Wednesday, November 30, 2016

In Defense of Isaac

It seems inevitable that every year someone will say, "Isaac is boring."

Abraham traveled the world, argued with God, and led armies into battle.

Jacob was cunning and strong, received messages from God in dreams, and wrestled with angels.

But Isaac never traveled beyond the boundaries of his promised land. He re-dug the same wells as his father and re-hashed the same stories. He rarely spoke to God and never wrestled with angels.

I've always been sympathetic to Isaac. I don't think he is meant to be larger than life, like his father and his son. He represents us - bound to the Jewish people by our forefathers, repeating their rituals and re-treading their well-worn steps in the landscape of Jewish tradition, taking God's promises on faith, and promising even more to our children.

Maybe this year we can view Isaac not as the boring and blind forgotten middle patriarch, but as the model for our own Jewish lives.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Coming Together on Thanksgiving

This Shabbat we will read Chayei Sarah, the life of Sarah, which recounts Sarah’s death and burial, Isaac’s marriage to Rebecca, and the death and burial of Abraham.

As so many of us come together with family for Thanksgiving this year expecting harsh political disagreements, I am reminded of Abbey Bartlet’s wise words on The West Wing:
“What most people find it important to remember is that, in the end, the two sons [Isaac and Ishmael] came together to bury their father.”
Skip to 1:30 for Abbey's story

If you are celebrating Thanksgiving this year in a politically-divided home, I hope that you and your family will be able to set aside your differences and truly have a happy Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Dear Trump Supporters

Dear Trump Supporters,

I know that some of you are not racist. Some of you were appalled when Donald mocked reporter Serge Kovaleski, bragged about sexually assaulting women, and attacked the Kahns, a gold star family. Some of you voted for him in spite of those things, because the Maytag plant in your town moved to Mexico, your insurance premiums rose again last month, you're tired of gridlock in Washington, or you just couldn't bring yourself to vote for Hillary.

But some of you are in the Klan and some of you are neo-Nazis. Donald appealed to them too and that should scare you like it scares me. So don't tell me that it's un-American or disrespectful not to support this president. 

It's un-American not to call out those disgusting elements of our society and it's disrespectful to write off my fears - and the fears of so many others - just because "not all" of his supporters are in the KKK and you don't think he will actually do some of the things he promised during his campaign.

I will continue to stand up for what I believe and make my voice heard, because that is what patriotic Americans do. We participate, we advocate, and every two years, we vote. So you and Donald have two years to prove that you are better than the worst of your coalition. 

Ready? Go.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Our President and Our America

I've been seeing a lot of people using #NotMyPresident on social media since Donald Trump was elected, almost inevitably followed by someone telling them that it's un-American or unpatriotic. I don't use this particular hashtag for two reasons: 

First, it's factually inaccurate. Unless I move to Canada or Israel, Donald will be my president. We can debate the merits of the electoral college, but just because I don't like the outcome doesn't change the fact that he was elected and will be the president in January.

Second, if #notmypresident is meant to capture an idea, then I would rather elaborate on that idea than rely on an imperfect and inaccurate phrase. The divisions and complications so starkly laid bare in this election cannot be accurately expressed by any three words or 140 characters. We have this whole beautiful language with which to work and the vastness of the internet to share our thoughts, so let's not sell ourselves short. Among my many criticisms of Donald was his "politically incorrect" style of speech. His supporters lauded him for speaking without thinking, but this is not a virtue; it is a sign of deep disrespect for the person with whom you are conversing. Composing a fully-formed thought is a sign of the seriousness with which a presidential candidate (and certainly a president) should take his position and is a basic courtesy that I can extend to you.

Again, I do not use #notmypresident, but I would like to hope that saying Donald Trump is "not my president" has, among others, these underlying meanings:
  • He does not represent my values.
  • He has not proven himself by his words or actions to be a respectable man.
  • He has antagonized groups into which I fall and about which I care deeply without apology.
  • He has made no visible, concerted effort to be my president - a president for all Americans - even those of us who did not vote for him and who might be uncertain about (or afraid of) his vision for America. Instead of reaching out to better understand and heal the deep divisions in our nation, he is on Twitter attacking the New York Times.
I hope that if you use #notmypresident, you mean it as shorthand for any of the ideas above and if you do, then I would implore you to expound on that using however many characters you need to make your point clearly. But you might just as easily say that Donald is "not my president" as a way to shirk responsibility for him, because you didn't vote for him, and that is un-American. As patriotic Americans, it is our responsibility to hold our president to a higher standard and demand that he represent all of us. Donald is the next president, but this is not "Trump's America;" it's my America and your America too.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Politics, Pain, and Prayer

I unfriended my uncle on Facebook yesterday. I'm sure that he believes it is because we disagree (to put mildly) on almost every political issue, but I have many family members and friends with whom I disagree politically and it has never come to that. This is not really the appropriate place to get into the reasons we aren't "friends" anymore, but I mention it because trying to express myself to my uncle, whose callous disregard for experiences and feelings that are not his own has often left me frustrated, finally helped me put into words the emotions that I have been struggling with since Tuesday night. Much of the feelings below are excerpted from the last Facebook conversation I will ever have with my uncle.

First, of course, I am disappointed that Hillary didn't win, though I am heartened by the fact that she won the popular vote and won my home state of Illinois and my current home, Virginia. I am confident that her vast experience in law and government would have served this country well.

Along with that disappointment is fear. Many, myself included, are now grappling with a President-Elect whose campaign was built on tearing us down. Donald said, among many other insults that: women are either sex objects or else we are pigs who are bleeding out of our "wherevers;" Mexicans are rapists and drug dealers; Muslims celebrated 9/11 and are all terrorists; the disabled are deserving of mockery; Jews control the "global power structure;" African Americans all live in crime-ridden poverty in the inner cities; and I could go on. I am afraid as a Jew and as a woman. I am afraid not just for myself, but for friends and strangers dealing with bigots, misogynists, and racists - on Twitter and in real life - who feel emboldened by Donald's brand of "political incorrectness," which is really just a way of saying that they can't be bothered to be kind to others. I am afraid for us and for future generations, to whom we have sent the message that civility and truth do not matter. Our presidents have always been deeply flawed men, but they are role models nonetheless, in whom we hope to find some kernel of decency for our children to emulate and aspire to. I fear for a nation of children who might emulate Donald's pride in ignorance and his dismissiveness if not outright hostility to his opponents. He belittles people with whom he disagrees rather than addressing their concerns. He has no regard for the truth, facts, or grammatically-correct sentence structure. He has a huge ego. Sadly, this has gotten him far in life, but I would personally like to achieve success in a better way and I would hope that we expect better of the next generation.

Since I will be stuck with him as our president for the next four years, I have to hope that my fears will prove to be unfounded. But it is on Donald to build the bridges that he burned with women, minorities, and so many other people who are hurt and afraid. Trust and respect must be earned and he has a long way to go before he has earned that from me.

I will leave you with the Prayer for Our Country from Siddur Sim Shalom, the prayer book of Conservative Judaism, which I think we need now more than ever:
Our God and God of our ancestors: We ask Your blessings for our country, for its government, for its leaders and advisors, and for all who exercise just and rightful authority. Teach them insights from Your Torah, that they may administer all affairs of state fairly, that peace and security, happiness and prosperity, justice and freedom may forever abide in our midst. 
Creator of all flesh, bless all the inhabitants of our country with Your spirit. May citizens of all races and creeds forge a common bond in true harmony to banish all hatred and bigotry and to safeguard the ideals and free institutions which are the pride and glory of our country. 
May this land under Your Providence be an influence for good throughout the world, uniting all people in peace and freedom and helping them to fulfill the vision of Your prophet: "Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they experience war any more."

Friday, November 4, 2016

Omer 2017 Preview: Go Cubs Go

Before I was done Counting the Omer* last year, I was already planning my blog for next year. Over the past few years, I've blogged my counting, including last year when I paired each day of the Omer with a woman from the Tanakh. 

For 2017, I decided to pair each day with a song and I have been slowly filling up next year's Omer calendar with songs that embody the seven characteristics we examine each year. I add to my spreadsheet whenever a particular lyric or the overall message of a song strikes me and so far I have 29 days accounted for! On May 2, I wrote a blog post for Day 22 of Omer 2017, chesed in netzach or love in victory.

Day 22: Chesed in Netzach, Love in Victory
"Go Cubs Go" by Steve Goodman

Go Cubs Go
Go Cubs Go
Hey Chicago, what d'you say?
The Cubs are gonna win today

Win or lose, I love my Cubs. Someday, the Cubs will win the World Series and generations of faith will be rewarded. You can bandwagon when that day comes, but true fans will get a taste of something incredibly rare and special.


When I wrote the above blog post, the Cubs were 18-6, just one month into the season. On Opening Day, April 4, as I do every year, I posted this:

Every year for 27 years of my life, I have earnestly believed that it would finally be the Cubs' year. I had faith, despite over 100 years of collective Cubs fans' heartbreak, that it would happen for us. Of course, no matter how promising the seasons seemed at the outset, none had actually ended in a World Series win for the Cubbies for 108 years in a row, so I wrote the post above assuming that this year would end in bitter disappointment, just like 2015, 2007 and 2008, 2003 (damn it, Bartman!), 1998, and so on all the way back to 1908. But no matter how often the Cubs ripped my heart out, I was always ready to say with complete confidence the next Spring: This is the year!

Then, an amazing thing happened: 2016 really was the year.

In what should certainly go down in history as the best Series ever played, the Cubs and Indians poured their hearts into the game. It had everything: curveballs, sliders, and 103-MPH fastballs; stolen bases and grand slams; Bill Murray, LeBron James, Eddie Vedder, and Charlie Sheen, just to name a few super-star fans of each team; tear-jerker interviews with elderly fans on both sides who have been waiting decades for a World Series win (the last time the Cubs won it all was 1908; the last time for the Indians was 1948); and then just in Game 7, a lead-off home run, a wild pitch that allowed two runs, a 17-minute rain delay, extra innings...You can't say both teams didn't give it their all up to the very end.

We won two days ago and I'm still reeling. I'm all smiles and tears of joy. I wish my grandpa could have lived to see it. I wish I could be in Chicago to see the river dyed Cubbie blue and sing "Go Cubs Go" in the street with strangers. I would go through all the gut-wrenching errors, runs given up, and Joe Buck drivel just to relive the feeling of Bryant throwing to Rizzo for that last out. I can't wait to do it all again next year!

*Beginning on the second night of Passover, we count 49 days, ending on the 50th day with Shavuot, the holiday that celebrates our receiving the Torah at Sinai. According to Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism), there are seven sephirot or characteristics (loving-kindness, strength, beauty, endurance, splendor, foundation, and leadership) that align with each week and each day of the Omer, so that as we count each day, we can reflect on the intersections of these sephirot within ourselves and hopefully achieve some measure of personal growth.