How should we respond to Nazi marches?

August 20, 2017

How should we respond to Nazi marches?

Should we stay home?  This seems to be what the Southern Poverty Law Center ( is recommending.  They say that showing up at Nazi demonstrations just feeds their notoriety.  They want publicity – any publicity – and if nobody shows up to counter-protest, there’s no news story there.  They lose.

This would work if everyone did it.  But I don’t think everyone is actually going to do that.

Should we do what some in Berkeley are planning and create alternate events celebrating diversity?  This has the advantage of depriving Nazis of their audience while actually coming out and having a good time while demonstrating our values.

This is great, for those who attend, but again, I don’t think everyone is actually going to do that.

Should we counter-demonstrate peacefully?  Boston was a great example – tens of thousands of counter-protesters out-massed a few hundred Nazis who were so scared they had to get into police vans to escape instead of walking through a crowd of ordinary Americans.

This would work if we knew that thousands of people would come out and surround the Nazis.  But we can’t know that.

Should we come out with batons and brass knuckles and maybe even guns, and physically attack the Nazis?

It’s damn tempting.

I know that there are those who say we should not be physically violent unless the physical violence comes from the Nazis first.  There are those who, as a core value, genuinely oppose violence.  There are those who say it would make us look bad to those who are not activists but who don’t really sympathize with Nazis.  There are those who are not able to be physically violent.

So we can’t all do that.

Clearly, all of these are going to happen.  Lefties are not amenable to being told what to do.  So, the trick is not to fall for the perennial downfall of the left – factionalism.  We can’t denigrate those who stay home and teach their children not to hate.  We can’t make fun of those who organize alternative events.  We can’t disparage those who engage in peaceful demonstrations.  And we can’t abandon our brothers and sisters who are willing to fight for us.


Reclaiming Chanukah.

December 6, 2015

Reclaiming Chanukah.

Here’s what it was like when I was a kid:

  1. We went to my grandmother’s house for latkes. We’d sneak them away as soon as they were fried and she would wave the spatula at us as if that might stop us. Those were some delicious latkes. Well, like all latkes.
  2. We’d get chanukah gelt. Not chocolate. Real money. But not what you’d call Real Money. Like a dollar or maybe five dollars. Not presents. Nobody ever heard of chanukah presents back in the dark ages before the Great Flood and television.
  3. We’d hear horrific stories in my Secular Jewish School. They told us about Chana and her seven sons when we were really little kids. Somehow, we were supposed to believe she was a hero and all her sons were heroes and somehow, we did believe this. I think that might be child abuse.


Then this happened:
I read some history. I found out:

  1. The Maccabees were allied with religious nuts.
  2. The religious nuts refused to fight on shabbes, so they all got killed.
  3. As a result, there was no moderating influence on the nationalism of the Maccabees, who established a theocratic dynasty.
  4. The Hasmonean (Maccabean) dynasty invaded and controlled neighboring territories.
  5. The Hasmoneans did EXACTLY what the Hellenized Greeks they fought against had done – they made everyone worship their god.
  6. And not just worship – they forcibly circumcised the men in the conquered territories.



  1. I rejected Chanukah.
  2. I missed the latkes and the singing and the candles.
  3. I tried to figure out how to reclaim the holiday.


Here’s what I came up with:

  1. It is good to be part of the humanity that celebrates the end of the darkening of days and the beginning of       their lightening.
  2. It’s good to understand that Jews are just like everyone else. Power corrupts us just as it does everyone. Jewish religious zealotry is just as bad as any other.
  3. The story of the Maccabees encouraged the formation of the Jewish Self-Defense units during the pogrom seasons of 1881-1882 and especially 1903-5. It also inspired the World War II partisans.
  4. If you wait to speak up against tyranny until it becomes unbearable, only the fanatics will be able to overthrow the tyrant. We have to speak up at the first injustice.
  5. People will go to extremes to defend their national and cultural rights. If you deprive people of their culture, they will rightly fight back.


So now:

  1. I still give only token presents and chanukah gelt, although I have discovered the joys of chocolate coins.
  2. I make delicious latkes and wave my spatula at those who try to steal them before they’re put on the table.
  3. I dedicate the candles to cultural heroes and those who stand up against injustice.
  4. I really really really don’t tell kids what’s in the first two books of Maccabees. You can read them for yourselves in the Apocrypha of the Catholic Bible. I advise you not to eat first – those are some gruesome stories.


P.S. You gotta love spell check. It continually wanted me to be talking about the Macarena.

Woo hoo!!!

June 27, 2015

I performed my first wedding ceremony in 1987, but before I did, I agonized over whether I should perform a ceremony that wasn’t available to everyone. As it happened, a couple of my gay friends told me – in these exact words – “Don’t be stupid.” So I performed legal wedding ceremonies between men and women and non-legal wedding ceremonies between people of the same sex.

A couple of times a year, a gay couple (back then both men and women were just called “gay”) would come to me and ask me to perform a “commitment” ceremony. I would say no. I would tell them I did not perform commitment ceremonies but that I would be happy to perform a wedding ceremony for them. And I did. These weddings were not legal, but they were real.

I’m proud that our Secular Humanistic Jewish movement has always supported the right to marry and we were the first Jewish movement to include openly gay clergy members. I’m proud that the Jewish community is at the forefront of every fight for equality.

While I am sensible that struggles remain, America has come a long way. It took Black Americans almost 400 years to attain equal legal rights. It’s not even 40 years from Stonewall, and we’re on our way to equal legal rights for people of all sexual orientations. We’re not there yet, but we’re on our way.

At our Passover seder, we ask why we say “dayenu” – it would be enough for us – even though we know each thing we are happy for is not everything we need, want or hope for. We say “dayenu” because it feels good to be on our way. When we say “dayenu” it means we celebrate each step toward our goals as if it were enough – and then start out on the next step. It means that if we reject each step because it is not the whole liberation, we will never be able to achieve the whole liberation. It means to sing each verse as if it were the whole song – and then sing the next verse!

So, yes, there’s still inequality, brutality and bigotry. There’s still progress to be made. But we’ve made another huge step forward, so let’s celebrate. Let’s say DAYENU!

Las Vegas

May 25, 2015

Las Vegas.  We went expecting Disneyland*.  And we found it.  Sort of.

Why the Las Vegas strip is like Disneyland:

1.  Crowd control.  These people know how to do lines.  There are serious crowds in Las Vegas and taxi stand and hotels have the same line strategy as Disneyland.  You never actually see how long the line is because you don’t know where those rope things (I’m sure there’s a name for them) are dead-ended.  And the lines move pretty fast.  At the airport, there are 2 sets of  12 taxi stands.  As soon as the taxis pull away, the attendant starts assigning the next twelve parties to numbered stands.  The taxis pull right up immediately and it all starts over again.

2.  Food is expensive.  The last time I came through Las Vegas – some time in the mid-eighties, my cousin, three kids and I stopped at Circus Circus to watch a 50-ish unicyclist juggle (she was fantastic) and to eat at the buffet.  It was $4 each.  This time I paid $4 for a bottle of diet Coke.

3.  Everything is fake.  Palm trees, rocks, facades…  I think the water might have been real, though.

4.  Mickey Mouse!!!  And Minnie!!!  There were several incarnations of Mickey and Minnie hanging out in front of various hotels.  Also Batman, which was (almost) understandable, since he was in front of New York New York.  And Elmo, for no apparent reason at all.

Why the Las Vegas strip is not like Disneyland:

1.  You can’t go five yards without being accosted by someone wanting to sell you something, which they all call giving you something.  Like 90% off tickets to see Carrot Top.  (They’d have to PAY me the ticket price to go see Carrot Top.)  Or a helicopter trip to Boulder Dam if you’ll just spend two hours being sold their new resort timeshare.

2.  There are tons of people begging on the street.  Disneyland would not allow this, but America does.  Sad dirty people who passed desperation months ago are begging for money for food or a safe place to spend the night.  People wearing $200 sneakers and dropping thousands at the slots walk by without giving them a glance or a kind word, much less a lousy dollar.

3.  Nobody looks happy.

*By Disneyland, you have read Disneyland, Disney World and especially Epcot.

What I hear when you say you’ll pray for me

April 24, 2014

What I hear when you say you’ll pray for me:

First, I hear that what you mean to say is, “I’m sorry this is happening to you.” Thank you. I appreciate the sympathy. It’s nice to know people care.

 But then I also hear one of the following:

 1. Oh, God must have made a mistake. God’s good plan for life, the universe and everything has a bug. You shouldn’t have that problem. I’ll let him know and he can fix it right away. Or at least program a work-around.

2. Yeah, that God, he’s kind of a miser with the kindness thing. You have to pay him plenty of adulation and beg real hard if you want anything good to happen. Maybe if a lot of us pray real hard he’ll decide to ease up on you. Maybe not, though. The good plan for life, the universe and everything might need you to hurt, suffer and despair.

 3. Oh, God must not have noticed there’s a problem here. I will make a quick call and fix that. Once he knows you’re suffering, he’ll fix it right quick. Or at least get down here and make you a cup of tea.

 In other words, when you say you’ll pray for me, what I hear is that your god is either stupid, mean or just plain bad at his job.

 This makes me feel worse for you than you feel for me. I know you mean to comfort me, not make me feel bad for you. So, when you say you’ll pray for me, I try to hear that. But, know what? Next time, you could just say “I’m sorry this is happening to you.”  

Why I Like Numbers

July 21, 2013

No, not that kind of number.  I mean, I like that kind of number, too.  I am, after all, an accountant.  But I mean Numbers.  The Books of Numbers.  In Hebrew, it’s called “In the Desert” which makes me like it even more.

 Most people hear that a reading or a Bar Mitzvah portion is in Numbers and they groan,  “Oh, noooooo  – not the begats!”  Well, no.  That’s not exactly the begats, although I really like those, too.  The begats are mostly elsewhere.  Numbers is actually, you know, the numbers.  People, listen up!  The numbers are, in the first place, just a little bit of the book, and, in the second place, cool.  In fact, that’s the only good part of Numbers (aside from the Cities of Refuge thing).  (The bad part is all about the god in the book telling Moses to destroy destroy destroy demolish, drive out, possess.  Oh, yeah, and animal sacrifice.  And also all the stupid priestly rules, which I don’t know how got into Numbers in the first place.)

 What is it I like about the numbers?  A whole buncha stuff.  First off, it’s great to read aloud.  It sounds beautiful; it’s poetic.  Reading it aloud feels entirely different from reading it with your just your eyes.  Try it.

             “Of the children of Simeon,
              their generations,           
              by their families,
              by their fathers’ houses,
             those that were numbered thereof,
             according to the number of names,
             by their polls,
             every male from twenty years old and upward,
             all that were able to go forth to war,
             those that were numbered of them
             of the tribe of Simeon
             were fifty and nine thousand and three hundred.

            Of the children of Gad,
            their generations,
            by their families,
            by their fathers’ houses,
            according to the number of names,
            every male from twenty years old and upward,
            all that were able to go forth to war;
            those that were numbered of them
            of the tribe of Gad
            were forty and five thousand six hundred and fifty…”


 The second thing about Numbers (and the begats) is that there are actually named people from ancient times.  (OK, I know it is only men.  Shut up.)  You may know the names of your parents and grandparents and maybe great-grandparents.  These people (as many modern-day Arabs do today) knew all their ancestors back tens of generations and knew them by heart, as they were mostly not literate.  In Numbers, you can read stuff (like in the begats, actually) like, “Eliasaph the son of Deuel” and “Nethanel, the son of Zuar” and “Elizur, the son of Shedeur.”  And then, “And these are the names of the sons of Aaron:  Nadab the first-born, and Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar. “ “And these were the sons of Levi by their names: Gershon, and Kohath, and Merari.  And these are the names of the sons of Gerson by their families: Libni and Shimei.  And the sons of Kohath…”  * You can see that ancient people were just like us (well, except we count our daughters). They were real people with names and their own lives, not just some abstract interchangeable nomads with no individual histories.

I also really like the numbers and the begats because they show a scope of history.  We tend to compress history as we are removed from it.  That is, we refer to “last week” or “the 1950s” or “the eighteenth century” or “the middle ages” or “the Bronze Age.”  Numbers takes place in the Bronze Age, which lasted for about 2,000 years.  We usually think of those 2,000 years in one chunk, as if life was exactly the same in 3000 b.c.e. as it was in 1000 b.c.e. and it might just as well have been only one lifetime for the events that occurred.  Numbers shows you that there were actual differences between the lives of different generations in 1200 b.c.e.  Every generation, every decade, even those far from ours, counted for the people living then.

Finally, I like it because of the connection to my own heritage.  I have no idea whether these people are my biological ancestors or not and I don’t really care.  They are my ethnic ancestors and it’s interesting – and fun – to see how they lived and to feel connected to them.  I may know my biological ancestry back only a few generations, but, because of Numbers, I know my ethnic ancestry back to the Bronze Age.  It’s cool.


*You cannot imagine the fit my spell check just threw!

Words Disappearing from the English Language

December 2, 2012

Every year we are treated to lists of new words that have sprung up in the English language, but we pay little attention to the vanishing words – the ones simply gone missing.  Here are words that seem to have disappeared from the language in the last half decade or so:

 1.  Center.  Nothing is the center of anything any more.  The word has been displaced by “epicenter” which actually used to mean something different – the place over, or on top of, or even near the center.  It used to be used mainly by earth scientists and weather reporters to describe the geographic area immediately over the center of an earthquake.  Now it appears to mean the really precise center.  And the word “center” itself is no more.

 2.  Problem.  The word now means only an arithmetic equation to solve.  Things that used to be problems are now “issues.”  Nobody has problems with their children or their bowels.  They have “issues” with their issues.  (That’s a joke, son.)  You know what?  Homeless people don’t have “issues.”  They actually have problems.

 3.  Me.  For being as self-centered as Americans are, you’d think we’d be able to use the word “me.”  No.  The objective case, which in English exists only for pronouns, is disappearing from the language.  Educated people say, “Give it to he and I.”  It’s just weird.  And worse, it hasn’t become only the subjective case (I) but also the reflexive (myself).  Equally educated people say, “Give it to myself.”  That is even weirder.  If possible.

 4.  Health.  Nobody is interested in health any more.  Now we have “wellness” which is not now, never has been and never will be a Real Word.  Call me a prescriptionist, but this one just doesn’t fly.

 5.  Use.  Never use a word when you can utilize it.

 6.  Get/Got.  Nothing is gotten any more.  It is always received.  Sometimes it is even received when it should have been something other than “gotten.”  She did not receive her diploma.  She earned it.

 7.  Give.  The word “gift” is a noun, not a verb.  (Shut up, all you tax accountants out there.  You know it’s jargon.)  You don’t “gift” something.  The something is a gift.

 8. Chain.  Nobody is anywhere on a chain of command any more.  We don’t command each other – we eat each other.  People are now somewhere on a food chain.  Even when it makes no sense.  Especially, it seems, when it makes no sense.

9. Wrote. When was the last time you heard that someone wrote a book or an article? I haven’t heard it in years. Now people “author” their written works. I don’t know when “author” became a verb, but apparently it is.

 I’m pretty sure there are more.  Feel free to comment with your additions.

Some fun definitions from a fun book

January 13, 2012

Here’s what I learned from Cory Doctorow’s new book of old essays, Context (Tachyon 2011)I mean other than lots of which gizmafnagle to use if I want to lammading the warflux without mingoping the axiole. 

I learned the delightful definition of a techno-thriller per Bruce Sterling, author of The Caryatids (Bantam 2009), which I plan to read like some time, when I get around to it and the library has it and I’m in the mood for fake instead of real politics.  It is, “a science fiction novel with the president in it.”

I also learned that I have forgotten if I ever read the Theodore Sturgeon story, “If All Men Were Brothers, Would You Let One Marry Your Sister?” and I’m pretty sure I don’t still have the 1967 Dangerous Visions it was published in.  (Another trip to the library.) But I learned this in the context of learning another definition, that of “cosmopolitan.”  According to Doctorow, “to be cosmopolitan is to live your life by the ancient science fictional maxims: ‘All laws are local’ and ‘No law knows how local it is.’ ” 

Context is a pretty good book, despite the really mean last line.  Short short essays – good for reading on public transit, while eating dinner or accomplishing other short-term bodily functions.  You don’t want to sit down and read it for a couple of hours straight, but you do want to read it.

The Real Question

January 8, 2012
So, Romney is challenged on income inequality by a woman originally from China. His response is to demand if she knows any better place than America, any place with higher income. Leaving aside the fact that people who live in countries that provide them with health care and pensions don’t actually need such high income, Romney completely missed the point. (Ok, I understand that is not a surprise.) Instead of asking “Is this the best place we could live in?” the question we should be asking is “Is this the best America we could live in?”

October 17, 2011

City sounds I don’t mind at all:
honking horns
train whistles
trains going by
window washers shouting at each other
Occupy Wall Street chants
the clanging of the street car tracks
kids clowning around
dogs barking
street drummers

City sounds that tempt me to violence:
your booming music coming out of your car – especially the subsonics.
your unbelievably loud leaky earphones that are making you so deaf you have to turn them up even louder.