Sunday, September 29, 2019

L'shana Tova 5780

Hey, folks, no into...i mean blog......this week.

Preparation for Rosh ha'Shana has eaten my brain and I just plain ran outta time to toss something over the wall before sundown.

Therefore, I will take this opportunity to wish all my readers....regardless of any distinguishing ethnic/social/gender distinction...a happy and sweet new year!

Let's welcome 5780 with a grin and a hug and a hope of less strife. 

L'shana tovah to all!

The WP Tip o'the Week
Be honest with yourself about what you can and cannot fix,
then work on what you can control.

Monday, September 23, 2019

It's Easier Being Sheep

I thought I was going to write about the elections in Israel, but they have been upstaged by events in the oval office. Which got me to thinking about Richard Nixon. 

Nixon leaving the White House the day after
his resignation. Really
A little more than 47 years ago, on July 23, 1972, a tape recording was made in the White House. That tape came to be known as "the smoking gun." You can read the transcript for yourself. It's not very long, but it's important because it created an opening to view the depths of the deception taking place in the office of the President of the United States. 

The decision to bring articles of impeachment against Nixon was short-circuited by the recent appointment of Gerald Ford to replace Spiro Agnew as vice president. Nixon understood the Constitution provided a way for the new president to pardon him, but there was a problem: Article II section 2 of the Constitution gave a president the power to pardon, except in Cases of Impeachment. Here's the actual text:

The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States; he may require the Opinion, in writing, of the principal Officer in each of the executive Departments, upon any Subject relating to the Duties of their respective Offices, and he shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.
There's more, but it doesn't have much to do with the subject at hand.  

The Supreme Court, under the leadership of Justice Warren Burger (a conservative and Minnesotan to boot) stated:

To read the Article II powers of the president as providing an absolute privilege as against a subpoena essential to enforcement of criminal statutes on no more than a generalized claim of the public interest in confidentiality of nonmilitary and nondiplomatic discussions would upset the constitutional balance of 'a workable government' and gravely impair the role of the courts under Article III."                                          Wikipedia on Executive Privilege

Justice Burger also asserted "Those cases were crucial... because they endorsed the necessity of maintaining the rule of law in our system of government, even when this collided with the ambitions of a single president."

The court, however, was not finished. In a unanimous 8-0 decision, the court held that no person was above the law, not even a sitting president. (Supreme Court v. Richard Nixon.)

Because Nixon only held out for general confidentiality, SCOTUS further clarified:

Once executive privilege is asserted, coequal branches of the Government are set on a collision course. The Judiciary is forced into the difficult task of balancing the need for information in a judicial proceeding and the Executive's Article II prerogatives. This inquiry places courts in the awkward position of evaluating the Executive's claims of confidentiality and autonomy, and pushes to the fore difficult questions of separation of powers and checks and balances. These 'occasion[s] for constitutional confrontation between the two branches' are likely to be avoided whenever possible.     
United States v. Nixon
This stuff is from long before Feckless Leader and his full frontal attack on the Constitution. And it's important to note this is not the first time a sitting president has tried to end-run the constraints of this office. Justice Burger cited two specific cases as rational for the Court's decision: the trial of Aaron Burr, and the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson in 1868. Justice Burger had argued both cases in moot court during law school, and both cases had a profound impact on his thinking. In an interview several years before his death, he stated, "both cases were vitally important because they suggested that presidential power sometimes had to yield to the good of the system of government and the nation." 

Okay, that's the line that pays: yield to the good of the system of government and the nation.

The calls for impeachment of the current president are picking up steam and not without cause. The conversation with Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky cannot be dismissed as blowhard bullshit. This is beyond unethical; it sets a dangerous precedent and intimates this president's influence can be bought.

Had President Obama been exposed as strong-arming a foreign leader, Moscow Mitch and his cabal would've been erecting gallows on the lawn of the White House. 

As much as I understand and, to a certain degree, agree with Pelosi's reluctance to instigate the process. The time has come to seriously consider the options.

But wait! That would make Mike Pence the new president. 

If you thought we were barreling toward Gilead before, Pence is the conductor on the bullet train. 

He really does have little hands.
This past week has been full of news of the weird, beginning with the revelations about Ukraine. People are carrying on about vaping, demanding bans but when compared to the number of children who have died at the hands of lunatics with semi-automatic weapons, you gotta wonder where our priorities are. And then Mike Pence drove in a motorcade on Mackinac Island. Really? Is nothing sacred?

No. Nothing is sacred. Not the lives of our children. Not the lives of our citizens. Certainly not the lives of refugee children and immigrants. Not the environment. Not the oceans or the skies. Once upon a time, We, the People of the United States led the way in the struggle to repair our planet. We were the innovators and the driving force pushing for making it better. Not so much these days. 

I'm not all that convinced we have the stomach for it anymore. It's much easier being sheep.

The Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week
Rosh ha'Shana, the Jewish New Year, begins next Sunday night.
May you be inscribed in the Book of Life for a sweet, healthy, and happy 5780.

Monday, September 16, 2019

The Plaques, Boss! The Plaques!

Some days just turn out to be sadder than others, and today was one of those days. No, nothing monumental happened today. It's not an anniversary of any sort. It's just a day with a confluence of sadness. And being that this is the month of Elul, when reflection and introspection are supposed to be daily practice, I thought I would write a little bit about that process. 
Matthew Amiot
The loss of Adas Israel in Duluth has become even more heartbreaking. No, it was not a hate-crime. No, it was not a right-wing nutball with an antiSemitic twist in his brain. It was far more tragic that that: it was a homeless guy with a long history of mental health issues trying to find shelter on a windy, cold night. 

He was hiding in the structure beside the synagogue that would become, in a few weeks, a sukkah, the kind of temporary shelter used in the fields during the harvests of biblical times. Our fall harvest holiday is called Sukkot, and many of us build little shelters beside our own homes and synagogues because we are commanded to do just that. We eat in the sukkah, some sleep in their sukkah. It's a terrific tradition. 
But not this week. This week, Matthew Amiot sought shelter in a sukkah, probably not knowing what it was. Where it was supposed to provide shelter, it could not in Minnesota weather, so he lit a fire. And when he could not control the fire, he said he spit on it to put it out, and when he couldn't put it out, he walked away. At 2:15 in the morning. To seek shelter elsewhere.

The only hate in this crime is the disdain we feel toward those who are unable to care for themselves. Matthew Amiot was homeless. His family knew he was homeless. They knew Matthew had mental health issues. Apparently lots of people knew Matthew had mental health issues because he had a long arrest record full of petty crimes. But there he was, on the street. Seeking shelter in a skeleton structure of a sukkah. 
Matthew Amiot is a victim of that fire. Buildings can be rebuilt. Human beings aren't that lucky. What is wrong with Mr. Amiott cannot be fixed with a hot meal and a shower any more than taking shelter in a shukkah can protect him from the elements. The help Mr. Amiott needs is not available to him. And without resources, it never will be. 
Who will stand up for Matthew Amiott?

The original bima. I loved it.
At the same time as We, the Jewish Community of Minnesota, are mourning the loss of Adas Israel, I am morning the loss of my own home shul. Today, that sadness arrived in Minnesota via USPS. 
Several months ago, I heard from friends that my home shul, Temple Beth-El of Bellmore, the place I had my bat mitzvah, my wedding, and many of my high school misadventures, had lost the battle and would be closing, merging with other shuls nearby. I won't go into all the details of why, mostly because I'm not there and cannot offer a cogent opinion on the matter, but I will unashamedly tell you that the very first thought I had was, What about the plaques?

Plaques on the wall at TBE
Memorial plaques. Those things that line the walls of many a synagogue. We had 6 at Temple Beth-El, including my parents who specifically asked that their plaques be put there, in the shul they considered home. When their names were installed beneath those of my four grandparents, their loss suddenly was very real, very concrete. My cousin went over to take a picture so we should know they were in the right place. They were. And in time, I saw them for myself. It was bittersweet. They were all in my home shul but that was no longer my shul. And now that shul I have always called home is closing its doors, the only thing I could think about was What about the plaques?
I was not alone. Lots of people were asking. To make a long story short, the plaques are here, in front of me, sitting on the kitchen island. 

In a bit, I will take them over to what is now my home shul (before it was just my shul) and they will be housed with Ziggy's plaque. We don't hang them like art over at Beth Jacob; we only hang them up when the yahrzeit occurs...the anniversary of the death on the Jewish calendar. 
Seeing their names on the appropriate days will make me sad, but glad that they remain all together. And this year, when I cannot get to the cemetery in New York for kever avot, at least I have them all here on the kitchen island for a moment. With rocks. Including a green one. Just like at the cemetery.

Plaques in the kitchen.

When I think about the losses of this year, I must admit the gains were pretty good. Can't complain. But I will still feel the loss of my home shul, and even the loss of Adas Israel deep in my heart. I know they are buildings, but as Temple Beth-El was central to my growing up, Adas Israel raised a whole lotta kids over 119 years. I would guess they are feeling bereft in ways they never thought possible. My heart goes out to that community as they sift through the rubble for their plaques while they struggle to decide what to do next.
I'll go over to see Ziggy next Sunday and tell him the story of the plaques. He would agree I did the right thing to bring them here to be with his. Not like there was ever a question.

The WIfely Person's Tip o'the Week
Even if you're not Jewish, take a moment to look inside your heart.
It's a good thing to do every so often.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Old Technology Worth Preserving

The other night while babysitting, techno-savvy almost-5 Little Miss dissed me because she couldn’t get the touchscreen on my trusty Dell laptop to work. I politely explained I don’t have a touch screen on my laptop, and she asked, “Savta, what’s wrong with you?” 

A few days later, sitting outside while trying to read an article in the New York Times online edition, there was a frustration-filled moment with my cheapo ChromeBook-pretend-pad and I came perilously close to tossing it off my mirpeset. I didn’t think I could bear watching, yet again, the Junior Son sadly shaking his head, saying, “Just go get an iPad.”

So, I bit the bullet and got me an iPad. 

photo taken with iPhone
I did just fine setting it up, syncing it to my phone, and turning off Siri. I don’t want to listen to me so I’m guessing Siri doesn’t need to, either. I do have a keyboard, so I thought I'd give writing on the iPad a try,  but there's no mouse. Yet. The local geniuses assure me there will be a software update this month and my Bluetooth mouse will magically work. Anyway, I need mouse when I write, so I was going to go upstairs to write the blog on the BIG MAC like I usually do....until I realized I could not turn this iPad thing off. Nothing I did worked, I was having doubts about my own Mac-head techno-savvy-ness. I tried pressing the buttons, swiping the screen, looking at the little pictograph folder that came with it, all of it useless. I used the laptop to query Google with no luck. In an act of utter desperation, I broke down and did the last thing I could possibly do: I asked Siri. And she told me. I turned it off, turned it back on, and immediately turned off Siri. 

I now know how to turn it on and off. This is, as Martha would say, a good thing. 

At the same time I am laughing about my new technology, I am acutely aware that some very old technology was salvaged today in Duluth. Adas Israel, a shul that has been a landmark in the port for over 119 years, was gutted by a fire this morning. The building is basically gone. Nothing much is left. But in the basement, 8 sifrei Torah somehow managed to survive the blaze. 
(Jed Carlson / 

At the news conference, it was reported that eight of the synagogue's 14 Torahs were saved, although [Mike] Baddin later said there was some uncertainty about the number. But he placed half in storage and half in someone else's home, Baddin said.  Firefighters carried them out in plastic containers to protect them from water, Baddin said. 
"The miracle was that they were found intact," he said. "Everything else there was wet, and they were in a cabinet, and the cabinet
apparently was sealed on the top."      Duluth New Tribune 

With the Yamim Nora'im, the holiest days of the Jewish year just a couple of weeks away, the congregations will need help pulling it together. Communities across Duluth, Minnesota, and the country are coming  together to lend a hand. Feel free to help

A fit-for-use Torah is hand-written by a trained scribe (sofer) on specially prepared animal parchment. Scrolls in this format have been in use since about the 4th century of the Common Era. That's a long time. The text has had some modification over 1700 years, like a really old game of telephone, but overall it has not changed too much. The piece on the right is a line from Genesis, found in the Cairo Geniza. It's from about 800 C.E. If you can read Hebrew today, you can make out a few words; they haven't changed much. My cousin Perdie has spent the last couple of years volunteering for the Scribes of the Cairo Geniza project attempting to translate various bits and pieces. It's a long, difficult, thankless slog, but there are a lot of people who think knowing how ancient people thought is worth the effort. This should come as no surprise to anyone. 

All of which makes one consider the importance of preserving such a document. Two of the world's major religions think this stuff is so important that the text remains a vital part of daily worship. The precepts taught in Torah serve as a significant foundation for western law. There are 613 positive commandments in there, 10 if which are better known as the Decalogue. 

Old-fashioned ideas. Torah scrolls are old fashioned. The Dec is old fashioned. Which makes me ask, are ethics old fashioned?

Not that long ago I would not have thought the question had to be asked. But it does. And it should be asked often. Every amalgamation of humans living within a communal setting, be it clan, tribe, village, town, city, state, nation, world, has, on some level, a set of shared values. There are zillions out there, a set for every social system. Still, the human population has a through-line, ethics and values that appear in almost every banded group. Parents teach kids, kids teach their kids, and society manages not to kill itself off in the process. 

Have we stopped teaching our kids values and ethics? I don't think so. I think every parent transmits accepted behavioral norms to their kids. That doesn't mean every parent teaches the same things. We don't. But it's pretty safe to say parents teach kids NOT to kill their toddler sibs when (and heaven knows they do) they become annoying. Most social groups manage to transmit a social pecking order to their offspring. And I suspect it's safe to say it's a universal that most parental units teach their kids that truth is better than fabrication. 

And kids have their own expectations. They expect parental units will raise them and teach them how to survive. They expect if they ask a question they'll get a reasonably truthful answer. And most kids learn not to kill their parents when they become annoying. 

There are, alas, exceptions to every rule. 

The reason I like looking at an open Torah scroll is because when I look at it, I see at least a thousand years of transmission of values. I see a guide to behaving in public and in private. I see a long chain with any "me" in the center....a long line going back to someone standing at the foot of Mount Sinai...and the ones who will come after me. My dad, holding newborn senior son in his arms, said, "I am holding eternity." He was right. When I hold a Torah scroll, it is truly holding eternity as well.

We, the People are holding eternity in our hands as we stand at a moral crossroad. Do we stand up and say something, or do we give the guy a pass because we can't be bothered to address the moral and ethical shortcomings of the government? What we ultimately do is up to all of us. We don't have a Sinai at which to stand; we have a voting booth. 

The Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week

Inviting the Taliban to Camp David 3 days 
before 9/11 was no accident.
Feckless Leader expected to announce the end of
the Afghan War on this year's 9/11 anniversary.
Hail, hail, all bow down.