Eleven plus years of blogging

I’ve been thinking of late, given the deadly persistence and spread of Covid and its “Greek” variants, our shuttering in place (again!), the political and violent threat of Trump Republicans against American democracy, the rise in violent antisemitism, racism, misogyny, and homophobia, an ever-worsening climate crisis, and a crumbling of communal ties in a toxic and polarized America.

Over the past eleven plus years, as a means of keeping my sanity, gaining perspective over events large and small, expanding my reach beyond my own community to help educate, provoke, and (at times) inspire, I’ve been writing this blog without let-up.

As a kind of personal mini-Yom Kippur, I thought it worthwhile now for me to take a step back and assess the state of this blog relative to my initial goals. Are they what they once were and are they relevant still?

Eleven plus years ago I had four goals:

  1. To bring to light what I considered issues of importance facing the American Jewish community, Israel, and the United States from the perspective of liberal American values, liberal Jewish values, and progressive Reform Zionism;
  2. To reflect on Judaism as a fertile font from which our liberal Jewish identity as ethical and spiritual beings can be clarified, nurtured, and enhanced;
  3. To glean general take-away lessons on a wide variety of large and small life events and challenges;
  4. To offer quotations that enlighten, give food for thought, provoke, and focus our thinking and activism on behalf of the common good.

I’ve been grateful for the opportunity to think out-load on this platform, to discipline my thinking to what I believe is essential to any particular argument, event, or matter, and to advance a point of view that’s positive, life-affirming,  and consistent with core liberal American and progressive Jewish values.

My son, Daniel, urged me at the beginning to avoid writing anything longer than 800 words because most people ‘s attention span is short. I’ve tried to do that.

There’s a Jewish tradition of citing sources called “l’shem omro – in the name of…”, and I’ve done this too. Not only is it ethically right to give credit to others, but doing it nurtures the virtues of humility, generosity, and gratitude that are, I believe, among the predicates for attaining well-being in one’s life.

I’ve used many blogs, perhaps too many for some readers, to discuss progressive Reform Zionism and the State of Israel. I’ve done so because Israel and Jewish peoplehood are in my DNA, and because I believe that to be a Jew in the 21st century means struggling to understand our relationship with the modern State of Israel, arguably the greatest accomplishment of the Jewish people in two thousand years.

For forty years, I served as a congregational rabbi, and my central task was to live a life that I believed was worthy of the highest values and virtues in liberal Judaism. These blogs helped me think through issues that confronted me, my colleagues, my lay-leadership, and my fellow Jews and Zionists over the years. For that, for them, and for the tradition out of which we come, I’m grateful.

Have I held to the four larger original goals? I think I have – but I’ll let you who follow what I write decide for yourselves. Thank you for reading.

Thoughts after Colleyville

I do not know Rabbi Charlie Citron-Walker of Colleyville, Texas personally, but I love and respect the man. His ordeal against this most recent antisemitic attack, it seems to me, ended as it did without physical harm coming to him and the other hostages as a consequence of his empathy and capacity to relate lovingly with people, his studied calm in facing danger, and his instinct for taking advantage of a single moment to escape after he and his fellow hostages concluded that their survival was ultimately on them alone to act when the moment presented itself.

The outpouring of loving support to Charlie and his fellow hostages from the Colleyville religious community of Christians and Muslims, the American Reform movement and Jewish people around the world, and all decent Americans, was as a consequence, in the first case, of Charlie’s years of work befriending and finding common ground with his fellow clergy colleagues from across religious lines in Colleyville, and then from the close organizational and communal support system developed over the past century in the American Reform Jewish movement, and from the Jewish people’s millennial tradition of feeling responsible for and acting in support of one another.

None of these consequences is automatic. Creating community on both the small and large scale takes deliberate and consistent effort at every level of community organization, in every endeavor, by individuals and small groups, by leaders and those behind the scenes who are the connective tissue of relationships and the builders of community.

Rabbi Charlie showed the world this past weekend what he is made of as a Jewish leader, and in that he taught us all about how to be fully present in the moment, to stay true to himself as a rabbinic trailblazer, and to confront an adversary with courage, strength, grace, dignity, intelligence, and common human decency. Rabbi Charlie became a model of leadership for many far beyond his community that already knows and loves him. He is an inspiration, and if there is any silver lining to be found here, it is this – that Rabbi Charlie Citron-Walker set the very best human face of the Jewish people before the world.

When the hostages escaped, all who value human life breathed a sigh of relief. I pray that Rabbi Charlie and his family, the other hostages and their families, and his Colleyville community will find healing and added strength of purpose in the wake of this ordeal.

Kamatz v’eimatz.

Also posted at the Times of Israel – https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/thoughts-after-colleyville/

Dr. King’s Sermon at Temple Israel of Hollywood – February 26, 1965

Dr. Martin Luther King spoke from the bimah of Temple Israel of Hollywood in Los Angeles on Shabbat evening, February 26, 1965, only five days after the assassination of Malcolm X.

Security was tight around the synagogue on that evening. Sharpshooters were placed on the apartment building across the street on Hollywood Boulevard. Dr. King delivered his sermon with two large body guards standing directly behind him.

The Sanctuary was filled to capacity with 1400+ congregants. Rabbi Max Nussbaum reminded the congregation that since it was Shabbat, applause following Dr. King’s remarks would be inappropriate. He said: “You will wish to applaud, and you will not do so!”

This existence of the recorded speech was discovered by the wider Los Angeles Jewish community and was noted in the Los Angeles Jewish Journal before Martin Luther King Day in 2007. National Public Radio learned of it from the LAJJ article and requested permission to air it nationally that year. It was aired both in 2007 and 2008.

The speech borrows from many other addresses Dr. King delivered over the course of his career and is an example of the eloquence, passion, and deep intellect that was Dr. King. He was 35 years old when he delivered it.

You can listen here – http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlktempleisraelhollywood.htm

Exactly what is in the ‘Freedom to Vote Act’ and the ‘John Lewis Voting Rights Act’?

[Note: What follows is today’s (January 13) daily newsletter by Heather Cox Richardson, an American historian and professor of history at Boston College. I read it daily for details on whatever is happening nationally. It is excellent and I highly recommend it. Google her newsletter and subscribe if you find what you read here today worthwhile.]

“The struggle between the Trump-backed forces of authoritarianism and those of us defending democracy is coming down to the fight over whether the Democrats can get the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act through the Senate. 

It’s worth reading what’s actually in the bills because, to my mind, it is bananas that they are in any way controversial. 

The Freedom to Vote Act is a trimmed version of the For the People Act the House passed at the beginning of this congressional session. It establishes a baseline for access to the ballot across all states. That baseline includes at least two weeks of early voting for any town of more than 3000 people, including on nights and weekends, for at least 10 hours a day. It permits people to vote by mail, or to drop their ballots into either a polling place or a drop box, and guarantees those votes will be counted so long as they are postmarked on or before Election Day and arrive at the polling place within a week. It makes Election Day a holiday. It provides uniform standards for voter IDs in states that require them. 

The Freedom to Vote Act cracks down on voter suppression. It makes it a federal crime to lie to voters in order to deter them from voting (distributing official-looking flyers with the wrong dates for an election or locations of a polling place, for example), and it increases the penalties for voter intimidation. It restores federal voting rights for people who have served time in jail, creating a uniform system out of the current patchwork one. 

It requires states to guarantee that no one has to wait more than 30 minutes to vote.

Using measures already in place in a number of states, the Freedom to Vote Act provides uniform voter registration rules. It establishes automatic voter registration at state Departments of Motor Vehicles, permits same-day voter registration, allows online voter registration, and protects voters from the purges that have plagued voting registrations for decades now, requiring that voters be notified if they are dropped from the rolls and given information on how to get back on them. 

The Freedom to Vote Act bans partisan gerrymandering.

The Freedom to Vote Act requires any entity that spends more than $10,000 in an election to disclose all its major donors, thus cleaning up dark money in politics. It requires all advertisements to identify who is paying for them. It makes it harder for political action committees (PACs) to coordinate with candidates, and it beefs up the power of the Federal Election Commission that ensures candidates run their campaigns legally. 

The Freedom to Vote Act also addresses the laws Republican-dominated states have passed in the last year to guarantee that Republicans win future elections. It protects local election officers from intimidation and firing for partisan purposes. It expands penalties for tampering with ballots after an election (as happened in Maricopa County, Arizona, where the Cyber Ninjas investigating the results did not use standard protection for them and have been unable to produce documents for a freedom of information lawsuit, leading to fines of $50,000 a day and the company’s dissolution). If someone does tamper with the results or refuses to certify them, voters can sue.  

The act also prevents attempts to overturn elections by requiring audits after elections, making sure those audits have clearly defined rules and procedures. And it prohibits voting machines that don’t leave a paper record. 

The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act (VRAA) takes on issues of discrimination in voting by updating and restoring the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA) that the Supreme Court gutted in 2013 and 2021. The VRA required that states with a history of discrimination in voting get the Department of Justice to approve any changes they wanted to make in their voting laws before they went into effect, and in the 2013 Shelby County v. Holder decision, the Supreme Court struck that requirement down, in part because the justices felt the formula in the law was outdated.

The VRAA provides a new, modern formula for determining which states need preapproval, based on how many voting rights violations they’ve had in the past 25 years. After ten years without violations, they will no longer need preclearance. It also establishes some practices that must always be cleared, such as getting rid of ballots printed in different languages (as required in the U.S. since 1975). 

The VRAA also restores the ability of voters to sue if their rights are violated, something the 2021 Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee decision makes difficult. 

The VRAA directly addresses the ability of Indigenous Americans, who face unique voting problems, to vote. It requires at least one polling place on tribal lands, for example, and requires states to accept tribal or federal IDs. 

That’s it. 

It is off-the-charts astonishing that no Republicans are willing to entertain these common-sense measures, especially since there are in the Senate a number of Republicans who voted in 2006 to reauthorize the 1965 Voting Rights Act the VRAA is designed to restore. 

McConnell today revealed his discomfort with President Joe Biden’s speech yesterday at the Atlanta University Center Consortium, when Biden pointed out that “[h]istory has never been kind to those who have sided with voter suppression over voters’ rights. And it will be even less kind for those who side with election subversion.” Biden asked Republican senators to choose between our history’s advocates of voting rights and those who opposed such rights. He asked:

“Do you want to be…on the side of Dr. King or George Wallace? Do you want to be on the side of John Lewis or Bull Connor?  Do you want to be on the side of Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson Davis?

Today, McConnell, who never complained about the intemperate speeches of former president Donald Trump, said Biden’s speech revealed him to be “profoundly, profoundly unpresidential.”

The voting rights measures appear to have the support of the Senate Democrats, but because of the Senate filibuster, which makes it possible for senators to block any measure unless a supermajority of 60 senators are willing to vote for it, voting rights cannot pass unless Democrats are willing to figure out a way to bypass the filibuster. Two Democratic senators—Krysten Sinema (D-AZ) and Joe Manchin (D-WV)—are currently unwilling to do that. 

Nine Democratic senators eager to pass this measure met with Sinema for two and a half hours last night and for another hour with Manchin this morning in an attempt to get them to a place where they are willing to change the rules of the Senate filibuster to protect our right to vote.

They have not yet found a solution.

This evening, Senate Majority Leader Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) announced that he would bring voting rights legislation to the Senate floor for debate—which Republicans have rejected—by avoiding a Republican filibuster through a complicated workaround. When the House and Senate disagree on a bill (which is almost always), they send it back and forth with revisions until they reach a final version. According to Democracy Docket, after it has gone back and forth three times, a motion to proceed on it cannot be filibustered. So, Democrats in the House are going to take a bill that has already hit the three-trip mark and substitute for that bill the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. They’ll pass the combined bill and send it to the Senate, where debate over it can’t be filibustered.

And so, Republican senators will have to explain to the people why they oppose what appear to be common-sense voting rules.”

Democrats vs Republicans – 2022

I’m fairly certain that anyone reading what I write is already persuaded by what Max Boot argued in the Washington Post last October. If you have friends who continue to support the Republican Party because that is what they have always done and because they are legitimate political conservatives (like Liz Cheney), share what I post below from Boot’s telling op-ed:

“I’m no Democrat—but I’m voting exclusively for Democrats to save our democracy.I’m a single-issue voter. My issue is the fate of democracy in the United States. Simply put, I have no faith that we will remain a democracy if Republicans win power. Thus, although I’m not a Democrat, I will continue to vote exclusively for Democrats—as I have done in every election since 2016—until the GOP ceases to pose an existential threat to our freedom…. It is mind-boggling that a defeated president won’t accept the election outcome…. What is even more alarming is that more than 60 percent of Republicans agree with his preposterous assertion that the election was stolen and want him to remain as the party’s leader. ”

-Max Boot, Washington Post, October 11, 2021 – Boot is a Russian-American specialist in foreign affairs who identifies as a conservative but no longer supports the Republican Party.

Who are we? My response to a core question asked by a reader

A friend wrote after I posted my last two blogs “Who are we?” and “Who are we? A follow-up” by asking: “Have you been studying existentialism? Looks that way to me.”

My short answer is no, I haven’t been studying it. But, the question deserved a fuller response, so here it is.

First, I don’t believe in fate or in a supernatural power that deliberately determines who lives and who dies in any particular time or place, as the Unetaneh Tokef prayer of Rosh Hashanah asserts. I approach that prayer on the High Holidays as metaphor, that life is fragile and we humans have to do everything possible to preserve and promote life based on the ‘unity principle’ as stated in the Shema. Not only is doing so the morally right thing to do, but is based on the perspective of enlightened self-interest, that we all need each other across communities, cultures, ethnicities, religions, races, genders, and national identities, and therefore we need to be prepared to climb the barricades in defense of any of us should we be attacked based on bigotry and hatred.

Second, I believe that the ongoing welfare of the Jewish people is important in and of itself based on our core values (see below) and therefore important for the world as a whole.

These words set the stage for Jews long ago about our relationships with one another: “Kol Yisrael aravim zeh bazeh – all Israel is responsible for one another” (Talmud, Shavuot 39a), “Al tifros min ha-tzibur – Don’t separate yourself from the community” (Mishnah, Avot 2:5), and  Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai’s story about the man selfishly drilling a hole under his seat in a boat proclaiming that he had the right to do so because it was under his seat regardless of the fact that water will doom all the passengers in the boat. (Midrash Rabbah, Vayikra 4:6,)

Dr. King expanded the principle of our interdependency this way, which I wholeheartedly accept: “Our world is a neighborhood…We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.” (March 31, 1968)

Onto the existentialist dilemma – I accept this part of the existentialist position, that each of us is a free and responsible agent who must determine our respective development and course in life through deliberate willful acts and thereby create for ourselves purpose and meaning.

I do not believe, however, in another aspect of existentialism that asserts life as an absurdity, that no one – not God, not cultures or other people, not ruling authorities – can offer us ultimate meaning and purpose though family comes awfully close. Nor do I believe that we are blank slates at birth. To the contrary, children must be educated and learn to choose good over evil. I take it as an act of faith that the virtues Judaism teaches are interwoven into the fabric of a moral universe – goodness (tov), justice (tzedek), compassion (rachamim), wisdom (chochmah), understanding (binah), respect/dignity (kavod), and peace/wholeness/integrity (shalom-shleimut).

The opening chapter of the Book of Genesis affirms repeatedly that the created world is “good” (ki tov) and that the human being is created “b’tzelem Elohimin the divine image” (Genesis 1:26). As such, we are thinking beings (as God is imaged as a ‘thinking Being’) and we have the capacity to be aware that we are imbued with infinite value and worth (Mishnah Avot 3:14 – Rabbi Heschel called this awareness “radical amazement” at the very fact of our existence). Our challenge therefore, as Reconstructionist Judaism postulated, is to be “Godly,” that is to embrace our tradition’s moral virtues and act accordingly in every dimension of our lives, private and public.

We don’t merely exist, as the existentialist proclaims. I regard myself as an ‘essentialist’ in that I believe there’s an “essence” to every human being. That essence is called the soul/neshamah – the “life-breath” or “Godly” element in each of us. Judaism affirms that the neshamah is Eternal and Ineffable, that it is a reality separate from the material world, and that it enables us to envision and imagine ourselves as linked to all things, intrinsic within the created world, and committed to restoring the world in “the image of the dominion of the Godly” (Tikun olam). The neshamah is that part of every human being that can (if we allow it) guide us to become moral beings.

Whether we are existentialists seeking to overcome absurdity, or essentialists seeking to live according to a higher moral standard, or anything else, our behavior freely chosen ultimately is the determining factor about who we are, who we become, how we are known to others, and how we regard ourselves.

The danger of existentialist thinking, in my view, is that one can be led to cynicism about life and the world given the existentialist claim that life is an absurdity and has no meaning. For me, my faith in Jewish tradition’s prophetic values and aspirations are based in the religious truth that each human being is infinitely valuable and worthy and each of us can become an agent for decency, justice, and compassion. This comports well with my own innate optimism (i.e. seeing the half-full glass) despite difficult times and the presence of far too many evil actors in the world.

I thank my friend for the question. I hope my response clarifies my orientation, Jewish and world-views, and basis for faith.

Who are we? A follow-up

​In the thirteen years that I’ve been blogging, I can’t remember a blog that attracted more views and responses than the one I posted last week called “Who are we?”

Among the responses, I received a question from a relatively recent retiree who told me that he felt stuck in depression as a consequence of the loss of his professional identity. He asked me for specific strategies that I used in my own transition into retirement that might help lift him from his depression and reestablish his identity and sense of well-being post-retirement.

Before listing some of the strategies that I shared with him privately, I believe that it’s important to understand that regardless of how we leave a position (i.e. voluntarily or involuntarily), our sense of being productive and our need to be relevant are core issues that contribute to our sense of well-being.

Here are some of the attitudes, actions, and strategies that helped me refocus my life after serving for 40 years as a congregational rabbi:

  1. Take justifiable pride in our professional accomplishments, in what we learned, created, initiated, and built, in the people we touched, mentored, and helped, and in the legacy of hard work and commitment for which we were known by colleagues and those we served.
  2. Each of us has a unique personal story to tell and we ought to tell it not only for ourselves as an exercise in self-reflection, but also for the sake of our children and the generations to come that they know the nature of the legacy they inherited from us. I wrote my memoirs soon after my retirement in which I noted the most significant events and people in my life that helped to shape my values and life-perspective. I included in it a detailed family tree, photographs of my parents and grandparents, and other photos of important personal memorabilia.   
  3. Become a mentor to someone starting out in your former profession, business, or occupation. Many of us had mentors when we were young who helped guide us and who we recall still with special affection and gratitude. We can offer what we’ve learned too to younger people.
  4. Offer your expertise pro bono to those in need – if you were in business, help someone start, grow, or save a business. If you were a lawyer, offer your counsel to those who can’t afford an attorney. If you were a social worker, therapist, nurse, or doctor, volunteer at a clinic. If you were a teacher, help kids read and older students succeed. If you favor political candidates, work for their election.
  5. Volunteer – Determine your favorite cause(s) and advocate for them.
  6. Find a creative outlet as an artist, sculptor, potter, writer, poet, musician, composer, singer, or dancer – not for “show” but to re-engage yourself as a creative being.
  7. Learn something new or enhance what you already know in an area of study.
  8. Nurture and deepen your experience of the Ineffable through prayer, meditation, silence, yoga, reading, study, being in nature, and engagement with the arts.
  9. Exercise daily – Walking outside even for 20 minutes each day is important, especially for older folks, and more time as we increase strength and stamina. Experts note that exposure to the sun increases our serotonin levels and helps us stave off “Seasonal Affective Disorder” (SAD). Sun exposure can also help people with anxiety and depression, especially in combination with other treatments.
  10. Get enough REM sleep (7-8 hours uninterrupted sleep for most adults is the minimum recommendation) and eat moderately. If you have trouble sleeping, check with your doctor about possible causes and what ways there are to address them.
  11. Reach out to people suffering illness and loss. Throughout my rabbinate, my visiting with and/or calling someone who was suffering were among the most meaningful contacts I had for both them and me.
  12. Stay in regular contact with the people you love.
  13. Read widely, listen to music, and watch quality films, documentaries, dramas, and comedy that inspire and provide relaxation and relief.
  14. Do everything in moderation and nothing to excess.
  15. If you are depressed, get psychological and/or psychiatric help, and accept medication if it is so indicated. But, don’t self-medicate with alcohol or drugs.
  16. Don’t fret if you’re bored from time to time. It happens.
  17. Allow enough space in your daily schedule to welcome into your life new opportunities for engagement.
  18. Do nothing you don’t wish to do. Abandon strategies and activities that are failing or that disinterest you. Disengage with people who make you feel continually unworthy, angry, frustrated, and unhappy. In retirement, we have the license to choose how and with whom we spend our time and resources, and we ought to take full advantage of that license.

My mother (z’l) was alone for most of her life after my father died when she was only 42 years-old. She lived to be 98. She once told me – “The only thing keeping me from engaging with the world is the front door. All I have to do is walk through it.”

Those are a few of the suggestions I made to my reader. I hope they helped.

Who are we?

The 19th century psychologist and philosopher William James wrote:

“Whenever two people meet, there are really six people present. There is each person as they see themselves, each person as others see them, and each person as they really are.”

It’s important to be able to separate the three perspectives, and then to focus on the last of the three identities most deeply.

I’ve been asking myself who I really am since I retired from the active congregational rabbinate two-and-a-half years-ago. When I retired, the designation “Rabbi” (in the congregational sense) was no longer applicable to me, though I remain a rabbi even without a congregation (I’m privileged to hold the honorific title Rabbi Emeritus).

This week I decided to think and write about my changed identity in my personal journal as an exercise in self-clarification without planning to publish it. After finishing, however, I realized that there are take-aways that are generally transferable to everyone.

I passed this week my 72nd birthday (a quadruple chai of years) and realize that I’ve experienced roughly four life-stages (or long chapters) through which my identity changed and evolved.

The first stage concluded when I was nine years-old and my father died suddenly. Next came my young adulthood with my decision to enter rabbinical school. The third included all the years of rabbinic study and service as a congregational rabbi. And now I’m in my post-retirement period.  

I’m not all that different from anyone else, though I made a choice early on that few people make, to become a rabbi/teacher/pastor, a role in my community that privileged me to engage with others amidst the most important moments in their lives – joyful, sad, and challenging. All my encounters with others over forty years taught me not only much about them, of course, but about myself as a fellow sojourner. I’ve tried to learn from everyone I’ve met and from everything I’ve done, as well as from the history, traditions, and experiences of the Jewish people, and from the wisdom, thought, and creativity of inspired thinkers, artists, and cultures the world-over.

For me, I’m a happy husband, father, grandfather, brother, and friend; a happily retired congregational rabbi; a learner, seeker, thinker, and writer; an advocate for justice and fairness in America and around the world; a believer in the power of simple human kindness to touch the lives of others; a democrat (with both large and small “d’s”); a Progressive Reform Zionist and lover of the People, Land, and State of Israel; a cancer survivor who’s grateful for my physicians and health care workers, and who works hard to remain healthy for as long as possible.

I’m surely not one thing alone. I have many identities, each intersecting with one another. Each of us is an emanation of our family histories and genetics, and we’re shaped by our experiences of loss and gain. We’re political beings bound by culture, institutions, societal and historic events and norms. We’re creative beings, and most of us want to be productive and relevant, appreciated and loved by the people we love and respect. None of us can predict the future, but we have the agency to make considered choices based on what we’ve done and learned, on our core beliefs and values, and on how we believe we can best help others.

We’re all bit players in each other’s lives even with the mistakes we’ve made. Hopefully, we’re able to acknowledge our imperfections, apologize when we err and hurt others, take responsibility for ourselves without casting blame, strive to do better, and choose to nurture relationships of meaning.

Given that we live in increasingly polarized American and Israeli cultures, maintaining balance, equanimity, and civility are huge personal, moral, and communal challenges. We Jews are a choosing people after all, and we ought not to allow ourselves to drift thoughtlessly or be led by intolerant, myopic, self-centered, and soul-less actors.

For me I’m happy to be able to wake up each day, drink a strong cup of coffee (a little resurrection in the morning), read the latest news and commentary, write some, take a long walk in my neighborhood, greet the people on the street I see each day, and continue through the hours reading, writing more, spending unpressured time with my wife and family, seeing friends, engaging with my interests, and feeling grateful that I’ve lived as long as I have with the hope that I have many more years ahead.   

For Shame – Israeli Government again Shelves Western Wall Egalitarian Plaza

“‘We’re not touching it’: PM, Kahana shelve plan for Western Wall egalitarian plaza – Bennett, religious affairs minister agree to suspend implementation of compromise for pluralistic prayer at site, as ultra-Orthodox and Likud use controversy to fire up opposition”

So reads the headline of today’s (December 12, 2021) article in The Times of Israel that I urge you to read if you are concerned at all about the integrity of Israeli democracy, equal rights for Jews around the world, and religious pluralism in the Jewish State. Every Israeli and Diaspora Jew ought to be worried that the Israeli government refuses to do the right thing on behalf of world Jewry. (see link below)

Political expediency sadly has given way (again) to the most extreme right-wing minority voices in Israel. The “Western Wall Compromise” of 2016, worked out painstakingly over a three-year period and led by former Jewish Agency Director Natan Sharansky at the behest of Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with the then-approval of the majority of Knesset members, would have created a dignified prayer space at the Kotel just south of the traditional prayer space under Robinson’s Arch that was equal in size and significance to the traditional prayer space, and Jews from around the world would not have had to abide by the constrictive rules and regulations of extremist right-wing Haredi rabbis in order to pray and gather together peacefully without being accosted by screaming screeching coffee-throwing bullies who have for decades been aided and abetted in their narrow-minded intolerant vision of what constitutes Judaism by their self-righteous rabbis.

That most sacred space in Judaism, the Western Wall (“Kotel”), belongs to the entire Jewish people, not just to the most extremist Jewish fringe that has co-opted the space and plaza and defined it all as its own ultra-Orthodox Shul. The government compromise of 2016 would have assured Jewish religious rights for all Jews in Israel and around the world by creating an alternate prayer space that could be used without interference by Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, and egalitarian Jews, Women of the Wall, and any Jew who wished to pray freely and with dignity at this most sacred site in all of Judaism. The Kotel compromise is NOT strictly a Jewish State matter nor is it at its core a political matter. Rather, it addresses the legitimate religious needs of the Jewish people as a whole without infringing on the rights and needs of orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Jews in a democratic State of Israel.

Democracy, religious pluralism, debate, compromise, and Klal Yisrael were sadly sacrificed on the altar of political expediency and right-wing fanaticism by this government’s decision to keep its hands off this sensitive but important matter for world Jewry.

For shame!

This blog also appears at The Times of Israel – https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/for-shame-government-again-shelves-western-wall-egalitarian-plaza/

Voting Rights ought to be #1 on Biden’s and every Democrat’s agenda

As Trump-Republicans seek to undo every legislative hurdle, take away power over elections from every legitimate non-partisan State Secretary of State, and pass laws to make it far easier to control the results of the 2022 and 2024 elections despite the majority will of Americans across the country, President Biden, Congressional and State Democrats ought to be shouting from the rafters every day about the importance of passing major voting rights legislation as their first order of business. There is nothing more important to American democracy than preserving our election system – not BBB, not the Debt Limit, not climate issues, not foreign policy (as important as all of these are). For none of these issues can be effectively addressed in an American authoritarian society led by the likes of Trump and his sycophants.

President Biden, to his credit, gave a comprehensive and excellent voting rights speech last July – but, he has said virtually nothing since, until yesterday. At last, at the Democracy summit, as quoted by Heather Cox Richardson in her excellent daily “Letters from an American”:

“Biden vowed to protect journalists around the world from persecution and to continue to fight for the passage of voting rights and election protection legislation. He mentioned by name the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would prevent voter suppression, make it easier to vote, and dismantle the 33 new restrictive elections laws that Republican-dominated legislatures in 19 states have passed.”

“We should be making it easy for people to vote, not harder.” Biden said. “And that’s going to remain a priority for my administration until we get it done. Inaction is not an option.” 

I have assumed that once the President and Congress pass some version of the Build Back Better bill that he will turn to voting rights. I have not understood, however, why he can’t walk and chew gum at the same time. Why has he waited to talk about this fundamental threat to American democracy being prepared step-by-step and strategically by the Trump-Republican Party in virtually every state and congressional jurisdiction. If history is prologue, every successful major legislative effort has been preceded by constant rhetoric at the highest levels in our national and state politics. Yes, many leaders and political pundits and commentators around the country have been talking about this, but the President’s voice is the single most important one, and he has to talk about this every day to soften the ground leading to a set-aside of the congressional filibuster for democracy issues and then the passage of a major bill in the House and Senate to protect elections, eliminate gerrymandering, control money in politics, assure same day registration and mail-in voting, eliminate voter intimidation at polling places, and keep the power over state election certification in non-partisan hands, among other things.

Why has he waited? What is he waiting for? The time is now!

If you live in a district in which a Democrat represents you, do consider writing to them and the White House to insist that the President begin the rhetorical campaign to pass voting rights legislation now.