“Why did the Oath Keepers Do it?” by Tom Nichols in The Atlantic

Tom Nichols, a staff writer at The Atlantic, answered the question today that I asked my wife Barbara this week as we were reflecting upon the guilty verdict of seditious conspiracy against Elmer Stewart Rhodes, the head of the Oath Keepers, who led the violent insurrection against the nation’s Capitol building and American democracy on January 6, 2021.

I asked Barbara: “It is so infuriating that these people tried to steal our democracy! Why?” Nichols put it this way: “I found it incredible that we had to interrupt our lives for a movement built on lies and political hallucinations.”

The amount of human energy, media time, and treasure that has engulfed America since the 2020 presidential election is incalculable all because Donald Trump never learned in Kindergarten how to play in the sandbox or how to lose a ball game that I learned in Little League Baseball and on the playground of my elementary school. That so many millions of Americans also seemed never to have learned how to lose fair and square, how to accept reality, and how to appreciate American democracy, utterly confounds me.

Tom Nichols’ piece in The Atlantic is worth reading. The essence of it is this: “It was a rebellion born in affluence and boredom and a desperate search for meaning in otherwise ordinary lives.” The article is short and to the point. I recommend that you google it and read it.

Thanks Tom.

“Conceding to extremists, Netanyahu hatching an intolerant, vulnerable Israel” – David Horovitz, Times of Israel

Note: The following by the Times of Israel Editor David Horovitz is a fair, accurate, and stunningly disturbing column describing in detail the government under formation that Prime Minister designate Benjamin Netanyahu has been putting together. I print it in its entirety for those of you who have not been following what is happening in Israel politically since its latest election a few weeks ago in which the Israeli electorate split 50-50 by popular vote between the extremist right wing and the middle-right/middle-left (Netanyahu’s coalition has 64 seats as opposed to 56 seats for the opposition parties). All my Israeli friends and those in the progressive Zionist community in Diaspora communities who are paying attention are deeply worried, disturbed, and frightened by what Netanyahu is doing. The government he is forming is, without question, the greatest threat to Israel’s democracy in its nearly 75-year history. Within days, the “deals” that Netanyahu is making with extremists in the ultra-nationalist and ultra-religious right wing will be complete.

What do we do in the Diaspora about this? We have no authority at all to dissuade Netanyahu from this disastrous collection of deals with anti-democratic politicians. However, we leaders in Diaspora communities worldwide can agree that no leaders of these extremist parties (including Netanyahu most especially) should be welcome in any of our synagogues, Federations, community organizations, and businesses. Also, we can pressure America’s government leaders to boycott the leadership of these extremist right-wing parties. Many of us in the progressive Zionist movement are organizing to promote this position as I write this.

That said, as Zionists who believe in and are deeply proud of all that the democratic Jewish State of Israel has done for its citizens and for the world in so many ways, we cannot and should not turn our backs on the Jewish State or its people or its democratic institutions or on the cause of pursuing justice and peace for all the peoples of the land. Deuteronomy 20:16 reminds us that justice in the Land of Israel is a Biblical pre-condition for the Jewish people settling in the land: “צדק צדק תרדף – Justice, justice shall you pursue, so that you may live and take hold of the land that the Lord your God is about to give you.”

We will be challenged as American and Diaspora Zionists by Netanyahu’s new government in ways we have never been challenged since the establishment of the state in 1948. And we have to remember that Zionism is NOT a dirty word. It is the national liberation movement of the Jewish people. The Zionist movement is a big-tent conglomeration of many pro-Israel Jews and groups. We in the progressive Zionist movement (and there are many of us) must remain strong, self-confident, and organized. We have an obligation based on our liberal Jewish and Zionist values to speak out against the extremist anti-democratic parties that are about to take control of the levers of Israel’s government whenever they take decisions that chip away at the democratic foundations and institutions of the State of Israel.

Here is David Horovitz’s Community Letter – November 30, 2022

“Day after day, as he negotiates the staffing and agenda for his incoming coalition, Benjamin Netanyahu is openly preparing to turn Israel from a remarkable democracy, the only one in the region — with all the healthy strains of a powerful political echelon rubbing up against the brakes of a liberal judiciary — into something approaching untrammeled rule by a narrow, relatively homogeneous, hardline majority.

Day after day, he is concertedly awarding ever more power to extreme ideologues who he and we all know will abuse it.

His conduct since his November 1 election victory is shocking, indeed incomprehensible — even taking into account the complications of forging a government among radical, emboldened egotists. And the consequences are potentially devastating. What we are witnessing, in short, is a moment of destiny for Israel, a moment of drastic, fateful, fundamental change.

The three incendiary provocateurs

Netanyahu has agreed to place a reckless, oft-convicted rabble-rouser in charge of Israel’s police force, with the simply unthinkable imminent appointment of Itamar Ben Gvir as the minister of national security.

Less than two years ago, even though he had himself brokered the political merger that would enable Ben Gvir to enter the political mainstream and become a member of Knesset, Netanyahu recognized that the Otzma Yehudit leader was “not fit” for ministerial office. Ben Gvir’s views and activities — as a Kahanist disciple who had spent years urging the expulsion of Arab Israelis; who had kept a picture of Baruch Goldstein, the Hebron mass killer, on his living room wall; who had been excluded from IDF service because of the danger he posed as a young provocateur known for boasting in a TV interview, as he held the Cadillac symbol ripped off Rabin’s car, that he and his circle could “get to” the soon-to-be assassinated prime minister — were simply incompatible with responsible governance, Netanyahu acknowledged.

Now Netanyahu is days away from giving Ben Gvir control over the very police force that arrested him, investigated him and saw him convicted in 2007 of the crimes of support for a terrorist organization and incitement to racism, a force whose commander accused him of fanning the flames of 2021’s deadly Arab-Jewish violence in Israel’s mixed cities and East Jerusalem.

Moreover, the terms of their deal will reportedly see Ben Gvir entrusted with more authority than any previous minister of police, with a capacity to influence policy and priorities, and thus potentially undermine the independence of the force, in breach of existing laws and codes. The Knesset will thus have to pass fresh legislation in order to empower him.

It remains unclear whether this incendiary figure, who urges eased open-fire rules for the security services, has demanded full Jewish prayer rights atop the Temple Mount, and whose party’s last known published manifesto called for annexing the West Bank without giving Palestinians voting and other rights, will also be given control over Border Police units that operate in the West Bank, as he has demanded. Already, Ben Gvir is utilizing his ostensible new legitimacy by undermining and challenging Israel’s military establishment, campaigning this week against the IDF’s punishment of a soldier who taunted a left-wing activist in Hebron.

Netanyahu is also negotiating to install Bezalel Smotrich, an arguably still more uncompromising far-right ideologue, as minister of finance, having initially contemplated making him minister of defense. Again, the conferral of such significant responsibility on so dependably incendiary a political activist ought to be beyond contemplation.

Smotrich was held for three weeks by the Shin Bet Security service for an alleged terrorist plot — to target Israeli drivers on the Ayalon Highway — in protest of 2005’s Gaza disengagement. A self-described “proud homophobe” who helped organize a so-called Beast Parade against the Jerusalem pride march, he too wants to annex the biblical Judea and Samaria without anything resembling equality for Palestinians, is hostile and dismissive to non-Orthodox streams of Judaism, and ultimately seeks to turn Israel into a theocracy, its judicial system based on the laws of the Torah. In the run-up to the November 1 elections, he presented a detailed program for judicial reform that would render the High Court of Justice toothless, both by neutering justices’ capacity to protect individual rights from assault by the political majority of the day — with the so-called override clause — and by giving the governing coalition sufficient votes on the selection committee to choose those judges in the first place.

As in the case of Ben Gvir, it remains unclear whether Netanyahu will also grant Smotrich his outrageous demand for the remaking or dismantling of the Civil Administration that oversees the disputed West Bank. The changes that Smotrich seeks, and seeks to oversee, in this context — via the transfer of authority over the Civil Administration from the Defense Ministry to his command — would appear to represent de facto annexation, and would render Israel more vulnerable than ever before to international criticism, censure and potential sanction, to the delight of its enemies and despair of its allies.

Finally, among the anti-democratic ideologues, Netanyahu has negotiated to establish an authority for “Jewish identity,” based in the Prime Minister’s Office, to be headed by Avi Maoz, the sole Knesset member from the tiny Noam faction, who has the support of just a few tens of thousands of Israelis and who only squeezed into parliament thanks to the Netanyahu-brokered alliance on the far-right. Anti-pluralist and anti-Arab, Maoz and Noam are also deeply hostile to non-Orthodox Judaism, making the notion of entitling Maoz as the deputy minister in charge of Jewish identity for the government of Israel particularly alienating for the millions of non-Orthodox Jews around the world, many of whom feel immensely connected to Israel.

Common to all three of these “religious Zionists” is the malignant un-Jewish misconception that being the “chosen people” indicates that we are somehow better than and entitled to oppress inferiors — Judaism as supremacism. But Judaism is not a supremacist religion. Our tradition, rather, is that we have been entrusted with a code of moral behavior that we are obligated to live by and disseminate, at the heart of which, to quote Hillel, is the imperative: “That which is hateful unto you, do not do to your neighbor. This is the whole of the Torah; the rest is commentary.” Many of the policies that Ben Gvir, Smotrich and Maoz advocate are a direct negation of that principle, of authentic Judaism. Now, they are aiming to implement them.

Neutered judiciary, empowered ultra-Orthodoxy

There is more, much more, playing out with bewildering speed, and with potentially ruinous consequences for Israel as a democratic state, for Israel as the homeland for all Jews, for Israel as a strong economic force, for Israel as a unified nation, for Israel as a nation capable of defending itself in this hostile region. So rapidly are new arrangements and new demands being unveiled in recent weeks, with such far-reaching impact, indeed, that it has become difficult to even keep track.

In his negotiations with the two ultra-Orthodox parties, for example, Netanyahu has reportedly agreed to cement the exclusion of ultra-Orthodox males from military service, with no requirement for alternative national service either. Long sought by Haredi politicians who evidently want to consign their constituents to lives of hardship and poverty — and to betray the Orthodox Jewish tradition where the community supports the brightest would-be Torah scholars and the rest fulfill the obligation to work for a living and provide for their families — this blanket exclusion has been struck down by the High Court as discriminatory. Once the aforementioned override clause is in place, however, there would be no impediment to the arrangement.

Many non-ultra-Orthodox Israelis have long railed against the inequality — objected that they and their children risk their lives to protect the country in mandatory military service while the ultra-Orthodox do not, and that their taxes are channeled to subsidize a sector of the electorate many of whose males don’t go to work. The entrenchment and full application of that arrangement can only exacerbate the rift between ultra-Orthodox Jews and other Israelis, with perilous implications for internal Israeli unity and resilience, including as regards the near-consensual current readiness among non-Haredi Israelis to perform military service.

Moreover, Netanyahu had promised ultra-Orthodox leaders even before the elections that he would provide government funding for ultra-Orthodox schools that do not teach a core curriculum including math and English — thus denying many young ultra-Orthodox Israelis the skills to find fulfilling employment even if they want it.

The ultra-Orthodox leaders, some leaders on the far-right, and Israel’s two, state-funded chief rabbis, meanwhile, are pushing with increasing fervor to amend Israel’s foundational Law of Return, which grants the automatic right to citizenship to those with at least one Jewish grandparent. The amendment they seek — and which Netanyahu’s Likud is said to be opposing — is to remove this so-called grandchild clause, so that the right to citizenship would be largely limited to those who are halachically Jewish — that is, via matrilineal descent.

Again, forgive the repetition, this should be simply unthinkable, since it constitutes a betrayal of a foundational Israeli purpose — the Jewish state potentially preparing to close its doors to would-be citizens who see themselves as members of the Jewish people, and who are often persecuted as such.

Netanyahu has reportedly already agreed to a demand from his nascent coalition allies to revoke the High Court ruling that recognizes, for the purpose of citizenship, conversions to Judaism in Israel under the aegis of the Reform movement. He is also being asked by them to back legislation enabling gender separation at public events.

Contemplating the looming likely demolition of so many of Israel’s core components by the wrecking ball of the nascent Netanyahu-led coalition, what is so mystifying is that the alarming appointments he is about to make, and the damage he and his ministers are about to inflict, are not being inescapably imposed upon this most canny and skilled of politicians. Instead, he is conceding more prominent positions to the leaders of his allied parties, awarding them more authority, and consenting to more legislative changes, than the political reality necessitates.

This recalls the same kind of baffling weakness that saw him abandon the solemnly negotiated “Western Wall compromise” in 2017, when under resistible ultra-Orthodox political pressure, only now to vastly more drastic effect.

Ben Gvir might not be rushing to join his government at any cost, but he would not have required additional powers as police minister in order to sign on. His dizzying ascent to a ministerial post where he gets to control the force — an outrageous turn of events, and one to which the Netanyahu of less than two years ago would not have consented — would have been more than sufficient.

Smotrich is a resolutely obdurate campaigner — whose refusal to join a coalition that relied on support from the Arab Islamist Ra’am party condemned Netanyahu and his allies to the opposition after the 2021 elections — and would always be a tougher negotiating adversary. But Netanyahu veritably invited Smotrich to maximize his demands, immediately after the elections, by signaling that his previously stated intention to keep the Defense, Treasury and Foreign ministerial portfolios in the hands of the Likud party no longer held. Since those most prominent jobs were now on offer, Smotrich unhesitatingly went for the Defense post, and when this proved unreachable he is now playing hardball for the Treasury job, plus those far-reaching Civil Administration responsibilities.

As for Avi Maoz, who directly represents almost nobody but alienates almost everybody, his single vote is no make-or-break for Netanyahu’s coalition, and he could have been offered almost any take-it-or-leave-it position. Yet it merely required him to publicly complain that Netanyahu had yet to negotiate with him, and hours later he was sitting face-to-face with the presumed incoming prime minister. And rather than fobbing him off with a minor position, Netanyahu chose to confer upon him the “Jewish identity” role — granting a title indicating an oversight role for all Jews in Israel, with implications for all Jews everywhere, to a hitherto marginal figure whose views are anathema to the overwhelming majority of our nation.

Breaking faith with his own personal history

Yes, Netanyahu has become more hawkish over the years, as have many Israelis since the Second Intifada, amid the rise of Hezbollah and Hamas in territories vacated by Israel and in the face of abiding Palestinian rejectionism. And yes, Netanyahu has plainly been marked by his corruption trial, convinced that he has been unjustly indicted for actions he either denies outright or insists do not constitute wrongdoing.

But Netanyahu was always a great Israeli patriot — the scion of a devotedly Zionist family, who lost his heroic, beloved brother in military action at Entebbe, and himself performed courageous, life-threatening military service in the IDF’s most elite unit. And he is not Israel’s longest-serving prime minister by accident; for three years in the 1990s, and for an extraordinary 12 years from 2009 to 2021, he led this country with sufficient skill and popularity as to retain the support of a majority of the electorate, and to remain, in survey after survey after survey, by far the favored choice for prime minister.

He did not shrink from the use of force, but he was no military adventurer. Though advocating at least partial annexation of the West Bank — some 30 percent, including the Israeli settlements and the Jordan Valley — he froze that plan when it became clear the Trump administration would not support it, and deep-froze it, albeit with great reluctance, in order to embrace what became the Abraham Accords, Israel’s 2020 normalization agreements with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and (still a work in progress) Sudan.

He also respected the independence of Israel’s judiciary, and pledged to defend that independence, evidently recognizing that in an Israel with no constitution, no bill of rights, a parliament that a homogeneous coalition can utterly dominate, and no term limits on its leaders, a robust, effective judiciary was a vital brake on potential government excess and abuse, an essential element in our democracy’s delicate system of checks and balances.

The coalition whose agreements he is now finalizing, the ministers he is about to elevate to powerful office and the agenda he is setting and enabling, therefore break faith with so many of the principles at the core of his military and political careers.

He is the ex-Sayeret Matkal (IDF special reconnaissance unit) officer preparing to entrust a new, expanded National Security Ministry to a pyromaniacal upstart whose main security and police expertise is as a criminal convict. The commander-in-chief who contemplated giving an expansionist idealogue and terrorism suspect the ultra-sensitive Defense portfolio. The secular Jew sending Israel down the road to theocracy at the urgings of ultra-Orthodox and hardline Religious Zionist proponents. The declared democrat readying to dismantle the pillars of democracy with an override clause that neuters our judiciary — a radical reform he doesn’t even clearly need in order to complete his coalition (the justices are unlikely to intervene if the law is changed to enable Shas’s Aryeh Deri to return as a minister despite his suspended jail term) or to escape his trial (the justices would be unlikely to intervene if, as they intend to, his colleagues abolish the charge of “fraud and breach of trust” at the heart of all three cases against him).

What Netanyahu is concocting is not the “normal” preparation for a new government, with leaders and an agenda at odds with the preceding, defeated coalition. It is, rather, a recipe for an unrecognizable Israel — more internally divided, much less democratic, more religiously intolerant, more male-dominated, its “people’s army” no longer consensual and above politics, self-defeating in its potential policies regarding the Palestinians, and at odds with much of Diaspora Jewry. It is a recipe for a self-defeating Israel which, if carried through to its full potential excesses — and I stress if — risks rendering the country unsustainable as it descends into internal discord, deepening regional friction, fraying international support, and mounting diplomatic, economic and military pressure.

All of this is frankly unfathomable. Yet it is unfolding before our very eyes. Only Netanyahu can prevent it. Yet it is Netanyahu who is choosing to hatch it.

https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/?shva=1#inbox/FMfcgzGrbJBFJTWslnnVSvVrzfBnGXGW

An open letter to Dave Chappelle from the great-granddaughter of a Hollywood pioneer

A problematic SNL monologue triggers a panic attack and a plea for mutual understanding

Note: This op-ed in the Jewish Forward today (November 15, 2022) is exactly on point. I am reprinting it here in full not only because I too, like the author, was riled with indignation at Dave Chappelle’s alleged “comedy” stunt on SNL this past weekend about Jews in Hollywood, but also because Sharon Leib Rosen’s great-grandfather, Sol Wurzel, about whom she speaks with justifiable pride, was a founding member of my congregation in 1927, Temple Israel of Hollywood.

It is important to emphasize the historical facts (as Sharon does) that Jews “invented Hollywood” because they were excluded from most businesses in the early 20th century because of antisemitism, and they could operate freely in creating the motion picture business in the far reaches of the west. That would change dramatically by the 1930s and 1940s, however, when antisemitism in America spread like a toxic poison throughout politics, government, religion, and in many communities in so much of the country as Rachel Maddow documents in her important podcast “Ultra” about the 1940 Nazi effort to overthrow the United States government and as Ken Burns showed so powerfully in his documentary about America and the Holocaust.

The ignorance of so many otherwise well-meaning people about the etiology of antisemitism in western civilization, the dramatic rise in antisemitism in the past few years since Charlottesville (“Jews will not replace us” with Nazi salutes, no less), and the pain that we American Jews experience when we see antisemitism going mainstream as it has among some in sports, entertainment, and politics, ought to be a red flag for every decent American.

Dave Chappelle performing earlier this year in Washington, D.C. Photo by Getty Images

By Sharon Rosen Leib – The Forward – November 15, 2022

Dear Dave Chappelle,

Consider me an admirer. I find your comedy wickedly smart, slyly subversive and generally well-intentioned. I also sense your pain. As the descendant of a troubled Hollywood Jewish family, I’ve seen how the business eats sensitive people like you alive.

That’s why, after watching your monologue on SNL, I woke up at 4 a.m. in a panic-attack state. Why did you feel the need to echo Ye’s antisemitic tropes about Jews and Hollywood? Yes, there are a lot of Jews in Hollywood — because discrimination shut them out of other careers in the early 1900s. Pioneer Hollywood Jews like my great-grandfather Sol M. Wurtzel, who produced over 700 films for 20th Century Fox, created a new form of popular entertainment and ran with it. I take pride in the Jewish invention of an industry that gave voice and unprecedented global reach to legions of creative people, including you.

I can say “There are a lot of Jews in Hollywood” without repercussion because my whole being screams Jewish. Unfortunately, in these charged Ye “going Defcon 3 on the Jewish People” times, it didn’t land so well when you said it. Yet, no one should be canceled for speaking the truth. There have been a lot of Jews in Hollywood for over 100 years. Disturbingly, a ton of antisemitism has resurfaced around that truth.

I consider myself a relatively chill Jewish mother. But when anyone says something that could potentially affect my community’s safety or my kids’ pride in their Jewish identities, I go into Defcon 3 Mama Bear mode.

So why exacerbate a charged situation by poking the Jewish bear the way you did? Do you want out of the Hollywood rat race? I totally get why you would. For God’s sake, a crazy guy carrying a knife rushed you at the Hollywood Bowl. You deserve a break.

Reflecting on why your monologue caused a panic attack, I realized it must have been the antisemitic traumas embedded in my psyche from my Eastern European Jewish lineage. That and the fact I watched “The U. S. and the Holocaust” documentary by filmmakers Ken Burns, Lynn Novick and Sarah Botstein last month. The six-hour horror show depicts Nazis marching through Eastern European towns, and describes how they threw Jewish babies out of windows, incinerated Jewish villagers in their synagogues and gunned them down in forests along the way.

These Nazi death squads were fueled by crackpot conspiracy theories about greedy, parasitic Jews who controlled international banking, financed wars, and poisoned young minds with their nefarious movies. As Hollywood filmmakers during the rise of Nazism, my American family continued grinding out movies while sanding down their Jewish identities to avoid being targeted by antisemitic conspiracy theorists. Family members who remained in Poland died grisly deaths.

But, Mr. Chappelle, you already know all this. You rightly said Black Americans didn’t cause this reign of terror. And American Jews like me know that inflamed nativist European fascists — not Black Americans — conspired to create the biggest death machine in human history to obliterate European Jewry.

So let’s fast-forward to Trump, who came along and issued a get-out-of-the-sewers-free pass to U.S. neo-Nazis. I imagine these racist antisemites get off on seeing Blacks and Jews devolve into Defcon 3 mode tearing each other apart with accusations of antisemitism and racism, becoming increasingly alienated and estranged from each other along the way.

Your monologue ceased being comedic to me when I heard whispers of crazy-town “Jews own Hollywood” conspiracy theories threaded into its narrative subtext. I want to believe you are a better man than the guy who adds a dash of poison to the boiling cauldron of antisemitic hate bubbling over in this country.

Now that Trump and his acolytes appear to be losing their chokehold on America, why did you use your precious monologue time to rehash and reanimate the antisemitic rants? Isn’t it time for Blacks and Jews to celebrate shaking off the Trumpian nightmare and join forces to consign his neo-Nazi racist acolytes back into the sewers?

Mr. Chappelle, I’m hoping you use your prodigious comedy chops to continue shining a light on prejudice without sending conspiracy theory chills down Jewish spines.

Wishing you all the best,
Sharon Rosen Leib

Sharon Rosen Leib is a former Deputy Attorney General in California’s Department of Justice, an award-winning freelance journalist and contributing writer for the Forward and the San Diego Jewish Journal.

What to make of the week that was in Israel and the United States?

I feel as if I’m in recovery from a major assault on my nerves, emotions, and psyche as an American liberal Jew and Zionist. The build-up leading up to back-to-back elections in Israel and the United States utterly exhausted me.

I’m still left feeling betwixt and between despite the elections now beginning to recede in the rear-view mirror. I’m deeply worried about what is happening to the Israel I love, the middle-left in Israel, my liberal Zionism in America, and what Israel might become with the election of the most right-wing, racist, exclusionary, misogynist, homophobic, and anti-pluralistic government ever to be seated in the Knesset.

Though I’m relieved that the American election has defied historic precedents for mid-term elections in which the party out of power did not make major gains in Congress, I worry still that Trumpism is alive and well in America amongst too many millions of people who have drunk the cool-aid of Trump and his anti-democratic election deniers and insurrectionists.

Here in the United States we have to thank young Americans, women, African-Americans, and Latinos in particular for their massive turn-out to vote in this mid-term election. Decent America spoke more loudly than indecent America this week, and though millions of people voted for toxic unqualified candidates across the country, it ought to be clear that our continued vigilance supporting democracy is going to be necessary and that organizing for the 2024 elections needs to begin immediately, even before the final votes are tabulated in a number of key states and congressional districts.

Regarding Israel – though 54 Knesset seats are now in opposition to Netanyahu’s expected ruling coalition, the threats to Israel’s democracy and independent judiciary, to Palestinian-Israeli citizens, Jews-by-Choice, and religious pluralism in the state is serious and we can expect that the Religious Zionists led by Itamar Ben Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, the ultra-Orthodox Haredi parties, and the settler enterprise will not rest until they have their way. Not only is Israel’s democratic character in their cross-hairs, but a rupture between liberal North American Jewry (especially younger Jews) and Israel will likely occur and therefore require a new kind of partnership between the middle-right, middle-left, and left in Israel with North American liberal Jewry.

The Biden administration and Congress ought to refuse to deal with Ben Gvir and Smotrich. In addition, no American Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Renewal, or modern Orthodox synagogue ought to welcome these two men into their communities. Already the leadership of the Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist movements have expressed their outrage and refusal to meet these extremist leaders whose anti-Arab racism and fascist leanings are far from representative of the best values in the Jewish world.

Edmund Burke’s powerful truth has been ringing in my ears throughout this past week: “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.”

This blog also appears at the Times of Israel – https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/what-to-make-of-the-week-that-was-in-israel-and-the-united-states/

Reform Jewish Leaders Respond to Israeli Election Results

November 2, 2022

Today, we affirm Israel’s robust democracy, reflected in the more than 71% turnout for the fifth election in four years. We love Israel and are committed to the vision of Israel as a democratic, pluralistic Jewish state.   

Benjamin Netanyahu is likely to become prime minister, and we congratulate him on his unprecedented sixth term. Additionally, we commend current prime minister Yair Lapid for announcing that, should Netanyahu prevail, there will be a peaceful, democratic transition.    

As Netanyahu assembles his coalition, we are profoundly concerned about promises of cabinet positions he has made to Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben Gvir, the leaders of the ultra-nationalist Religious Zionism party. Their platforms and past actions indicate that they would curtail the authority of Israel’s Supreme Court and inhibit the rights of Israeli Arabs, Palestinians, members of the LGBTQ+ community and large segments of Jews who are non-Orthodox. Including Ben Gvir and Smotrich in the government will likely jeopardize Israel’s democracy and will force the country to reckon with its place on the world stage. It will almost certainly lead to challenging moments in U.S.-Israel relations and will be painful for Jews worldwide who will not see the Israel they love and believe in reflected in these leaders, nor in the policies they pursue.  

Our commitment to Zionism is unwavering and we take some comfort knowing that our partner and colleague, Reform Rabbi Gilad Kariv, will remain a strong voice for democracy and pluralism as a member of the Knesset. We look forward to working closely with those across the political spectrum who share a commitment to the fundamental ideals enshrined in the Israeli Declaration of Independence. Together with the Israeli Reform Movement, we will navigate the coming period with fortitude, rooted in our belief in Israel’s future as a peaceful, democratic homeland for the Jewish people, no matter how they choose to worship or believe, and a place in which all its citizens—Jewish and Arab alike —are respected and can thrive.   

Union for Reform Judaism
Jennifer Brodkey Kaufman (she/her), Chair
Rabbi Rick Jacobs (he/him), President

Central Conference of American Rabbis
Rabbi Lewis Kamrass (he/him), President
Rabbi Hara E. Person (she/her), Chief Executive

American Conference of Cantors
Cantor Seth Warner (he/him), President
Rachel Roth (she/her), Chief Operating Officer

“Ben-Gvir’s Victory: A Harsh Blow to Israel’s Standing in America” – Rabbi Eric Yoffie


Haaretz, November 2, 2022   

[Note: From time to time I post Rabbi Yoffie’s columns in Haaretz. He is an astute observer and commentator on all things Jewish and Israel, and his column today is no exception. Forward this blog to those who are concerned about the impact of the Israeli election on Israel and the American-Israel relationship.]

                       
“If Netanyahu welcomes the poisonous, Arab-hating far right into government, led by a Trump-like provocateur, it will be a catastrophe for Israel’s standing in America: In Congress, on campus and among American Jews.
                       
American Jews are in mourning.

While we don’t know for certain what the new Israeli government will look like, based on what we do know, the winners are Itamar Ben-Gvir and the far-right Kahanism that he represents.

Since it was the lunatic fringe of American Jewry that gave birth to this ideology, we know what Kahanism is. And we also know that Israel will pay a heavy price in its international standing for Ben-Gvir’s victory – especially in the United States.

Americans are already viewing Ben-Gvir as a Trump-like figure, who has done to the Israeli right what Donald Trump did to the Republican Party. Both are radical, belligerent nationalists, who travelled in a few short years from the outer reaches of the political system to its very center. Both give legitimacy to racist and extremist views, poisoning political discourse in a heretofore unimaginable way.

Both are cynical showmen, provocateurs and inciters who tolerate violence, that is, when they don’t outwardly encourage it. Both speak the language, sometimes coded and sometimes clear, of authoritarianism and quasi-fascism.

Thanks to Ben-Gvir, Arab-hating Israelis are much freer to express their views in Israel today than they once were, just as thanks to Trump, minority-hating Americans are much freer to express their views in America.

Ben-Gvir, of course, may welcome the comparison with Trump, which he undoubtedly takes as a compliment. But he, like Benjamin Netanyahu, misunderstands America and is misreading its politics.

Make no mistake: This is a vulnerable time for Israel. Ben-Gvir’s emergence as a significant political player in Israel will undermine the country’s public standing in America, strengthen Israel’s enemies and offend its friends.

The danger can perhaps be contained, but only if Ben-Gvir, along with Bezalel Smotrich, his extremist partner in the Religious Zionism party, remain outside of an Israeli government and coalition. After all, if approximately 10 percent of Israeli voters support a far-right extremist party, it is troubling, but no more than that. But if that party enters the government and its leaders serve as ministers who speak for the Jewish state and the Jewish people, it is a catastrophe.

Right-wing Israeli politicians love to pontificate about anti-Israel and pro-BDS activity on campus, seeing it as a left-wing effort. But the American Jewish community has fought against this; only a small number of pro-BDS student resolutions have passed, and not a single major university has voted to boycott or divest from Israel.

Yet the minute a narrow, right-wing government takes office in Israel, with Ben-Gvir and Smotrich sitting as senior ministers, the campus Israel haters will be dancing in the streets. They will organize demonstrations and renew the BDS campaign, and flyers with Ben-Gvir’s picture and past statements will be distributed on every elite campus in America. Those of us who have made the case for decades that Israel is not an apartheid state will find ourselves contending with quotes from two members of Israel’s cabinet that sound quite a bit like support for apartheid.

And those who say that apartheid-supporters sit at the highest levels of Israel’s government will be right, and we will have no compelling response.

Even worse is what may develop in Congress. According to recent polls, approximately one-third of the Americans who identify as Democrats support boycotting Israel. In the current Congress, though, backing for Israel is overwhelming; only a handful of members in the House and Senate have expressed encouragement for boycotting or cutting aid to the Jewish state. Congress Democrats, in other words, have stood up to the critical attitudes of their own constituents to maintain aid to Israel.

But what will happen when racists and extremists sit in the Israeli government? Keep in mind that for a decade, Benjamin Netanyahu has carried out an absurd vendetta against the Democratic Party, the most recent chapter of which is his newly-released autobiography. It is filled with vicious and utterly gratuitous attacks against Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, the latter of whom is the party’s most popular living leader.

The shift may not be immediate, but Israel cannot count on long-term Democratic support if its government is led by a prime minister hostile to the party and its ministers espouse positions that virtually all Democrats rightly find abhorrent.

If Netanyahu is counting on Donald Trump and a Republican victory in the midterms to solve his Ben-Gvir problem, he is misreading realities here as well. The Democrats will control the White House and American foreign policy for the next two years, no matter what happens in the midterms. And the Republican Party cannot be counted on for anything – even support for Israel.

It is true that the Trump administration delivered the Abraham Accords, and for this Trump deserves credit. There remains a core of pro-Israel support in the party that should be appreciated and acknowledged. But it is also true that the party is shifting beneath Trump’s feet.

Part sociopath and part id-driven clown, Trump knows nothing and believes in nothing. After spending his entire adult life in New York City without connecting to Israel in any way, he embraced Israel as president when it was convenient to do so and will abandon it the minute that the party or the MAGA base challenges him.

That is exactly what is happening now, as we see from the challengers to Trump who are beginning to emerge. While the former president is still essential for energizing the base, it is a base that he no longer controls.

As historian Nicole Hemmer has suggested in her brilliant book “Partisans,” the Republican Party is moving in the direction of populist nationalism, nativism, authoritarianism, and ethnic and class resentment. Despite the increasingly erratic pro-Israel bluster of Trump, the party is returning to its isolationist roots and to the “America First” themes that originated with Nazi sympathizers in the 1930s.

The Republicans today are the party of Tucker Carlson, Marjorie Taylor Greene, and the Proud Boys. It has resurrected Pat Buchanan’s strain of populist nationalism, and it has allowed his antisemitism to gain a strong foothold in its ranks.

Some elements of the party, of course, are fighting back, resisting white supremacy and supporting a robust foreign policy and real commitment to Israel. Such people still exist in the Republican ranks. But these elements, the sane and sensible ones, are just as appalled as the Democrats by the crude racism of Ben-Gvir and company.

They know, just as the Democrats know, that if Israel is to maintain American support in these dangerous and uncertain times, it must do so in the traditional way: as a fully democratic, proudly Jewish state – tied to Democrats and Republicans alike, committed to human rights and to the values that bind the countries and the peoples of America and Israel.

And they know that this can never happen if semi-fascists like Ben-Gvir and his crew sit in Israel’s cabinet and make the decisions that determine Israel’s fate. Netanyahu, are you listening?”

“Why is Donald Trump harassing Jews?” by Rob Eshman in The Forward

Note: This weekend, the twice-impeached disgraced former President Donald Trump put a target on the backs of American Jews. Twitter lit up with condemnation of Trump and his blatant antisemitic dog whistling. In response to Trump’s post, Senior Contributing Editor of The Forward, Rob Eshman, wrote yesterday (October 16, 2022) the following:

“Posting that Jews need to ‘get their act together’ paints a target on our backs

In two separate recent incidents, audience members have tried to shout down Jewish comedians mid-act.

In Omaha, a heckler yelled “Free Palestine!” during stand-up comedian Sam Morril’s set.

And in Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey, comedian Ariel Elias faced a pro-Trump heckler who demanded to know who she voted for.

And then this morning, former President Donald Trump heckled all American Jews.

Jews in the United States must “get their act together,” Trump wrote on his Truth Social platform, “before it’s too late!” He wrote that Evangelical Christians are “far more appreciative” of Israel and what Trump “has done for Israel” than “people of the Jewish faith.”

There are two problems with what Trump posted. One, it’s false. And two, it poses a threat to Jewish lives.

American Jews are overwhelmingly supportive of Israel. Eight in 10 American Jews say Israel is an essential or important part of what being Jewish means to them, according to a 2020 Pew Research Center survey. Just under half of American Jews have visited Israel, too. American Jews may oppose specific Israeli government policies, but only 15% say Israel is not important to their Jewish identity.

In his post, Trump wrote, “no president has done more for Israel” than he has. While the Trump administration recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and brokered the Abraham Accords among Israel and several Arab countries (with which it already had economic and other ties), historians have pointed out that other presidents have done more: President Harry Truman first recognized the Jewish state. President Jimmy Carter brokered a lasting peace between Israel and Egypt, at the time Israel’s biggest enemy. And President Barack Obama gave more money and arms to Israel than any president ever had.

Trump’s post ignored these facts and instead singled out American Jews as ingrates. He added a veiled threat, too, proclaiming that American Jews need to change “before it’s too late!”

Trump’s Jewish supporters tend to either agree with his messages or dismiss them as a harmless example of Trump being Trump — the guy in the back of the comedy club with the loudest mouth.

“I can just tell by your jokes you voted for Biden,” the heckler in New Jersey shouted at Elias. She wryly responded, “I can tell by the fact that you’re still talking when nobody wants you to that you voted for Trump.”

When a former president with millions of followers heckles American Jews, it’s not even remotely funny. A 2020 study of online antisemitism found that instances of hate spiked after the 2016 presidential election, when the Trump campaign pushed similar slurs against American Jewish loyalties, and after the “Unite the Right” march in Charlottesville.

“We find the frequency of antisemitic content greatly increases (in some cases more than doubling) after major political events,” the researchers wrote.

In other words, Trump speaks, the memes follow, and antisemitic acts increase.

Whether Trump himself is antisemitic or not is beside the point. One thing we know about antisemitism is it increases during times of economic downtown and political uncertainty, which pretty much sums up the last few years.

“When the society suffers, it needs someone to blame, someone upon whom to avenge itself for its disappointments; and those persons whom opinion already disfavors are naturally singled out for this role,” write the authors of a 2020 study on conspiracy theories and Jew-hatred.

By singling out American Jews because they don’t support him or a particular Israeli government, Trump painted a crude target on our backs.

“Culpability is a tricky thing,” wrote the journalist Julia Ioffe following the 2018 antisemitic massacre at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue, “and politicians, especially of the demagogic variety, know this very well. Unless they go as far as organized, documented, state-implemented slaughter, they don’t give specific directions. They don’t have to. They simply set the tone.”

The tone is increasingly nasty — just check out the hecklers attacking Jewish comics. If only they would all just sit down and be quiet.”

Pearl Berg Celebrates her 113th Birthday – Perhaps the oldest Jew in America

Pearl Berg's 109th birthday
Pearl and I at her 110th birthday celebration

Each year, for more years than I can recall, I offered a blessing to our oldest congregant at Temple Israel of Hollywood, Pearl Berg. Pearl is the oldest human being I have ever known. I met her 34 years ago when she was a spry 79 years old.

There are perhaps 1000 people in the world who reach 110 years of age.

Pearl is still sharp, though “slowing down a bit,” according to her son Bob Berg of Washington, D.C.. Either Bob (age 82) or his older brother, Dr. Allan Berg of Philadelphia (age 85), come to visit their mother regularly.

Pearl is a marvel not only because of her age, but because she remains a positive clear-thinking kind woman whose wit and sense of humor is a constant, who welcomes graciously all visitors, who reads every day,  and plays gin rummy remembering the cards her opponent picks up – most of the time.

My connection with Pearl and her family precedes my own birth. Pearl’s husband Mark (z’l) employed my mother in the early 1940s as an office worker in his Los Angeles scrap metal business when she was 25 years old. When Mark died 33 years ago and I prepared my eulogy, my mother told me that Mark was the kindest of bosses. When she departed from his business to volunteer at an army base in San Luis Obispo during World War II, Mark gave her a going-away office party. She never forgot it. My mother died 7 years ago at age of 98, and I thought that she was old – a youngster compared with Pearl.

Happy Birthday Pearl! We look forward to celebrating your 114th birthday next October 1.

See article published in the LA Jewish Journal, “113 year-old Pearl Berg may be the oldest Jew in the world”https://jewishjournal.com/cover_story/352205/cover-story-113-year-old-pearl-berg-may-be-the-oldest-jew-in-the-world/

Pearl is listed below as the 12th oldest American, but adjusted to her real birthday of October 1, 1909 (according to birth records), she is the 8th oldest person in the United States and the 2nd oldest in California. Pearl is likely the oldest Jewish person in the United States and possibly the world!

https://gerontology.fandom.com/wiki/List_of_oldest_living_people_in_the_United_States

The oldest Israeli on record was Yisrael Krystal, who died on August 11, 2017 at the age of 113 years, 330 days. Pearl is second only to Mr. Krystal (z’l).

Breaking the Silence – Courageous Israelis speak out

The following statement articulates the raison d’etre of a courageous group of Israeli veteran soldiers who are part of a growing movement in Israel called “Breaking the Silence.” Few in American Jewish life know about them. I have hesitated to write about them until now because I fear that anti-Israel voices outside the Jewish state will use what I say to vilify Israel. That is not my intent. I love Israel. However, love ought not to blind us to the truth of what is happening in East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza Strip under the Israeli military administration.

“Soldiers who serve in the territories witness and participate in military actions that change them immensely. Cases of abuse toward Palestinians, looting and destruction of property have been the norm for years, but these incidents are still described officially as ‘extreme’ and ‘unique’ cases. Our testimonies portray a different – and much grimmer – picture, in which the deterioration of moral standards finds expression in the character of the military orders and rules of engagement that the state considers justified in the name of Israel’s security. While this reality is well-known to Israeli soldiers and commanders, Israeli society in general continues to turn a blind eye and deny what is being done in its name. Discharged soldiers returning to civilian life discover the gap between the reality they encountered in the territories, and the silence about this reality they find at home. In order to resume civilian life, soldiers have to ignore what they have seen and done. We strive to make heard the voices of these soldiers, pushing Israeli society to face the reality it has created.”

“Breaking the Silence” claims as members more than 1300 former Israeli soldiers who represent all strata of Israeli society and cover nearly all units that have operated in the occupied Palestinian territories. These soldiers confess now that they were participants in committing unnecessary violence against Palestinian civilians and humiliating Palestinians during their terms of service in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

“Breaking the Silence” was created in 2004 at the tail end of the Second Intifada (2000-2005) in order to give serving and discharged Israeli personnel and reservists a means to confidentially recount their experiences. For more details, see the movement’s website at https://www.breakingthesilence.org.il/ . There it is written:

“All the testimonies we publish are meticulously researched, and all facts are cross-checked with additional eyewitnesses and/or the archives of other human rights organizations that are active in the field. Every soldier who gives a testimony to Breaking the Silence is well-aware of the aims of the organization and the interview. Most soldiers choose to remain anonymous, due to various pressures from military officials and society at large. Our first priority is to safeguard the soldiers who choose to testify to the public about their military service.”

These soldiers decided to speak out with the hope that their voices will describe the harsh facts of the occupation and thereby help to bring an end to 55+-years of Israeli military control over Palestinians living in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.

I have known about “Breaking the Silence” for years. I feel compelled to write about this honest morally-based movement of courageous Israelis for the first time because West Bank violence by Israeli settlers against Palestinians has grown more frequent, destructive, and deadly, because the harsh character of the occupation is increasingly more systemic and entrenched, and because territory that would become part of a future Palestinian state is being aggressively taken and settled by right-wing Jewish settlers with the support of the Israeli government and military administration thereby making a two states for two peoples resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict more difficult to achieve.

These veteran soldiers in “Breaking the Silence” tell of the daily humiliation of Palestinians at the hands young 18, 19, and 20 year-old Israeli soldiers who do not speak Arabic well, cannot communicate easily with Palestinians or understand their needs, and whose military orders to control the Palestinian population are often arbitrary and not always based upon Israeli security concerns. As soldiers, they describe themselves as having been cogs in the complex administrative and military wheel of subjugation of the Palestinian people.

It all began after the 1967 Israel-Arab War when a victorious Israel fought against Egypt, Syria, and Jordan in their deliberate attempt to destroy the Jewish state. Israel won that war in a lightning victory that stunned the Jewish world and dramatically expanded its borders after six days of fighting taking East Jerusalem and the Old City, the West Bank, the Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights, and a portion of Southern Lebanon, and absorbed under Israeli control millions of Palestinian Arabs. Time passed. Egypt made peace with Israel and Israel returned the Sinai. The Oslo Peace Process began in 1993 bringing Israel and the Palestinians to the peace table. Jordan followed with a peace agreement with Israel in 1994. Israel withdrew its citizens and security forces from Gaza in 2004, but maintained control of 3 borders (Egypt controlled the southern-most border).

The Oslo Accords created the Palestinian Authority (PA) and divided the West Bank into three areas: A, B, and C. Area A is controlled by the PA’s security and Civil Administration. Area B is controlled by the PA’s Civil Administration but security is maintained by the Israeli military and police. Area C is controlled wholly by Israel’s military administration. “Breaking the Silence” notes that:

“The Civil Administration is a military body tasked with managing the civilian aspects of ruling the occupied West Bank. Together with the Gaza district Coordination and Liaison office (DCL), it is subordinate to the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT). These governing bodies are responsible, among other things, for granting or denying permits to Palestinians to enter Israel for work, medical care, or travel abroad; controlling the import and export of goods, including food; allocating natural resources and planning and building civilian infrastructure. In other words, COGAT, the Civil Administration and the Gaza DCL shape and impact countless aspects of Palestinians’ daily lives. It is impossible to understand the Israeli occupation without putting these units under the spotlight, and yet, they receive very little public attention both within and outside of Israel, and their work has rarely been the subject of in-depth research and investigation.

As demonstrated in the testimonies given by soldiers and officers who served in COGAT, the Gaza DCL, and particularly the Civil Administration, the unit’s work operates on two axes that exemplify Israeli occupation policies as a whole: preserving and perfecting control and monitoring of the Palestinian people, on the one hand, and entrenching and expanding Israel’s hold on Palestinian territory, on the other.” (Breaking the Silence, Military Rule – Testimonies of Soldiers from the Civil Administration, Gaza DCL and COGAT, 2011-2021)

Through an elaborate administrative system that controls the movement and rights of the Palestinian population, Israel set up many check-points, conducts regular unannounced night-time searches of Palestinian homes, demolishes unapproved and un-licensed Palestinian home construction, and builds by-pass roads permitted only to Jewish settler travel. In recent years there has been a marked increase in settler violence with impunity against Palestinian farmers and their cash crops (some violence also is committed by Palestinians against Jewish settlers and IDF soldiers). Water rights are denied to Palestinians (especially in Area C).

One set of laws applies to Israeli Jewish settlers (the same laws that apply for all Israeli citizens inside Israel itself) and another set of laws applies to Palestinian Arabs living in the territories controlled by the Israeli military administration.

Taking all accumulated evidence together, the leadership of “Breaking the Silence” concluded:

“As the soldier’s testimonies show, the result on the ground is a clear, strategic joint effort by the Civil Administration, the settlement enterprise and successive Israeli governments, designed to push out Palestinians and limit their presence in Area C while simultaneously promoting Israeli construction and expansion in the area, thus pushing the possibility of Palestinian statehood ever further into the distance, while paving the way for future annexation of the occupied Palestinian territories.”

Israel, founded as a Jewish and democratic state, is the pride of the Jewish people world-wide. It is without question the greatest achievement of the Jewish people in the past 2000 years. Though forced to fight many wars of self-defense and against terrorism, Israel’s democratic, Jewish, and moral foundation (still alive and well within Israel itself) is compromised every day by its harsh occupation of another people.

Only in a two-state resolution of the conflict can justice be achieved for the Palestinian people, can Israel’s democracy and Jewish character be preserved, and can Israel’s young soldiers and future leaders be made whole.

We in Israel and the Diaspora ought to support fully “Breaking the Silence” and those courageous Israelis who are speaking the painful truth about their IDF service as a necessary part of bringing peace to our two peoples and resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in two states for two peoples living securely and peacefully side-by-side.

This blog also appears at the Times of Israel – https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/breaking-the-silence-courageous-israelis-speak-out/

“Shanda: A Memoir of Shame and Secrecy” by Letty Cottin Pogrebin – An endorsement

Shanda: A Memoir of Shame and Secrecy is Letty Cottin Pogrebin’s twelfth book, and perhaps her most personal and intimate. It is not only reflective of her eight decades of life experience and that of her generation, but of all first, second, and third generation American Jews who struggle with secrets and shame, and are deathly afraid of public exposure and embarrassment.

The cover description of the book describes what Letty does in this very satisfying memoir:

“The word Shanda is defined as shame or disgrace in Yiddish. The book, Shanda, tells the story of three generations of complicated, intense 20th century Jews for whom the desire to fit in and the fear of public humiliation either drove their aspirations or crushed their spirit.”

A disclaimer – Letty Cottin Pogrebin is a friend, so the memoir was of particular interest to me. However, it is worth reading for anyone who struggles with the fear of shame and public exposure in any of their manifestations in contemporary American, Jewish, and other-ethnic lives. It is of particular interest to anyone interested in how we American Jews identify with the Jewish religion, tradition, culture, people, and State of Israel.

Letty does not hold back about her own most intimate and, perhaps, most embarrassing experiences. As I was reading, I asked myself where the line is between full-disclosure and remaining private. As a public figure myself, this is an issue with which I struggled throughout my professional life as a congregational rabbi. What was appropriate to share and what wasn’t? I was therefore stunned by many of Letty’s self-disclosures. By the end of the book, however, I understand well why Letty shared so much – she simply had to do so based upon her experiences from childhood on into adulthood.

Letty’s writing is crisp and insightful, as are all of her books and many articles in leading American newspapers and journals. This book is filled with Jewish traditional and cultural references that played themselves out in her life, for better and ill. She presents Judaism with expertise and accuracy, and while she is respectful and learned, her critical voice (especially of the traditional role of women in Judaism) is ever-present.

Letty is a first generation American Jew, a Litvak, meaning that she values the life of the mind. Her greatest fear has always been “losing my mind.”

I will leave it to the reader to discover the secrets with which Letty’s parents lived and the very disturbing truths they denied her as a child that led her eventually to write this memoir that one of her twin daughters encouraged her to write. Those secrets, once revealed, led Letty to often mistrust what others say, to question everything, to probe ideas and assumptions, and to take a public stand on behalf of honesty, truth, justice, and basic human decency.

She is of the founding generation of American feminist thinkers and writers, a founding editor of Ms. Magazine, a strong and articulate liberal activist in American politics and American-Israeli politics, a born and bred New Yorker, and a voice always worth hearing.

I could not put down this 5½” by 8¼” 416-page volume that includes many photographs of Letty as a child through adulthood. I mention the size of the pages because they add to the intimate feel of the book.

Letty includes a list of discussion questions for book groups and a glossary of Yiddish and Hebrew terms.

I read the book quickly, in three sittings, and regretted when I came to the conclusion. I found myself wanting more. But, alas, Letty needs to write, and likely there will be another work to come down the road.

I loved this book and highly recommend it.