A Serious Injury or a Mortal Wound?

Is this the end of the USA’s democracy? Or does American democracy recover in a few years from Trump and his supporters? I wish I knew. This American dystopian unraveling of democracy that we’re living through, and which may easily last another 5 more Trumpian years (or more), has made me question a lot of things I have taken for granted my whole life about this country. I’m in agony, and I know a lot of other people who are too.

One of the things I didn’t see coming was the way that the times we’re living in have made a newfound literary love of mine feel prescient and relevant in immediate ways I never previously thought possible. I’m talking about sci-fi. And I wish that what I’m about to describe wasn’t the case…

Continue reading “A Serious Injury or a Mortal Wound?”

Relieved, grateful, frightened

I’m listening to a Laura Marling song, which I find really moving and beautiful. It’s maybe half an hour after I’ve absorbed the news that the House voted to impeach, and I’m thankful for the Dems determination, perseverance, focus, and willingness to take political risks to try to save our democracy.

But seeing no Republicans (except I think one ex-Repub) vote yes, and hearing that they seem to be locking arms around a narrative of lies, and hearing that Trump’s approval ratings have even ticked up recently, and knowing that he and his fellow GOPers are going to full-court press their Fox News conspiracy theory BS and present it as “the real truth” and continue to whip up the frenzy of hate and lies — well, it’s what frightens me even more than Trump himself. It’s my fellow Americans who are all in for 45, for the kind of willful pretending that he hasn’t lied over and over again, conned people left and right, and spewed racist and sexist and just plain nasty divisive speech over and over and over again.

Continue reading “Relieved, grateful, frightened”

People I’m Grateful For

Fred Halliday

Aretha Franklin

Adam Schiff

Melissa Crabbe

Lori Pompa

Andy Levin

Deborah Waxman

Kitty Piercy

Yitzhak Husbands-Hankin

Arik Ascherman

Stephen Colbert

Harvey Milk

Bernard Lipnick

Leon Lissek

Walter Kania

Sheila Peltz Weinberg

David Teutsch

Linda Holtzman

Ta-Nehisi Coates

Harriet Tubman

Anat Hoffman

Sarah Silverman

Marjorie Berman

Jon Stewart

Jerry Curtis

Leonard Cohen

Fred Rogers

Melanie Oommen

Rosa Parks

MLK

Bob Dylan

Barack Obama

Michelle Obama

 

D’var Torah – T’rumah (5769 / 2009)

D’var Torah ­ T’rumah 5769 – Exodus 25:1 – 27:19

By Rabbi Maurice Harris – Temple Beth Israel (Eugene, OR, USA)

Parashat T’rumah details the construction of the mishkan, the portable temple the Jews built and took with them during their 40 year journey through the wilderness. The early rabbis noticed the high frequency of similar words used in this story of the creation of a holy sanctuary and the language used in Genesis to describe the creation of the world.

The portable temple – the mishkan – is the Torah’s early preview of the permanent Temple that would be built centuries later by King Solomon in Jerusalem. Jon Levenson, a Bible scholar and the teacher of my Bible professor, Dr. Tamar Kamionkowski, wrote that the parallels between the Torah’s account of the creation of the universe and the Exodus chapters detailing the creation of the mishkan provide “powerful evidence that, as in many cultures, the Temple was conceived as a microcosm, a miniature world.”

For this week’s Torah portion, the ancient rabbis chose a haftarah, the public reading from the books of the Prophets, that accompanies the weekly Torah reading, from the book of First Kings. That text describes Solomon’s building of the first Temple in Jerusalem. One of the most commented upon verses we find in the description of this massive construction project reads as follows:

“When the Temple was built, only finished stones cut at the quarry were used, so that no hammer or ax or any iron tool was heard in the Temple while it was being built.” [1 Kings 6:7] Continue reading “D’var Torah – T’rumah (5769 / 2009)”

D’var Torah – Chukat (5771 / 2011)

D’var Torah: Parashat Chukat – 5771 – July 1, 2011 – Temple Beth Israel (Eugene, OR, USA)

By Rabbi Maurice Harris

This week’s Torah portion, Chukat [Num 19:1 – 21:2], is fascinating. We open the parashah still in the second year of the Israelites’ wanderings in the desert following their exodus from Egypt, but by the time we reach the end of the parashah we’re in year number 40. There are strange laws and unusual episodes, the deaths of leaders and of dreams, pitched battles, winged serpents, temper tantrums, water miracles, and leadership transitions, all within the contours of a single week’s reading from the Torah.

Chukat starts with a description of the priestly ritual that the Israelites are to follow whenever they come into contact with a corpse. The priests are instructed to take the ashes of a red cow and use them as part of a purification ritual. The laws of the parah adumah, or red heifer, have perplexed rabbis for thousands of years, and continue to be the subject of speculation to this day.

Then, the Torah portion jumps forward 38 years in time, leaving us to wonder what happened to Moses, Aaron, Miriam, and the Israelites during all those long years in the desert. When the story resumes, we read about the death of the prophet, Miriam. Shortly after losing his sister, Moses and Aaron face a grumbling, thirsty population of Israelites clamoring for water. God instructs Moses to take his rod, approach a particular rock, and speak to the rock to give forth water for the people. Amidst the peoples’ complaints, however, an over-stressed Moses finally comes unglued. With Aaron watching helplessly, Moses throws a fit in front of the entire assembly, yelling at them for their endless rebelliousness and striking the rock repeatedly with his rod. Water gushes forth, but in the aftermath of this drama God informs Moses that he and Aaron will not be accompanying the Israelites into the Promised Land. It’s a shattered dream following almost 40 years of shepherding this difficult flock.

 

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Charles Johnson’s “Middle Passage” Speaks to the Present Times

Just finished reading Charles Johnson’s 1990 novel, Middle Passage, and I’m wishing it had been considered mandatory high school reading for me.

Screenshot 2019-10-16 at 09.11.44

Well, by 1990 I was already in college, but in my fantasy I wish to have read this novel in my high school English class my junior or senior year. First of all, it would have prevented me from graduating high school without knowing what the term “The Middle Passage” meant re slavery – something I’m ashamed to acknowledge. (I didn’t learn the term until I was in my 20s.) 

The novel won the National Book Award, and the NYT Book Review blurb on the back of my paperback edition states, “A novel in the honorable tradition of Billy Budd and Moby Dick . . . heroic in proportion . . . fiction that hooks into the mind.” I agree with all of that (though I’ve never read Moby Dick and don’t plan to).

A bit over 200 pages, Johnson’s novel is told in first person in the form of a series of 8 journal (or ship’s log) entries over the course of the summer of 1830. Our narrator and anti-hero is Rutherford Calhoun, a 20-something freed former slave living (and committed to little more than partying) in New Orleans. Rutherford was born into slavery and he and his brother were the slaves of a man named Reverend Peleg Chandler, whom Rutherford says was morally against slavery and thus arranged for the manumission of his slaves just before his death (why is it that so many of the white men we hear about who had slaves but opposed slavery only granted their slaves freedom upon their death – I mean, if they really found slavery morally repugnant… right?)

In any case, our narrator describes Chandler this way:

“A Biblical scholar, he endlessly preached Old Testament virtues to me, and to this very day I remember his tedious disquisitions on Neoplatonism, the evils of nominalism, the genius of Aquinas, and the work of such seers as Jakob Böhme. He’d wanted me to become a Negro preacher, perhaps even a black saint like the South American priest Martin de Porres – or, for that matter, my brother Jackson.”

We later learn of the many ways in which Rutherford resents his brother Jackson, who was constantly being praised by the Reverend/Master while Rutherford was being admonished.

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