That “Significant” Birthday

Too many cliches apply to the times when we turn certain ages.  I can remember, for example, becoming sixty and wondering how I had arrived there so fast.  As a matter of fact, I can’t remember any other birthday being as traumatic for me.  I guess I was simply too busy to pay much attention to forty and fifty; but sixty and seventy arrived with a gravity I hadn’t expected. Two very potent cliches applied in both circumstances.  The first was that getting to these decade milestones was better than not getting to them.  The second was that these marker points were signaling how much nearer I was to my final marker and that whatever I wanted to do with my life in the future, I had better get about doing it.  I didn’t and don’t have endless amounts of time left.

People report that sixty is the new fifty and seventy is the new sixty. On the other hand, each of us has an internal clock ruled by our genetic makeup.  We can look at how long our folks lived and probably add five or so years to that age and have a fairly good idea of how much time we actually do have left.  Therein the line from the film, Shawshank Redemption, comes into play: We ought to “get busy living or get busy dying,” but the choice of how we are going to spend these final years is very much ours.  Either we can, like Saul Bellow’s Mr. Sammler, entertain ourselves with constant thoughts of our own demise, or we can choose not to go there and make a concerted effort not to allow ourselves to wallow in such depressing and demoralizing thoughts.  To this I would add that for those who go into a tail spin and cannot seem to drag themselves out of this funk, there are pharmaceutical products which certainly can help and folks who are trained to diagnose and then prescribe for such times and conditions.

Pop psychology long ago proclaimed and disseminated the concept of the ‘Midlife Crisis.”  What it will soon discover if it hasn’t already is that there is a ‘later life crisis’ that involves people who, all of a sudden, realize that they have arrived at an age that society considers “old.”  Sometimes this is a function of former school mates, friends and relatives dying.  Sometimes it is the death of an elderly parent or other relative which leaves us with the understanding that, now that they are gone, our turn is next.

I have already suggested one way of dealing with our “significant, milestone birthdays.”  I am not so certain that it is worth listing what, by now, we who are up in years ought to have realized and discerned.  Staying busy and having some definite goals and things to which to look forward make up some of that list.  Rabbis and other clergy have been touting an attitude of gratitude rather than one of moroseness.   Counting one’s blessings is a way of staying positive, although attempting to maintain such an attitude while we are physically becoming more and more challenged isn’t so easy.  Along that line another cliche is applicable:  “use it or lose it” is apropos.  Having a regular regimen of physical activity, be it running, rapid walking, bicycling, playing some sport, swimming—something that is aerobic and gets the heart rate up is a great antidote to what I would call the despair of physical aging.  While getting into gym clothes every time we have an aberrant thought about our bodies isn’t practical, regular exercise assures us that we can still perform and that our bodies aren’t as useless as we sometimes think or feel they are.  Yoga, pilates, physical therapy and the occasional Advil, Aleve or other pain reliever certainly keep one’s body more limber.  Exercise is an important offset to the ravages of aging.

Of course, there is diet…but I am not so much trying to review the literature on aging as I am advocating the Shawshank prescription of picking ourselves up, if need be, and giving ourselves a swift kick in the butt and get on with living.

I have a dear friend who, when I described my trying to imagine dying and all the emotions that exercise brought with it that were scaring me and bringing me down, asked why I allowed myself to engage in such  thinking?  What earthly good was it doing me?  She stopped me in my tracks.  Since then, I have not “gone there.”  There’s no sense in it. It gets me nowhere. Better to move to some other thought and/or get back on track with whatever else I might be doing.

It stands repeating that some day we are all going to face our mortality and our deaths in one way or another.  I see no sense in dwelling on that.  For sure, the fellow I see in the mirror has garnered some age and I do wonder how I did get here so fast; but I know that there is little sense in either mourning the years that are now past or trying to relive them.  It’s time to move on and make the best of what’s left.  And that thought in itself is a blessing.

 

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Paddle Boarding In Hell

Once again, I am ever amazed by rabbinic colleagues who would give neo-fascists and other right wing, Holocaust denying countries a pass for past crimes and present, despicable legislation. Some have cited having friends that they have in these countries as if friendship trumps all other factors when we confront what fascistic malevolence is occurring in different Eastern European countries and capitals. Others have enjoyed kayaking or paddle boarding on lakes and streams, participating and luxuriating in the natural beauty of the Eastern European country they’ve visited, and urge others to visit and do the same as if the allurement of scenery could excuse myriad murders of Jews from the past and the threat thereof in the present.

Where, I ask, is common sense and a sense of justice and prudence in all of this?

I have stated before that I believe that the air in Europe is poisoned with the gasses that murdered millions of my people. That is not the full extend of the reality. Hundreds of thousands were murdered by their very country men and women who vied with the Nazis to see who could be more brutally capable of eliminating the local Jewish population, people who had been their neighbors for decades if not centuries.

Now comes both the geniuses of the Polish parliament and the spineless Polish president who have created and signed into law a bill that would imprison anyone claiming that any Pole had any part in the Holocaust. This antisemitic attempt to rewrite, revise or wipe away history altogether deserves no quarter, and demands a response which would deny Poland of any of our material support whatsoever.

Instead, there are colleagues who would urge continued visits and would become complicit in this terrible and dangerous farce. I would ask these rabbis, “Is there no limit to which you would go in bending over backwards to excuse this dastardly law and all its implications? Is having friends in a country reason enough to turn your backs on myriad souls who were slaughtered wholesale by the millions and whose country men and women now wish to white wash and sweep away any involvement on their parts? Have you no understanding of what your position implies? Have you no sense of history or feel for the truth?  Are you not aiding and abetting a historical revisionism?

This is altogether beyond me.

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Yadlin’s Analysis

Amos Yadlin’s analysis is intriguing.

See: https://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-5056267,00.html>

Would that those on the Left read it and heed it. Their approach that included the Obama administration’s pressured attempts to force Israel to acceding to Palestinian conditions prior to any negotiations, especially on the issue with which Kerry and Obama incessantly beat Israel over the head, namely, settlements.  All that is now over, hopefully to remain that way.

Yadlin refers to a Saudi initiative which, in the diplomatic chess game that the PA and Abbas play, Abbas has already rejected out of hand.  I am not at all sure that his intransigence can be overcome this time, or whether he is simply bluffing. His ‘on again, off again’ dance with Israel hides the fact that he, the PA and Hamas are in no way ready to form a state of their own; and another failed state in the Middle East is a recipe for a jihadist takeover.

I suspect that what the Trump administration will bring forward is a plan that will advance matters incrementally if the parties accept the terms. In point of fact, this is what Israel has been doing by working around and at the edges of the PA’s intransigence on matters involving security, banking, water, power generation, agricultural advancements and workforce employment. The Israelis long ago came to terms with the situation with which they are faced. In what appears to the outside world as an impossibility, they have learned to contain terror and the threats of a hateful neighbor-people, with whom they must, at one and the same time, live and not live. The Israelis are far more adept at maintaining a status quo than the rest of the world expects or wishes to acknowledge. The Palestinians of the PA, at the very same time, see their status withering, except when they can appeal at the U.N. and through U.N. agencies for greater support and recognition for themselves while exacting the opposite for Israel. The Trump administration has pretty much cut off this avenue and has exposed those Obama era Palestinian demands and preconditions for what they were: ploys and non-starters that served to undermine negotiations before they ever could get off the ground.

We’ll see where things go from here. But Yadlin has put his finger on the changed nature of the U.S.-Israeli-Palestinian-Middle East dance. The tune has changed, and so, too, has the dance floor. It remains to be seen what the participants will do.

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“Charlottesville: Our Streets” A Documentary Film Premier at the Virginia Film Festival

via “Charlottesville: Our Streets” A Documentary Film Premier at the Virginia Film Festival

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Scientific Curiosity

I just finished an article which was a commentary on the weather prognosticators’ inability to predict the precise pathway of Hurricane Irma.  I myself have had similar reactions to the limitations of this science.  But, whereas the writer’s conclusion was that we don’t know everything about predicting the weather, or  medicine and the many other aspects and branches of modern science; my take was that the author stopped way short of where he might have led us readers.  I deduced that he was perfectly at ease with where, at the curb side, he had dropped us, flummoxed by our continued human ignorance.  My conclusions took me much, much further.

If Western humanity has any distinctiveness, it derives from a notion that there is much to be discovered about our universe, and that our purpose in this world to draw back the curtains and discover what makes everything operate as it does. God has implanted with us as a collective specie these abilities to know and unpack cosmic “secrets.”  This is not the time to be throwing our hands up and capitulating to our limitations.  Our weather folks have sophisticated instruments by which they know when and where hurricanes are forming and why.  They can determine and know their intensity, velocity and strength.  They feed all their data into super computers whose powers are little more than a half century old.  That they haven’t yet “broken the code” to decipher precisely the pathway of these storms isn’t something to be lamely accepted, derided and mourned.  It is the proverbial gauntlet, thrown down to us as a challenge to go further, study the phenomena deeper, calculate and fold in even more data, create better machines and models so that, in the future we shall be even more adept at our predictions.

The tragedy of our times is that we are witnessing an anti-intellectual, anti-science, dark age.  It is an unfolding that seeks to gut the funding for the very agencies and programs that have brought us to the level of sophisticated, scientific knowledge that we enjoy at this moment in human history.  This regression threatens the enterprise of discovery and advancement just at the moment when break-throughs in medicine and pharmacology, hydrology, and agriculture, to name but a few areas of modern science, are most critical to our continued well being and futures.

There was an episode of West Wing in which a probe, the Galaxy Five, upon landing on Mars, failed to begin communicating with Earth.  The president had scheduled a closed circuit, educational program with school children all over the United States.  When the probe’s systems shut down, there were those who assumed that so, too, would the T.V. program.  Why have it when the main attraction was not operating?  The answer was that, even…or especially…in failure, it wasn’t a reason to quit.  Rather, there was the challenge to move past what we hadn’t perfected, to discover and to probe harder, smarter, and more astutely.  Failure was the impetus to try harder.

The human thirst for knowledge is one of the greatest gifts of God, and the ultimate blessing is the opportunity to seek and assimilate, and then to continue that seeking.  The never ending goal isn’t to just up and accept our limitations, but to explore and discover, thereby advancing humanity’s capacities, knowledge and capabilities.

One day soon, with the help of satellites and computers, charts and graphs, hurricane hunters and just plain human brains, focus, sweat and grit, we shall perfect our abilities to chart the direction of monster storms and maybe even affect how they are formed, how they move, and how to direct them away from doing the catastrophic damage they do.

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Vertigo

Up is down.  Fact is fiction.  Black is white.  News is fake.  Truth is relative. Might is right. My friend is my enemy and my enemy is also my enemy but is my friend.   There can be no peace without justice but justice is unachievable when the rule of law is compromised and those who are sworn to enforce the law break it regularly and even use it against the innocent, exiling, beating and murdering some while protecting others.  The media gets it wrong as many times as it gets it right, or so it seems when stories lack proper background.  Reporters must have corroboration of their stories.  But what happens when the corroborators are liars?

Reputations are ruined in innuendo and by false accusations based on alleged facts which turn out to be anything but factual.  These false facts are masterfully fabricated in order to bring charges to silence the truth speaker and bring down the innocent victim.

This is no game.  It is a move and counter move struggle learned by students from their master-mentors.  It informs every aspect of life from pulpit to the playground bully.  It has seeped in or poured over every element of scientific and science fictional writings.  It both threatens and bolsters the foundations of society and its waves wash over the battlements and retaining walls, cracking, stacking, inundating, filling, and wrecking most everything in their path and that our senses encounter.

There is little to hold on to if we haven’t already secured our world view and cemented into ourselves the values by which we shall survive.  The temptations to loosen our grips on these life anchoring elements is enormous.  The centrifugal forces throw us up and out, away from our moorings until we feel as though we have entered a kind of Alice-in-Wonderland world and nothing seems to make sense any more.

It all seems life threatening and very, very unbalanced.  Vertigo is the order of the day.

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Hang in There

From a letter I have just written:

We are in total agreement about the way Israelis have and are behaving toward us Liberal Jews, and it has long been and continues to be appalling.  As long as Israelis only think of da’at ( faith or belief) in terms of Orthodox Judaism and the coalition style, governmental structure remains as it is, we shall receive only the short end of the stick if any stick at all.  Truly something has to be done.

My fear is simply this:  many rabbis have done such a good job of criticizing Israel and the matzav (the “situation”) and the allegedly “immoral Occupation” that they have given the generations that follow us an open door to walk away…and they have…by the droves, both from Israel and, ironically, from their Judaism as well.  Statistics tell us that what follows us not only lacks commitment to Israel, they don’t show any concern for her either.  Our numbers are dwindling.  In but a few decades, we are told, we non-Orthodox Jews shall have done a great job in fully assimilating into the American mainstream.

Several years ago, there was a Reform rabbi working for the AJC in Jerusalem who predicted a widening gulf between America’s and Israel’s Jewry.  He couldn’t have been more insightful.  That gulf is both cultural and intellectual.  What Israelis care about, American Jews don’t and visa versa.  We have drifted apart to a point that a certain level of incivility has crept into our relations which may lead to a total break…as you seem to be proposing.

I have family in Israel. They have little understanding of what I did as a Reform rabbi.  They are secularists.  The Orthodox are wise enough not to touch or threaten things that really matter to them, like being able to shop at the Bilu shopping mall (outside Rehovot) on Shabbat and riding their bikes hither, thither and yon.  If they drive to Jerusalem on Shabbat, they know to stay out of certain neighborhoods.

They used to vote Labor, but are wise enough to throw their votes where they now think they can do the most good.  Like most Americans, they ignore what they can and go about doing their jobs and raising their families.  They throw their hands up like we do when confronted with Netanyahu’s Trump-like antics.  But they watch the skies carefully, pay close attention to security matters, and listen intently for the sounds of impending war.

My point here is that I cannot blame them for their inability to change their governmental system, just as I cannot blame my stateside family for standing by and watching Trump despoil America.  You and I know that religion is mixed into Israeli politics as it is supposedly blocked from doing so here in the States (Jeff Sessions, Betsy Devos, Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch notwithstanding…and their damage has yet to come to fruition).  That Netanyahu seeks to maintain his power and keep his coalition together works to our distinct and painful disadvantage.  He is the ultimate  pragmatist when it comes to his political survival.  That our representatives didn’t build in stronger sanctions over the Robinson Arch-Kotel agreement and haven’t leverage (other than rhetorical disdain) for the threatened Chief Rabbinate’s conversion takeover is equally condemnatory of Reform ineptitude as it is a revelation of Netanyahu’s duplicity.

I would urge you to define what it is you want from Israel in specifics that would rekindle your ardor for her and avert your turning away.  I ask this because a blanket condemnation may give permission to others who are sitting on the fence to jump off and quit Israel altogether…and that’s dangerous.

Israel’s problems go beyond Reform and Conservative conversions.  The Orthodox have women’s issues, gay issues and a rising aggravation with their men being drafted from their seminaries, their illegal settlements being taken down and with IDF commanders whose orders countermand theirs.  Nonetheless, aside from the Supreme Court, they hold the cards.  IRAC and Anat Hoffman have won some battles through the court system.  These have taken too much time, but they have experienced some successes.  I would urge you to throw support their way.  I would also urge you to act strategically in continuing to separate the existential from the religious arguments.  It is the U.S. Congress that keeps Israel afloat when nearly every other worldwide institution works against her.  I do not believe that you would wish to see Israel overrun or suffer severe damage…and we both know the increased threats Israel faces from both Hezbollah in Lebanon and from Iran which is attempting to establish itself in the Syrian Golan.  I am certain you can envision large parts of Tel Aviv and Haifa destroyed by laser guided missiles and the like.  It would not be an easy thing to handle.

It is easy to say, “I quit.”  It is harder to devise and carry through with strategies and actions that attain what it is we want.  So, I urge you to think with me and others, possibly from AIPAC and possibly from the Reform movement…but, by all means, to stay engaged.

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