I AM

“Let us dress ourselves in the garments of G_d – compassion for the needy, embrace of the stranger – and then spread the canopy of peace over all the world.” (From the Reform prayerbook Mishkan T’filah.)

"Let us dress ourselves in the garments of G_d – compassion for the needy, embrace of the stranger – and then spread the canopy of peace over all the world." Click To Tweet

I am a Jew. I came to it a bit later in life, accepting the heritage of my father’s family. Some would consider me not a Jew, a fault of my maternal heritage. But I am a Jew.

Anti-semitism has apparently become the topic du jour, not that it ever went away. But in a thread on Facebook that I was following that was begun on the topic of racism, I read something that I had to read more than once. The writer say he was a Jew but had never been touched or “flinched from” anti-semitism. He went on to say that perhaps progressive Jews were more sensitive to such bigotry.

This last statement is so loaded with problems it is hard to know where to start. To begin, I have no idea what he meant by progressive Jews. Contextually the implication was that somehow the liberal snowflake Jews would take more offense, bringing us into the more overtly political. And then to infer that it is just a sensitivity of uber political correctness to be offended by anti-semitism. Finally to imply that more sensible (less liberal politically) Jews would not be bothered by bigotry. Fallacious notions all.

When my son was young and we lived in sub-urban New Mexico, he experienced a great deal of prejudice. I concede that it was primarily born of ignorance not of hate, but it was painful nonetheless. And those who acted on their prejudices could not have cared less what branch of Judaism we practiced, or what our political beliefs were. We were Jews, we were alien.

And the current social media war that rages over whether Jews can be real Americans if they are Democrats, or whether Democrats can be supporters of Israel is despicable. I am a liberal Democrat, although I try to be a thinking independent as needed. I am a reasonably religious and observant Jew. I am a supporter of Israel although not in every action that they take. I have always been hopeful for a peace that seems farther from our grasp than ever. I am deeply offended by the notion that any of these things are mutually exclusive and that our divisive and combative national dialogue has now made my religion an issue of patriotism. I love what this country should be, and I am a constitutional nerd. I also believe in the values embodied in the quote I started with. But my religion is not, or should not be, a political issue. My politics are grounded in the values my religion teaches; a very different matter.

Where I live now it is astounding how many people do not know what a Star of David represents. Most have no idea what Judaism is, what our beliefs or values are; despite the fact that they embrace the old testament as part of their own various faiths. To many we are still money grubbing baby killers. People always seem surprised to learn that I am Jewish, as if a pleasant 60 something woman should be somehow other than.

“Judaism is a doing which can be grasped only by the heart.” Julius Lester

What More Do You Need

Eikev is this week’s Torah portion; the word has too many meanings for me to really understand or expound on. Suffice it to say that it can mean “heed”, “hear”, “follow” and “heel”, among other things. The portion is always named for the first word so Eikev it is.

Moses, who will never enter the promised land with his people, reminds them of the covenant, the b’rit, that G-d made with them. But he also reminds them that they must be observant and follow the “rules” faithfully for G-d to maintain that covenant. He proceeds to remind them of their bad behavior, of their “trespasses against G-d”. He reminds them that although they will inherit the promised land from the idolatrous, they are far from virtuous.

This portion tells us that the promised land, Israel, will be a “land of milk and honey” if and only if the people obey the commandments and teach them to their children. What a metaphor for our time. If we were to obey the commandments, those basic social rules, we would be in a world at peace.

You have heard the idea that everything you need to know you learned in kindergarten. You didn’t learn the basics to build a rocket, or a building, splice a gene or write computer code. You did, however, learn the basic rules of how to live in the world, how to treat other people, how to share and how to care. You learned to be nice, to be polite, to stand up for those less fortunate, to tell the truth, not to take or destroy other people’s things, not to cheat, to respect differences and to respect proper authority. As an aside you also learn to “tell on” improper authority figures. All of these values, if we were to actually translate them to adult behavior would make the world a much better place.

We do teach these values to our children, or at least many of us at home, and many of our schools and houses of worship do. But somewhere along the line we seem to forget these values and instead of what we learned as children persisting, we start learning from others, adults, who have also forgotten those values. We have stopped thinking for ourselves. We have stopped standing up for the less fortunate. We have forgotten how to look past our differences. We accept cheating. We have forgotten how to share.

So you may not have learned all you need to know in kindergarten, you definitely learned what you need to know about human interaction. But you have forgotten it. According to the Torah, G-d gave Moses the basics and instructed us to… Click To Tweet

So you may not have learned all you need to know in kindergarten, but you definitely learned what you need to know about human interaction. I think in the main we have forgotten it. According to the Torah, G-d gave Moses the basics and instructed us to follow them faithfully. And the promise is that if we ever manage to do that we might globally take a turn for the better.

Shabbat Shalom

Listen to the River

“Mama, Mama many worlds I’ve known since I first left home.” I was, as I often do, listening to the Grateful Dead in my car. And hearing those words sent me reeling through my past. I have heard these words a thousand times but for some reason, they had particular resonance this day.

"Mama, Mama many worlds I've known since I first left home." I was, as I often do, listening to the Grateful Dead in my car. Click To Tweet

And I have had one amazing long strange trip, to quote another song; and many worlds. It is hard to write about memory and about past life without lingering at the regrets. They are easier to stop on than the joys but with an effort, I remind myself to stop on those too.

I left home for college at the age of sixteen, it was 1969 and peace, love and protest were in the air. Along with weed, pills and mushrooms. I lived on a barely finished campus on Long Island but mostly with an artist and his entourage. His portrait of me at that age still hangs in my bedroom, a lovely reminder of the good.

I left college before I turned eighteen and traveled the country working, singing, hitchhiking, going to Dead and Jefferson Airplane concerts. From the age of sixteen until who knows when I had the wonderful fortune to see so many of my icons and my heroes, in concert in mostly small venues. Jackson Browne, James Taylor, Pete Seeger, Little Feat, Bonnie Raitt, Dexter Gordon, Betty Carter, Etta James and so many more. The music has always been the thing for me. I feel most myself in music and closest to G-d in music.

I have lived and worked and sung in California, Arizona, Ohio, Massachusetts, Florida, New York, New Jersey, New Mexico. I may have forgotten a few. And I take many memories from them all, music, food, local idiom. I have sung jazz, gospel, country, country rock, folk and now Americana (that’s what they call old hippie folk/rock these days) and traditional and original Jewish liturgical music. What a road.

I have had multiple careers. I have never been a moneymaker but I have been able to support my family. And I have had the great joy of doing both good in the world and the things I love. Of course, there were a few jobs along the way that weren’t so interesting.

I have been harassed and abused. I have been loved and amused. I have loved and I have been disappointed. I am a mother, the greatest joy of my life; and that came from doing good. I am in an entirely new and alien phase of life so there will be more to talk about.

There is so much to tell but these are my thoughts for today. Many worlds I have indeed known, and there are more to travel through.

At Ease

I grew up in “the city”, that’s Manhattan to those who don’t know. New Yorkers are very arrogant about being the only city. At any rate as much as I have lived in rural and suburban settings throughout my life, I think the rhythm of cities is in me.

Recently, I had the chance to travel to some amazing cities, each one very different than the next. Berlin, Warsaw, Krakow, Prague, Munich – quite a whirlwind. The purpose of the trip wasn’t really “sightseeing” in the traditional sense, but nevertheless we had the opportunity to experience the character of each and what makes each one special. Berlin is full of avant garde artists, musicians, street art; it is a city very alive in a very modern way despite the history embedded there. And still a place for jazz. Warsaw has kept alive a Jewish quarter that doesn’t really exist anymore, the city (and country) was the site of the only active resistance against the Nazis. Warsaw was 85% destroyed in World War II and has been completely rebuilt. They have made great efforts to preserve what can be preserved, 20 feet remains of the ghetto wall but the path of the wall is marked in the streets. Kracow is the complete opposite in that it was almost entirely left standing and it is a beautiful and perfectly preserved historic city. And Prague, ah Prague. Also largely untouched by the war and an amazing and beautiful city, it is very reminiscent of Paris and just as lovely. And there is music everywhere, in every church and cathedral there are chamber players and in the clubs and bars, more music.

I have had the privilege of sitting in Constitution Square in Athens, in a cafe in the ninth arrondissement in Paris and now in the central square in the old town in Prague (not to leave the others out). A seat in a cafe, a cup of coffee and watching the crowded world go by. I feel completely at peace in these settings. I don’t love being in crowds generally, but somehow the general bustle of urban places feels totally familiar and utterly fascinating.

I have had the privilege of sitting in Constitution Square in Athens, in a cafe in the ninth arrondissement in Paris and now in the central square in the old town in Prague (not to leave the others out). A seat in a cafe, a cup of coffee… Click To Tweet

Every now and then one has one of those magical days, or mornings, or afternoons. A moment in life that stands out from the ordinary good. One such for me was an afternoon-evening in Prague. It was a rare unscheduled and free time during this hectic tour. I sat, as I always do, with my coffee and then walked back across the bridge to buy a wallet (a story for another day). I had walked the Charles bridge the day before as all tourists must, but discovered that the bridge that allows cars to make the crossing is much easier and less crowded. And then I walked the old town. I was given a flyer for a chamber concert that evening and determined that it was where I would be. So proceeded to walk, and got completely lost. I didn’t mind a bit. I walked about 19,000 steps that afternoon and saw a lot of that part of town. My google maps wasn’t much help as the streets didn’t match the signs on the building but for some reason, no anxiety. I had the flyer for my concert and it had a map on it, so many lovely encounters asking for directions later, I was back to the appropriate cathedral, St. Clement’s. Vivaldi, Mozart, Pachelbel and Bach later, I tucked into a cab and headed back to my hotel.

My magic afternoon included fresh berries from the open air market, cappucino in an old square, homemade chocolate ice cream, flirtation with handsome older men, lots of walking and very good chamber music in a cathedral adorned effusively with angels. The very best of a lovely city and completely at ease. I love the country but I have an urban soul.

HOPE

It is almost impossible, now, to describe what it felt to be incalculably hopeful. Our idealism, in the sixties and seventies, was boundless. We believed absolutely and completely that we would change the world. And in some ways the world was indeed changed. The civil rights act, the voting rights act, ultimately Title IX, the rise of feminism and a tectonic shift in our culture; music, art, attitudes.

And idealism dies hard. All my life I have held fast to some idealistic notions of good and right. Not to mention my steadfast belief in constitutional democracy and the protections it should afford us.

Having said that, the hardest thing for me about where we are now is the erosion of hope, the loss of idealism. I find it damn near impossible to watch the news without becoming angry, or depressed, or just plain sad. I find it almost impossible to believe that we are where we are. That racism, fascism, anti-semitism and all forms of bigotry are on the rise. That we cannot agree that saving the planet and all the creatures on it should be a first and urgent priority. That the short view is always the prevailing view. That civil discussion and disagreement are no longer possible. These are the big things, the small things confront us daily. My town now only pretends to recycle, my social security is taxed, there are hungry homeless children in our schools; and on and on.

I was watching a fictional television show in which a leading character made an impassioned speech about the values we should all be holding dear. About the pure and fantastical notion of a government by and for the people. And geek that I am, it made me cry. Good,grief. And it reminded me of that hope, that beautiful boundless hope.

And all I can do, as I witness the destruction of decades of progress on the environment, the recission of regulations that protect our air, our water, our parks, our children, the poor, the disenfranchised, is try to see the good. I watch for those moments when the best in us is evident, when my neighbors help me with things I can’t do, when people band together to help the victims of some senseless tragedy, when a restaurant feeds those with no money. Just examples, but sparks of hope. As I said, hope does hard, so we have to fan those tiny sparks and pray, every day, that the flames can rise again and carry us forward. Maybe hope is contagious.