The congregation joins the parents in an Atrium filled with people, suffused with a summer sunset and two lit candles. The words of the blessing for the candles are familiar and ancient. They are rooted in a long Jewish tradition and had appeared already in a ninth-century prayerbook. Reciting the blessing in community creates a seamless connection. Recited in the present it creates a protective canopy across time and space.
1) First, to state the obvious, contrary to our president, “you can change history.” What you can’t change is the past. As the president no doubt remembers, Hegel, in his Philosophy of History stated “history encompasses in our language [that is, German] the objective as well as the subjective aspect and signifies both historiam renum gestorum (historical accounts of the past) and res gestae (the things themselves.)” Same in English. Though today we are perhaps more skeptical than Hegel that the “res gestae” are self-interpreting. History, the interpretation of the past, is always changing. And the history of the Confederacy has undergone vast changes in recent decades.
Let no one mistake who is behind the violence in Charlottesville, that took the life of at least one protestor against the neo-Nazis, and left many more seriously injured. It’s not David Duke, it’s not the so called “alt-right,” it’s not even our miserable president, who is incapable of making even a grudging gesture to the cause of justice. It is that notorious traitor, Robert E. Lee, the man responsible for the death of more US military personnel than Adolf Hitler. The protests are over a statue of Lee that the city of Charlottesville wants to remove. This statue was erected in 1924. It’s time for it to go.
The emperor awoke. As usual he was angry and surly, yelling at his attendants, calling for his grand vizier. As usual, there was only one topic on his mind. For weeks he had speaking about nothing else. “Screw the sun. I hate the goddamn sun. What are we doing about the sun? Every morning what do people do? They think about the sun. Is it shining or cloudy? Why are we dependent on the sun? It’s embarrassing. The sun gets way too much attention. People think the earth revolves around the sun. That’s just fake and biased liberal science. The earth revolves around me!”
Let me tell you a story. When I was 21, way back in 1975, I was studying at the University of Leeds in England, and I took a two week trip to the Soviet Union. You couldn’t travel on your own, and had to be part of an organized tour, and our tour had Kiev, Moscow, and Leningrad as the major stops. It was great; everywhere I went Jews asked me if I was Jewish (I guess I look it) and I tried to converse with them the best that I could. Our tour seemed to stop at every memorial to the Great Patriotic War, of which there seemed to be no end with one exception—it did not stop, despite our asking, at the monument at Babi Yar, outside of Kiev. Anyway, I loved the trip—a ballet at the Bolshoi, an opera at the Kirov; one of these years I have to get back to St. Petersburg, which I still think is the most beautiful city I have ever seen, and we were there in early July, when it stays light in the city until the wee hours.
Our Lady of the Ark of the Covenant is the largest church in Abu Ghosh, an Arab village not far from Jerusalem. Six hundred of us, singers of several choirs from around Israel, came to this church for our annual festival. The Vocal Music Hebrew Songs festival was held in a sacred place, filled with majesty, reverence and beauty.
In this large church with its high ceiling, we sang the day after Shavuot the festival of the receiving of the Torah. That day is also known in Hebrew as Isru Hag, the Binding of the Festival that comes at the end of three major Jewish pilgrimage festivals.
This is written as President Trump is returning to the United States – and I fully recognize that any minute after it’s published that something may emerge – from him or from anywhere – totally reversing our perceptions of what occurred. But life and attention spans are short, so we gotta go on what we see.
He enjoyed Saudi hospitality, is willing to forgive their Islam, and clearly appreciated the $110 billion in new military contracts he is bringing home. Moreover, he seems to believe the Saudis and most Arab states want very much to make peace with Israel (actually, there’s little doubt that’s true). And Bibi Netanyahu would very much like to make peace with them so long as they agree not to mention the P-word. But as alienated as Arab leaders are from their populations, they do recognize that the emergence of some recognizable sort of Palestinian state is an absolute prerequisite for normalizing their ties with Israel. Trump actually seems to get that, even if Bibi doesn’t. Of course, Bibi has to deal with a cynical population, much of which has long since written of the Palestinians as a negotiating partner. But Trump, as the quintessence of not-Obama, may conceivably be able to push Bibi in ways that Obama could only dream of. That is unlikely but we don’t know. No possible scrutiny of Trump’s words will reveal that; we will have to wait and see. I consider it conceivable – but barely; I would be shocked, astonished, and happy if that indeed plays out, but I won’t waste any time or energy expecting it.
I became a Bar Mitzvah on June 3rd, 1967. This was the last day Israel would ever spend under the boundaries of the 1949 armistice agreements. The Six Day War began the next day, the day you had to begin to distinguish “Israel” from “Pre-1967 Israel.” For half a century I have pondered the possible connection between those two events. Not that I think that my Bar Mitzvah in a small Reform synagogue in Queens had any impact on the course of events half a world away, but I have long thought that through this coincidence and synchronicity somehow the world was trying to send me a message, one that I have yet to figure out.
I was eighteen in 1972. My life, like that of most 18 year olds was a life of transitions. I was at college, though still living at home, slowly leaving Hashomer Hatzair, which had dominated my life for the previous half dozen years, because I was ambivalent about making Aliyah. (I should have gone, but that is another story.) And then, it happened as the famous phrase goes, “in the early morning hours of June 17th, ” five burglars were discovered inside Democratic Party headquarters at the Watergate complex in Washington, DC. The next two years were the happiest political years of my life. I still think June 17th should be made a national holiday.