IMHO 2

We came home from LA last night and turned on CNN to see if the world had changed while we were flying across the country. Cuomo was hosting a town hall conversation with Bernie Sanders from Charleston, South Carolina. We tuned in somewhere in the middle so I didn’t hear all the questions but there were enough that were good and telling and I like the way Bernie answered many of them fairly directly and unapologetically. I think that distinguishes him from lots of the other candidates. That doesn’t mean I like all of his answers or think he is “smart” to insist on using the word “socialist” in his description of himself as a democratic socialist. But you “gotta” admire his grit.

But there was one response to a question from a Jewish student that bothered me as much as some of his other answers. He was asked about his Jewish identity and what it means for him to be Jewish. I do not doubt the authenticity of his answer which was Holocaust based. He remembered growing up in a neighborhood where people had tattoos on their arms. He recounts that his father’s family was wiped out by Hitler and when “my brother and I, and our wives, went to Poland to the town he was born in. He fled terrible poverty and antisemitism. The people in town, very nice people, took us to a place where the Nazis had the Jewish people dig a grave and shot them all; 300 people in there….”

It isn’t that he was profoundly affected by the Holocaust. There is barely a Jew who consciously or unconsciously isn’t. For me, it is that Jewish identity can’t be linked to Auschwitz and death alone. I wanted to hear about values and principles that are informed by Judaism and the Jewish experience. I wanted to hear about a vision and a dream that was primed by a Jewish engine that would look forward and not backwards. I guess it’s the Rabbi thing in me.

That doesn’t mean I don’t admire him. It also doesn’t mean that I have decided to vote for him either (but I will have to make up my mind fairly soon as my mail in Florida ballot is sitting on my desk). His recent tweet about AIPAC is terribly disturbing. He writes that “The Israeli people have the right to live in peace and security. So do the Palestinian people. I remain concerned about the platform AIPAC provides for leaders who express bigotry and oppose basic Palestinian rights. For that reason, I will not attend their conference.”

Sad. Disturbing. Painful. Palestinians deserve to live in peace and security. True! Israelis deserve to live in peace and security. True! But not attending an AIPAC Conference as a leader of the Democratic party sends a terrible message. According to AIPAC leadership he has never attended an AIPAC Conference. One wonders how committed he is to a viable Israel. One wonders (and this is terrible) what he learned standing at the grave of 300 Jews in his father’s Polish town. Go to the conference Bernie.

We Need To Do More

About 200 hundred of us gathered in front of the West Palm Beach Library to protest the refusal of the senate to call witnesses in the impeachment trial of Donald J Trump. Organized by Moveon.org it was one of several hundred across the country and quickly widened to reject his acquittal. With chants of “Vote them out” and cars honking approval people held up elaborate signs and placards expressing their anger and dismay at the state of our union.

It’s been a long time since I was at a political rally. My first was at Brandeis protesting nuclear proliferation on the streets of Boston. That was a long time ago and I think it was on the second day of Sukkot and as we marched through some of the Jewish sections of town, we were yelled at for desecrating a holiday. But that’s ancient history. Nobody yelled at us last night and the pro-Trump truck they thought might be circling the block to intimidate us never showed. So, it was a genteel and civilized rally with lots of police presence who hung out with us and made sure we kept the sidewalk clear. It definitely was good to have them there.

But I felt funny being there. Not that I disagreed with any of the sentiments expressed. I yelled “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Donald Trump’s got to go” with the best of them. But I’m not a placard kind of guy. I sort of walked around the crowd observing that it seemed to me to skew older, female and white. I looked for people I know and was surprised to find some from my building. But I played it too cool. With no criticism of the organizers or participants intended I felt it and I were missing a kind of passion. If we are going to make our voices heard in November in an effective way, we are going to need to hook into an emotional component that will animate our actions. Resignation will not motivate us. We need both a candidate that can inspire us and a simple emotional laden message that will unify us.

This is what my participation taught me. We have work to do to take back the values of an honest, inclusive, just America we believe in. I’m glad I was at the rally and if it did nothing else it showed me that I need to do more. And I guess the message of this blog is: We all do. It is time to take back our country.

Starting Again

I got an email this morning from my college roommate and longtime friend who said: “Time for you to get back to your blog.” (You reading this Larry?) So, its Friday morning; the house is still quiet; I’ve finished my second cup of coffee; The TV is in the other room and the news can wait as I consider his “advice” to find my way back to you.

I don’t have a good reason I’m willing to share as to why I have stopped writing for these many months. So I’ll just start again by introducing to those of you not familiar with it this big initiative called “Daf Yomi”. On MyJewishLearning.com these are the words of introduction:

“Are you interested in joining the world’s largest book club?

Daf yomi (pronounced dahf YOH-mee)  is an international program to read the entire Babylonian Talmud — the main text of rabbinic Judaism — in seven and a half years at the rate of one page a day. Tens of thousands of Jews study daf yomi worldwide, and they are all quite literally on the same page — following a schedule fixed in 1923 in Poland by Rabbi Meir Shapiro, the founder of daf yomi, who envisioned the whole world as a vast Talmudic classroom connected by a global network of conversational threads.”

I’m participating mostly through the My Jewish learning emails I get every day because it is concise, relevant and interesting. Sometimes I head over to Sefaria.org to read the actual text and get enticed to get lost in the minds of the Rabbis who probably were somewhat A.D.D. since they rarely stay on topic and wander associatively rather that literally. But this morning the topic was prayer – yea I bet you are saying what else would the Rabbis talk about – well – stick around – you could be very surprised.

Back to two thousand years ago and the Rabbis discussion of what happens if you have prayed your daily prayers already but find yourself in a congregational setting and they have not begun their prayer practice yet. Rav Shumuel says: “If they (you) can innovate within [the prayer] in some way, then they should go and pray again, but if not, they should not pray again.” In my words: Try to find something new in everything you do. To stick with Rav Shmuel and the setting way back in Babylonia, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to change the prayers you say but if you can’t find a way to let them speak to you differently then maybe you should step this one out.

And this isn’t just about prayer. It’s about the way we approach many of life’s disciplines, from the stuff we do in the gym to the way we express our feelings, to the books we read, the work we do, the writing of this blog. So I’m back trying to renew myself and these words and looking to connect to all of you.

PS – Daf Yomi began again on January 5th, 2020. I know there is a lot of stuff in your inbox but just for the sake of expanding your horizons – check it out. It is never too late to start again. Here are some accessible Daf Yomi websites.

https://www.tabletmag.com/tag/daf-yomi

https://www.sefaria.org/daf-yomi

https://www.dafyomi4women.org/daf/

Deconstructed

It isn’t the cake. Not really but sort of. It is the connection and the laughter; it is the planning and the execution; it is the hands dirty and sticky. It’s the math and the sequencing; it’s the magic of the kitchen and the tidbits of conversation unrehearsed and unexpected. It’s what happens when you bake together adapting as you go along, the goal that moment when iced and plated we are ready for the picture.

This is the third Fourth of July bake off that Tali and I created.  Each year a different cake but every year a patriot’s theme. The first year it was the flag and we learned that not all food colorings are created equal. So the red of our fist cake batter was more maroon and the blue more of an aqua than navy. The second year we went for the fireworks and as you cut the cake red white and blue M & M’s cascaded to the plate, an homage to the rockets red glare.

This year we called it deconstructed. We showcase the guts of the cake, with red white and blue sprinkles peeking through, the frosting an afterthought. Or another way of putting it: The truth of America in 2019 can’t be hidden under a parade of icing.  Who will this country belong to? Who will this country welcome to its borders? How will this country rekindle its vision and promise for the America of many different cultures, colors, heritages and traditions? We wanted our cake to ask: What is really great about America: the confectionery coating of a puerile patriotism or the gore and guts of you and me who want an inclusive, fair and open society?

But enough of the cake and its politics, it is the experience of forming memories together – It is the love, love, love as powdered sugar coats the counter. It is Jacob doing the math and Corey doing the critique and Dani offering support, missing Sammy and Maya at camp. It is ignoring how much butter is in buttercream. It is life at its best. It is thank you to Momofuku Milk Bar for posting their recipe.

See what can happen when we share?

D-Day Reflections

I have been watching the commemorations of the 75th anniversary of D-Day. It has been touching, poignant and important. I loved the red, white and blue flyovers the Normandy beaches and seeing Queen Elizabeth on the podium in Portsmouth. I was grateful that President Trump was respectful. But the stars of the moment were the surviving veterans themselves. Some of who had never been back to this place that changed the course of history and saved the world from Nazi tyranny and atrocities. This place that claimed the lives of thousands of young, brave men who sacrificed themselves for us, yes for the lives we lead and the future our children can look forward to is indeed sacred ground.

I tried very hard not to personalize this celebration of courage. Until I heard the clip of the President being interviewed on British TV by Piers Morgan when he said that he never was a fan of that war, ”I’ll be honest with you. I thought it was a terrible war. I thought it was very far away.” I can’t believe he really said that. But then again we are becoming calloused to the things he says.

Vietnam was very far away. It took me three plane rides to get from Newark, NJ to Ton Son Nhut, Saigon. I wasn’t a fan of that war either but I didn’t have bone spurs that kept me from serving. Funny they don’t seem to keep him from playing golf. I was lucky though. I served as a Chaplain and even if the war had little or no meaning my role there did. I could feel what it meant to the Army, Navy, and Air Force soldiers that there was a Jewish presence there. Someone cared; someone listened; someone brought a taste of what Judaism meant to them wherever they were.

We didn’t win that war. We didn’t even have the high ground morally or politically. We sort of knew it then but we sort of didn’t also. They told us we needed to stop the Red Menace. They told us we were fighting to preserve the freedom of the South Vietnamese. We didn’t want to believe that we were killing children and that dropping Napalm from the sky was a necessary evil.

How different were the wars and how different the experience of the returning soldiers. But none of that takes away from the 90 plus year olds who returned to Normandy and to the place where they waded ashore or dropped from the sky to fight for us. And none of that takes away from the rows and rows of crosses and stars in the American cemetery. And none of that takes away from the most fundamental of all facts: America salutes you.

Along

I recently started taking an online course with Billy Collins (me and I don’t know how many other people). It is through a website called Masterclass and for $80 bucks I got to watch and listen to 14 or so lessons with this wonderful poet who provides not just his guidance but also a workbook with homework. I am far from finished with it but today we examined a Shakespeare sonnet. It was the most traditional of all the lessons.

The workbook challenged you to create your own 14 line sonnet, reminding you to keep the iambic pentameter rhythm going. It didn’t need to rhyme, he said but I thought if I am gong to try it, gotta go the whole way. Here is my first sonnet. it is far from William’s and it is far from even close to perfection but for some reason I thought I could share it with you. It just might be the start of a new series of “posts” some of which rhyme and some of which tell pieces of my truth. We will see how brave I am.


Along the way three men arrived
Singing running in multi color dreams
Winking yesterday really did survive
Stars fading stripes falling white becoming cream
 
Fluttering the wind caresses the screen
The morning breaking the sun alive
Each sound a message or a story mean
Day is born gone the men and all that’s fine
 
Alone I sit blessed to be alive awake
Pressing keys of black and white
Letters become words sentences to shake
My thoughts and feelings rarely right
 
Sun rising my words broken truth
A highway of meaning no end but proof

Israel 2020

Tom O’Brien and I are excited to invite you to join us on an interfaith Israel experience that we will lead in late April 2020.  

We have worked hard to make it inclusive for those of you who have never been to Israel before and diverse for those of you who are returning for another time. 

Our lens is the faith and life of Jesus and his followers and the traditions and culture of Judaism and the Jewish people.  We will see Israel as a thriving modern country struggling with its multi-cultural identity and as a place where history and stories of miracles and Biblical heroes merge. 

We will not forget the food, the wine, the art and the beauty of Israel as well.

Our dates are April 18-30, 2020.

We have lots of information and particulars – just email me at hshapiro23@me.com – We would love you to join us.

Howard in orange jacket not walking on water: Sea of Galilee

Tom (carrying blue jacket) with Howard: Western Wall