Monday, July 27, 2015

Poisoning the Well

My very first blog entry was about Tisha b'Av, Israel, and me. You can go back and read it if you want, but it's pretty straight forward. I was angry. 

Five years later, I have moved away from angry. Now, I am disgusted, disappointed, and incensed by the State of Israel. Yeah, I know we were all fed the fantasy line when we were growing up, but there was an element of truth in the tales. People who had nothing left came back to the land, rented, purchased, gardened, farmed, and ultimately built stuff on what had been little more than rocky nothings. The Ottomans were more than happy to have productive, tax paying tenants on the land. And in that beginning, the modern State of Israel took root. It was supposed to be the homeland to which all Jews could return. It was supposed to a place shared by modern socialists and ultra-Orthodox alike. It was supposed to be a modern state in the modern world, with hospitals, schools, towns, farms, industry, and civil rights for all the residents. It was supposed to be an example of living together and thriving together. Jews, Arabs, Christians, Baha'i, Druse, everyone working together for a living, breathing State of Israel. And for a little while, it was almost like it was happening. 

I'm not talking about the wars. I'm not talking about Gaza, Palestine, the Territories, the Golan, or stuff like that. I'm talking about what we do to ourselves. 

From inside Israel, the right wing rabbinate has become the Religious Wrong, busy destroying the diaspora with deliberate, pointed slices into our very existence.  To them, anyone outside their sphere is not a Jew. The various rabbis pretty much tell non-Orthodox Jews to donate their US dollars to obscure kollels and yeshivas in Israel, but don't try to live here because you're not Jewish enough for us. Sounds more like the Malfoys and the Death Eaters than a welcoming committee. We, the Jews of the diaspora, are nothing more than mudbloods to them. It's offensive in the Harry Potter books and it's offensive in the real world. 

Chief rabbis of Jerusalem, Rabbi Shlomo Amar and Rabbi Arye Stern .
 (photo credit:MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The rabbinate holds lock and key on all Jewish life cycle events in Israel...which is why some Israelis cannot be married there....they go elsewhere for a civil ceremony. It's been estimated approximately 30% of Israelis cannot provide the sufficient documentation to prove they are Jews. And if you have a Jew-by-Choice in your lineage, forget it. Odds are even if the conversion was stringently Orthodox, the Haredi will declare your rabbi a heretic and make you re-convert. And then, you have to follow their rules, not the rules of whatever form of Judaism you practice. Not sure about how bad this is? Read Jessica Fishman's story: She Doesn't Live Here Anymore (May 4, 2010.)  This story is not abstract to me; this is the daughter of friends, someone my kids grew up with. And she is not alone in this horror. 

Last May, the mayor of Rehovot banned the b'nai mitvza of kids with disabilities, an annual event for these kids, because it was taking place in a Masorti (Conservative movement) synagogue, effectively stating that a non-Orthodox synagogue is not a valid house of Jewish prayer. Is he telling us we're not Jews....or just not Jewish enough for him? 

And let's not even talk about what happens in Jerusalem. The Women of the Wall are victimized, abused, spat upon, and degraded not just by the ultra-Orthodox, but  by the Wall Police...the ones who are supposed to be making sure everyone has access to the Western Wall. Women reading Torah????? G-d forbid!!!!! The world will end this minute!

And you thought the Taliban was limited to Islam?

But it's what happened on Tisha b'Av, in the town of Modi'im, this year that makes my blood run cold. It made me rethink any fantasy hopes I harbored that Israel may come around to plural Judaism. It's not merely not happening; it's getting worse. 

Masorti shul Yedid Nefesh in Modi'im
While the Conservative and Reform Jews of Modi'im, a city that has, in the past, welcomed a diverse population of Jewish practices, were at prayer on Saturday night, remembering the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem, someone came to their synagogue and tied the doors shut. Potted plants and other obstacles were then put in front of the doors so if the ropes broke, the people would fall as they exited the building. 

To some, this might seem to be a small thing, but to me, it is huge. It's what they did to Jews before torching the shuls with everyone inside. This is hate. This is the face of hate. Whoever did this knew the message being sent. And it was intentional. This was the most egregious act of terrorism because of when it was done.

If, as the sages tell, us the Second Temple was destroyed because of baseless hatred why would any of the Haredi believe that there will ever be a Third Temple? They can't even agree amongst themselves what is halacha (law) and what is minhag (custom.) The chief rabbis hurl epithets at each others' doctrines and dogma, and then have the unmitigated gall to sit on the ground to bemoan the fate of the Jewish people on Tisha b'Av when they themselves set the textbook example for evil acts and evil tongue.

And Bibi Netanyahu allows the Religious Wrong to run his government. With their iron grip on Jewish life and law,  they are showing themselves to be no better, if not worse than the mullahs of Iran or Saudi Arabia. Sure, they may not behead people, or lop off limbs, but they do something far worse: they deny Jews the right to live as Jews. 

I am pro-Israel. I will always be pro-Israel. I will always keep the dream that someday I might live there. But for the moment, it is nothing but a dream. I could not live in a place where women are second class citizens even when they serve in the army and hold down every possible job. I could not live in the place that would consider me a second class citizen because I am a Masorti Jew. 

And most importantly, I could not live in a place where my children and my granddaughter might not be even be considered Jews because members of my family are proudly Jews-by-Choice. The Religious Wrong would also turn away Tzipporah, Naomi, and Ruth. They would deny them their place in our history if those remarkable ladies were here today. 

That's not my Judaism. That's not how I was taught to be a Jew. And that is not how I taught my children to be Jews. And that sure is hell not going to be how I teach my granddaughter to be a Jew. 

Israel will stand or fall on its own merit, but the Religious Wrong are poisoning our own well. 

The Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week
Donate your time, your effort, and your money to causes t
that do what you believe they should do. 

Monday, July 20, 2015


For those of you who keep count of this sort of thing, yesterday (July 19th) was the 5th anniversary of The Wifely Person Speaks. In five years, I’ve not missed a week…well, there were a couple of abbreviated episodes, but that’s still more than 260 of these things that I’ve done….and that many of you have actually read.

In honor of 5 diligent years in the blogosphere, I’ve opted to opine rather bluntly about a subject that is beginning to make me seethe.


I am sick to death of the ridiculous rhetoric coming out of what should be a profoundly serious subject. I am sick to death of people who heckle and interrupt anyone who is trying to talk about lives that matter. I am sick to death of people shouting with nary a constructive word in sight. And I am sick to death of this being a one-group issue.


Wounded Knee - 1890
If anyone should be first in line to take on the egregiously bad behavior of the white man, it must be the native population of this nation. Not only were ALL their lands stolen, they were mass slaughtered again and again and again. When they tried to defend themselves, the women and children were slaughtered. They were herded onto reservations, given smallpox-infested blankets, and treated far worse than the slave population. Their religions, their languages, and the essences of their cultural history were stripped from them and made outlaw. The white man then went on to utterly destroy their food sources with over-hunting and total disrespect for the land the native population didn’t just cherish, but protected and defended. Native Americans of all tribes were sent to die off in remote, hostile portions of this country. Most have not come back.

Red Lake Reservation - MinnPost photo by Steve Date
There has yet to be an emancipation proclamation for those indigenous people still inhabiting “the res.” You wanna talk about second class citizens?  In 1675, the Indian Imprisonment Act was passed making any Native American found within the city limits of Boston subject to incarceration. That law was repealed by then Governor Mitt Romney in 2005. TWO THOUSAND AND FIVE, folks. That means for 330 years it was against the law for a Native American to be in the city of Boston.

[UPDATE: SELLING OFF APACHE HOLY LAND: For those of you who commented about the difference between African Americans and Native Americans, this just happened. This week. Right now. For the indigenous people of the North American continent, the oppression has not stopped. Thought I'd mention that.]

Egregious white behavior did not stop after slavery. Oh, we have whole history books on how the white population of this country treated the Asian immigrants. It wasn’t good enough to import them to work on the railroad in conditions that echoed slavery on the plantation. The whites of this county went one better: the government rounded up most of the Japanese Americans during World War II and stuck them in concentration camps. 62% of those incarcerated were American citizens, their only crime being of Japanese ancestry.

This is nothing new. Whites have also behaved badly towards whites: No Jews or dogs permitted was not an uncommon sign around certain parts of America. There were also NINA signs in Boston: No Irish need apply.

The Draft Riots - 1863
Police brutality was not limited to African Americans. 152 years ago last week, President Lincoln diverted troops right after the Battle at Gettysburg to New York to quell the Draft Riots. The official death toll was 119, but that may or may not be accurate. Most of the rioters were Irish protesting wealthy men being able to hire working class men to stand in for them in the army. There were lots of free black men in the crowd as well.

The history is there. Most people know this, and understand that the under classes are getting a raw deal. But it is not limited to African Americans even today. Yes, we have to acknowledge White Privilege, but in recognizing this issue we take a baby step to changing it. Yelling at people, tossing blame around like confetti, shouting slogans, and interrupting debates and discourse is not getting this fixed. If anything, it’s making white America think that the rest of the country prefers playing the victim to figuring out how to fix what is wrong.

So everyone needs to shut up and sit down. We, the People, in order to form a more perfect union, had better start by getting everyone to the table. Kinda like Iran. You don’t have to like ‘em, trust ‘em, or have ‘em over to dinner, but the conversation has to start someplace.

We watch out for each other. ALL OF EACH OTHER. The faster we can convince cops we are ALL watching, the faster we can start to get police brutality reined in. The faster we begin listening instead or talking/shouting over each other, the faster we are going to make some progress. We need to talk about WHAT to do that will change the status quo. Shouting is not the answer. It doesn't even ask the right question.

There is no easy fix, no shortcut. But somewhere someone has to say, “Okay, we get the message. Now let’s figure out what to do first.”

Black lives matter. Native American lives matter. 
Asian lives matter. White lives matter. 
All lives matter

Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week
If someone invites you to visit their vine hut, go.
Everyone could use a few lovely minutes in fairy land.

Minneapolis watercolor artist Anita White 
in her vine hut. 
It was heaven

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Real Family Values

My big brother is coming tomorrow (probably today when you're reading this.) I am really looking forward to seeing him. The folks have had a bit of a rough start here in Minnesota, and this visit will be great medicine for them. And for me. I need face time with my partner in care-taking. 

My bro and I are vastly different people, and we have led completely different lives. My guys have always adored their uncle, and in truth, I love my brother; I just didn't know him very well. I know him much better now.

When Ziggy had the poor form to die, my bro decided something needed to be done about "us," and he instituted the weekly call. They were kinda weird at first; I think we were both trying to get to know each other after 50+ years. Slowly, we found common interests, a middle ground. It’s just not Sunday if I don’t talk to my Big Bro. 

We were of one mind when we decided that the folks could no longer be on their own. We talked about a number of options, we each did some looking around, but it was pretty clear the best thing was to bring them to Minnesota. So we did. And if anyone had told me that I would find the best possible partner for making this happen in my very own big brother, I woulda laughed. Turns out, our own family values were at the center of the decision making process…even if we did not realize it.

See, here's the thing: lots of people talk about family values. They talk about two-parent households, what kind of parents make up two-parent households. They talk about what other people do in their own bedrooms as if it's anyone else's business. They talk about lots of stuff that they think comprise family values, when the truth is, they just don't get it.

I'm sick to death of the GOP Clown Cavalcade talking about families as if they exist in a vacuum, sustainable by wishes and fantasy. They never talk about the work it takes to keep a family up and running. Jeb! had the unmitigated gall to suggest lower-income people had to work longer hours to earn more money. How about paying them a living wage that would allow them to have one job AND spend time with their families?

Family values are when a family decides how a family is going to be put together. Family values begin with families loving each other. Please notice I said loving....not liking, they are not the same thing, and you don't always like everyone in the clan even when you love 'em. Family values are when the family pulls together when faced with a crisis and members of the family view themselves as one cohesive unit.

Family values are not based on gender, sexual orientation, dogma, or totalitarianism. Family values do not shun, discard, or diminish family members. Family values are not exclusionary. 

The Clown Cavalcade is only here to tell you who to hate and how to hate them. They are telling you who to exclude and who to revile. They talk about loving their neighbor, but most of the time they are busy trying to make sure their neighbor has no health insurance. They talk about wanting small government, but I think that means small enough to have a fiber-optic camera poking out of the light fixture in your bedroom. Their version of family values may have more to do with family jewels, and not all of those are in the safe deposit box in the vault.

If these guys want to talk about family values, how about respecting the family unit, not dictating who can and cannot be a member of your family. They need to be talking about how families can function without fear of economic disaster. They need to grok the reality that having kids is expensive, and forcing families to have more of them isn't a value, it's a death sentence. 

What makes family values possible is the sense of safety when the family unit pulls together. 

In the end, it really is about safety. 

When Ziggy was dying, I was thankful that we seemed to have a pretty solid family safety net. As the weeks and years went by, the values represented by that safety net became a touchstone for FIL. He saw a family care about each other, even him. He didn't understand it, but he came to appreciate that the system worked, and that it included him despite his skepticism. Our family values in bringing my folks here is more than the right thing to do; it's the only thing to do. To leave the folks in Florida would have been to abandon them even with all the other family and friends there. Our family values would not permit that. It’s not just me, my brother, and my sister-in-law who are pulling this all together, the two grandsons….Senior and his significant other and Junior and his wife….have played crucial roles in making this happen. Their understanding of what constitutes a family. And when we all look at Little Miss, we know why.

So the next time some GOP jerk starts talking about family values, see if you can ask what his/hers are. Does he care for aged parents? Ask the spouse and kids,  "is the candidate kind and loving, or aloof and distant?" And ask the candidate, "Do you believe families have the right to self-determination, or should the government decide how many kids you should have?"

In the meantime, figure out what you think your family values are. You might be surprised at what you think is important. 

We are one very lucky family. Our family values work for us. And I am damn glad they do.

The Wifely Person's Tip o'the Day 
NFF: Not For Family
when a dish on the table is more popular than anticipated...
and we're running low. 
NFF never has to be said. A family just knows. 

Monday, July 6, 2015

We Are What We Wave

I really love July 4th. It happens to be my favorite American holiday for lots of reasons. It's summer, it's hot, there's ice cream, there's lemonade, there's immolated chicken, there's watermelon and blueberry cobbler, there are parades with marching bands, there are sparklers, and to top it all off, there are fireworks. Bang, boom, crash right in your ears and a dazzlement in the sky. I love it all.

One of the things I adore about July 4th is bunting. I love when the fire trucks in the parade have red, white and blue bunting. I love when people put red, white, and blue bunting on their porches. I love little kids waving flags. I love the myth and the magic that made America America on July 4th, 1776. The ol' red, white, and blue just sets a very patriotic tone and I love it. It says AMERICA! with all the swags you can hang. It's just lovely.

But I didn't like seeing a Confederate flag hanging off the back of a Minnesota fire truck in Albert Lea. It made all the media outlets and the firefighter who hung it was suspended, but he managed to be interviewed by every cub reporter within a zillion mile radius, and he easily validated the original idea that he is a moron. 
"I'm sick of the politically correctness, because they are trying to change too much in the United States...Me raising that flag had nothing to do with slavery. It had nothing to do with disrespect towards our vets. It was more of a statement against the PC."                                                   Brian Nielsen, Heartland Fire Department 
The PC? Is that something akin to the VC? (I'm not sure I want to hear the answer.) There is no need to comment further on this. Mr. Nielsen does a fine job of giving credence to the idea that schools are failing to educate children, because it's pretty clear he is an ignoramus.  

What really surprised me, however, was my own visceral reaction to seeing the Confederate flag snapping happily in Minnesota. Visceral is a good word here. It was pure gut reaction and it wasn't a good one. 

That's kinda the problem with flags. They are the ultimate symbol. Flying them, waving them, even burning them. When you present a flag, you are making a HUGE statement. And flags are designed to be distinctive, to evoke a feeling. The colors have meaning, the symbols have meaning. There is no part of a flag that is gratis. 

Union Jack...........Stars and Stripe..............Tricolor
Union Jack: dating from 1606, the flag represents the union of England and Scotland - thflag of England (a red cross on a white background, known as St George's Cross), and the flag of Scotland (a white saltire on a blue background, known as St Andrew's Cross), would be joined together. (Wikipedia)
Stars and Stripes: Red means hardiness and valor, white means purity and innocence, blue means vigilance, perseverance, and justice (originally adopted in 1777 and altered as states - stars- were added)  
The Tricolor: a simple: blue for liberté, white for égalité, and red for fraternité. The colors also represent the three estates of French society... blue of the bourgeoisie, white for the clergy, and red for the nobility. Adopted in 1794 during the Revolution.
Other flags say other things, and not all are happy associations. When is a flag not okay to fly? Can a flag whipping in the wind send such a powerfully wrong message that flying it is not okay?

Okay, let's go a step further. What about this group. One of these we Americans would be fine with. But as a group? Is there a message that emerges when viewed in a line?

Jolly Roger c. 1710...........MIA-POW flag c. 1982.................ISIS c. 2010.
The first was a flag designed to terrify other ships at sea. Okay, it's become a bit of a joke, but the Jolly Roger didn't start out that way in the 18th century.

The middle is a flag that happens to hang in my neighborhood, a constant reminder that a family member never came home from Vietnam. And the third? Instant media has made sure we don't need a translation to know this is a flag of hate and violence. 

The plain black banner was flown by Muhammad in Islamic tradition, but it is also attributed to Abu Muslim in his uprising leading to the Abbasid Revolution in 747 C.E. and and the establishment of the Abbasid Caliphate. The text above the circle says, There is no god but God, Muhammad is the messenger of God. The center circle is supposed to be a seal which says Muhammad is the Messenger of God. If the black banner is traditional in Islamic countries, it is not here and sends a very different visual message, one which may more accurately portray the intent of the flag....which is to strike fear into the hearts of its enemies. 

What about this set? 


The Union Jack had been the flag of the Motherland as well as the Colonies. We rebelled and got the Stars and Stripes, then the South rebelled and suddenly, there was the Confederate battle flag...a bit of an amalgam of the two. When was the last time you saw someone fly the Union Jack in protest of independence on July 4th? If you saw the Union Jack flying on a fire truck,  would there be some kind of message about loyalty...divided or otherwise? 

Now, hop across the pond to the Mediterranean, and get a load of this trio:

                   Greek flag.......Golden Party flag...Golden Party Rally Banner

Does number 3 look familiar? You bet your sweet bippy it does:

If you are thinking for one Athenian minute that the flag for the Gold Dawn Party isn't a throw back to some other European event, guess again. Their rhetoric is equally familiar. Racist and xenophobic, they make no secret that they are going after the few remaining Jews of Greece. Their campaign slogan, "So we can rid this land of filth." 

Folks, I wrote about London last week. This week, it's Greece. Who knows where it will be next week. We just celebrated July 4th with renewed vigor because the Supreme Court ruled in favor of equal rights for the LGBT community. Not everyone on the face of this planet gets equal rights. Not in Greece, not Pakistan, not in France, not in China, not in Nigeria, not in Saudi Arabia, not in Israel, not in a lot of places.  

If We, the People truly believe in equal rights and equal justice, then we had better believe in flying flags that represent those ideas and ideals. 

Truth is, we are what we wave. 

Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week
Listen to Bernie Sanders.
You don't have to agree with him, but you have to admit 
he's changing the conversation.
This is not a bad thing.