Monday, August 21, 2017

How do we deal with destructive ideas?

Notes of my Discussion, Shabbat Aug 19, in the aftermath of the Charlottesville Nazi-KKK Mayhem

How do we deal with destructive ideas?

1.      How do we Jews deal with destructive ideas?
Moses- in our Torah portion- Reeh- If a prophet comes to preach that which is wrong-even if he creates miracles to prove himself- he is not to be believed and is to be put to death. Very simple, straightforward  solution. If a city betrays Judaism, it is to be uprooted.  Again,  very simple.
Yet we know that it disturbed our sages, to the extent, that they said, of such a city, “ Lo Haya v Lo Nivra”- It never was,it never was created. This is only a hypothetical case.
Later, also, a  different approach developes- - referred to , in of all places, Christian scriptures, and attributed to Rabban Gamliel, the chief Rabbi of his day, discussing the persecution of the early followers of Jesus: “So in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone. Let them go! For if their purpose or endeavor is of human origin, it will fail.… But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop them. You may even find yourselves fighting against God.”
In any event, in later Jewish history, we dealt with dangerous ideas more by shunning, Cherem, ( Spinoza or D’ Acosta)  than by execution ( Socrates ).
In a modern society, dominated by 24/7 news cycles, and endless social media, bloviation, talking head. Twitter- what route should we take?

2.Who are these Nazis?Alt-right? Alt-white? KKK? Are they growing? Are their ranks suddenly swelling? The numbers of groups is growing but are the number of people with these views growing?
I read some one’s post on the internet: We Jews have always been in danger in America. The writer wanted to create an equivalence of Jews with African Americans and Native Americans, but is that the right case to make? Is there such an equivalency?
We are here in the largest concentration of Jews in history, bested, only recently by Israel. Can that be  because this was a dangerous  place for Jews?
Are we in the midst of a wave of anti-Semitism and racism?

In the late 1970’s, I officiated at the funeral of one of the oldest members of the synagogue in Newport News Virginia, Harry Reyner. . In 1930, he ran for mayor, and was heavily opposed by the Ku Klux Klan. Recall that the Klan was at its peak in those years and Newport News Virginia was very much in the heart of the south. 15 % of all eligible white men were affiliated, 4-5 million. Nevertheless he served as Mayor and continued on the City Council for three decades.

The ADL published a report in 2016 that concluded: "Despite a persistent ability to attract media attention, organized Ku Klux Klan groups are actually continuing a long-term trend of decline. They remain a collection of mostly small, disjointed groups that continually change in name and leadership.” Est 5000 nationwide.
The German American Bund-at its peak- 1930;s-5000-10,000
Radio talk show- Father McCoughlin, who started as a backer of FDR, began blaming Jews behind the powerful bankers. 30 million listeners. The alt-right of his day. Finally, the Catholic church hierarchy moved to get him shut down.

Does this look like the conditions that led to the end of the Weimar Republic?.

Take politicians words with a grain of salt :Politicians say strange things when they believe it pays off.

Sen Corrie Booker said in February 2016 that he felt "blessed and honored to have partnered with Sen. Sessions in being the Senate sponsors" of the Congressional Gold Medal, which they awarded to those who in 1965 marched from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama to promote civil rights for African Americans.

But this one takes the cake: from an AP release, Jul 5, 1973,
Praising Gov. George Wallace and calling President Nixon the nation’s “real radical”. Sen.Edward Kennedy has appealed to Southerners to help breathe new life into the “flickering torch of freedom”, The article goes to discuss speculation of a Kennedy-Wallace ticket. This was the same” segregation now-segregation always” fellow.

Demographics- white nationalist- concentrated in deep south and in Wyoming and Montana. Generally, lower income, lower education. Also, high rate opioid epidemic, high suicide rate. Broken families. Higher unemployment- all symptoms we associate with slums.Is that the population that will take over America?

(If you follow discussions among thinkers within the Democratic party, there is the belated recognition that the party has missed its core demographic, displaced working-class people, many of whom happen to be white, not just of other ethnic origins.)

We have a president that suffers from foot in mouth disease. Intentionally, unintentionally? Is he a flame thrower by nature? Unable to weigh his words?
Are his Jewish staffers, and family, “ shtadlanim”, or worse, as is implied, complicit in his racism and anti-semitism, a kind of Judenrat?  Certainly, some make that claim, like the writer, Michael Chabon, or are those , too, flame-throwers, adding to the fire, increasing the flames from the other side?

Notice that CEOs are backing away. Did they suddenly become righteous? If the alt-right is a rising force, why would they distance themselves from it? If alt-right is a rising force, why are GOP leaders so eager to distance selves from it? Are they righteous, or do they see- that demographics is not there- that American public certainly wants to be seen as liberal and open minded.

Our danger is not alt-right per se.

 It is the perceptible animosity between so many of us, magnified and multiplied by the internet and social media.

Simple example- a popular blogger on the benefits of strict veganism, posted that she had medical complications as a result of following her own diet. She suggested modifcations. What she received was a round of malicious social attacks, denouncing her, one saying “ she deserved to die.” Not race- not Jews-not immmigrants- but vegetables!

We have an echo –chamber that is destroying our ability to converse.

[LA Times, Sunday, 8/20/2017- after I wrote the original notes-lead story- calendar section- Lorraine Ali, Television Critic On all channels- “Wall to wall coverage of the Turmp White House”… “ All Trump-tak, all the time, is a ratings bonanza.. double –digit ratings growth.”

“ Absent from broadcasts: Actual reportage on real news. . .. Lots of sound and fury to be sure, but not much significance.”]

Now, we add to the mix, the activists, of those who believe they are just- and only they alone.

Had the riot and killing not taken place in Charlotsville, last week, the topic would have been this article, by Peter Beinart a left liberal editor of Atlantic, a respected left liberal journal.

( Excerpt-The Rise of the Violent Left- Antifa’s activists say they’re battling burgeoning authoritarianism on the American right. Are they fueling it instead?       PETER BEINART  SEPTEMBER 2017 ISSUE   Altalntic Magazine.

In reference to a Portland Oregon march scheduled this spring:]
Next, the parade’s organizers received an anonymous email warning that if “Trump supporters” and others who promote “hateful rhetoric” marched, “we will have two hundred or more people rush into the parade … and drag and push those people out.” When Portland police said they lacked the resources to provide adequate security, the organizers canceled the parade. It was a sign of things to come”
[My SIDE NOTE: ACLU- made the riot possible, when it defended the marchers’ right to march with weapons. The police compounded it when they knew there were antifa people there, street brawlers, and did not separate the crowds to begin with.]
.Antifa traces its roots to the 1920s and ’30s, when militant leftists battled fascists in the streets of Germany, Italy, and Spain. . . .
Those responses sometimes spill blood. Since antifa is heavily composed of anarchists, its activists place little faith in the state, which they consider complicit in fascism and racism. They prefer direct action: They pressure venues to deny white supremacists space to meet . . .Such tactics have elicited substantial support from the mainstream left. 
. . . Revulsion, fear, and rage are understandable. But one thing is clear. The people preventing Republicans from safely assembling on the streets of Portland may consider themselves fierce opponents of the authoritarianism growing on the American right. In truth, however, they are its unlikeliest allies.

What is the danger- Go back to pre- WWII. To the rise of utopian political movements- all bearing some claim to speaking for the worker or socialism in their label-  Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei- National Socialist German Worker’s Party.
How about- Russian Social Democratic Labour Party- Bolshevik wing –Majority wing.

Older concept- that both sides understood-  "propaganda of the deed", par la fait, attentat.  Acts of terror speak volumes.

In post-WWI Gernany, the streets were filled with street brawlers. SA Brown shirts, who would intentionally march into neighborhoods with high socialist & communist affiliation, knowing that would draw them into a fight.

It was that disorder and disruption that undid the Weimar republic .

People are most afraid of anarchy. How did Napoleon become the hero of the French revolutionary crowd? He put down a riot- by canon fire into the crowd. Man on the strong horse. Hitler was appointed Chancellor by Hindenburg- not because he was an anti-semite-but because leadership of Germany hoped he would bring order to a disordered country.

Now, it is in this gladiatorial combat of two anti-theses to our society, that we in the middle, the great majority, find our selves.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

50 Years to the Six Day War- Personal Recollections of a Young Lobbyist

50 Years to the Six Day War- Personal Recollections of a Young Lobbyist

How can I convey to a young Jewish college student today what it was like to be a Jew before 1967?
Today, I hear of talk of us Jews as “White and privileged” and therefore, the Jewish narrative of suffering is irrelevant compared to the suffering of everyone else in America- except, of course, whoever is “White”. So, in this mix, my fellow Jews from Iran, you are white, my wife’s family, from Yemen, are white, but Muslims from the same countries are not white.
So let me step back from my rant, and look back, before 1967, at what it meant to be a Jew whether in the US, under the best of circumstances, or in the Soviet Union, under much less than ideal circumstances, or even in Iran, under the Shah.

We had barely survived the Holocaust when one third of our number vanished. True, the birth of Israel gave us all a major boost, yet that State was still a nebulous, unsure entity. It had held back the invasion, at its birth, of six Arab armies. It had pushed back the Egyptians in 1956 to the Suez Canal, yet its standing was not yet solid. There were constant terror attacks by Fedayeen gangs from Gaza and from Jordan-occupied West Bank. Oh, did I forget to add that Gaza was occupied by Egypt and the West Bank by Jordan and neither of these occupiers offered Palestinians a state when they had it in their power to do so. Then, on top of it all , the Syrians were constantly shelling the farmers in the Galilee below their positions on the Golan Heights.
Jews were being expelled en masse from the Middle East, from lands we had lived in for five centuries before Christianity, a thousand years before Islam. Yes, the supposedly tolerant Islamic world suddenly had no room for Jews that were indigenous to the Middle East. This was the epitome of racism.
In the Soviet Union, to be a Jew was to live with a liability that blocked all avenues of advancement. Almost one third of our people trapped in limbo. Jews could live as individuals as long as they sacrificed their souls on the altar of Marxism-Leninism.
Even here, in the United States, in the most prosperous and secure Jewish community in history, we Jews were, internally, still insecure. I recall that my father served a congregation in the suburbs of  Washington, DC. The President of the congregation , himself a refugee, still spoke with a heavy accent, and since the members were all involved, in some way, with government work, they were concerned that my father did not sound American enough. That is the kind of insecurity that we Jews had absorbed, even if the American non-Jew, himself or herself, could not really care.
I myself had just begun college in the fall of 1966. We had a Jewish student’s group on campus and it was active, yet it could involve only a fraction of the much larger number of Jewish students on campus. This was New York University, after all. This was their exclusive campus, in the Bronx, that had, until a few years before, restricted access to Jews. It opened doors wide only when it received a huge donation for a new dormitory less than a decade before. Furthermore, Jewish students had bigger fish to fry-- the Vietnam War, Civil Rights, the beginnings of Hippy and Yippy-dom.
Then, that   May of 1967, Egypt’s Nasser closed access to the Straits of Tiran. This was an outright violation of the terms of the cease fire agreements of the Suez Canal Crisis and the Sinai War of 1956. This meant that no ships bound for Israel could get to Eilat, which in turn meant that oil shipments, from an unnamed, anonymous, Middle Eastern Farsi speaking country, could not get through. This in itself was an existentialist threat to the survival of Israel and, by international law, grounds for war.   Nasser ordered the UN forces out of the Sinai (which politely obliged him without a peep, meaning, for Israel that international guarantees were worthless), and then massed tanks and troops in the Sinai. This was a larger massing of tanks in North Africa than that of the campaigns between Montgomery and Rommel in World War II.  In Israel, mass graves were being readied. It now has been revealed that Israeli intelligence knew, before anyone else, that Nasser had chemical weapons of mass destruction and had used them on his fellow Arabs in Yemen just a few years earlier. Arab leaders never had mercy on their fellow Arabs. Go ask Saddam Hussein and Bashir Assad. (Israel had supplied the anti-Nasser forces with weapons and had their people on the ground in Yemen).
Even here, in America, the tension for us Jews was palpable.
Then Vice-President Hubert Humphrey spoke to the convention of the Conservative Rabbis, which my father attended, that the United States of America would protect Israel. “Trust me”, he assured the assembly, as my father relayed to me. No assistance came forth; instead, President Johnson warned Israel not to initiate a pre-emptive strike.
In June, the fighting broke out; Israel scrambled jets and tanks. One the first day, they broke the back of the Arab air forces, on the second day, they broke the back of Egypt’s tank forces, on the third day, they liberated the old City of Jerusalem and the Western Wall, on the fourth day, they broke the back of the Jordanian army , the best trained fighting force in the Arab world, and on the sixth day, they drove tanks up mountains where tanks could not go and made their way to Damascus. On the Seventh Day, they rested.
American Jewry scrambled as well- to demonstrate support for Israel.
My father served at the time as Rabbi of a small Jewish community in the heart of West Virginia. The Jews of West Virginia, as did those of the rest of the country, sent delegations; we were joined by noted journalist and biographer of Ben Gurion, Robert St. John. At the time, I was home on vacation from NYU and the community wanted a young presence to go with them. I was selected to join the delegation and I presume that I must have been one of the youngest lobbyists at that epochal event.
 We flew out of the small airport on one of the last of the DC-3s to still be flying. (As I said, it was a small airport on top of a hill in a very hilly land).
In Washington, we met with our Senators and Congressmen. We had one Senator, Jennings Randolph, who was “ Shomer Shabbat”, kept the Shabbat, but he was not Jewish. He was a Seventh Day Baptist ( different form Adventist) , and he, long before Senator Joe Lieberman, would not show up at Senate business on Shabbat. He assured us of his support and made mention of his being the only Sabbath-keeper in the Senate.( The great Jewish Senator of that time, Jacob Javitz, did not keep Shabbat ).
It was our meeting with the other Senator, though, that was significant. It was Senator Robert  Byrd, who had just become the leader of the Senate Democrats, who made the great impression on us.
Senator Byrd was leveraging his long-career in the Senate (since the early fifties) to move up in the ranks. By 1967. he had become the Secretary of the Democratic Majority and he was a close friend of President Johnson. He had, in his early years, been a member of the notorious Ku Klux Klan, bona fide racist and anti-Semite, but he had seen the light and the changes coming to America.
Ten years earlier, he told us, when the first Suez Campaign broke out in 1957, he had been a vocal opponent of Israel’s actions, as were President Eisenhower  and Secretary of State Dulles. At that time, he was sure that Israel was in the wrong to go into the Sinai.
This time, all was different.
He had studied the documents and treaties regarding the rights to the use of the Suez Canal and access to Eilat through the Straits of Tiran. Egypt, this time, was the aggressor and the closures were clearly causus belli. Israel was acting in self defense.
Furthermore, the next morning, he declared, he would introduce a major appropriations bill on the floor of the Senate for immediate funding and arms for Israel. Indeed, that is what happened next. Appropriations were issued, President Johnson met with his Soviet counterpart as Glassboro State College, and the US replaced France as Israel’s great ally. The rest is history.
Did we, the tiny Jewish community of West Virginia, cause this change of heart? I would love to take the credit, but more probably, it was Senator Byrd, who looked to the changing landscape of America, and saw his future in the new direction of America—Israel as an ally and an America open to all races and creed. This was a major shift for a master politician who knew how to move ahead. He became the longest serving member of the United State Senate and the most powerful Senator as Majority leader, third in line of succession to the White House.
The Arab world did not change. The Arab League of Nations responded to Israel’s offers of negotiating a return of the territories with the “Three Nos” of Khartoum: “No negotiations, no recognition of Israel, and no peace.”
It would take another major war, the Yom Kippur War, to lead to an actual peace accord with Egypt. It would take more decades , a fake peace by the PLO, and finally the threat of a nuclear Iran to bring the Arab world to a recognition that they were better off on Israel’s side, not against it.
But what changed here, with us as Jews?
When I came back to my campus that all, and led the Jewish students group on campus, the atmosphere was electric. Suddenly, all realized they were Jewish. Suddenly, the administration showed an interest in a kosher cafeteria. Suddenly, the faculty discovered Hebrew as a language. The downtown campus had a long standing and prominent Hebrew language department.( That campus, by the way, is at the Washington Square arch that you see in every romance movie filmed New York and I later would have my office, as director of the Jewish student group, right by that arch. It was also the site of the very first telegram sent and the very first major computer-one city block wide ).
The uptown Bronx campus was a very different entity from the rest of NYU at that time. It had always seen itself as on a par with the Ivy Leagues, was home to the original Hall of Fame, and had always refused to introduce Hebrew! As I said, for a long time, it had a numerus clausus policy towards Jews.
We wanted Hebrew as  an academic language. The faculty Senate had skeptical views of our request for Hebrew: Hebrew is a dead language, Hebrew has no literature , like Swahili.( Our campus Rabbi, from South Africa, lectured them on Swahili.)
But here is my key point: we had energy! Like all good college students of the age, we staged a sit-in in the dean’s office.(At the same time, major donors were holding off donations until we got our way. I learned then how university administrators can be easily manipulated by their students; true in the 60’s, true today).
This was but one small aspect of the change that came over the Jewish world.
The campaign for the cause of Soviet Jewry led ultimately to opening the gates of the Iron Curtain to Jews to leave and it was a factor in the collapse of Communism as an ideology.
There was a resurgence of interest in all things Jewish. Look Magazine would have a cover issue on the Vanishing American Jew. Look Magazine vanished, not American Jewry.
The cause of Israel has become the one thing that both parties in America support. Israel has been considered by the US military as its “Aircraft carrier” in the Middle East, an integral element in America’s defense.
These are but a few of the effects that we, Jews world wide, have experienced from the event 50 years ago. Let no one tell you that Israel or world Jewry would have been better off if that event had not taken place. Fools die out very quickly. Israel is here to stay. Am Yisrael Chai.

Monday, June 5, 2017

The Jews of Clarksburg , West Virginia

The Jews of Clarksburg , West Virginia

My father , the late Rabbi William Weinberg, came to Clarksburg, West Virginia in 1963 and served as Rabbi of Etz Chaim Congregation till 1969.
Here was a worldly-wise man who had lived in Vienna, Berlin, Frankfurt, New York, and lastly, Washington, D.C. What could possibly satisfy him in a small town of at best 28,000 population at that time. It was a long 12 hour drive over a winding highway to his previous home, Washington, and a 4 to 5 hour drive, also over twisted terrain, to the nearest major Jewish community, Pittsburgh, PA.
When I was a student at New York University, my dorm-mates were perplexed by this town they had never heard of, except, almost, in a song by the TV-series rock group, The Monkeys, “ Take the Last Train to Clarksville”( but “ville” , not “burg”). Finally, they were satisfied that indeed, such a place existed, because, on one  of the last episodes of “ The Fugitive”, the hero escape through a tunnel, which, he is told, will take him into Clarksburg.
Nevertheless, he said, in a thought that presaged the universality of communications of the iphone and wi-fi  era, nothing is distant anymore—all the benefits of sophisticated society could be found through movies and television and a good record could substitute for a symphony orchestra. A man who had survived Nazi prisons, concentration camp, and exile in the farthest reaches of the Soviet Union could make his home anywhere.
In truth, this town, despite its size and geographic isolation had its own element of sophistication. It was the birthplace of noted Civil War General Stonewall Jackson.  ( One of the members of the Jewish community, S. Joseph Birshtein was himself an authority on Jackson.) The graduates of my high school, Washington Irving, went on to significant universities; a small neighboring college, Salem, had moved its center to Clarksburg and was drawing students to it  from New York City. There was a local amateur theater company and cultural events of its own.
It also had a Jewish community which supported the Etz  Chaim Congregation ( recently disbanded, however).  They were key players in the civil society.
There were two rival  pharmacy and general supplies stores along Main Street.  The stores constantly advertised promotions to draw customers one form the other. What was not known was that both stores belonged to the Gottlieb family. This played to the benefit of the other local merchants despite what may have seemed unfair competition. One year, a discount store, in the style of a Kmart or Target, first opened in the outskirts of town, offering a huge selection, deep discounts, and ,above all else, easy parking. This was devastating to the local business—here was a one-stop shop all location, so close, why shop locally.
This did not phase the Gottliebs- they simply upped the ante, began an even more intensive rivalry between their two stores, the local customers stayed in town to catch their bargains, and , on their way  in and out, shopped at the other local merchants. Business stayed in town.
Another successful local Jewish business was the Workingman’s Store, a men’s clothier that carried both work clothes, as the name indicated, as well as a line of dress suits. The founder, Berman, was in his 80’s when he went to visit Israel and climbed the long ascent  to Masada, to that date, the oldest man to have made the climb since Josephus time. ( I did the ascent myself when I was 20, and it left me breathing hard. A cable car has since made that ascent easier and no longer a challenge).
Jews from distant towns made their way to Clarksburg for Jewish education for their children. One such family would come in every Sunday from Elkins, at least an hours drive in winding roads, where they had a lumber mill.
On the Shabbat of their  child’s Bar Mitzvah, the grandfather came to shule, took one look at the president, and told the Rabbi- Oh, my gosh! I know who he is! I put him in jail overnight!”
No big crime here. The president,Mr. Weiner,  who ran a successful scrap metal business, had come as a poor immigrant from Lithuania, and started in the West Virginia towns as an itinerant peddler, a fine tradition started by the likes of the founders of Macy’s. At the same time, this Jewish resident of Elkins served as the mayor, sheriff, judge, clerk  all rolled in one. The peddler came to town and it turned out, the town had a rule against wandering peddlers. He had to cool his heels overnight in the local clinker . Many years later, this pillar of the Jewish community, and a generous philanthropist, would preside at the service of his jailor’s grandson.
Jewish life for a teenager consisted of the local AZA-BBG, the Bnai Brith Youth affiliate, with at most a minyan of members. Obviously, one of the greatest worries for their parents was interdating—with such a small pool to chose from,  young Jews didn’t easily date each other—they had grown up  together, afterall, and were too close. The big event of Jewish life for the teens, therefore, consisted of pilgrimages to our fellow teenagers in Uniontown, McKeesport, or the great Mecca for us, Pittsburgh, a good four hour drive over winding road. Occasionally, our counterparts would make the trek to Clarksburg in return. Here was the chance to find partners that were within the pale of acceptability.
There was never a problem to get a good turnout for services on a Friday evening or Saturday morning, but Shabbat Minhah( afternoon) was a different story. One way to guarantee the tenth man was to pay the congregation’s teenagers for their attendance. This worked well for a while, until, it was told, the teenagers began to organize, demanded a raise, and went on strike. The congregation, in turn, was not intimidated, and fired the strikers. They got the minyan without the hired help.
There was another method for getting the minyan. Across the street from the synagogue was a lodge, I believe it was the Elks, and it held a club card inside. Whenever they were ready for the tenth man, they would call the lodge and the manager would send one of his Jewish members across the street to join the services.
The teenagers, too, who had now been drafted into minyan service without pay, after the failed strike, had their own “lodge”. Next door to the synagogue was the Masonic Temple, which had a youth affiliate, DeMolay, with it’s own club room, featuring a pool table. Here it was that the Jewish youngsters would hang out, waiting for the minyan to start, and it was here that I learned my best shots.
One time, my father asked the president, the same peddler turned philanthropist, why he didn’t bring his elderly mother, who was in New York, to live with him in Clarksburg. After all, it would be no problem for him to hire caretakers for her, and this way, she could enjoy being with her family every day.
But Rabbi,, as you know, when the Moshiach will come, he will raise up the dead and bring them all to Eretz Yisroel.
My mother is worried- the Moshiach will never find Clarksburg!

Senator Robert Byrd, The Six Day War, and The Jews of West Virginia

(Opinion Appeared in Jewish Journal, July 6, 2010  Rabbi Norbert Weinberg)
(Following the death of Sen. Byrd)

What did the Rabbi’s son share in common with the Preachers daughter?

Answer: They both kept Shabbat.

I introduce my comments on events in West Virginia of some forty plus years ago,with this curio because West Virginia, like the late Senator, was, when I lived there as a teenager, a state of unusual contradictions, as unusual as the idea of Jews in West Virginia.

Yes,Virginia, there are Jews in West Virginia, and they, together with Senator Byrd, played a significant role in 1967 during the Six-Day War to bolster vital support for Israel from the United States.

My father served as Rabbi to the Jewish community in a small city in the center of the State( Clarksburg), which had been the home town of a former Vice-Presidential candidate.

There were aspects of the state that we associate with hillbillies or the old South. When I went on hikes in the countryside, I could see farmers still plowing their forty acres with a mule. A devout Christian woman from a small neighboring town who read the Bible literally would come to the synagogue on Jewish holidays bearing first fruits from her garden. It was a land marked by coal mines that till today devour those who work them.

The KKK at one time had a strong appeal, and even the late Senator Byrd had his start in their nefarious ranks.It took him a long time to break with old segregationist attitudes ( He tried to block the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and in 1967, opposed Thurgood Marshall’s appointment to the Supreme Court , for example. Remember that the Democratic Party has had its great failure in its dealings with African-Americans from before the Civil War until the 1960's).
There was a different West Virginia ,as well, and Senator Byrd was aware of it.

The Jewish communities were doing well, and in Clarksburg, the local Jews were active in civic affairs. I personally never experienced any anti-Semitism, joined the local DeMolay (a kind of junior Masons) because the club-house was next door to the synagogue, and hung around at the local YMCA (yes, Christian,not Hebrew) with the rest.

Mother’s Day was an innovation of a church in neighboring Grafton, and my father, as Rabbi, delivered a Sunday sermon on Mother’s Day.

When the Principal of the High School blocked the selection of a black student as a cheerleader, the students made him back down. When Kennedy, a Catholic, ran for the Democratic nomination in 1960. the people of West Virginia, a heavily devoutly Protestant state, gave him the win, a fact which led to his nomination and then Presidency. If  a Catholic could win West Virginia, he could, and did,
win America.

You couldn’t even escape the Beatles craze—I had the first Beatles collarless jacket in town.

As for the Rabbi’s son and the Preacher’s daughter, the two of us would commiserate that we missed out on so many activities that our less religious coreligionists would attend on Friday evenings. Her father was a Minister of the Seventh-Day Baptist ( not Adventist) denomination, similar in all other ways to Baptists except that they insisted on observing the Seventh Day( Shabbat),not the the First Day. 

Another Shabbat observer was Senator Byrd’s colleague, the other Senator from West Virginia, who some forty years before Senator Lieberman, was the only Shabbat-observing Senator.No,not his contemporary , Senator Javitz of New York,but Senator Jennings Randolph of West Virginia.( He belonged to the same Baptist denomination as my class-mate). 

This factoid leads me now to the Six-Day War.

Recall that in May of 1967, Nasser closed blocked the access to the Straits of Tiran, ordered the UN forces out of the Sinai ( they politely obliged him), and massed tanks and troops in the Sinai. In Israel, mass graves were being readied for the casualties of war.My father reported to me the words of Vice-President Hubert Humphrey at the convention of the Rabbinical Assembly that the United
States of America would protect Israel.No assistance came forth.

In June, the fighting broke out; the people of Israel scrambled their jets and American Jewry scrambled as well- to demonstrate support for Israel.

The Jews of West Virginia, as from the rest of the country, sent delegations from the various communities; we were joined by noted journalist and the biographer of Ben Gurion, Robert St. John. At the time, I was home on vacation from NYU, and I was selected to join the delegation.I assume that I was one of the youngest of the delegates to go. We flew out of the small airport on one of the last of the DC-3s to still be flying.( Did I say it was a small airport?)

In Washington, we met with our Senators and Congressmen. The above -mentioned Senator Randolph assured us of his sympathies and made mention of his being the only Sabbath-keeper in the Senate.

It was Senator Byrd, however, who made the great impression on us.Senator Byrd was leveraging his long-career in the Senate ( since the early 50's) to move up in the ranks. By 1967. he became the Secretary of the Democratic Majority and he was a close friend of President Johnson.

Ten years earlier, he told us, when the first Suez Campaign broke out in 1957, he had been a vocal opponent of Israel’s actions, as had President Eisenhower and Secretary of State Dulles. At that time, he was sure that Israel was in the wrong to go into the Sinai.This time, all was different. He had studied the documents and treaties regarding the rights to the use of the Suez Canal and access to Eilat through the Straits of Tiran. Egypt, this time,was the aggressor and the closures were clearly causus belli. Israel was acting in self defense.

Furthermore, the next morning, he declared, he would introduce a major appropriations bill on the floor of the Senate for immediate funding and arms for Israel. Indeed, that is what happened next. Appropriations were issued and President Johnson met with his Soviet counterpart at Glasboro State College. The US replaced France as Israel’s great ally. The rest is history.

Did we, the tiny Jewish community of West Virginia, cause this change of heart?

I would love to take the credit, but more probably, it was Senator Byrd, who looked to the changing landscape of America, and saw his future in the new direction of America—Israel as an ally and an America open to all races and creed. This was a major shift for a master politician who know how to move ahead..He became the longest serving member of the United State and the most powerful Senator as Majority leader and as President Pro Tempore, third in line of succession to the White House.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Notes on Prayer in the Bible -and an aside on Jewish influences on islam

Session 3 -March 5

Preface: One take away from the Oscar’s. Best documentary film winner: The White Helmets, on the volunteers who try to rescue civilians from the rubbles of Syria’s horrendous civil war.
The producer read a statement by the leader of the organization, Raed Saleh, quoting the Quran: ‘to save one life is to save all of humanity.
It is a beautiful quotation—and it is an opportunity to show how Islam is directly influenced by Jewish sources:
Here is the source, in the Quran. It follows the account of Cain and Able, in the previous verses:
Because of that, We decreed upon the Children of Israel that whoever kills a soul unless for a soul or for corruption [done] in the land - it is as if he had slain mankind entirely. And whoever saves one - it is as if he had saved mankind entirely.. . ..Surat l- maidah 5:32)
Where is this command to the children of Israel   found? Not in the text of the Bible, but in the
Mishnah, compiled 400 years before the time of Mohammed, and it too starts with the account of Cain and Able:
For thus we find in regard to Cain, who killed his brother, "The bloods of your brother scream out!" (Genesis 4:10) - the verse does not say blood of your brother, but bloods of your brother, because it was his blood and also the blood of his future offspring!
 "It was for this reason that man was first created as one person  to teach you that anyone who destroys a life is considered by Scripture to have destroyed an entire world; and anyone who saves a life is as if he saved an entire world."( Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5, on the procedure of examining witnesses in a capital offense).
There is so much, in both Christian and Moslem scriptures, that is a direct reflection of Jewish interpretations of the Bible, not only the Bible itself.
Back to my theme of prayer:
I must add an aside- last week, I mentioned that our prophets don’t so much “ Pray” , if praying is meant as “asking” ( the Latin precari "to ask earnestly, beg, entreat). They argue. & then, I thought about it. Arguing is a kind of prayer. You argue when you care deeply. You argue when you believe the other side also cares!  So, Abraham, argues, Moses argues, dezekiel complains that no one argues with God 23:30
And I sought a man among them to repair the wall or to stand in the breach before Me in behalf of this land, that I might not destroy it; but I found none. (  haomed baperetz)
Chasidic lore picks up on this theme-Baal Shem Tov, Kaddish of Levi Yitshak of Berdichev
I do not know of other religions that demonstrate a Jewish thought  like” hutzpah klepi maalah”- Arrogance( Hutzpah)  against the heavens, which works! You don’t go against the gods- think of Prometheus.

So are there no prayers in the Bible?
The Prophets- the Middle section of the bible-full of prayer- but prayer is personal, individual, not communal. Hannah prays silently in the sanctuary-and the Kohen Gadol; doesn’t know what she is doing!
Again-prayer for children  ! Samuel 1:6 p 952
After they had eaten and drunk at Shiloh, Hannah rose.—The priest Eli was sitting on the seat near the doorpost of the temple of the  In her wretchedness, she prayed to the LORD, weeping all the whileֹ, ׃As she kept on praying before the LORD, Eli watched her mouth.וְNow Hannah was praying in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice could not be heard. So Eli thought she was drunk.Eli said to her, “How long will you make a drunken spectacle of yourself? Sober up!” ׃And Hannah replied, “Oh no, my lord! I am a very unhappy woman. I have drunk no wine or other strong drink, but I have been pouring out my heart to the LORDי Do not take your maidservant for a worthless woman; I have only been speaking all this time out of my great anguish and distress.”Then go in peace,” said Eli, “and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of Him.”
Another example-prayer for healing
See our 2 top topics- children and
In those days Hezekiah fell dangerously ill. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz came and said to him, “Thus said the LORD: Set your affairs in order, for you are going to die; you will not get well.”
The doctor said so…
Hezekiah prays on his own.
Thereupon Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the LORD. He said,
“Please, O LORD, remember how I have walked before You sincerely and wholeheartedly, and have done what is pleasing to You.” And Hezekiah wept profusely. Before Isaiah had gone out of the middle court, the word of the LORD came to him :  ( namely, the disease is in remission, )He has 15 more years ahead of him.
Note- turning to a wall- wat does that presage? ( Kotel). Also, Rabbinic practice of actually standing in front of a wall- to be undisturbed and unseen byotehrs.
So- we have prayers for children prayers for health-we also have prayer for survival-
Non-Jews pray:
Jonah-the sailors pray-first to their gods, then to God. Jonah 1:14. P 966
The people of Nineveh-the pagans pray Jonah 3:8
And he had the word cried through Nineveh: “By decree of the king and his nobles: No man or beast—of flock or herd—shall taste anything! They shall not graze, and they shall not drink water! They shall be covered with sackcloth—man and beast—and shall cry mightily to God. Let everyone turn back from his evil ways and from the injustice of which he is guilty.Who knows but that God may turn and relent? He may turn back from His wrath, so that we do not perish.”
P 970
What other kind of prayer do we have in the Bible- Personal thanksgiving- The entire book of Psalms attributed to King David.
Quite expected that the introduction to every morning service- a selection from the book of Psalms-Psukei dezimra.
Ashrei- haleluyah
So we have,in the Bible, 2 kinds of worship. The formal, communal offering- animal, plant. The Avodah of the Temple.
And we have the intense, immediate personal prayer-not formulated, impromptu.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Prayer and worship in the Torah- discussion notes

Session 2 Covered 2/25/17 Prayer and worship  in the Torah
Start from Torah- Hertz Chumash
First act of worship. Sacrifice; Minchah-Gift.Cain. Gen 4:3 p 14
 And it’s a flop! A bloody flop! UL’MINCHATO LO SHA’AH!
Next act of worship:10 generations later. Noah after the flood.8:20.p 31 This time, it works-we get the promise of the rainbow!
After that, still no sacrifice for next 10 generations. No prayer! Finally, Gen 12:8 p 46  Abraham builds mizbeach. He talks to God, he debates with God, but still no formal prayer.
Who is the first person to offer a “bracha’ a Blessing for someone? Not one of ours!
Gen 14:18 יח p 52
וּמַלְכִּי־צֶ֙דֶק֙ מֶ֣לֶךְ שָׁלֵ֔ם הוֹצִ֖יא לֶ֣חֶם וָיָ֑יִן וְה֥וּא כֹהֵ֖ן לְאֵ֥ל עֶלְיֽוֹן׃. 19 יט
וַֽיְבָרְכֵ֖הוּ וַיֹּאמַ֑ר בָּר֤וּךְ אַבְרָם֙ לְאֵ֣ל עֶלְי֔וֹן קֹנֵ֖ה שָׁמַ֥יִם וָאָֽרֶץ׃
וּבָרוּךְ֙ אֵ֣ל עֶלְי֔וֹן אֲשֶׁר־מִגֵּ֥ן צָרֶ֖יךָ בְּיָדֶ֑ךָ וַיִּתֶּן־ל֥וֹ מַעֲשֵׂ֖ר מִכֹּֽל׃

20 generations have gone by from Adam till Abraham. Finally, 20:17  p 71 Abraham prays for healing for Abimelech’s household for they have been struck barren.. Note: then, this first prayer listed is for children!.
Also, Abraham prays for the other, not for himself. Next chapter 21:2   p 71 -The birth of Isaac. Lesson-Rabbis teach from this- pray for others if you want your own prayer answered.
We have the Bracha- as a blessing of goodness for someone-Also- not by one of ours. Rebecca’s family. -.Gen 24:60. P 87 Achoteynu at  We have the idea of bracha by parent for child with Isaac to Jacob, Jacob to his sons.
Next act of prayer: Isaac-again for fertility. Gen 25:21 p 93 Vayeetar Yitzhak lenochach ishto

What we pray for tells us what we value- note that these early examples of prayer are for children! Far die kinder.

Well, Let’s go to the commands.- Is there a mitzvah to pray? First, what is a mitzvah?
Dispute: RAMBAM( Maimonides)- Prayer is a Mitzvah based in the Torah.(mideoraita)based it on Biblical text “ To serve God”-service implies ptrayer.
RAMBAN( Nachmanides)-Prayer as we know it is set by the Rabbis ( Miderabanan). It results out of a desire for God’s kindness.

Start with Exodus- we have instructions for sacrifices.
Right after 10 Commandments, 20:24 p 301 - Mizbeach adamah.
׃With Me, therefore, you shall not make any gods of silver, nor shall you make for yourselves any gods of gold.׃Make for Me an altar of earth and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and your sacrifices of well-being, your sheep and your oxen; in every place where I cause My name to be mentioned I will come to you and bless you.
Here is the essence of worship in the world of Temple Judaism. I give something of mine to God, God gives something to me in return-blessing. But it is even more- not all the sacrifice is burnt-the bulk it is eaten. Who eats together? Family! We ate the sacrifice in the ancient Temple in the presence of God- He got the “ reyach Nichoach”, the beautiful smell, and we ate. What better metaphor for a sense of union with God. ( PS- who still does that? The Catholics. Communion.  The wafer and wine- the body and blood of Jesus, who is the lamb, the korban.

A true prayer  There is one incident in which we have a true personal prayer. Moses, when Miriam is stricken with leprosy. אֵ֕ל נָ֛א רְפָ֥א נָ֖א לָֽהּ׃ (פ) Number 12:13 p 619
Notice-five words. “God, please, heal, God, please, her.”  Rabbis see this as an ideal prayer. Short- to the point. So why is our prayerbook so long? It all depends on what pray means.
Is there any in the Torah itself that we must say? Shma Yisrael.Deut 6;4  p 769 Every Jew is to say it morning and evening, walking by the way, lying down- but is it a prayer? Or is it a lesson to be memorized ?
Is this a reference to an obligation to pray?

ואכלת ושבעת וברכת את־יהוה אלהיך על־הארץ הטבה אשר נתן־לך Deut 8:10 p 783   After you eat, you give blessing. That is the basis for birkat hamazon, but we don’t have any text.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Prayer-Nothing a Jew does or thinks is simple

Prayer-Nothing a Jew does or thinks is simple.  

I have started a discussion on Prayer at our Shabbat Jewish Learning Community.
These are the notes for the first session:

( Page references from Hertz Pentateuch)

A. Jewish Prayer is a contradiction
1. First=who are we praying to? To the wall? Is it to an abstract? To a personhood? Depends on our idea of God. Is it to a negative attribute? Ein Sof ( Infinite, distant)? Or “ Rachman”( Merciful and personal)?
2nd -Why pray?  A. Music? East European Chazanut- at its peak- was better than the Opera. Yosele Rosenblatt, Moshe Kousevitsky,  Opera singers Richard Tucker Jan Peerce
b. Nice company?Letter to editor Bintel brief of Der Forwerts. Century ago. Why do you go to shule? Avraham-I go to talk to God. Yitzhak- I go to talk to Avraham! Synagogue- Greek- for Bet Knesset-House of Gathering.
c- Food?- Kiddush,  Oneg Shabbat. Ancient Temple- the people shared their meal with God and with each other. Earliest synagogues were also the local motel for travelers!
d-Intellectual stimulation? Torah reading, drashah. Bet Midrash- House of Study. Shule- from “school”.
e- and for worship-Bet tefilah-House of prayer.

3-What do we pray for? Pray for the stock market, the horse race? How do we know what we are supposed to pray for?
4-Are we commanded to pray? Voo shteyt es geschrieben? Find me the line in the entire Bible where it says you are commanded to pray! ( Implied but not explicit).
5. Why pray at a fixed time? Shacharit, Micha , Maariv.Heschel writes of his coming to Berlin as a young student, an ordained Chasidic Rabbi, who has gone to the realm of the goyim, Berlin, the Berlin of Cabaret and intellect. overwhelmed by the glory of such an intellectual society. Then the sun is setting, and he is broken out of his revelry by the realization that it is time to stop and daven mincha. Was he in the mood? No! Then why daven, why not wait till the mood strikes him. And he realizes that the mood may never strike him if he waits for it, but if he begins to daven, he might come to the mood, to the spirit.
But, Heschel is a Chasid at heart and Chasidic masters never davened on time- Does the Holy One wear a watch?
4. What is the nature of our prayer. All is opposites
Tefilah and Tachanunim. Two opposites.
Tefilah- from root ” pll”- judgement-one is in judgement. One is claiming what is justly his-her? One is putting oneself in judgement before the Holy One. One is critical of one self.
Tachanumin- Just the opposite- from “ Chen”, find favor. A Pleading- My case can’t stand   in court.  judgement has failed- plea for mercy.
Fixed and spontaneous
Tefilah- is “Keva”- Fixed. Before, after meals, Amidah-fixed text. Fixed time- Shacharit, Minha, Maariv. Tachanunim can not be fixed( although it is in the prayerbook)
But, Rabbis say: Do not make your prayer fixed but make it a supplication( tachanunim).( Pirke Avot)
Public and Private- Tzibur and Yachid
Prayer may be said in private. It’s a personal affair. The ancient rabbis would stand in a quiet spot, in front of a wall ( long before The Wall, the Kotel).
Prayer is best said in public- in a Minyan-10.Kaddish, Barchu, Torah reading.
More Polarities
Fear & Anxiety-That motivates tachanunim
But also  Joy & Awe- To some extent- Tefilah (awe),
Two other complimentary dimensions:
Hoda’ah( acknowledgement) Brachah-Hamotzi & Shechechyanu
 and Hodayah( Thanksgiving)- Hallel,

So, let’s look at these issues from the texts- how we started, how we evolved, how we answered these issues in all ages.