Posts Tagged Politics

Searching for the Way out of Exile

imagesAt first glance, the soggy, green downs of Ulster bear little resemblance to the parched and craggy hills of Israel.  But a gentle tugging at the cultural fabric of either place unravels an unmistakable common thread:  two peoples, impossibly close geographically, impossibly distant ideologically, with more than enough fuel for hatred between them to burn until the coming of the Messiah.  Tromping over hills and through city streets, however, first in one place and then in the other, I discovered a more compelling similarity:  the bitter struggle of humanity in exile.

“Which are the bad parts of town, the ones I should avoid?” I asked the owner of the bed-and-breakfast where I passed my first night in Belfast.

She dutifully pointed out the Shankhill neighborhood on my map, cautioning me to steer clear of it.  I thanked her and, with sophomoric self-confidence, proceeded there directly.

It was the summer of 1984, and central Belfast exuded all the charm of a city under martial law. Policemen on patrol wore flack jackets.  An armored personnel carrier idled at a major intersection waiting for the signal to change.  Blown out shells of buildings sprouted weeds, and street signs warned, DO NOT LEAVE CAR UNATTENDED.  But as I worked my way up Shankhill, I discovered even more disconcerting landmarks:  elementary school yards swathed in barbed-wire and churches pocked with scars from automatic-rifle fire.

I stopped in at a corner pub and took a seat at the bar beside two locals.  Each was nursing a pint of Guinness.  Another glass, two-thirds full with boiled snails, rested between them.  The men took turns using a bent eight-penny nail to dig each snail out of its shell before popping the meat into their mouths.

Click here to read the whole essay.

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Purim and the Limits of Imagination

Enjoy this blast from the past.

lennonAccording to a survey — before the recent economic downturn — about 20 percent of Americans believe themselves to be among the wealthiest one percent of the nation. Another 20 percent anticipate that they will one day claim membership among the wealthiest one percent. In other words, two out of every five Americans believe that they are or will possess enough wealth to be in the top one out of a hundred.

One might describe this kind of rosy optimism as wishful thinking. One might better describe it as delusional.

The potency of imagination powers the engine of human achievement. Whether we aspire to fight for civil rights, to seek a cure for cancer, to write the great American novel, or to win the New York marathon, we never take the first step until we envision our own success, no matter how certain or improbable our chances of success may be. But as the line between reality and fantasy grows increasingly blurry in Western society, imagination does not spur us on toward success but prods us blindly toward the precipice of self-destruction.

Such was the myopia of the Jewish people under Persian rule 2,365 years ago when King Ahasuerus and his viceroy, the wicked Haman, conspired to annihilate the Jewish people. The Jews had thought to appease the king by attending his party, a banquet conceived to celebrate their failure to return to Israel after 70 years of exile. They thought to appease Haman by bowing down to him and the idolatrous image he wore upon a chain hanging from his neck. They thought appeasement and compromise and contrition would preserve the comfortable life they had grown used to in exile, far from their half-forgotten homeland.

Despite all their efforts, the axe fell. But the executioner’s blow never landed, checked in mid-swing by the divine hand, which concealed itself within a long series of improbable coincidences.

Click here to read the whole article.

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The death of education?

In his letter of resignation to the Superintendent of Westhill Central School District in Syracuse, New York, vetern teacher Gerald Conti describes a litany of problems arising from the unwillingness of administrators to defend educational values against the relentless pressure of ideology and political correctness.  But the problem does not begin with administrators; it begins with parents, parents with egos so utterly dependent on the perception of success that they prefer to cripple their children for life rather than hold them accountable for living up to standards that will prepare them for genuinely successful lives and careers.

It is difficult to fathom the lengths to which people will go to tear down educators and their institutions when, by doing so, they can deflect from themselves responsibility for their children’s poor performance, attitudes, or behaviors.  No form of malicious gossip, character assassination, or outright slander is taboo, even from individuals occupying the highest levels of communal leadership.

History offers tragic examples of the damage inflicted on individuals and whole communities through irresponsible speech.  Innuendo, exaggeration, and outright lies, repeated often enough, seep into the consciousness of even the most well-intentioned people, until the damage eventually becomes irreversible.

Read the whole article here.

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The Midpoint of the World

What would you ask of a time traveler from a hundred years ago? And if you traveled a hundred years into the future, what would you want to tell the people you found there? Perhaps it would sound something like this:

What did you do to handle the overpopulations we predicted? How did you protect the seashores? What did you do to keep the ozone layer intact, the energy supplies, the trees? Have you eliminated ignorance, brutality, greed?

There might be no better way to discover unexamined truths about ourselves then by composing a letter to our grandchildren’s grandchildren. This was certainly on the mind of award-winning essayist Roger Rosenblatt a quarter century ago when he penned his deeply thoughtful Letter to 2086.

Read the whole article here.

Hat tip:  David Rich

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Leadership is not (yet) dead

From Beyond Twelve Gates by Rabbi Ze’ev Smason:

 

Our persistent need to rank events and people has led to the proliferation of year-end ‘Best of the Year’ lists; Top 10 Sports Moments of the Year, Top 10 News Stories of the Year, Top 10 Gefilte Fish Recipes of the Year (well, maybe things haven’t gone that far …yet).  However, an intriguing year-end list, put forth by the  Times of Israel, was ‘ Gentiles of the Year 2012.’  One name relatively unknown on this list was Istvan Ujhelyi.  Unfamiliar with Mr. Ujhelyi?   His name is worth knowing.

 

After a far-right Hungarian politician called for Jews to be screened as potential security risks, Istvan Ujhelyi, the deputy speaker of Hungary’s parliament, led colleagues in wearing yellow stars as a sign of solidarity with the country’s Jewish community.  While presiding over a parliamentary session, Ujhelyi, bedecked in his own yellow star, said, ”One of our fellow deputies stepped over a line that I thought until now could not happen in the halls of the Hungarian national assembly.  As far as I know I do not have Jewish ancestry, but should (someone) uncover that I have such roots, I will be proud of them.”  Some 550,000 Hungarian Jews were killed in the Holocaust, including a third of the victims who died at the Auschwitz concentration camp.  Hungary’s Jewish population is estimated at 100,000 today, and while physical attacks are rare, an elderly rabbi was insulted recently near his home and Jewish and Holocaust memorials have been vandalized.

 

Istvan Ujhelyi’s action and words brings to mind the teaching of Hillel (Ethics of the Fathers 2:6)  “…..and in a place where there are no men, strive to be a man.”  There are times when circumstances in life require that we go against the tide.  Even when no one else has the wisdom or courage to do the right thing, even when everyone else has become part of the faceless crowd, we still must rise to the occasion.

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It’s (not) my fault!

By Joe Holleman • jholleman@post-dispatch.com

The big election is just days away and I’ll be glad when the question of who is more evil, Barack Obama or Mitt Romney, can finally be laid to rest — at least until the next time the griping electorate needs to demonize yet another opponent.

Sorry if this seems cynical, but do you blame me? For we have become something worse than a Nation of Greed or a Nation of Hate.

We have become a Nation of Whiners.

Welcome to the land of griping and moaning fault-finders who can identify a hundred reasons why they’ve failed, and not one that begins with them.

I mean it really can’t be our fault that we’re fat, or unhappy, or got a divorce, or can’t hold a job, or drink or smoke too much, or do too many drugs? We’re not to blame for these weaknesses, are we?

Advertising makes us eat too much, our bosses make us drink to excess and our spouses make us cheat. What’s a poor boy to do?

(Note: To those who have pointed out that I have been fat most of my life, let me explain how that unfortunate condition came about: I eat too damn much. You know whose fault that is? Mine.)

And if you sit still and try hard enough, you can feel that vast conspiracy of right-wing wackos, left-wing crazies, racist whites, lazy blacks, communists, capitalists, religious kooks and marrying gays all coming together to pull the invisible strings that yank your lives off track.

And don’t even get me started on those border-violating Mexicans who come up here to work jobs that we’re simply too good or too lazy to accept. The nerve of them.

For if it’s not one of these many reasons for our failures, if we still can’t blame a Kennedy or a George W., then we just might be forced to sit upright in our easy-way-out chairs and at least give a passing nod to the notion that our lives are in the present condition because of what we have done with them.

Oh, relax, I was just kidding. Who needs an honest self-appraisal when we have cadres of counseling shills straight from the excuse factories ready to let us off the hook for all of our faults? Why should we embrace personal responsibility when the messes our lives have become can be laid off on a harping mother, an absent father, a mean nun, godless Democrats and soulless Republicans.

Repeat after me, “It’s not my fault.”

And if you could just indulge self-indulgence a teensy bit longer, we can surely find a support group or psychological study that backs us up.

Better yet, let’s take another ridiculous step further and make heroes out of failures. Give the big headlines to troubled pop singers, actors and athletes than to people who actually do some good. The fact that so many people know so much about Lindsay Lohan should be some sort of crime in itself.

In modern America, it has become the norm to exalt mediocrity and praise good intentions. That way, our self-esteem gets stroked far more when we consistently clear that low bar than it would if we were actually expected to show quality and results.

Clearly, we have sailed past the point of listening to Shakespeare tell us we shouldn’t blame the stars, but ourselves. And maybe the world is now too secular to remind anyone that the L-rd helps those who help themselves.

But let’s hope we’re not too far down that lost highway to ignore Hunter S. Thompson’s note about life. “Buy the ticket, take the ride.”

In short, quit whining.

(Published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 4, 2012)

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Post Mortem

Dated April 18, 2011, the following is from the Prager Zeitung, a publication in the Czech Republic:

“The danger to America is not Barack Obama but a citizenry capable of entrusting an inexperienced man like him with the Presidency. It will be far easier to limit and undo the follies of an Obama presidency than to restore the necessary common sense and good judgment to a depraved electorate willing to have such a man for their president. The problem is much deeper and far more serious than Mr. Obama, who is a mere symptom of what ails America. Blaming the prince of the fools should not blind anyone to the vast confederacy of fools that made him their prince. The Republic can survive a Barack Obama. It is less likely to survive a multitude … such as those who made him their president.”

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Netanyahu Advisor Strikes a Blow for Responsible Journalism

To the New York Times:

I received your email requesting that Prime Minister Netanyahu submit an op-ed to the New York Times.  Unfortunately, we must respectfully decline.

On matters relating to Israel, the op-ed page of the “paper of record” has failed to heed the late Senator Moynihan’s admonition that everyone is entitled to their own opinion but that no one is entitled to their own facts.

A case in point was your decision last May to publish the following bit of historical revision by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas:

It is important to note that the last time the question of Palestinian statehood took center stage at the General Assembly, the question posed to the international community was whether our homeland should be partitioned into two states. In November 1947, the General Assembly made its recommendation and answered in the affirmative.  Shortly thereafter, Zionist forces expelled Palestinian Arabs to ensure a decisive Jewish majority in the future state of Israel, and Arab armies intervened. War and further expulsions ensued.

This paragraph effectively turns on its head an event within living memory in which the Palestinians rejected the UN partition plan accepted by the Jews and then joined five Arab states in launching a war to annihilate the embryonic Jewish state.  It should not have made it past the most rudimentary fact-checking.

The opinions of some of your regular columnists regarding Israel are well known.   They consistently distort the positions of our government and ignore the steps it has taken to advance peace.   They cavalierly defame our country by suggesting that marginal phenomena condemned by Prime Minister Netanyahu and virtually every Israeli official somehow reflects government policy or Israeli society as a whole.  Worse, one columnist even stooped to suggesting that the strong expressions of support for Prime Minister Netanyahu during his speech this year to Congress was “bought and paid for by the Israel lobby” rather than a reflection of the broad support for Israel among the American people.

Yet instead of trying to balance these views with a different opinion, it would seem as if the surest way to get an op-ed published in the New York Times these days, no matter how obscure the writer or the viewpoint, is to attack Israel.    Even so, the recent piece on “Pinkwashing,” in which Israel is vilified for having the temerity to champion its record on gay-rights, set a new bar that will be hard for you to lower in the future.

Not to be accused of cherry-picking to prove a point, I discovered that during the last three months (September through November) you published 20 op-eds about Israel in the New York Times and International Herald Tribune.   After dividing the op-eds into two categories, “positive” and “negative,” with “negative” meaning an attack against the State of Israel or the policies of its democratically elected government, I found that 19 out of 20 columns were “negative.”

The only “positive” piece was penned by Richard Goldstone (of the infamous Goldstone Report), in which he defended Israel against the slanderous charge of Apartheid.

Yet your decision to publish that op-ed came a few months after your paper reportedly rejected Goldstone’s previous submission.  In that earlier piece, which was ultimately published in the Washington Post, the man who was quoted the world over for alleging that Israel had committed war crimes in Gaza, fundamentally changed his position.   According to the New York Times op-ed page, that was apparently news unfit to print.

Your refusal to publish “positive” pieces about Israel apparently does not stem from a shortage of supply.   It was brought to my attention that the Majority Leader and Minority Whip of the U.S.  House of Representatives jointly submitted an op-ed to your paper in September opposing the Palestinian action at the United Nations and supporting the call of both Israel and the Obama administration for direct negotiations without preconditions.   In an age of intense partisanship, one would have thought that strong bipartisan support for Israel on such a timely issue would have made your cut.

So with all due respect to your prestigious paper, you will forgive us for declining your offer.  We wouldn’t want to be seen as “Bibiwashing” the op-ed page of the New York Times.

Sincerely,

Ron Dermer
Senior advisor to Prime Minister Netanyahu

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It’s not either/ or

Apparently, I’m not the only critic of Dennis Prager’s last column.  In a follow-up piece, Mr. Prager presses the point that competence is a more important requirement for leadership than character.

I agree.  But that is beside the point.  I would much prefer a Bill Clinton in the White House than a Jimmy Carter.  But far more than either I would prefer a Washington or a Lincoln, a Teddy Roosevelt or a Harry Truman.

To ask whether we are better off with an adulterous statesman or a virtuous bungler merely muddies the waters.  Needless to say, we often have to choose between the lesser of two evils, but my objection to Mr. Prager is that he is rationalizing immorality into irrelevancy.  We need moral leaders as desperately as we need capable governors.  That we may have to make compromises when there is no Harry Truman to be found is an unpleasant fact of life, not a reason to diminish the value of virtue.

Mr. Prager goes on to prove, anecdotally, that not every case of adultery is as bad as every other.  This is obviously true, just as not all acts of robbery are equal and not all acts of spilling blood are equal.  But that is the point precisely.  It is only when we have leaders of moral stature that we retain the ability to make meaningful value judgments and not slip into the moral anarchy that characterizes so much of our society by elevating “nonjudgmentalism” to the highest strata of virtue.

Regarding Biblical interpretation, Judaism operated for over 3000 years within a system of rabbinic authority built upon the authority handed down to Moses at Sinai.  Separatist groups like the Hellenists, the Sadducees, and the Kaarites attempted to overturn those conventions with only fleeting success.  They all disappeared, and authentic Torah tradition endured.

But their spiritual descendants keep coming back.  The lessons of Jewish history rest upon a solid understanding of how the prophets and sages chose to transmit their teachings.  We cannot reinvent them to fit the sensitivities of our times, although sometimes we have to try to find a new way of explaining them to which modern ears will be receptive.

Of those who have commented, some clearly have not read or do not care about what I wrote in the linked essay about David and Bathsheba.  Others have offered explanations, even in David’s defense, that have no basis in Torah tradition that I know of.  Oddly enough, the same people who would never argue against going to a doctor for medical advice, going to an accountant for tax advice, and going to a mechanic for auto advice, believe that they are fully justified in offering their own unschooled interpretations of manuscripts that have been analyzed and annotated by the most brilliant minds over the last hundred generations.

This is what we call chutzpah.

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Email of the Week

An Israeli is on vacation and is visiting a zoo in the Englandwhen he sees a little girl leaning into the lion’s cage.Suddenly, the lion grabs her by the cuff of her jacket and tries to pull her inside to slaughter her, under the eyes of her screaming parents.

The Israeli runs to the cage and hits the lion square on the nose with a powerful punch.

Whimpering from the pain the lion jumps back letting go of the girl, and the Israeli brings her to her terrified parents, who thank him endlessly.

A reporter has watched the whole event. The reporter says to the Israeli: ‘Sir, this was the most gallant and brave thing I’ve seen a man do in my whole life.’

The Israeli replies, ‘Why, it was nothing, really. The lion was behind bars. I just saw this little kid in danger and acted as I felt right.’

The reporter says, ‘Well, I’ll make sure this won’t go unnoticed. I’m a journalist, and tomorrow’s paper will have this story on the front page. So, what do you do for a living and what political affiliation do you have?’

The Israeli replies, “I serve in the Israeli army and I vote for the Likud.”

The journalist leaves.

The following morning the Israeli buys the paper to see news of his actions, and reads, on the front page:

RIGHT-WING ISRAELI ASSAULTS AFRICAN IMMIGRANT AND STEALS HIS LUNCH

Hat tip:  Steve Glassman

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