Sunday, September 27, 2015

A Fish, A Pope, A Clown and an Etrog.

The other night, I got to read a bedtime story to Little Miss. Junior Son suggested THE RAINBOW FISH, adding, "It's a story about how to buy friends." I was intrigued.

Beautifully illustrated, it's about a fish who has sparkly rainbow scales but doesn't seem to interact with the other fish at all. One day, a little blue fish asks he if can have a scale. Rainbow Fish declines. The upset blue fish tells all other fish, and soon they are shunning Rainbow Fish. Rainbow Fish goes to the local wise elder for advice, and the octopus tells him if he wants to play with the other fish, he should give them his scales. The little blue fish comes back, and Rainbow Fish starts handing out scales....until he has only one scale left. And then....he gets to swim with his new "friends."  

Surely, Marcus Pfister thought he was writing about learning to share. I am sure he meant well, judging by how many people love this book. But I could not get this story outta my head. There was something so wrong about it that I went on-line and found Ernest Borgnine reading the book aloud on StorylineOnline. I followed along using closed caption, so I knew I was getting the text right. 

There are a bunch of odd messages. Rainbow Fish has to go to a cave out in the middle of nowhere to get advice. And then the advice he's given is to give away his colors so that others would like him. The octopus doesn't mention that Rainbow Fish's aloof behavior might be the root cause. Instead he tells him, in essence, to give up his natural appearance in order to fit in. Appearance is everything, and who you are is completely irrelevant. 

This is not a book about sharing. No one else shares anything in this story. In fact, it vaguely reminded me of the stories about inner city kids held up for their name-brand sneakers and team warm-up jackets. No one ever accused the robber-bullies of being in it to teach a moral lesson. Maybe this is Kiddie Maoist Theory: everyone should look the same, have the same, individuals need not apply. Nah. There was no re-education camp near the octopus cave. This is not a message I want to give Little Miss. 

And speaking of re-education, Pope Francis tried that over at Congress the other day. Gave a great speech, too. He scolded our dear leaders on greed, climate change, poverty and the death penalty. Assuming you can put aside that even with all his scientific learning and leaning, he is still against marriage equality, a woman's right to control her own body, and the role of women in the church, he's a pretty cool kinda guy. I'll admit I like him. I'd probably enjoy meeting him at a dinner party where the wine and the conversation freely flows. I also understand he's in charge of one giant ship that cannot turn on a dime. 

Wanna know what I wanna know? What exactly did the Pope say that is making Speaker Bonehead sit down and shut up. Permanently. 

Perhaps, in their private conversation, the Pope told Boehner he was an amoral, reprehensible sonofabitch and that he was going to burn forever in the fires of hell for throwing the other 92% of We, the People under the bus. I would like to believe that. But I don't really. I think Boehner got a good look at what was coming down the pike and decided to bail before they hoisted his petard on the nearest yardarm. Kinda like Cromwell's head outside Westminster. Interesting though, that both Republicans and Democrats consider him a traitor ....but for vastly different reasons. 

What concerns me now is that the fight for the position of Speaker is going to be a bloody brawl between the lunatic Tea Party and the rest of the Republicans. The further splintering of the GOP does not benefit We, the People in the least. We need reasonable choices in the voting booth. And so far, we're not getting them. This is potentially really scary stuff. 

At sundown, the Jewish world begins the observance of Sukkot, what some Christians call Tabernacles. Basically, a sukkah is three sided hut in which the harvesters used to live while they were harvesting. It's a harvest holiday, as is Pesach (yes, Passover) and Shavuot (aka Pentacost,) discussed at length in the Torah. It might be worth remembering that this is harvest time in both north and south hemispheres, and that without a good harvest, people do go hungry. 

So even if you don't get to hang out in a sukkah for a week, do go outside and look around. Go to the grocery store and look around. Go to a city street filled with restaurants and food trucks...and look around. Then ask yourself, what if there is no harvest?

If you can answer that question, maybe you want to run for Congress. 

The Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week
Hey, kids! Don't toss that old, used etrog!
Make marmalade!

Monday, September 21, 2015

Culling the Herd

Wednesday is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar....and exactly one year since FIL left the building. I still marvel that he managed to do it on Yom Kippur, a kind of karmic bookend to his life, especially the last decade under our very Jewish roof. But he did, so tomorrow morning I will head over to Fort Snelling for the first time since we buried his ashes to put a small rock on his head stone, and out to Sons of Jacob to talk to Ziggy. Kever avot....visiting the graves....a quiet way to end a very eventful year.

Meanwhile, with this cancer thing going on, I may not be under total house arrest, but my oncologists say I'm supposed to be going easy on myself, sleeping more, walking more, having a little bit of fun, and getting my strength back after two major front-to-front surgeries...all in preparation for getting irradiated which I hear is going to make me really tired. Still, I'm so disappointed I'm not going to glow in the dark. I was hoping to do magic tricks for Little Miss. Oh, well.

To keep myself amused when not in shul (this is, after all, the height of Jewish holiday season) I try to think up ways not to yell at the television. That is really hard. Between The Donald and Dr. Ben "I Missed School The Day They Taught The Bill Of Rights" Carson, it's damn hard to contain myself. 

More than any of the other members of the Clowns Cavalcade, these two represent the absolute worst of American thinking. I don't mean worst as in stupid, unintelligent, or even backward. I mean the worst that America has to offer: racist and ugly. Trump is a side show. (Once upon a time, even Michele "I'm Too Stupid To Live" Bachmann had good poll numbers.) Trump and Carson are small-minded bigots. They stand for everything the Founding Fathers fought against: oligarchs, religious wing nuts, and governmental morons. Disgust is too kind a word to use when describing my response to their rhetoric. 

On the other hand, however, little gift to cheer us in this our hour of intellectual need, two of the smaller black holes have left the galaxy: Rick Perry and Scott Walker. How did We, the People, get so lucky? Those two wormhole-riddled brains at the bottom on the intelligent-life barrel figured out they don't have a chance against the likes of super-morons like Trump and Carson. Hard to believe that they're just not stupid enough.

I don't call these guys stupid blithely; they earned it. All four of them have made some pretty egregious pronouncements, the kind normal people with brain function just don't make. 
  1. Scott Walker's analysis of why his term as governor is so successful is a fine starting point. According to FORBES, slightly socialist Minnesota is the 9th best place to do business while Wisconsin is 32. Can you say delusional, boys and girls?
  2. Rick "I'm Not A Scientist" Perry maintains scientists manipulate numbers for the grant money, and that he's not so sure climate change is man-made. 
  3. Dr. Ben "We Don't Need No Stinking Bill of Rights" Carson believes there is a litmus test for POTUS and not the usual abortion one. His has to do with whether or not one's religion is compatible with the Constitution. 
  4. Donald "I'm Going To Look Into Things" Trump apparently thinks POTUS is a despot who can do whatever he/she wants. His presidency will be set up with him as the host/deal-maker and Congress be damned. I wonder how long We, the People are gonna put up with that? Meanwhile, I wanna know what things he's looking at. 

Now, Carly "Let Me Explain In My Kindergarten Teacher Voice, Boys and Girls" Fiorina has had a bump in her polling numbers, but I suspect that's about the Carson/Trump implosion. At some point, her inability to actually run a company anywhere but into the ground will be an issue with the CorpoClown Brigade. Besides, the Planned Parenthood screed was one lie piled on another. She is a traitor to anyone with a uterus. Thankfully, she will not last. The GOP doesn't like things that bleed....and then refuse to die. 

Bush sounds reasonable by comparison, but then you remember who the brother is and there's a really good reason not to vote for him. He's flagging, as is Christie. Jindal will be gone within a fortnight, Pataki just hasn't fallen over yet. Graham and Gilmore have already disappeared. Kasich might hang on for a while, but he's not tracking. The rest will just fade away. What a glorified waste of money. 

You would think with all that money, they could find someone smart to run for POTUS. Ha! Not happening!

The Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week
If you live too far to go to the cemetery for kever avot,
take a quiet moment to remember those who have come before you 
and are gone. Remember their smiles, remember a story, 
remember when you last held a hand. 
When you remember, even for a moment, they live again. 

Sunday, September 13, 2015

L'shana Tova 5776 ~ May you be inscribed for a sweet New Year.

Sundown begins 5776, the new year on the Jewish calendar, which means we've been continuously counting time since what was thought to be the beginning of creation. has a nice, compact explanation:
The year number on the Jewish calendar represents the number of years since creation, calculated by adding up the ages of people in the Bible back to the time of creation. However, this does not necessarily mean that the universe has existed for only 5700 years as we understand years. Many Orthodox Jews will readily acknowledge that the first six "days" of creation are not necessarily 24-hour days (indeed, a 24-hour day would be meaningless until the creation of the sun on the fourth "day"). For a fascinating (albeit somewhat defensive) article by a nuclear physicist showing how Einstein's Theory of Relativity sheds light on the correspondence between the Torah's age of the universe and the age ascertained by science, see The Age of the Universe.
Archaeology will tell you there are cities way older than 5776 years old, so let's not get all wrapped up in the exactitude of the number. Okay? Can we at least agree on that much?

If you like numbers, 5776 is a good one. It's 3761 years before the Common Era began, 4282 years before Columbus set sail, and 4000 years before the signing of the Declaration of Independence, So even if the start date is not exactly accurate, there's a sense that Jews have been counting time for a long time. We do have a sense of longevity, of history, of continuity. 

But continuity does not mean frozen in time. It does not mean every Jew agrees with every interpretation of the Torah or the 613 mitzvot (positive commandments) found in the text. It does not mean every Jew agrees with how Israel runs itself as a secular or religious state. And it most certainly does not mean we think everyone has to be/needs to be/ought to be Jewish. 

Most Jews would agree on one thing: stop trying to terrorize or change us. We have history on our side; we don't need anyone's permission or approval to be Jews. Chances are that, unless you're Hindu or Buddhist, your religion has a basis in ours. That includes but is not limited to Christianity and Islam. We don't tell you how to run your religion, so don't try to tell us how to run ours. In other words, respect your religious elders. Get off our case....and don't try to align your end-times mythology with our desire to live peacefully wherever we are, including in the land which our people settled and built up some 3000+ years ago and have remained in every since. The only three independent states ever on the land now called Israel were the First Kingdom c. 1050 - 587 BCE,) the Second Kingdom (538 BCE - 70 CE) and finally, after almost 1878 years of struggle, the modern State of Israel was established in the same place. That tiny little space between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. The cemeteries alone state quite eloquently that we are not new to the neighborhood.

We live in turbulent times. Jews are still threatened for being Jews...both here in the US and abroad. There are those who would see us pushed into the Mediterranean. There are those who would like more ovens. There are those who would change us into whatever they are. We Jews learned a lot back in the middle of the last century. We're good that way.

In the coming year, all humankind is going to be faced with challenges we could not have imagined a year ago. Everyone everywhere must step up to the plate to assist in the Syrian refugee crisis. There will be refugees coming to your neighborhoods soon enough. Let's remember what they are fleeing and teach them about the lands in which they are finding refuge. We were once refugees. We should remember that.

As we begin 5776, let's promise ourselves we will help those in peril to choose renewed life. And in our own world, let us choose to be honest and less judgmental. Let us choose to curb the rhetoric and hate speech in our own lives in order to create a place where can make wise decisions about the future of this nation. 

May you all be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life 
for a happy, healthy, and wondrous new year. 

Monday, September 7, 2015

That Time of Year

Well, here we are again, at the lead in for Rosh HaShannah. Unlike secular New Year, this one is full to the scuppers with rites and rituals, evaluation and introspection. 

Sure, there are apples and honey, but fish heads? Here are some of the traditional offerings on a table:
1. Couscous with 7 vegetables: each tiny grain represents a blessing and the seven vegetables are for the 7 days of creation.
2.  A fish head is held up and a blessing recited: “May it be God’s will that we will be the head and not the tail.”
3. Beets: in Hebrew beets are silka (סֶלֶק) which is related to the word saluk (סַלֵק) which means remove. So you say, "May it be Your will that our adversaries are removed."
4. Gourds: K'rah (קְרוֹא) in Hebrew can mean proclaim, as in "May our merits be proclaimed before G-d," but there's a homonym (קְרוֹעַ) that means to rip up, as in "May harsh decrees be torn up."

I love the symbolism and the pronouncements. Growing up, we did the usual apples and honey thing, but I learned about the other customs from a variety of friends at whose table I sat. Every family had its own version. 

Which is one of the things I appreciate about Judaism. There are a zillion versions of tradition, even within a single community group. Sure, there are some groups that want to impose their version on the rest of us, but they are the exceptions, not the rule. And that's what worries me most about Israel. But you knew that. And I’m not going there right now.

There are times when religious practice needs to be accommodated, but any time someone tries to restrict the rights of others using the religion card, it's time for a reality check.  

At every job interview I have ever had, I have stated up front that I am a Sabbath observer and do not work from sundown Friday until sundown Saturday night. If the job has a hard requirement that work must be performed, I do not apply for that job. If there are schedules that can be worked out, I do apply for the job. For years, I was the "Sunday Person" in my department at Dayton's. And frankly, they were happy to have someone who didn't complain about working on Sundays. For the myriad Jewish holy days, I use vacation time, or unpaid time when there was no vacation time available. Often, I have to work with HR to make sure I can get the chagim (days with work prohibition,) but it usually works itself out. In return, I volunteered to work Christmas and Easter...and most certainly did when I became a travel agent in an office that was open 24/7. When lunch is brought in, I always hope for a non-meat/vegetarian option, but it doesn't always happen. But I'm not about to tell anyone they can't have a pulled pork sandwich or pepperoni pizza because my religion forbids those foods. 

Get my drift?


Clerk Kim Davis of Kentucky is really pushing the envelope here. She has empowered herself not to declare her beliefs, but to deny civil rights to people who don't see Biblical law the same way she does. The question becomes: can her religious observance mesh with her requirements of her job?

Eugene Volokh of the Washington Post published an excellent piece explaining the law and the Kentucky Clerk controversy: When does your religion legally excuse you from doing part of your job? Mr. Volokh states that Ms. Davis' objection is rooted in her name appearing on that legal document. Does having the clerk's name on the document make a difference? That is the section of the law that Ms. Davis should be appealing in STATE not Federal court. Is this a reasonable accommodation…and is this what her argument is really about?

Religious observance is a hugely slippery slope and the Federal government recognizes that. Instead of further codifying the law, it allows for the application of reason in accommodating religious observance. But that doesn't help much here.

Yes, the State of Kentucky can amend their laws to remove the clerk's name from all applications, and that, according to Ms. Davis' latest proclamations, will suffice. I don't believe that for a New York minute. I think Ms. Davis and her supporters are going for something much establishment of religious practice that will subvert the intention of the First Amendment. 

I didn't think this at first, but I do now. There are people in her support group likening her to Martin Luther King. That's like comparing Ayatollah Khomeini to Martin Luther King. There aren't enough electrons on the inter-web to fully discuss why that is in no way, shape, or form even remotely close to the truth. Unlike Dr. King who was fighting for civil rights, Davis supporters are supporting the act of bigotry as an American value to prevent civil rights.

Refusing to authenticate the eligibility of two adult humans...which is what her job not a simple religious freedom issue. No one is asking for her approval/blessing on a union between two consenting adults. Her job is to verify there are two age-appropriate adults standing in front of her.  Her refusal to recognize those adults is a civil intolerance issue, and as such, has no place in a government office.

I won’t even mention Kim Davis, Musical Marriage, and what her version of the Bible has to say about that.

There was one other little thing the Bible says that might be of importance this week in particular. It appears several Exodus, in Leviticus, and again in Deuteronomy. Here's my favorite version, Leviticus 19:33-34
33 When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not taunt him.34 The stranger who sojourns with you shall be as a native from among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord, your God. 

If you think this is a hot potato now….just wait until the Syrian refugees ask for asylum in the US. There’s your next GOP catfight. 

Meanwhile, just so you know...Cancer Part One went well last Wednesday,and tomorrow is Part 2. I expect to be right as rain before the sun sets at the start of the holy day next Sunday, so count on a new episode on Sunday instead of Monday like usual. Okay?

Wifely Person's Tip of the Day....the Week...the Month
May you all be inscribed in the Book of Life
for a happy, healthy, and wondrous 5776!