Sunday, May 17, 2009

Netanyahu Comes to Town

One word of clarification before I begin today. I quoted Norman Lamm in the last posting speaking about tolerance and disagreement. Someone brought his recent pronouncement about the Reform and Conservative movements to my attention. A few thoughts. First off, I am no fan of YU. I think it sold its soul to the Orthodox right a long time ago. And, in my experience, most of the guys that I knew in the college were devoid of spirituality and those that did seemed to be the most condescending of the lot.

However, I fear that Rabbi Lamm may be right about the Reform and Conservative movements. At least about the Conservative movement. It seems that they have no centering principle, no real leadership and that the Conservative Jews that are continuing to connect to a traditional Jewish practice are abandoning the synagogues in great numbers and either forming alternative minyanim or winding up in Orthodox shuls where they hold their noses. The movement made a critical error when it transferred the core of the movement from the home to the shul. Enough said about that. I know less about the trajectory of the Reform movement but I have to say that whatever they are doing now to reinvigorate themselves may be "too little, too late." I am not sure what that says about the future of Jewish life in the US. My gut feeling is that its a bad thing. Yitz Greenberg was right when he asked the questions "Will there be two Jewish peoples by 2010?" The answer is yes. Maybe three if you count the "national" Jews of Israel.

That's a good segue to my next point, Bibi's visit with Obama next week. I have serious misgivings about these administrations. Both have to do with "kishkes". I think that Bibi has kishkes -- mostly about himself and staying in power. He is pursuing an unsustainable course in a region where sustainability is measured in centuries, not years. I am concerned that we are moving toward the end of the Zionist century and that we have lost the argument about the viability of Jewish sovereignty. Most of our community -- those out of the echo chamber -- can't answer the question of why we need a "Jewish" state.

Obama, on the other hand, now has the freedom to hold Israel to its word. If Israel is serious about a two-state solution, Obama seems to think, it has to get serious about seizing ostensibly Palestinian land and make some movement. All the talk about moving rockets closer to the airport, empowering Hamas and its acolytes and Palestinian pronouncements about destroying Israel have fallen on deaf ears -- even in Congress where its members pledge support but see a two-state solution as the only hope for peace -- not only in Israel but in the Middle East in general. As naive and ridiculous as it may be, this is now the consensus.

So, what to do? I have no idea. But I do know that staying in our own echo chamber -- sticking to our own narrative at all costs -- is not working. Israel can play for time but, each time that it does it loses more people. Time is not our friend despite facts on the ground.

I know that a simple throwaway paragraph is completely inadequate. If Israel shows "weakness" to the Arab world, it will continue to be pounded. If it shows "strength" to the West it will be depicted as the villain -- an obstacle for peace. And for those who think a purist solution is the way -- (especially those in the diaspora) they risk fighting until the very last Israeli.

Well, it appears that I have gone into the echo chamber this morning. Maybe its because I am going to the AIPAC dinner tonight. I love AIPAC -- I love their clarity and single minded pursuit of their goals. I worry about AIPAC because our song is wearing thin -- even among those members of Congress who pledge their undying loyalty. (Don't even ask me about campaign contributions from wealthy AIPAC donors).

Being right may not be enough anymore -- both for Israelis and Palestinians.

Oh well... maybe if the sun was out this morning I would have more clarity.

Until next time, Go Celtics!

Thursday, May 14, 2009


So, another good friend inquires if one must have progressive political views in order to be out of the echo chamber. Perish the thought. In fact, I am equally critical of my liberal friends -- some of whom had trouble even acknowleding the legitimacy of the Bush administration. I recall several years ago during the Bush-Kerry election (talk about bad choices!) a colleague who came to my office in tears after the other members of my staff learned that she had, imagine this, voted for Bush! Intolerance of other views, like Hebrew and English, moves left to right and right to left.

What am I talking about? What am I writing about?

I guess its a general frustration with the quality of community in the United States today. A wise woman told me this week that our current crisis is a result of the "commoditization" of other people. Some of us, myself included at times, treat people like commodities -- their utility to us (and perhaps to our causes) being the only measure of their worth. Our system buys and sells them -- their mortgages, their credit accounts and plays with them in any way that it pleases.

Of course, I am not calling for the end of capitalism. Anyone who knows me knows that I am pretty clear about my fiscally conservative beliefs. That said, I really believe that we need to begin to treat people like people and not potential assets.

I recall a wonderful TV PSA (its all about TV, you know) in which a highway you saw a highway and a group of drivers -- one family car included someone sitting a couch, another having what appeared to be a glass of lemonade. The upshot was the suggestion that we treat others like they were guests in our home -- even on the road.

I vote for graciousness, warmth and openess. Even toward those with whom we disagree.

As Rabbi Norman Lamm said, "Let's agree to disagree agreeably." Its too bad that more of us don't take that to heart.

Shabbat Shalom/Good Shabbos and Happy 36th day of the Omer.


Tuesday, May 5, 2009

An Echo Chamber moment

So, I got a "friend request" on Facebook today. I had no idea who this person was, but I saw that I had one friend in common -- a guy that I went to Yeshivat Hakotel with back in the day. I was reluctant to accept the request. After all, how many more neocons with 5 kids living in (pick one) Cedarhurst, Chashmonaim, Raanana or some other Orthodox enclave do I need to be connected to.

But, to my surprise, this fellow was different. Looking at his profile I saw that, of course, he has a daughter ready to go to college. However, he is also interested in "men"! He is active in gay politics in New York and, as they say, v'chulai, v'chulai.

So I wrote on his wall that I was delighted to see that another YK alum was involved in progressive causes and doing real work for inclusion and civil rights. I said that I wished that more of the Kotel boys would be able to see themselves getting involved in making the world a better place for everyone.

He wrote back -- Don't worry, they will!

And I responded -- only if they get out of the echo chamber.

p.s. I am embarrased to say that I still don't remember this fellow... Too bad. Maybe he will visit from NY and come for Shabbos. (or Shabbat)...

About Me

Brookline, MA, United States
Thought provoking discussion or musings of a kid from the other side of the tracks...