Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Concentration Camps

My desperation is painful: How can I manage to see a way to stop  or even to protest the horrendous abuse of immigrants at our border, especially the maltreatment of children? The sterile argument over whether the camps where we are starving and torturing children are "concentration camps" is unproductive and useless. OK, these are not death camps -- at least not intentionally. But the parallels with Hitler's Willing Executioners (to borrow a title from a book) are unnerving.

Here are two quotations to ponder. The first is from the Jewish Virtual Library page for the Drancy Transit Camp:
"The camp of Drancy was a transit camp located not far from Paris. Like many other detention centres throughout France, Drancy was created by the Vichy government of Philippe Pétain in 1941 and was under the control of the French police until July 3, 1943when Nazi Germany took day-to-day control as part of the major stepping up at all facilities for the mass exterminations. The camp was opened after a roundup of in Paris Jews in August, 1941, in which over 4,000 Jews were arrested. The French police carried out additional roundups of Jews throughout the war. The conditions of life were extremely difficult, due to neglect of personal, ordinary human needs, adequate food, unsanitary conditions, and over-crowding. ... 
"More than 12,800 (3,031 men, 5,802 women and 4,051 children aged between 2 and 12) were transferred to the Velodrome d’Hiver. The children were kept there for 5 miserable days without any food or medical care and then they were transferred to Drancy, Beaune-la-Rolande or Pithiviers. The children were separated from their parents by the French police immediately after their arrival in Drancy. The parents were transported to Auschwitz and gassed. The children stayed in Drancy, sometimes for weeks, without any proper care or adequate food. Several babies and very young children died in Drancy due to the lack of care and the brutality of the French guards. Finally, they were all transported to Auschwitz and gassed upon their arrival. More than 6,000 Jewish children from all the regions of France were arrested and transported to their deaths between July 17 and September 30, 1942."
An equally disturbing quotation appeared in an article titled "The Life of an Auschwitz Guard." The guard, Oskar Groening, "watched as hundreds of thousands of Jews were sent to their deaths." The author of the article, Laurence Rees, interviewed Groening at some length, trying to understand what enabled him to witness and participate in mass murder, and then to spend a long subsequent life without remorse.
"When pressed for the reason why children were murdered, Groening replies: 'The children are not the enemy at the moment. The enemy is the blood in them. The enemy is their growing up to become a Jew who could be dangerous.'” 
Today in Washington, a lawyer for the Immigration and Naturalization Service named Sarah Fabian, has become an example implying that Americans in our current government are becoming very much like this guard. People like this are so concerned with their commitment to their jobs that they show no moral sense of what is happening. I read about Fabian in a Washington Post article, titled: ‘I accept it’: DOJ lawyer defends herself over viral video about providing migrants with soap, toothbrushes 

According to the article: "Video footage of Fabian arguing in federal court last Tuesday that the federal government was not legally required to provide toothbrushes, soap or adequate sleep to detained migrant children went viral, eliciting outrage."

Her mealy-mouth excuse: “I do not believe that’s the position I was representing, and I get that defending myself by parsing out a technical legal position won’t change most people’s minds,” she wrote. “I wouldn’t be permitted to do so anyway, so I won’t try. I will say that I personally believe that we should do our very best to care for kids while they are in our custody, and I try to always represent that value in my work.”

I could continue searching for these horrific parallels but it's too unbearable. What is to become of us? Will we too need to have monuments to our execrable behavior in 75 years?

On one of our long stays in Paris, we lived very near the monument to the roundup of Jews in Paris in 1942.
Sadly, this sign is often defaced by neo-Nazis and other French thugs. (Image from TripAdviser).

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Two Yiddish Books -- From my other blog

Photo of the Yiddish Book Center (https://www.yiddishbookcenter.org/) in Amherst, Massachusetts. (2003).
The architecture echoes the look of Eastern European shtetls of a century or more in the past.

A few days ago, the Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, Massachusetts, sent me two recently published books as a bonus for a recent contribution to their efforts. Publications of newly translated books are part of the center's mission to make available lost or ignored but worthy representatives of Yiddish literature. The smaller work, Radiant Jargon, contains a small selection of poems about Yiddish and translation: some of these poems are by classic Yiddish authors from the early 20th century, and others, and also translations, by modern poets, some of whom have been interns at the center.

The more substantial book, Seeds in the Desert by Mendel Mann (1916-1975), contains a selection of short stories and sketches about the early days of Israel, the lives of Jews in Eastern Europe during World War II, and other vignettes about Jewish life in the mid-20th century. The introduction also provides an interesting summary of the life of the author, whose name and work were entirely unfamiliar to me up until now.

Many of the stories offer just a very small episode from life in Israel or elsewhere; however most of them inform the reader of how these new Israelis had survived and escaped their past. Some stories are set far from Israel, for example, the story "Laughter from the Skies" (p. 96-103) takes place in the Australian outback about a Jew who takes revenge on a former Nazi who had murdered  his family. Another story, "Cain Laments at Night" (p. 114-119), set during World War II, is about a Jewish boy named Emmanuel. He was hiding in a shtetl from which he was to travel to the larger town of Rovno (also called Rivne), but he was unable to keep up his pretense of being a partner with some Ukrainian soldiers. The problem occurs when he encounters a market woman wrapping her goods in pages of the Talmud, which he takes away and pockets. With the soldiers, he consumes "pork, black bread, eggs, and bottles of vodka," but despite this un-Jewish act, they notice him respectfully holding the scrap of paper, and torment him. Emmanuel, too, takes his revenge.

A very typical story in this collection is titled "The Encounter in Ramat Gan" (p. 59-64) It begins with these words: "'Excuse me...' I said. 'I think I know you... we've met somewhere before...'" The narrator was speaking to a woman on the street, walking with a small child. He describes a hot day in Ramat Gan, where he was waiting for a bus. He tries to explain to her what he remembers: "I traveled across Ukraine with the Soviet army, and somewhere in a shtetl in Volhynia I met you. It was  a strange encounter. Don't you remember the Russian soldier who talked to you in Yiddish? Have you forgotten a night journey in a truck with two armed soldiers?" She denies this: "I don't want to know you!" she shouted.

The narrator thinks about her all night. In the morning he sees her again, while waiting for his bus, and follows her. Angrily she says "The woman you met is dead. She doesn't exist any more." She calls their former meeting a surreal dream. She accuses him of trying to make a legend of his past. Then she produces a long story of how they met during her ordeal during the war, her abuse by peasants, her encounters with Russian officers, and more war stories. The narrator, she recalled, had been a Jew in disguise as a Russian soldier -- obviously hoping himself to evade the murderous Ukrainian and Nazi troops. She describes how he helped her get to the Rovno where there were "thirty Jewish families," and he could leave her with an elderly Jewish women who would protect her. But after telling her detailed memories, the woman concluded: "Everything I have told you was invented, a lie, a mistake. My life has started now, here, with my husband and children. Forget, and let me forget."

A majority of the stories in the book have a certain similarity with this encounter and with the woman's wish to erase her past. The new country of Israel, where most of the stories take place, offers a new life for the former victims of European persecutions. The sun burns hot, it's difficult to earn a living, and many of the characters struggle to adapt and to earn their bread. But it's all new and full of promise. I've made it sound simplistic, which it isn't -- it's a very interesting book of stories about a few moments in the lives and memories of a variety of characters.

Now, about Rovno, which is mentioned in several of the stories, along with a few other nearby locations in a region of Ukraine. These references were especially interesting to me because my mother's parents and other relatives came from the Rovno shtetl in the early 20th century. I've never known much about it other than generalizations about shtetl life. I suspect that some distant relatives were still in Rovno during World War II, but I don't know anything about them, and I was fascinated (when I looked it up after reading Mendel Mann's stories) to learn that Rovno was important during the early days of the war. In looking for information, I was also astonished to learn that the mother of Israeli author Amos Oz was a native of Rovno (source).

I also learned of the end of the Jewish community of Rovno, which the author of the stories must also have known. I read this: "The majority of the Jews of western Ukraine town of Rovno, around 23,000 people, had been murdered shortly after the Germans invaded in June 1941. Between 5,000 and 7,000 Jews remained in the ghetto that was established there." In July of 1942, the remainder of the Jews were murdered in a cooperative act by the SS Nazi soldiers and the Ukrainian militia, which supported the invaders. (source)

A street in Rovno before the war. From the JewishGen Website. (link

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Resistance: Maybe not futile

From "The Resistance Strikes Back" by Michelle Goldberg in the New York Times:
"On Thursday we learned that ... Lucy McBath, an African-American gun control advocate, had flipped the [Georgia congressional] seat.

"McBath’s victory was emblematic of the Resistance triumphs in the midterms. There was no immediate catharsis on Tuesday, no definitive national rebuke of a president whose bottomless depravity continues to dumbfound more than half the country. But the steady work of citizens who’ve been trying, over the last two years, to fight the civic nightmare of Trumpism bore fruit. It was a slog, pockmarked with disappointments. At the end, though, there was hope."
Last week's election has many examples of Democrats winning because they inspired resistance to the terrible demagogs and rising fascism in our country.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Ice Cream and Social Justice?

BUT: here's another view of this new ice cream flavor. One of their choices has become toxic because of the antisemitism which is fundamental to the founders of the Women's March. At first these antisemites were given a pass -- but nevertheless they persisted in their bigoted views --
Ben & Jerry’s has publicly announced a new ice cream flavor “celebrating activists who are continuing to resist oppression, harmful environmental practices and injustice.” Financial grants were also provided to four organizations that Ben & Jerry’s felt represented social activism. I was horrified to learn that one of the organizations receiving the grant was the 2017 Women’s March, which was partially founded by Linda Sarsour and Tamika Mallory — both vocal and virulent antisemites.

From the Ben & Jerry's website here. They write:

Together, Pecan Resist!
Alongside all those nutty chunks, this pint packs a powerful message under its lid: together, we can build a more just and equitable tomorrow. We can peacefully resist the Trump administration’s regressive and discriminatory policies and build a future that values inclusivity, equality, and justice for people of color, women, the LGBTQ community, refugees, and immigrants. Pecan Resist supports four organizations that are working on the front lines of the peaceful resistance, building a world that supports their values. Get to know them, then find Pecan Resist here!

Get To Know The Partners
Color of Change
Color of Change designs campaigns powerful enough to end practices that unfairly hold Black people back, and champions solutions that move everyone forward.
Honor the Earth
Honor the Earth works on issues of climate change, renewable energy, and environmental justice with Indigenous communities.
Neta
Neta is one of the fastest-growing independent media platforms led by people of color along the Texas-Mexico border.
Women’s March
Women’s March is committed to harnessing the political power of diverse women and their communities to create transformative social change.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Freedom

Freedom is a word that everyone knows. But advocates of freedom, while often striving for equivalent human goals, have expressed their commitment in many ways. In the last few days, I've read about two famous freedom fighters: Mahatma Gandhi and Harriet Tubman. I feel that by familiarizing myself with these two famous people from such very different backgrounds, I might better understand the richness of the idea of freedom. In this context, I've also been thinking of the famous "Four Freedoms" defined by President Roosevelt in 1941.

This post is a duplicate of my post for today at maefood.blogspot.com.

Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman was the best-known "conductor" on the Underground Railroad in the decade before the Civil War. She rescued several hundred slaves and escorted them to freedom in sympathetic northern states and Canada. During war, she continued by working with the Union Army to rescue hundreds more slaves that were being held by Confederate troops. Born into slavery, she escaped but returned to the South many times to rescue others.

To learn about her, I read the book Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom by Catherine Clinton (published 2004). Because Tubman's work by definition was highly secretive, and because little documentation of the birth and parentage of slaves was recorded, the book presents the scant details known about her life in the context of the fight against slavery in the 19th century. Some quotes from the book:
The states north of the Mason-Dixon Line that had passed emancipation statutes were revered as a kind of Canaan— a place where blacks could work and worship, marry and raise children, freely pursuing life and liberties. Once they crossed over, fugitives would be unfettered by bondage. Most southern bondspeople had little or no contact with this free northern black world, but idealized what might await them once they fled. (Kindle Locations 713-716).
Tubman’s growing realization that all people of color— slave, fugitive, or free, in both North and South— were imperiled by the very existence of racial bondage made 1850 a critical turning point in her life, as her own personal journey to freedom expanded to include the aspirations of all slaves. (Kindle Locations 1079-1081).
When she spoke out against slavery, she was not attacking it in the abstract but had personally known its evils. She risked the horror of reenslavement with every trip, repeatedly defying the slave power with her rescues and abductions. These risks elevated the significance of her contributions to the UGRR [Underground Railroad] movement. (Kindle Locations 1313-1315).

Mahatma Gandhi

Gandhi, from the New Yorker article.
Gandhi, of course, was the leader of the struggle to free India from British colonial rule. His method, non-violence, has been adopted by many subsequent freedom fighters. A current New Yorker article titled "Gandhi for the Post-Truth Age" by Pankaj Mishra explored the ways that Gandhi is relevant to our time. Two quotes:
People in the West, Gandhi argued, merely “imagine they have a voice in their own government”; instead, they were “being exploited by the ruling class or caste under the sacred name of democracy.” Moreover, a regime in which “the weakest go to the wall” and a “few capitalist owners” thrive “cannot be sustained except by violence, veiled if not open.” This is why, Gandhi predicted, even “the states that are today nominally democratic” are likely to “become frankly totalitarian.”
And this:
Satyagraha, literally translated as “holding fast to truth,” obliged protesters to “always keep an open mind and be ever ready to find that what we believed to be truth was, after all, untruth.” Gandhi recognized early on that societies with diverse populations inhabit a post-truth age. “We will never all think alike and we shall always see truth in fragments and from different angles of vision,” he wrote. And even Gandhi’s harshest detractors do not deny that he steadfastly defended, and eventually sacrificed his life for, many values under assault today—fellow-feeling for the weak, and solidarity and sympathy between people of different nations, religions, and races. 

Franklin D. Roosevelt 

In 1941, Roosevelt gave a speech in which he defined four freedoms relevant to the United States and the world, then threatened by German aggression.

Norman Rockwell's famous depiction of the Four Freedoms motivated the War Bond campaign in World War II. (Wikipedia)

Today, in 2018, these freedoms again are seriously threatened for at least some people who live in America, so I would like to leave you with the thought that one possible thing we can do to protect them is to vote next month!

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

On the Anniversary of Charlottesville

"From the moment they arrived in DC, the alt-right attendees were greatly outnumbered by thousands of counterprotesters, who took to the streets in both Charlottesville and Washington, DC, this weekend to push back against emboldened white supremacy."-- from Vox, August 12, 2018.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Don't follow this star...

"Police on Wednesday booked Austin Mikel Clay on suspicion of felony vandalism in connection with [Donald Trump's Hollywood Walk of Fame's] star’s destruction. Clay, who was being held in lieu of $20,000 bail, allegedly strode up to the star and bashed through Trump’s brass nameplate around 3:30 a.m., according to police." (source)

"Passers-by view Donald Trump's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
after it was vandalized Wednesday morning. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)." 

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Shaming

Recently, fed-up civilians have been reacting to shameful behavior of officials of our not-very-legitimate government by some in-your-face shaming behavior. "Responsible" politicians have had varied reactions to these actions, which have ranged from outright confrontation to relatively civil requests that targeted officials or former officials leave a public space where they aren't wanted.

"Hi, I just wanted to urge you to resign because of what you’re doing to the environment
and our country," -- Scott Pruitt being told off by Kristin Mink (source).
Recipients of this public indignation or maybe rage, as is well documented, have included Scott Pruitt (just before he did sort-of resign from his Cabinet post), Sarah Huckabee Sanders (public liar for the President), Steve Bannon (now out of power but still going strong), Steve Miller (one of the biggest a-holes working in the White House),  Mitch McConnell (confronted in his home state), Kirstjen Nielsen (who should resign from the cabinet, but...) and one of the ugliest, Kellyanne Conway.

Prominent Democrats such as Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Shumer, and David Axelrod have called for "civility" from protesters. Quite a few responses to them point out that saying the protests aren't "civil" is a bit ironic, since separating small children from their parents, eliminating women's health care, and destroying many American businesses by ill-thought-out tariff polices are not themselves "civil."

An article in the Washington Post, "From Kellyanne Conway to Stephen Miller, Trump’s advisers face taunts from hecklers around D.C." included a number of examples stating:
"For any new presidential team, the challenges of adapting to Washington include navigating a capital with its own unceasing rhythms and high-pitched atmospherics, not to mention a maze of madness-inducing traffic circles. 
"Yet for employees of Donald Trump — the most combative president of the modern era, a man who exists in his own tweet-driven ecosystem — the challenges are magnified exponentially, particularly in a predominantly Democratic city where he won only 4 percent of the vote."
An article in the Guardian summarized the situation: "'Make them pariahs': how shaming Trump aides became a resistance tactic." Quotes from the article illustrating the two points of view about this behavior:
  • Maxine Waters, member of the House of Representatives from California, says: "Let’s make sure we show up wherever we have to show up. ... And if you see anybody from that cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd. And you push back on them. And you tell them they’re not welcome anymore, anywhere."
  • Chuck Schumer responded to Maxine Waters thus: "If you disagree with a politician, organize your fellow citizens to action, and vote them out of office, but no one should call for the harassment of political opponents. That’s not right – that’s not American."
  • Markos Moulitsas, the founder of Daily Kos, says: "Public shaming of Trump regime officials isn’t just useful, it’s a moral imperative in these difficult times. ... We have a Republican party that has surrendered to the Russians, encourages white supremacists and Nazis, separates families, and locks up children in cages, and we’re supposed to treat these people as respected members of society? We have no choice but to turn them all into pariahs, now and forever into the future. ... None of them should ever be allowed to have a peaceful meal in public, unless they want to spend all their time in rural flyover country they pretend to love so much. They are destroying lives every single day, literally killing people in many cases, so they don’t get to be treated like royalty. They need to be confronted with the reality of their choices."
  • Emma Gray, author of A Girl’s Guide to Joining the Resistance, says: "We’re way past hand-wringing over ‘civility in a democracy’ when basic human rights are at stake. There’s nothing ‘civil’ about stripping away women’s access to reproductive healthcare or ripping children away from their parents at the border with no plan to reunite them."
  • The ACLU on its website says: "Once one chooses to operate a business open to the public, one takes on at least a moral – and often a legal – obligation to adhere to the norms that underlie the very definition of ‘public’. When a business turns away a customer, whether it’s the Red Hen refusing service to Sanders, or Masterpiece Cakeshop refusing service to Charlie Craig and David Mullins, it says, ‘You aren’t a legitimate member of the public.’"
  • And from the Washington Post story: "'I would say it’s burning people out,' said Anthony Scaramucci, Trump’s former communications director. 'I just think there’s so much meanness, it’s causing some level of, "What do I need this for?" And I think it’s a recruiting speed bump for the administration. To be part of it, you’ve got to deal with the incoming of some of this viciousness.'"

Thursday, June 28, 2018

"A Rich Brew"

A Rich Brew: How Cafés Created Modern Jewish Culture by Shachar M. Pinsker describes café life in Odessa, Warsaw, Berlin, Vienna, New York, and Tel Aviv, from the 19th century to the era before World War II. The book is a magnificent treatment of the subject that has concerned me throughout writing this blog: that is, the subject of secular Jews and their culture. For a long time, I've been trying to understand how modern Jewish culture -- the secular variety -- was created. There are other answers, but this one is a good one.

Pinsker shows how an essential location where 19th and 20th century Jewish (and sometimes non-Jewish) writers and intellectuals gathered in these cities was their cafés. He describes how these cafés were often a "Jewish space" because of both the owners and the customers. He names many, many Yiddish, Hebrew, German, Russian, and other-language writers that I've heard of and in many cases that I've read, and describes the cafés they frequented. It's a very good read!

I wrote a sort of an appreciation of the book at my other blog, in this post "How Cafés Created Modern Jewish Culture."

Saturday, May 26, 2018

A small success

Headline in Washington Post: "Publix halts donations to self-described ‘NRA sellout’ amid boycott, ‘die-in’ protests by David Hogg." From the Post with caption:

David Hogg and other demonstrators lie on the floor at a Publix Supermarket in Coral Springs, Fla., Friday, May 25, 2018. Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School were among those who participated in the “die-in” protest. (Mike Stocker/South Florida Sun-Sentinel/Associated Press via Washington Post)

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Marjory Stoneman Douglas

Marjory Stoneman Douglas encouraged activists to "be a nuisance" and to "never give up" even if discouraged by bad politics. I hope she is an inspiration to the heroic students at the school named after her!

-- From Wikipedia
Who was she? A journalist and activist in saving the Everglades. Author of the book River of Grass. This name for the Everglades is now widely used: she invented it. From the "Visit Florida" website
In 1969, the 79-year-old writer-turned-environmentalist founded Friends of the Everglades. ... she guided her organization to press for the establishment of the Big Cypress National Preserve (1974), an end to agricultural pollution fouling Everglades water, reform in the expansionist impulses of water managers and restoration of the channelized, diked and otherwise arrested Kissimmee River-Lake Okeechobee-Everglades heart of the region. She spent her remaining decades moving the country toward a sensibility that assimilated the natural Everglades. 
Much like her famous phrase, her name became synonymous with a valued place. In 1997, Congress attached it to a new 1.8-million-acre Everglades wilderness area, four years after President Clinton awarded her the Medal of Freedom. When she died in 1998, at 108, park rangers appropriately broadcast her ashes in the beloved river she gave to America, the River of Grass.  
How sad that we have to associate her name with such a horror, but what an honor to the young activists from her namesake school.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Saddest Heros




I'm too overcome to write much in my own words about appalling gun violence against children and the depraved attitude of politicians -- especially Republicans -- towards this escalating violence. Surviving children from last weeks debacle are emerging as heroic leaders, not only for suffering such a horrific experience, but for attempting to lead the rest of us to better political action.  I took these images from a story in the Washington Post, which documented how these new leaders have to stand up to the apathetic public, the horrific attitude of politicians, and also to grotesque attacks from right wing monsters.

Here are some words from "‘I am not a crisis actor’: Florida teens fire back at right-wing conspiracy theorists" by Travis M. Andrews and Samantha Schmidt (February 21, 2018) --
"Welcome, Parkland shooting survivors, to the ugly world of politics in 2018 
"In the aftermath of last week’s school shooting in Parkland, Fla., some of the most powerful testimonies have come from the teenagers who survived the rampage. They have repeatedly detailed their harrowing experience to national news networks, many calling for stricter gun control laws while decrying President Trump for not doing enough to protect students. Others have wept with grief while telling their stories again and again.  
"The students have become a mobilizing force unlike any seen after previous mass shootings, planning marches and rallies in Florida and Washington — all while mourning the friends they’ve so recently lost. 
"They have also become a target of right-wing smears and innuendo. 
"Some prominent figures in the right-wing media are suggesting that the students are making it all up, or that the children are paid actors or that their talking points have been manufactured by public relations experts on the left."
The article continues with details about the unspeakable attacks on the student heroes.


Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Patrick Henry: "If this be treason..."

Patrick Henry (1736-1799) is a well-known hero of the American revolution. He is famous for several speeches and actions. Here is one I've been thinking about: his very first speech to the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1765, when he was 29 years old. Henry outlined several rights that he believed should belong to the colonies. The most radical and new of these was this: "Only colonial assemblies had the right to impose taxes on their constituents and that right could not be assigned to any other body." In defense of his belief, he criticized both Parliament and King George III. Even more radical! Of the king he said:
"Caesar had his Brutus, Charles the First his Cromwell and George the Third — ." At that point he was interrupted by cries of "Treason!" from delegates who easily recognized the reference to assassinated leaders. Henry paused briefly, then calmly finished his sentence: "...may profit by their example. If this be treason, make the most of it." (source)
Patrick Henry (from Wikipedia)

Sunday, January 14, 2018

A Hero for Our Time: Or Many Heroes

My first hero of 2018 is Emmanuel Mensah, who died attempting to rescue people from a burning apartment building last month. He's come to our attention now, being widely cited on social media and in the news, because he's one of many notably heroic immigrants from countries derided by the Chief Executive in a recent burst of profanity. He's one of many from these countries who have made valuable contributions to the nation and to humanity.

This duality: the quality of immigrants from the insulted countries and the President's vulgar dismissal of them, was cited (among many other articles in many sources) by the Editorial Board of the Washington Post in an article titled: "‘Shithole’ wasn’t the most offensive part of Trump’s Haiti comments" published January 12, 2018. Extract from the article:
"What is most offensive in the president’s comment on immigration to a group of senators on Thursday is not the vulgarity. 'Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?' Trump said, referring to Haiti and countries in Africa and Central America. 'Why do we need more Haitians? Take them out.' What is most offensive is not even the insult to other nations, though that is certainly unacceptable from a president of the United States.
"No, what should sadden every American is to have someone living in the White House with so little respect for the courage of women and men who have been coming here from 'shithole' countries for centuries — and who have built the United States into the great nation it is today. ...
"Shortly after The Post reported Mr. Trump’s comment, Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol reminded us on Twitter of Emmanuel Mensah, who immigrated from Ghana five years ago and joined the Army National Guard. He was home in the Bronx last month when a devastating fire broke out in his apartment building; he lost his life as he rescued others. 'He brought four people out,' his uncle, Twum Bredu, who lives next door, told the New York Times. 'When he went to bring a fifth person out, the fire caught up with him.'
"Most Americans understand how fortunate we are to attract such heroes to our shores."
And in an article in the New York Times,  a bit more about this hero:
"A few days ago, the Army posthumously awarded Mensah the Soldier’s Medal, its highest award for heroism outside of combat, and New York State awarded him its Medal for Valor. The citation on the state medal reads: 'His courageous and selfless act in the face of unimaginable conditions are consistent with the highest traditions of uniformed service.'"

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Who will be our heroes in 2018?

The past year -- 2017 -- has been a very hard year for America. We've experienced a government that promotes racism and other forms of bigotry, hatred and abuse of minorities of many kinds, withdrawal of help for the poorest and most in need, and outright destruction of the environment to benefit special interests.

Erica Garner, who died this week, became a voice for
police accountability after her father died in police custody.
I may not agree with every position she took, but I hope for
more leaders who try to push back against the system.
We've experienced a large minority of our population who have no sympathy for these mistreated groups, and who are in many cases willing to give up financial advantages and other benefits to themselves in order to deprive the "other." Meanwhile a variety of trolls who used to be held beneath contempt become more and more powerful and free to attack and persecute whatever groups they detest by whatever means they choose.

This immoral minority promotes the government's cancellation of programs to inspect or regulate the food supply -- even if they personally experience food poisoning. They prefer government support for predatory banks and fake educational institutions -- even if they fall prey to these sharks themselves. As long as climate change is denied, they don't care if their own homes are washed away -- in some cases both literally AND figuratively. They prefer that the government cancel medical insurance programs for poor people -- even if it affects their own access to affordable medical treatment. They have lots of other analogous preferences too. As long as abortion is illegal, they often say, the rest is a matter of indifference, including the morality and truthfulness of their leaders.

On the other hand, many individuals in America who have the means to take care of themselves and who aren't directly poisoned, defrauded, drowned, burned-out, or impoverished by the current treatment of government programs still find much to fear from the current political juggernaut. And perhaps would be willing to push back.

So I wish in the coming year that more heroes emerge to lead us and that they find new and creative ways to express themselves and effectively struggle against the ugliness, darkness, and oppressive measures we've seen in 2017. I sincerely wish you a happy new year in which our better natures can prevail.
"There's a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can't take part! You can't even passively take part! And you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels…upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you've got to make it stop!" -- Mario Savio, 1964.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

"The Year in Resisitence"

The article is illustrated with a scene from the Women's March
the day after the Inauguration, which had more attendees than
the Inauguration itself. And inspired one of Trump's first lies
during his tenure as President.
New York Times op-ed writer Michelle Goldberg's current column is titled "The Year in Resistence." In it, she summarizes several of the major events where people protested both the general tenor of the Trump administration and specific outrages committed by the President and his men (and a few women). A few key paragraphs of this simultaneously depressing and encouraging article:
"Indeed, Democrats have triumphed all over the country, as Trump’s approval rating keeps sinking. The progressive Working Families Party endorsed 1,036 candidates in 2017; almost two-thirds of them won. Due in large part to grass-roots organizing, Democrats won a landslide in Virginia and took Jeff Sessions’s old Senate seat in Alabama. 
"At the Dec. 8 rally in Pensacola, Fla., where Trump urged people to vote for Roy Moore, the Republican Senate candidate accused of sexual misconduct with teenagers, the president mocked citizens who oppose his administration. 'Resist, resist,' he whined, hunching over and pretending to carry a protest sign. 'They’re resisting the will of the American people,' he declared.
"Of all the uncountable lies of this repulsive regime, this might be the biggest. Trump became president despite the will of a majority of the American people. A recent poll shows that 53 percent of voters want him to resign. Inasmuch as Trump is able to force his agenda on an unwilling nation, it’s because of a breakdown in democracy that renders many members of Congress heedless of their own constituents."
Is there hope in the continuation of these protests? Or will the passage of the horrendous tax bill this week turn the tide in the President's favor? As 2017 and also the first year of this nightmare of misrule come to a close, we just don't know. Michelle Goldberg's conclusion: "The president once warned that if he fell, he’d take the entire Republican Party down with him. Thanks to the Resistance, he might still have the chance."

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

"Bad Rabbi"

The fat guy was named Martin "The Blimp" Levi. He weighed 600 to 700
pounds, and was a sensational wrestler. You can also learn about his promoter,
who specialized in publicity for all kinds of freaks. Wow!
Suppose you want to read news items about sensational divorces and bigamy cases, bizarre sports figures, petty but colorful crimes, tales of pimps or their victims, neighborhood brawls, violent murders and family fights, religious zealots trying to force others to obey their rules, anti-religious people fighting back, or other diverse facts? You'd go right to your favorite click-bait locale on the internet, right?

Suppose you want to read about the same types of mindless and entertaining stuff that happened in Jewish Warsaw or Jewish New York in the early part of the 20th century? You can go to Eddy Portnoy's recently published book Bad Rabbi and Other Strange but True Stories from the Yiddish Press. Obviously, if you can read Yiddish, you can go find microfilms of the various Yiddish newspapers of that era for yourself, but how likely is that? I'm telling you: read Bad Rabbi! Nothing has changed except the language. And you'll enjoy the illustrations taken from the original papers.

Bad Rabbi offers all kinds of dirt that was dished by the resourceful journalists of New York and Warsaw. These stories were published alongside very serious journalism about society, politics, etc. in the Yiddish papers. Illicit lovers pushed their paramours out of windows. Fistfights broke out at ritual circumcisions, at weddings, and at other usually innocent events. A habitual criminal failed to steal a side of beef from a delivery truck because the delivery men chased him down the street. In 1929, we learn, all sorts of readers in Warsaw -- those who followed both the Yiddish and the Polish press -- were fascinated by the "Miss Judea" contest, eventually won by a girl named Zofia Oldak. A criminal who worked under the pseudonym Urke Nachalnik (meaning: "brazen master criminal") wrote a popular autobiography in 1933, and later wrote other successful works. For a while, he studied criminal lingo in documents at the pre-war version of YIVO, but he got in big trouble with his fellow criminals who thought he was betraying their secrets.

Sadly, as we read, we are often reminded of the coming fate of the Jews who stayed in Warsaw, but they didn't know what was coming. For example: "No one seemed to know what happened to Zofia Oldak. An octogenarian cousin of hers who lived near Tel Aviv said she couldn't remember if Oldak went to Australia or to Treblinka. But she was pretty sure Miss Judea ended up in one of those two places." (p. 142) And the criminal/linguist Urke Nachalnik joined the underground, tried to organize reprisals against the Nazis, and sabotaged rail lines to Treblinka. He "was eventually caught by the Germans in 1942 and as he was being led in shackles to his execution... he attacked his guard and nearby soldiers shot him to death." (p. 114) Another colorful character, it's said, "went up in smoke." Literally.

The Rabbinical divorce court in Warsaw was a popular place for journalists to uncover these sensational bits of human interest. For example, there's the story of Rivka Tsadik, who wanted a divorce because her husband didn't like her cooking: "If she cooks him potatoes and egg drop soup, he yells that he'd rather have potatoes and borsht. If she cooks him potatoes and borsht, he'd rather have potatoes and egg drop soup. In short, they start fighting and the husband eventually runs out of the house with an empty stomach." Rivka was willing to take an exam "to see if she can cook a good lunch or not." It seems that we'll never know if she passed her exam or not -- she went home to wait for the rabbis to call her back. (p. 159-160)

Bad Rabbi has lots of good blurbs by quite famous writers.
I originally wrote this post for maefood.blogspot.com, my other blog, but it fits with my theme here, so I'm adding it.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Arthur Szyk (1894-1951)

"Jewish Heroes and Nazi Monsters" by J. Hoberman (Tablet Magazine, October 16, 2017) describes the work of illustrator Arthur Szyk as shown in a current exhibit in New York. Many of the images have a horrifying connection to the horrors that are happening in our society right now, and are very disturbing because so little has changed -- for example, the one above, shown in the slide show accompanying the article.

Szyk's work appears familiar to me, as if I have seen it but can't quite identify it. He produced illustrations for many very popular publications, as well as illustrating children's books, so it wouldn't be hard for something to have made an impression.

I suspect that I read this as a child.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

"Musicians Take a Stand for Refugees"

Orchestra, choir, and soloists ready for "Ode to Joy" on the stage of Hill Auditorium this evening.
Beethoven's Ninth Symphony -- including the splendid "Ode to Joy" -- inspired a large audience tonight in a free concert at Hill Auditorium on the University of Michigan campus. The volunteer musicians in the choir and orchestra hoped by doing so to raise awareness of refugees. They performed with great enthusiasm and beauty, I believe. Beethoven's music is amazing.

Several speakers preceded the performance. One of them described his own experience as a refugee from the Nazis during World War II. He began by mentioning the message of the Statue of Liberty, and also pointing out that despite our idealism, not all refugees have always been treated well here. His family, originally from Vienna, hoped to go to America but became stranded in Switzerland by the outbreak of the war. He contrasted the grudging and unwelcoming attitude of the Swiss to the family's experience when they finally made it to New York in 1948. By implication, I think he was indicating that America is most welcoming to refugees, but can make mistakes -- and obviously the audience knew what present-day mistake he wanted them to think about.

It's very painful, realizing that we are now the perpetrators of persecution, and horrifying to think how difficult it is to find actions we can take to avoid continuing the injustice that's being done. I've always felt it painful to know that the same culture that produced Beethoven also produced the Holocaust, and now more painful than ever because I hate to think that in some future world people of good will might wonder how our most beautiful creative products came from the same culture that is doing these things. And we may be responsible for worse things if we don't find a way to stop our government and its enforcers.

I admire these musicians for trying to find a way to use their talent to protest our difficult situation. Here is the statement from the concert program:
"Musicians Take a Stand is a nonprofit organization based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, dedicated to raising money for humanitarian causes through social media and concerts put on by its members. Tonight's concert is a kick-off for this organization."
The web page about the concert is here: http://musicianstakeastand.org/beethoven-9/.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

800,000 Heroic People

A quote from a professor describing just one of the 800,000 dreamers:
"I know a guy. He's a good kid, 19, maybe 20. Gets good grades, has a part-time job that helps pay college tuition. And taxes. Works hard, speaks up in class when appropriate, and helps his classmates when they need it. Funny and interesting. He could go very far in life. But a xenophobic, racist, bully wants to force him to "return" to a country he left at age 6 months, where he's never visited, that uses a language he doesn't speak, with a culture he doesn't understand. And where there are no jobs for college educated software engineers. 
"Today, I am crying for this kid. We are threatening to ruin his life because of a decision his parents made 19 years ago. He's a good kid and an asset to my country. If you knew this kid you would want to keep him too."

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Open Letter from Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman

Here are some of their excellent words:

To our fellow Jews, in the United States, in Israel, and around the world:
We know that, up to now, some of you have made an effort to reserve judgment on the question of whether or not President Donald Trump is an anti-Semite, and to give him the benefit of the doubt. Some of you voted for him last November. Some of you have found employment in his service, or have involved yourself with him in private business deals, or in diplomatic ties.
...
The President has no filter, no self-control, you have told yourself. If he were an anti-Semite — a Nazi sympathizer, a friend of the Jew-hating Klan — we would know about it, by now. By now, he would surely have told us.
Yesterday, in a long and ragged off-the-cuff address to the press corps, President Trump told us. During a moment that white supremacist godfather Steve Bannon has apparently described as a “defining” one for this Administration, the President expressed admiration and sympathy for a group of white supremacist demonstrators who marched through the streets of Charlottesville, flaunting Swastikas and openly chanting, along with vile racist slogans, “Jews will not replace us!” Among those demonstrators, according to Trump, were “a lot” of “innocent” and “very fine people.”
So, now you know. First he went after immigrants, the poor, Muslims, trans people and people of color, and you did nothing. You contributed to his campaign, you voted for him. You accepted positions on his staff and his councils. You entered into negotiations, cut deals, made contracts with him and his government.
...
Among all the bleak and violent truths that found confirmation or came slouching into view amid the torchlight of Charlottesville is this: Any Jew, anywhere, who does not act to oppose President Donald Trump and his administration acts in favor of anti-Semitism; any Jew who does not condemn the President, directly and by name, for his racism, white supremacism, intolerance and Jew hatred, condones all of those things.
To our fellow Jews, in North America, in Israel, and around the world: What side are you on?

Read the rest here: 
AN OPEN LETTER TO OUR FELLOW JEWS

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Are these men and women heroic?

"President Trump’s relationship with the American business community suffered a major setback on Wednesday as the president was forced to shut down his major business advisory councils after corporate leaders repudiated his comments on the violence in Charlottesville this weekend." -- Washington Post

Business leaders who quit (and were quickly attacked by the Tweeter) --
  • Denise Morrison, president and CEO of the Campbell Soup Company
  • Richard Trumka, leader of the AFL-CIO
  • Thea Lee, an economist and former deputy chief of staff at the AFL-CIO
  • Scott Paul, head of the Alliance for American Manufacturing
  • Kenneth Frazier, Merck CEO
  • Kevin Plank, Under Armour CEO
  • Brian Krzanich, Intel CEO
  • Inge Thulin, 3M CEO

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Creativity and Protest

The news has been so whacky lately that people say you can't tell the parodies from the real thing. However, an artist, filmmaker, and guerrilla politico made a remarkably entertaining and effective work of art/protest last night -- as many many people know. Though the irreverent light show projected on the Trump Hotel lasted only around 10 minutes before security guards stopped it, it's been widely shared on social media.

From the L.A.Times: viral image of the light projection onto the Trump Hotel: "PAY TRUMP BRIBES HERE." 

From the article "Meet Robin Bell, the artist who projected protest messages onto Trump's D.C. hotel last night" --
"For a short period on Monday night, a large projection appeared on the facade of the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., that read “Emoluments Welcome,” along with an animation of the flags of nations where President Trump has business projects. 
"This was followed by a message that read “Pay Trump Bribes Here,” with an arrow that pointed to the front door of the hotel. Yet another featured an excerpt of the emoluments clause from the U.S. Constitution, which restricts members of the U.S. government from receiving gifts from foreign powers. (Trump is being sued by one watchdog group for potentially violating this clause.)" (L.A.Times, May 16, 2017)
Also from the L.A. Times article.
“I was reading this thing about when you deal with authoritarian governments, you have to create your own story,” Robin Bell says, as quoted in the L.A.Times article. “If we’re reacting to these people all the time, they can just play us. So, part of the thing is making things that you can laugh at, that you can share, that aren’t just reacting to them.”

Another protest from earlier this year, which appears on Bell's
website,  http://bellvisuals.com/

Friday, April 28, 2017

A Protest Leader in our Community: Our State Rep

Yousef Rabhi, our State Representative, speaking
at a rally on the UofM Diag. I heard him last week
at the March for Science.

Yousef Rabhi
2 hrs
9 protests I've been to since the November election. 1 I have not.
1. March for Science
2. Women's March
3. Tax Rally
4. People's Climate March
5. Rally at DTW against travel ban
6. Ann Arbor Immigrant March
7. Citizens Climate Rally
8. #NODAPL Day of Action Rally
9. Kids Peace and Unity March
10. Ypsilanti Water is Life Rally

In response to the "thing" going around on Facebook, where people post 9 concerts they attended and one that's a "lie," he posted this great list.

NOTE: the one he hasn't been to is the People's Climate March. It's tomorrow. He's going.

Resisting for 100 Days

In the Guardian today: "100 days of Trump Resistance: the wins so far and battles to come." Subhead: "As President Trump approaches 100 days in office, Adam Gabbatt surveys the resistance movement’s biggest moments so far, key groups, and challenges ahead."

Most of the time in the last 100 days, I've felt that little of any use can be done to mitigate the negative effects of the current administration. While there have been some spectacular flops on their part, the damage, especially potential damage to the environment, education, and social welfare, has been horrendous, in my opinion. The article may be more hopeful than I am about these policies.

The article includes an important list of coming issues as well: healthcare, taxes, and climate will all be subjects of new legislation and royal decrees, and implies that actions might be effective in discouraging support from congress.

Optimistically, the article suggests that several actions have had an effect. Specifically:

  • The women's march following the inauguration. 
  • Spontaneous demos at airports against the immigration ban in January.
  • Voter participation in town hall meetings and demand for such meetings in districts where reps avoided them.
  • The "Grab Your Wallet" boycott of corporations closely associated with the administration.
Several specific action groups are cited as having real potential to stop at least something. The Guardian's list of links to these organizations: