Sunday, January 25, 2009

Must. Look. Forward. Must. Look. Forward. ARRRRGH!

OK. I get why war crimes trials for the folks at the top of the so-called war on terror are not high on President Obama's to-do list, I really do.

But then I read this, detailing in convincing fashion how brave warriors tried to follow the law at Guantanamo, only to be torpedoed by the civilians at the top of the chain of command, and I just want to scream.

If we can't jail Rummy and Darth Cheney for war crimes, can we at least disbar the lawyers who wrote the opinions that put the barest fig leaf of pseudo-legality over this otherwise naked assault on American law and values?

Mr. Yoo, Mr. Addington? As lawyers, you've ill-served your clients, shamed your profession and stained your nation's honor.

I understand Mr. Putin is looking for some experienced shyster-mouthpieces.

You're strongly encouraged to apply.

And don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out, boys.

Friday, January 23, 2009

More on Rick Warren's Invocation

A friend asked me if I'd noticed that Warren's invocation started with an English version of the She'ma, Judaism's central creedal statement:

Hear O Israel, the Lord our G-d, the Lord is one.

I replied thusly:

I did notice the She'ma. And he didn't just learn that for the occasion

He also referred to G-d with adjectives typically invoked in describing Allah. He didn't learn that just for the occasion either.

I can't remember the exact adjectives at this moment, but I remember noticing at the time that all three Abrahamic faiths were included --- rendered in American cadences.

He also got constitutional law right. He made much more sense out of the balance between the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause than legal briefs I've read on the subject.

He addressed the Deity in truly ecumenical (if not gender-neutral) terms at all times except when he spoke directly of himself. He invoked Jesus' name in connection with his own religious witness. He asked no one else to pray in Jesus' name. Any who cared to, probably most of the crowd, did.

A perfect balance between Warren's "free exercise" right and our right to be free of from any government-established religion.

Like I said, wrong as hell on equal rights for homosexuals. Which is a big problem.

But he's right on some important stuff too.

This led another friend to ask if I felt the same way about his concluding his invocation with The Lord's Prayer.

To which I said:

The Lord's Prayer really doesn't have anything in it that's not applicable across the religious spectrum, saith Rav David.

I've thought about this a lot because most 12-step group meetings end with the Lord's Prayer, and occasionally with baffled Christians trying to figure out why Jews new to the program might be put off.

It's a Christian prayer because it's a part of Christian liturgy, and primarily recited by Christians. But it expresses nothing a Jew can't pray for or about, in my estimation.

Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name.
Thy Kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.

Traditional Judaism views G-d as a Father in heaven. Same with a coming Messianic Age and G-d's omnipotence. (The phrasing's not gender-neutral, but that's a different issue.)

Give us today our daily bread.

That's why we say HaMotzi.

Forgive us our sins,
as we forgive those who sin against us.

Bringing Yom Kippur into the rest of the year is a good idea.

Lead us not into temptation,

Acknowledges free will (just like "I have set before you a blessing and a curse, choose the blessing")

but deliver us from evil.

Can you hear the echo of singing Rock of Ages in front of a menorah a few weeks ago?

For the kingdom,
the power and the glory are yours.
Now and for ever.

Our own liturgy is chock-full of this stuff, especially all the high-falutin' superlatives in the various iterations of the Kaddish.

I can understand the aversion to the Lord's Prayer some Jews feel, because for generations Jewish children were taught:

"Just don't pray goyische prayers, period."

"But, ..."

"Don't ask."

"Bu ..."

"Because I said so."

I'm trying to give [Monkeyboy] a little nuance.

Then I realized I had a new blog post.

Have a good Sabbath everybody, whether you celebrate it today, tomorrow or Sunday.

If you don't celebrate it at all, have a good weekend.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Inaugural Prayers

I thought Rick Warren did an admirable job in his invocation at the beginning of the inauguration ceremonies. He's as wrong as wrong can be on equal rights for homosexuals. Still, he's a positive feature of our social, political and religious landscape, and a damn sight better than the political evangelical leaders of an earlier era.

But I think the seventh graders at Beth El Hebrew Congregation of Alexandria, Virginia wrote even better prayers last Sunday morning, for posting at a website called Blessings for Barack. The blessings will eventually be printed on Megillat Brachot, a Scroll of Blessings and Prayers for our Country, to be presented to President Obama.

First Period
May you be strong when we are weak, and make a world of smiling faces.
May God be your guide.
Please help bring peace to warring nations and prosperity to the U.S.
You and your family should be proud.
Mazal tov and good luck!

Second Period
May you lead us forth in peace and love and help us prosper in these harsh times.
We pray that you bring exquisite and intricate new ideas in your term as president.
May God help you fix what is broken and stop what is wrong;
and use your power to make our country a happier, cleaner place.
We know you will do a great job.
(1/24/09 Red-faced addendum: Their teacher is my friend, Lisa S. She's a cool person, a treasure and a blessing. I should have mentioned her before this.)

Check out Blessings for Barack. It's pretty cool.

I Love It When My Friends Are in the Paper (Inaugural Edition)

I've written before about the Amsterdam Falafelshop in Adams-Morgan and my friends who own it. You should go there.

Don't believe me. Ask these folks.

The shop did land office business this week feeding inaugural visitors.

I love it when Leo Durocher is proven wrong!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Zionist Agitprop

An oversimplification, but not by much:

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

What Do You See?

Dear Mrs. Jones,

I wish to clarify that I am not now, nor have I ever been, an exotic dancer. I work at Home Depot and I told Sarah how hectic it was last week before the blizzard hit. I told her we sold out every single shovel we had. Then I found one more in the back room, and several people were fighting over who would get it. Sarah's picture does NOT show me dancing around a pole. It's supposed to depict me selling the last snow shovel we had at Home Depot. From now on I will remember to check her homework more thoroughly before she turns it in.


Mrs. Smith*

*Special thanks to Moonbeam for sharing this

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Monday, January 12, 2009

Triple H

The right to be heard does not automatically include the right to be taken seriously.

Hubert Humphrey.

There are a whole lot more great ones right here.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

By Any Other Name

I'm in a boy band.

We've got four guys in their late forties/early fifties with similar levels of hair loss on top and paunch at our middles. Three guitars and a bass.

We've also got a wunderkind 22-year-old keyboard player and a seasoned accordionist. Our drummer (son of the bass player) sits in with us when he can. We pretend to have natural rhythm when he's got a high school band concert or community engagement project.

We played a 150th birthday celebration at our shul today. Over the last year-and-a-half, we've appeared under a number of monikers.

The Beth El Brotherhood Boy Band
The New Meshuggenah Minstrels

We've considered a couple of other names that have been rejected.

For some reason, they wouldn't put our name in the temple bulletin as Jew Man Group. We're pretty sure Jewk Box Heroes would have suffered the same fate.

A quick web search let us know that Mazal Tov Cocktail was already taken.

And we decided we'd be liable to Monty Python for copyright infringement if we adopted Red Sea Pedestrians. (Ten non-redeemable, non-transferable points for the first one to post a comment telling what Monty Python work that's stolen from.)

We may have found a permanent name this morning.

Ladies and gentlemen:


Monday, January 5, 2009

From Generation to Generation

Monkeyboy brought a tear to my eye the other day. We were scheduled to go to a neighbor's New Year's open house at noon.

At about 11:00 am the wonderful man who is the leader of MiDC's Tuesday afternoon chess club at the public library (and a friend and mentor to me since we served together on our synagogue's board) called. Monkeyboy answered. I was out and RFB was in the shower. Mr. F. was calling to invite Brady to come with his family to a 12:10 pm theater production of Les Miz. His grandson's friend had turned up sick at the last minute and the F's had an extra ticket.

Monkeyboy explained that he didn't think he could go because of the open house, but that he'd ask his mom as soon as she got out of the shower. (I was out doing errands.)

I called home from the grocery store (Have the birds eaten up the suet? Should I buy more suet cakes? "Very Berry" or "Woodpecker's Delight"?)

Both RFB and MiDC got on. RFB and I heard about the invitation together. I probed a little.

"You were right to warn Mr. F. about the conflicting engagement, but if you had no other considerations, which would you prefer to do?"

(He's already learned that you're not supposed to cancel an existing social engagement if something better comes along, but I was prepared to offer a parental dispensation from this rule of etiquette.)

"I'd rather do both," came the typical 11-year-old response.

Before I could get a word in, he continued, "But you can't put your tush in two places, so I think I should go to the open house."

My grandmother used to say, in Yiddish:

"Ich ken nisht tanzen bai tzvei chasanas mit ein tuchas"
Which means: I can't dance at two weddings with one behind.

(I just looked up the phrase and English translation on Google to get them exactly right. Ain't the Internet cool?!)

I speak only enough Yiddish to swear, so Monkeyboy has heard (and was repeating) his great-grandmother's age-old wisdom as filtered through my imperfect recollection. But he got the point.

"Whoo-boy pal, I'm proud of you," said I. "You're a real mensch. And if there's a heaven, Bubbye's smiling down on us right now."

I waited 'til after I got my kiss goodbye and rung off before I let myself tear up.

I'm doing it again, right now. *

*By way of full disclosure, I should acknowledge here that I also cried at Rhoda's wedding.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

What's a Tell?

I played in a new poker game last night.

I won, which is nice.

A "tell" is something you do inadvertently, even subconsciously, the tells other players (at least those paying attention) something about your hand. It's usually very subtle.

You might remember a MASH episode where everyone realizes that Major Winchester whistles when he's got nothing.

Well, here's a freebie, if we ever play poker: Pokerface in DC got a good hand last night and promptly spilled his beer all over himself.

That's a tell.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

In G-d's Image

I've been thinking about what it means to be made in G-d's image.

And I've decided we take a pretty narrow view.

I fear it's mostly because it's impossible to write with flippers.

Never Again Will One Generation of Veterans Abandon Another

A cousin just came back from Iraq.

Here's the story.

And here's a cool postscript from his wife, my cousin Nancy:

As a follow up to the story (and this will make more sense after you read the story), our doorbell rang this afternoon. There stood the head chef from Wegman's with a HUGE tray of sushi. I think every kind they make was on the tray. He said "Welcome Home, Sir, and Thank You from Wegman's."

From My Mom

...and finally, thank you for giving me to Tommy rather than Michael Vick.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Happy New Year

A) I'll get back in the habit now. (No cheap nun jokes please.)

B) The single greatest internet time waster I've ever seen. (Until the next one.)

C) Movie recommendation: If you haven't seen it, see The Bucket List. I cried like a sap at the end, but it's a beautiful story. Freeman and Nicholson are awe-inspiring.

D) One past post will eventually have a sequel. Check this out first. It's ok. I'll wait. (You only need to read the part about The Home on Gorham Street and some of the comments)

OK. Now, out of the blue, I get an e-mail from a woman I've known since high school. We hadn't been in touch for nearly 20 years and hadn't seen one another for closer to 30. But we remember one another fondly.

Her aunt is down-sizing and has found letters my father wrote to her when they were young. 60 years ago. Would I like to have them?

Letters in my father's hand? The father who killed himself when I was two? The father I've spent a lifetime scrounging up stories about, to stand in for the memories his suicide denied me?

I am thoroughly convinced that the time I am closest to understanding my father is when my depression is at a low trough. Once I get through it, I thank G-d for modern medicine, an able psychiatrist, the love of family and for chocolate.

But while I'm in its grasp, I can almost understand why he thought my Mom and I were better off without him. It feels like I'm never going to get better. I'll always be miserable and needy and cranky. I'll always need support and never be able to give support.

Then things improve, and I'm left with, among other things, more sympathy for --- and less anger at --- my father.

And I want to know him better.

So, yes, I'd very much like to have those letters.

My friend was pleased and I gather her aunt was pleased too. I've thanked them both and now have the letters, along with a campaign card from my father's run for student president of Franklin High, a couple of pictures of him in his youth and the program from a New Year's event. It's sort of a time capsule from the mid 1940's.

The accompanying letter from Mrs. ______ indicates that my father and she were close. I've browsed through the letters themselves, but not very much. There are a lot of then, in ink and written on both sides of the note paper, and in a scrawl that's only marginally better than my own. They're not all in order, nor are they all dated. Some cover very emotional subject matter. Mrs. _____ wrote that she'd only re-read a few and that it was hard.

RFB is urging that I approach all of this slowly, if at all.

Wise counsel, no doubt.

But I'm guessing you'll eventually hear more about this.

E) Special thanks to Laura B. , Churlita, Mrs. Hairy Woman and Stephen for helping to encourage me to get back to blogging.