Sunday, September 13, 2009

Revisiting Dissent - Why speaking with many voices can be powerful

Now this is really echo chamber stuff, so forgive me.

I've been thinking a lot lately about the rise of J-Street, Z-Street and the growing vocal and public displays of division in the Jewish community over Israel.  It seems to be, to my great chagrin, that Israel has become the most divisive issue in the Jewish community today.

Now, on one hand, that's a bad thing.  If one thing should keep us united, it's the sense that the Jewish people deserve a safe, secure and Jewish homeland should be a no-brainer.

But that's not what the divide is about.

The divide is about how to get there.  And that discussion is a good thing.  What is wrong is that the discussion, like the August congressional town meetings, is not a discussion at all.  It's a series of screaming matches that convince no one of anything except that the gap is widening.  And, that is causing most of our community to tune out, leaving the discussion to those who would seek division.  But that's a matter for another time.

What I would like to posit today is that the division and the discussion is a good thing.  After all, they do it in Israel, why shouldn't we do it here.  What are we afraid of?

That said, I think there is an actual benefit to the division.  Namely, when there is agreement on an issue -- like there is for the most part about Iran, our community is more powerful.  When people who disagree unite on an issue (like Christian conservatives and liberals do on the environment) the message is much stronger.

(J-Street is a bit out of sync on this issue - take a look at this article from JTA at this point, but I think the issue is timing rather than substance)

I won't belabor the point - but as this Rosh Hashana approaches let's find ways to be civil when we disagree and harness our power when we do.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Last Swans Dispatch

I took the plunge today, left the house and finally bought a Swans Island sticker for the car.  Not the silly SI that you see about every place from Dorchester (DOT) to USVA.. but a nice unassuming sticker that has the outline of the island.  Nothing flashy; just like it is up here.

There have been some "echo chamber" moments since arriving; little bits of the outside world interfering with our time away.  I have a work dilemma that i need to work through that I won't be discussing here and some troubling thoughts about the discussion about health care going on among my Facebook friends.  I specify Facebook friends because, as you all know, the Facebook friend is a special kind of person.  They can range from your spouse to this guy.

Most of my liberal friends have been posting the silly status update about "Everyone deserves health care..." blah, blah, blah.  Some of my conservative friends are sniping about Obama the socialist and that the space aliens who believe in the death panels couldn't be more right.

Oh well.

What troubled me more this week was the circulation of a symposium published by Commentary magazine about why Jews are liberal.  It could have been easily titles "Why the hell are these idiots still deluding themselves and disobeying the Torah"?

A note of clarification:  I am not a registered Democrat.  I have voted for Republicans over the years (sometimes as protest votes against entrenched incumbent Congressmen in safe districts who I find to be dismissive and downright hostile at times) and other times because I thought that they had it right on an issue that I cared about.  I am not so concerned about the Christian right taking over the country.  I think they had their peak and the evidence shows that they are now moving away from the divisive issues like abortion/choice and on to stuff where their agenda overlaps with the left -- like the environment.  It's about time.  Not to stereotype, but I find those on the Christian right to be mostly earnest, well meaning people.  Most aren't looking to walk over Jewish heads to achieve salvation or lock women in cages.

However, I have to say that I disagree with most of their domestic agenda.

As an old friend Dave Ross from KIRO Radio in Seattle used to say, "I am a radical moderate."

So what bugged me so much about the Commentary piece?  (FYI, for some reason, the article paginates strangely).

Well, first off with the exception of David Wolpe, they only ask conservatives.  Jonathan Sarna, while a great guy, plays his usual role of historian without tipping his hand.  Knowing Jonathan, I am not really sure where he is politically.

The other issue is that the article has a tone of derision and critique about the "other".  It sounds like the reasons given are that American Jews have forgotten what it means to be Jewish... abandoned the Torah.  Now Michael Medved (when I lived in Seattle, at least) was connected to Rabbi Daniel Lapin and Jeff Jacoby goes to the Young Israel in Brookline, MA.  But, I kind of doubt that Bill Kristol is putting on tefillin every day.

As you know, I have a real problem with Orthodox-Centricity.  (Not a word) or Triumphalism.  Liberal Jews embrace the prophetic tradition of building a society that values the downtrodden and tries to help those in need -- however imperfectly.  Orthodoxy claims to be interested in the same tradition -- but if you read me regularly, you know my feelings about that.

But no matter. The conclusion of Podhoretz' piece (that I have not yet read), is that American Jews are hopeless and will continue to vote for socialists like Obama like lemmings.  Others hope that they will do teshuva and return to a rejection of the role of woman as equals in a modern society and a rugged individualism that leaves most people behind.  Maybe that's unfair.  It probably is.  I think that to write off the majority of their people as irredeemably naive, stupid or apostates is the kind of thinking and writing that makes people want to run the other way.

So they have.

On an island with one laptop in the house there is a great deal of need for other family members to make use of its benefits... the checking of fantasy baseball scores, a visit to Facebook, reading of email and an occasional glance at a "People magazine" article of shopping for bicycle parts or shoes.

So, that's it for me.  More when I return to Boston and leave the Island after a week of relative calm.

Shabbat Shalom (or for my conservative friends -- Good Shabbos or Have a Nice Weekend!).

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

From the deck...

It's getting to be that time on my vacation when things begin to melt away. The boy is still asleep. It's only 11:30 after all; Liz and I are going to take our daily walk to the lighthouse and the weather is beautiful. Lily is having a good time now that she has adjusted to yet another summer home. She spent some time at her "city apartment" and now in her vacation home in Maine. Not bad for a neurotic dog.
This is a great place to get out of the echo chamber. I went to the office only two days over the last couple of weeks. It's just enough to really understand the dysfunction and insanity of the place. At this point, I have this fantasy that I can keep some of this perspective and even have a heart to heart with my boss to try to get us to commit to making the place more livable, particularly since we are going to be smaller.
A man can dream... in fact, dreams are really all we have, aren't they.

So much for the philosophy.

On a lighter note, I was teaching Dave to drive today.  He seems to be picking it up well.  He's not quite ready for Manhattan or highway driving, but the main roads of a remote Maine island seem to suit him just fine.  He asked if he could do some of the driving home on 95 to Boston.  I don't think he's quite ready yet, but I do understand the feeling of freedom that my father must have had when he turned over the responsibilities of driving to Philadelphia to me.  All in good time I guess.  He needs his license first.

Elizabeth is preparing the evening's wine and cheese and a board game is in the offiing.

It's good to be on vacation.

The daily grind can wait.

About Me

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