Monday, June 19, 2017

Beer, Politics, and a Little Talmud Thrown In For Fun

First, let me admit I was a little overwhelmed by the response to last week's episode. There are a few comments posted beneath that blog, but over a hundred readers took the time to send a real email. I  was blown away by the things people said, all but 2 were very positive, encouraging, and downright lovely. I had email from all over the globe. Go figure. Thank you all for the kind thoughts; every single one is greatly appreciated.

Someone...and I know who you are....asked me to write about Judaism and beer. Well, there's Jewish stuff below, but for the beer part, I have 2 words: SPOTTED COW. You can only get it in Wisconsin, not even in Minnesota, and as far as I'm concerned, it's worth the shlep to Hudson for a 6-pack. I am a long time Guinness stout fan, but there is something unmistakably delicious about Spotted Cow. End of beer part. 

I'm not ready to pull the plug on the blog, but I am thinking about how I am going to handle the ongoing debacle that is American politics. There are days I think people in the White House wake up and say," what can I do to undo something President Obama did?" That is not productive thinking. There's got to be a better way to get around that sinking feeling that there are no facts. Not alternative facts, or flights of twitter fancy, but hard, cold, blunt, unembellished facts about where our government is going and what our expectations are regarding our government.

The health care bill being crafted in secret is scary. The deconstruction of the National Parks and Monuments Registry is scary. The removal of most funding for arts and culture is scary. Promulgating the belief that the coal industry will rise again and the nation will resume its coal consumption is scary. I won't even mention how scary not having FDA food safety inspections is. (See Georgia peanut butter salmonella outbreak.)

Plenty of people are out there publishing real-fact information with the hopes that people, especially our congress-people, might read a bit and get a better understanding of what actions are being undertaken on their behalf. There must be a belief in some kind of tipping point, that place where people begin to wake up to what's happening around them. I'm not completely sure I trust that concept, but is there a better idea out there on how to mitigate the damage?

But wait; there's more.

One part of this conundrum that really has me worried more than everything else is the delegitimization of individuals and the media. Now, we all know every administration yammers on about the press, the correspondents, and even the magazine essayists who cover politics. It is equally well known that a primary step in establishing totalitarianism is control of the press. That's why we have a First Amendment:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
During this  Monday's press gaggle, however, the White House prohibited recording video or audio footage. This is strange. There was nothing major in today's briefing, other than the usual requests for the White House to explain what it's doing. You can read the transcript for yourself. White House press briefing 06/19/2017. Why this gaggle? Why these reporters? What was the White House afraid of today? I couldn't figure it out. 

Unless it's establishing a new normal.

Barring the use of recording devices underscores the administration's desire to control information in the press. This is not healthy, and it is certainly unconstitutional. So, how do you get around that nasty little problem of the Bill of Rights? You use the freedoms it guarantees to undermine everything around it. 


The undermining began with a lie about Barack Obama's birthplace and citizenship. Born in Hawaii (which was already a state at the time of his birth) to a natural-born American citizen and her non-citizen husband, there is nothing, NOT ONE THING that would call into question his citizenship. But the lie was told and the rest is the world's biggest bull-oney snowball.

The administration has learned from that lesson and is using it. Quite well, actually. They take a little, throw-away statement, and lob it into the instant media universe, then sit back and wait for all the fun and fireworks. Doesn't matter who they're attacking. The deed is done. 

Tonight, in my Talmud class, we were studying Bava Metzia (Chapter 4, 58B) and read the following:
R. Johanan said on the authority of R. Simeon b. Yohai: Verbal wrong is more heinous than monetary wrong, because of the first it is written, 'and thou shalt fear thy God,' but not of the second. R. Eleazar said: The one affects his [the victim's] person, the other [only] his money. R. Samuel b. Nahmani said: For the former restoration is possible, but not for the latter.                                                
I'm sure you're wondering what this has to do with anything. Well, all things considered, this is an important distinction in today's political stratagem.

There's the shitter-twitter stream for your consideration. It almost always denigrates a specific person. That comment is broadcast and read by millions. Whether or not the statement is verifiable and certified true does not matter; the person attacked has no real recourse in defending oneself. The allegation is out there and there is precious little anyone can do to stop the damage. 

Often, it's the suggestion, not the fact, of impropriety that does the damage. Even if proven to be false, the rift is created and belief in what is real is suspended. The endless barrage of alternative facts from BOTH sides of the political spectrum destroys reputations to the point of no recourse. Ever notice how when the stream has nothing else to say, it blames Hillary Clinton for something, anything?

So going back to the one thing we know for certain is a lie, and starting this ball rolling down the hill. That defamation has damaged who we are as a nation, who we are as a people, and worst of all, who we are as inhabitants of this planet. We have allowed verbal wrongs to become common place. We have allowed the stream of verbal wrongs to shape who we are. 

It would take an act of G-d, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or whatever deity to which you subscribe, to get We, the People to pull our collective heads from our asses and begin actually looking at what we're being handed. But it has to happen. Democrat and Republican alike, we need to understand what their plans are for Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. If you are counting on Social Security for your retirement income and Medicare for your senior health coverage, you cannot afford to ignore the reality that it is already under the microscope for cutting. 

If we don't read this stuff....if we don't bother to find out what they are pushing through congress, we have no recourse. Millions of We, the People, may find themselves without the guarantees their parents' have. Right now, even the GOP side of the senate is having second thoughts about the AHCA bill. If we sit idly by and ask not what our nation's legislature is doing, then We, the People, just get to eat it up with a plastic spoon. 

(For your amusement: We asked 8 Senators To Explain What The Health Care Bill Is Trying To Do.)

Here's the very bottom line: when we choose to allow our government to diminish the First Amendment and put out only the news they want us to hear, then we have already stopped being Americans. That undermining of the First Amendment is the very tip of the iceberg on which we are currently sitting. Once that is negated, it's over. The rest is just sad, sad commentary.


The Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week
If you want to lift your own spirits, grow herbs. 
Even in a pot, the scent is restorative.
There's basil,lavender, chives, mint, rosemary (not in the shot)
with a strawberry pot, a blueberry pot, and a cherry tomato,
just for fun.  



Monday, June 12, 2017

I Shall Wear The Bottoms Of My Trousers Rolled

This afternoon, my Medicare acceptance letter arrived. I will be 65 soon, and turned in my official application about 10 days ago. This means I'm about to be very old. 

I was in New York over the weekend. The occasion was bittersweet on a couple of levels.

From the moment I picked up the rental car and made that right onto the Belt to head east, I was home. Navigating the Belt into the Southern State was second nature. I didn't have to think about what lane to be in or whether getting off at Merrick Avenue to go to the butcher in East Meadow was better than getting off at Bellmore Avenue. I knew. I knew I had to drive all the way around the little shopping center to park by the butcher. I knew. I didn't have to think. And I knew how to cut behind what was once the Associated to take Jacqueline Avenue instead of trying to make that funky left onto Columbus Avenue to go to what had, once upon a time, been our house. I didn't think; I just knew.

Thank you, T.S. Eliot
My cousin and I managed a quick walk on the beach Friday afternoon before Shabbat. Even my feet felt at home. Sand is the  best foot massage on the planet. I rolled up my pants and marched into the surf. The water, salty, cold, and frothy, smelled like beach. My beach. It was perfect. I wish I could bottle that scent. All of me relaxed. The wet, the scent, the cold feet...the whole package... that sense of coming home...even if just for a fleeting moment. Everything I'd been carrying on my shoulders went out with the tide.

Coincidentally, Friday night was Ziggy's yahrzeit, marking 8 years since he had the poor form to leave the building. I decided that as long as I was on the island, I would go say kaddish on Shabbat morning at my home shul. I let my old next-door neighbors know I was coming, and they assured me they would be there since it was the Rabbi Rosenbaum Memorial Scholar-in-Residence weekend. And thankfully, they were. Sitting in that pew, facing the bima where 40 years ago, come July 2nd, Ziggy and I stood under the chuppah, with the afore mentioned Rabbi Rosenbaum, to be married. Who could have imagined the roller coaster we were about to get on?

Equally coincidental, the pew in which we sat was almost immediately to the right of my family's memorial plaques. I could see their names from where I sat. All but Grandpa Ben, mom's dad who died in 1936, danced at our wedding. For better or worse, some of the most important things in my life happened at Beth-El, and sitting there, in that spot, was much more emotional than anticipated. 

The month of May was rough this year. I was grieving the loss of my husband, and my parents, all rolled into one. All that hard work I was too busy to do while I was caring for everyone else still had to be done, and I was finally doing it.

The whole reason I was in New York was to unveil my folks' headstone. My bro and I decided to do one unveiling for both, since they died only months apart. The usual suspects gathered minus a few who could not make it to NY, but gather we did. Tradition dictates what we place a stone atop a headstone when we visit a grave, so I asked everyone to bring a stone from home...and to decorate. Stones had been sent from Milwaukee, Minnesota, and California. Some were painted, some had messages written on them with Sharpies, but all were from the heart. We said the traditional prayers, we sang Psalm 23, we talked, we cried, we mourned....and then we went to lunch. 

We had gone to Ben's Best on Queen's Boulevard after both Mom's and Dad's funerals. And we went this time, too. As I looked at everyone at the table, I was relieved to have everyone there. My two remaining aunts, both of whom live in Florida, were at the table. One is 93, the other 88. How many more times will I see them? How many more times will I get to sit with my cousins and laugh about stupid stuff? Truth is, I love being with them and I have missed so much being so far away.

And I will miss more because my life, for better or worse, is here on the tundra, not on the beach I love so much.

The other, more difficult truth to accept is that with the unveiling of that headstone, a significant chapter of my life has closed. My old life is really over. I am not responsible to or for anyone, not even a dog. My obligations are done. Going forward, I get to be Savta when I'm needed, but I'm not in charge and that's fine with me. I get to make choices for me. 

Which brings me to this blog. 

A recent correspondent wrote, 
I think there can be too much religion in some of your blogs. You might be causing some readers to tune out. Consider toning it down.
Really? My best email comes from the "religious" blogs. Go figure.

But that said, I am tired of writing about politics. So for the next few weeks, I will be trying to figure out what I'm going to do with this, where I'm going to go. If you have a thought, toss it over the fence...either as a comment or an email to thewifelyperson@gmail.com

Meanwhile, I am working on the last round of edits for LINGUA GALACTICA...the new novel due out soon. 


The Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week
There is no manual for grieving, and no one can tell you how to do it.
Allowing yourself time and space when your heart is broken
is the kindest thing you can do for you.




Monday, June 5, 2017

Thoughts While Lying In State: What to do with the Statue of Liberty

I had a few ideas for today's episode, but this morning, when I got up to get ready for work, I found myself bent over the porcelain pony instead of standing under the shower. Not sure why that happened, but I spent the better part of the morning feeling like this was a rinse/repeat scenario. I shan't bore you with the details, but let's just say multiple cups of tea later, I am finally sitting upright without the traditional black plastic wastebasket next to me. I will admit to having texted my erstwhile cousin Laurie to tell her I was barfing my brains out and she should probably check on me once in a while. Which she did. Many times. Another one of the joys of living alone....no one knows you're lying in state. 

Although I gave great thought to posting the "Gone Fishing" sign, I won't. There are a couple of things I want to write about, albeit briefly.
Captain Gustav Schröder

How many of you know the name Gustav Schröder? I'm guessing that name doesn't ring too many bells these days. Pity. Everyone should know who he was and what he did. But we'll get back to him in a minute.

Fifty years ago today, June 5th, the Six-Day War began. When it was over, Israel found itself the new landlords of the Golan Heights, Gaza, the West Bank of the Jordan River, the Sinai Peninsula...not exactly what everyone had in mind. Or wanted. Kind of a booby-prize of sorts...

But Israel also held all of Jerusalem. That was the cake, the icing, and all the roses and sprinkles. 

Without going into detail, eventually the Sinai was returned to Egypt. Egypt did not want Gaza back, and it appeared the Jordanians did not want the West Bank back either. Both countries eventually officially relinquished their claims to the territories leaving Israel holding the bag. I think the Egyptians and the Jordanians were laughing all the way to the bank.

In reality, this war never ended; it has flared up again and again and again. Despite the removal of settlements and attempts to have working governments in both Gaza and the West Bank, there is no peace, nor will there ever be peace until both sides stop lying to themselves...and each other. Revisionist history on both sides is not a foundation for trust. You cannot teach suicide bombing to kindergartners and expect Israeli parents to say, "Oh, how cute!" In the same breath, you cannot continue to use eminent domain to build luxury apartments and expect the local population to be thrilled. 

There are abuses on both sides. I am not a fan of Netanyahu by anyone's standard. He has done more to damage the State of Israel with his ruling coalition than any other PM in Israel's history. And it's not just about the territories. This is also very much about the treatment of Jews by Jews. Women and non-haredi Jews are denied full rights of participation because the religious courts deny them the ability to marry, to divorce, to practice their kind of Judaism. Jews denying Jews the right to pray. What a concept.

At the same time, the ongoing barrage of missiles and hate-tunnels coming from Gaza do nothing to help a people so desperately in need of help. They need food and plumbing and electricity...and a government that puts the needs of the people first. Many agencies and countries and companies have attempted to step up to the cause, yet little funding ever reaches the ground. It's a vicious cycle with no end in sight. 

BUT.....

However angry I get with the government of Israel, it does not change my hardliner stand, my core belief, my absolute certainty that Israel has a right to exist as Israel. Just as there are Christian countries, and Buddhist countries, and Islamic countries, Israel can be a Jewish country. It's okay to have your calendar based on the Jewish calendar, just like the US one is based on the Christian holiday cycle. You can practice whatever religion you want in Israel...other religions are not regulated by the rabbinic courts and have total freedom of practice....and just about every religion in the world can be found there. They are not second class citizens. They are not denied full civil rights. There is no special tax for a church or a mosque or a temple. But Israel is a Jewish state and has a right to remain so. 

BDS is nothing but a shield for anti-Semitism. It punishes Palestinians by stanching economic growth. Academic boycotts are ridiculous because academia should be about sharing ideas, not stopping them from being discussed. Roger Waters is an idiot because he completely misses the point that audiences in Israel are not Jewish-only. EVERYONE goes. You wanna reach people...throw a concert. If you sing it, they will come. Anyone who tells you they want to boycott, ban, or otherwise stop people from supporting or sharing information about Israel is nothing more than someone who wants Jews to be dead.

And speaking about people wanting Jews to be dead, Gustav Schröder was not one of them.

On May 13th, 1939, Gustav Schröder, captain of the MS St. Louis, departed Hamburg, Germany for Havana, Cuba with 937 passengers, most of them Jewish refugees fleeing Germany. He made that voyage a delightful experience for his passengers that had been so badly treated in Germany. Everything was done to make everyone a first class guest on board. 

When they reached Havana, on May 27th, they were denied a docking berth and dropped anchor at the end of the harbor. Eventually, 29 passengers were permitted to disembark: 4 Spanish citizens, 2 Cuban nationals, one attempted suicide needing medical attention, and 22 Jews with valid US visas. The rest were turned away.
Prohibited from landing in Cuba, the St. Louis and the remaining 907 refugees[10] headed towards the United States. Captain Schröder circled off the coast of Florida, hoping for permission to enter the United States. Cordell Hull, Secretary of State, advised Roosevelt not to accept the Jews, however. Captain Schröder considered running aground along the coast to allow the refugees to escape, but, acting on Cordell Hull's instructions, US Coast Guard vessels shadowed the ship and prevented such a move.   (from Wikipedia)
On June 7th, 1939, the captain informed his passengers they were out of options and headed back to Europe where death loomed waiting for them. 

They landed in Antwerp on June 17th, with 907 passengers. Again, Captain Schröder negotiated on behalf of his passengers with nations that did not want them at all.

Of those passengers:
  • 288  (31.76%) were allowed to transfer via other steamers to the United Kingdom
  • 224  (24.70%) were accepted by France
  • 214  (23.59%) were accepted by Belgium
  • 181  (19.96%) were accepted by the Netherlands

We know the following thanks to researchers Scott Miller and Sarah Ogilvie of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum:
Of the 620 St. Louis passengers who returned to continental Europe, we determined that eighty-seven were able to emigrate before Germany invaded western Europe on May 10, 1940. Two hundred fifty-four passengers in Belgium, France, and the Netherlands after that date died during the Holocaust. Most of these people were murdered in the killing centers of Auschwitz and Sobibór; the rest died in internment camps, in hiding or attempting to evade the Nazis. Three hundred sixty-five of the 620 passengers who returned to continental Europe survived the war. Of the 288 passengers sent to Britain, the vast majority were alive at war's end.                               Refuge Denied: The St. Louis Passengers and the Holocaust                                                   Scott Miller and Sarah Ogilvie, Univ. of Wisconsin Press (2010).
Captain Schröder was more than courageous; he took on the world. It cost him his career and probably a lot more we don't know about. He was charged with war crimes during the de-nazification period, but charges were dropped when several of the passengers of the St. Louis came forward to speak out on his behalf. He was honored by the German government in 1957 with the Order of Merit for "services to the people and the land in the rescue of refugees." Despite the recognition, he lived in poverty until the end of his life. He passed away in 1959. Posthumously named one of the Righteous Among the Nations at Yad VaShem in 1993.

But what does Gustav Schröder have to do with anything?

This guy recognized the need for a refugee people to land. He could not find one that would grant them safe haven, so he did the best he could. He got as many as he could to safety and negotiated with France, Belgium, and the Netherlands in good faith for the rest. He could not possibly know they, too, would be overrun. 

In the final analysis, Israel was the answer to our Voyage of the Damned.  Today's refugees are fleeing their homes; their Voyage of the Damned is just beginning. We should be joining together with our European allies to figure out how to provide shelter and safety. We are not doing that. 

Once upon a time, I would've expected America to step up to the plate. After all, isn't that what the statue in the harbor says? 

And if the symbol no longer applies, maybe we should retire Lady Liberty to the covfefe heap with all those Confederate statues?




The Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week
No person is all good or all bad.
Remember that the next time
you're making a snap judgment because
it's probably wrong.