Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Yom Kippur: The Persistence of Memory

"Remember to blot out the name of Amalek
from under the heavens. Do not forget."
--Deuteronomy 25:19, my translation

"Without Jews there is no Jewish G-d.
If we leave this world
the light will go out in Your tent.
Since Abraham knew you in a cloud,
You have burned in every Jewish face,
You have glowed in every Jewish eye,
And we made You in our image."
--Gates of Repentence: The Reform Machzor, Martyrology,
from the Yom Kippur Afternoon Service, p.436-7

"And now survivors stammer, their words are haunted.
Behind their words: silence . . .
What pains were taken to save cathedrals,
museums, monuments from destruction . . .
and in the camps and streets of Europe,
mother and father and child lay dying,
and many looked away."
--ibid., p. 438

For the sin of silence,
For the sin of indifference,
For the secret complicity of the neutral.
For the closing of borders,
For the washing of hands . . .
For all that was done.
For all that was not done.
Let there be no forgetfulness before the Throne of Glory.
Let there be remembrance within the human heart . . .
--Gates of Repentence, Martyrology Vidui, p. 439

NOTE: This blog entry was written in response to a confluence of recent experience: Yom Kippur and the Afternoon Service, the reading of a book, Why Are Jews Liberal? by Norman Podhoretz, and most especially from difficult conversations regarding the book and far more, with The Assistant Village Idiot (AVI), who performed the mitzvah of being an Ezer K'negged (an oppositional helper), although I expect he does not know what that is, and he may not particularly like the role. This is a personal view, shaped by experience and the holiness of memory, and as such it may be difficult for my Christian readers to understand or accept. Understand that I am not talking about individuals here, but about how the intertwining of experience and memory of Europe shape the ideas and attitudes of Jews in North America.

Our Yom Kippur was quiet and peaceful, a day of welcome rest as well as reflection. I always enjoy the quiet hour under the sycamore trees by the religious school lawn, spent holding hands with the Engineering Geek, as the leaves dance in the slant of autumn sunlight. Yom Kippur is a Shabbat Shabbaton, a Sabbath of Sabbaths of rest and peace, when we put aside all of the distractions of doing in order to pause, to pray and to be.

After that hour, we move back to the Sanctuary, with that particular Yom Kippur honeyed slowness, the preserving of energy, that sense of time-out-of-time that pervades the fasting body and the quiet mind. Time moves differently as we move into that service of memory and mourning that starts with the singing of these words, the melody of which is a cry:

Elie Zion v'areha k'mo b'zirei-ah . . .
For Zion and her cities I mourn like a mother in her anguish,
like a woman who mourns the husband of her youth.
I mourn the exile of G-d's servants, makers of the sweet melody;
their blood poured out like Zion's streams.

For Jews, the persistence of memory is very powerful, for we do not have a heaven or a hell; death is the end of life and living, and the holiness of memory is how those we loved in life live on. For a little while, at least, "we are their earth."

And so we recall it all. And this is done during the Afternoon Service, when we remember it all: Yom Kippur at the time of the second temple; the depredations of the Romans who killed the Ten Rabbis, thinking they could extinguish nascent Judaism; the destruction of Askenaz during the Crusades and Sepharad during the Inquistion. We remember the battered synagogues, the arguments of scholars, the quiet joy of Jewish domestic life; we remember the expulsions, and the rack, the burning of the Talmud, and the burnings at the stake, in Paris, in Lincoln, in Italy and Spain, and even in Mexico City. And we remember the Shoah, where the bodies of six million Jews, the good and the bad, were turned to smoke over the skies of Christian Europe. And we remember those who did and those who did not do; and we remember the not insignificant number of those who tried to help.

This year, we remembered also the words of Bibi Netanyahu, said with quiet dignity before the United Nations:

"Yesterday, the man who calls the Holocaust a lie spoke from this podium. To those who refused to come here and to those who left this room in protest, I commend you. You stood up for moral clarity and you brought honor to your countries. But to those who gave this Holocaust-denier a hearing, I say on behalf of my people, the Jewish people, and decent people everywhere: Have you no shame? Have you no decency?
A mere six decades after the Holocaust, you give legitimacy to a man who denies that the murder of six million Jews took place and pledges to wipe out the Jewish state. What a disgrace! What a mockery of the charter of the United Nations!"
--Text of Bibi Netanyahu Speech at the United Nations, New York, 24 September 2009. Retrieved from FLAME.

What is the purpose of this memory?

There are those who would like us to forget. Some out of desire for power over us, like the present illegal ruler of Iran. Some out of a desire to see themselves and their own as wholly good, even though they hang on to ideas that are capable of creating great evil. Or perhaps they do not yet know how to disentagle the good ideas from the bad. I understand this. For me too, memories of the bad deeds of others like me can bring up an illegitimate shame, making it hard to look at the deeds plainly and thus understand that they stem from the ideas that I must reconsider. And yet, if I do not do so, and admit that some of my ideas are wrong, then I will be party to the repetition of that evil. And the consequences are evil, regardless of my intentions.

There are those who love their own truth so passionately that they cannot bear to contemplate that some of the ideas it promulgated have have led directly to the destruction of European Jewry, and not once, but many times.

There are those who love their religion so much that they evade the reality that all human institutions can slide from a wrong belief to an evil action, from personal faith to public force. And in so doing, in refusing to root out the bad ideas,the mean characterizations, the movement from arrogance ("we have the truth and want only to save them") to destruction ("and therefore it is right and holy to 'persuade' them with force"), they set up the same drama of murder and suffering again and again.

Why do we remember?
Storing and retrieving memory takes a great deal of physical energy.
It takes even more psychic energy. But the payoff for all of that expensive energy is survival.
Animals remember and animals learn. They do this in order that they and their offspring might live.

Why do we remember?
Human beings have brought learning and memory to a very high level. We learn from experience in order to protect ourselves, and we pass on those memories in order to protect the lives and the happiness of our children. And for human beings, shared memory among a people and down the generations, leads to a diversity of identity. Experience shapes who we are, what we consider to be important; experience shapes our future choices.

What we choose to remember and what we choose to forget may also create misunderstandings between people with different histories.
This is particularly true when one person or group has decided to forget something that another is compelled to remember.
In the persistence of memory, certain sights, sounds, and even words bring to the surface different memories and ideas for one than for another, all due to the differential of experience between them.

An example: Here are some words from AVI:
"It is not only evangelicals who believe in persuasion in religion, of course, but we are particularly known for it. And particularly despised for it. The irritation, even deep insult, that people feel when we attempt to persuade, is not perceived as connected to the stunning newness of the American experience. Such reliance on persuasion rather than fiat is so natural to Americans now that they believe it is the natural state of affairs. They consider it some vast inconvenience and intrusion when others try to convince them. They no longer remember the alternatives were far worse." (From the blog entry Why Do You Side with Them Instead of Us?)

From AVI's point of view (as best as I can discern it--see below), the newness of the American experience, and the desire to persuade rather than force their viewpoints on others, gives Evangelicals the sanction to try to convert Jews. And just as I don't understand how he could not realize how this is an irritation and a deep insult to Jews (and others), so he does not understand why we should be irritated and deeply insulted. AVI himself points out that most Evangelicals skip over the middle of Christian history in Europe, and therefore they do not understand how perilously close European Jewry came to being exterminated, not once by many times. By Christians*. And I cannot imagine how it would be not to know this fact; and for this fact not to be a central motivation in my life. It is really, really hard to put oneself in the shoes of not knowing something that one knows. This, too, is the glory and the consequence of human memory.

So where AVI sees and loves the Evangelical Christian's desire to talk about their messiah to me, I see and hate the desire to cause the loss by conversion to an already decimated people. Where he sees a world of Christians, growing by leaps and bounds, I see a world without Jews, where "the light in [our] tent will go out." AVI says to me something like: I want to share what I consider to be a great gift with you. And I respond: Clean up your own house first before you tell me that I am doomed to hell because I'm a Jew. This idea is dangerous. (And it is from the perspective of Jewish history in Europe, which is not at all the same experience as Christian history in Europe). And so it goes. I remember things that AVI chooses to forget. He relies upon the American experience that Jews do not wholly trust*.

*I will not discuss AVI's argument here that these people were not Christians, nor the argument that the Nazis, many of whom were secular Christians--that is imbued with the cultural prejudices of European Christianity towards Jews even if not church goers--were not Christians. I consider this kind of hair-splitting to be an evasion of the power of those bad ideas to inform evil actions.

**I remember suggesting to my rabbi that in arguing on behalf of gays that they have the same contractual rights as any other individuals have, we should stand firmly on the individual rights claimed in the Declaration of Independence and protected by the Constitution. He did not think this was a good idea. He did not wholly trust those principles, precisely because the Evangelicals used the first document to claim that this is a "Christian" nation. He did not even trust the non-establishment of religion clause of the First Amendment. The argument he crafted was completely divorced from our founding documents and therefore incomprehensible to Evangelicals. They, in turn, could not understand the rabbi's concern about the individual rights of gays, nor that the rabbi despises their position because the idea promotes the persecution and murders of members of a despised minority, in the same way that Jews were persecuted and murdered in Europe.

Now consider that last line of AVIs again:
"They no longer remember the alternatives were far worse."
When I first read it, I "heard" it this way: Those Jews don't remember that if they don't allow us to persuade them, we will become frustrated enough to force them.

I read it that way because I know the history of the Protestant Reformation in Germany, and what Martin Luther did. At first, he urged his new Lutherans to be kind and loving and persuasive to the Jews of Germany. He was certain that this would naturally cause them to see his truth, and that they would convert. His disappointment when this did not happen led to persecution and murder of the Jewries in Lutheran areas. In his polemical study of the roots of Nazism, Freethinker Jim Walker writes:

"No apologist can claim that Martin Luther bore his anti-Jewishness out of youthful naivete', uneducation, or out of unfounded Christianity. On the contrary, Luther in his youth expressed a great optimism about Jewish conversion to Christianity. But in his later years, Luther began to realize that the Jews would not convert to his wishes. His anti-Jewishness grew slowly over time. His logic came not from science or reason, but rather from Scripture and his Faith. His "On the Jews and Their Lies" shows remarkable study into the Bible and fanatical biblical reasoning. Luther, at age 60 wrote this dangerous "little" book at the prime of his maturity, and in full knowledge in support of his beliefs and Christianity.
Few people today realize that Luther wrote 'On the Jews and Their Lies.' (He also wrote such works like "Against the Sabbatarians.") Freethinkers should become aware of the anti-Semitic influence that Luther has brought on the world. His vehement attack on Jews and his powerful influence on the believers of the Germans has brought a new hypothesis to mind: that the Jewish holocaust, and indeed, the eliminationist form of anti-Semitism in Nazi Germany may not have occurred without the influence from Luther's book "On the Jews and Their Lies."
--From Martin Luther's Dirty Little Book: On the Jews and their Lies, A Precusor to Nazism, by Jim Walker. Retrieved from

(It is important to realize that Luther did not invent Christian anti-Judaism, but that with this book, he proved it was not just a Roman Catholic problem in the West. There is also here and elsewhere a great deal of evidence for a direct line of thought between Luther and the Nazi eliminationist ideology. Roman Catholic thought had previously forbidden the destruction of European Jewry on the grounds that they should rather be kept in misery to demonstrate the consequences of not accepting the deity of Jesus, although Bishops often turned a blind eye to murder and mayhem against Jewish communities. But Luther, in his break from the Catholic Church, actively promulagated the outright elimination of Jews from Europe. This 'dirty little book" was quoted extensively in Nazi literature and propaganda).

Upon re-reading the whole of what AVI said, however, I believe that AVI did not intend that. Rather, the antecedent to the phrase "they don't remember . . ." implies that the "they" AVI is talking about is "Americans." Americans, not Jews. Perhaps what AVI meant was: "Americans don't remember that this idea of persuasion is unique to America and that the European version was force." Perhaps AVI doesn't even know about Martin Luther's rabid anti-Judaism and his contribution to Nazi ideology.

But I don't know that for sure, and cannot until it is confirmed by AVI one way or another. And I still hear the implied threat in those words. A threat whose implications come from the persistence of my memory. From the experience that has been handed down to me by my teachers. The experience that says "beware of Christians who befriend you in order to convert you. When you decline, they will force you or kill you."

And there are those who do not want us to remember.
Whether out of the desire to destroy us or out of love and the desire to make us over in the image of their own traditions, it does not really matter to us. The consequences are the same. A world without Jews.

Rather, through the persistence of memory, I see a world of diverse belief and tradition. A world in which all of us recognize that the initiation of force against others by individuals for any reason is immoral and will lead to great evil. Even the minimal force applied by Evangelicals in their sometimes overzealous attempts to publically persuade, in the schools and the military academies, and (as once happened to me), in a Starbucks--an inconsiderate interruption of a study session among Jewish women.

And at the very least, if Evangelicals want Jews to side with them on certain issues of mutual interest, it would help if they would educate themselves on who we are as Jews, and what our memory and experience call us to do and to refuse to do, and to be and refuse to be. They could stop the evasion, learn their own history, and develop compassion for those who have very bad memories about Christianity.

On Yom Kippur we remembered. Yesterday, in reading AVIs blog, I remember why we remember. Last night, I had my nightmare again. The one with the round-faced European Jewish children behind a veil of smoke and ashes; the sound of gunfire and rough commands in German. "Juden, raus!"

Such is the persistence of memory.

"Who will dream You?
Who will remember You?
Who deny You?
Who yearn for You?
Who, on a lonely bridge,
Will leave You--in order to return?"
--The Gates of Repentence, Yom Kippur Afternoon Service, p. 437.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Philosophy of Liberty Video

I am going into an intense weekend and a full week after that. But here is something to think about until I post again: The Philosophy of Liberty from our own Retake Congress YouTube site. And the music is great, too!

"Everything you need to know about life, liberty, property, ethics, human interaction, commerce, trade, and government wrapped in one nice little 8 minute presentation."

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness." --Declaration of Independence, 1776

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Jews with Guns II: IDF Psalm 121

L'Shanah Tova from the IDF and Carolyn Glick of the Jerusalem Post.
Glick says:

" . . .it occurred to me that the people of Israel don't really care about Goldstone and the UN and all their libels against our sons, and daughters, our brothers and sisters, husbands and wives in the IDF. We aren't seeking their approval or permission. We know who we are and we know who our soldiers are. "

Text of Psalm 121:

A Song of the Ascents:
I will lift my eyes to the mountains,
from whence cometh my help.
My help is from the Eternal,
maker of the heavens and the earth.
G-d will not allow your foot to slip,
your Guardian does not slumber;
Behold, the Guardian of Israel
neither slumbers nor sleeps.
G-d is your Guardian,
G-d is the shade at your right hand.
By day the sun will not harm you,
nor the moon by night.
G-d will protect you from every evil,
G-d will guard your soul.
G-d will guard your going out and your coming in.
From this time to forever.

Jews with Guns: The Other Partisans

"Zog nitkaymol . . . Never say that there is only death for you,
Though leaden clouds may conceal the skies of blue,
As the hour that we longer is now near,
And our marching feet beat out that we are here!"
--Lid Partizaner, The Partisan's Song by Hirsch Glick, Vilna Ghetto, 1943

Yesterday, I was reading through some blogs, in the comments on one, I came upon a statement that puzzled me. The commentor was replying to some discussion about Fiddler on the Roof, and then he mentioned the movie Defiance, about Bielsky Partisans of Beylorussia. He said:

"I can't recall a single instance in the film where an action is explicitly informed by religious values. They do some things that are Jewish in character but it's more of a cultural tradition . . ." Comment from "Der Hahn" at At Assistant Village Idiot .

So yesterday afternoon, the Boychick and I sat down to watch movie. At the end we looked at each and said, "That blogger does not understand."

The whole movie was religious in the Jewish sense. The Partisans, in their desire to save the lives of their people from the Shoah, also built a community in the forest that preserved their way of life. For most Jews, secular or religious, our faith is not something external to us, it dwells within. By saving lives, and by making mighty and awesome miracles with their own hands, by praying and marrying, teaching and healing, by music and argumentation--and chess--those partisans were being Torah, even while living on the edge of deluge.

Perfect, the Bielsky brothers were not. And yet, as a character acknowledged in the movie, they were "sent by G-d to save us." Like Moses, like Deborah, like Gideon, like David, Llke Judah the Maccabee. The greatest Jewish value is life. By living their lives as menschen--human beings--they defied the Nazis and all their evil minions. They said, "We are here!"

In the movie, when the partisans are in weapons training, one of the leaders says:
"Remember! This is not a gun. This is Saul's sword, this Gideon's spear, this is David's sling with which he killed the monster Goliath."

There is the idea in the United States that Jews don't do guns. And yet, if all of us were New York Jews who fight only with words, we would not be here. Consider what it took for the Partisans of WWII, for the American Jews who fought that war, for the IDF special forces, like Yoni Netanyahu, who died freeing the hijacked passengers of the Air France plane at Entebbe. They were all Jews with guns, warriors who go back to Moses, to Saul and Jonathan, to Gideon, to David. See the movie Defiance. Or watch the Israeli movie on Entebbe, Mivtsa Yonatan (Operation Thunderbolt). Then view thedocumentary Innocents Betrayed, which documents the use of gun laws to disarm the victims of nine different genocides. And then go to Jews for the Preservation of Firearm Ownership and make a donation in the name of the Partisans.

Eternal Vigilance is the Price of Liberty.

"This song was written with our blood and not with lead,

It's not a little tune that birds sing overhead;

This song a people song admidst collapsing walls,

With pistols in hand, they headed to the call . . ."

--The Partisan's Song

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

First Day of Autumn, First Frost

Nearly Wordless Wednesday

The Autumnal Equinox occured in Sedillo yesterday, September 22, 2009, at 15:18 MDT.
A cold front also brought us a frosty morning as the dogs and I went out to walk in the first sunrise of autumn.

Sunrise over the Los Pinos Ridge, as seen from the top of Los Pecos, in the High Meadow.

As we turned to go down the hill, we could see all of Cedar glowing in the gentle autumn sunrise, the Jemez mountains a blue shadow in the background. In the foreground, aspens are well on the way to turning.

The winterfat is fluffy and white, below the ridge; the grasses have taken on that autumnal frosty silver in the meadow.

Winter is coming. And it will be early.

We took the path along the middle fork of Sedillo Wash up into the woods. Though behind us, the mountain valley is lit up by the rising sun, here the shadow of the ridge mutes the colors, and keeps chilled in the frosty air.

Frost turns the gold on the rabbitbrush flowers to white, and softens the dark cryptogamic lichens and rock.
The season is changing, and the winter birds coming, Juncos taking the place of the Meadowlarks.

Living in the mountains, we can see the sunrise twice. Once from the top of the High Meadow, and then from the edge of Sedillo Canyon along Los Pecos. Here, on the way home, we stopped to watch the autumnal equinox sunrise again, from the woods along the road.

Monday, September 21, 2009

That Partisan Rosh Hashanah Sermon

In traditional Judaism, sermons are given during religious services twice a year. Once on the Sabbath before Passover, Shabbat HaGadol (the "Great" Sabbath), when the rabbi is supposed to instruct the holy congregation on the laws that apply to the Passover observance. The other time is on Shabbat T'shuvah (the Sabbath of Repentence), when the rabbi is supposed to instruct the holy congregation on the laws that apply to the "great white fast" on Yom Kippur. At other times during the year, there might be a short D'var Torah (words of Torah), which is supposed to be a short talk or study session related to the Torah portion of the week. There are also separate times for Torah study and discussion throughout the week.

The idea that a rabbi should get up and give a sermon each and every week during worship services, and that he has the knowledge and the right to instruct congregants on matters political in a forum in which they have no room to dispute his words or to reply, was borrowed from the Christians, and particularly from those Christians who imbue their priests and ministers with a quality of holiness that comes from their office and that is greater than the holiness associated with the congregation itself.

To be clear, in normative Judaism, a rabbi is a teacher and decisor of Jewish law, but otherwise has no more claim to holiness than the humblest day laborer who is a member of the congregation. A rabbi is learned in Jewish law, but is not to be regarded as one would a priest or prophet or king. Those three offices are considered to be in abeyance for Jews since the destruction of the second temple, and among orthodox Jews, it is believed that they will be restored only by the coming of the Messiah. Traditionally, being a rabbi, a teacher and decisor of Jewish law, was not a job, but a calling. The rabbi was supposed to make his living doing something else. Thus, rabbis were merchants, shoemakers, and in the case of the beloved Rabbi Akiba, a shepherd and revolutionary.

Of course, in the modern Jewish movements such as Reform, the synagogue has been unpegged from Jewish law to one extent or another, and so the primary responsibility of the rabbi has become that of "professional Jew"; a provider of religious services and religious-based counsel, roles that traditionally belonged to every adult Jew. This role-change has had the unintended consequence of making most adult Jews less than adult in their understanding of Judaism and of their rights and responsibilities in the synagogue. Add the political Vision of the Annointed to this mix, and the results are positively ugly.

And this (finally) brings me to the notorious (yes, already) Rosh Hashannah morning sermon that caused a number of congregants to walk out and those who were left to become very quiet indeed.

Unfortunately, I do not (yet) have a written text of the sermon, though I have looked for it online, and requested it from the rabbi. Since yesterday was still a holy day, there may be some delay in getting it. Therefore I will not be going through the sermon to discuss each point. In any case, I am not that interested in arguing specific claims the rabbi made, because the thing that made this sermon so egregiously wrong was the structure of the talk itself, which lead to a smear* made from the pulpit against those Jews who disagree with the healthcare proposals of the current president of the United States and his party.

*A smear is an implication of guilt by false association. It is a logical fallacy in the category of presumption. The art of the smear is the art of conflating an unpopular idea espoused by a person or group with a stigmatized group or idea, thus ruining the reputation of the first, without actually addressing the disliked idea. In this case the rabbi conflated opposition to Obamacare with Social Darwinism.

The rabbi began his sermon by telling us it was going to be about politics. At that point a number of people got up and walked out, and frankly, I should have done so as well. It would have saved me a great deal of aggravation. However, in my defense, last year he gave a very good sermon about political argumentation. The point of that sermon was an admonishment against the demonization of those with whom we politically disagree.

Unfortunately, the rabbi must not have gone back and read that sermon again before writing this one, because that is exactly what he proceeded to do. Oh, it was demonization by implication rather than direct insult, but the implication was made clear by the structure of the sermon. There were thus two overall problems with this sermon. One was the structure of it that led to that demonizing implication, and the other was with the lack of a rigorous defintion of a concept, which in turn allowed the smear. I will deal with the second problem first, and then turn to the smear itself.

The rabbi began by telling a joke in which a lost gorilla is found at the New York Public Library study room with both a Bible and a copy of The Origin of Species open in front of him. He says he is trying to figure out if he is his brother's keeper or his keeper's brother. Not terribly original, as we have heard it at least twice before, but it got a laugh. It was the last one of the morning. The rabbi then proceeded to a discussion of Social Darwinism, but he did so without defining it accurately. I do not have his exact words in front of me, but he did imply that Social Darwinism was an idea conceived to explain why the rich are rich and the poor are poor in the service of maintaining this status quo for some undefined period of time. (Because in the United States, people enjoy much social mobility, this statement itself is open to question, but that is a another essay). The rabbi then rather subtly implied that Social Darwinism is a fault of the political Right. (I detest that artificial political divide, but that's still another blog).

The rabbi's definition is woefully incomplete and a half-truth at best. The term Social Darwinism can be applied to any of a number of collectivist ideologies that posit that competition among groups or nations leads to "social evolution." This idea requires an acceptance of group selection, and it also requires a social definiton of fitness rather than a biological one. For the record, the modern synthesis in biology defines the unit of selection as the individual. (This is axiomatic because it is the individual that reproduces and passes on genes). Fitness is defined as the ability to survive to maturity and to reproduce oneself. On the genetic level, the fitness of each gene is measured by it's frequency in the breeding population, using the Hardy-Weinberg equation. On the individual level, it is measured by number of offspring because offspring are the carriers of the genes in the next generation. Evolution is measured in a population by the rate of change in the gene frequencies. To put it into one pithy statement: Natural selection acts on individuals but it is populations that evolve. A population has a strict definition in biology and should not be confused with the more nebulous term 'society'.

Social Darwinism is pseudoscience. Historically, the Social Darwinism pseudoscience has been the impetus for many of the social programs put forth by the progressives, including American programs such as eugenics, the principles of which were enshrined into American law by the Buck v. Bell SCOTUS decision written by the liberal and progressive jurist, Oliver Wendell Holmes. It was also the inspiration for the National Socialist (Nazi) race theory, and it is well to remember that this fascistic movement was statism, another form of collectivism. Sans the race theory, this same kind of nationalistic socialism in Italy was hailed as progressive by American progressives of both major parties until WWII commenced. Historically, constitutional conservatives, libertarians and constitutionalists have opposed Social Darwinism not so much on the grounds that it is not even wrong scientifically, but that it is inimicable to individual rights.

(For historical information, please see American Progressivism: A Reader by Professors R.J. Pestritto and W.J. Atto, or for a more popular but well documented account, see Liberal Fascism by Jonah Goldberg. For information on the American eugenics movement from the perspective of an evolutionary biologist, see The Mismeasure of Man by Steven J. Gould. For information on the soft eugenics in American education, see An Underground History of American Education by J.T. Gatto, or go to his sources, such as Democracy and Education by the progressive John Dewey. From these you can follow the sources and read the American socialists and progressives in their own words).

Now on the structural problem in the Sermon of the Smear.

Essentially, the first half of the sermon was, as I have said, a poorly defined discussion about the Social Darwinism pseudoscience. The second half of the sermon was an argument in favor of two things: 1) federal health-care legislation (Obamacare by another name) and 2) that when Congress votes, opponents of the decision are obligated to "sit down and shut up." (A paraphrase of the POTUS and erstwhile messiah-in-chief). Since the rabbi's argument for Obamacare was in favor of a plan that doesn't exist all in one place, it was of necessity based on a collection of disputed statistics, and a number of generalities designed to appeal to emotion rather than reason. The second argument, so fallaciously counter to the American ideal of freedom of speech, speaks for itself. No American should ever be persuaded to stop speaking out against an unconstitutional (and thus unlawful) legislation. This is all objectionable in itself, and when I have the text of the sermon in front of me, I may write a second part to this entry, outlining all of these problems.

The big problem was that no clear transition was made (at least in the spoken sermon) from the first part on Social Darwinism to the second part about Obamacare. This left the listener to conclude that the rabbi was arguing that anyone who opposes Obamacare is not only a bad Jew who wants poor uninsured babies to die on the streets, but that we are also Social Darwinists. Here is the Vision of the Anointed in spades. Don't argue an idea on its merits or lack of them, argue it on the basis of your moral self-righteousness as opposed to your opponent's moral depravity-- a moral depravity determined by his opposition to your "enlightened" idea.

If I were a betting woman, I would bet that there was not one person in that sanctuary who wants poor uninsured babies to die for lack of care*. There was not one person in that sanctuary who would not give from his or her own largesse to help a neighbor or friend in dire straits. However, there were a substantial number of people in that sanctuary who are opposed to the federal government taking over healthcare because it is unconstitutional. But the basis of the rabbi's smear was not our argument, but the fact that we were opposed to a policy that he supports. Therefore, by definition, we must be the benighted ones who need to be enlightened. (I suppose that our enlightenment is to be accomplished by this rabbi's tacit approval of taking our own property away from us at the point of a gun to be used as he and his anointed colleagues in government see fit. We will be "free" to do what they tell us to do).

*For the record, for many years, my children were among those poor and uninsured children, and I did not qualify for the help my tax dollars funded. I was at that time a tax-paying member of the "working poor." But my kids did not die in the streets for lack of care. I insured myself--all I could afford--and then paid out of pocket for their rather ordinary medical expenses. The medical crisis I faced was a diagnosis of breast cancer, and I was darn lucky to have my own private medical insurance. Under Obamacare I would not have had the option to insure only myself without paying a bill of attainder tax (unconstitutional) for not insuring my children. With my private insurance I got excellent and timely medical care, care that has historically not been available to those dependent on socialized medicine.

Although there were people who nodded all through the rabbi's sermon, (either because they did not catch the logical fallacy of presumption but agreed with the conclusion, or because they agreed with the logical fallacy) there was relative silence after the sermon. I saw people sitting back with their arms crossed, and others fled the sanctuary at the first opportunity. I stayed for the choir anthem but I cannot remember what it was about. Certainly, my focus was no longer on Rosh Hashanah or on improving myself. Rather, I was contemplating civil disobedience at that particular point. I hate being placed in the position of seeing a false characterization and not being able to counter it. I fled right after the Kaddish, not being of a mood to participate in the rabbi's hand-holding "Kum-Ba-Yah" moment with him because of the ugliness of what he did when he smeared those who disagree with him on a political issue.

I badly wanted to stand up right then and there and challenge him to put his money where his mouth is**. If he really practices what he preaches, he should eagerly allow us to force him forgo his raise in order to "spread the wealth around" to those members of the congregation who are unable to pay full dues or religious school and/or pre-school tuition. Maybe we should vote not to raise his salary until all these needs are met. And maybe we should vote to impose a special temple tax on his salary for this purpose, because he makes far above the average income in New Mexico, being a member of the CCAR, which is essentially a rabbi's guild. If "soaking the rich" is morally superior in his eyes, shouldn't he be happy to comply? The majority rules, right? (My point is not that he does or does not choose to give to worthy causes, it is that he apparently believes that it is a moral virtue to force others to give to causes they would not choose).

**From my own personal experience, I know of once case in which he did not abide by his stated moral code with regard to a person experiencing financial difficulty due to a health issue.

Alas, I am either too polite or too lacking in the prophetic characteristics of my more fiery ancestors. And frankly, who wants to end up like Jeremiah?

The sermon ended with the rabbi's earnest assertion that "we are our brother's keepers." In the actual story in Genesis, Cain uses a different phrase in a question, asking, "Am I my brother's guardian?" But the meaning in the context of the story is clear. Cain is using the statement to evade responsibility for murdering his brother. In B'reshit (Genesis), the question is appended to a lie told in response to a direct question about Cain's dead brother's whereabouts. It is twisting the context to imply that it means that every individual should be forced to surrender the fruit of his labor for the support of every other. That would be involuntary servitude. In B'reshit, the Eternal does not bother to answer the question, but instead confronts Cain with the evidence of his act of murder. "Your brother's blood cries out to me from the ground." Cain's crime was that he murdered his brother. It is not a crime to refuse to enter into involuntary servitude.

Enslaving someone is in itself an immoral act. Using the federal government as the agent of enslavement makes it no more moral. A majority vote by our representatives in Congress makes it no more moral and no more legal. One cannot vote away one's own rights or those of another. Individual rights belong to human beings by virtue of their nature, and are thus said to be given by G-d. This is why the Engineering Geek and I have agreed not only to walk out on any future political sermons, but also to seriously consider whether it is moral for us to continue to support the synagogue if our money is going to causes that support this rabbi's words. And even if not, should we pay to provide him the bully pulpit he is using to call us Social Darwinists?

Unfortunately, my daughter has mistaken the actions of this rabbi and the climate that he has created in our synagogue with Judaism in general, and that is why she is leaving the faith. (See Zichronot). She cannot imagine raising her children in that environment, where they will be taught that it is appropriate for a rabbi to practice or condone bullying and smearing. She is a smart, strong woman who sees through the twisting of justice that these practices entail. What she does not see is that they are also a twisting of Jewish values. She does not understand that this is a perversion of the Holiness Code of Leviticus.

I know better. Rabbis come and rabbis go, it is the congregation that is holy. Many important life-cycle ceremonies have taken place for me at that Bimah, and there are many people I love in the congregation. At the same time, the Engineering Geek and I believe that we have the moral duty to make our complaints known and to withdraw our support if they are not answered. This is not the first time this rabbi has used his pulpit to assert the moral superiority of the current adminstration's political policies. And it is not the first time he has said or implied that one particular political stance is the only proper stance for Jews. We know that this is not so.

I think that this rabbi needs to make amends with the holy congregation for the implications he has made in this sermon and in other such sermons that there is only one Judaically correct political viewpoint, and for making false statements using the art of the smear; that is bringing shame upon a person or group by conflating his/their position with that of a stigmatized group or idea. A smear is a lie.

In the meantime, I will not, I cannot sit still and listen to anyone who has a political viewpoint that differs from that of the rabbi being smeared from the pulpit. Although I can, and have, used my right as a Jew to interrupt services in the face of an egregious problem that affects the shalem--the wholeness--of the community, I do not think that this would be useful in the large High Holy Day gathering. Therefore, I will make public my opposition to such public smears through my blog and by other means.

And to get back to the beginning of this post, I really think we ought to revisit the role of the sermon and restore it to twice a year. I go to the synagogue to pray. I go to the synagogue to study. I go to the synagogue to talk to Jews. I do not go to the synagogue to be indoctrinated with the political dogma of a particular rabbi or even of a particular Jewish movement. And I certainly do not go to hear hard-working, tax-paying Jews smeared by the rabbi whose high salary (by local standards) our dues support.

Edited to add links and correct typos.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Zichronot (Remembrance): You Shall Go Out in Joy

Rosh Hashanah 5770 began Friday at sundown.

This year the High Holy Days seemed to sneak up on me, and yet, as I have come to expect, they are still a roller coaster ride of events and emotions.

This year the New Year was bittersweet, our first without the Chemistry Geek Princess. I have not written of it, or of her upcoming wedding, because mixed in with my joy at seeing her coming up in the world is also the personal heartbreak of watching her choose to leave Judaism behind her. For me, being a Jew has a light side and a dark side and binds my personal universe together. Like all loves, it is exciting, frustrating, challenging, comforting, fulfilling. It is so inextricably part of who I am that I would be unrecognizeable to myself were I to wake up tomorrow not a Jew.

And yet somehow, in our topsy-turvy lives, I did not convey this to my daughter. She did not find it compelling. It is, we say, hard to be a Jew. And in this day and age, each person must choose Judaism for herself.

Perhaps there is a moment in the life of every mother when her eyes are opened and she wonders: How did this one grow beneath my heart, how did this child come forth from my body, and yet become so inexplicably foreign to me? How is my own child more unrecognizable to me than the child of a stranger, the young woman who stood to chant B'reshit (Creation), on this the second day of Rosh Hashanah, at the service in the mountains?

As Jews, we share the mythos that all of us stood at Sinai amidst the fire, the smoke, the awe and the blasts of the Shofar. Everyone who has the soul a Jew, whether she comes to it early or late; whether he comes to it through struggle, or by slipping into it as one slips into the world between one moment and the next at birth; everyone who is a Jew stood at Sinai, and in that moment out of time, accepted the covenant as an individual. This is our shared Ur-story, our shared myth and shared remembrance.

And today, as I sat under the Ponderosa Pines listening to our rabbi sing of remembering Sinai, and as I felt the heat and tasted the smoke, I understood that the Chemistry Geek Princess did not stand there with us in that time outside of time. In that mythic time she was elsewhere, partaking of a different story, choosing another way. For it is hard to be a Jew.

Since learning, during the week of Pesach, that the Chemistry Geek Princess was no longer crossing over the boundaries with us, I have not gone to a single Shabbat service until Erev Rosh Hashannah, Friday. For reasons that are complicated and inchoate, even now, I kept myself apart from the synagogue.

At the Erev Rosh Hashanah service I had an almost unmanagable desire to stand for Kaddish with those mourning a recent death. But the Chem Greek Princess is, thank goodness, very much alive. Every moment of life is a moment in which to rejoice.

Yesterday Rosh Hashanah morning services were good. Together we remembered the birth of the world, of life. We remembered Abraham's moment of insanity when he almost murdered Isaac, the child of laughter, and we remembered the urgent call to reason at the last moment. We stood for the wild wailing of the Shofar, calling us to majesty, to remembrance and to redemption. But the sermon, of which I will write more later, jarred that momentary sense of remembering, and by Kaddish, I was no longer there in that place.

This morning was different.

Joy greeting the light of day--Or Zaruach l'tzaddik . . . light is sown for the righteous.

Women dancing to the sound of drum and cymbals . . . kol han'shamah . . . the voice of everything that breathes . . . echoed the blue of the sky, the deep green of the pines.

A primal moment of Jewish soul.

The second Aliyah--the going up to make the blessing for the reading of Torah--called those who stood in need of healing; of the body, or of a breech, or of some great internal struggle in need of a tikkun, a repair, a return to shalem, to wholeness. I went up with others whose bodies or minds or spirits called them to go up. And, beside myself, I said the blessing. And as I stood there listening to a young woman chanting Torah, I saw the mirror of my daughter. What might have been, in a different universe. And I stood, tears running silently down my face as I listened to her proclaim in her sweet and confident voice of the goodness of the earth and those that dwell on it.

And so through the second blessing: . . . Blessed . . . for implanting life within us . . .

And so through the Mishebeyrach: . . . May the one who blessed our mothers and fathers bless these ones also with life and great wholeness and completeness.

And so through the reading of the Haftarah (Prophets): " . . . you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace. The mountains and hills shall burst out in song before you . . . They stand as an everlasting sign that all shall not perish."

A wedding. A simcha--a time of rejoicing. A commitment. A new family. A chance at more life. It should be, it is a time of joy.

And yet, here a breech, a loss. A daughter's choice, a mother's grief.

How to find the balance? The sense of shalem--of wholeness, of completeness, of peace?

"I remember you,

As we stood at the foot

of that mountain,

covered with soot

from all the fire and the smoky cloud . . ."*

And I remember watching you,

through the ashes and the flame,

I remember you . . . turning and walking away.

Was the sound and the heat too intense?

Did I not teach you your name?

Or was it all just too much,

And you turned away?**

A mother's work is to guide each child, to teach and to uphold her. But a child's work is to grow and becoming someone new and different. And the child will go where the parent wishes she would not. And that is the way of life.

And so I grieve. My crown is broken. A precious jewel is gone. There is a loss, a tear in the garment, a breech in the circle. I cannot know how this will become. And there is distance made by her, and made by me. Perhaps only the coming of the messiah can span it.

And still, she should go out in joy.

*Rabbi Joe Black, "I Remember You", from the album Sabbatical.

** Elisheva Levin, You, Walking Away.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Another Equinoctical Storm


The Engineering Geek's official rain guage read 1.8" after a rain that started in the pre-dawn lasted until nearly 1 PM this afternoon

For perspective, our mountains usually get an average precipitation of 12 - 16 inches per year.

It was still misting lightly as the dogs and I ventured out to check on the area after the downpour stopped.

The water pools on the downhill side of a culvert, last stop before it cascades down the rocks and into Sedillo Canyon. I wish I had been willing to brave the mud and venture into the canyon. I might actually have seen water running in the arroyo there.

Water rilling and pooling on the flat area below the road. It will be slowed down by a narrow inlet into the east source for Sedillo Canyon. This is a very unusual sight. The area is usually either muddy or dusty.

Water makes the road across the lower high meadow into a lake. And a river. It will take more than one day of sunshine to do a meadow walk. And we've only had one meadow walk this week. This has been an exceptionally rainy September.

Water in the culvert at Los Pecos and Los Pecos.
Last night's wind brought down the dead twigs.
Today's rain is washing them away down to Sedillo Canyon.

Our walk was accompanied by the murmur, babble and laughter of falling water. Lots of it.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Where Does the Circle Begin? Equinoctical New Year

27 Elul, Two Days before Rosh Hashanah

"Where does the circle start? When does the year begin?
As with many Jewish questions, there are at least two answers
--and both of them are right."
--Arthur Waskow, Seasons of Our Joy

For us now, the circle begins amidst the end of the season growth. A new beginning as the harvest of autumn begins.
Here, the equinoctical storms gather; frontal weather from the west, this year, the rains are increased; brought by the gathering waters of the El Nino far away.
This brings unsettled weather, dark clouds scudding across a pale, rain-washed sky at dawn.
The season is changing, a season of death and renewal. A season of introspection and harvest.

"Judaism is a religion of Life against death.
Death negates redemption; it is the end of growth, of freedom.
. . . Judaism's general response to the fact of death is to fight back.
Life is given the highest priority."
--R. Irving Greenberg, The Jewish Way

All that lives must die.
So the grasses wither and the leaves will fall in the face of the oncoming winter.
And yet, abundant life is the work of the earth.
Life is the ultimate, infinite value of the human being.
In this world, death is the ultimate contradiction of the Eternal, that which "delights" in life, and strives towards human fulfillment.

"Zochreinu l'chayim--Remember us unto life,
Melech chafetz b'chayim--O King who delights in life,
V-chatvenu b'sefer ha-chayim--And inscribe in the Book of Life."
--Amidah for the Days of Awe

In the desert mountains, the storms are fierce; lighting dances on the mountain front, tearing winds howl through the canyons.

But the rains of autumn also bring life-giving water to the soil, and the first frosts work it deeper into the ground, shifting it, covering the falling seeds, preparing it for new life to come.

And the sun, not so fierce as in the summer, shines again, a blessing of light and a promise of warmth even as the cold season approaches.

"V'hinei Adonai ohver . . . and, behold, Adonai passed by, and a strong wind rent the mountains; and broke in pieces the rock before Adonai, but Adonai was not in the wind.

And after the wind an earthquake, but Adonai was not in the earthquake; And after the earthquake, a fire, but Adonai was not in the fire.

And after the fire, kol ramamah dakach . . . a still, small voice.

And it was so . . . "

--Malchim Alef (I Kings: 11-12)

The Days of Awe, intense and powerful.
The Shofar's wild cry;
The deep and dark U'ntana Tokef;
The solemn confidence of the Avinu Malkeinu.

But the Presence of Life was vouchsafed already to me,
in the dawn-turned jeweled beads of the recent rain upon the ever-green pinyon pine needles.
In the moment of quiet; the soft ramamah sound; the last drops of last night's life-giving rain.

"When death is present, someone steps forward and, through the recitation of the Kaddish, testifies that this
family has not yielded to crushing defeat . . . the Kaddish affirms that the [Eternal] kingdom of total wholeness and total life
will be brought speedily into being, preferably in this very lifetime."
--R. Irving Greenberg, The Jewish Way

"Magnified and sanctified be the Great Name . . .
May abundant wholeness and completeness rain from the skies,
with life's goodness for us and for the whole House of Israel,
Now, in our own day and our own time . . ."
--Kaddesh d'Shalem

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Tribute Dr. Norman Borlaug Z"L

Today I read that an icon of my first career as a plant/soil ecologist died at the ripe old age of 95.

Dr. Norman Borlaug, called the father of the Green Revolution, died yesterday after a long and fulfilling life. He won the Nobel Prize in 1970 for his agricultural work in Mexico.

His work resulted in agricultural advances that saved millions from starvation and made it possible for countless millions more to come to be.

The Green Revolution made it possible for countries such as Mexico and India to become self-sufficient with respect to agriculture through the use of nitrogen fertilizers, and integrated pest management.

Dr. Borlaug did not see his work as transformative, but rather as "a step in the right direction" for agriculture.

According to Greg Easterbrook, writing for the Atlantic Monthly, despite the clear benefits for poor people worldwide:

". . . by the 1980s finding fault with high-yield agriculture had become fashionable. Environmentalists began to tell the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations and Western governments that high-yield techniques would despoil the developing world. As Borlaug turned his attention to high-yield projects for Africa, where mass starvation still seemed a plausible threat, some green organizations became determined to stop him there." (cited below).

However, Dr. Borlaug lived and worked in countries that directly benefited from the Green Revolution, where he observed directly the real-life consequences of primitive agricultural practices. About environmental lobbyists he observed:

"Some of the environmental lobbyists of the Western nations are the salt of the earth, but many of them are elitists. They've never experienced the physical sensation of hunger. They do their lobbying from comfortable office suites in Washington or Brussels. If they lived just one month amid the misery of the developing world, as I have for fifty years, they'd be crying out for tractors and fertilizer and irrigation canals and be outraged that fashionable elitists back home were trying to deny them these things." (Easterbrook, G. (1997). Forgotten Benefactor of Humanity. The Atlantic Monthly, Online Edition).

I was fortunate to hear Dr. Borlaug speak years ago at a seminar at the University of Illinois. Seldom have I had the privilege of being in the presence of a scientist whose work has made such a profound difference to so many. He has, as Easterbrook so ably put it, "saved more lives than any other person who has ever lived."

Meanwhile, Back at the Roundhouse . . .


It was inspiring to know that more than a million taxpayers marched on Washington yesterday, asking "Can you hear us now?"

About 500 of us who did not go the Washington for various reasons, marched on the Roundhouse--the New Mexico State Capitol--yesterday as a local action. This Tea Party was sponsored by the Santa Fe Tea Party.

We were able to get in touch with Patriots from around the state, and five of us passed out literature for upcoming events from New Mexico Patriot Alliance.

Bruce carried the First Navy Jack.
A message to the State of New Mexico, where political corruption and payola is a way of life.
Don't Tread on ME!

People came from all over the State. This van carried the Las Cruces Tea Party group.

We also ran into the High Plains Patriots from Clovis, Boot Heel Patriots from Deming, and the Four Corners Patriots. Most of these groups caravaned and had their vehicles painted with slogans such as "Defend the Constitution!" and "Enough is Enough!"

Signs, signs, everywhere signs.

Mostly homemade. One in the back reads "There's no astroturfing here!"

I saw another that said, "I am not being paid to be here!"

Some marchers arrive, and exchange hellos and greetings with the Capitol Police.

At every Tea Party, we all make a point to thank the police, from the podium as well as personally. Here, the II American Revolution group members have a friendly exchange.

We drove up with our friend, Charlie "O", who is holding my sign. I gave him custody of it while I was passing out literature for LPNM.

When he signed the petition to the State Legislature, Charlie wrote: "Pork is not kosher. NM Jews for Responsible Government."

I guess we have a new group. We'll have to get the website name reserved! :)

Listening to the speeches. After the opening ceremonies, the first speech was from a young St. John's College Student, who was clearly an Objectivist.

I was very interested in what she had to say. Unfortunately, she was rudely interrupted by a heckler when she said, "I am not my brother's keeper."

The heckler, a middle-aged man, seemed angry to the point of tears as he was escorted out of the crowd by a Tea Party volunteer. He tried to talk to several of us, but another gentleman calmy but firmly told him, "I see your passion, but we want to hear the speech. The young lady has the floor."

It was a lovely day, not too warm, and the afternoon rains held off so that people could sit under the trees, listening to the speeches and enjoying one another's company.

In addition to the Objectivist, we heard from an orthopedic surgeon's concerns about Obama-Care, as well as a Lea County Engineer discussing the perils of Cap 'n' Tax.

Marine and Iraq war veteran Adam Kokesh is a candidate for the NM 3rd Congressional District seat for the United States House of Representatives.

He is also a fiery speaker, but he did not speak yesterday because the Tea Party chose to have citizens who are not currently politicians, officeholders or candidates.

Here Adam and his dog Balleu (sp??) pose for my camera.

Adam is a true patriot, and Ragamuffin House supports his campaign, even though we reside in NM's 1st Congressional District.

Yesterday was an excellent day.

Driving home, though, I realized that I am getting a cold or the flu. Unfortunately, I will be missing a friend's B-day party and a Kokesh volunteer meeting today. But I've got to keep my feet up, and sip Ragamuffin House Chicken Soup (TM) and hot lemonade and try to kick this thing.