6 ways to become an informed voter

My son, Daniel, has written a blog on behalf of “MAZON – A Jewish Response to Hunger” that he calls “6 ways to become an informed voter.”

Though the election campaign has not focused on the issue of hunger insecurity in America, it is a significant issue affecting millions of Americans, nevertheless.

Daniel (who handles all grants and grantees for MAZON) has written an important piece that I recommend you read. You can find it here:


In his blog, among other things, he notes:

The freedom to vote is a fundamental political right. Elections and voting matter. The American Jewish community has always been civically involved. In the 2012 U.S. election, Jewish voter registration rates topped roughly 90%, compared to 74% in the general public. Our community also has unique power based on where we live. While the American Jewish population only makes up 2% of the general public, 70% of Jews live in the crucial states of California, Florida, Illinois, New York and Pennsylvania, which hold more than half of the electoral college votes needed to win the presidential election.

10 Suggestions of things to do before Rosh Hashanah

Tonight is the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Elul, and that means not only that there is a full moon that will pass across tonight’s sky, but that in two weeks Rosh Hashanah will arrive.

Tradition teaches that Elul is the “get ready” month before the commencement of the Days of Awe.

In the spirit of David Letterman, I offer here my list of top ten suggestions of things to do to get ready for the High Holidays in descending order of importance:

#10 – Relax: Take your shoes off. A USA Today study reported years ago that those who habitually kick off their shoes tend to live three years longer than the average American. Your feet are like the soul. Feet bound for too long stink and cloistered souls block the light. Slow down. Think about where you are in your life, what you want and need, whether you are happy or sad, fulfilled or frustrated.

#9 – T’shuvah: Be self-critical. Identify those things that keep you from being your better self. Commit to breaking at least one bad habit in the New Year. For example, let go of the anger, resentment, and hurt that you’ve allowed to build up over time. Stop writing everything that comes to mind on social media if what you say is hurtful to others. Assess whether you’ve been honest in your business affairs and taken advantage of others even if what you did wasn’t against the letter of the law. Commit to not doing those things in the New Year. Focus on the good qualities of others and not their bad qualities. Stop complaining about other people. Assume responsibility for what you yourself have done wrong. Clean up your language. If you wouldn’t say something in front of a child or your mother, don’t say it in front of anyone.

#8 – Meditate: The American Institute on Stress reports that 75-90% of all visits to primary care physicians are for stress-related complaints. Meditation is one means to become more self-conscious, self-aware and calmer. Meditating can be done anywhere and at any time, when listening to music, looking at fine art, reading wonderful literature, exercising, walking in nature, and sitting still. Meditation trains us to listen mindfully and to be present fully with our loved ones, friends and even strangers. Become at-one with your environment.

#7 – Exercise: Walk, swim, ride a bike, go to the gym, keep your body toned. Whenever possible, walk stairs and park at the far end of a parking lot. The calories burned this way will shed pounds of fat over time, lower your heart rate and blood pressure, and afford you a greater sense of well-being. Eliminate sugar and salt, soft drinks, packaged food, and fast food from your diet. Reduce the size of your portions. Don’t eat late at night.

#6 – Do at least one of the following each day:
• Have an ice cream
• Eat a piece of dark chocolate
• Buy a loved one a gift for no reason
• Stretch whenever you feel like it
• Sing in the shower
• Say hello to and smile at a perfect stranger
• Let that guy cut in front of you in traffic
• Pet a dog

#5 – Say “No” to requests if you feel already overtaxed and exhausted. Say “Yes” whenever you know doing so will feed your soul and open your heart. Read great literature. Learn from great teachers. Do random acts of kindness. Give tzedakah whenever asked by someone on the street, and don’t question his/her motives. Visit the sick. Call the lonely. Touch, hug and kiss an elderly person who may not have been touched in a long while.

#4 – Friendships: Apologize to the people that you’ve wronged and do so without condition. Don’t blame anyone for your own mistakes. Express gratitude freely. Compliment people when they have done something that inspired your gratitude and praise.

#3 – Worship: Studies indicate that those who worship regularly in community are less lonely, are healthier and live longer than those who never come to religious services.

#2 – Shabbat: Light candles every Friday evening, even when you’re alone. Buy or bake challah for ha-motzi. Drink quality wine for kiddush. Acknowledge God’s presence. Remember before Whom you stand. Sense being at one with everyone and everything around you (i.e. at-one-ment).

#1 – Torah: Learn Torah and find special verses that reflect your faith and values. Make them your own (e.g. “Vay’hi or – Let there be light!” “V’ahavta l’reiacha kamocha – Love your fellow as yourself,” “V’ahavta et Adonai Eloheicha – Love Adonai your God,” “Tzedek tzedek tirdof – Justice, justice shall you pursue,” “Shiviti Adonai l’negdi – I have set God opposite me,” “Sh’ma Yisrael – Listen O Israel, Adonai is our God, Adonai alone!”) Commit your favorite verses to memory. Repeat them to yourself as if they are your mantras.

These are my 10 suggestions for the days remaining in the month of Elul – and beyond.

May the New Year return each of us to lives of kindness, wonder, sweetness, goodness, family, friends, community, the Jewish people, Torah, and God.

L’shanah tovah u-m’tukah (For a good sweet New Year)

Ehud Barak: Netanyahu’s reckless conduct endangers Israel – Washington Post Op-Ed – September 14

“During the past two years, a sense of gloom has taken over my country, as pride in Israel’s accomplishments and self-confidence grounded in reality have given way to fear-mongering, victimhood and internal quarrels.”

This is how the former Israeli Prime Minister, Defense Minister and Chief of Staff begins his sober reality check evaluating the damage that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has allowed to occur as the government of Israel that he leads has turned more militantly nationalistic and intransigent in doing what Barak believes is required for Israel’s long term health as a democracy and nation-state of the Jewish people.

I believe that Barak’s analysis is correct, cautious and wise, and ought to be read and taken seriously by anyone who cares about, loves and believes in the state of Israel as a beacon light of hope not only for the Jewish people but for the civilized world.

Barak observed:

“Despite seven wars, two intifadas and a host of military operations, Israel has emerged as the most successful nation-building project of the 20th century: powerful scientifically, economically and militarily, with a vibrant culture. What made this possible is sorely lacking today: a vision that unifies; an action plan that is realistic; and bold, far-sighted leadership that navigates both while holding a compass, not a weather vane. Israel needs a policy that restores credibility to our relations with Washington; prioritizes the unity of the people over the unity of the land; enhances security via cooperation with like-minded nations; and promotes democratic values rather than messianic visions.”

Read full article here –  http://wpo.st/xqsy1

“All you need is love!”

“All you need is love
All you need is love
All you need is love, love
Love is all you need…
” (John Lennon – 1967)

Surveys indicate that we gravitate throughout our lives to the music and musical groups we loved when we were teens. For me, it’s the Beatles, Dylan and much of the classic folk music of the 60s, as well as Israeli music of the classic pioneer era. The Song of Songs was a popular source for much of that music, and perhaps, this is why my wife and I engraved on the inside of our wedding rings “Ani l’dodi v’dodi li – I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” (Song of Songs 6:3)

Attributed to King Solomon as a young man, the eight-chapter  poem expresses the passionate romantic yearning and love between two lovers. Tradition recognizes, however, that the Song is far more than a secular love poem. It is understood as an allegory of the eternal love between the people of Israel and God. Rabbi Akiva said of the Song when debating whether the poem would be included in the Biblical canon at the end of the first century CE: “For all the ages are not worth the day on which the Song of Songs was given to Israel; for all the Writings are holy, but the Song of Songs is the Holy of Holies.”

I recall the Song and particularly this verse because today is the first day of the Hebrew month of Elul in which the Jewish people begins a 30-day period of introspection and self-criticism leading to Rosh Hashanah. Today also commences a 40-day period that crescendos on Yom Kippur, the same period of time that Moses communed with God and received Torah (Exodus 34:28).

The verse – Ani l’dodi v’dodi li – evokes both this Hebrew month and the goal of our 30- and 40-day periods. The verse is an acrostic – the first letter of each word – Aleph – lamed – vav – lamed – spells Elul, suggesting that it is love that can lead us back to ourselves, to everything we cherish, to our families, friends, community, people, Torah, and God – “All you need is love!”

May this season be a time of turning, renewal and love for you, the people of Israel, and all children of the earth.

You can never go back

Last week on a quick trip to the San Francisco Bay area, my wife Barbara and I decided to visit our alma mater, UC Berkeley. I was there from 1968 to 1972 and she was there from 1970 to 1974.

I had not walked on campus since I graduated. Neither had she. So, with excitement we went to tour the campus and the south side along Bancroft and Telegraph Avenues.

Very little has changed in all these years. There’s one new building on campus, a new art museum on the west side of the University, and a few new businesses on the south side. The student body does look a bit different demographically – they’re all young, but we were then too, and when I was a student I didn’t think so much about the homogeneous demographics.

My years there were tumultuous, to say the least. Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were assassinated. The Vietnam War was raging. There was a Third World College strike that shut down the University  and People’s Park put me in jail.

People’s Park was located on a University owned vacant city block south of the campus and just east of Telegraph Avenue that had been taken over by community members who planted gardens, brought in playground equipment for children and created a community kitchen for homeless people and vagabonds. However, at 6 am on May 15, 1969, University police expelled the squatters and put up a fence to keep everyone out. Members of the community were enraged and the student body president, Daniel Siegel, a law student at Boalt Hall, called upon the crowd in Sproul Plaza to “go take the park.” The masses walked down Telegraph chanting and a riot resulted. One man, James Rector, was killed by police as he watched from the top of a building. Police reinforcements were called in from surrounding municipalities as well as the Alameda County Sheriffs Department who students called “Blue Meanies” because of their blue uniforms and Beatles influence. Things were getting out of hand and then Governor Ronald Reagan called out the national guard. A helicopter flew over campus and, contrary to Geneva Conventions rules against doing so on civilian populations, sprayed tear-gas over hundreds of unsuspecting students. A photograph of the helicopter appeared the next day  on the front page above the fold in the New York Times.

People’s Park was located on a University owned vacant city block south of the campus and just east of Telegraph Avenue that had been taken over by community members who planted gardens, brought in playground equipment for children, created a community kitchen for homeless people and vagabonds. However, at 6 am on May 15, 1969 University police expelled the squatters and put up a fence to keep everyone out. Members of the community were enraged and the student body president, Daniel Siegel, a law student at Boalt Hall, called upon the crowd in Sproul Plaza to “go take the park.” The masses walked down Telegraph chanting and a riot resulted. One man, James Rector, was killed by police as he watched from the top of a building. Police reinforcements were called in from surrounding municipalities as well as the Alameda County Sheriffs Department who students called “Blue Meanies” because of their blue uniforms and Beatles influence. Things were getting out of hand and then Governor Ronald Reagan called out the national guard. A helicopter flew over campus and, contrary to Geneva Conventions rules against doing so on civilian populations, sprayed tear-gas over hundreds of unsuspecting students. A photograph of the helicopter appeared the next day  on the front page above the fold in the New York Times.

Berkeley had become an armed camp. A week after Rector was killed, on Thursday, May 22nd, a peaceful march was called through downtown Berkeley to ask (politely) business owners to close down in protest to the killing and the occupation of the town. I participated as did hundreds of others who were shocked by what we believed was a massive overreaction by the authorities.

Police had blocked off streets and forced us eventually into an open parking lot at noon at the Bank of America off Shattuck – all 482 of us – and we were arrested and taken by police buses to the Santa Rita Rehabilitation Center in Pleasanton, California (what a name for a town with a prison), a minimum security prison. I was there overnight before being bailed out for the exorbitant sum at the time ($800). My mother heard that I had been busted and had called an attorney friend in LA who called a lawyer colleague in Oakland who got a bail bondsman who paid my bail. All charges were eventually dropped – by the way.

I was traumatized by that experience. As we descended from the police bus that afternoon, we were forced to lie for hours in a gravel courtyard with our heads turned to one side resembling a body count in Vietnam, until we were booked. Guards circulated with their clubs screaming at us at all times and beat anyone who dared to move  or lift their heads. The food they served was uneatable but we were forced to eat everything on our plates by more screaming guards who were ordered to do everything possible to intimidate us. They succeeded with me!

I recalled all this as I walked on campus. I remembered as well grassy knolls where I would read and study between classes on warm fall and spring days, routes I would take to and from my residence, friends who would congregate in Sproul Plaza to meet for coffee in the student union who I haven’t seen in 45 years, donuts I’d buy in a cart at the corner of Bancroft and Telegraph, the student union where I’d sign up for San Francisco Philharmonic ushering tickets, girlfriends and romances, and my many great professors in anthropology, art history, music, history, and politics that made my time at Berkeley so meaningful and enriching.

I asked Barbara as we drove to the airport , “Is there any period in your life that you would relive if you could?” She searched her memory and came to the same conclusion as I did: “No. I like my life now and I just want to continue to move forward. There’s no going back.”


Stolen Jewish property in Egypt – Resentment remains 60 years later

As my friend Maurice and I strolled towards the Jaffa Gate to enter the Old City of Jerusalem several years ago, he told me the story of his family. He was  a young teen in Egypt when the 1956 Suez War broke out between Egypt against the United States, France and Israel. After fighting ceased the remaining Jews who had not left for Israel after the 1948 War of Independence were forced out.

In 1948, 800,000 Jews fled their homes in Arab countries when their governments persecuted them as retaliation for Israel’s victory. Their property and wealth were either stolen or nationalized. They arrived in Israel penniless and to this day have not retrieved their lost property nor been compensated.

The same fate happened to Maurice and his family in 1956. Because they spoke French and Arabic they fled to Montreal leaving everything behind.

Last week an article appeared in 972+ Magazine called “No more lip service: How to retrieve lost Jewish property in Arab countries” (by Uri Zaki) (http://972mag.com/no-more-lip-service-how-to-retrieve-lost-jewish-property-in-arab-countries/121310/). Knowing Maurice’s story, I sent him the article’s link and asked for his reaction. He granted me permission to reproduce his letter:

Hi John: Thanks for thinking of me. It is so nice to have a friend that knows and understands my history. You probably also know that this topic touches a sensitive nerve so please take what follows with those feelings in mind.

It is a very important topic for the Jewish people as a whole and one to me and my family….

Egypt was home to a vibrant and rich Jewish community for centuries. Jewish and general scholarship … was tremendous and to this day sits as one of the Jewish people’s most important assets … Egypt was more than a comfortable home for us….

In the years leading up to the mid-1950’s, we endured increasing racism and harassment. Eventually, the substantial assets that we had earned over the years were seized and stolen from us. We were mercilessly (and pennilessly) expelled from our home, country, and community. We left behind not just our property but our way of life…

Although I was just in my teens, I remember well the struggle that my family and parents faced without country and any financial strength.

…We left, rebuilt and regained the position of strength (financially, Judaicly, culturally, and intellectually) that we always occupied. We didn’t do it with the help of the UN or foreign governments….we did it on our own.

The truth is that after the Egyptian King was deposed, the country went through a period of violent nationalism and home-grown radicalism. Years before we were expelled, I remember that my father was nearly stoned to death in the street for the simple crime of being a Jew.

Our plight … had to do with anti-Semitism and the use of xenophobia by the Egyptian leaders to stir the public.

Jews [in 1956] were …not persecuted because we represented any credible threat….[it was] Xenophobia and racism plain and simple….

I believe that we Jews have always been the canary in the mine!

It is a stark contrast to the Palestinian approach. … my story isn’t any better than the Palestinian….arguably much worse. Yet no Jew has sat in a refugee camp for nearly 70 years. Israel quickly absorbed its people (sometimes with bumps, but ultimately successfully) and the displaced and abused Jewish communities of the Middle East quickly reestablished themselves and are thriving.

With much love

Maurice rightly notes the distinctions between the plight of Jewish and Palestinian refugees (note: 700,000 Palestinians fled or were forced to leave their homes in 1948, a number equivalent with Jewish refugees leaving Arab lands that same year). Both stories are deeply troubling, to say the least, and both peoples deserve and require restitution. The 972+ article offers insight into the Jewish struggle. The Palestinian struggle is of a different order altogether.

Two points:

[1] All neighboring Arab nations (except Jordan) refused to absorb Palestinians into their populations;

[2] The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) was created in 1949 to assist Palestinian refugees. It is the only organization in the world devoted to only one refugee community and has sustained Palestinians as refugees for more than six decades thus enabling so many of them to continue living in poverty and statelessness.

Sadly, despite the Palestinian people’s legitimate rights to a state of their own beside Israel in what must eventually (sooner rather than later) become a two states for two peoples resolution of the conflict, the Palestinians have been used cynically as pawns by both the UN and  Arab nations for their own political purposes, and by their own leaders who have time and again refused to accept a two-state solution and the rights of the Jewish people to a nation state of our own.

In conclusion, Zaki wrote:

Recent trends in international law place the emphasis on “satisfaction,” which derives from publicly addressing the past, issuing apologies and taking responsibility for creating injustices. These, alongside reparations and restitution of lost property, are essential in conflict resolution. … Only thus could mutual recognition of the injustice inflicted upon millions of people and their descendants, on both sides of the divide, emerge. In addition, it could create a buzz in the relevant countries as well as internationally, paving the way for actual reparation and restitution as well as satisfaction.

Maurice’s story is one among millions. In his case, his family has done well though they were exiled from their home. Not so for so many others.

“Avigdor Lieberman Is Sorry-Not-Sorry for Comparing Iran Deal to Hitler Deal” – JJ Goldberg in the Forward

This article by the Forward’s JJ Goldberg reviews a number of important issues and conflicts going on inside Israel and vis a vis the United States that I recommend you read.

JJ begins his piece this way:

“The long-simmering tension between Israel’s generals and their politician bosses flared up in early August into a near-crisis in U.S.-Israel relations. It’s an almost comically complicated caper, so pay close attention. You can’t make this stuff up.”

Here are the issues JJ addresses that could reasonably become a sordid TV mini-series here in the US or in Israel (Screenwriters! Take note!):

• The Israeli generals vs their political bosses
• Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s intemperate leadership of the Israeli Defense Ministry
• The Israeli army vs Israel’s right-wing extremists
• The corrupting influence of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate
• The on-again-off-again American-Israeli Aid negotiations
• The bad marriage between President Obama and Israel’s right wing government and more on the Iran deal


Action Alert – Ask Secretary John Kerry to act on behalf of the West Bank village of Susiya

The Palestinian residents of Susiya, a small village in Area C in the West Bank controlled by the Israeli military administration, are facing a decision about the demolition of their village in the next few days. The only thing standing between these villagers having homes and becoming homeless is a decision by newly installed Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

This village has suffered displacement and demolition before even as Jewish settlers nearby are left alone. Their settlement, on the other hand, has benefited as a result of  contributions by the Israeli government in the building of its infrastructure.

There are about 100 Palestinians living in Susiya today. The Jewish settlement nearby has a rapidly expanding population of 1000.

A right-wing pro-settler group, Regavim, has been petitioning the High Court to demolish the village for years. The Israeli government has offered to resettle the villagers in a different area. But they want to stay on the land that has been their home for decades.” -J Street Blog, August 4 (see link below)

J Street U is asking American Jews who believe that this demolition is unjust, that such actions taken by the Israeli military administration make a two-states for two peoples resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict more difficult, and worry about Israel’s moral authority and international standing, to put pressure on Secretary of State John Kerry to intercede and apply pressure on the Israeli government to stop the demolition of these villagers’ homes.

Details on the history of Susiya and what we can do can be found here – http://jstreet.org/blog/post/whats-happening-in-the-palestinian-village-of-susya–and-what-we-can-do_1

Why progressive Jews mustn’t give up on Zionism

It matters that we progressive Zionists respond whenever American Jews give up on Zionism and the state of Israel. Not only can we not abandon Israel ever, especially in difficult times such as these, but we cannot cede exclusive influence in the United States on matters of vital importance and interest to American Jews and Israel itself to supporters of the most right-wing government in the history of the state of Israel. Rather, we believe it is our duty to articulate as clearly as we can to as many Jews as we can what are our liberal Jewish and Zionist values and why we continue to love and support Israel as the democratic nation-state of the Jewish people.

Earlier this week, Professors Hasia Diner and Marjorie Feld published what can only be characterized (from the perspective of American Zionism) as an alarming op-ed in Israel’s daily Haaretz entitled “We’re American Jewish Historians. This is why we’ve left Zionism behind” (http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.734602?v=0EEB085E26B05596787A40B19C818497).

The Haaretz op-ed states, among other things: “the exponential growth of far right political parties and the increasing Haredization of Israel, makes it a place that I abhor visiting, and to which I will contribute no money, whose products I will not buy, nor will I expend my limited but still to me, meaningful, political clout to support it.”

Rabbi Joshua Weinberg, President of the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA) and I, the national ARZA Chair, joined together with Gideon Aronoff and Ken Bob, CEO and National President of Ameinu, the American progressive Zionist movement that is aligned with Israel’s Zionist Union political party, in a shared response to the above op-ed that was posted today on the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) site (August 3).

Our piece – “Why progressive Jews mustn’t give up on Zionism” – can be read here – http://www.jta.org/2016/08/03/news-opinion/opinion/why-progressive-jews-mustnt-give-up-on-zionism

Please forward this blog to those whom you believe might benefit from reading our  progressive Zionist statement and especially to millennial American Jews (ages 16-35) that surveys suggest are drifting from their engagement with and support of Israel.