One Nation?

I believe in America, its promise and its endless possibilities.  I also know that, in America,  people live in abject poverty, without adequate schools, and in fear of deportation.

And I know that there are as many Americas as there are colors of skin, nationalities, religions, sexual identity and orientation.

We live in a fractured America.  Some of us cross any number of the shards.  Some, like me, can pass as Christian and straight.  If I even wanted to do so.  I am too old to hide.  But I am lucky; I have a choice.

But is any of us satisfied with this type of America?  Don’t we get tired, after every miscarriage of justice, of assuaging our horror and guilt, by saying, rather apologetically, “but there are good and kind people all across this country”?

Look, everyone has prejudices.  But that isn’t supposed to matter.  The point is that America is supposed to be one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Justice.  Justice.  Justice.

It isn’t just a word.  It is the basis of our nation.

It means that even if you steal, or sell cigarettes illegally, you don’t deserve to be tortured or killed.  Even more, you deserve treatment in accordance with the pettiness of the crime committed.  In other words, there shouldn’t be a bruise on you.

I was taught that wrongs will be done, but justice, JUSTICE, will prevail.

I believed in that.  I placed my faith in the systems of “justice” and government.  Because two generations ago, this country took in wretched poor refugees and gave them opportunities for work and their children a free education.  I grew up hearing, “G-d bless America.”

I still say, “G-d bless America,” except now I also say, “G-d save America”.

Because when our systems of laws and order fail, fractures of our nation becomes shards of glass on the floor.  Almost impossible to reassemble, but stronger if we glue the fragments back together.

Let us all glue this nation back together so that it is again: “indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

Rest in peace, Mr. Brown and Mr. Garner.

The War that had to be fought

It was the war that America won.

It was about good versus evil.

It was about humanity versus genocide.

It was about right versus wrong.

And, G-d was our co-pilot.

And it started with D-Day, our shining hour.

Our Greatest Generation.

Those that did what had to be done and those that paid the ultimate price.

For freedom.

For liberation.

For the fate of peoples they didn’t know in a land they’d never been who were being conquered and killed for reasons they did not understand.

These were the sacrifices of our soldiers.

The soldiers fought the war we remember, commemorate and celebrate.

Our government fought the war, as governments did and continue to do.  And, to win the War, the US:

made a pact with the murderous Stalin; and

dropped the Atomic Bomb.  Twice.

Because “the enemy of our enemy is our friend.”  True for dictators and explosives.

 

*************************************

This is still the cornerstone of our foreign policy.  Only now, the calculations and murderous and duplicitous actions of our “allies” don’t take decades to come to light.  They take mere hours.

And even the “good guys” in World War II were not always so good. Still, the monumental evil on the other side silenced even some pacifists.

Had we not carved up Europe and aided Stalin’s brutal rule, would we have won the War?  And if we had won the War without an alliance with the USSR, would we have immediately had to fight Stalin?

Wars since then haven’t been so easily waged.  And they haven’t been won.  Not a one.  Because World War II was the exception: war is so rarely about good versus evil.  War is usually about politics, property and market share.

Recently, radical conclusions are bubbling to the surface: the enemy of our enemy is just as evil as our enemy. And, if we arm the enemy of our enemy, they may become our enemy, too.  And we will have given them the tools of war.

And when that war comes, it will not be a cold one.  It will be a nuclear one.

*************************************

G-d bless the Greatest Generation.  May we learn war no more.

276 girls

http://www.cnn.com/2014/05/09/world/africa/nigeria-abducted-girls/

How is this possible?  There have been decades of atrocities, unbreakable cycles of violence, the world over. Countless children sacrificed to the power struggles over land and its resources.  Nigeria has devolved into chaos.

Legacies of colonialization and Western arrogance.  And backlash.

This is the one case that is gaining international attention.  Because of the brazenness and insanity of the Boko Haram fighters.  How does a militant group, fighting in the name of God, kidnap 276 school girls to sell them into marriage and slavery?

These girls.  These poor girls.  Their poor families.  I cannot imagine what it is to have my child taken from me by lawless gangs who roam with impunity.

This massive kidnapping is about radicalism and the cheapness of human life, in general, and that of a girl’s life, in particular.

And the knowledge of the perpetrators that we, in the United States, will soon turn back to the results of the NFL draft.  And then they can do this again.  And again.  And again.  Until no child is spared from the war crimes.
Our souls, and our beliefs in the sanctity of human life and in the God-given right of a child to realize his or her potential, lie in the balance of our nation’s response to this crisis and others like it across the globe.  Let’s find these girls, airlift them and their families and share the bounty of our nation with them.  It isn’t fair to those left behind, but it is a start.  And, in Jewish theology, it is a person’s moral obligation to save even one life even if one cannot save everyone.

God bless and keep these girls, and keep them safe from more ravages of war.

Fatigue Fatigue

Election fatigue.  Fiscal Cliff fatigue.  War fatigue.  War hero sex scandal fatigue.  Bomb Iran or not fatigue. Crazy politicians saying psycho things fatigue. Human-engineered natural disasters fatigue. Finger-pointing fatigue.  European debt crisis fatigue.  Stock market sinking fatigue.  Living in precarious economic times (controlled by others) fatigue.  Dealing with a failing parent fatigue.

Wow, I am tired.  If one or more of these things come to fruition, it (or they) will dwarf the others and can send our nation, our society and/or just me into a tailspin.

In fact, I was too tired to get all excited that President Obama was re-elected.  I was more relieved that the months of uncertainty were over.  And BOB, who lives in a Red State, wrote a poignant Facebook post just before the election that made me re-think any self righteous glee after the president’s re-election.  BOB wrote:

I don’t post, particularly about politics. Others do, for whatever reason. I am certain that whoever wins the election tomorrow, and his supporters, will continue to be reviled and mocked by those that did not vote for him. I do not care who my friends vote for and will respect the fact that they believe what they believe. I do not try to lobby them and I ignore any efforts to lobby me. The diversity we have is what makes us a unique place in the world and what makes no sense to one makes all the sense in the world to another. So, my hope is that on Wednesday morning we get back to (or start) respecting each other, doing good in our own way and not just complaining about what others are not doing the way we see fit, and working together instead of bullying and demeaning, recognizing that it is too late to take all of that money that was spent (read: wasted) campaigning on all levels to help feed hungry mouths here and elsewhere around the globe. And that’s all I have to say about that.

BOB is a good and smart man.

But Nate Silver (fivethirtyeight.com) is my new pin-up boy (ok, so many levels of complexity there).  Nate:  you have gotten far too many love letters from straight and gay men and women for a numbers geek.  I think Brad Pitt’s agent is trying to have the exact tally sealed.  It is a Hollywood thing.  And that guy with a girl’s name who is really popular now is soooooo not loving you right now.  Neither is Karl Rove and that is just fine with me.

But, I digress, comme d’habitude.

I am so tired of our national issues being treated like a really bad reality TV show that masquerades as news.

I am hungry for good news, for hope, for public service without political advantage.  I am hungry for good things happening to good people who work hard and do the right thing.  I am hungry for a commitment by those of us who have more to share with those who have less.  Not wealth redistribution; rather, compassion.

Good policy and hope come from searching, sometimes emotional, debates about our national values and our common future and how we best meet the challenges ahead.  It involves compromise and respect.  It is not a winner-take-all game.

Until then, the fatigue will slowly, but surely, become indifference or powerlessness.  And, assuming it spreads beyond just me to the greater populace, that will bring a good and mighty nation to its knees more surely than any war or any economic crisis could ever.

Kandahar

New York City is one of those crazy places where you can spring for a happy hour of drinks and appetizers for three colleagues that cost $200 and then get into a cab with a young man who left the Kandahar province of Afghanistan the year before the war began.

Sometimes I feel that the chasm between driver and customer is enough to explode the world.  Like fission or fusion or whatever the scientists try to do with the atom.

My cab driver can only meet his Afghani family in Pakistan because he, as an American citizen, is no longer welcome in his home town.  He is now “the other”; the one responsible for civilian deaths.  I know, without asking, that he is also “the other” here, in his adopted land (as is often the sentiment of naturalized citizens).  One has only to read the papers to realize the message we give our citizens of foreign birth and then to realize how that is magnified “on the ground”.

He is a displaced person even though he does not live in a United Nations tent city somewhere in Gaza or Tashkent.

My grandparents never had anyone left in the old country; those that stayed did not survive World War II.  They also had no desire to go back and visit a country that didn’t want them.  So, while not being “of America” had its drawbacks and prejudices, there was no other place to call home.

But this man, a son of Afghanistan, who needed to leave for economic reasons, can never go home again.  He loves America.  But he cannot go home to Afghanistan, his ancestral home, where his grandparents are buried.  The place of his birth, the place of his people, his language of origin.

War doesn’t just kill; it scars the living and the survivors.

Oh, the pain we have wrought.

A Silent Cacophony

After work, I rushed for my 7pm appointment at Bliss.  Facial with micro-dermabrasion (who knows how that is spelled).  POB had one and, because she does not want to be a Bridezilla — in contradistinction to my Bridezombie — I had to have one, too.

So, I changed into my robe and slippers and joined others in the quiet room permeated by lemon and sage scents.  There were healthy (and not so healthy) snacks and lemon-infused water.  I ate some sliced cucumbers and drank the water (Bliss’s version of Kool-Aid).  There were four of us in our matching robes and slippers waiting for our treatments, with the new age music and the scents filling the air and I thought this must be a high-end version of an insane asylum.  Judging by how the “technicians” greeted the other inmates, I was the only non-recidivist in the bunch.

Then, my name was called.  Nanetta was my technician.  Did I fill in the new inmate form?  She asked with an Eastern European accent.  No, the concierge didn’t ask me to fill anything out. “Come with me,” she said, in a tone that suggested that I had been transported from 57th Street to the gulag.  Why again did POB need me to endure this?  Nanetta told me to take off my robe and get under the sheets on the table.  Oh, no, I am prisoner in Soviet hell.

She asked me about the moisturizers I use.  I told her I don’t really use moisturizer and, if I do, it is whatever POB buys.  She shined a beaming light into my eyes.  “You don’t know moisturizer?”  she said in an accusatory tone.  Omigod, I am going to die for the sin of taking my good genes for granted.  “I do what I can!” I said in a way that is the intersection between emphatic and meek.  The crashing you hear is the tension underlying post-USSR Eastern European and the descendants of those who fled the USSR in 1921.

Nanetta took pity on me and put cucumber slices over my eyes.  “I just snacked on cucumber slices in the waiting room!” I said to bridge the divide between us.  She laughed, in a slightly un-amused way. The gulag, for sure.

She started the micro-dermabrasion.  “Does this hurt?”

“As much as vacuuming my face with sand paper hurts, I imagine.” (what else was I supposed to say?)

“Would you like the anti-aging collagen treatment? It only costs —-”

“If you say, ‘anti-aging’ I don’t care how much it costs.  Do it.”

Now we could relax because I was an easy mark for anything that promised the Fountain of Youth.

We chatted about life and her story about coming to this country.  Nanetta is Romanian and was pleased that I knew a little about the country’s history pre- and shortly post- USSR’s implosion.  She struggled to learn English and put her daughter through school.  She has endured hardships, but she makes a living through the self-indulgence of people with money.  I wondered if she smirks at the irony.

She asked about my beauty treatment history and I told her that I was getting this done because I was marrying my partner.  Whoa, that took a little time to sink in.  (But this is New York, why?)

When she finished, my skin felt great.  I went into the changing room and, having only a robe on, shed my robe as I prepared to get dressed.  One of the house-staff asked me, as she was picking up my robe from the bin, “did you have a good visit with us?”  Is this woman — a stranger — asking me to have a conversation while I am naked?  Really?  Really?  “It was terrific.  Excuse me while I put on some clothes.”  I think that she realized that I was not one of the usual inmates who would chit-chat naked with a person who was fully clothed.

Call me the uptight Americana.  I am totally good with that.  Because if you want me to talk to you when I am naked, then you need to be naked, too.  For the record, there aren’t that many people I want to talk to while either of us is naked.  It sounds like a stress dream.

I dressed and walked along 57th Street with glowing skin, as a result of good genes from Mom and the efforts of Nanetta.  I thought about a manicure and pedicure and all the other things that would make me feel even better about the trials and tribulations of life.  But then I looked at expensive stores and expensive half-built high-rises and felt defeated and under-privileged (but with great skin).

I hopped a cab.  My cab driver asked me if the buildings we were passing were Lincoln Center.   I said “yes” and asked how long he has been driving driving.

“Three weeks but I have been in this country for one years [sic].”

“Where are you from?”

“Africa.”

“Where in Africa?”

“Sudan. Darfur, ma’am. One years [sic] ago since I left.”

There is nothing to say to someone who has been to Hell and back.  I sat quietly and then had to say that the reason for my silence was that I was overwhelmed that he survived and escaped Darfur.  I asked him how the rest of the world can stop the violence.  He said that Save Darfur was a blessing (www.savedarfur.org).

I listened as he tried in broken English to tell me that the government does nothing but kill its citizens and the people are starving and there is no water or schools.  And I offered lamely that I descend from survivors of atrocities and that there is hope for the generations to come. Then we passed a Pinky Nail Salon.

“Our nail salons must seem stupid.”

“Life is different here than in Sudan.”

The understatement in this conversation could make a person cry.

He said his sister and nieces and nephews have a better life in CHAD.  Let’s all stop for a moment and realize that together we earn more the gross domestic product of Chad.

Life is better in Chad.

Life is better in Chad.

Hug your spouse, your children, your-pets-who-are-children and be amazed at where you live and what you have.  Because, in this world, there are places for which CHAD is a step up.

Such was my day in the extremes that intersect in New York City; silently at first, but then with a great emotional burst of noise and pain, acknowledgement of plenty and nothing, experience of joy and sorrow, and of personal triumph and communal defeat.

A day full of lessons to remember.

A Merry Little Jewish Christmas

Even though I believe that one respects other’s traditions by not co-opting them, I do live in the real world.

In the real world, my partner and I are lesbians moms to a boy, my sister is married to a Catholic, my Jewish cousin has secretly (all his 67 years) wanted to decorate a Christmas tree and my son thinks that Hannukah wouldn’t be Hannukah without presents.  There, you have it.  A typical American family trying to navigate the traditions without losing our minds in the process.

Friday night, we started the festive weekend at the children’s Hannukah service and potluck at our synagogue.  Our synagogue meets at the Church of the Holy Apostles (Chasidim Kadoshim, to the Jews).  As if to show me that I am not the clueless among Jews, someone said, “It smells so wonderful in here, like pine trees!”  Really?  Really?  Ever hear of “deck the halls with bows of holly .  .  . ” and the recipe, “kill a tree,  attach chachkas to them, and one week later reduce to mulch.  Repeat each year.” ??????

We also stayed for the adult service.  It is difficult to take seriously a rabbi who has a Santa’s elves’ styled hat with a menorah on it but she did take it off when she spoke some words of Torah.  It was an important drash to hear.  There were three main themes:  our viewpoint is imbued with our baggage, for every light there is a shadow and vice-versa and, finally, don’t accept the heroes of a story at face value.

First, the baggage.  The story of Hannukah is simply the miracle that oil enough for one day lasted eight days so that the Jews who recaptured the Temple could perform the necessary re-sanctification rituals.  But if it is 1948 Palestine, the story is about a military victory by a small group against mighty armies.  If it is 1498, during the Inquisition, it is about the subjugation of a people.  If you gather rabbis, it is about a miracle.  If it is 2011, you might wonder if the Maccabees were zealots somewhat akin to today’s radical fundamentalists.  (In fact, history bears that out.)  So, who you are, where you’ve come from, and who you want to be, can shade the way you tell the story, and emphasize the elements.

Light of the Hannukah candles casts a shadow.   For advance, there are detractors, some of whom are merely engaging in a power struggle.  The shadow can be dangerous and it can be restful.  The light can be the path but it can also burn.  Light and shadow need each other.  Success lies in the right balance.  And that is the greatest challenge.  The rabbi told us of settlers in the Israeli occupied territories who, whenever there is a threat to their settlement or way of life, burn down a mosque inside Israel.   (Israel immediately rebuilds the mosques and other Jewish organizations provide Qurans and prayer rugs.)  In the light of peace there is darkness.  Darkness of zealots who use the cover of Judaism to perpetrate atrocities.  Have they forgotten their parents’ and grandparents’ ordeals in Europe?  How could this be?  The light needs to shine a light on this darkness.  These “Jews” do not deserve a place in Israel or anywhere in the quasi-civilized world.

For the first time in a long time, I was glad to to synagogue and learn about things that the mainstream media doesn’t cover.  It made me think, rather than go to synagogue again, I should visit a mosque, Sikh temple or a church and listen.

After leaving synagogue, we looked up at the Empire State Building.  Blue and white adorned two sides, and red and green, the other.  I love New York.

Saturday, the Blogger family gathered with assorted cousins and in-laws to celebrate both traditions.  In my sister’s house was a small Christmas tree decorated in blue and white with a rabbi as an ornament.  Cousin Gentle was so excited because he thinks ornaments are sooooooo adorable that he wants to decorate the tree next year.  I told Cousin Gentle that it had to have an irreverent theme, like that the Hasidic rabbi and the dreidel that was at the foot of the tree.  He had a look of total inspiration that I believe he may have been visiting after-Christmas sales these last two days.

I LOVE how politically and religiously incorrect it was.  And, of course, there was a Yahrzeit candle burning for my Catholic brother-in-law’s father who recently died. And my brother-in-law made the latkes.

Saturday night, everyone was Jewish and Christian and all was good with the world.

Erev Rosh Ha-Shanah 5772

SOS (our son, source of sanity) decided that he preferred his former blog “handle”, TLP (the little prince).  I am worried.

But I was immediately distracted by how adorable he was in his blue blazer, tan slacks, penny loafers, and bow-tie and my heart melted.  Just FYI: I keep suggesting “regular” ties, but SOS (or TLP) demurs.  I think because he knows the bow-tie makes him irresistible to many women (not only his moms).  He doesn’t want to chance missing out on the “boob crush” hugs he gets from all the lesbians in the synagogue (hey, breasts are breasts).  When he gets taller and there is no boob bonus in the hugs, he’ll probably switch to regular ties. Just a guess.

SOS lasted nearly the whole service, which is quite extraordinary for an adult, let alone a child.  “E-Mom, does every word end in “echa” in Hebrew?”  Almost, buddy.

The service was a mixture of celebration, remembrance, solemnity and a little irreverence (we are after all, a gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgender, queer and intersex congregation).

The Torah portion we read tomorrow the binding of Isaac by his father Abraham.  I have always hated this story.  A crazy father, a submissive son, and a psychopathic deity.  With a heritage like this, we should start therapy in utero.

What do we learn from that Biblical story, other than we shouldn’t read the Bible to our children, especially before bedtime?

 

I still don’t get why Abraham was so willing to kill Isaac that the angel twice had to tell Abraham to stop before Abraham put down the knife.

I don’t understand why it is part of our liturgy except for us to be horrified by it.  Our rabbi noted that the story seems to defy the requirements elsewhere in Torah for us, as a community, to teach, love and shelter all of our children.  Abraham, the parent generation, is so invested in his belief that he is willing to kill Isaac, the child generation, regardless of whether Isaac has the same commitment.

I never thought of it quite that way — we say we love our children but we send them to battle the wars we decide to wage.  It is as true then and it is today in Iraq and Afghanistan, and in countless other places where wars have been waged so long that no one remembers peace.  We are horrified at the ghastly stories of child abuse here and yet we barely remember that we have sent thousands of other people’s children to war this year alone.

 

Love your children.

Protect your children.

Teach your children.

Remember peace.

 

The News

These last few days I have read the newspaper, cover to cover.  Death, starvation, destruction and war games.  And economic chaos, too.  And political polarization and the concomitant demonization of the “other”.

Today, I have been humming One Tin Soldier, an anti-Vietnam War song from the 1970s.  I didn’t remember all of the lyrics, but I did remember the prize that everyone in the parable is bickering over, killing over and claiming rights over.  It is worth a listen (click on the hyperlink) and read the lyrics.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J7jHp7OchP0

(by Dennis Lambert & Brian Potter; performed by Jinx Dawson and Coven in the movie “Billy Jack” (1971))

Listen, children, to a story
That was written long ago,
‘Bout a kingdom on a mountain
And the valley-folk below.

On the mountain was a treasure
Buried deep beneath the stone,
And the valley-people swore
They’d have it for their very own.

Go ahead and hate your neighbor,
Go ahead and cheat a friend.
Do it in the name of Heaven,
You can justify it in the end.
There won’t be any trumpets blowing
Come the judgement day,
On the bloody morning after….
One tin soldier rides away.

So the people of the valley
Sent a message up the hill,
Asking for the buried treasure,
Tons of gold for which they’d kill.

Came an answer from the kingdom,
“With our brothers we will share
All the secrets of our mountain,
All the riches buried there.”

Now the valley cried with anger,
“Mount your horses! Draw your sword!”
And they killed the mountain-people,
So they won their just reward.

Now they stood beside the treasure,
On the mountain, dark and red.
Turned the stone and looked beneath it…
“Peace on Earth” was all it said.