Picture a world where politics is not so polarized. Imagine that the American people are flat out in favor of a plan that could lift more than a million of their neighbors out of poverty. And they’re arriving at this position not out of narrow self-interests—most Americans aren’t poor—but for essentially moral reasons. Actually, not much imagination is required. At least not when it comes to public opinion on a perennial issue: the minimum wage.
For decades, polling has shown support for a higher minimum wage ranging somewhere between unambiguous and unbelievable. In November, a Gallup survey found that 76 percent of the people would vote for a hypothetical national referendum lifting the bottom wage to $9 an hour. That’s $1.75 more than the current federal minimum; it would also be more than any increase ever passed by Congress. Last summer, a less independent poll conducted by Democratic-leaning Hart Research Associates found eight in ten Americans flocking behind a $10.10 per-hour minimum wage.
Try to identify a considerable subgroup of American opinion that’s content with the $7.25 regime. You’d think, for example, that self-identified Republicans would want to either freeze the wage or tamp it down. You would be mistaken, according to the Gallup breakdown: Republicans favored the $1.75 hike by an unmistakable 58-39 percent margin. Meanwhile, in a previous Gallup poll, the support among self-identified “moderates” was rather immoderate (75 percent).
Texts:Philippians 3: 3-16; Matthew 20: 20-28
There is something we all need before we die, if our last day might approach not as debilitating necessity or worse, an evil night meddling with all our days long before they are full. If you have attended a funeral where memories of the deceased kindled intense gratitude and admiration, you might say we need to live in a way that lights such fires in others. That could be a lovely aim, but not a universal one. There is something far more fundamental to our existence than warming many hearts as we go.
We need first to come to peace with all that is undone. I do not mean “resign ourselves” to the fact that our work will be interrupted. No, I mean real peace now; peace that no part of us or our work is ever done. Everything we are and everything we do which is worthy of the names “being” and “doing” is never full, never perfect. Everything is partial. Death is not at the cause of our partial performance, as if our life were a play of several acts whose curtain falls before the performance is finished. No, the cause of our partial performance is that we have no end. We are an infinitude of ends. We are an open mouth of yearning and desiring and need.
Ecclesiastes says that “God has put eternity into the mind, yet so that we cannot find out what God has done from beginning to end.” Our eye is set on a far thing. If our yearning is base, we call it covetousness. If it is high-minded, the philosophers call it “transcendent” – a fancy word whose roots mean “climbing beyond.” We are always climbing beyond ourselves. It is our nature. Sometimes it seems plain that we cannot finally arrive at anything worth climbing after, but we mostly do not live in peace about this. In fact, all our wars, from the most private torments to the most appalling acts of violence, are driven by the endlessly open mouth of human nature. A Christian’s faith, by contrast – if it is faith and not more duty or a point of pride in climbing over others – mostly shows up as peace in “a passion for the partial.”
Recently, due to my writing on the issue of boycotts and Israel, I was asked by a prominent Jewish organization to make a public, political statement before being allowed into its building to speak about my book, What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?
This request, as well as its troubling implications, are part of a sudden controversy which has arisen in the American Jewish community over what can, and cannot, be discussed regarding Israel.
I recently had the honor of being invited by the Israel Committee of Santa Barbara to be a keynote speaker at its annual, signature event this spring. The event is physically housed by Santa Barbara Hillel, which describes itself as a home for Jews open to all political and religious stripes, stating, “We are as diverse as the human race.”
At first, it was going to be my temporary home – a place in which I was to tell the narrative of my reconciliation with a Palestinian family. However, when a member of the Hillel staff found a political post of mine in which I attempted to argue that boycotts and sanctions against Israel are legitimate forms of nonviolent protest – and which understandably was misunderstood as my joining the BDS movement – I was no longer welcome.
Which is when the request, or pre-condition, came from Santa Barbara Hillel after it viewed my post as a violation of Hillel’s guidelines:
Make a political statement clarifying your position on the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement targeting Israel, and you may enter our building. Otherwise, you are not allowed within our walls.
by: Arlene Goldbard on December 31st, 2013 | Comments Off
Many think that changes and reforms can take place in a short time. I believe that we always need time to lay the foundations for real, effective change. And this is the time of discernment. Sometimes discernment instead urges us to do precisely what you had at first thought you would do later.
What is worth discerning as 2013 draws to a close? It’s a little nuts to assess the tenor of a year on the day it ends. I get a mental image of a panel of fishes commenting on the nature of water as it rushes past: “Wet,” they say, nodding their silver heads sagely, “definitely wet.”
Still, on the cusp of 2014, I sense a sea-change in what Paulo Freire called our “thematic universe,” that stormy ocean of ideas and events in dialectical interaction that characterizes an epoch.In a thematic universe, no single idea or manifestation predominates. It’s the whole wriggling mass of ideas and their consequences that shape a moment: blind faith in fundamentalist religious dogma and its twin in overconfidence, the convictions that we’re nothing but chemicals and forces and that science will unmask all mysteries; rampant acquisition and exploitation and elective simplicity, living lightly; white supremacy and racial equality. The conjoined pairs that wriggle the most vigorously – including those I’ve mentioned – form the warp and weft of our era. But the tapestry is complex, many-colored, many-textured.
by: Arlene Goldbard on December 23rd, 2013 | Comments Off
Joseph Epstein is a conservative writer, mid-70s, who has spent much of his literary life pissing off readers with liberal or left values. His newest piece in the Wall Street Journal—“The Late, Great American WASP”—is a case in point, worshipping a bygone American WASP-ocracy that supposedly sacrificed the pleasures of mere domination in favor of power-wielding packaged with a sense of responsibility. While Epstein’s literary output has been polished to a smudgeless sheen, it still reeks of brownnosing, reminding me of the Francophone notion I borrowed for today’s title: nostalgie de la boue. Literally this is: nostalgia—homesickness—for the mud. It is meant to indicate an attraction to whatever is low, crude, degraded, to the romance of the wallow in our sensual nature without the trappings of civilization.
Why is Epstein so impelled to glorify a caste that could never include himself? He was born in Chicago, but if his parents weren’t born abroad, surely his grandparents immigrated here. He was brought up in a Jewish-American milieu he described a decade ago in an interview, seemingly completely unaware of his words’ embedded self-disgust:
[N]one of the positive stereotypes of Judaism adhere. We were not kids who had political idealism. Our parents did not talk about Trotsky and Stalin and the Party. I knew no one who took violin lessons. A few kids were forced to take piano and they hated every minute of it. We went to Hebrew school because were instructed to and we were bar mitzvahed. The only culture that was ever mentioned among the Jews of my parent’s generation was musical comedy. And you’d get these guys; these terrific brutes working in the scrap iron business and borax salesmen and they would go and sit there meekly with their wives and listening to Pajama Game. They’d come back and say “Gee we saw it in New York and the cast was better.” But there was no real culture. They were nice men, and I don’t mean to belittle them for not having culture. I’m glad to grow up without culture.
by: Mark Kirschbaum on December 19th, 2013 | Comments Off
I. The Challenge
Whereas the stories within the book of Genesis fall into atomizable story units, when encountering the book of Shemot (Exodus) it is clearly organized with a longer arc of narrative, with the episodes being more syncytial and interwoven. The themes I wish to deal with in these pieces do not find their closure in one verse or one commentatory, one might say they are “deterritorialised” across the arbitrary perasha divisions. One major theme encompassing a large portion of the book can be summarized as “how can one change the world for the better even in the face of a powerful evil empire?”
Insight into how one individual, like Moshe (Moses, as he is known in English) was capable of standing up to the dominant world power, and changing the course of human history, is not limited to one episode alone. “Speaking truth to Power” can serve as a subtext for virtually every narrative in the text from the book of Shemot (Exodus). How can one learn this skill, become a Moshe in the continuing fight against injustice?
Michael Walzer’s approach towards the book of Exodus as a blueprint for liberation is a very satisfying approach; here I would like to show how the prelude to political emancipation is more deeply rooted in a spiritual and epistemological ability to transcend the given reality, beyond the positive Marxist approach of Walzer. Furthermore, this ability is not only valid for political struggle, rather, following the approach of the Sefat Emet in perashat Va’era, the story of the Exodus illuminates the path to freedom for the individual trapped in their existential despair and darkness. So the goal is, not only to hear about, or venerate the biblical hero Moshe, but to learn how to “be” him, to actualize him in our own lives. With this in mind, we will try to undestand the route by which Moshe, the Hebrew slaves, all individuals who are exposed to this narrative, come to free themselves from the injustice of political, historical, and personal bondage.
by: Burton H. Wolfe on December 18th, 2013 | 8 Comments »
(Credit: CC-BY-NC-SA by Anatoli Axelrod)
“Fat cats” is a term that my father and my boss at B’nai B’rith headquarters used to describe the wealthy Jews who finance synagogue and Jewish organizational programs.
They would acknowledge the justification for part of my negative attitude toward most rich Jews, but they followed with the cautionary advice: “You have to respect the fat cats.”
We had a semantics problem. It was not that I was unable to see how beneficence resulted from the money donated by the fat cats. It was their obnoxious behavior in the way they doled out the money, the prejudicial restrictions entailed in who they picked to get the money, and what they demanded for payback, that caused my contempt for most of them. Quickly I add that I cannot and would not apply those characteristics to every last one of them, because then I would be guilty of what is known in reasoning and logic as a “sweeping generalization,” and that kind of dragnet can only be used with acknowledgment of individual differences. In fact, I have a long standing admiration for a few of the fat cats who were my friends in a prior decade; but they are long dead.
My contempt for most of the fat cats began at the shul (synagogue) that my family chose for membership, prayer, my barmitzvah, my sisters’ weddings, and funeral services. [I choose not to single out that shul by name because what I write here applies to all of the biggest and wealthiest synagogues in my experience.] The first time I picked up one of the siddurs (prayer books) used for services, I noticed the name of an individual emblazoned in big, gold letters on the cover: “Marvin Kogod” [I am using an assumed name that is not to be identified with any real person, living or dead].
Jews love and loved Nelson Mandela. He inspired us with his insistence that the old regime of apartheid would crumble more quickly and fully when faced with revolutionary love and compassion than when faced with anger and violence.
Mandela also challenged us to think deeply about whether the current situation in Israel/Palestine reflects the ethic of compassion that is so central to Judaism.
Credit: Creative Commons/Library of the London School of Economics and Political Science.
Some people on the Left reject Mandela’s strategy. “How can one be openhearted toward one’s oppressors?” they say. “Fostering compassion toward oppressors will undermine the revolutionary spirit needed to defeat the evil ones.”
Yet Mandela showed us the opposite – that one can generate more solidarity and more willingness to take risks in struggle when one can clearly present one’s own movement as morally superior to the actions of the oppressors. Mandela’s anti-apartheid movement claimed this moral superiority through being able to respond to the oppressors’ hatred with great love. When Che Guevara said, “A true revolutionary is motivated by great feelings of love,” he was alluding to this same truth. And this is what the Torah teaches when it instructs us to “love the stranger” (the “other”).
Why the enduring “special relationship” between the U.S. and Israel? Cultural historians, who look at symbols and stories more than politics and policies, say a big part of it goes back to the late 1950s, when Leon Uris’ novel Exodus reached the top of the bestseller list and was then turned into a blockbuster film, with an all-star cast headed by Paul Newman.
Scholar Rachel Weissbrod called it a “Zionist melodrama.” M.M. Silver devoted a whole book to the phenomenon: Our Exodus, with the subtitle, The Americanization of Israel’s Founding Story.
A preeminent historian of American Judaism, Jonathan Sarna, came closest to the truth in his blurb for Silver’s book: Exodus “consciously linked brawny Zionist pioneers with the heroes of traditional American westerns.” The protagonist, Ari ben Canaan (“lion, son of Canaan”), is the Jewish Shane, the cowboy of impeccable virtue who kills only because he must to save decent people — especially the gentile woman he loves — and civilize a savage land.