A little tradition, a little Seinfeld and a lot of love.

Dad’s funeral service was really beautiful. 

(At a later time, I would like to share some of the eulogies with the permissions of the speakers.)

We headed out to the cemetery, located along the Long Island Expressway, where New York Jews have bought burial plots for generations. 

SIDEBAR:  The near universality of this practice has come in handy over the years.  I remember when both Mom and Dad were much younger, we had two funerals — one in each of their families. 

As we were rushing from one graveside service in order to be fashionably late to another, I heard my mother say under her breath, “a shtetl in life; shtetl in death.  Thank G-d!”

My father was a veteran and the last of his brothers to die.  We requested a honor guard because we thought it an important tribute not just to Dad, but to the whole generation, and to the ideals for which they fought and to the resulting scars that would never truly heal.

We arrived at the family plot.  The two cadets were waiting there in full uniform and at attention. 

When we were ready, one cadet started playing Taps.  As he played, everyone had their hands over their hearts.  I looked at my father’s coffin, draped with the American flag.  His generation went to war.  And they fought so that their children would not ever have to (or so that was the hope). 

Our family has demonstrated our love of country through these five brothers and their children and children’s children.

The sun was shining, and the wind was whipping, and the two cadets folded the flag with such precision that I felt as though our family was about to be given something truly priceless.

The more senior cadet walked to my sister and presented her with the flag, saying:

“On behalf of the President of the United States, ——

SCREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEECH!! STOP THE MUSIC.  CUT!! STOP TAPE!!!!!

WHAAAAAAT? We all stopped.  The spell and majesty of the moment were SHATTERED. 

Then a cousin saved the moment by muttering under his breath (but at the top of his lungs, as is our custom):  “He meant Obama!!!!!”

Ok, we could continue ———

——————— the United States Air Force, and a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one’s honorable and faithful service.”

Even with the snafu, the flag is indeed priceless.

And, in that moment, the sad and the beautiful, the creepy, the orange and the inspiring, the funny and the mundane all existed and were inextricably connected, as they are in every moment. 

The rest of the burial went according to tradition. 

And I was sad to leave Dad there in the cold but I knew that it would be ok because he was next to Mom. 

Belonging

When my grandparents came to these shores on a boat (in steerage), they were strangers in a strange land.  And they had nothing.  They remained that way their whole lives.

America.  Such a strange country, America,” is something my grandfather would say as he shook his head about something peculiar he read in the newspaper or saw in person or on TV (female wrestling was one such thing).

America.  Such a vondehful [wonderful] country, America,” is something my grandfather would say as looked at the success of, and integration of his children and grandchildren into, American society.

My grandparents were not of this country, although they were naturalized citizens.  They left their home countries to escape atrocities.  So, they were not of those countries either.

They were displaced people their whole lives.  But they felt safe here.  They were citizens here.  They loved this country.

Next to the pictures of Mom and Dad on their wedding day and our various graduation pictures, was a picture of Franklin Delano Roosevelt signing the Social Security Act. 

Because a person could do anything and be anything in America.  And America took care of its people who worked hard and raised the next generation of contributors to society (and tax revenue).

My parents and we, their children, grew up with a sense of belonging.

We belong.  This is our country.  We are Americans. 

And, in this country, we have the luxury of a prefix — Chinese-, Japanese-, Polish-, Russian-, Anything-American — because 

We belong.

That is not to say that being Jewish or of Polish, German, Russian and Prussian descent was easy.  Educational and employment discrimination, fights and name-calling of my parents’ generation gave way to schoolyard name-calling and social discrimination in mine.

And, in the next generation, there is still anti-Semitism.  Because prejudice will always exist.  Because crazy people vandalize synagogues.

But we belong to this country and we can, and do, succeed in this country.  But we had to work hard and deal with stupid people and prejudice along the way.  That is a fact of life.  But because I am a citizen, I have the same rights as the bigots.  With education, I can make sure they don’t lord over me.

I think about the Algerians and other North African people in France or “guest workers” across Europe.  These individuals and their families can be two or three generations in Europe and still not be citizens.  Bigotry and malice can cripple their advancement.  They are effectively ghettoized.

In Europe, Asian and African immigrants cannot be citizens. Even when two generations have lived there and no where else.  Even when the grandchildren only know how to speak French, Dutch, German, Flemish, etc. and not the language of their grandparents’ country.

And so they DON’T belong. ANYWHERE.

And they have opportunities. NOWHERE.

And their country of birth claims them as citizens. NOT AT ALL.

And they have bright futures and integrate into the larger culture without losing their cultural and religious identities.  NOPE. NOT HAPPENING.

(This sounds like the story of the Jews in Europe (other than, ironically, Germany) up until just before Hitler came to power.)

I wonder what would happen if these immigrants and guest workers, or at least their children or grandchildren, could be citizens.  I wonder what would have happened in my parents’ and my generation didn’t “belong” to our great nation.

What if they belonged . . . .

Let’s all ratchet it down some

http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/texas-congressman-labels-obama-worse-hitler-article-1.2076035

Rep. Randy Weber (R-Tex.) said it’s ‘appalling’ Obama didn’t travel to Paris for the unity march on Sunday.

Dear Congressman:

Do you know what Hitler and his henchman did? 11 million people died ghastly deaths. (And — as an aside — do you know about the spike of anti-Semitism in France?)

President Obama is Hitler?  That is so offensive to anyone who has a family member who perished in that genocide in Europe.  Most of my family came here after the first World War.  Those who remained in Europe, perished.  A lucky few went to Cuba in 1938, when our nation closed its doors to refugees.

But what this nation forgets is that US soldiers — my Uncle Willy among them — were sent to concentration camps after being captured in the Battle of the Bulge.  My uncle survived, but, yes, Americans died in the concentration camps.  And America forgot these soldiers.

And what happened in Europe in the 1930s and 1940s was not a holocaust.  That is a ritual cleansing through fire.  What happened in Europe was a shoah, a CATASTROPHE. Not just for Jews but for 5 — yes, 5 — million more people.

So, call it the Shoah.  11 million humans were burned or starved.  Others survived, only to be scarred.

Shoah.  Shoah. Shoah.  SHOAH. Call it by its real name.

How dare you trivialize what Hitler did to Europe and its citizens. To families. To children.

And how dare you, by your comments, trivialize what happened in France this past week.  The terrorized citizens of that great City of Lights.  And, yes, especially the Jews among them.

President Obama should have sent someone to Paris. Bad decision. That is all. It isn’t mass murder.

The president should have been criticized for missing an opportunity to stand in unity with world leaders. The criticism should match the the offense.

What you said undercuts the validity of your criticisms of the president. It makes you sound rabid and crazy. There are very valid criticisms of President Obama (and I am a proud supporter of him).

But you have lost your credibility. Yes. Because you compared the president to Hitler. Because you sound crazy.  (Since our government started an unnecessary war in Iraq that killed hundreds of thousands, would you call our former president or vice president Hitler?)

Try being the sane, loyal and temperate opposition to President Obama’s actions and even some of the president’s supporters might agree with you from time to time.

Why am I so flipped out? Because what you said hit a nerve. Maybe when all Jews who knew someone in a concentration camp are no more, then it won’t be as visceral. I imagine that every group that has survived a slaughter feels this way. We aren’t any different. Our scars are the same.

In the meantime, please brush up on your history.

~ a proud citizen of the United States of America disappointed with the vicious rhetoric

Tim Cook

Tim Cook is gay.  Everyone thinks his coming out is so revolutionary and so game-changing.  I just think it points out how far we still need to travel.

Tim Cook had to make sure the Apple board of directors was ok with his coming out, because it might affect stock price or product sales, and ultimately his job.

He had to ask permission to come out.

I guess that is better than a subsistence wage earner who has to worry about whether the boss or foreman is anti-gay, or frankly any person who is 2 pay checks away from being homeless.

But asking permission is not the same as being free.   

It actually makes me sad for him, for me, for all of us.  And yet I believe that scared and closeted gays and lesbians all over are silently cheering.  My hope is that Tim Cook’s coming out will free them to be who they are, love who they love and be happy.

And, sadly, I am more free than Tim Cook.  While I work in an industry where gays are not equal, I don’t worry so much about workplace harassment or losing my job. Maybe that is because I live in a state that protects me.

Imagine a world where you, as a straight person, would have to pretend to love a person of the same sex.  You would have to be affectionate in public, go to company functions and try to live a life that conformed to society’s standards.  And sometimes, you would seek out the love and companionship of a kind and wonderful person of the other sex.  Because you are lonely, and tired, and need to be loved and feel love. And you want to be understood and forgiven for the charades and the lies.

Live in that desperation for a minute.  That pain.  That emptiness.

And, imagine you were found out.  And lost your friends and your job and your family.  Because you were being you.  Authentically, you. 

That is life in so many places in the US and in so many countries around the world.

And while the titan of global industry had it easier, he was still “private” about his life.  Lies by omission.  Vague references.  Even though he didn’t have a “cover” family, he needed three years at the helm and a vote of the board of directors to come out.

I glad that Tim Cook came out of the closet. 

But I guess that I will really celebrate when no one thing defines him, but all make up who he is. The CEO of Apple.  Out-Sourcer-in-Chief of jobs and Avoider-in-Chief of US taxes. A gay man. White son of the South.

He is all of these things. And that is what is important.

The next frontier is looking beyond the “boxes” and looking at the whole human with all of his/her faults, attributes and gifts.

Then we will be free.

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.

Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?

[For the song, “Mrs. Robinson”:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9C1BCAgu2I8]

Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio?
Our nation turns [our frightened] eyes to you.  (Woo woo woo.)

Once we believed that our political and sports heroes could save us our innocence and our dreams from the stark realities of war, assassinations and a nation divided.

We looked to them — to Joe after Marilyn’s death, to Jackie after JFK’s assassination, to Coretta after Rev. Dr. MLK’s assassination — to steady us.  To remind us of better times and take us past the tragedies.  To take us back to a winning baseball team, to Camelot, to a place where dreams were possible.

God bless you, please, [this America].
Heaven holds a place for those who pray.
(Hey, hey, hey.)

Today, I am scared.  Because we are a nation so bitterly divided.  Because my dreams are ever less fanciful, my reality ever less comforting, my hopes and expectations ever lower, than just a week, month or year ago.

And there are no heroes, but where is there a parent who wants to tell that to his/her children?

Most of all you’ve got to hide it from the kids.

What is the embodiment of my fears?  Heritage Action for America scuttled any potential deal on the debt ceiling in the House of Representatives.  Because lawmakers are taking their cues from lobbyists-thinktanks-donors and not their frightened constituents.  That very action breaks the very foundation of our nation — representational government.

Laugh about it, shout about it
When you’ve got to choose
Every way you look at this you lose.

And all that people have worked for, and saved for, and paid taxes for, hangs in the balance.  Because we, the people, are pawns in a power grab.

WE, THE PEOPLE.

We whom our government serves.

WE, THE PEOPLE.

About whom no one seems to care.

WE, THE PEOPLE.

Joltin Joe has left and gone away (hey hey hey).  It isn’t the same to turn our frightened eyes to A-Rod.

Marbles

Mom and Dad always taught us that if you lose, you lose with dignity.  You don’t take your marbles and stomp off.

Except I never played marbles and I had no idea what they were talking about.  Just like my son doesn’t understand the phrase, “you sound like a broken record.”

But, eventually, I got the point.  If you lose fair and square, then you congratulate the winner and move on.  You don’t try to pretend the game never happened or that the winner cheated or that you were robbed of the trophy.

Unless, of course, you are part of the Tea Party.  Then you think that G-d is your co-pilot and that Barack Obama is not a legitimate president because, well, how could we elect a black man and no black man was ever born in the State of Hawaii.  (SIDEBAR:  Ted Cruz, you were born in Canada and had dual citizenship until a week ago.)

Let’s be fair.  We have had presidents who ascended to the highest office in the land under a cloud.  The “elections” of John F. Kennedy and George W. Bush come to mind.

But the Tea Party did not mind George W. Bush being president.  Hmmmmmmm.

Maybe because they “won”?  Hey, I remained an ordinary, law abiding citizen and patriot even through the terrible years of Bush/Cheney.  And I did not think they were duly elected, but the Supreme Court spoke.

I didn’t take my marbles and stomp off.  But, now the Tea Party is mad because Barack Obama is president, and a legitimate president.

But the government shut down and the debt ceiling should not be about one man and his health care reform and his birth certificate. 

These issues are about the people you all pretend to care about.

This is America and the majority spoke.  Be patriots.  Show the world that this is your country, come what may. Come on, I dare you, Tea Party members of Congress.

Put country first.

Hey, I am as liberal as they come and I say to you, “Less government? ok.  No government? Anarchy.”

And anarchy is treason.

And so are breaching the public trust and the full faith and credit of the United States of America.

And then you will see citizens like me  — middle-aged, economically secure (or so we thought) taxpayers — take to the streets and scream for your heads because you let our nation default.

So, before you smugly take your marbles and stomp off, remember, if you let our nation default —-

then you are no better than Benedict Arnold, betraying your country and fellow citizens and playing roulette with the total collapse of the republic.  

The hangman awaits.  Your move.

And the FOS Award goes to . . . .

Before I tell you about the award and the winner, there is (of course) a back story:

It begins in WWII, when American Jews were angry with FDR for not bombing the railroad tracks to the concentration camps.  Let’s be honest, in 1945, no one really liked Jews.  And the war was not to save Jews, but to stop a tyrant’s domination of a continent.

Before that war, there was the annihilation of Armenians at the hands of Turks.  No one said anything.

And before that, so many atrocities dating to the Crusades and earlier.

And, a thousand years of slavery.

And, then, so much that it is impossible to list.

And, the the brutality of colonialism.

And then, the United States used Napalm against civilians in Vietnam.  CHEMICAL WEAPONS.  Our use inspired the international treaty against using such heinous weapons.

Fast forward to the atrocities in Africa.

And the mess in the former Yugoslavia.   President Clinton ordered the bombings of the bridges leading to those death camps.

And then President George H. W. Bush who took a moral and geopolitical stand against Iraq and its use of chemical warfare against its neighbors.  GHWB showed American willingness to smack down an ally who commits atrocities with weapons that we sold to it.

And then there was the Shrub, the little Bush, who didn’t find chemical weapons in Iraq (those reviled WMDs), because they had been transported to Syria.  But we destroyed that country anyway.

And no one called George W. Bush an amateur or a waffler or a liar or a cheat.  And he led us into a war with no strategery (his word) for the way out, let alone a reason to go in.

And, atrocities occur every day, all over the world, in every corner.  Most particularly against the children, women and the enfeebled — those who have the least power in society.

So, here we are with Syria, under a credible threat of force from the United States, telling the world that it has chemical weapons and agreeing to disarm.  And Russia is taking the lead, as Syria’s ally, to make sure that America doesn’t bomb Syria.  Pretty good outcome so far — an admission that eluded GWB, an effort to dismantle Syria’s WMDs, as the US armed forces are on stand-by if anyone doesn’t deliver on promises made.  Others are doing the work because a bombing mission would shake Russia’s influence and bring down Russia’s ally in the region.

Not a bad outcome for “amateur” President Obama.  But no one gives him credit [this is for another blog]

And yet, all I hear from the pundits is: how the President faring politically and whether it will affect his domestic agenda, and how there is no reason for us to stop the use of chemical weapons against civilians.

Ok, this is not about a president.  This is about children.  It is not about politics.  It is about whether or not, to use a “quaint” analogy, to bomb railroad tracks to death camps.

I don’t know the right answer.  I don’t think there is one.

But this I know:

If you thought that FDR should have bombed the tracks leading to Auschwitz and you don’t support saving children from lethal gas, you have lost your moral authority;

if you ever thought that Napalm was one of the most heinous acts against humanity, sit down and shut up because you have lost your moral argument;

if you wanted George W. Bush to go into Iraq, G-d help you because you have no moral judgment and should “self-deport”;

if you are a “Progressive” in today’s politics, you have no backbone, and if you are a GOP hawk, you are just saying no because Obama is president, so you wouldn’t know a backbone if your doctor showed it to you on an xray;

if you say that there is misery and brutality the world over and why are we not protecting civilians in Africa, you have an excellent point;

if you don’t care about Syrian children and civilians (or Afghanis, or Kurds or African tribes), I ask, (paraphrasing the great Rabbi Hillel) if you are only for yourself, who are you?

if you say that there are too many risks to this action, when we have soldiers the world over, I ask (against paraphrasing the great Rabbi Hillel) if not now, then when?

And so, the Full of Shit (FOS) award goes to . . . . all of us, from the UN to Geneva to Oslo, from Wall Street to Main Street to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, from MSNBC to CNN to FOX, from me to you.  I don’t know what the right answer is, but I know we are asking all the wrong questions.

The right questions take guts and require that we talk about who we are and what we are willing to sacrifice (in lives and taxes) to do all the things we say we ought to do, until the moment comes for action. 

May G-d bless the children of Syria, the children of all countries and, please, let them no longer be the fodder of war, the currency of politics, and the blind spot of the world.

Please watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pmux0xmrXUU