Monday, April 29, 2013

For All The Teachers

A few weeks ago, Handy Andler and I attended a fundraiser to benefit my machatunim’s* machatenister** who has cancer. Now, I could go off on telling you how seriously broken having to hold a benefit to pay bills for treatment is, but I won’t. I will simply report that it looked like the entire town of Hudson, Wisconsin and then some showed up to support the family. There was table after table of stuff on which one could  “bid” with a prepaid raffle ticket, and some items that were really silent auction items. Handy bid on and won two baking lessons with my machutin***, Marlin, and I am pleased to say I will be taking the lessons alongside Handy. Marlin is state-fair-blue-ribbon-winning baker dude, so this is seriously exciting stuff.

After so much excitement, not to mention extremely dense crowds, Handy and decided to take stroll down Hudson’s picturesque Second Street before we headed back across the Saint Croix River.

We wandered into a place called SEASONS on St. Croix. Gallery and studio combined, Seasons showcased a good number of local artists. There was the usual array of paintings and pottery, but in one corner stood a sculpture that just reached out grabbed me by the collar. It was bright, it was colorful, it was almost angelic….but not quite. More like the goddess Shiva, with lots of arms….each one attached to a child.

My first thought was that it reminded me of Glowy Lowy, Daver’s kindergarten teacher. Kids hanging off her, a seeming multitude of arms…and the hair. Glowy just had to see this because this is exactly how I pictured her.  I asked the gallery owner if she had card with the image and she said she didn’t. I asked permission to photograph the sculpture, assuring her I would not publish the photo without permission from the artist. She said, “Okay.” As Handy lined up the shot, it dawned on me that shot may not be the right word.

This was no ordinary teacher….this teacher was protecting her children. As I started to ask the question, the gallery lady said, “This is a kindergarten teacher….a Sandy Hook kindergarten teacher. " She told me the name of the artist: Barb Bend.

The Kindergarten Teacher by Barb Bend
I ended up trading emails with Ms. Bend, and she provided the high contrast picture you see here. And I got to meet her at the American Crafts Council show in St. Paul. She’s a lovely woman, passionate about her art…which is just wonderful…and passionate about that sculpture. I could not find the words to tell her how greatly moved I was by The Kindergarten Teacher ...who was sitting near the center of her booth, as magnificent as I remembered. I shook her hand and thanked her. She had, in truth, moved my world. 

When I looked at the sculpture that second time, it was so much more obvious: the hair was really a halo; the arms were holding the children back. The children trust her to protect them from the lunatic that had invaded their sacred space: a school, a house of learning, a growing place, a room where they sang and played and dared to adventure. The parents of Sandy Hook sent their children off to school that morning, fully believing that they were sending them someplace where they would be safe. The Kindergarten Teacher didn't just speak to me....she screamed bloody murder at all of us with her serene face and tiny smile. She is Every-Teacher. 

So this blog is dedicated to all the teachers who stand in front of a class, and who would stand in front of their kids if, G-d forbid, it came to that. We don’t treat our teachers very well. We tend to pay them poorly. We expect them to kit out their classrooms on their own dime. We allow class-sizes so large that no one teacher can give each child the time needed to nurture. We expect them to be special ed teachers, ESL teachers, behavioral psychologists, and test-preppers for standardized exams… all at the same time. We know this. They know this, yet there are nutty people everywhere who opt for this profession. They know, going in, they will face parents who don’t understand they need to partner, not undermine, their kids’ teachers. They know, going in, garbage men make more and work shorter hours. They know, going in, that this is a grinding, difficult job yet some inexplicable mental fortitude calls them to march into classrooms day after day fully believing that they can, they will, they must make a difference.  

As the school year comes to a close, take a moment to drop  a note to your kids' teachers if you are a school-parent. Thank them for not just taking them off your hands for a while, but for educating them. These folks are your partners. They are also are capable of being  that which stands between your kids and bodily harm. 

The Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week
 Buy  bunch of gift cards at Office Max, Target, or wherever you  buy school supplies...
then give them to your kids' teachers. 
Tell them you want to help kit out their classroom for the next school year.

Bonus Tip:  Yiddish Language Lesson
No other language has specific words for the relationship 
between the parents of a bride and groom.
*Machatunim - my son's in-laws; my daughter-in-law's parents are my machatunim
**Machatenister - my daughter-in-law's mother
***Machutin - my daughter-in-law's father
ergo Machatunim's Machatenister - the mother of my daughter-in-law's brother's wife. 

Monday, April 22, 2013

In The Eye Of The Beholder

Meanwhile, back at the Capitol, the same morons who haven't quite grokked the idea that over 90% country is calling for sensible gun legislation starting with background checks,  are now calling for the white hat bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, to be declared an enemy combatant. What is wrong with those people? I was operating under the impression that we all were agreed that US citizens were accorded the full protection/weight of the law. As such, even though he is not native born, Dzhokhar is an American citizen. That makes a difference. You can't modify the law because you don't like someone's religion or politics or even their native country. The surviving brother is an American and must be treated accordingly.

Now, I'm gonna guess the Tsarnaev boys got their pressure cooker collection from some discount home store...but where did they get their guns? According to police reports, they were packing another pressure-cooker bomb, seven IEDs, an M4 carbine, two handguns, and a BB gun. The guys lived in Cambridge where ownership laws are very strict, and neither guy seems to have had the local permits for gun ownership. So who sold them the guns, and were the sales legal? Would background checks have slowed them down? Perhaps a little. Perhaps it would’ve  been harder to get the weapons and the magazines. Perhaps. Perhaps. Perhaps. But it would have been a valid hurdle.

There is not much common ground between the Tsarnaev brothers and Adam Lanza. They are apples and oranges that ended up as part of a heinous. spoilt, fruit salad. Still, guns were in the hands of thems who should never have had them in the first place. How do we stop that?

The truth is that you probably can’t. Lunatics are going to get weapons, criminals are going to get weapons, and all a background check can do is to slow the process. If we’re really lucky, the process will alert some proper authority that a nut-ball is trying to get guns and there can be a timely intervention. 

But at the end of the day, We, the People, are Americans who are governed by American laws set in place by our duly elected legislative bodies. If you are an American, then you are equal before the law with every other American regardless of place of birth, faith, race, gender, sexual orientation, or the color of your eyebrows. 

Dzhokhar will be tried in an American court of law, not a military tribunal, not a kangaroo court, and not the court of public opinion. He is entitled to a defense lawyer and the best possible defense. We cannot appear to bypass our own judicial system because these two were Muslim. We cannot permit any appearance of impropriety in regard to his trial. This is our chance to demonstrate how American justice works….transparently, openly, and with great deliberation.

But if you have your heart set on finding enemy combatants, I suggest you try Washington, DC. You will find lots of them wandering the halls of congress masquerading as concerned legislators when, in fact, they are aiding and abetting the overthrow of America as We, the People, know it. As I commented in Andrew Rosenthal’s editorial blog, Taking Note: What’s the Difference Between McVeigh and Tsarnaev?, in today’s NY Times:

I think Lindsey Graham should be arrested and tried as an enemy combatant. He has done everything in his power to subvert the law in favor of arms dealers who supply criminals and would-be terrorists. He has steadfastly refused to support background checks for gun purchasers at the same time he has voted in favor of allowing unlimited shot ammo magazines and a national conceal and carry reciprocity bill.
How can you not suspect him of nefarious activity when his very platform sets up America to be attacked by anyone with a credit card and an internet connection.
Clearly, he is _encouraging_ acts of terrorism by refusing to enact sensible gun laws.
If one hates Americans and works to further open the door to terrorists and criminals, one might think that would meet anyone's criteria for enemy combatant....including his own.

For the record, I threw the comment over the wall at 3:51 PM (CST) and it is the #1 reader pick comment. I think I struck a chord with this one. 

Why doesn't that surprise me?

 [Correction in paragraph one - I originally stated both were citizens. That is incorrect. Tamerlan Tsarnev was legal resident alien whose application for citizenship was still pending at the time of the bombing.] 

Wifely Person's Tip o' the Week

The best thing about snow in April is that you know it can't last.....

can it?

April 22, 2013
Enough, already.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Patriot Day ~ Marathon Day 2013

My snit with Walgreens, scheduled for today’s blog, seems trivial in light of this afternoon’s events. All eyes are on Boston and will remain cast in that direction until we have some semblance of an answer as to why someone would want to bomb an international athletic event …and of course, who did this most evil deed. Lots of pundits, bloggers, and columnists will be putting forth all manner of theories as police and FBI undertake the massive investigation into physical evidence in hopes of finding that one shred, that one sliver from which the correct deduction can be made. In the meanwhile, we will hear blame cast in all directions. Republicans will blame immigrants and Democrats, the Dems will blame the GOP and the gun lobby. Muslims will be experience new forms of social discrimination, and anyone with an Islamic sounding name will be searched a little more thoroughly or scanned, or wanded, or whatever. None of that rhetoric nor any of that behavior will increase the security of this nation. In fact, it will undermine it.

I will not speculate on why or who. I will only say that the world is watching how we react. Will we step up police patrols so we, for a while, resemble a police state? Will cities begin installing even more cameras on street lights? Or will we just go on with our daily business, shaking our collective American head, wondering why anyone would want to bomb the country everyone else wants to live in?

The reality is that we are not the first nation to feel the blasts of IEDs on our own streets. Unlike the dramatic and surreal attack on the World Trade Center, most bombs are at ground level, spewing shrapnel at leg height where it can do the most damage to the greatest number of people. Those  bombs were set off at a time when a large number of runners were coming in, when the most people would be in the vicinity of the bomb…when the most people would be hurt. This is deliberate. But it’s also deliberate in markets in Kandahar, the streets of Baghdad, the tubes of London, and the restaurants in Tel Aviv. People are fragile and when bombs explode where people congregate, they die. And are maimed. And destroyed even if they live. People who set off bombs in public spaces want all that and more. They want to change the way people live. They want you to be afraid.

But life in all those place, as it will in Boston, goes on. People will ultimately go about their business, perhaps being a bit more cautious in crowds, but go on they will. Some people will remember a particular bombing because it touched something close to home, or they will say, “Oh, yeah, I remember that,” in an offhand way. They will remember it happened, but not  when, not the year, or the date, maybe the season…but not much else. We forget the details lest we are paralyzed by overwhelming terror.

There are, however, questions to be asked. How does a population survive constant IED attacks? What do you tell the children? What do you change about your routine…if anything at all? How do you internalize the idea that your city may be the next one to be bombed?

Talk to an Israeli. Any Israeli…Jew, Arab, Christian, Druze, Baha’i… can speak to what it means to live in a Western society whose public spaces are constantly under attack. They can tell you firsthand about the blood and body parts. And they can tell you how they get through it.

There are no conclusions to be drawn at this moment. We must wait for the investigation to progress. What we must not do is blame. We must not accuse. We must not sow more distrust and hatred. If we do any of those things, the bombers win. They have succeeded. They have created terror.

Wifely Person’s Tip o’the Week
If you weren’t there, you don’t know.
Let those who were, talk and let yourself listen. 

Monday, April 8, 2013

We Are Not Victims

Monday, April 8th, 2013 ~ 28th day of Nissan, 5773
70th Anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

Today is Yom Ha’Shoah…the Day of Holocaust Remembrance. This is not a happy kind of holiday, or even an official one on the Jewish calendar since it’s post-Biblical, but it’s a national holiday in Israel and Jews around the world mark it with a variety of observances.

Last night, at sundown, flags were lowered to half-staff. In Warsaw Square at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial, 6 survivors light 6 torches to represent the 6 million. The president and prime minister both made speeches.

At precisely 10:00 AM, the sirens blare…and all of Israel stops. Cars stop on the streets and highways. Trains stop. People stop. Commerce stops. People stop what they are doing. They stand at attention, perfectly still. For two minutes. The entire country stops. No matter where you are or what you are doing, you stop. Don’t believe it really happens? Watch this:  Yom Ha'Shoah - 2011

At the same time all Israel is stopping to remember, belligerence continues on the other side of the world. In North Korea, little Kim Jong-un continues to rattle his saber at South Korea and the West. He has closed the border to the workers who work in a manufacturing site shared with the South. He has told all other nations to remove their embassy and consulate staffs because he cannot guarantee their safety in a time of war. He has pointed missiles at South Korea, Japan, and the US …and threatens us all with the delivery of nuclear devices.

Real life video game
People are concerned and rightfully so. As I speculated a couple of weeks ago, this is a kid jerking the world’s chain…but with intent. He does need foreign aid and he does need a Marshall-type plan. To get it, he cannot afford to lose face, so what would be wrong with  blackmailing the West? So far, it's is working. Warships are in the area, everyone’s on high alert waiting for him to make the next move. He is the star of the show...exactly where he wants to be.

There has been significant troop movement and positioning, including the arrival of US naval vessels on the South Korean Coast. Even China, North Korea's only significant ally, is taking a strong position, apparently telling Kim that this is not acceptable behavior… even for a child.  As for the rest of us, we are left to speculate what will happen should a missile be fired in the direction of any of the allies.

Wanna know what won’t happen? No one will tell the Unites States to stand down and do nothing. No one will to criticize the US Navy's decision to move warships into the East China Sea vicinity. And no one will tell the US not to respond to a missile attack (G-d forbid!) whether or not it reaches US territory.

So why is it okay to tell Israel not to respond to a missile attack?

I was born after the Holocaust and after the birth of the modern State of Israel. I don’t know a world without Jews living on kibbutzim and moshavim, in Tel Aviv, Haifa, Herzlia, Eilat, and Jerusalem. When I was in Israel in 1969, I went to the Wall and to Yad Vashem, to the Golan and even deep into Sinai. At every turn, our communal history confronted me. Rachel’s Tomb, Machpelah, David’s Tomb, the graves of Isaac Luria (d. 1530) and Yosef Karo (d.1575) in Tzfat. Clearly, we’ve been here for the whole time and we’re not going away.

And just as South Korea, Japan, and even the US have the right and the duty to protect their citizens, Israel is not exempt from that responsibility.

Once upon a time, no one thought anyone had the responsibility to protect Jews when they were attacked. History is full of examples. The Holocaust changed that. We were not defeated. We did not all die in the ovens. We did not emerge a defeated  people.  We emerged victorious in our very survival. A scant few days after the liberation, Rabbi Herschel Schacter (z”l), a chaplain in the US Army, held Shabbat services for the prisoners of Buchenwald. These people are emaciated, starving, perhaps a little disbelieving…but they are celebrating Shabbat with their liberators as free people.

For those of you who notice these things, the date moves on the English calendar, but not on the Jewish one. Yom Ha'Shoah is always on 28th day of Nissan, the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising...the day the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto decided they were not going to be victims.
We will remember the ones who survived because they were far more than just our witnesses; they are our mothers and father, grandmothers and grandfathers, our teachers, our rabbis, our mentors, our friends. We saw their scars and memorized their numbers. And we understood that because of them, we are stronger, more resilient, and incredibly tough.

Never again is not a slogan. It's a way of life.