It Matters

These days racism seems to have emerged more overtly  in the public consciousness both in the instance and in the outrage. It is heartbreaking but complicated.

Racism never left us in this country, it just was disguised in the name of correctness for a time. Not that that is necessarily a bad thing. But in a peculiar and sad way the return of overt racism and it’s concomitant behaviors is a good thing. This comes under the category of the devil you know is easier to fight than the devil you don’t. Not that racist behavior is ever a good thing.

And while outrage is good and appropriate, social media outrage unaccompanied by action, doesn’t do anyone much good other than to shine a light. For some of us knowing what to do other than sympathize and voice our outrage is perplexing and difficult.

I just finished reading the autobiography of Albert Woodfox, a story of one of the most egregious miscarriages of our “justice” system that I know of; and I was a public defender for a good long time. Albert Woodfox was wrongly and improperly convicted, slandered and tortured and was kept in solitary confinement conditions for forty years. His memoir is full of the injustices done to him and many others, but it is also filled with grace and courage and compassion for others. Albert Woodfox is one of my personal heroes and this book should be required reading for everyone. Louisana, it’s congress people, judges, attorneys and most especially the former governor, Bobby Jindal, should forever hang their heads in shame.

Woodfox talks not only about the system and the injustices it did him,  but he talks about racism in rational and meaningful terms. He talks about the vilification of the Black Panther Party that was founded to do good, not violence. Woodfox preached constant non-violence to all those he was incarcerated with. His strong compassionate voice serves to set right many of the notions that were born in the sixties when striking workers held up signs that said “I am a Man” and continue today when movements like Black Lives Matter are vilified as themselves racist. One might ask why anyone in this country and this age should have to identify that they are human and worthy.

And if you think that inequities of race don’t continue to exist in our criminal justice system, look at the demographic statistics. Even more, read this book and see what the state invested in continuing to incarcerate an elderly innocent black man. And understand that it was not until 2016 after eighteen years of court dates, disappointments and many lawyers and supporters efforts, that he walked out of prison. And he did not walk out acknowledged as an innocent man. He pled nolo contendre prior to a third trial that would clearly again be unfair. And even as he chose freedom, he agonized that he had sacrificed his integrity by doing so.

Albert Woodfox is a man of unparalleled ntegrity, courage and grace. I wish to live with a fraction of that. And so, when you don’t know what to do when faced with racism, speak up even if it seems dangerous; take out your phone and record it; be counted; take action.

You have a voice, use it.

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Remember When

Pandemic singing

Remember when you were a pre-teen, or a teenager, and conversations revolved around just a very few things. How much you disliked (not really) your parents, or at least their rules. How you looked; hair, clothes, makeup, etc. Music, for me it was the time of the Beatles and all the other bands that came along as all the musical rules were broken. And it was about boys, at least for some of us, not so much for me.

I was not a popular girl, I didn’t have a clique, I was not thin or pretty. I was chubby and wore braces. At most schools – I changed schools a lot – I had one friend. Nobody thought I was funny or particularly smart and I didn’t work hard enough to prove them wrong. I started smoking young to try to be cool. It was the sixties after all, everybody smoked. It was cigarettes that gave me a blues voice, very different now.

I skipped a couple of grades and had a late in the year birthday so from junior high school on I was always much younger than those I went to class with. I don’t really remember ever dating in the traditional sense. I remember my first “boyfriend”, a bass player from Queens, when I was in tenth grade – I was 14-15. This only meant that we played music, hung out and smoked pot, there was no real dating involved. It did start a long line of crushes on musicians though, not sure I have outgrown that yet.

From that time on it was always in a pack. It was hippies, free love, the grateful dead, playing music and a tribe. And I never really gave any thought to what I might want in a partner, even though the subject comes up periodically amongst women and girls. I have been married three times and still, until recently, never actively or consciously thought about what I might want in a partner. I note here that I am partnerless and generally think I will remain that way. But it is interesting to think about the what ifs in life every now and again.

At this advanced time of life here is what I would wish for in my imaginary prince charming: someone who notices that I am wearing two different earrings, someone who notices when I get a haircut, someone who doesn’t mind if I sing all the time (preferably someone who can play music with me), someone who will travel the world with me and hold my hand all the time, someone who reads, someone who can fix things, someone who will cook for me every now and then, someone who will hold my feet on his lap along with the cat. Most important, someone who sees me and doesn’t mind me being who I am. Too much to ask I think, that’s why it is imaginary.

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The Day the Music Died

Music is what sustains me, what has always sustained me. Music is about memory and wishes and hopes and dreams. What was the soundtrack of most of my  days is now elevator and television commercial music.  It makes me feel annoyed, and somehow disrespected, some days; the music was so very good and carrying so much intention.

I know there is excellent music out there now, but it seems harder to find. My baby brother helps to send me to some of it. Some of it I find by accident. Some of it my bandmates find and share.

I am closest to the God of my understanding when I am making music. I am closest to my truest self when I am making music. I have always had a voice but in these last few years I have found my best and truest voice. And now…there is nobody to make music with during this weird time of social isolation. I miss it deeply. As a singer my most precious moments are blending my voice with the voices of others, in the amazing sound it creates when people sing in harmonious joy. Having found my bandmates is a gift beyond telling. So as a singer it is not my best to sing in isolation but I do it anyway. Belting away at the piano with just the chords as my accompaniment; I never learned to play anything other than classical music correctly.

As a musician, and someone deeply affected by music, the last years have also brought many sorrows. So many of those greats who created that soundtrack have fallen. Dr. John, Paul Barrere, Hugh Masekela, Cecil Taylor, Yvonne Staples, Charles Neville, Aretha Franklin, Marty Balin, Leon Redbone, Ginger Baker, Butch Trucks, Al Jarreau, James Cotton, Chuck Berry, J Geils, Greg Allman, Rosalie Sorrels, Glen Campbell, Tom Petty, Fats Domino, Della Reese, Kenny Rogers, Bill Withers and now John Prine. This is just in the last three years and it is very, very incomplete.

People refer to the Day the Music Died as the day the plane carrying Richie Valens and others went down. I feel as if my music is dying out slowly and inexorably. And each death brings me closer to my own. But I have music to make yet, and I am still standing…and still singing.

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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

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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

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