Killing America’s Children

This was sent to me by my friend Steven Koltai, now living in Maine.

Here ( is a list of Senators and where they stand on gun legislation. Most of us have a home state (or vacation home state) on this list. Of course, we all have Congresspeople as well.

If you really care about chipping away at the control of guns in America, and you believe (as do I) that there is no realistic chance of changing the filibuster in the current 117th Congress OR, at least in the next Congress (118th), achieving 60 votes to change gun laws, then the very least we can do is write to our respective Senator to urge passage of pending legislation.

You can find a good list of pending legislation here (

You can find the address for your Representative and Senator here ( and

Feel free to copy and paste this letter.


Dear Senator ___,

Like 90% of Americans, I favor substantial tightening of gun laws. There are numerous (and soon to be even more) proposed bills that accomplish this. A good list appears here:

I know you already know all the facts, including that guns are the #1 cause of death for children in the United States (true since 2020). There are no wealthy countries besides the US where this is true, and even among poor countries, most are safer for children than the US. We are in the same category as “failed states” or countries in outright state of war, such as El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Yemen, Syria, Ukraine, Somalia, Sudan, Congo and Myanmar.

I know you care deeply about human life. We can debate at what point in gestation a life begins, but surely, we cannot debate that a child sitting in a classroom is not only alive, but is precious and is our responsibility to protect.

I hope you will not only consider, but actually help lead the campaign to pass one of the pending laws already on the books, before this Congress ends.

Thanks much for your consideration.

[Your name, town and state]

Why Israel Matters – Rabbi Martin Weiner Memorial Lecture

This past Friday evening (May 20, 2022), I delivered the first Rabbi Martin Weiner Memorial Lecture at Congregation Sherith Israel in San Francisco where I served during my first 7 years as a rabbi (1979-1986) with Rabbi Marty Weiner, my senior rabbi, mentor, and life-long friend.

Marty invited me before Covid to speak about my 2019 book Why Israel [and its Future] Matters – Letters of a Liberal Rabbi to his Children and the Millennial Generation with an Afterword by my sons Daniel and David Rosove (New Jersey: Ben Yehuda Press), but the event was delayed until Marty called me this past October (2021) and we set the date for May 20. Sadly, Marty died at the beginning of March.

In my talk (with a Q and A period following my talk – also recorded) I address in as concise, clear, and nuanced way as possible, as I did in my book, our American liberal Jewish relationship to Israel. I knew that if I hoped to penetrate the thinking of younger generations of Jews (and older Jews too), I had to speak honestly to their questions, doubts, struggles, and need to understand why our relationship with Israel matters for our future and the future of the Jewish people.

For those interested, you can watch on YouTube here:

Vote Aarika Rhodes for Congress (CA-32) on June 7

In October, I endorsed Aarika Rhodes, an exciting young candidate for Congress in California’s 32nd District, and now, two weeks before the June 7 primary election, I hope that those of you who live in CA32 will vote for her, or if you live elsewhere and know people who live in this district, ask them to vote for Aarika.

California’s 32nd congressional district covers communities in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles and parts of Simi Valley including Toluca Lake, Studio City, Sherman Oaks, Encino, Tarzana, Woodland Hills, Chatsworth, Northridge, Porter Ranch, Reseda, Canoga Park, and Pacific Palisades.

Aarika’s policy concerns include promoting education reform, parental leave, and foster care reform; addressing the socioeconomic conditions that give rise to poverty, hunger, and homelessness; promoting universal basic income, climate change, immigration, and criminal justice reform; expanding Medicare and a host of other issues (see website link below).

Aarika believes in working together with everyone (left, right, and center on the political spectrum) and bringing people of different backgrounds (racial, ethnic, national, and religious) together to find common ground and get important things done. By nature, she is a people-person, moderate in temperament, without guile, smart, curious, and well-spoken, energetic, and politically savvy. She hopes to be a model of honest and inspirational leadership for people of all ages, especially children and young people who she believes need positive role models to inspire them to engage in politics and public service.

Aarika is an award-winning elementary school teacher in math and science and not only loves children, but children love her.

As a woman of color (Aarika’s father is African-American and her mother is Chinese-American), I wanted especially to know her positions on Israel and peace with the Palestinians. She told me (without knowing my background as an American Progressive Zionist Rabbinic leader) that she strongly supports Israel’s security, is for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, justice for the Palestinian people, and had she been in Congress she would have voted for the $1 billion Iron Dome bill for Israel after the last Hamas-Israel war.

I have spent many hours one-one-one with Aarika discussing the issues she cares most about. I am comfortable with her and her views, and once I was persuaded that she would be a fresh dynamic and intelligent voice in Congress representing my own district (CA-32), I offered to advise her on Israel and Middle East affairs. She welcomed my help whole-heartedly.

Aarika Rhodes is challenging Congressman Brad Sherman in the June primary election. Her goal is to win one of the top two spots to qualify her for the run-off in the 2022 general election. She is the most serious challenger to Sherman among four other candidates.

Why am I supporting Aarika against Democratic Congressman Brad Sherman?

  • I agree with her on 85-90% of the issues.
  • I am a progressive American Zionist and Sherman’s positions vis a vis the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are to the right of my own.
  • It is time for a change in the congressional leadership of CA-32. Aarika Rhodes represents a new generation of young, dynamic, smart, able, compassionate, and can-do leaders who cares about people, equality, and justice, is humble, and wants to serve. She feels an affinity with the Jewish community and would be an important ally in Congress on issues domestic and foreign that the liberal American Jewish community supports.

I include below the link to Aarika’s website and a few short campaign videos so you can get a feel for her dynamism, political concerns, and positions (check her policy positions most especially).

Aarika Rhode’s Website –

Aarika’s Campaign Videos

“Memo: President Biden’s Upcoming Visit to Israel and the Palestinian Territory”

Note: The following memo contains positions of J Street, a leading pro-Israel, pro-peace, pro-democracy political organization in our nation’s capital that advocates for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to be negotiated between the two parties with American support and agency.

Jeremy Ben-Ami, the founder and President of J Street, was just named as one of the top 40 most influential foreign policy advocates in America. Since he created J Street in 2009, the organization has become a safe political space in Washington, D.C. for pro-Israel Congressional Representatives and Senators, as well as those in the Administration and amongst all Americans (Jewish and non-Jewish), to express their love and support for the State of Israel, its security and democracy while reserving the right to critique Israeli government policies that do not comport with liberal American Jewish values and what we believe to be in Israel’s best interest as a secure, democratic, and Jewish state.

J Street endorses more than 200 members of Congress who support two states for two peoples, American and Israeli democracy.

I have been a supporter of J Street almost from its beginnings, and serve as a co-chair of its 1000+ member Rabbinic and Cantorial Cabinet representing America’s Jewish religious streams.

The following is a memo from Jeremy Ben-Ami, President of J Street regarding President Biben’s upcoming visit in Israel:

“President Joe Biden is scheduled to make his first official trip to Israel as president next month. The trip provides an important opportunity for the President to reaffirm the strong bilateral ties between the countries as well as to reiterate US support for moves toward normalization between Israel and some Arab-majority countries and American opposition to Iran ever acquiring a nuclear weapon.

Looming over the trip, however, are deepening concerns that tensions between Israelis and Palestinians could spiral into another round of violence. Palestinian terror attacks against Israelis, provocative Israeli violations of international law and Palestinian rights in East Jerusalem and throughout the West Bank, and the lack of a political horizon for ending the ever-deepening occupation have shredded the simplistic notion that normalization accords that ignore the conflict could still materially impact it in positive way.

President Biden should not only acknowledge the growing threats to his stated goal of a two-state solution on his visit, he should use the trip to take at least a few actual steps toward reversing the current trajectory of the conflict toward permanent occupation by meaningfully pushing back on de facto annexation and violence.

This memorandum lays out steps the President could take if he decides to use his trip as an opportunity to do so.

1) Reaffirm US security aid to Israel and make clear its scope and limits

President Biden should rightly reaffirm the strong commitment of the United States to Israel’s security. He should, and no doubt will, restate his and this country’s full support for the unparalleled assistance the United States provides Israel in a number of ways, not least of which is the security assistance pledged in the 2016 Memorandum of Understanding concluded when he was Vice President under Barack Obama.

The President should also, however, be clear with Israelis about the sacrifice this entails for American taxpayers. $3.8 billion per year — plus an additional $1 billion in extraordinary funding for Iron Dome replenishment — is a substantial sum as the United States stretches to meet the critical needs of its own citizens in trying times.

President Biden should make clear that all American aid, as required by US law, is for Israel’s legitimate defense purposes only. He should be firm and explicit that no US-origin arms or military equipment, whether bought with aid or not, may be used in connection with de facto annexation activities such as expanding settlements or settler-only infrastructure, demolishing Palestinian homes or community structures, or evicting and forcibly relocating Palestinians from their homes in the West Bank or East Jerusalem in violation of international law and Palestinian human rights. The President should be clear that the United States regards such acts as inconsistent with the US-Israel bilateral relationship, international law and Palestinian rights whether they are carried out using US-supplied materiel or not.

The urgency for such a warning is especially clear in light of recent significant acts of de facto annexation, like the Israeli High Court’s green-lighting of the eviction of around 1,000 Palestinians in the Masafer Yatta area of the South Hebron Hills and the decision to advance the construction of nearly 4,500 new settlement units in the West Bank — moves which the President should address directly on the trip.

The President should be frank that while he stands fully by US aid commitments to Israel, such assistance is facing increasing skepticism from a growing number of voters and lawmakers.

Questions are being raised both about the use of equipment bought with American taxpayer money in connection with violations of Palestinian rights, and Israel’s actual economic need for such aid when Israel’s government is spending large sums on building illegal settlements rather than on defensive systems it deems necessary for its security.

2) Encourage Israel to take the steps necessary to enter the Visa Waiver Program

President Biden should reiterate his hope that Israel will soon qualify to join the Visa Waiver Program. He must also be clear about the steps Israel must take to meet the requirements to do so. He should be frank about the US Government’s assessment that Israel has yet to satisfy all of the program’s criteria, including the key benchmark of reciprocity, which requires Israel to allow all Americans to enter Israel on equal terms.

The President should be clear in particular about Israel’s need to end the practices noted by the Department of State in its international travel information for Israel, the West Bank and Gaza under which Israel subjects US citizens of Arab or Muslim heritage, particularly Palestinian-Americans, to disparate and discriminatory treatment. Concerns in this regard with new rules for West Bank entry, promulgated by Israel as the occupying power, should be firmly treated as a step backwards from — not toward — Israeli entry to the Visa Waiver Program.

3) Insist on Israeli cooperation in reopening a separate consulate in Jerusalem

Nearly a year and a half into his administration, President Biden has yet to fulfill his promise to reopen a physically and hierarchically separate consulate in Jerusalem. This consulate would once again serve as a key conduit for the Palestinian people and is essential to effectively conducting US-Palestinian bilateral affairs. The Israeli government has thus far refused to grant the United States permission to do so, even as it allows a number of other countries to maintain consulates-general in Jerusalem.

The President should emphasize what Israel’s own top security experts have said about the benefits of having an independent US consulate in Jerusalem. The Chair of Commanders for Israel’s Security Maj. Gen. (ret.) Matan Vilnai wrote, “Few political/diplomatic measures – with no security downside – can make a greater contribution to strengthening the stature of the PA among Palestinians, stabilize its governance capacity and hence secure the continuity of security coordination, more than reopening of the American consulate.”

4) Hasten the end of the Palestinian Authority prisoners’ payment program by incentivizing reform

When meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, President Biden should commend Palestinian leaders’ ongoing security coordination with Israel and their continued support for the two-state solution. He should also be forthright about US concerns with instances of officially-sanctioned incitement as well as with the ongoing prisoners’ payments program.

Palestinian leaders are considering proposals for reforming the program to meet the requirements of the US Taylor Force Act, which suspended US direct budgetary support to the Palestinian Authority while the program as currently constituted is in effect.

To further incentivize reform of the program, President Biden should publicly and expressly pledge that, once the program is reformed to comply with the Taylor Force Act, he will use existing statutory authority to terminate an outdated 1987 law that legislatively designates the Palestinian Liberation Organization as a terrorist organization. Ending the designation would be a meaningful achievement for Palestinian leaders who recognize Israel’s right to exist and renounce violence, facilitating deeper diplomatic and collaborative relationships between the Palestinian government and the outside world.

5) Insist on bringing Palestinians into the normalization agreement process

It has been reported that President Biden may attend a multilateral convening involving leaders of Arab countries that have recently concluded normalization agreements with Israel. The President should use any such opportunity to not merely reaffirm US support for efforts to normalize relations between Israel and its neighbors, but as a chance to make clear that the Palestinians must be an integral part of a process that was touted by too many of its proponents as an end-run around them and addressing their conflict with Israel.

Specifically, President Biden should encourage the parties to the existing Accords to find ways to engage Palestinian leaders in regional cooperation emerging as a result of the agreements. He should also make clear that future agreements should commit the parties to meaningful positive steps to improve conditions for Palestinians in the occupied territories.

Further, we strongly recommend that the President expressly acknowledge the importance of the Arab Peace Initiative as a reference point for a comprehensive, regional normalization with Israel. He could do this as part of a reaffirmation that the December 2016 Obama-Kerry principles on the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict constitute official US policy. The President should make clear that, as important as it is for Israel to normalize relations with Arab states, its future as both a democracy and as the national home for the Jewish people depends on reaching a negotiated agreement culminating in a viable Palestinian state.”

“It wasn’t by accident that 1 million died”

Myah Ward writes today on Politico the following (Excerpted from her longer piece):

“May 1, 2021 was the day the White House announced that there are so many Covid vaccines that any American who wants to get vaccinated can get vaccinated. Yet we lost another 200,000-300,000 Americans after that date. Those who were defiant to vaccines were overwhelmingly in red states, and the redder the county as measured by Trump voters in the 2020 election, the higher the vaccine refusal and the greater the loss of life.

It wasn’t by accident. It was a deliberate effort by members of the House Freedom Caucus, in the House, some U.S. senators, amplified nightly on Fox News.

I don’t even call it misinformation or disinformation anymore. I call it anti-science aggression, to convince millions of Americans not to take a Covid vaccine. And at least 200,000 Americans between May 1 and the end of 2021 died needlessly from Covid because of it. And everyone’s afraid to talk about it because it’s very unpleasant to have to point out that these deaths occurred along such a strict partisan divide. Even the White House won’t talk about it in that way.”

My postscript: Many, of course, got sick and died through no fault of their own. And many are still getting sick after being vaccinated and boosted. But, too many people are becoming lackadaisical about masking up, as though this pandemic is history. It isn’t, and I hope people will keep their masks on every time they are with a group of people inside a restaurant, synagogue, church, mosque, concert, theater, market, drugstore, and even in a moderate to large crowd in the homes of friends. The White House announced that 100 million people will be infected with the new sub-variant of the disease by the fall, which means many will become infected this summer too. So – Be vigilant.

Myah Ward’s piece is worth reading – it isn’t long. She is a young journalist (I’m an old guy so everyone seems young to me) who writes for POLITICO, The New York Times, Bloomberg News, MSN, MSN Canada, Yahoo News, Yahoo, Yahoo Finance, Fortune, Playbook PM Newsletter, Charlotte Business Journal. You can read her entire piece here:

The SCOTUS Decision

“Mom; Dad – did you see the news?” My son, Daniel, texted us last night.

“Yes,” I texted back. “Awful – infuriating – sad, backwards, and cruel!”

Then I thought:

George W. Bush did this when he appointed Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court.

No – Mitch McConnell did this when he twisted Senate procedure and autocratically didn’t allow a Democratic President (a year before his term was up) to nominate a candidate for a vacant seat on the Supreme Court.

No – 75,000 non-voters across three states in the 2016 presidential election did this and let Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton in the Electoral College despite her having 3 million more popular votes.

No – Ruth Bader Ginsburg (who I Ioved and respected) did this because she didn’t resign at her advanced age and when she was ill with a life-threatening disease during the early years of the Obama Administration so he could appoint a liberal successor when Democrats controlled the Senate.

No – Trump did this by appointing 3 radical (not conservative) Supreme Court justices that reversed established law and the principle of precedent in order to eliminate a woman’s right to privacy and to choose.

No – Fox News and right-wing media did this by scaring the daylights out of too many Americans for too long to vote their fears and resentments.

No – too many Americans did this that could have made a difference but shrugged when election time arrived, threw up their hands out of disinterest, ignorance, or laziness, and didn’t vote in purple states that went red instead of blue.

No – misogynists did this that attacked mask mandates but had no problem telling women what they may and may not do with their bodies and lives.

No – it’s all the above – and it’s because extreme conservatives have shown themselves to be far more passionate and disciplined in the electoral process than us liberals – that’s our fault, so we did this!

So – what do we do now?

Simple: Vote and then get everyone you know to vote against insurrectionists in Congress and for the Democratic Party in the upcoming mid-terms in every state (especially swing states), and take back the state legislatures and governorships and congressional and senate seats, and pass laws everywhere affirming Roe and thereby restoring the right of women to choose and have access to quality health care everywhere in the country for abortion services, and affirm the overwhelming will of the American people on abortion rights.

The light still shines after 30 years – a story of a Black-Jewish friendship

Pastor Kenneth Flowers and I met one day in 1991 at a meeting of African American pastors and rabbis convened by my late colleague, Rabbi Harvey Fields of Wilshire Boulevard Temple in Los Angeles. Harvey called the meeting after several years of widening alienation between the religious leadership of the Los Angeles African American and Jewish communities that resulted in part after a disturbing appearance in Los Angeles by Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan at the Los Angeles Forum where he spoke before 15,000 of his faithful. Farrakhan angrily made blatantly disparaging remarks about Jews, the Holocaust, and the State of Israel. Mayor Tom Bradley, the first African American Mayor of Los Angeles, called Farrakhan out and charged his remarks as antisemitic.

Despite the mayor’s close friendship with the leadership of the Los Angeles Jewish community, the former civil rights alliance during the years of Dr. King had diminished. This meeting was meant to help restore friendship amongst Black and Jewish clergy and, hopefully, between Los Angeles’ African American churches and synagogues.

Pastor Ken Flowers was by far the youngest person in the room at the time (about 32 years-old). I was ten years his senior, but also among the youngest clergy present. We gravitated towards each other after the meeting, felt an easy affinity, and agreed to bring our two congregations (Messiah Baptist Church on West Adams in South Los Angeles and Temple Israel of Hollywood on Hollywood Blvd.) together so our respective congregants could come to know one another. It was a wonderful shidduch (match) between Ken and me personally and between our two congregations.

Ken preached at Temple Israel on Martin Luther King’s birthday weekend and I preached annually at Messiah Baptist Church. Ken lit one of six candles each year on Yom HaShoah representing righteous non-Jews who saved Jews during the Holocaust alongside our synagogue’s survivors and children of survivors. Following the 1994 Los Angeles Earthquake, I opened our synagogue chapel to his congregation for Sunday worship when his church building was orange-tagged (i.e. unsafe until it could be retro-fitted according to city code). We shared cultural events, our respective musical traditions, and ethnic food as one but diverse community of culture and faith. Our respective congregants were inspired by Ken’s and my friendship and many made friendships of their own. It was a model of what could be, but it was cut short when Ken took a new position in Detroit, Michigan and the leaders of Messiah Baptist Church backed away from what Ken and I called our “covenant relationship.”

This past week, journalist Robin Washington, who wrote about our relationship in 1992 following the acquittal of four members of the LAPD who brutally beat black motorist Rodney King and the riots that spread throughout Los Angeles, contacted both Ken and me for a “follow-up” article – 30 years later!

As Robin notes, Ken’s and my memories of our time together are surprisingly similar despite the passage of time, and our enduring affection for one another and our affinity for what’s important in each other’s communities continues.

This blog appears also at the Times of Israel –

Robin’s article appears in The Forward this week:

In Memorial – Howard Epstein – 30 Years Ago This Week

Historical Notes:

I wrote the following blog on the 20th anniversary of the Los Angeles riots that erupted subsequent to the jury verdict that dismissed the case against four LAPD officers who incessantly beat Rodney King (1965-2012) during his arrest, after a high-speed chase, for driving while intoxicated on the I-210 Freeway on March 3, 1991. George Holliday filmed the beating from his nearby balcony and sent the footage to a local news station (KTLA). The video showed an unarmed Rodney King on the ground being abused after initially evading arrest. The incident was covered by news media around the world and caused wide scale rioting throughout Los Angeles.

The rioting lasted six days, killed 63 people, and injured 2,383. It ended after the California Army National Guard and Marine Corps joined the LAPD to re-establish control. The federal government prosecuted a civil rights case and obtained grand jury indictments of the four officers for the violation of Rodney King’s civil rights. Their trial in a federal district court ended in April 1993 with two of the officers found guilty and sentenced to serve prison terms. The other two were acquitted of the charges. In a separate civil lawsuit in 1994, a jury found the City of Los Angeles liable and awarded Rodney King $3.8 million in damages.

Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley created an Independent Commission of inquiry, also known as the Christopher Commission, in April 1991. Led by attorney (and a former United States Secretary of State under President Bill Clinton), Warren Christopher, the Commission conducted “a full and fair examination of the structure and operation of the LAPD,” including its recruitment and training practices, internal disciplinary system, and citizen complaint system. (Source: Wikipedia)

When my community at Temple Israel of Hollywood in Los Angeles learned of Howard Epstein’s death (he grew up at Temple Israel – his parents were beloved members), the sense of loss for them, his wife, children, sister, and extended family was very great. Here is my blog reprinted and updated from the 20th anniversary of Howard’s death.

The day after the Rodney King verdict thirty years ago (April 29, 1992), I received a call from long-time Temple Israel of Hollywood members, Lillian and Marty Epstein, that their son Howard (who was about my age) was missing.

As soon as the rioting began, Howard flew from Oakland Airport near his family home in Orinda, CA to attend to his business located in South Los Angeles. He owned and operated a factory there for a number of years and employed 20 workers. These were people about whom he cared deeply. He knew all their families, and so, when the riots erupted Howard felt it his duty to be with them.

He landed at LAX in the late afternoon, rented a car, and commenced his fifteen-minute drive to his place of business. Along the way, somewhere, he vanished. By evening no one heard from him. Given the tumult in the city, his wife Stephanie and parents were worried.

The following day, exactly thirty years ago this weekend, the police contacted Lillian and Marty with the terrible news. At a stop-light Howard was approached by two men who murdered him at point blank range and took everything of value in his car. The police were able to identify Howard only by tracing the car to the rental agency.

Howard deliberately moved a couple of years earlier with Stephanie and their two small children out of Los Angeles because he felt the city was no longer safe and he did not want to raise his children in this environment.

When the rioting stopped, we honored Howard’s memory in a memorial service in our synagogue Sanctuary where he became bar mitzvah many years earlier. His family and friends described Howard as among the most kind, community conscious, and caring of men, a rachaman ben rachmanim, a compassionate son of compassionate parents.

I remember Howard every year at this time, and especially this week, thirty years after his tragic death.

Zichrono livracha. May Howard’s memory be a blessing.

Reflections on Evil and Genocide for this Yom HaShoah – Holocaust Remembrance Day

Every year at this time, the Jewish people prepares to commemorate on Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) the murder of 6 million Jews by the Nazis and their allies. Though the Holocaust was a unique crime in Jewish and human history, we Jews cannot ignore other crimes against other peoples in the last century including, but not limited to, in Armenia, Russia under Stalin, Cambodia, Serbia, Croatia, Congo, Rwanda, Bangladesh, Hutu, Bosnia, Darfur, Chechnya, Urhghurs, Syria, Ukraine, and more.

On the heels of Pesach that emphasizes the virtue of compassion (recall the Midrash describing God’s judgmental response to His ministering angels when they sang praises as the Egyptian army drowned: “My creatures are perishing, and you sing praises!”), it’s impossible not to ask how compassionate human beings can wrap their heads and hearts around tragedies of such scale? How ought superpowers to act in confronting such evil? What are we citizens of western democracies morally obliged to do to prevent such crimes before they happen and to respond when they do?

These are the questions that I presume plague President Biden, the vast majority of the American people, the people of Israel, and the NATO alliance today. My guts tell me to fight fire with fire, but my head recognizes that the President is justifiably worried that Putin will resort to using nuclear weapons if/when he feels cornered or defeated.

With Yom HaShoah and all genocidal tragedies in mind, I compiled a number of quotations written over the centuries addressing the phenomenon of evil.

First, in memory of those who perished in the Shoah, I offer this prayer:

May the memory of our people who perished in the Shoah remain for us, our children, and our children’s children a warning never to be naïve concerning the evil capacity of humankind, or to become ourselves hardhearted, indifferent, and passive in the face of evil political and governmental leaders and their nations that demonize and objectivize the “other.”

The Banality of Evil

“The longer one listened to him, the more obvious it became that his inability to speak was closely connected with an inability to think, namely, to think from the standpoint of somebody else. No communication was possible with him, not because he lied but because he was surrounded by the most reliable of all safeguards against words and the presence of others, and hence against reality as such… Except for an extraordinary diligence in looking out for his personal advancement, he had no motives at all…he merely never realized what he was doing…he could see no one, no one at all, who actually was against the Final Solution…[what we have demanded in this trial] is that human beings be capable of telling right from wrong, even when all they have to guide them is their own judgment which, moreover, happens to be completely at odds with what they must regard as the unanimous opinion of all those around them.”

Hannah Arendt (1906-1975), a political philosopher, author, and Holocaust survivor reflecting about Adolph Eichmann during his trial in Israel in 1961 for the crime of genocide

Dualism and the Problem of Evil

“Evil is an independent, active force, apart from and opposed to God. Dualism…explains evil as the work of a mythic counter-force: the devil, the demiurge, Satan, the anti-Christ, the Prince of Darkness, and the many other names for the embodiment of evil…. Dualism resolves cognitive dissonance by saying, in effect, ‘It wasn’t us, and it wasn’t God, so it must be Them,’ whoever ‘Them’ happen to be. It turns penitential cultures into blame cultures, externalizing evil and projecting it on a scapegoat, thereby redefining the faithful as victims…the children of Satan must be masters of disguise, practitioners of sorcery or more modern dark arts. From there it is a short step to seeing them as subhuman (for the Nazis, Jews were ‘vermin, lice’; for the Hutus of Rwanda, the Tutsi were inyenzi, ‘cockroaches.’ They can then be killed without compunction. There is a straight line from dualism to demonization to dehumanization to genocide…Dualism is the single most effective doctrine in persuading good people to do evil things….Those who commit mass murder see themselves as defending their people, avenging their humiliation, ridding the world of a pestilence and helping to establish the victory of truth, racial, political or religious.”

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (1948-2020), The Great Partnership, p. 247 – an English Orthodox rabbi, philosopher, theologian, author, public intellectual, and Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the British Commonwealth

The Soul of the Murderer

“The evil that is in the world always comes of ignorance, and good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence, if they lack understanding. On the whole, men [humankind] are more good than bad; that however, isn’t the real point. But they are more or less ignorant, and it is this that we call vice or virtue; the most incorrigible vice being that of an ignorance that fancies it knows everything and therefore claims for itself the right to kill. The soul of the murderer is blind; and there can be no true goodness nor true love without the utmost clear-sightedness.”

Albert Camus (1913-1960), The Plague – a 20th century French philosopher, author, journalist, and French Nobel Prize Laureate in Literature

Evil Derives its Strength from Good People

“The force which makes for war does not derive its strength from the interested motives of evil men; it derives its strength from the disinterested motives of good men.”

Norman Angell (1872-1967), a lecturer, author, British MP, and English Nobel Peace Prize Laureate

Condoning Evil

“One who condones evil is just as guilty as the one who perpetrates it.”

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968) – a preeminent civil rights leader and American Nobel Peace Prize Laureate

The Problem and Sin of Silence

“When I was the rabbi of the Jewish community in Berlin under the Hitler regime, I learned many things. The most important thing that I learned under those tragic circumstances was that bigotry and hatred are not the most urgent problem. The most urgent, the most disgraceful, the most shameful and the most tragic problem is silence. A great people which had created a great civilization had become a nation of silent onlookers. They remained silent in the face of hate, in the face of brutality, and in the face of mass murder.”

–Rabbi Joachim Prinz (1902-1988), (the above is a portion of the speech he delivered at the 1963 Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C). – a German-American Rabbi, Zionist, and civil rights leader

Evil and Indifference

“Throughout history, it has been the inaction of those who could have acted, the indifference of those who should have known better, the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most that has made it possible for evil to triumph.”

Haile Selassie (1892-1975), a former Emperor of Ethiopia

The Triumph of Evil

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men [women] to do nothing.”

Edmund Burke (1729-1797), an Irish-born British statesman, economist, and philosopher

On Guilt and Moral Responsibility

“Morally speaking, there is no limit to the concern one must feel for the suffering of human beings. Indifference to evil is worse than evil itself, [and] in a free society, some are guilty, but all are responsible.”

– Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972), a 20th century Jewish theologian, philosopher, and social justice activist

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” – William Faulkner

I’ve been thinking much about the importance of memory since my retirement from the congregational rabbinate almost three years ago, my own and the role it plays in a nation’s, a people’s, and a family’s history and identity. William Faulkner put it well when he said: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Though we forget much as we age, what once happened, even if we’ve forgotten all about it, nevertheless continues to lie dormant in one’s unconscious until one day something provokes it and it re-emerges into the present.

This past year, my 36 year-old son Daniel asked me to transcribe 23 hour-long cassette tapes that I sent to my mother (z’l) from Israel between August 1973 and May 1974 when I studied in my first year of rabbinic school in Jerusalem. As I listened to my then 23 and 24 year-old self offer commentary about living in Israel before, during, and after the Yom Kippur War, I was struck by how much I had forgotten. Such is the benefit of keeping a journal, verbal or written.

The tapes reminded me that I greeted some of the first Soviet Refusniks coming to Israel. I described the blaring sirens that shook the silence of Yom Kippur afternoon on October 6, 1973 alerting Israelis that the country was, for the fourth time in 25 years, at war. I had forgotten that I took a bus to Hadassah Hospital a few days after the war began to give blood and stood outside the ER as helicopters from the Sinai front brought badly injured soldiers for treatment. I recalled specifics of my volunteering the night-shift at Berman Bakery, one of two large bakeries outside of Jerusalem, when on one night before the Festival of Sukkot our skeletal staff of Israelis and international volunteers baked 85,000 loaves of bread that were taken by truck to the Egyptian front and throughout Jerusalem. I described my early morning walk following my 8-hour night-shift from a central meeting point in Jerusalem to my university dorm in the blacked-out holy city, and looked up at a blanket of thousands of stars appearing like little lanterns suspended from a black velvet firmament sparkling in the quiet cold autumn Jerusalem sky despite the ferocious war on the Egyptian and Syrian fronts. I spoke about how Israel was suffering a serious blow not only in the massive loss of thousands of young soldiers and the injury of many more, but to its self-image as an impenetrable regional power following the 1967 Six-Day War. I told my mother how I joined 250,000 Israelis standing in line for hours to walk by the casket of Israel’s founding patriarch, David Ben Gurion, as he lay in-state outside the Knesset doors. I had forgotten how many weekends I spent with my Petach Tikvah and Jerusalem families. And I spoke about my struggle and progress learning Hebrew, a life-long pursuit and love-affair with the language of the Jewish people that continues to this day.

Since I retired three years ago, I decided to do a deep dive not only into my own memory that transcribing these tapes assisted me in doing, but also into learning about my family’s history. In the process, I wrote a memoir and an imaginary conversation with my father who died when I was nine years-old. I translated the Hebrew biography of my great-granduncle Avraham Shapira of Petach Tikvah who I met when I was 6 years-old when he visited our family in Los Angeles in 1956, and a book of Hebrew poetry, letters, and writings of his grand-nephew Michael Shapira, (son of Yitzchak-Tzvi and Devorah Shapira who I knew well during that year in Israel), who was killed at the age of 19 by Arab Fedayeen in 1952 on a road in the northern Negev while on duty in his Nachal unit.

I read again the letters that my father, a physician in the US Navy during World War II serving in the South Pacific, wrote to his cousins in Philadelphia between 1942 and 1944, among his only written words that I have, in which he described in great detail the American soldiers and events of those years in Hawaii beginning a month after the attack on Pearl Harbor and on Midway Atoll after that critical battle in the war. I pulled out old boxes of family photographs going back more than 120 years and peered at the people preserved in those frozen moments in time, now all gone. I read the autobiography of my father’s favorite aunt, Fanny Sharlip, a refugee from Ukraine whose grandmother was raped in a Cossack pogrom and who fled with her family to America in the 1890s. Aunt Fanny worked as a seamstress in a Philadelphia sweatshop at the turn of the 20th century where she met my paternal grandmother and became the best of friends. Fanny contracted Tuberculosis and her doctor urged her and her husband, my grandmother’s brother, to move to a warmer climate. They moved west and settled in the Boyle Heights neighborhood east of downtown Los Angeles where most Jewish immigrants to LA initially lived.

In hearing about her successful recovery from TB, others from the east coast who also suffered from the disease sought her out once they moved to LA, and she and my great-uncle took them into their own home to help them heal. However, the burden became too great from so many taking up residence with them. They and my grandparents, two other couples, a few doctors, and wealthy Los Angeles Jews took matters into their own hands and purchased a small land parcel in an out-of-the-way area called Duarte outside Los Angeles’ city limits (the LA City Council refused to build a sanitarium because it feared the contagion inside the city limits). There in Duarte they pitched tents and created what came to be known as “The City of Hope,” now an internationally renowned medical center.

I’ve always been fascinated by history, and as a consequence of knowing more about my own family story, my sense of gratitude deepened for my forebears’ struggles and successes and how I stand upon their shoulders.

Memory defines us; and even if we do not personally experience an event, we can make it our own. The Jewish philosopher Emil Fackenheim remarked: “Knowledge creates memory” which suggests that when we learn history and listen to the stories of our parents and grandparents, we take in their memories and make them ours as essential elements of our family story. When we lose memory, we lose a sense of how we came to be who we are and, for our children’s and grandchildren’s sake, who they are too. Faulkner was right – “The Past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

Note: A Seder discussion with my family around our table this year inspired this blog, and especially the line from Mishnah Pesachim 10:5 that constitutes a core theme of the Seder and Jewish life: “In every generation we are to regard ourselves as having personally been redeemed from Egypt.”

This blog also is posted at the Times of Israel