Tuesday, June 30, 2020

The Divided States of America

It wasn't enough that Trump deliberately sought to divide whites from blacks by "accusing" President Obama of having lied about being born in the United States and refusing to refute the racist rioters one of whom killed a protester in Charlottesville, Virginia as well as other racists threatening or perpetrating violence.

It wasn't enough that Trump's first election "rally" deliberately sought to divide Mexicans from others by accusing them of being rapists and murderers, and that he's since imprisoned thousands of Latin Americans at our southwestern border for the "crime" of seeking asylum.

It wasn't enough that Trump deliberately sought to divide people of other religions or no religion from Muslims by accusing all Muslims of being terrorists and seeking to ban Muslim entry into the U.S.

It wasn't enough that Trump deliberately sought to divide heterosexuals from the LGBTQIA+ community by banning transsexuals from the military and and depriving them of medical coverage.

It wasn't enough that Trump deliberately sought to divide women from our own lives by taking away funding for women's health care.

Now, Trump has pulled the previously-unthinkable stunt of weaponizing a pandemic, turning people who believe in science against those who prefer to cling to the fantasy that COVID-19 will simply disappear without any effort on the part of anyone.  In the process, he has divided the states even more than they were divided during the Civil War, forcing individual states to compete against one another and/or to band into regional groups to try to protect their own residents.

As if all of that weren't bad enough, Trump has done everything within his power to turn the police and the armed forces against American civilians, encouraging the use of weapons against peaceful protesters, and has made every effort to turn Americans against the truth itself, insisting that any journalist who disagrees with him is a liar and that any news organization that disagrees with him is promulgating "fake news."  Trump has made it clear that he has no interest in supporting the First Amendment.

"Divide and conquer" seems to be Trump's chief, or perhaps only, strategy in seeking to gain and stay in power.

Trump is destroying his own country from both within and without, and he doesn't care.

I am a 71-year-old American citizen born and raised in the United States, and despite having lived in the U.S. my entire life, I've never experienced anything like what is happening to my country.   In the roughly three and a half years since Trump's election, my country has gone from being a world leader and one of the great democracies to an international laughing stock and a candidate for dictatorship, from a leader in the fields of science and medicine to a death trap.  I'm in shock and in mourning for what we once were.


Saturday, June 20, 2020

Pandemic turns people into movie actors against their will

Comedians complain that it's weird to work without an audience.

Musicians lament that they're exhausted after giving an online-only concert.

Even some educators can't give an online-only lecture without their spouse in the room.

So many people went into their current line of work at least partly because they enjoy the response of a live, in-person audience.

Now, all of a sudden, and through no fault of their own, all they can do is talk/sing/etc. into a camera.

If you get energized by a crowd, how do you cope when there's no crowd?

I imagine that it must be a real challenge to avoid "phoning it in" when talking to a camera, or recording a video of just one part of a multi-person song on a cell phone, is all you can do.

And yet, somehow, they manage to put on a real show.  Kol hakavod/my respects to all the fine folks who are keeping our spirits up.


Thursday, June 18, 2020

Much to our surprise, we got to participate in a "Defund the Police" protest

First, we heard loud chants that sounded as if they were coming from the park down the street.  But then the chants got louder and louder, and we realized that the protest was passing directly below our windows!  By the time we put on our facemasks and walked downstairs, the protesters had moved on, but they hadn't gone very far--it turned out that their "target" was a city councilperson whose apartment was only a block away.  And since there were parked cars that funneled the protesters right down the middle of the street, folks who wanted to participate while maintaining social distancing just stayed on the sidewalks.  One woman was even banging a pot lid out of her first-floor apartment window, while a man stood on the stairs at a building entrance holding a baby.  The police themselves had the good sense to put plenty of distance between themselves and the protesters.  I'm happy to report that the protest was very peaceful.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Pandemic causes pause in some prayers

Pity my poor husband--he's been leading P'sukei D'Zimrah for probably more than a decade, yet no matter which Zoom or Livestream service we "attend," this section of the morning prayers is scarcely to be found.  Some synagogues/minyanim/prayer spaces choose a "greatest hits" approach, reading or singing only a psalm or two, while others skip all or almost all of this section.  We finally realized that, if we really wanted to pray the early parts of the service, we had to get up early enough on a Shabbath (Sabbath) or Yom Tov (holiday) to pray everything (or almost everything) from Birkot HaTorah through Yishtabach by ourselves before the service started.

A woman I met in a Zoom break-out room last week pointed out that there was a good reason for this omission--long Zooms hurt people's eyes.  Consequently, baalei tefillah (prayer leaders) and/or rabbis are cutting services to the bone to spare the worshippers' vision.

Even when congregations open their doors again, I think that many will continue to keep their services short to reduce the exposure of the attendees to possible infection.

What will this precautionary measure do to the piyyutim (liturgical poetry) on the Yamim Noraim (High Holidays)?  I think that many of them will temporarily disappear.  :(


Friday, June 12, 2020

Book review: God Is in the Crowd: A Model for Post-Diaspora Judaism, by Tal Keinan

This is an excellent book.  It pulls no punches in describing either the author's Israeli Air Force experience, the ideological and economic structure of Israeli society, or the Jewish community in the United States (where the author was raised).  It also pulls no punches in describing an eye-opening approach to keeping the world Jewish community alive and thriving.  His "prescription" would cost a fortune, but it might just work.

Imagine a Jewish World Endowment.  A parent would commit to contributing 1.25 of their pre-tax income from the time their child is 5.  In return, their kid would get two years in a Jewish summer program--one in the U.S. and one in Israel--exploring Jewish history, tradition, and culture, followed by two months in a Tikkun Olam ("social action") program, followed by full undergraduate university tuition paid by scholarship. 

Imagine, too, the President of Israel being the president of the World Jewish Community, with the authority to determine all policies that affect all Jews, including the Law of Return and who is a Jew for purposes of full Jewish citizenship in Israel, including marriage and burial rights.  Wow!

I love this plan!

This is not our year :(

This year, my mother's yahrzeit (azkarah, anniversary of death) falls on our secular-calendar wedding anniversary, and my husband's mother's yahrzeit falls on Father's Day.

There won't be much celebrating around here this month.

Saturday, June 06, 2020

The Sotah of our times?

Numbers, Chapter 5 (Parshat Naso)

יד  וְ. . .; אוֹ-עָבַר עָלָיו רוּחַ-קִנְאָה וְקִנֵּא אֶת-אִשְׁתּוֹ, וְהִיא לֹא נִטְמָאָה. 14 . . . ; or if the spirit of jealousy come upon him, and he be jealous of his wife, and she be not defiled;

Think about it.  Why does a man's jealousy result in the only trial by ordeal in the Torah (Bible), with the husband subjecting his wife to a "trial" precisely because there's *isn't* any evidence?

The answer is that a woman of that era was almost always subject to the authority of a man, be he her father or her husband.  The Sotah ritual was a means of reminding all women that men were in charge.

Who in our day is routinely suspected and often punished whether or not they've actually done anything wrong?

Does the phrase "driving while black" sound familiar?  :(

Tuesday, June 02, 2020

Jewish prayer and current events

Rav todot--many thanks, to Rabbi Elie Kaunfer, whose class in Tefillah this past semester inspired this post.

In the beginning . . . (or close to it, in Birkot HaShachar/Morning Blessings), we praise HaShem for spreading the earth above the waters, and next, we praise HaShem for providing for all of our needs.  I think it makes sense that those two b'rachot (blessings) are in that order--if climate change raises the waters so far above the earth that we don't have enough land available to raise our food, all of our needs won't be provided for.  :(

In the Baruch Sheh-Amar prayer, we praise HaShem for having compassion on the earth and for having compassion on all creatures.  Between climate change and the coronavirus, we could use some compassion on both, at the moment.  :(

When we get to the Amidah prayer, there's this interesting line-up:  Somech noflim, v'rofei cholim, u-matir assurim--HaShem supports the fallen, heals the sick, and frees captives.  With healthcare workers exhausted, they could certainly use some support in healing the sick, and if enough of the sick are cured, we may, eventually, be freed from our current state of "house arrest."  (Speedily, in our day.)

We ask HaShem to grace us with knowledge, understanding, and discernment (Chonen HaDaat).  Medical researchers could certainly use all of the above.  I think that HaShem is our Rofeh Cholim, the One who cures the  sick, because HaShem enables both healthcare workers and medical researchers to take care of the sick.  "Lo bashamayim hi, it is not in heaven"--HaShem has assigned the power to heal to us humans, and we dare not decline the responsibility to heal or to support those who do.

I'm going to work my way backward in the siddur (prayer book) for a moment to make mention of what I find one of the scariest biblical quotes in the siddur:  " . . . va-avad'tem m'heirah mei-al ha-aretz ha-tovah asher HaShem notein lachem--and you will perish swiftly from the good land that HaShem is giving you." (Second paragraph of the Sh'ma, from Numbers 16)

Call me a cockeyed pessimist and I'll plead guilty as charged, but I can't help thinking that if climate change doesn't kill us, COVID-19 will.  :(  That is, if we don't die from being turned violently against one another, instead.  :(

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