Our Blog Has Moved . . .

to the new Jewish Currents website at www.jewishcurrents.org/Site/blog. Please visit there for new entries.


December 4: Jewday

Political theorist Hannah Arendt died on this day in 1975 at age 69. In 1959 she became the first woman appointed to a full professorship at Princeton.

“The most radical revolutionary will become a conservative the day after the revolution.”

“Dedicate yourself to the good you deserve and desire for yourself. Give yourself peace of mind. You deserve to be happy. You deserve delight.” —H.A.


December 1-3: Jewday

I've begun sending out a daily celebration of Jewish history. If you'd like to be included, send your e-mail address. Here are the first three entries:

Dec. 1
Woody Allen turns 74 today.

“We stand today at a crossroads: One path leads to despair and utter
hopelessness. The other leads to total extinction. Let us hope we have the
wisdom to make the right choice.”
—“My Speech to the Graduates,” New York Times, 1979

Dec. 2
On this day in 1763, 80 Sephardic Jews and their guests in Newport, Rhode island witnessed the dedication of the Touro Synagogue, the first synagogue built in America. Thirteen years later, Newport was captured by the British; the building survived the American Revolutionary War as a hospital for British soldiers.

“The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy . . . For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance . . . requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens . . .”
— Letter from George Washington to the congregation of the Touro Synagogue in 1790

Dec. 3
On this day in 1655, Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of England, declared that he would permit Jews to live in the land from which they had been thrown out by decree of King Edward I 365 years earlier (1290).

“Although this sounds surprising – even unbelievable – [King Edward I’s] edict has not been cancelled and is still listed among British legal documents. . . . All that needs to be done is for the queen to sign a contradictory decree, and this has never been done. I wonder when the Israeli government will appeal to the UK to have Queen Elizabeth II sign such a decree and revoke the edict issued by one of her forefathers.” —Ori Katzir, Israeli historian


Withdraw from Afghanistan Now

The following is a "Viewpoint" piece by our magazine's editorial board member, Barnett Zumoff. Dr. Zumoff is a retired general in the U.S. Air Force Reserve and was a four-time president of the Workmen’s Circle. The piece appears in the hot-off-the-presses Winter, 2009 issue of Jewish Currents.

The Obama Administration is currently engaged in an intense debate about what tactics to use to pursue the war in Afghanistan, and specifically how many additional troops to send there. To my mind, this decision is an easy one: We should send no additional troops and should make plans to withdraw all the troops we have there now.

All of the arguments, pro and con, are eerie reflections of the same arguments we had during the Vietnam War. The U.S. lost that war, we should recall, after pouring in more than a quarter of a million troops and vainly expending the lives of nearly 60,000 of them, as well as the lives of some million Vietnamese.

Tactics are only the methodology of attaining a strategic goal. If the goal is unnecessary or unattainable, even the best tactics in the world are inappropriate. In Vietnam, we deluded ourselves into thinking that the poor villagers of Vietnam could be diplomatically sweet-talked or militarily pounded into abandoning their legitimate grievances against a corrupt and oppressive government. We further deluded ourselves into thinking that if that small, geopolitically insignificant country fell to communism, all of the non-communist world would collapse with it like a row of dominoes. This was a preposterous idea, and it didn’t happen when we finally did lose in Vietnam.

Long before the end of the war, as early as 1968, our government officials had concluded that the war was lost, yet we nevertheless continued to pour blood and treasure and tens of thousands more American lives into it. This was nothing less than government-sanctioned murder. Let’s not repeat the same mistakes in Afghanistan.

The U.S. made war in Afghanistan for goals that sounded reasonable at the time: primarily to destroy the bases and training capabilities of Al Qaeda, which were the foundations of its worldwide jihadist activities, and secondarily to overthrow the Taliban government in order to deny Al Qaeda a safe haven. It has been argued that the primary goal could have been attained (and could still be attained) through massive manned and unmanned bombing of Al Qaeda’s bases, without pouring our troops into the country. The secondary goal, in turn, would have been unnecessary had we accomplished the primary goal by lesser methods — yet it has been the pursuit of that secondary goal that may now undo us.

Why? There are several reasons. Afghanistan is a much larger country than Vietnam, with a far more difficult terrain. That, with our current (and future) inability to field even one-fourth as many troops as we did in Vietnam, makes it impossible to subdue the country; the paltry number of troops we are planning to add in Afghanistan will not change that equation significantly. Second, the Afghan government we are now working with is every bit as corrupt as the South Vietnamese government was, and is equally despised by the people. Third, the Taliban, though many (but not all) Afghans hated its cruel and oppressive laws, are far closer to the Afghan people than are the hated Western “infidels.” Their government was less corrupt than the current Karzai government and was often able to secure the loyalty of villagers even without using force. Finally, the Taliban has a bottomless resource for support and resupply from its fundamentalist allies in Pakistan, just as the Vietcong had from Laos, Cambodia, and China.

It is worth remarking that three of history’s mightiest military forces, those of Alexander the Great, the British Empire, and the Soviet Union, were unable to subdue Afghanistan after years of war. Why should the U.S. expect to do so now, with our severely limited military resources and without the support of the American people? Why is the effort necessary, and how can we possibly afford the physical, financial, emotional, and political drain that the war is imposing on the U.S.? Most military authorities believe we could keep Al Qaeda perpetually weak and off-balance with military measures far short of maintaining nearly a hundred thousand troops in Afghanistan for the foreseeable future.

We should get out now. Any political bogeymen that we are threatened with if we leave — loss of face, loss of political influence in the world, etc. — are no more real than the “domino theory” was in Vietnam. The Afghanistan war is not worth one American life, let alone thousands


For Better or Verse

Our rhyming poet, Henry Foner, offers this off-deadline installation of his Jewish Currents column, "For Better or Verse."

News Report: Amy Goodman of "Democracy Now!" was halted at the Canadian border in Vancouver and questioned about her intended broadcasts regarding Canada's future hosting of the 2010 Winter Olumpics.

Amy and the Elves

Who'd have thought when our Amy fair
Disembarked in old Vancouver
That she'd have her passport waived in the air
By the ghost of J. Edgar Hoover?

She thought we'd removed him out of our sight
Along with his partner, McCarthy.
But lo! and behold, when she tried to alight
They were standing there, both hale and hearthy.

So hearken, ye goodmen, fickle and fine --
Whether you're girlish or boyish --
Please caution our neighbors north of the line
Lest they behave paranoi-ish

Henry Foner


When the Truth Is Found To Be . . . Hilarious

I finally saw the Coen Brothers' interpretation of the Book of Job, "A Serious Man" — and I think the climactic scene with Rabbi Marshak, the old sage, is one of the great cinematic moments of the past decade.

The old man's "words of wisdom" to the bar mitzvah boy consist of a quote from the Jefferson Airplane's driving, exciting hit song, "Somebody to Love," with just one word changed:

"When the truth is found to be lies,
and all the hope (original: joy) within you dies . . ."

Then the old rabbi names all the Jefferson Airplane's Jewish band members (Grace Slick, Marty Bailin, Paul Kantner), stumbles over Jorma Kaukonen's goyish name, returns the boy's confiscated radio/tape player, and says, "Be a good boy."

It is the strongest affirmation of "Judaism as a counterculture" that I've ever seen on screen. We are sitting in 1967, at the edge of the countercultural explosion, and the old rabbis essentially says: Yes, that's the direction to take, pot and rock and consciousness expansion — only remember that you're Jewish, that it's Jewish — and be a good boy.

The movie, like most of the Coen Brothers work, is totally cartoonish — in this case full of stereotypical embodiments of "horrid" Jews, with big lips and big noses and big bosoms and bad posture — yet I found myself loving them all rather than feeling mortified. Rather than being a film for self-hating Jews, "A Serious Man" is actually a film for Jews who are so comfortable with being Jewish that we can actually embrace and enjoy all the stereotypes. That was my experience: I thought the Coens were killing me with love, calling forth my pintele yidn (little internal Jews) onto the dance floor. It was like MAD magazine in motion and in living color.

I've also been thinking a lot about the film in comparison to "Precious," which also is set in the past (the late 1980s) and EMBODIES its characters, the central one being an enormously fat and physically violated young woman. It's interesting to me that while "A Serious Man" hoots at oppression and misfortune, and hoots at the ways in which the Jewish community traps itself, "Precious" takes that all very, very, VERY seriously.

May it only be that in a decade or two, the African-American community has advanced enough in the push against racism and internalized oppression to laugh heartily at its own suffering, its own pathologies, its own big asses! (But maybe that's already happening; I've been meaning to check out the Tyler Perry movies . . .)

For another fabulous interpretation of the Book of Job, by the way, listen to Joni Mitchell's "Sire of Sorrow" on Turbulent Indigo — one of my favorite pieces by my second favorite woman singer-songwriter of all time.


Birthday of the World

ROSH HASHONE, the birthday of the world, begins with the sighting of the new moon on the first day of the seventh month after Passover, the exodus from slavery. It is also called yom ha-din, Judgment Day, and yom ha-zikaron, Remembrance Day, as we blow the ram’s horn, arouse our sense of judgment, and try to be merciful with ourselves and with each other.

It’s a time to place stones on graves and recall how the dead shaped our lives when they were alive. It’s a time to sculpt our own fate, overcome inertia, switch paths. It’s a time for renewing friendships and healing old wounds. It’s a time to make things right.

In the ancient days, it was a season of harvest and the coronation of kings. It marked the sixth day of creation, when earthlings were believed to have been created from the earth. It also marked the start of the sabbatical year, every seven years, when labor desisted throughout the community, and the jubilee year, every half century, when debt was annulled and land was redistributed.

Rosh Hashone is a time for braided sweet bread and honey-dipped apples. It’s a time to stand by flowing water with bread crumbs and an open heart. It’s a time for long walks and good cries. It is a time to say “l’shana tova” and give people a kiss.

Someone in the world is waiting for you to do something. This is a good time to do it.

Guide to a Secular Jewish Tashlikh: Take your family/household/intimate community to a flowing body of water. Stand on the shore in small circles of people. Each person in the circle praises each person in the circle (“I love how you . . .”) out loud, with everyone else listening. Then each person in the circle offers a constructive suggestion (“I hope that you . . .”) for the new year, with everyone else listening. When all of the speaking is done, everyone throws breadcrumbs into the water while shouting out their resolutions for the year to come.


My Dinner with Bobo

"Let's assume," Bob says, "that the main job of the President of the United States is to protect the wealth and the interests of that small sector of the population that is obscenely rich and controls the major corporations. This may sound conspiratorial to you, I know you don't really believe in class analysis, but nothing that Obama has done during the financial bailout — from the appointments he made to his 'helplessness' about bonuses and executive pay to his lack of insistence on a moratorium on house foreclosures — has done anything to make me think otherwise.

"You think because he's black he's on your side? You think because he's black he can't really be part of the ruling-class establishment? I call that racism, Larry.

"So Obama has already forked billions and billions over to his major constituency. That same constituency now thinks that they're spending too much on health insurance for their employees. Look what happened to General Motors with their whopping health bills (not to mention their lousy cars)! So Obama begins telling us, 'We're spending too much on health care. One sixth of the GNP is going to health care. It's unsustainable. It's too much. We have to reign in costs.

"But wait a minute. Why shouldn't we spend one sixth of the economy on health care? What's more important? Making war? Buying military hardware? Maintaining torture prisons in foreign lands? Do you have any idea how many trillions of dollars we pour into the coffers of those corporations?

"Okay, fine, let's not talk about the so-called war on terrorism. So now we've got to reign in health care costs. How would a pro-people government do that? By permitting the importation of medicines from Canada, from India. That would cut billions from health care costs. By allowing Medicare Part D to negotiate lower prices from Big Pharma. Billions more saved. By capping executive pay in the health care industry; by limiting doctors' incomes to a VERY comfortable but not filthy rich level; by capping the cost of medical insurance; by heavily taxing those industries that make their profits by degrading the public health; by charging corporations for environmental cleanups and putting that money into health care; by taxing the rich; by closing corporate loopholes.

"Instead, Obama makes a deal with Big Pharma, which is now financing a $150 million ad campaign in favor of health care reform. He makes a deal with the insurance industry. He says, from the very beginning, from before he was elected, that single-payer is 'unrealistic.'

"You still think — 'in his heart, at least' — that he's on our side?

"So how are those savings going to take place? Only one way. The people who are going crazy at those town hall meetings may be loony, they may be as Republican as all get-out, they may be very, very conservative, they may be the victims of alien abductions, but they're right in what they fear: the savings will take place by picking our pockets. It'll mean some amount of profit-conscious rationing.

"Hey! I'm okay with rationing if the government is actually looking out for me. I'm okay with rationing if everyone has insurance and profit is removed from the health care system. I'm okay with rationing if we're not preparing to waste quadrillions on killing people in Pakistan. But as long as we have the system we have, I'm NOT interested in having THIS government telling me or my doctor that I can't have that unnecessary CAT scan. I've worked hard for my health insurance, and I want my CAT scan.

"What's the matter, why aren't you eating?"


Another Fact about Obamacare


Jewish Currents at the Beach

The gorgeous Jewish Currents summer supplement, "Jewish Currents at the Beach," is available for just $5 from POB 111, Accord, NY 12404. Or subscribe for $18 and receive it for free.

I live in the mountains, far from the pavement,
far from the fashions, the crowd, the moment.
There’s nothing I lack, nothing to foment
a feeling of dissatisfaction — except

I’m far from the beach, too far from the boardwalk,
hours removed from the roar of the waves.
Without it, I can’t shed the noise in my head.
Please, grant me some sun-and-sand days!

O, Long Beach! Those weeks with my brother and Mommy
in basement apartments, mildewed and dark.
What matter? We roasted in sunshine all day, parked
close to the tideline, and just a short walk

from the boardwalk arcades, ancient stone temples
where dimes brought possession of hefty Skeeballs.
Hop! Aim for the bullseye — four-fifty score!
Hop! Rolled up the middle, or banked off the walls!

Each Wednesday we crowded that boardwalk at dusk
for fireworks launched from a trawler offshore.
Until the finale we rallied there, Jews at prayer,
Oohing and ahhing in pleasure and awe.

In adulthood I learned that the Talmud (Kiddushin)
bids fathers to teach their sons swimming techniques
(perhaps so when thrown in a river we won’t be
too weak to escape our oppressors). However,

my father came only on weekends, which seemed right,
in light of his preoccupations and moods.
He’d arrive, smoke a while, then dive in and swim way,
way out — Dad! — in a hurry to leave us behind.

Never mind. So what if I never took pleasure
in swimming? I gathered up landlubber treasure
in pails. I lay on the hot sand and dug with my nails.
I walked around glancing at bathing-suit girls.

And I went in the water, of course! To wash off!
To pee and cavort! Duck under and snort!
I’d let the waves smack me around for a spell,
but soon I’d be back on the beach hunting shells . . .

Those days ran together like melting sandcastles.
The timelessness made us feel weightless, like clouds.
The endless horizon made worries seem distant.
The sun set behind us. Each moment was now.

O, holy mekhaye! — from Lido to Rockaway,
Venice to Monterey, Avon to Cape May.
Wherever I’ve stripped down and napped to the surf sounds,
mekhaye — keen pleasure — has swept me away.

From Palm Beach to Boynton to Boca to Deerfield
among those retirees, well-oiled and well-heeled;
at Cape Cod, where minke and humpback whales graze,
and LGBT’ers spend long, scrumptious days;

in South Beach, Miami — mekhaye Latino!
in Wildwood, New Jersey — mekhaye Pokerino!
in Juan-les-Pins, south of France — nudist mekhaye!
Pleasures igniting me, driftwood on fire . . .

Enough with nostalgia, then. Pack it up. Let’s go.
Six hours of traffic and pit stops and Watch for cops!
We’re late!
and Can’t wait! Then: Look, there’s the bay!
We’ll soon have our sun-and-sand days, hooray!
We’ll soon have our sun-and-sand days.


The Secular-Religious Divide

JEWISH CURRENTS is sponsoring a weekend retreat on "The Secular-Religious Divide in Jewish Life," July 17-19 at Circle Lodge (the Workmen's Circle's resort) in Hopewell Junction, New York; teachers include Rabbi Alissa Wise, Rabbi Elizabeth Bolton, Prof. Billy Yalowitz, and me. Check out the flyer (click it to read) and visit www.jewishcurrents.org.


Jews, the Beach and the Boardwalk

Dear Friends, for a full-color summer supplement to Jewish Currents magazine, we are seeking visual artworks, poems and short writings on themes related to “Jews, the Beach and the Boardwalk.” Please e-mail submissions to me at lawrencebush@earthlink.net by the end of May.



The Future of Jewish Currents

The March-April issue of Jewish Currents, just off the press, is the last that The Workmen's Circle will be publishing. The current recession has hit the organization hard and made it impossible for WC to sustain the magazine. Jewish Currents is therefore once again an independent magazine — as we were before 2005, for nearly 60 years. (The Workmen's Circle is giving us a great deal of support in the form of meeting and event space, office help, and more. This is a sorrowful parting, and both institutions remain in a mutually supportive relationship.)

Now, my father, a cynical man, used to keep a cartoon on his desk: two guys in a dungeon, chained wrists and ankles to the wall on which they are hanging, with beards down to their pupiks. Caption: "Now here's my plan . . ."

Nu, here's my plan — notwithstanding the crisis of print media, notwithstanding the marginality of secular Jewish identity, notwithstanding all the challenges —

Right now I'm fundraising like mad — one-on-one, and through a mailing of a Passover tabloid featuring a rhymed Hagada-in-verse, a magic trick, and a tsedoke appeal. (If you're reading this blog but you're not a subscriber to Jewish Currents — tsk tsk — and would nevertheless like a copy of this Passover tabloid, write to me at this blog, including your address, and I'll send it.)

The next issue of the magazine, May-June, will be a special issue featuring only two items: a lengthy article by April Rosenblum that casts an analytical, historical look at the decline of Jewish secularism, and a full-length comic book (of sorts) by me that searches for a future for Jewish secularism. These features will be widely circulated in advance of publication to prompt discussion within progressive, secular Jewish circles (and beyond) and to some written responses, which will be published in the same issue with the April's article and my cartoon. The issue will, in essence, constitute a discussion of "Whither Secular Jewish Identity?" — which is not irrelevant to the question, "Whither Jewish Currents?" (If you'd like to see a pdf of these items in order to respond, please write to me at this blog.)

We won't be putting out a summer issue (though there will be a special "Jewish Currents at the beach" mailing to subscribers that will be highly entertaining) — and then, starting in the new year, the magazine will be produced as a quarterly, with a new look and 16 new pages (64 instead of 48). These new pages will be devoted mostly to visual art, semiotic irreverence, poetry and fiction, and more — as well as to a new column on Jewish approaches to environmental issues.

All of the current Jewish Currents features will be preserved — the Israel column, the Mameloshn column, Concealed/Revealed," "Our Secular Jewish Heritage," editorials, and all the rest — but there'll be this new aspect of art, creativity, playfulness, and environmental consciousness that will be unique in Jewish publishing and highly attractive, I'll wager, to younger readers, as well as to the Jewish artistic community.

Artists and writers, consider this a call: Send your stuff to Jewish Currents!

We welcome your tax-deductible contributions (you can use PayPal at our home page). In the past month, we've raised $13,000 towards our goal of $20,000 by this summer. It's a reasonable goal, and I hope you'll help us to get there. In addition, we especially need your gift subscriptions, to help build the Jewish Currents circulation to the level we deserve.

This is a 64-year-old institution that is well worth preserving and expanding. As we wrote in our March-April editorial, our magazine has "a basic message that is alive in the hearts of thousands of American Jews who have never even heard of us. It is the message that Jews 'who wish to be true to ourselves,' as the classic Yiddish writer Y.L. Peretz said, must ask 'vital questions' about 'conscience, freedom, culture, ethics.' At Jewish Currents, we believe that there is something fundamental in Jewish thought and experience that fuels dissent and a countercultural perspective, and that seeks, in the words of Leon Blum (socialist prime minister of pre-war France), 'the ideal reconstruction of the world.'"

Jewish Currents will endure and grow. I'm confident of this, and I'm working my tush off to make it so.


Henry Foner Turns 90!

It's calendaring time!

First and foremost, Henry Foner, our beloved labor activist, songster (and Jewish Currents editorial board member) will become 90 on Monday, March 23. Come celebrate: 5:30 to 8:30 at the 1199/SEIU Penthouse in NYC, 330 W. 42nd St., 33rd floor. The event is free. If you’re in the NY metro area, be there or be square!

The day before, on Sunday March 22nd, my second “platform” as a fellow at the Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture takes place at 11 AM. The topic: “Socialism and Spirituality.” Newsweek magazine headlined a recent cover, “We’re All Socialists Now.” As the current economic crisis makes “socialism” a bit less of a dirty word in America, what spiritual and ethical insights can we bring to the discussion? The Society is located at 53 Prospect Park West (2nd Street, right across from the park, in Park Slope). Lunch and discussion to follow the platform. If you haven’t been to BSEC, this is a great day to check out one of the Ethical Culture movement’s finest and interesting societies. For more, visit www.bsec.org.

Third, Jewish Currents will be sponsoring a weekend at Circle Lodge, July 17-19, in Hopewell Junction, New York, focusing on the line between secularism and religion in Jewish life today. Leaders and participants from both sides of that line will be on hand to make sholem (peace) and to challenge one another to deeper thinking. Details to follow, but save the date for a wonderful, leisurely, provocative weekend. (Daytrippers will be permitted.)



A listing of the Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream flavors that never happened:

(made up by various folks, including me)

- Bush Mush
- Constitution Crush
- Chock 'n Awe
- Cheney Chocolate Heart Attack
- Torture Torte
- Iraqi Road
– Rubble 'n Ash
- Nut'n Accomplished
- Grape Depression
- Abu Grape
- Impeachmint
- Good Riddance You Lousy Mofo Swirl
- Heck of a Job Brownie!
- Neoconpolitan
- Bastard Offspring of Hell Delight


I'm a Brooklyn Ethical Culture Fellow!

I have the honor of being a Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture “fellow” for the next year and will be presenting one platform each month, among other responsibilities. My first platform, next Sunday (February 15th), is titled, “Faith Without God: Finding Courage in Hard Times.” One of my goals is to explore how “non-religious” people can take on certain disciplines, inspired by humanism, that can help us deal with challenges and overcome hardships. This is not a self-help or motivational lecture; my practice as a writer and speaker is more along the lines of self-examination and confession, in expectation that we all share a common human condition.

The platform takes place at 11 AM next Sunday at 53 Prospect Park West (between 1st and 2nd Streets). For more information, you can call (718) 768-2972. If you’re in the New York area, I’d love to see you there.

Ditto the following night, on February 16th, when I’ll be reading from my books, WAITING FOR GOD: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, and BESSIE: A Novel of Love and Revolution, at the Stanton Street Shul, 180 Stanton Street, between Clinton and Attorney, as part of the Stanton Street Café series. The other reader is Yori Yanover, author of a really interesting Jewish sci-fi novel, The Cabalist’s Daughter. His books and mine are published by Ben Yehuda Press, the director of which will be on hand to be interviewed and questioned about Jewish publishing in this day and age. Information: 212 533-4122.


An Interfaith Declaration for Mideast Peace

Can be viewed at http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/interfaithdeclarationforpeace/

We, members and leaders of the Muslim, Jewish, and Christian communities in Greater Boston -- all having deep and symbolic ties to the land and peoples of the Middle East -- are anguished by the events unfolding in Israel and Gaza. Recognizing the legitimate needs of all peoples, including all those living in the Middle East, for dignity, peace, safety and security --regardless of religion, race, or national origin -- we issue this joint statement with the hope and belief that our interfaith voices will be heard clearly, above the din of war.

As guiding principles,

We acknowledge the long, complex, and painful history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

We acknowledge the wide range of deeply-held beliefs, and intensely-felt narratives on all sides

We acknowledge that all sides are capable of assigning blame to others, and asserting justification for their cause

We observe that violence by any side begets more violence, hatred, and retaliation

We deplore any invocation of religion as a justification for violence against others, or the deprivation of the rights of others

We decry any use of inflammatory rhetoric that demonizes the other and is intended, or is likely, to promote hatred and disrespect

We believe the conflict can be resolved only through a political and diplomatic solution and not a military one.

In the face of many competing narratives, we recognize that the overriding common need of the peoples of the region is the prompt implementation of a just and lasting peace. Toward that end, and particularly in response to the current hostilities,

We call upon the United States and the international community immediately to intercede to help reestablish a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, toward the goal of a permanent cessation of hostilities

We call upon Hamas immediately to end all rocket attacks on Israel, and upon Israel immediately to end its military campaign in Gaza

We call for an immediate end to all strikes on civilian centers and citizens, both Israeli and Palestinian

We call for lifting of the blockade on Gaza as to all non-military goods, for an immediate and significant increase in humanitarian aid to address the needs of the people of Gaza, and for all parties involved to join in taking responsibility to address those human needs

We call on all parties involved in the conflict to work sincerely and vigorously toward a just and lasting peace that addresses and promotes the national aspirations of both the Israeli and Palestinian peoples

We call on President-elect Obama to make clear that as President he will urgently assert US leadership to achieve a comprehensive diplomatic resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian and Arab-Israeli conflicts

Through this joint statement we affirm our commitment to engage with one another, even, and especially, during times of great stress. We also affirm our common humanity and our common belief - as Jews, Muslims and Christians - that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must cease, that there is no military or violent solution, that all human life is valued, and that all parties must cooperate to make the peace - a just and lasting peace desperately needed and deserved by all the peoples of the region.


Salwa Abd-Allah, Executive Council, Muslim American Society of Boston (MAS Boston), Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center (ISBCC)
Tariq Ali, President, Harvard Islamic Society
Hossam AlJabri, President, MAS Boston-ISBCC; Trustee, Interreligious Center for Public Life (ICPL)
Rev. Dr. Jim Antal, President, United Church of Christ Mass. Conference
Abdul Cader Asmal, Past President, Islamic Council of New England and Islamic Center of Boston; Trustee ICPL
Rabbi Al Axelrad, Hillel Director Emeritus, Brandeis University
Diane Balser, Executive Director, Brit Tzedek v'Shalom
Dorothy C. Buck, Ph.D., Director, Badaliya
Rev. Nick Carter, Ph.D., President, Andover Newton Theological School
Dris Djermoun, President, Islamic Center of Boston (Wayland)
Diana L. Eck, Professor, Harvard University
Imam Talal Eid, Islamic Institute of Boston; Chaplain Brandeis University
Ashraf Elkerm, Board Chairman, Islamic Center of Greater Worcester
Rev. Dr. Terasa G. Cooley, Unitarian Universalist Mass. Bay District Executive
Mercedes S. Evans, Esq., Committee on Contemporary Spiritual & Public Concerns (CSPC Committee)(Civil Rights)
Imam Abdullah Faruuq, Imam, Mosque for the Praising of Allah (Roxbury)
Michael Felsen, President, Boston Workmen's Circle
Lisa Gallatin, Executive Director, Boston Workmen's Circle
Zekeriyya Gemici, President, MIT Muslim Students Association
Rabbi David Gordis
Rabbi Arthur Green, Rector, Rabbinical School, Hebrew College, Newton
Rev. Raymond G. Helmick, S.J., Instructor, Conflict Resolution, Boston College
Arnold Hiatt
Rev. Jack Johnson, Executive Director, Massachusetts Council of Churches
M. Bilal Kaleem, Executive Director, MAS Boston-ISBCC
Anwar Kazmi, Executive Council, MAS Boston-ISBCC
Alexander Kern, Executive Director, Cooperative Metropolitan Ministries
Nabeel Khudairi, Past President, Islamic Council of New England
Idit Klein, Executive Director, Keshet
Margie Klein, Co-director, Moishe/Kavod House
Mary Lahaj, Muslim Chaplain, Simmons College
Geoffrey Lewis
Imam Taalib Mahdee, Imam, Masjid Al-Quran, (Dorchester)
Rev. Bert Marshall, Church World Service, New England Director
Jerome D. Maryon, Esq., President, CSPC Committee
Michael J. Moran, Pax Christi Massachusetts
Sister Jane Morrissey, SSJ, Pax Christi Massachusetts
Merrie Najimy, President, American Arab Anti-discrimination Committee, MA
Imam Khalid Nasr, Imam, ICNE-Quincy
Imam Basyouni Nehela, Imam, Islamic Society of Boston
Rashid Noor, President, Islamic Center of New England
Rabbi Sara Paasche-Orlow
Rabbi Barbara Penzner, Temple Hillel B'nai Torah
Rev. Rodney L. Petersen, Ph.D., Executive Director, Boston Theological Institute
Dr. Asif Rizvi, President-Elect, Islamic Council of New England
Rabbi Victor Reinstein, Nehar Shalom
Rev. Anne Robertson, Executive Director, Massachusetts Bible Society
Qasim Salimi, President, Boston University Muslim Students Association
Robert M. Sarly, Trustee, ICPL
Rev. Mikel E. Satcher, Ph.D., Pastor, Trinity Baptist Church
Professor Adam Seligman, Boston University
Rabbi Sanford Seltzer, Chair, ICPL
Enid Shapiro, Trustee, ICPL
Rt. Rev. M. Thomas Shaw, SSJE, Episcopal Bishop, Diocese of Massachusetts
Alan Solomont
Rabbi Toba Spitzer, Congregation Dorshei Tzedek
Rev. John K. Stendahl, Pastor, Lutheran Church of the Newtons
Sidney Topol
Rabbi Andrew Vogel, Temple Sinai
Peter D. Weaver, Bishop, United Methodist Church, Boston Area


James Brown's Yortsayt

Today is James Brown's second yortsayt. The graphic accompanying this little blog, which will appear on the next cover of Jewish Currents to celebrate Obama's victory, includes James Brown as one of the 36 lamed vovniks (righteous souls) of African-American life, all crowned with Statue of Liberty tiaras. (Click on it to enlarge.) I could have easily come up with 36 others.

I saw James Brown when I was 18 years old and had hitchhiked to Penn State University to visit my girlfriend. During the afternoon, she and I spent long minutes kissing in the middle of a twenty- foot-long tunnel of lilac bushes. After forty years, still haven't gotten the scent and the thrill out of my mind. Then, at night, came James Brown. A similar thrill, only it lasted two hours!

I never had the guts to go see him at the Apollo Theater, fool that I am. That would have been the place to hear him sing, in call-and-response with the crowd:

Say it loud: I'm black and I'm proud!
Say it loud: I'm black and I'm proud!

Some people say we've got a lot of malice
Some say it’s a lot of nerve
But I say we won't quit moving until we get what we deserve
We have been bucked and we have been scorned
We have been treated bad, talked about as just bones
But just as it takes two eyes to make a pair, ha!
Brother we can’t quit until we get our share

Say it loud: I'm black and I'm proud!
Say it loud: I'm black and I'm proud!
One more time!
Say it loud: I'm black and I'm proud!

I worked on jobs with my feet and my hand
But all the work I did was for the other man
Now we demand a chance to do things for ourselves
We're tired of beatin' our head against the wall
And workin' for someone else

Say it loud: I'm black and I'm proud
Say it loud: I'm black and I'm proud
Say it loud: I'm black and I'm proud
Say it loud: I'm black and I'm proud

We're people, we're just like the birds and the bees
We'd rather die on our feet
Than be livin' on our knees

Say it loud: I'm black and I'm proud
Say it loud: I'm black and I'm proud
Say it loud: I'm black and I'm proud
Say it loud: I'm black and I'm proud

Great lyrics, no. Explosive lyrics, oh yes! Add in the rhythms and the shouting and you've got one hell of a statement.

James Brown was the most African of African-American music makers, and an extraordinary singer. There was and is nobody who could scream more pleasingly than Mr. James Brown. Often, when I'm in a really good mood, I'll suddenly quote the opening to "Make It Funky, Part 1":

"What you gonna play now?"

"Bobby, I don't know — but what's'n ever I play, it's got to be funky."

Funky Christmas, everybody!


Gifts for Hanukkah/Hanuka/Chanukah/Khanike/However the Hell You Spell It

Check out my catalogue of scandalously creative Jewish gifts. Click on the images to enlarge. All profits benefit Jewish Currents magazine. The images are available as posters or greeting cards. To make a purchase, send a check (with your mailing address) to Jewish Currents, 45 East 33 Street, New York, NY 10016 or call (212) 889-2523 with your credit card. Shipping is free. Sorry, no Paypal purchases are possible. Giving a gift? Let us know to whom, and we'll include a lovely gift card. C'mon, buy something! It's good for the Jews.


Give Me Back My Name! — and My Country!

A Partial Chronology of the Bush Administration’s
Savaging of America (with Thematic Color-Coding)
Read it and Weep, Gang

January 22, 2000
On his first day in office, the anniversary of Roe v Wade, Bush reinstates the Global Gag Rule, prohibiting funding of any international entity that performs abortions or advises women about them.

January 29, 2000
Bush establishes by executive order the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, which channels federal funding to religious organizations for the work of social improvement.

February 8
Bush sends a $1.6 trillion, 10-year tax cut sent to Congress.

March 28
Bush declares the Kyoto treaty on climate change “dead on arrival.”

April 9
In his first budget, Bush strips contraception coverage from federal workers.

May 1
A U.S. ‘Missile Defense Shield’ is proposed by Bush in a speech at the National Defense University in D.C. He doesn’t explicitly withdraw from the 1972 Antiballistic Missile Treaty with Russia, but says there is a need to move beyond the “adversarial legacy of the Cold War” and “replace this treaty with a new framework.”

May 26
Congress approves a $1.35 trillion ‘tax relief’ program — despite a Democratic majority in the Senate, thanks to Senator Jeffords’ abandonment of the Republican Party to become an Independent.

August 9
Bush limits stem-cell research funding to established lines of cells.

September 14
The Senate votes 98-0, the House 420-1, to authorize Bush to use “all necessary and appropriate force” to retaliate against the 9-11 terrorists.

October 7
War against the Taliban in Afghanistan is launched.

October 26
U.S. PATRIOT ACT is enacted, expanding the FBI’s ability to obtain records through secret court orders and giving government investigators greater authority to track e-mail and telephone communications, among many other expanded powers.

November 13
As Kabul falls to the Northern Alliance, Bush issues a military order establishing military tribunals for ‘enemy combatants.’

December 13
Bush withdraws from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

January 8, 2002
Bush signs “No Child Left Behind” (aka “No Teacher Left Standing”) into law.

January 10
Bush signs a $372 billion military budget.

January 18
Bush declares this “Sanctity of Life Day,” on behalf of a society that will “embrace its essential moral duties, including . . . caring for children born and unborn.”

January 29
Bush delivers his “Axis of Evil” State of the Union address

January 30
Bush outlines Operation TIPS (Terrorism Information Prevention System), which will enable “millions of American transportation workers, postal workers, and public utility employees to identify and report suspicious activities linked to terrorism and crime.” Meanwhile, some 10,000 non-citizens have, by this point, been arrested and detained in FBI sweeps.

February 12
Colin Powell testifes before Congress about plans for regime change in Iraq.

February 20
Donald Rumsfeld responds to public outcry by announcing that the Office of Strategic Influence will not lie to the public or plant disinformation in foreign or U.S media. Six days later, the office is closed.

May 8
Jose Padilla, a U.S. citizen, is arrested for plotting to build a dirty bomb. One month later, he is transferred to military custody as an “enemy combatant.” He will not be tried for years.

June 14
Bush calls preemptive military strikes a “new doctrine.”

August 1
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales issues his memo justifying torture of ‘enemy combatants.’

August 2
The Washington Post reports that the FBI has questioned nearly all 37 members of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees in its probe of leaks of classified information related to the September 11 attacks. Most of the lawmakers have refused to take a lie-detector test.

October 10-11
Congress approves the use of U.S. military force in Iraq.

August 14
Bush refuses to participate in the Earth Summit (UN World Summit on Sustainable Development), attended by 100 heads of state.

August 26
A federal appeals court declares secret deportation hearings unconstitutional in ACLU lawsuit.

October 10
Congress passes Joint Resolution authorizing force against Iraq.

November 22
Bush eases clean air rules for utilities and other industry.

December 19
WTO talks break down after Bush Administration refuses to support an agreement that would have expanded the range of low-cost generic drugs countries could import besides drugs for HIV/AIDS and 15 “tropical diseases.”

January 28, 2003
In his State of the Union address, Bush lies that “Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.”

February 7, 2003
The General Accounting Office abandons its legal quest to force Dick Cheney to publicly disclose information about industry involvement in the Bush Administration’s secretive energy task force.

March 2
The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that of 62 terrorism indictments by the New Jersey U.S. Attorney, 60 are against “Middle Eastern students charged with paying others to take their English proficiency tests.”

March 8
A contract for Iraqi post-war construction is secretly awarded to Halliburton the company formerly headed by Dick Cheney. Requests for no-bid and limited-bid contracts were sent by the Pentagon as early as November, 2002.

March 14
The Department of Justice issues a memo to Pentagon justifying torture methods.

March 19
The war in Iraq is launched.

April 1
Bush raises SUV fuel standards just 1.5 miles per gallon — by 2007.

May 1
“Mission Accomplished” on U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln.

July 1
Amnesty International condemns the administration for subjecting Iraqi prisoners to “cruel, inhumane or degrading conditions” at Abu Ghraib prison.

July 14
Valerie Plame “outed” as CIA agent by Robert Novak.

July 16
The Washington Post
reports that during his first two and a half years in office, Bush has catapulted the nation from a $127 billion surplus to a projected deficit of $1.9 trillion by 2008. Joshua Bolton, White House Budget director, attributes 23% of the deficit to Bush’s tax cuts.

July 21
Bush accuses Syria and Iran of harboring terrorists.

July 30
At a press conference, Bush says he is exploring legal steps to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

November 5
Partial Birth Abortion Act is signed.

November 6
The Washington Post reports that a Canadian citizen, Maher Arar, was detained and sent to Syria by U.S. officials, where he was tortured for 10 months before being released. The public thus learns about CIA “rendition.” Arar is never charged with any crime by any government.

November 17
Bush attorneys argue that Bush has the authority to detain anyone, including American citizens, on the basis of an unreviewable finding that the person is an enemy combatant.

December 8
Medicare drug benefits added, with a ban on the federal government doing any cost-saving bargaining with drug companies.

December 19
U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco rules that Guantanamo Bay detainees have a right of access to American courts. U.S. Court of Appeals in New York determines that Jose Padilla cannot be held indefinitely as an enemy combatant.

January 22 2004
Alaska’s North Slope, adjacent to the National Artic Wildlife Refuge, is opened to oil drilling by Gale Norton, EPA director.

February 24
Bush calls for constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

April 26
Court-appointed investigator Alan L. Balaran resigns from his job of examining the federal government’s management of sums owed to Native Americans, accusing the Interior Department from blocking his work on behalf of energy companies that were underpaying land-use royalties to the tribes.

April 28
Sixty Minutes
airs expose of Abu Ghraib abuses.

August 4
A Pentagon audit finds that Halliburton failed to account for more than $1.8 billion of $4.2 billion received to provide logistical support to troops in Iraq. The audit is not made public, but is leaked to the New York Times.

August 13
The International Red Cross reports evidence that the U.S. is holding suspected terrorists in secret detention centers around the globe. The government refuses to provide a list of terrorism detainees.

October 14
An EPA engineer, Weston Wilson, applies for federal whistleblower status after decrying EPA’s study of the effects of hydraulic fracturing, a methane and natural gas drilling technique, on water quality. Halliburton invented the technique, which earns the company 20% of its energy-related revenue.

October 19
Alternet reports that the Bush administration has raised or established new fees on immigrants in 40 instances, so that the tax on becoming a citizen rose 55%.

October 27
Dr. James Hansen, director of NASA Goddard Center, charges the Bush government with suppressing evidence of global warming. “In my more than three decades in government, I have never seen anything approaching the degree to which information flow from scientists to the public has been screened and controlled as it is now This, I believe, is a recipe for environmental disaster.”

January 10, 2005
Bush touts the “environmental benefits” of nuclear power.

April 15
“Some people in America . . . think that the federal government all these years has been collecting your payroll taxes and we’re holding it for you. And then when you get ready to retire, we give it back to you. That’s not the way it works.”

August 29, 2005
Hurricane Katrina makes landfall three days after Gov. Bianco declares state of emergency. Within five hours, FEM director Michael Brown requests 1,000 additional rescue workers from the Department of Homeland Security “within 48 hours,” and 2,000 more within seven day to deal with this “near catastrophic event.” The workers should be trained first in Georgia or Florida, Brown says, then sent to the disaster effort when “conditions are safe.”

September 1
Bush: “I don’t think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees.”

September 2
“Brownie, you’re doing a heckuva job.” Brownie is removed from the job one week later.

September 5
John Roberts nominated as head justice of the Supreme Court.

October 31
Samuel Alito is nominated as a Supreme Court justice.

March 1, 2006
Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez sends a confidential message, not published in the Federal Register, giving authority to senior Department of Justice staff Monica Goodling and Kyle Sampson to hire and dismiss polical appointees and some civil service positions.

July 19
Bush uses his veto power for the first time to veto the Stem Cell Reseach Enhancement Act.

December 7
Seven U.S. attorneys are fired by the Dept. of Justice for political reasons.

January 10, 2007
Bush announces the surge, adding 20,000 U.S. troops to the force in Iraq.

May 1
Bush vetoes a bill that links war funding to a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq.

August 22
Bush warns that U.S. withdrawal from Iraq would recapitulate the U.S withdrawal from Vietnam, the price of which “was paid by millions of innocent citizens.”

October 3
Bush vetoes SCHIP expansion of health insurance for kids. He vetoes a modified version of the bill on January 23, 2008.

December 4
Bush tells reporters that “Iran was dangerous, Iran is dangerous and Iran will be dangerous if they have the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon,” following release of a declassified National Intelligence Estimate stating that Iran had stopped working toward a nuclear weapon in 2003 andwass unlikely to be able to produce enough enriched uranium for a bomb until at least 2010.

March 8, 2008
Bush vetoes HR 2082, a bill that would have expanded Congressional oversight over the intelligence community and banned waterboarding and other torture techniques.

March 20
Overthrowing Saddam Hussein was “the right decision,” Bush says in a speech to mark the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq.

June 18
Bush calls on Congress to end a 27-year ban on drilling for oil in U.S. coastal waters.

July 3
Bush commutes Scooter Libby's jail sentence in the Valerie Plame affair.

July 31
A U.S. district court judge rules that administration advisors are not immune to Congressional subpoenas.

September 20
Bush hails the U.S. economic rescue plan as “unprecedented action” to meet “unprecedented challenges.”


Last Call!

This Sunday, Jewish Currents, The Workmen's Circle and The Shalom Center are cosponsoring "Jews Uniting to End the War and Heal America," a day-long conference featuring a remarkable list of speakers and representation from a broad, liberal Jewish spectrum.

Central Synagogue, 123 East 55th Street (between Park and Lexington Avenues), NYC, 9:30-5:15 (registration pens at 8:30)

Room is limited; preregistration is recommended! Visit http://www.circle.org/jewsuniting/ for information and access to online registration.

If we think of each human life as an entire world, as the Jewish tradition urges us to do, then the war in Iraq is a black hole swallowing galaxies. Yes, the war has moved to the backburner of public consciousness because of all the other ways in which our country is suffering from the radically ideological, and radically incompetent, Bush government. Nevertheless, ending the Iraq war and reckoning with the damages it has caused is a critical foundationstone of the “change” that Barack Obama urged throughout his campaign. Few public voices are saying so, however, and few voices are challenging the "preemptive war" doctrine or other military policies that have held sway since 9/11.

Seventy-eight percent of American Jews voted for Obama, despite all the predictions of Jewish liberal "slippage" and all of the lies and rumor-mongering that tried to provoke that slippage. Now is the time for the Jewish community to follow up its vote by breaking its silence about this war. One key purpose of the conference is to explore the complex reasons for that silence and finally release our community from its grip. We have weighed and largely withheld our words for more than five years; it’s time, now, to lift our voices and direct our resources towards the healing of America.


Worth a Thousand Words

Some wonderful cartoons about the election, from around the country.


Our Rulers Make Their Adjustments

For thirty-six hours, the media people from NPR rightwards have been emphasizing two things about this historic and wonderful election:

First, that Obama's black. The man ran a "post-racial" campaign in which he entirely disdained identity politics — in which he embodied, in fact, our prophet Martin Luther King, Jr.'s 1963 proclamation that white or black, our destinies "are tied together," our freedom is "inextricably bound together," and “we cannot walk alone.” But now he's the first African- American in office — period. I have not heard a single comment from a "rising-of-all- boats" perspective. Interesting . . .

Second, there's been a steady drumbeat (Heritage Foundation, Cato Institute, etc.) about not letting our expectations to get out of hand. That's the new rightwing slogan: after eight years of gleeful export of violence and torture, after eight years of shoveling gold into the coffers of America's richest stratum, we should now patiently sit on our hands. Interesting . . .

Not to be a party-pooper — I'm still dancing in the cow pastures up here in rural New York! — but it's interesting to watch our rulers make their adjustments.


In Glorious Black and White

Torah for November 4th



The new edition of Jewish Currents, November-December, 2008, is off the press, with a "Concealed/ Revealed" column that focuses on "Jerusalem." The next edition of the column will focus on the theme, "Justice, Justice." Write for us, up to 350 words, telling a personal story on this precious theme. The deadine is November 21st. Send to me at lawrencebush@earthlink.net.


My Mother-in-Law

My mother-in-law, an unreconstructed radical, turned 90 years old yesterday and here's what I wrote to her, as a fake telegram.



The Workmen's Circle, The Shalom Center, and Jewish Currents magazine, who together are organizing the November 23rd conference in New York City, “Jews Uniting Against the War and to Heal America,” stand firm in our conviction that amplifying the voice of protest against the war within the American Jewish community, immediately after the presidential election, is of vital, timely importance.

We urge you to register and/or donate now at: https://salsa.democracyinaction.org/o/602/t/7445/shop/custom.jsp?donate_page_KEY=3732

We realize that the potential meltdown of the U.S. economy has shifted the war in Iraq to the back-burner of public concern. We realize, too, that daily violence in Baghdad and beyond has been significantly diminished — which the Bush Administration, candidate John McCain, and conservative media figures have all attributed to “the surge” and claimed as evidence that the U.S. is “winning the war” and will be able to withdraw troops from a stable Iraq within two years.

The reality in Iraq is far more complex, however, and far less “victorious,” than the cartoonish portrait that defenders of the war present. Moreover, the lessons that need to be learned from this war, for America and the world beyond, extend beyond its ultimate military and political outcomes.

Writing in The New York Review of Books (http://www.nybooks.com/articles/21935), Peter W. Galbraith, a former ambassador to Croatia and an expert Middle East analyst, observes this week that as a result of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, “Shiite religious parties that are Iran’s closest allies in the Middle East [now] control Iraq’s central government and the country’s oil-rich south.” Neither President Bush nor Senator McCain, he continues, “has explained how he will transform Iraq’s ruling theocrats into democrats, diminish Iran’s vast influence in Baghdad, or reconcile Kurds and Sunnis to Iraq’s new order. Remarkably, neither the Democrats nor the press has challenged them to do so. . . . It is hard to understand,” Galbraith concludes, “how this can be called a success — or a path to victory.”

Other knowledgeable analysts have made clear that U.S. policy in Iraq is no better guided today by a solid understanding of the complexities of Iraqi culture and history than it was at the start of the war, when U.S. intelligence was terribly flawed and gross ignorance was the rule in Washington. Instead, the war is still being treated by politicians as a black-and-white affair with two options: “surrender” or “victory.”

Beyond this simplistic scenario, moreover, the launching of the war — as the first round of the arrogant “preemptive war” doctrine enunciated by the Bush Administration in 2003 — needs to be investigated, with an eye towards formally renouncing that disruptive doctrine. The unilateralism of American policy, in total disregard for international opinion, law or legitimacy, needs to be amended. The violations of human rights and constitutional law that have accompanied the war must be halted, condemned, and compensated. The easy resort to military violence to enforce U.S. policy and guard U.S. “national interests” needs to be fundamentally challenged. The war has delivered America to an historic crossroads, and our country must reckon with the recent past in order to change direction, or else prepare itself for further tragedy and ineptitude.

“There you go again, Joe, looking back to history.” That’s what Governor Sarah Palin threw, sneering, at Senator Joe Biden during their one and only debate. But the fact is that the Iraqi debacle is not “history” and will not end on January 20th, 2009. American troops will not yet be home, and wounded veterans will not miraculously rise from their wheelchairs. The CIA torture machine will not suddenly break down, and the Muslim world will not suddenly admire us. Schools, roads and bridges will not suddenly become shiny and new, and medical offices will not suddenly open their doors to the uninsured. The dollar will not suddenly rebound in value, the national debt will not loosen its stranglehold on the federal government, and the globalized economy will not suddenly become socially responsible. The United States is bleeding heavily from multiple wounds, and it’s going to take intensive care, not over-the-counter treatment, to restore our country to health.

The election will be, at best, a beginning. The new President will have to be confronted and pressured into showing forceful, progressive leadership. The “Jews Uniting” Conference on November 23rd constitutes a critical new opportunity for the liberal Jewish majority to place ending the war high on our national agenda. We have weighed and largely withheld our words for more than five years; now is the time to lift our voices and direct our resources towards the healing of America.


Crash Test Dummy

I was rear-ended yesterday on the New York State Thruway, which threw my car into the fender of another.

Civilization came to life with cell phones, state troopers, firemen, tow trucks and insurance adjusters. The guy in front of me was a Satmer hasid, who took out his prayerbook while the cop was writing his accident report. I thought: This is a warning from the God of Vengeance because I skipped shul, once again, on the Day of Atonement.

The guy behind was a white working-class guy from Pennsylvania whose car was a total wreck. He apologized for smashing into me, and I thought: Vote for Obama, he'll fix everything.

No one was seriously injured, and I managed to drive home with my muffler kissing the pavement. But I did feel banged up, and told the insurance company that I'd see how I was in the morning.

It's now the morning, and I see in the New York Times that China is allowing peasants to own land for the first time in decades, while the U.S. government is buying shares of ownership in private banks. Gay couples can get married in Connecticut, and the Republican-dominated Alaska legislature is accusing Sarah Palin of ethics violations as governor. Manny Ramirez said nice things about a pitcher who threw at him and John McCain defended Barack Obama against the vitriol of his crazed supporters.

Maybe I'd better report a head injury to the insurance company.


Saturday morning. Susan's in the shower, I'm emptying the dishwasher, Scott Simon's on the radio in the bedroom, the bathroom and the kitchen, and Ralph Nader comes on for an interview.

As soon as he's done, I head to the bathroom, open the door, see Susan in her towel, and we both cry, "I want to vote for him!"



The Lennonzen

Today is not only the Day of Atonement, it's John Lennon's birthday (October 9, 1940). Here's a tribute to Lennon that I wrote in
Jewish Currents in March-April, 2005. I think it bears repeating.

When it came to fame, the Beatles stood apart from all the rest. early in the '60s, Lennon described the group as "more popular than Jesus," and he wasn't half wrong. But John used that top-of-the-world celebrity status to broadcast a wonderfully democratic message. When the Beatles were featured in the first international satellite television broadcast, viewed by many millions of people around the globe, John pooh-poohed celebrity and the cult of the individual by singing:

There's nothing you can do that can't be done
Nothing you can sing that can't be sung. . . .

All you need is love.

And long after the Beatles broke up, he persisted in telling his fans: Never mind idol-worshipping. I'm just a pained, uncertain, evolving human being, like you — and each of us should be valued and given the chance for fulfillment. "Because we all shine on/ like the moon and the stars and the sun . . ." ("Instant Karma," 1970). Because "Whatever gets you thru the night, it's all right" (Whatever Gets You Thru the Night," 1974). Because:

Why in the world are we here?
Surely not to live in pain and fear.

Why in the world are you there

When you're everywhere!

Come and get your share!
"Instant Karma"

And rather than responding to the emptiness of celebrity by turning to mysticism, Lennon took the existentialist plunge: "God is a concept by which we measure our pain," he wrote ("God, 1970). "I don't believe in —" and he listed every idol imaginable, including the Beatles themselves. Yet his skepticism was never despairing, for he could imagine a world "of no heaven . . . no country . . . no possessions . . . no religion . . ."

Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world
"Imagine" (1971)

When John Lennon died (December 8, 1980), I was 29, working as assistant editor of Jewish Currents, and trying to understand my elders, who formed its backbone community. Paul Novick, the 90-year-old editor of the Morgn Freiheit, wrote in that paper about the public outpouring of grief over John's murder. In an amazed and humble tone, Novick confessed to ignorance and wonder about how beloved a figure John had been. I was reminded of another great democratic artist, Sholem Aleichem, who had been similarly mourned in 1916. The "generation gap" was thus bridged by love — and here I am, still mourning for John and working, once again, for Jewish Currents.


My Yom Kippur Ball

On Yom Kippur eve
I walk in the forest
with my little dog
And cut a new path
to the fast-flowing river
Where I admire
the upside-down trees and clouds
And feel
the rightside-up perfection
of my life.

I do not want
to sit indoors
or hear the bleating
ram's horn
The gates
are already wide open
the sky is full of sheep
And there is nothing to regret
as the sun descends
into the weeds.

published in Jewish Currents, September-October 2004
photo by Zoë Griss-Bush

Such a History!

Here's how the Jews have voted since 1916:

1916: Wilson (D), 55% . . . Hughes (R), 45%
1920: Harding (R), 43% . . . Debs (Soc.), 38% . . . Cox (D), 19%
1924: Davis (D), 51% . . . Coolidge (R), 27% . . . LaFolette (Progr.), 22%
1928: Smith (D), 72% . . . Hoover (R), 28%
1932: Roosevelt (D), 82% . . . Hoover (R) 18%
1936: Roosevelt (D), 85% . . . Landon (R), 15%
1940: Roosevelt (D), 90% . . . Wilkie (R), 10%
1944: Roosevelt (D), 90% . . . Dewey (R), 10%
1948: Truman (D), 75% . . . Wallace (Progr.), 15% . . . Dewey (R), 10%
1952: Stevenson (D), 64% . . . Eisenhower (R), 36%
1956: Stevenson (D), 60% . . . Eisenhower (R), 40%
1960: Kennedy (D), 82% . . . Nixon (R), 18%
1964: Johnson (D), 90% . . . Goldwater (R), 10%
1968: Humphrey (D), 81% . . . Nixon (R), 17% . . . Wallace (I), 2%
1972: McGovern (D), 65% . . . Nixon (R), 35%
1976: Carter (D), 71% . . . Ford (R), 27% . . . McCarthy (I), 2%
1980: Carter (D), 45% . . . Reagan (R), 39% . . . Anderson (I), 14%
1984: Mondale (D), 67% . . . Reagan (R), 31% . . . Others, 2%
1988: Dukakis (D), 64% . . . Bush (R), 35% . . . Others, 1%
1992: Clinton (D), 80% . . . Bush (R), 11% . . . Perot (I), 9%
1996: Clinton (D), 78% . . . Dole (R), 16%) . . . Perot (I), 3%
2000: Gore (D), 79% . . . Bush (R), 19% . . . Nader (Green), 1%
2004: Kerry (D), 76% . . . Bush (R), 24%


Bums and Babes

Here's a link to Ahmadinejad's speech at the United Nations yesterday. In view of my last few of posts, it's mandated that we raise alarms about the man's anti-Semitism — even if we don't care to do it in the company of Sarah Palin: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rxSN-rIazjo

And then there's Israel's attempt to change its image. As I wrote in my "Viewpoint" piece in the current Jewish Currents, "Israel has done little to cultivate its state-to-state relationships, except through arms sales. . . . The model that Iran presents — armed, isolated, and indifferent to hostile world opinion — needs to be contained, not emulated, by Israel."

So here we go. Someone in the PR department must be reading Jewish Currents. They've given us babes instead of bombs. Ahad Ha'am (not to mention Golda Meir) must be spinning in the grave.