Tag Archives: news

politics

President Trump
It’s been a year since the citizens of the USA elected their new president, and both the social media and the news media have great difficulty accepting the results. We read the stream of disparaging comments regarding the president, alongside the moaning and crying of the disappointed. Since then, there’ve been devastating hurricanes in Florida and Texas, and a terrible fire in California. Those natural tragedies became old news very quickly. But the anger and the insult over Trump’s election have not gone away. It looks as if it’ll continue till the end of his term in office. Is this in our best interest? They’ve had a lot of presidents there, and they’re strict about the rules. Once a president is elected he serves for a term of four years, and if the people like him they can ask him to serve for another term. It’s very hard to fire a president. There is a mechanism for it, but it’s never been really done.

Let’s take a break from the super charged emotions, and study the situation objectively. Looking at ourselves, it’s important to remember just how lucky we are. Most of our ancestors lived in harder times. We don’t choose when or where to get born or which culture to be raised in. It’s a matter of luck. We come, we live a while, and then we’re gone… like a lot of people before us. Usually, not long after we get here, we notice a few things that could be improved. And if we don’t notice, someone tells us. Youth, having come recently, are most enthusiastic about change. The older folks are more aware of the complexities.

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Quite a few years have gone by since that first democracy in Greece. It wasn’t perfect. Only about 10% of the population voted, slavery was legitimate, and there wasn’t equal pay for women. But over the years, the institution has grown. The objective of democracy is to govern the society according to the will of the majority with consideration and sympathy for the minorities and for the helpless. You could say that it’s a lot more comfortable living in a democracy these days than it was in the past. And there’s hardly any room for comparison with living in a dictatorship, whether it’s governed by a king, an ideologue or a despot. All of us live in countries that have known better leaders… and worse. One of the nice things about living in a democracy is that leaders are exchanged after a while. In other regimes, leaders have been known to hand the reins over to a son or best friend. Once, they were offered to a horse.

In this last election there was an elderly professional politician with a dubious reputation running against an elderly TV personality who had organized a number of ‘beauty competitions’ in the past. Most of the voters didn’t like either of them, but the rest of the candidates were even less popular. The majority chose the woman politician. She would have been the first woman to be president in their country. But according to the time tested conventions of American government, the position was awarded to the TV personality. He was more popular in more states or something like that. The race was close. Keep in mind that these rules were established long before any of the voters were born.

Since then, the crying and moaning, good jokes and bad about the president; and some really vulgar insults and hints that he might have betrayed his country have become an obsession of the news media. Some of the most enlightened citizens of the west, intelligent and educated people, think nothing of descending to the lowest levels of foul mouthed insults in order to express their disapproval of the president. The half of the country that voted for the TV performer are insulted as well. Instead of offering new goals and aspirations, the disappointed are demonstrating their contempt for the president, and for government, and the barbarians are watching.

This isn’t only happening in America. I’ve seen the same phenomenon here in Israel. Political groups rally against one another with outspoken hatred, and hurl insults and lies at each other. I do not believe in political correctness. But at the same time, I’m amazed that the same people who worry about the feelings of minorities and handicapped people see no necessity for respect and politeness to their fellow man when it comes to political expressions. From what I’ve seen, such emotion packed politics have become common in Europe as well. Let’s not forget that respect and self-respect are part of the same thing.

Society as a whole is built on common conventions. Just as we personally undergo change, our society and our rules change with the passage of time. We make new laws in order to improve our collective well being, and sometimes these laws are retracted or changed because they didn’t work. An example of this in the US was the prohibition of alcohol which led to a rise in criminal activity and public disobedience. The law was rescinded. The nature of leadership has progressed in like manner. Like the swing of a pendulum, the leadership has gone back and forth, giving priority to conservatives and liberals alternatively. What might be considered an advantage to one part of the population may be suffered as a grievous injury to another part. And yet we need the cooperation and the partnership of the vast majority of the population in order for this sort of government to work. When encountering injustice, we may protest. The most severe protest in a democratic society is civil disobedience. It’s considered elegant. But often, it is accompanied by violent anti social behavior as well. If we are to countermand civil order, we risk chaos and an increase in the power of the police and army, and a reduction of our own civil liberties. Because of the price that has to be paid, the public is usually loathe to employ such methods. For we know, that in another four years we’ll have a new opportunity to change the government.

If we insult or provoke our political opponents, we will just amplify the hostility between the sides. If I have a neighbor with whom I disagree, but I see him every morning as we go to work and again as we return home in the evening, I prefer that we’ll wish each other a good day and smile when we meet. Our fellow citizens are our neighbors. Those that voted for the prohibition of alcohol didn’t intend to bring gang fights and machine guns to their city streets. They just wanted more peace and quiet. Those that think that aggressive confrontation against injustice will teach the other side to respect our freedom should take a long look at Syria where a half a million civilians have been murdered in the past few years, and many more millions have fled the country and remain refugees in far off places.

I believe that a truly progressive person should speak clearly and softly. He or she should be careful to stick to the truth and focus on reason much more than on emotion. We should remember that the message is not meant to influence our greatest opposition, but to convince those that are still undecided. If we convince some of the opposition, that’s good too. But time and experience may convince even those who don’t want to listen to us. And all the while, we certainly don’t want to alienate any of those who might be considering our merits.

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a modest mermaid in Jerusalem

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a hot week

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looking out from our backyard, Nechama

This has been a very full week for me. We’ve been having a heat wave, and saw temperatures as high as 39º in Jerusalem. That is unusually hot for us. And aside from that, there have been some very shocking things in the news. Of course, everything is relative, and what may be shocking and earth shaking to me, might not seem worthy of much interest somewhere else. In our country, we usually call this time, the cucumber season, and it is well known that sometimes the journalists have to scrounge around for a human interest story to fill the pages of the newspaper. Because of that, it came as even more of a surprise that every day brought screaming headlines, and mind boggling stories from our neighbors and fellow citizens.

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some cats take the side road

And since these things are occupying my mind right now, it is hard for me to write about the subjects that I usually choose to share with my friends on this blog. Yet, at the same time, I find it hard to believe that my readers would have any interest in those things that have occupied my thoughts and feelings for the last week. In fact, I was tempted not to write anything at all. Perhaps, just to share a picture or two, and let it go at that. But I am a creature of habit, and it is my habit to have a little talk with you, at least once a week. So I’ll try to share with you one of these stories… a story that meant a lot to me.

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a modest cat

We had a rabbi in our town that was thought of as one of the greatest students of his generation. He dedicated himself to study, and from the time he was a teenager, he used to study all the time. Day and night. His name is Rabbi Elyahiv. You’ve probably never heard of him. Because though he was thought of, as an extraordinary wise man, and a great scholar, he was very modest and never cared much for the spotlight. He married the daughter of one of our favorite Rabbis here, the man we used to call ‘the convicts’ rabbi’ because he was always going to the jail to try to encourage and give solace to those behind bars. Mrs. Elyashiv, used to try and take care of all the work in the house, and all of his routine obligations too. She worked all the time, yet also managed to raise twelve children who all turned out well. They lived a very modest existence. Their home was a small apartment with minimal furniture, and they didn’t change it with the passing of the years. Occasionally, politicians and people of state would visit the man, and they would speak of his very minimalistic apartment; the simple chairs and table. One minister who visited him, mentioned that he was astounded that anyone in the country still lived so simply.

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Nechama checks to see who’s coming to join us

Rabbi Elyashiv was made a rabbi, and afterwards was appointed a judge in the highest religious court of the land. In the 1980s, he disagreed with a majority ruling, and quit. Since that time, he has continued as a rabbi, but has sought no other office, nor has he argued publicly with those who held office, or condemned the decisions of others, or spoken in derision of those he did not agree with. He wrote a number of books, but they were published under the names of his students; books of a religious or scholarly nature. As the years went by, more and more of the people in the religious community would seek his opinion on religious question. His authority became great. But only because he was wise and learned, and not because he held any special office. This week he died, after a difficult case of pneumonia, complicated by chronic heart disease. He had asked of his students, that no one make any speeches at his funeral. He just wanted to be buried like a regular guy. But there was someone in his family that just couldn’t withstand the temptation, and gave a speech anyway. You see, the moment people can, they do whatever they want to do. It’s hard to trust anyone.

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the rabbi

He was buried the night after he died, as is the custom in Jerusalem. We usually bury someone on the same day he died. 250,000 people came to the funeral. There were people ~ not family… but those who saw him as a father to the entire community, who tore their clothes in mourning. Many of the streets of our city were completely blocked. He was buried, and then everyone went home. He died at the age of 102.

I’m looking forward to a quiet Sabbath.

new journalism

I was listening to an Israeli poet on the radio this morning, as he spoke about the Beat Generation. They were talking about a new translation of one of Kerouac’s earliest books, and it lead to a discussion of the beat generation and beatniks… and what they wanted to change in this world. He belongs to the same generation. He met some of them. But he wasn’t really a part of it. He’s an Israeli poet and was more involved in what was going on here at the time. But since he’s met some of them, and was enthusiastic about them at the time, it seems natural to ask him about that very unusual literary generation, which has been more or less forgotten by most of us, in the long years since then. I too, was an enthusiast at the time. The beat generation influenced the way I looked at the world. And I was dismayed by the conversation, because of one thing he said. He explained that the Beat generation was so called because of the beat (rhythm) that came from the Jazz which they all loved. That wasn’t so. The word beat came from beatitude. Which is what they were looking for. It was what inspired many of them to study Buddhism to varying degrees.

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sculpture by my daughter Shulamit

My thoughts on this radio conversation lead me to the consideration of what we might learn about culture, and about the world, from radio and TV programs… and newspapers and journals. I discovered the beat generation while reading a journal one day, many years back. That was a time, when you could really learn some things from the newspapers, the journals, and the radio. I’m talking about a half a century ago. Communication was a little more formalistic then, than it is today. But to a large extent, the journalist tried to be accurate and unprejudiced. He reflected the mores of the society in which he lived, but most writers tried to present an objective reality. There was political commentary too, and gossip columns… but they didn’t masquerade as news.

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a plastic flower that sways in sunlight, powered by a light sensor

Back in those days, the common style of writing, found in fiction, was the third person narrative. Little by little, this style was almost completely overtaken by the first person narrative. It wasn’t just the style of novels… The sense of awareness, after the sixties, became much more tuned to personal desires and accomplishments. The message was, ‘look out for the interests of no. 1’. It was me, me, me. Self realization became the most popular philosophical point of view, and with it, the new journalism, which got a great push from the popular writer Tom Wolfe, and then philosopher-writer Norman Mailer, both of whom lived in America. Instead of trying to present an objective reality to the reading public, the writer presented his own very subjective view of what was happening around him, or where he happened to be investigating. The subject of the writing became as much the writer, as the topic that he was writing about.

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sculpture by my daughter Shulamit

Since then, the news of the day have become increasingly influenced by this new style. And it is not uncommon for major newspapers and journals, as well as the mass media to present a one sided argument in favor of those causes adopted by the publishing company, the advertisers, or the journalists themselves. There are no apologies. There are no warnings. Very often, certain ideas and points of view are almost unanimously accepted by the forward thinking journalists, and a naïve reader might take opinion for fact, the way the two are intermingled. There are pampered minorities whose causes are trumpeted day and night, and ideological minorities whose attitudes are hardly mentioned, and when mentioned, are often the subject of ridicule. And so, I would suggest to the young, that they look upon the mass media as a source of entertainment and amusement. But that they study seriously any subject that truly interests them. Beware of popular opinion. It is so often wrong.