Last week, as I finished the first draft of a book on Bill Clinton and the 1990s, as I contemplated the many relatives, friends, and colleagues who helped me in researching, writing, and editing, I had a rollercoaster week – along with so many others. It was a week for gratitude and anger. The modern world blunts both emotions, even though appreciating and repudiating, proportionately and appropriately, are essential acts of free, discerning, happy, balanced people.
Like senior years in high school, election campaigns normally trigger mixed feelings of dread and excitement. Fear of the unknown and abject failure compete with dreams of glory. Two days into Israel’s unsought, unnecessary, undesirable campaign, few Israelis’ feelings are mixed. It’s just dread. Few want Bibi back; most fear he will return. Nevertheless, those hoping for ABB, Anybody But Bibi can take heart: the latest polls estimate a Isaac “Buji” Herzog-Tsipi Livni ticket could get 23 mandates to 21 mandates for the Benjamin Netanyahu-led Likud. Here’s how Buji could replace Bibi. Continue reading
The world is wrong side up,” the great American preacher Billy Sunday once said: “It needs to be turned upside down in order to be right side up.” Sunday died in 1935, but he described today’s world too. Continue reading
As the 5775 Jewish High Holiday season winds downs, as those of us with delayed work projects gear up to catch up, this period feels like it is sputtering to a close rather than building to a spiritual climax. It often seems that both Shmini Atzeret and Simchat Torah should be entered in the Silly Holiday Derby. The pointlessness of Shmini Atzeret, an eighth day tagged onto Sukkot, after the lulav-crashing intensity of Hoshanna Rabba, has launched a thousand sermons, and, it seems, a thousand different rationales. I remain unconvinced. Do we really need another day off with more burdensome prayers, heavy meals and leaden sermons? And, after the kind of year we had, who is really having a Simchat Torah, any kind of rejoicing with the Torah?
wish Studies professors recently signed a petition “deplor[ing]” a threat to “the kind of spirited academic exchange that is the lifeblood of the university.” What so infuriated these academics? It wasn’t Israel-apartheid weeks. It wasn’t epidemic classroom anti-Israel bias. It wasn’t the fears many Jewish students have of being bullied this fall for supporting Israel.
My friends, reports claim that, increasingly, rabbis fear talking about Israel to their congregations. Let me be clear: not this rabbi and not this congregation.
In his thoughtful new book, The Vanishing Neighbor, on America’s declining sense of community, Marc Dunkelman describes the “Marshmallow Test.” In Walter Mischel’s legendary psychological experiment, four-year-olds could eat one marshmallow immediately – or get a second by waiting until a researcher returned. A decade later, follow-up research revealed that those who delayed gratification for the larger reward were more successful academically, personally, morally, and better community members. This notion of “character,” Dunkelman explains, facilitates community building because the forbearance sometimes required to avoid sniping or to continue investing in others parallels the same “grit” and self-control required to achieve and to build a happy, constructive functional life.
It is tempting to join the pile-on against the 43 military intelligence reservists who “refuse to take part in actions against Palestinians.” How naïve! We all wish the Palestinians’ war against us would end, eliminating any need for any “actions” in self-defense. The 200 reservists who counterattacked were correct: “Refusal to serve on the basis of politics has no room in the IDF.” Yet I cannot join this chorus of condemnation so quickly. These protestors are our kids, who served honorably in a hellish mess – leaving them conscience-stricken because they have consciences. Their confusion, their moral struggle, and their anguish merits respect, even if they overstepped.
You know I feel ambivalent about your trip to Poland with your class tomorrow. It’s not about safety – Poland is friendly toward Israel. Israeli gallows humor from this past war has someone asking a mother if her soldier son is ok. Knowing he’s on the IDF’s Polish Journey she replies: “My son’s safe; he’s at Auschwitz.”
On Tuesday morning, my cousin Adele Raemer who lives on Kibbutz Nirim along the Gaza Border, heard the all-too-familiar “Tzeva Adom,” red alert, with the usual explosions following ten seconds later. This time, the booms were louder, more violent, as shrapnel from a Hamas mortar pelted her bedroom. The razor-sharp metal pieces, propelled rapidly, pockmarked her walls, generating clouds of dust. Her water heater was hit – and the kibbutz’s electricity soon went out from other rockets in that barrage of seven or eight mortars. Still reeling from weeks of warfare and the death days earlier of a four-year-old child from neighboring Nahal-Oz, she was understandably devastated. Unfortunately, her day got worse.