Tuesday, July 31, 2018
Dear Family and Friends: July, 2018
Last night, even though I arrived early, I found the parking lot completely full. The police waved me on to another lot over a block away. For a person who patrols the lot at Kroger looking for the closest space, you’d think I would have been upset. I drove into the lot with over a hundred other cars, walked across a roughly mowed meadow only to find the venue packed. Standing room only. I was not upset. I was inspired. You see, this wasn’t a Bruce Springsteen concert, or a playoff game at Wrigley Field. No, this was a gathering at Congregation Sha’are T’fillah in Carmel, Indiana and over 1,000 people showed up. A gathering of folks showing their support, their solidarity, their concern for members of their faith community attacked over the weekend by Nazi thugs. A synagogue desecrated with obscene Nazi symbols painted on an outside wall.
We lived in Indianapolis for over thirty-five years, so, of course, I saw a lot of familiar faces in the crowd. But those in attendance were from all groups in the community. That’s what was so inspiring. I expected the Jewish community of Indy to show up. It was heartwarming to see all the others who cared. The speakers at the rally last night included rabbis, priests, a mayor, leaders of the Hindu, Muslim, and Buddhist communities. We heard from the Anti-defamation League, the Jewish Community Relations Council , gay rights groups, Urban League reps. All said about the same thing. We will not sit quietly while such hateful acts take place in our community. The standing room only crowd interrupted each speaker with rounds of applause.
Here in Bloomington Rabbi Sue Silberberg and others resurrected an organization originally formed to combat racism and hate, in response to last year’s Virginia debacle. Bloomington United is dedicated to countering such racism. It is a completely diverse organization. Not a Jewish nor a Christian, black or white, Hispanic or Asian group, but all of the above. And that’s what I saw last night on the Northside of Indianapolis. Jews and Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists, gays and straights, young and old, people of all colors. Like the old folk song says, we were “Like a tree that’s standing by the water…we shall not be moved.”
And like John Mellencamp sang, “Ain’t that America.” I sure hope so.
Sunday, June 10, 2018
Dear Family and Friends:
The house across the street has been empty since last February. Juca and I refer to it as “Dick’s House.” Prior to February, Dick Berry PhD, lived in that house for sixty years. We celebrated Doctor Berry’s 99th birthday last December. He passed away in February.
I liked Dick…a lot. We spoke often. It is impossible to have a conversation with someone who is in their 90’s and not learn something about American history. Dick’s stories spanned the 1920’s to the present. He came to Bloomington to teach in IU’s psychology department with B.F.Skinner. Some of you psych majors may remember that famous psychology researcher’s name. Dick moved into the house when it was the only one on South Hawthorne Dr. He watched all of our neighbor’s houses being built, and he had stories about many of them, including ours. We talked about everything from farming to World War II (he was employed by the defense department during the war to give psychological tests to US Navy submarine applicants). And like yours truly, Dick loved football.
Our front porch looks directly out on Dick’s front porch. My wife Juca could tell by the position of Dick’s curtains, the lights in the house, the garage door if all was OK with our neighbor. We had keys to his house so that if there was a problem we could get in and help. This happened a few times. Finally, Dick moved to an assisted care facility here in Bloomington. That’s when our relationship really blossomed. I use to go to visit Dick every Sunday. We would schmooze…he knew the stock market backwards and forwards, loved to kid me about the Cubs, was always up to date with what was happening with the Indianapolis Colts, and on and on. Sunday afternoons we would watch whatever NFL game was on and just…talk football. Dick played the game in high school as did I. We both shared the same number at least for one season. That was number 40. His season was in the 1930’s and mine in the ‘60s. He liked to pull out the last remaining picture of his football team.
Every time I visited Dick I asked some question about his life or about a particular time in America. We talked about the McCarthy trials, campus rebellion in the 1960's, and the Great Depression; anything I could think of. It was always interesting to hear firsthand about things that I had only read about. Dick was a living American history.
Dick also asked me a lot of questions. He was interested in my camp work, what Judaism had to say about various things, and much, much more.
Next month it seems a young couple will be moving into the house across the street. That’s a good thing because time marches on. GUCI’s old caretaker, our friend Earl Beeler once commented to me as we walked through the woods at camp and saw a tree that had fallen over, that, “Us old trees have move over to make room for the young ones coming up.” That’s a true but hard lesson to take to heart.
Dick has moved on to make room for the young ones coming up. According to Earl, that's the way it has to be, and we all know he was right. Nevertheless, I miss Dick (and Earl)... a lot.
Monday, March 26, 2018
Dear Family and Friends: March, 2018
“I watched the news last night, oh boy…” I did indeed watch the news last night and it was OH BOY. Through an optimistic eye I saw hundreds of thousands take to the streets in protest. In 1968 we sang, “We shall not, we shall not be moved. Just like a tree that’s standing by the water, we shall not be moved.” And just like that old gospel song turned into a protest song, I witnessed what it said, “young and old together, we shall not be moved; black and white together, we shall not be moved; gay and straight together, we shall not be moved; all religions together, we shall not be moved.” It was an emotional news day, yesterday. And I certainly was moved.
But with a pessimistic eye I recalled those days of marches and sit-ins in the late 60’s. I remember holding the representatives of Dow chemical, manufacturers of the Vietnam war chemical weapon agent orange, hostage (if only during working hours that one day) so they couldn’t hold interviews on campus in Champaign/Urbana. I remember smelling tear gas on the streets of the University of Wisconsin. I remember feeling like I was part of a Movement that was going to change the world. Yes, that war ended five years later, but not because of anything I did.
It’s true that we couldn’t communicate (read organize) then the way these kids can today. We didn’t have Facebook pages or events, tweets or instant this and that. But even so, pessimistically I can’t help but think that summer’s coming, and with that, jobs at McDonalds, camp, resume building internships, all of which may get in the way of this generation's great momentum.
But there definitely is energy and commitment to an obtainable ideal. Something more doable than ending a war thousands of miles away. Here’s the ray of light. I heard chants and saw signs to the effect of, “We will vote you out.” Many of those kids out on Pennsylvania Avenue yesterday and hundreds of thousands more will be 18 by 2020. Our voting statistics are deplorable. Maybe this swell of activism will lead to a million more registered voters. And maybe those registered voters will actually vote for candidates that will represent them.
I think that should be the goal of this “Movement.” Maybe we can help. Maybe somehow we, the older folks, can continue to articulate the message, “GO AND REGISTER TO VOTE,” and then, “GET OUT AND VOTE.” I don’t exactly know how to do this, but I am going to try and keep this message alive here at Indiana University, and at the high schools in Bloomington. I’m going to call the League of Women Voters and see if there isn’t a way to bring voter registration to the schools. Let’s register a million voters, even more, so we can vote them out and vote them in. Politicians care more about votes than they do demonstrations. Let’s vote them out!
Tuesday, February 20, 2018
Dear Family and Friends:
One of my rabbinic journals recently included an article about Israeli poetry, written by women. I can’t say that I know much about poetry. I wrote some while I was in college and pretty depressed, and read a bit while studying in Jerusalem. Yehudah Amichai taught in our school there so I was introduced to his work. This article in the CCAR Journal really caught my attention. The author, Dalia Marx, introduces it by telling us that the poets she will present, “ …are not part of any organized religious community or observant of Judaism in any traditional sense.” Yet the poems speak of God, are quite personal and spiritual.
I had heard the name Leah Goldberg before, but never read any of her poetry. She was born in Germany in 1911 and made Aliyah in 1935. Eventually she moved to Jerusalem and was a literature professor at Hebrew University. The author of the article refers to Goldberg as, “a praying poet,” and tells us that much of her poetry consists of prayers and negotiations with the desperate need and quest to pray. I thought that was strange for a non-practicing Jew. One of the poems cited is:
I Saw My God at the Café
I saw my God at the Cafe
He revealed Himself to me through the cigarette smoke
gloomy, remorseful, and frail
He signaled to me: "life goes on!"
He did not look anything like my lover
He was closer than him, and miserable,
As a translucent shadow of the starlight
He hardly filled the void.
To a Pale-reddish twilight
as confessing a sin before death,
He kneeled down to kiss the feet of man
and to beg his forgiveness.
Of course the Hebrew is beautiful, but the translation is right on. When I read this I immediately thought of my days at Machon Greenberg in Jerusalem, 1969. The coffee houses Leah Goldberg refers to still existed then. Navah on Rehov Yaffo, and Atara on Ben Yehudah. These were the places poets, writers, and intellectuals met to drink their tea through sugar cubes, smoke, and discuss. I remember so well sitting in Café Atara on cold Jerusalem nights, loving the Ugah Gvinah (cheese cake) and Café Afooch (coffee with steamed cream) and trying to overhear and understand the Hebrew of the conversations at nearby tables. And the last time I visited Atara, before it disappeared, with my mentor and colleague Arie Gluck. Arie was an Israeli Olympic champion in the 1950’s, but I knew him half-way through and to the end of his career as the Director of our URJ Camp Harlam.
The rest of the poem is remarkable to me in the way it describes God; frail, gloomy, remorseful and repentant. This is certainly not the almighty, omniscient, master of creation we usually hear about. Seeing God in this light stopped me in my tracks. And the poem was actually written before the Holocaust.
BUT, in “Poems of the End of the Journey,” Goldberg writes:
Teach me, my God, to bless and to pray
Over the secret of the withered leaf, on the glow of a ripe fruit,
Over this freedom: to see, to feel, to breathe,
To know, to wish, to fail.
Teach my lips blessing and song of praise,
Renewing your time each morning, each night,
Lest my day today be as days gone by
Lest my day become for me simply habit.
In the first poem Leah Goldberg is telling us about God, here, the poet is talking to God. Using the language of believers (“bless and pray,” “blessing and song of praise”) she is asking for the proper language to express her awe of nature and recognition that each day is unique (“Lest my day become for me simply habit”).
When I read the following quote from Leah Goldberg’s diary, I kind of understood how she could write two almost opposite views of God:
“How happy is the person who has his God, he does not have to look for Him. How happy also is he who believes that there is no God, and indeed that he has no need of Him. I, I know nothing. I am miserable, I need some faith. I shall not be able to live without such. However, I am skeptic, and therefore I feel cold.”
Happy is the one who has faith. Happy is the one who has none. Most of us are somewhere in-between.