Monday, April 29, 2019

It Could've Been So Much Worse. Really?

Chabad of Poway, California
I heard someone say that what happened Saturday wasn't a massacre or even a mass shooting; only one person died and three or four were slightly injured. Someone else added that the only reason it wasn't worse was because the AR-15 jammed. Someone else insisted that was because the rabbi jammed the gun with his stare. (Really?) Of course, in the process, two of his fingers were blown off, but who's counting? It wasn't a massacre.

 It could've been much worse. 

Lori Gilbert-Kaye saw the terrorist aim his gun, and stepped in front of the rabbi. She is the one who died. 

It could've been so much worse.

The rabbi turned to face the terrorist and raised his hands; that's when two fingers were shot off. Bleeding, the rabbi ran into the sanctuary to get kids, including his 4-year old granddaughter, out of harm's way. And when the terrorist fled, he went to the bimah to speak. He was still bleeding. 

It could've been so much worse.

All I could think of when I heard the rabbi was on his way to start Yizkor was that kids had to be heading out into the hallway. Anyone who grew up in a traditional kinda shul knows that you don't stay for Yizkor if your parents are alive. Those kids, if they were anything like my kids, were in the process of leaving the sanctuary to go hang out while parents and grandparents cry a lot.

It could've been so much worse.

Sure, lots more people could've died on the last day of Passover if this 19 year-old terrorist had been able to keep firing. How much worse does it have to be before it's worse enough? 

It could've been so much worse is right up there with thoughts and prayers.

Excuse me while I go vomit. 

Someone could've walked right into Sunday morning minyan at my shul, the one next door to city hall and our little cop house, and taken out 17 Jews before anyone could've gotten to us. It could happen in any shul, in any state, on any day. Yeah, we have some security in place, but if you're coming in the door we make the grand assumption you are coming in the door to pray. Isn't that what a shul is for? 

Or a church . . . or a mosque, for that matter? 

We know we run the risk of being wrong. 

Four-year old kids in preschool know what an active-shooter drill is. Elementary through high school run active-shooter drills with regularity. I happen to know my shul has an active-shooter plan. And y'know the scariest part about all of it? This isn't about a guy with a pistol or a regular rifle. This is about someone with an automatic or semi-automatic weapon obtained legally with the intent to use it to kill people. Jews. Muslims. African Americans. In houses of worship.


This is the new form of human sacrifice. 

People who attack people at prayer are offering human sacrifice to whatever god happens to be in their twisted pantheon. The terrorists are spilling blood on the holy ground of others to sanctify themselves in a new kind of death cult. The swastikas, the skulls, the Confederate flags, the lightning bolts are all logos calling for the death of the other. The blood of your enemy makes your stronger? Their altar is our bimah covered in our blood. 

We . . . people of faith . . . stand on that altar voluntarily every day. We keep going to services and study groups because we are not going to let terror change the very foundation of who we are. We are in the line of fire and we know it. We are neither blind nor stupid. We are acutely aware that we are targets. Right now, Jews and Muslims in the US are in the cross-hairs. We know this will not be the last such attack. There will be more.

And they will be so much worse.

They buried Lori Gilbert-Kaye on Monday. In a plain box the way we do it. Lots of people were there honoring a woman who died the way she lived . . .  caring for another human being. She who was at shul to say Yizkor for her own mother became a hero.. I'm certain she did not wake up on Shabbat morning and think, today is a good day to become a hero. I'm sure she was thinking about putting away pesadik dishes after sundown because that's what Jewish women think about on the last day of Passover. 

It could not have been worse the family of Lori Gilbert-Kaye.

The real bottom line here is that we live in a country that does not love its people as much as it loves weapons of mass destruction. We cannot get our civil act together to ban assault weapons. Most civilized countries do not allow private ownership of this kind of gun. I'm not naive; banning them won't stop people from running out to buy them before the ban, but truth be told, this is not a Second Amendment issue. 

This is a hate issue.

There is no reason in this country to own an automatic/semi-automatic weapon. You can't conceal it for personal protection.  It's not a hunting rifle . . . unless you're hunting Jews, Muslims, African Americans, or even country music fans. The finest people in our country already know exactly that. We are so on to them. Eventually, someone will shoot up something that even the GOP can't talk down. It will happen. Unfortunately, we are going to have to wait for it. 

The Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week
Patriotism isn't just loving your country,
patriotism is loving your country enough to care about
all of We, the People,
not just the ones who look, think, or believe like you. 

Monday, April 22, 2019

Why is this night different? Let me tell you about it.....

After a couple of tumultuous couple weeks, I was not looking forward to getting ready for Passover, or Passover itself.

Anyone who hangs out with Jews who observe kashrut knows Passover is a giant undertaking that just gets worse every year. This year would be my second vegetarian seder (my first was parve, not dairy)  and that's a whole new set of challenges to this person who believes in the sacred healing power of chicken soup. The more I thought about it though, the more I realized I wasn't eating that much meat anymore and maybe it was time to rethink how I did Passover. So I did.

This year and going forward, Passover is a dairy/pescatarian/vegetarian kinda holiday. I toiveled Mom's Passover china, her old, everyday meat silverware, and the pots. I'm sure it wasn't the greatest halachic (according to strictest Jewish law) toiveling on the planet, but it was intentional and it was done. I would serve eggplant parmesan on Mom's formerly meat pesadik (for use only on Passover) china, and I'm sure I heard the "oys!" coming all the way from Beth David in New York. But dairy it all is now, and it will stay that way.

Cooking with someone I love
There was the traditional gefilte fish with horseradish, instead of chicken soup with matzah balls, there was vegetable broth with matzah balls. I finally got to cook with Mrs. Senior Son...a pescartarian, a fine cook in her own right, and a teacher of catering technique in Milwaukee. Such gorgeous platters! Who knew???? We get so little time together and this made prep all the more precious.

Besides the eggplant parm, there was Salade Niçoise with fresh, certified, fair-trade tuna with a bit of crumbled feta on the side, quinoa with vegetables, and for dessert, a cheesecake made with a crust of kosher l'pesach graham crumbs. There was butter on the table. Lots and lots of butter. Cream for the coffee. It was really good. Different from any Pesach meal I'd ever made, this one gave new meaning to the question: Why is this night different from all other nights? 

Miss Lorraine
The weather was perfectly balmy after such a horrendous spring. We gathered outside in the front with the kids; no one really wanted to go inside. Even Little Miss asked for her deck chair to be brought up from the garage so she could sit outside. (More about that later.) We had an extra-special unexpected guest join us: 95-years young Miss Lorraine, retired preschool teacher to much of my age group who grew up in Jewish St. Paul, and brilliant woman extraordinaire. Miss Lorraine may be living over at Sholom (where my parents had lived that last year) but she still makes it to morning minyan over at Beth Jacob three days a week (with a lift from Henry.) We were so thrilled to have her grace our table! Little Miss was beyond overjoyed because her good friends Sean and Katherine were joining us. She reminded me they are good to know because they have a great sukkah in the fall. What a merry company! 

Discussing on the deck.
Junior Son served as Rosh Seder, and he was great. Senior Son used his best Ziggy voice for Hagaddah reading and I don't know if anyone else noticed, but I was comforted  by the sound. The conversation was free-wheeling and thoughtful. We sang, we talked, and, of course, we ate. And then we sat around the table and talked some more. 

There was a particularly lovely moment while one set of dishes was being cleared. Little Miss asked Uncle Senior Son if he would sit on the deck with her. The two of them out there were clearly deep in conversation. He told Little Miss that when they were little kids, Zayde would march them outside to sit on the deck while Bubbe and Savta (that's me) did the dishes. "I'm carrying the tradition forward," he told me later and I that made me glad.

First seder: Monkey Girls Unite!!!!!!
Passover is about a lot of things, but it's serious Jewish family time. This was the first time I had all the kids and the kiddies at both seders. Little Miss was so excited that first night was at Cousin Laurie and Tom's house because her cousins would be there. The two big ones may be in high school, but there is fun to be had with the two littlest ones.

 The guests at our second seder table weren't really guests....they are part of our extended family...and that now officially includes Miss Lorraine (who just happens to read the WP each week on her there.) These are people we love. People we share our lives with. Four generations at one table. It doesn't get any better than that. 

When asked why I do this Passover thing, why I observe traditions, why I set aside Shabbat as an island of time, I explain that I am just the latest in a long line of women stretching all the way back to the foot of Mount Sinai.  I will not be the last. There will be more after me who think the same thing: if it's lasted this long, if it's kept our families together, if this has made us a distinct people in this world, who am I to break the chain?

The Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week
Best defense for giving up meat:
there is nothing on this planet that cannot be improved with a bit of butter. 

Monday, April 15, 2019

The Parting Glass

Last week, two friends entered the Land of Widows. 

Anita's husband had been ill for some time, and she shared her care-giving journey through paintings and drawings created as she navigated the endless labyrinth called health care. These last few years have been a blur of doctors and hospitals for them, and she recorded it all. Her work has been on display at HCMC, the place where Josh received much of his care. Lately, Anita was spending more and more time at the hospital, and I think we all knew Josh was losing his battle, but in typical Anita fashion, she never let on. 
[I] painted as I sat in a corner of Josh's hospital room as he slept or had a treatment…Let me tell you that doing these symmetrical pieces balanced and continues to balance out my psyche...there is something calming about these motifs…they brought me joy as I faced the roller coaster ride of uncertainty with heals and reveals.

I will go sit a spell with Anita at her home, and I will see her at shul...sitting in her usual spot in the pew behind me, or in the social hall talking with friends. She has a strong circle to support her, and she will grieve as only Anita can grieve. She may only show us so much, but know this is a deep and abiding wound that will take time to knit. Anita will draw through her pain and sing her Flamenco songs, and if we're lucky, she will let us join her in a chorus or two.

The next day, in Michigan, Randy died. Suddenly. In his sleep. No warning. 

His wife, my friend Pat, told us on Face Book, apologizing for the post but, as she wrote, "I have no voice." 

I am unable to breathe just thinking about it. I know that feeling. I once stood in the  same place.  

Oh, What A Lovely War
Student Enterprise Theater
Oakland University ~ Fall, 1970.
Randy was my first real friend in college. We were in a show together; he was a curmudgeon and proud of it; older, scathingly cynical, truculent, obstreperous, quick witted, sharp-tongued, ironically funny, and the owner of a bright red MGB-GT. I was struggling with the end of a broken heart; he quickly taught me that was absurd and I should get over myself. Randy taught me about oil pumps and spark plugs, baking chocolate chip cookies with grass and Tullamore Dew, and how to answer the door when the Jehovah's Witnesses came a'knocking.

He pushed against my plebeian musical horizons, introducing me to other loves of my listening life: Tom Rush, Hot Tuna, Willy Murphy & Spider John Koener, Taj MahalThe Clancy Brothers. and, of course, Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band. Randy gave me the foundation of my eclectic musical taste, and for the record, not everyone appreciates it the way he and I did. These sounds punctuated my life, making me laugh, letting me cry, driving Ziggy and the boys to distraction; the Senior Son will tell you I think he's a piker on his axe because he can't play Tom Rush's version of PANAMA LIMITED. To hear one of those songs is instant Randy. And I always smile. That will never stop. 

I may be wrong, I but think Pat and Randy first met when we did Arthur Kopit's INDIANS in that winter of 1971. He was Sitting Bull, she was Teskanjavila; I was a newly minted assistant director.

A few years later, after I had already left Michigan, I flew in to dance at their wedding. A few years after that, they flew in to dance at mine. There's this story about Aunt Rose, Leroy, and a Rolls Royce...but...another time. 

We lost touch for a time, but managed to find it again. I was so happy to hear his laugh on the phone. 

Social media is a wonderful thing when it puts you in touch with people you love. Random thoughts, pictures, announcements make us all next door cyber-neighbors. We get to see each others' lives, our kids, our families, our adventures. I am so thankful I had that intersection with Randy and Pat. It reopened old doors, restarted old debates, and provided a whole lotta laughs along the way. 

I've said this over and over: no one can tell anyone how to grieve. Every process is personal, individual, and the sum product of one's relationships. I can, however, understand the grief Anita and Pat are both feeling because I've been there. They will figure this out with bad days and worse days, and they will learn to breathe again. Slowly. One breath at a time. 

It's almost ten years since I entered the Land of Widows. That shortness of breath, that feeling of abject terror at the sense of loss, that slicing pain so sharp that you involuntarily gasp and flinch as it slides through you, even for a split second, is real. It is not your imagination; it's the physical passing away of a life that has been part of your own. In some ways, it's that pain that reminds us we are still here, still breathing. One breath at a time. 

My heart breaks for their families. I will grieve with Anita and Pat. 
I will grieve for Randy.

The Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week

In loving memory of A. Randolph Judd

The Parting Glass

Monday, April 8, 2019

For Me and Not For Him

Getting ready for Passover is much more than cleaning and throwing out chametz. There is a whole mindset that has to go with this process. If you're doing it right, you are thinking about the exodus from Egypt... whether or not it really happened like it says in Torah. You should be thinking about being a stranger in a foreign land. The editors of Torah thought this was so important, so central to the core of being a Jew that the line is repeated at least 6 times:
  • You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt  (Ex.22:20).
  • You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the soul of the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.  (Ex.23:9).
  • The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt (Lev.19:34).
  • You too must befriend the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt (Deut.10:19)
  • You shall not hate an Egyptian, for you were stranger in his land (Deut.23:8).
  • Always remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore do I enjoin you to observe this commandment (Deut. 24:22)
If you are a bible believer, you know these are not suggestions. If you're Jewish, this was probably a big part of your growing up Jewish. If you're Christian, you find the same sentiment in the books of your bible. It doesn't much matter who said; it was said, it was inscribed, it was taught. You'd think we'd all get the message.

But we haven't. 

Last Friday at a visit to the border, Feckless Leader announced:
“Our country is full. Can’t take you anymore."
Too bad First Nations of the Americas didn't get to say that when the Spaniards, the British, the Portuguese, or the Dutch showed up. Mighta saved everyone a whole lotta pain if they hung up a sign, "Harbor lot full."

Come to think of it, this whole world is a work of immigration in progress. It started in Africa and fanned out. We know this. This is science, genetics, and patterns of  debris. Waves of migration created politics. It turned families into clans, clans into tribes, tribes into villages, villages into towns, towns into cities, and cities into nation states. 

This country was built on immigration. In every generation a new ethnic group arrived, was bullied, was badly treated, and, for the most part, progressed past that. Some groups did better than others, but every non-First Nation person in this country started their sojourn in America as an immigrant. Saying this country is full is tantamount to saying that there's no room for any more sand at the beach. Nonsense. 

On this night, as I write this blog, Israel is poised to go to the polls in the morning in not dissimilar circumstances. They are facing possibly the most important election they have ever faced. Bibi's continued alignment with Feckless Leader puts not just Israel at risk, but the diaspora as well. And while we may not have a vote in tomorrow's election, we have a stake in the continued existence of the State of Israel. 

We are at one of those pivotal moments in history. What happens in Israel is going to impact large parts of the world. If Bibi continues on as prime minister, a deeper wedge will be driven into Jewish life world over, and that would only fester. In the ultra-Orthodox quest to zealotry, they have shunned their own people, turned away the stranger, and have broken the most  basic of mitzvot. And they want to structure the coalition that forms the next government...and enable Netanyahu to dash all hope of a respite from war. That is the opposite of what Pesach is about. 

What happens here in the next few days as Feckless plays musical cabinet positions will drive a wedge deeper into the national character of this nation. The removal of Homeland Security chief Kirstjen Nielsen is long overdue, but her replacement, Kevin McAleenan, is considered to be an even greater hard-liner on immigration. But he has already friends in high places. 

Stephen Miller, the lone man standing, is thought to be running this mockery of immigration control. Miller is the wicked son...the one who excludes himself from his own people:
What does the wicked son say? "What does this this mean to you?" To you and not to him. Since he excludes himself from the community, he has denied a basic principle of Judaism. You should shake him by saying to him: "It is for the sake of this, what G-d did for me when I left Egypt. For me and not for him. If he was there he would not have been redeemed."                                                                                                                                                 The Passover Haggadah

For me and not for him. 

This is the ultimate damnation, a fundamental excommunication not for heresy, not for scoffing G-d or some anti-religious act, but for excluding oneself from the community. This is self-inflicted. And that makes it powerfully evil and possibly unforgivable. This guy advocates for the separation of families at the border. He has been called a white nationalist and a racist. If you don't remember, Stephen Miller was a sophomore at Duke when the lacrosse scandal erupted, and it was Miller's face on the talking heads shows even before there were charges handed down. This is a guy who, if he had had been running immigration at the turn of the 19th century, would've turned away his own grandparents.

The kiddies will gather for the seders for the first time in several years. Senior Son and Mrs. Senior Son, who have always celebrated Passover in Milwaukee, will be here together for the very first time. First seder is with the extended family. It's cousin time and watching the little cousins run amok makes me shimmer with happiness. Second seder night will have friends and family alike, and the conversation a little more freewheeling, and the topics meant for kids and adults alike. We will talk about welcoming people, about opening the doors of  our hearts. We will talk about what we need to take when we leave Egypt. 

And I am sure we will talk about what happens next in this country. We see what is happening...Pittsburgh, St. Cloud, and now, Norman, Oklahoma. Our heads are not in the sand. We are aware. We are vigilant. We are not delusional.

Yes, Passover is a time for deep cleaning the house, the kitchen, and our heads. This year, for me especially, this is a time to consider what all this mean to us. All of us.  We truly all do come from one place. It's time to remember that...just as we remember that we were strangers in the land of Egypt.

Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week
If  you're not Jewish, still take a moment to consider 
how you came to be in this country.
What was your family fleeing from?
Talk amongst yourselves.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Do We Belong Here?

Back in ye olden days, when I was a wee tyke in the 4th grade, I was told, in no uncertain terms, that I was a kike and unwelcome in my school. Two boys were very eloquent in their derision, explaining carefully that the only reason I was there was because the Nazis didn't land on Long Island like they were supposed to, and that Hitler didn't gas enough Jews

The two mental giants making these statements were 6th grade hoodlum wannabes. They shared a fine reputation for being left-back in the 5th grade. I can still see their faces coming way too close for comfort, and trying their best to scare me...which they did. And they had bad breath. They hammered home the point that I did not belong in their school because I wasn't one of them; I had personally killed Jesus. 

I told the teacher on playground patrol and she told me to just ignore them. So I did.

But the next day, the word KIKE was scrawled on the sidewalk in front of our house. This wasn't reading about Eichmann and the gas chambers; this was right where I lived. Thus, my intro to anti-semitism. 

It would not be the last event. 

I won't recount the instances or the fear, frustration, anger, humiliation, and rage that I experienced with each incident. But the one thing that stuck with me most was the part about not belonging. That would come back again and again, like an unwelcome ear-worm.

The question was always the same: Do I belong here?

The last couple of years, the question has evolved with a whole new sense of intersectionality. Now, there's a new buzz word for you. Know what it means? I had to look it up just to make sure I fully understood it. Legal scholar and activist Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term in a paper for the University of Chicago Legal Forum in 1989. She wrote:
Because the intersectional experience is greater than the sum of racism and sexism, any analysis that does not take intersectionality into account cannot sufficiently address the particular manner in which Black women are subordinated.
That word was too good to leave alone. Intersectionality has taken on a life of its own. Merriam Webster now defines it as
the complex, cumulative way in which the effects of multiple forms of discrimination (such as racism, sexism, and classism) combine, overlap, or intersect especially in the experiences of marginalized individuals or groups.
I worry that we Jews are caught somewhere in the intersection. 

I know I'm not alone in thinking this. There have been a number of recent articles and essays written about this strange place in which we find ourselves once again. If you're not actively Jewish (and by actively, I mean identifying in some way, shape, or form as a Jew) you might have missed this part, but it includes you all the same:
  • To right wing America, Jews are not white, we just control everything and we killed their savior; we are responsible for 9/11 and for the mosque murders in New Zealand. 
  • To Black America, we are white enough to be responsible for slave trade, segregation, racism, and colonialism while enjoying the fruits of white privilege.
  • To left wing America, Jews are loyal to something other than America as we strive to maintain apartheid and racism in a country they like to call Palestine, a nation that never existed in history in the first place. 
[Think I'm kidding? Try reading this: Harvard Will Provide More Than $2,000 Toward Israeli Apartheid Week.  I doubt they're gonna be talking about how the Sultan of Brunei just declared adulterers and homosexuals should be stoned to death, or that in Gaza, Hamas is shooting Palestinians protesting against their current government. Nah. Why let truth get in the way of a good genocide?]

Do we fit anywhere? No.

We have been marginalized in this country from day one, beginning with Peter Stuyvesant in New Amsterdam who tried to turn 23 Jewish refugees from Recife, Brazil away in 1654.  There have been moments of transcendence, when we were useful, but those were fairly rare. We were subjected to discrimination for a very long time. There were quotas and barriers for us in immigration, academia, industry, housing, and even medical treatment. We were and still are targeted by groups who want to "save" us by converting us to something else. And most recently, we are told we are not loyal Americans because many of us believe in the right of our indigenous homeland to exist as our homeland. (Do you think Americans with French ancestry ever worry about France's right to exist? Or whether or not they are true Americans because they have French ancestry?  Probably not.)

Oddly, we share something significant with the most marginalized group of all, the one no one ever wants to talk about. The one that was viciously removed from their lands, subjected to repeated attempts at genocide, denied freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution to every other American citizen but pointedly not to them. That one group with which we have the most in common is the Indigenous Peoples of North America. We share the experience of being herded into ghettos and reservations, of being murdered in our villages, of being told we are not really a part of the land where we currently live or the place from which we come. The Indigenous Peoples are not white. And neither, really, are we.

We've just managed to pass for a while. 

Maybe for the last 70 years or so, but it's not been that long. We are still The Other. We are still targeted but these days, it's with hate mail, flyers on phone poles and public bulletin boards, and some pretty serious attempts at mass murder. Not just here...France is good for that, too. In fact, Great Britain does a fine job of presenting anti-semitism as the norm. As does our own media. Yup, we let the Jew-owned media whip the crowd into an anti-semitic frenzy. 

University of Minnesota
Febuary 2017
White nationalists run for  office, including Congress, all over this country and some of them even win. It's easy enough to do. We legitimize their positions with elections, and then we wonder why hate crimes are on the rise?

It's really easy to find a unifying blame to unite a disparate collective.  The Germans did that astonishingly well in the 1930s; we know how that turned out. Just find a group everyone can agree to despise, then point to them, and say, "They did this to you." Stand back and watch the vote tallies roll in. 

Not everyone is going to ask, "is this true?" They're going to believe whatever is conveniently spoon-fed to them...just like they believe Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador are 3 Mexican countries. Most people won't bother to look it up;. They will believe what they hear on TV news because once upon a time, TV news was a reasonably reliable source of information.

Look, anti-semitism isn't going away any time soon. In fact, it's ramping up. It's becoming acceptable practice. Ignoring it is not the answer. 

I don't have a solution; I am but one more canary in the coal mine. 

The Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week
It's way better than confefe.