Archive for category Culture

TEDx talk: How I Became my own Worst Nightmare

…or

Hitchhiking, Fundamentalism, and the Art of Ethical Communication

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My party, right or wrong

Why Republicans shouldn’t expect to win over Jewish voters

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If Moses won’t come to the mountain, bring the mountain to Moses.

This might be the tagline from conservative strategists’ latest brainstorm: according to Politico, the Republican Jewish Coalition is spearheading a multi-million dollar campaign to woo Jewish voters away from their generations-long love affair with the Democrat party.

A more accurate tagline might be: Good night and good luck.

The proposed PR blitz presumes that the party loyalty of American Jews can be weakened by a two-pronged attack.  First, invoking American policy toward Israel.  Second, attributing the resurgence of anti-Semitism to liberal political policy.

Both assumptions are flawed, and here’s why.

Most American Jews are deeply conflicted about the State of Israel.  As I explain in my article, “Why Jews are Liberals,” the average American Jew has largely abandoned every outward vestige of his Judaism.  All he has left is the echo of Jewish idealism, the mission to elevate human society by serving as a model of virtue.

That’s good as far as it goes.  But untethered from the practices of traditional Jewish observance, that idealism has no discernible outlet except through the causes of social justice – which, perforce, require supporting every underdog against every establishment, any David against any Goliath.

Based on that template, the First World, along with its every manifestation, is intrinsically evil.  Western Civilization, capitalism, the tech industry, and economic success – all these must be lumped together as villains and oppressors.  The success of American Jews themselves is atoned for through Jewish guilt and active support for victims.

Those victims are defined, for the sake of convenience, as any person or group opposing or opposed by people or nations of privilege.  And since Israel is an American ally, a military power, and an economic dynamo, by definition it automatically gets filed in the category of “oppressor.”

This is why the perverse rewriting of history that brands Israel as an aggressor and occupier garners so little objection from American Jews.  It doesn’t fit the narrative; therefore, it challenges the basic assumptions of what American Jews believe.  See no evil; hear no evil.

That’s why American Jews, 78% of whom supported Barack Obama in 2008, continued to support him overwhelmingly in 2012.  Despite a long record of undisguised and unapologetic animus toward Israel, Mr. Obama retained 69% of the Jewish vote when he ran for reelection.  There’s little cause to believe that Donald Trump could ever erode that margin significantly further.

The issue of anti-Semitism is even more of a non-starter, for much the same reasons.

Despite many generations of history proving otherwise, secular Jews have long believed that anti-Semitism is the natural consequence of drawing attention to themselves.  The remedy is to blend in.  And, since most American Jews associate only with liberals and progressives, they can’t even conceptualize deviating from the party line as a viable option.

With so much invested in progressive ideology, American Jews won’t let little details like Democrat Congresswoman IIhan Omar’s open anti-Semitism or Beto O’Rourke’s slur of Benyamin Netanyahu shake their party loyalty.  Always, ideology trumps ethnicity.

It’s worth noting that the large majority of Orthodox Jews identify themselves as politically conservative.  The failure of social justice programs, abandonment of traditional values, and militant hostility toward Israel provide more than enough reason for the religious to reject progressive liberalism in general and the Democrat party in particular.

But the religious still make up only a small minority of American Jews, and the Republicans don’t need a campaign to win them over.

What strategy should be employed to turn American Jews?  The same one that should be used toward mainstream liberals. Rather than trying to shame them by challenging the political allegiance, quietly leave them agonize over their party’s abdication to the extreme left wing.  They may not vote Republican, but they may stay home and note vote at all.

Published in Jewish World Review and the Jewish Press

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The Ninth Night of Chanukah: Keeping the light alive after the last candle goes out

ninth night of chanukah

Chanukah isn’t really over after the eighth night; in a sense, it’s just beginning.  Watch this video to discover the disconcerting aftermath of the Maccabean victory and the enduring legacy of the Hasmoneans.

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Cremation vs. Burial: Preserving Human Dignity in Life and Death

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The body is more than just a garment; it is at essence a servant to the soul. 

Our hands enable us to reach out to others, to perform acts of kindness, to give charity, to caress those whom we love.  Our legs carry us to visit the sick and aid those in need.  Our mouths allow us to articulate words of higher ideals, to study the wisdom of our people, to elevate our voices in prayer.  Our minds spur us to contemplate the nobility that defines our humanity and reflect upon the magnificent design of the universe. 

To merely cast off a faithful servant once his or her service is no longer required is the height of ingratitude.  Such a servant deserves to be escorted with dignity, with respect, and with love. 

So too the body, which has served us in life, deserves to be treated with reverence in death. 

What form does that reverence take?

Click here to read the rest.

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Unmasking Frum Women

My unpublished letter to Mishpacha Magazine, 12 November 2016:

Dear Editors,

I found interesting the juxtaposition between last week’s letters regarding Hillary Clinton’s cover picture and Rabbi Grylak’s weekly insights into the parsha.  His essay began with the introduction, “From age three, Avraham was asking questions, challenging the pervading belief system of the time.”

So I’d like to ask some questions of my own.  If I can sit across from a woman at the Shabbos table, if I can pass a woman in the grocery store aisle, if I can survive spiritually crossing paths with the secular women who live in my neighborhood or work in my office, why is my neshoma so profoundly threatened by a picture of a modestly attired woman in a magazine?

And, assuming that there is indeed a reasonable answer, then what about this:  is it not possible — given the mores of the modern world — that some young women and girls in our communities might interpret the exclusion of feminine images from Torah publications as symptomatic of a society that degrades the value and contribution of women, and who therein find a pretext to reject normative hashkofah?  If so, is the gain worth the loss?

I’m no gadol, so these are not my questions to answer.  But I’m reminded of what Rav Nota Schiller is fond of saying, that the Torah allows the Jews to change enough to stay the same.

It’s worth at least contemplating which changes will ultimately benefit Klal Yisroel in the future even as we fiercely defend the traditions of the past.

Yonason Goldson

Click here to see what prominent rabbinic figures have to say on the issue.

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Why Marriage Matters

Just married couple, holding hands and walking in nature

From the United States Constitution to the French Revolution, from the Emancipation Proclamation to the 19th Amendment, from the Civil Rights Act to last week’s Supreme Court decision affirming the right to gay marriage, the world has taken (by a vote of 5 to 4) another great step forward on the road to universal equality and justice.

That’s what the pundits would like us to think.  Except that it wasn’t a step forward.

And, more important, it was never about the right to marry…

As an institution, marriage created a moral structure upon which all other moral structures found purchase:  Partnership, self-sacrifice and, perhaps most critically, respect for the natural boundaries and limits imposed by the design of the universe in which we live.  Human beings took for granted the imperative to conform to nature’s laws and nature’s plan.  Individual desire and ambition learned to submit to a higher reality and universal truths.  Personal gratification was not the ultimate arbiter of right and wrong in a society that required cooperative spirit and collective commitment to ideals that extended beyond oneself.

Click here to read the whole article.

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Conquer Laziness Now

rice-terraces-214725Readers of a certain age may remember an old Goodyear tire commercial with the tag line, “You can pay me now, or pay me later.” The applications transcend auto repair, as Shaomin Li, professor of international business at Virginia’s Old Dominion University discovered on a business trip to Taiwan.

As he was being chauffeured from one venue to the next, Professor Li noticed that his host always backed into parking lot spaces, opting for often tricky and laborious maneuvering over the simpler method of pulling straight forward. Detecting a wider pattern of behavior, Professor Li conducted his own experiment. He discovered that 88% of Chinese drivers back in when they park, in contrast to 6% of American drivers.

“All of a sudden,” recounts Professor Li, “I said, gee — isn’t this delayed gratification?”

We shouldn’t jump to conclusions based on a single study, but this observation does not appear in a vacuum. In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell investigates the popular stereotype that transplanted Asians excel academically and professionally in contrast to homegrown Americans.

Mr. Gladwell discovered that the stereotype is much more accurate among southern Chinese than among northern Chinese, and he identifies a single reason for the difference.

Click here to read the whole article.

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