choirs, carriages, horses, military, world religious and political leaders, and jets streaming red, white, and blue across the British sky, had to impress even the most skeptical and cynical about inherited royalty.

Charles could surprise us with inspirational leadership, particularly with regards to his advocacy for climate change measures across the globe and other issues he always cared about such as sustainable organic farming and produce, architecture, and opportunities for young people not born on third base to get an education. He has always been a friend to the Jewish people and State of Israel having visited in 2019, and that ought to relieve those who might have suspected Queen Elizabeth’s coolness towards the Jewish state as she visited over 120 nations in her 70 years as Queen but never once to Israel. We’ll have to wait and see. The burdens of his position may be too heavy leaving him little time and energy to do anything except perform his royal duties and put aside what he cares most about. That’s what his mother did never revealing, except in the privacy of the palace and with those closest to her, what she really thought and believed about the great issues facing humankind – a sad way to live.

One last thought – though Charles is only a year older than me, he seems (at least to my eye, my gray hair turning white notwithstanding) to be so much older. Charles has the good fortune, however, of longevity on both his mother’s and father’s sides, so perhaps his years on the throne will enable him to do good beyond simply serving as an exalted national figure-head. I hope so for the sake of Britain and the world.

“The Battle for Values and Identity” – Rabbi Josh Weinberg

Rabbi Joshua Weinberg is Vice President for Reform Zionism in the United States representing 1.5 million American Reform Jews and the Executive Director of the Association of Reform Zionism of America (ARZA). My disclaimer – Josh is a dear friend and was my Executive Director of ARZA when I served as national Chair between 2016 and 2018. His column appears weekly. This one is particularly apt to the current moment in Israeli-Diaspora Relations.

“The Knesset returned to full action this week launching its summer session and resuming the Netanyahu government’s legislative agenda. This agenda is hell-bent on pushing through its judicial “reforms” to limit significantly the Supreme Court’s independence and essentially dismantle Israel’s democratic institution. There is much speculation about the timing and the politics. Some analysts think that Netanyahu will stall the proposals for a few months or let them go through gradually. Whether or not that is the case, few protesters are willing to sit back and wait to see what happens as they continue with deliberate disruption and perpetual pressure against the ruling majority.

But, beyond the current crisis, the wedge dividing American Jews (and possibly Americans as well) is about identity and values, morality and worldview (השקפה). Increasingly in today’s world, the dividing line between people is not along tribal or ethnic lines, nor along nationalist or religious lines – rather, our values and morals determine our identity.

Ehud Barak, in his speech to the weekly Saturday night rally on Kaplan St. in Tel Aviv in February, posed the following binary choice: “Either you’re in the Megilat Haatzmaut (Declaration/Scroll of Independence) camp or you’re in the ‘D-9’ (bulldozer) camp.” No gray area, no nuance, no complexity.  A polarizing dichotomy that has no middle ground.

I am concerned about this, not because I am wavering about which side I fall, or upon which side our Movement falls (we are firmly in the Jewish and democratic camp). I am concerned because of what happened this week that has severe and lasting ramifications for American Jews.

Israel received a few high-level American delegations that arrived to celebrate Israel at 75. Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy became only the second Speaker to address the Knesset. Florida Governor Ron Desantis also showed up for mere hours to demonstrate his support, as did Minority Leader Representative Hakim Jeffries with a Congressional delegation.

Haaretz journalist and former NY Consul General Alon Pinkus set the scene:

“Here was McCarthy, leading a bipartisan delegation ostensibly marking Israel’s 75th Independence Day, assisting Netanyahu’s latest phase of a 25-year quest to dispense with bipartisanship and align Israel tightly and unequivocally with the Republican Party.”

After McCarthy’s counterpart, Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana welcomed him with a rousing rendition of ‘Hotel California’ on electric guitar in front of the Knesset’s famous Chagall tapestry, McCarthy delivered an address to Israel’s parliament:

“Our values are your values. Our heritage is your heritage. Our dreams are your dreams,” McCarthy stated. “America is grateful for our friendship with Israel. We are a better nation because of it, and we must never shy away from defending it.”

When we throw out the “shared values” adage, we often infer the shared values of democracy, freedom, and equality that were stalwart values in the US-Israel relationship. However, neither McCarthy nor DeSantis made mention of the judicial overhaul, save for the dig at President Biden for snubbing Netanyahu.

McCarthy’s arrogation of this coded vocabulary increases the partisan wedge between Democrats and Republicans, and more importantly, between different moral teams.

Is the current climate in Israel forcing liberal American Jews to make a choice between their values and their people? Is it forcing a choice between a commitment to freedom and equality against a commitment to support the well-being and security of the Jewish State?

Over the past few months, the strains between Israel and the Democratic Party, and particularly an American Jewish community that remains predominantly liberal, have only grown worse. Of course, there are some prominent conservatives who are outspoken and critical of Netanyahu’s overhaul, but most are hesitant to be critical, and many – including those in the Orthodox Movements – are, in fact, supportive.

At stake here is the risk of losing a whole generation of American Jews. There is a serious risk of alienating those who simplistically perceive Israel to be ruled by a corrupt, illiberal, and anti-democratic government that aligns with everything they abhor – including the new McCarthyism (Kevin, not Joseph) and the Likud-GOP alliance.

Jewish pollster Harry Enten argues:

“When you put it all together, [a majority] of Jewish voters are Democratic for a reason. They believe in the party’s liberal ideology and identify with its core values. They will not be swayed by Republican attempts to switch allegiances, because on the key issue on which the GOP (partly under Evangelical influence) highlights — diehard support for Israel — just doesn’t impress Jews much. They don’t view Israel as essential to their political allegiances in the United States, and even if they did, they think Democratic policy is just fine.”

Israeli-American leader of the UnXeptable protest movement Offir Gutelzon, analyzed the situation in the following way:

“Speaker McCarthy has no real interest in Israel, no genuine or deep understanding of the political dynamics in Israel, [although his team has been given a detailed factual set of data of the makeup of the Netanyahu cabinet, including the criminal investigations and what they are doing].  At its core Netanyahu is manipulating McCarthy.

This is bad news for Jews and Judaism around the world. What Netanyahu is doing is trying to divide Jewish electoral votes and Jewish political donations in America. Netanyahu knows McCarthy is only interested in those two things. Netanyahu understands that interest explicitly and is exploiting it.

What we are seeing is an attempt by Netanyahu to manipulate and change the dynamic and dialectic of the American public such that Israel’s fight for democracy is seen as a fight between Democrat and Republican, American “right” and “left” (as well as “right” and “wrong”). This is smart from his perspective in the short term, but disastrous for all Jews in the long-term.”

We are facing a situation in which many American Jews might decide to cut off ties with Israel because they perceive Israel as not representing “our values.” This is not all that new, but it is manifesting in an irreparably damaging way, especially among young liberal American Jews.

The political and ideological love affair between Netanyahu and the Republicans/Neocons goes back to the Reagan presidency and the last years of the Cold War when Netanyahu served as Israel’s representative to the United Nations. The first generation of neoconservative intellectuals (Richard Perle, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Elliott Abrams, Kenneth Adelman, and Max Kampelman) were serving in top foreign policy positions in the Reagan administration.

To the ruling Likud Party, the policies of the Republican Party seemed to offer Israel time to consolidate its hold on the West Bank and Gaza as it encouraged Washington to view the Arab‐Israeli conflict through a Cold War lens and to identify Palestinian nationalism as an extension of Soviet‐induced international terrorism. In that context, Republican-led Washington could view Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands with benign neglect.

The Obama presidency threw a wrench in Netanyahu’s plans, only to have the pendulum swing the other way when Donald Trump was elected. As Netanyahu plastered billboards of his picture with the American President, threatened annexation, and furthered his agenda, he also succeeded in further distancing liberal American Jews from the Jewish and democratic state. President Biden clearly expressed his Zionism and strong affinity for the State of Israel and pushed back against Netanyahu. By stating plainly that Netanyahu is not (yet?) invited to the White House – because of the systematic dismantling of democracy – Biden risks a backlash of Republican partisanship which will exacerbate the use of Israel as a wedge issue.

McCarthy invited Netanyahu to Washington. If he addresses Congress, it will be the fourth time that PM Netanyahu has addressed a joint session of Congress. The controversy around his 2015 appearance, which took place largely to spite President Obama, will pale in comparison to what could happen if that is repeated – especially with a presidential election looming in the next 18 months.

In response to Netanyahu’s blatant meddling in American politics, let us assert, as Rabbi Eric Yoffie once wrote, “without equivocation or apology, that American Jews have the absolute right to involve themselves in the arguments and the politics of the Jewish state. … Israel is the state of the Jewish people, and Zionism affirms that Israel is the concern and the potential home of Jews everywhere.” Let us also assert to American Jews that we must involve ourselves in the arguments and the politics of the Jewish State just as we do in the U.S.

We also must work closely with the pro-democracy camp of Israelis to build the cooperation and support of American Jews with similar values. As absurd as it sounds, and despite the myriads of public protesters, many American Jews seem to think that support for anything Israeli is tacit support for the government of Israel. Today’s lines are delineated by values, and as liberal American Jews, we have more in common with the Israeli street than does the MAGA Republican Party. It is high time we champion our liberal Jewish values and our liberal Jewish identity.”

Remarks in the Wake of the L.A. Riots – 31 years ago this week

In the aftermath of the Rodney King Riots between April 29 and May 4, 1992, my friend Pastor Ignacio Castuera, the Priest then at Hollywood’s United Methodist Church, assembled a book he called Dreams on Fire – Embers of Hope – From the Pulpits of Los Angeles After the Riots (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 1992) in which clergy throughout Los Angeles – black, white, Hispanic, Asian, male, female, Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, and Buddhist – all spoke with one intent: to find embers of hope in the ashes of L.A.

Coretta Scott King said of this volume (among the top ten religious books published in America that year): “Dreams on Fire – Embers of Hope reveals the fervent social commitment of the religious leadership of a community in crisis. I wholeheartedly recommend this important and inspiring anthology to overcome who cares about the future of America’s cities.”

I was the sole Jewish voice in the volume.

As I think back over the past 31 years, much has changed in Los Angeles and America, and much has not changed. The murder of African-Americans by police continues. Economic injustice separating racial and ethnic groups continues. Disparate educational opportunities between white and peoples of color continue. Racism and hatred of the “other” continue. But, we’ve also elected an African-American President as well as many minorities to federal, state, and local office. Many important legislative efforts have been successful in lifting many at the bottom of the economic ladder to lives of greater dignity and out of poverty. We have Obamacare, increased Medicaid in many states, more federal money going into national infrastructure projects, and climate change, more rights for women, minorities, and LGBTQ individuals. There is also a growing middle and upper-middle class amongst minority communities.

However, there is a reactionary response settling in across the country that is alarming as white supremacist, misogynist, homophobic, and the MAGA extremists threaten the well-being and integrity of American democratic institutions and traditions. The polarization in American society has become so wide and entrenched that one wonders what’s in store for America in the years ahead. As much as we have progressed as a nation in so many ways, we are also facing regression that’s alarming.

As we approach the 31st anniversary of the Rodney King verdict and as we enter the pre-2024 election cycle, I pulled that small volume Dreams on Fire – Embers of Hope from my book shelf and reread many of the entries, including my own (pages 25-27).

I spoke at the Messiah Baptist Church in South Los Angeles on Sunday morning, May 3, 1992, and Pastor Castuera included my remarks in this little gem of a book. Though I spoke these words 31 years ago, they feel contemporary still. Here is what I said (The Reverend Kenneth J. Flowers was the pastor):

“Pastor Flowers,

Thank you for your graciousness in giving me these few moments to speak to your congregation. All of us from Temple Israel wanted to be with you today. Our growing friendship with you these past two years in our Covenant Relationship has meant a great deal and continues to bring us closer to one another. For our friendship, I am grateful.

My heart is heavy as I speak to you today. Not only have these riots shaken our community’s sense of safety and security; but, also, yesterday I learned that Howard Epstein, the son of one of our synagogue families, was murdered on Thursday at the beginning of the rioting. He was here from Orinda where he, his wife, and his two small daughters (ages nine months and seven years) were living. He came to check on his business and to be sure his seventy-five employees (African-American and Hispanic) were safe. He rented a car at the airport and journeyed to South Central LA where his business was located. While stopped at a light, three men pulled up alongside him and shot him dead. They didn’t know that his employees loved him. Nor did they know that, despite economic hard times, Howard could not lay off his employees because they were his friends.

After services this morning, I will make a condolence call to his parents’ home, a task that breaks my heart. Howard’s memorial service is scheduled for Tuesday at Temple Israel.

So much has transpired in so short a while – a wake-up call not only to the people of Los Angeles but to the country. The Rodney King verdict strains credulity, but anyone with any understanding knows that this was the tip of the iceberg. The rage we saw so violently exploding in the streets must be condemned for its viciousness and lawlessness by all decent people. But the feelings of despair, alienation, and anger cannot be ignored. Not all the looters are criminals, though much of it was, no doubt, opportunistic theft. When a mother of five children remarked that this was the first time she was able to put shoes on the feet of all her children, then we have to wake up to the reality of the lives of far too many people.

Pastor Flowers and I spoke on Thursday morning about how extraordinary the Rodney King verdict was, and I told him that so many white people simply don’t understand the lives of black people in this part of the city.

Last January, Pastor Flowers invited me to participate in the city-wide celebration of Dr. King’s birthday at McCoy Memorial Baptist Church. I was, along with City Attorney Jim Hahn, the only white face in that church. I had never in my life been in that neighborhood. I felt very much the minority and not a little out of place. But I was proud to go and be with Pastor Flowers and others whom I have come to know here at Messiah. I must tell you that only since getting to know you folks at Messiah have I begun to understand what your lives are about, about your dreams and about the nature of your community. I have grown to appreciate who you are and respect you as I had never known before. And I consider myself enlightened, empathic, and openhearted.

The people in Simi Valley haven’t the foggiest idea about the realities of what it means to be black in a white world, at the hands of certain white police who’ve lost control and displayed vicious animus toward indefensible black people.

This is why their verdict went the way it did. We need more understanding between black and white, more economic empowerment in the African-American community, more opportunities for business investment and more black ownership of businesses, a higher voting percentage, more political power, and the building of coalitions of decency between black, white, Korean, Christian, Jew, Muslim, and all peoples of faith.

If better conditions, better lives, and greater understanding come as a consequence of these riots, then we can say “Dayenu” (it will have been enough!). But much work needs to be done in the months and years ahead. We need political leaders with courage and community leaders who speak the truth. We need the effort of every black, white, and Asian person living in this community. And we need goodwill and the willingness to take risks and make sacrifices for the common good. For purposes of enlightened self-interest, this is a necessity. In the interest of God’s will, it is mandatory.

God bless, and may peace come to us soon based in justice and greater mutual understanding. Amen!”

An historical note: When the riots ended, 63 people were killed, 2,383 were injured, more than 12,000 were arrested, and estimates of property damage were over $1 billion. Korea-town, situated just to the north of South Central LA, was disproportionately damaged. Much of the blame for the extensive nature of the violence was attributed to LAPD Chief of Police Daryl Gates, who already announced his resignation by the time of the riots, for failure to de-escalate the situation and overall mismanagement… According to one study, “scandalous racist violence… marked the LAPD under Gates’s tempestuous leadership.” (Source: Wikipedia)

Celebrating and Reflecting on Israel’s Yom Ha’atzmaut at 75 Years

Note: The following short reflections were written by the four national co-chairs of J Street’s Rabbinic and Cantorial Cabinet, a pro-Israel, pro-peace, and pro-democracy political organization in Washington DC that endorses more than 200 members of Congress and has direct access to the Biden Administration (www.jstreet.org). This was sent to the more than 1030 members of the Cabinet. I thought you might find these reflections of interest.

As Israel approaches its 75th year, we have much to celebrate, commemorate, and reflect upon, as we imagine our hopes for the next 75 years and beyond.

For this special edition of The Two Way Street, the Chairs of our Rabbinic and Cantorial Cabinet each wrote a short reflection on excerpts of Israel’s Declaration of Independence. It is a Talmud, of sorts, a rendering of commentary and exploration on this foundational document.

We hope these short pieces provide you with insight, inspiration, and connection as you mark this historic moment with J Street and with your home communities.

With hope for a continually brighter and more peaceful future,

Emily Kaiman
Deputy Director of Jewish Communal Engagement, J Street

Celebrating Israel as a Remarkable Accomplishment of the Jewish PeopleRabbi John L. Rosove, J Street Rabbinic and Cantorial Cabinet Chair

“Impelled by this historic and traditional attachment, Jews strove in every successive generation to re-establish themselves in their ancient homeland. In recent decades they returned in their masses. Pioneers, ma’pilim [(Hebrew) – immigrants coming to Eretz-Israel in defiance of restrictive legislation] and defenders, they made deserts bloom, revived the Hebrew language, built villages and towns, and created a thriving community controlling its own economy and culture, loving peace but knowing how to defend itself, bringing the blessings of progress to all the country’s inhabitants, and aspiring towards independent nationhood.” – Israel’s Declaration of Independence

In 1948, Israel’s Declaration of Independence articulated the vision and aspirations of the state’s founders. This 75th anniversary of statehood gives us an opportunity to express our respect for their sacrifices and accomplishments; and it offers Jews worldwide today the guiding principles upon which the Zionist project was based and continually renewed. 

As time passes, however, it is easy for us in the 21st century to forget or to take for granted how very difficult it was for the early Zionist pioneers and state’s founders to settle the land, protect themselves, renew Hebrew into a modern language, welcome immigration waves, build cities, towns, kibbutzim, and moshavim, hospitals and universities, forge cooperative relationships with surrounding Arab villages and Bedouin camps, and redefine what it means to be Jewish in the modern era. 

What was clear in the early days before the state was established and is even clearer now is that Judaism is far more than a faith tradition. As a people and a nation — with a rich history, an historic Homeland, language(s), sacred texts and literature, philosophies and theologies, life cycle celebrations and holidays, moral and ethical principles, culture and art — we aspire to be a positive and progressive force for the well-being not only of the Jewish people, but for all peoples living in the Land and State of Israel, and as a light to the nations of the world. 

Emerging from two thousand years of exile and recreating ourselves in our historic homeland has been and continues to be a herculean task without parallel in Jewish and world history. Though we have created a remarkable nation, we have also made our share of mistakes. We can take pride in what our people has accomplished even as we battle against bad actors that have taken the reins of power and threaten the state’s foundational ethics and the democratic traditions upon which the State of Israel was founded. 

As we celebrate Israel’s 75th anniversary, let us support those progressive forces in Israel that seek to preserve Israel’s democracy and Jewish character for all the citizens of the state and the entirety of the Jewish people, and to support every effort to resolve the existentially dangerous Israeli-Palestinian conflict into two-states for two peoples, perhaps in a confederation, living side-by-side in peace and security. 

The Balfour Declaration – Finding New PerspectiveRabbi Andrea London, J Street Rabbinic and Cantorial Cabinet Chair

“This right was recognized in the Balfour Declaration of the 2nd November, 1917, and re-affirmed in the Mandate of the League of Nations which, in particular, gave international sanction to the historic connection between the Jewish people and Eretz-Israel and to the right of the Jewish people to rebuild its National Home.” – Israel’s Declaration of Independence

In the West Bank city of Bethlehem, adjacent to the Israeli separation wall, stands the boutique Walled Off Hotel, designed by the artist Banksy. Inside the hotel is a small museum offering a history of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict from a Palestinian perspective. As one enters the museum, there is a wax figure of Lord Arthur Balfour signing the declaration that bears his name.

The Balfour Declaration marked a seminal moment in the movement to create the modern State of Israel. For Palestinians, it signified the beginning of their displacement from their homeland and a regime that brutally and systematically violated their human and civil rights and right to self-determination. Recently, I brought a group of American rabbis to the museum as part of a trip to the West Bank. The irony of Lord Balfour’s visage at the museum’s entrance was not lost on them. 

We have all heard the arguments from the Zionist perspective: if only the Palestinians had accepted the UN Partition Plan of 1947 or reached an agreement with Israel when President Clinton tried to broker a deal — if only the Palestinians hadn’t resorted to violence time and again — they could have had a state of their own by now. From the Zionist vantage point, it is easy to blame the Palestinians for their struggles, their lack of political independence, and the violence they have faced at the hands of Israeli forces.

On this 75th anniversary of the foundation of the State of Israel, we need to open our minds to the Palestinian perspective and recognize our role in enabling Israel’s entrenchment of the Occupation and persecution of the Palestinians. Ending that Occupation should not be regarded as a reward to be conferred on the Palestinians once they demonstrate good behavior. Rather, Israel and its supporters must accept that ending the Occupation is essential for the well-being of all the inhabitants of the land in order for everyone  to live in peace, with dignity, freedom and democratic rights. 

Israel has the ability to lay the groundwork for a resolution to the conflict by engaging its allies to help broker a deal, halting settlement activity, and allowing Palestinians to live without harassment, build on their land, develop their economy, graze their flocks and tend their fields.

Americans committed to a just and secure peace, must educate ourselves, our leaders, and our communities, on the realities in Israel and the occupied territories. The group of rabbis I accompanied to the West Bank and to the museum felt that their experiences gave them greater knowledge and strength to work for a future that is consonant with our values. 

Only when there is a just resolution to the conflict with the Palestinians will Jews, as it says in “Hatikvah” — be a free people in our land — rather than a people that must live by the sword and through the repression of others.

Defending Our Shared Values – Ensuring Equality for AllRabbi David Teutsch, immediate past Chair of the J Street Rabbinic and Cantorial Cabinet

“Israel will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex.” – Israel’s Declaration of Independence

Like most of the American Jews of my generation, I grew up with an idealized version of Israel. Part of what was inspiring to me as a teenager and remains central to me 60 years later is embodied in the Israeli Declaration of Independence: Israel “will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex.”

That goal requires constant effort because there are always countervailing forces that push governments away from fulfilling it. The institution of the Chief Rabbinate and the occupation of the West Bank are two such countervailing forces.

As recent demonstrations across Israel protesting potential changes in the independence of the Supreme Court demonstrate, many in Israel are deeply concerned with civil liberties and democracy. But for the values of the Declaration to be fulfilled, they must apply equally to the West Bank, which is now being incorporated into the State of Israel.

With a civilian, MK Bezalel Smotrich, the new administrator of the West Bank, it has moved from Occupied Territory to a part of Israel. The Palestinians on the West Bank have no vote and few civil rights, which is why the Israeli newspaper Haaretz recently described the situation as apartheid. Israel has a long way to go if it is to live up to the Declaration.

It is urgent that American Jews who share a commitment to what the Declaration stands for join with the Israelis who share their values to defend not only the Supreme Court but Palestinian rights. Universal civil rights may only be possible to achieve in a confederation variant of a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians, but only when there are equal rights for all can the Jews of Israel be certain of full social and political rights for themselves, their children and their grandchildren.

Protests and Progress: From the Diaspora to the Holy Land – An Ever Connected PeopleCantor Evan Kent, J Street Rabbinic and Cantorial Cabinet Chair

“We appeal to the Jewish people throughout the Diaspora to rally round the Jews of Eretz-Israel in the tasks of immigration and upbuilding and to stand by them in the great struggle for the realization of the age-old dream – the redemption of Israel.” – Israel’s Declaration of Independence

I am descended from a long line of political activists. My grandparents demonstrated and stood on picket lines supporting workers’ rights. My parents took me and my siblings to marches and demonstrations against the Vietnam War and in support of Soviet Jews’ desire to leave the Soviet Union. In the early 1940s, my great grandmother Eva stood at the entrance to New York City subway stations with tin boxes or “pushkes” in her hand and asked for donations to help build the nascent Israeli state.

My grandparents and great grandparents never visited Israel, but every Saturday night, as Shabbat is ending, they walk alongside me in spirit as I proudly hoist my Israeli flag and proceed to the ever-growing demonstration here in Tel Aviv just a half mile from where we live. Each week, the ever-larger crowds have become more vocal in defiance of the so-called “reforms” this Israeli ultra-right wing government is trying to enact.

Though my ancestors could only faintly dream that someday they would walk the streets of Tel Aviv as I do, they clearly understood the connection between those living in Israel and those outside of the country. Israelis are also keenly aware of this historical interconnectedness. This relationship between Jews in Israel and outside the land was of major significance when the Israeli Declaration of Independence was written and this connection is just as important, perhaps even more so as forces within the government are determined to forever change Israel’s democratic nature.

As we approach Yom Ha’atzmaut, I encourage you to walk with me in spirit at the demonstrations in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa and all across Israel. Go to protest in your own community and make sure Israel’s autocratic leaders understand that the democratic values Jews in the United States treasure are no different than the ideals we hold so dearly here in Israel.

“The Human Being is the Cruelest Animal” – Friedrich Nietzsche

So much cruelty – everywhere, all-the-time, in our country and around the world, in the politics of destruction, in social media, public and private speech, in the objectification of others, in policies enacted and judged against the stranger, women, homosexuals and transsexuals, minority groups, peoples of color, the poor, homeless and hungry, the disabled, the elderly and the young, anyone who’s vulnerable. Cruelty is a malady so common; it’s in every religion, tribe, ethnicity, culture, and nation.

It’s everywhere, all-the-time, and so many suffer as a consequence. When will decent people as a whole who learned as children how to play fair and share their toys in the sandbox, stand up to the bullies on the playground and do what they were taught, what every decent person who learned the golden rule was instructed by their parents, teachers, and elders to do – to treat every human being as infinitely worthy by virtue of being created in the Divine image?

I know I’m not alone in my outrage as I watch the news each day and witness the injuries, death, destruction, and subjugation of human rights in our country and around the world.

In democracies, elections matter; candidates matter; voting matters; political leaders who place the country above party politics matters; courage matters, and moral leadership matters.

I’ve been thinking a lot about cruelty and its etiology these past few years because of the rise of heartless leadership in our country; and I’ve collected quotations in my reading on this theme by many thinkers, writers, and human rights activists spanning the centuries. I offer a few of them here:

“People speak sometimes about the ‘bestial’ cruelty of human beings, but that is terribly unjust and offensive to beasts, no animal could ever be so cruel as humankind, so artfully, so artistically cruel.” Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821-1881)

“It is from the Bible that the human being has learned cruelty, rapine, and murder; for the belief of a cruel God makes a cruel person.” Thomas Paine (1737-1809)

“I think it’s perfectly possible to explain how the universe came about without bringing God into it, but I don’t know everything, and there may well be a God somewhere, hiding away. Actually, if God is keeping out of sight, it’s because God is ashamed of its followers and all the cruelty and ignorance they’re responsible for promoting in God’s name. If I were God, I’d want nothing to do with them.” Philip Pullman (b. 1946)

All cruelty springs from weakness.” Seneca (5 BCE-65 CE)

Fear is the main source of superstition, and one of the main sources of cruelty.Bertrand Russell (1872-1970)

Some things are not forgivable. Deliberate cruelty is not forgivable. It is the most unforgivable thing.” Tennessee Williams (1911-1983)

I must be cruel only to be kind; thus bad begins, and worse remains behind.” William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

Emotion without reason lets people walk all over you; reason without emotion is a mask for cruelty.” Nalini Singh (b. 1977)

Cruel laughter is the way cowards cry when they’re not alone, and causing pain is how they grieve.” Gregory David Roberts (b. 1952)

“Cruelty knows that it has no need of histrionics. It can be as calm and quiet as it likes. It can sigh, or lightly shake its head in disbelief, or offer a sympathetic apology for whatever it must do. It can move slowly, methodically, inevitably.” Amor Towles (b. 1964)

It was told to you what is good and what the Eternal demands of you – only doing justice and loving kindness and walking humbly with your God.” –Micah 6:8

“That which is hateful to you, do not do unto your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.” Hillel (Late 1st century BCE to Early 1st century CE)

NY Times Focus Group with 12 Americans Ages 71-88

The NYTs asked a series of questions of 12 seniors covering aging, ageism, and their views on life in America today (Wednesday, April 12, 2023).

It is estimated that 17% of 332 million Americans are over the age of 70 today (56.4 million). In 2021, the “Boomer Generation” (born between 1946 and 1964) represented 21.16% of the total population (71.1 million) and Generation Z (born between 1997 and 2012) represented 20.67%  of the total population (68.6 million).

I asked myself the same questions asked of the 12 seniors. My responses are below. Here is the link to the NYTs piece – a focus group with 12 Americans ages 71 to 88

What do you hope will be better for Gen Z than it was for your generation?

That Gen Z will advocate for an era distinguished by an ethical standard higher than a “me-first” “survival of the fittest” mentality, that their politics across party lines will be based on what is best for the common good, and that an historically high number of the generation will vote in every election, that their financial wherewithal will be at least as solid as their parents’ economic standing and, hopefully, higher, and that they will continue to make progress addressing the concrete issues that plague America today (e.g. climate crisis, economic disparity between wealthy and poor, poverty and raising the minimum wage to $20/hr, human rights, cost of medical care and prescription drugs, hunger, homelessness, political polarization, restoration of the integrity of democratic institutions, anti-democratic gerrymandering and abolition of the Electoral College, statelessness of Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico, criminal justice reform, legislation of Roe v Wade, etc. etc.).    

Because you’re in your 70s or 80s, which decade of life would you say was or is your favorite?

I can’t choose. There were good and bad events in every decade. I experienced much creativity, a strong and loving marriage, the birth of sons and grandchildren, satisfaction in my professional life, and happiness in retirement. I’ve also experienced my share of disappointment, sadness, stress, illness, and the loss of family, mentors, and friends.

What would you say are the best things about getting older?

I like to think that I’m wiser and smarter than I once was. I love watching my sons grow and thrive, and being a grandpa (“Papa”).

What are some of the changes that have happened over the course of your lifetime that you’d say are for the better?

A dramatic advance of medicine, science, computer and communications technologies; an increased availability of information via the Internet; and far greater access to transportation and exposure to the arts.  

Any other changes that have happened over your lifetime that you think are for the worse?

Rejection of science; climate crisis; out-of-control gun violence and right-wing refusal to legislate controls; growing intolerance of the “other;” balkanization of society; rise in racism, antisemitism, anti-Zionism, Islamophobia, homophobia, and misogyny; the crumbling of democratic institutions and the American two-party system brought about by MAGA ideologues, autocrats, and reactionaries.

Do you want to stay in your homes as long as possible? How likely do you think it is that you’ll be able to stay, and what are the factors you take into account when thinking about that question?

Yes. I love our home, neighborhood, and near-by family and friends. We’re close to where our kids live. If we’re no longer able to climb stairs in our home, care for our house and grounds, or if our health fails us, we’d consider moving.

Do you ever feel isolated or lonely where you are?

No. I’m active with causes I care about, and I continue to learn, read, and write. I use Zoom, Skype, and Face-time to stay connected with friends and colleagues around the country, in Israel, and around the world, and I see friends in our city. I enjoy my alone time and feel fortunate to have a resilient and loving marriage and close relationships with our sons, grandchildren, and a number of dear friends.

Right now, the official full retirement age is somewhere between 65 and 70, according to the government, depending on what year you were born. What do you think about that?

I think this is an arbitrary and unnecessary standard. Many people love their work and are capable of delivering competently well into their 80s. Those not so able ought to retire – if they can afford to do so. Younger people ought to plan financially for retirement starting in their early 30s at the latest while developing interests that will engage and sustain them in their senior years after retirement.  

Do you think that Social Security will exist as a program when your grandchildren retire?

I certainly hope so. The country can’t afford for it to collapse, and policies have to be passed by Congress to sustain it or we’ll sink into a pre-Great Depression era without a social safety net.

How do you think Medicare is doing these days?

Medicare is an amazing program and should be extended to every age group over time. It’s beyond my pay-grade, however, to know how Social Security and Medicare ought to be fully funded to assure long-term solvency. The answer is not privatization, however.

Do you think that politicians care about the needs of American voters in their 70s and 80s?

Most Democratic Party office holders seem to care. The MAGA Republican Party, however, does not as these politicians are preoccupied fighting culture wars that diminish personal freedoms and waste everyone’s (and the media’s) time and treasure. Many traditional conservatives seem to care.

When you’re evaluating candidates to vote for, do you think more or less favorably about candidates who are around your age?

I tend to trust liberal politicians of any age and don’t place any trust in MAGA politicians. My evaluation of candidates is dependent on their policy positions, moral fiber, character, courage, and their propensity to act according to what’s best in the common interest and for the most vulnerable in American society.

How do you think being in your 70s and 80s affects your ability to be in office, generally? Is it a benefit, a disadvantage? Does it have no effect?

I have concluded that young wise people grow into old wise people, young fools grow into old fools, morally principled young people grow into morally principled old people, and morally weak young people grow into morally weak old people. The challenge is to determine who is morally strong and wise, who continually learn and are open to adjusting their policy priorities to changing circumstances and demands, who learn from history, and who do what is best for the most vulnerable in society. It’s irrelevant to me what age politicians and office holders reach if they still have their wits and act according to high moral and intellectual standards.

We have now a presidential candidate running, Nikki Haley, the former governor of South Carolina, and she’s proposed that those who run for office should have to pass a cognition test if they’re over the age of 75. What do you think about the idea?

This suggestion is ageist as it presumes that every senior is diminished intellectually and capacity to serve to the same extent. It is also the answer to the wrong question. The right question ought to be based on the state of one’s intellectual and moral capacities to serve.

Do you think that there should be a maximum age limit for being elected to office?


President Biden is currently 80. Do you think his age is a benefit for him or a disadvantage?

A benefit – mostly. He does NOT seem to be diminished intellectually. He has a strong moral compass, is a natural empath, and has been a very good President with the help of skilled non-corruptible staff, and (in the first two years) a Democratic Congress led by Leaders Pelosi and Schumer. Biden is experienced, wise, and competent in international and domestic affairs, and though not a perfect candidate, he has done well and restored dignity to the Oval Office.

Former President Donald Trump is 76 years-old. Do you see his age as an issue, either as a benefit or a disadvantage, regarding his campaign for president in 2024?

This is the wrong question. The right question is whether Trump is morally, psychologically, intellectually, and legally fit to be president again – the answer is a resounding NO!

How would you feel about a rematch between Biden and Trump for president in 2024?

Very very anxious – but I have confidence that Biden will win re-election (assuming that the percentage of those who vote is very high especially among peoples of color and young people) and send Trump out to pasture once and for all (or he’ll be in federal prison on multiple corruption convictions). Hopefully, Trumpism will fade as responsible conservatives reject MAGA-Republicanism and rebuild a pro-Constitutional conservative political party and restore the two-party system, an important check-and-balance element in American politics.

What things do you hope will be better for Gen Z than for your generation?

I hope Gen Z will approach its challenges with a measure of humility, give credit to preceding generations that made progress, learn American and world history, and expose themselves to great literature, art, music, and the tenets of world religions. Doing so will afford greater perspective, appreciation for nuance and complexity in human affairs, and instill the sensitivity necessary to address effectively America’s existential challenges. I hope as well that Gen Zs do not become cynical. And I hope they will be activists for good causes and vote in every election.