Monday, August 29, 2005

Sometimes I wonder what possessed me to go back to school at age 47. I know that a few of you have wondered the same thing. It isn't easy, it certainly isn't convenient, it isn't cheap, and it is sometimes pretty darn lonesome, since the people I love are several hundred miles north of here.

Today is a day when I don't have to wonder. It is the first day of classes, the day when I am given a pristine new syllabus, full of promise and mystery, and I can see the new things I will learn stretching out over the photocopied pages. It's the day I get a fresh steno book (my preferred notetaking device), a comfortable pen and assortment of markers, and begin to chart the journey into new water. It's the day I walk in with no homework (yet), and pretty much boundless enthusiasm for the work that will weigh heavier by this time next week.

I love the first day of school.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

I love radio, and I listen to lots of it. Radio has been my window on the world ever since I was a kid, sneaking into the den at night to turn on my father's huge AM/FM console radio after everyone was asleep. I'd listen to Havana and Little Rock and other foreign places; I remember one thrilling night when the "skip" was good and I heard Chicago and New York City.

When I am homesick for the Bay Area, I can turn to 740 to listen to KCBS after dark. When I was in Israel and homesick for the United States, I discovered that I could listen to NPR via the internet, and was soothed by Bob Edward's voice. On my drives up the Central Valley, I tune from one tiny religious station to another; I started when "Passion of the Christ" came out and I wanted to know if it was bearing any anti-Semitic fruit I should (as a good student rabbi) know about for my congregation's sake. It wasn't; mostly the radio preachers seemed bothered by the same assortment of historical glitches that were bothering me.

Sooo, a few days ago, as I drove down Wilshire Blvd., I turned to an LA radio station to which I'd rather not give any advertising. Rush Limbaugh was blowing hard, as usual, and I listened to hear what he was up to these days. I don't like Rush, but I like to know what his listeners are hearing. Even for Rush, though, this was a new low.

Rush was trashing Cindy Sheehan, the Gold Star mother who had taken her grief and her questions to President Bush's vacation spot. First he implied she's a fake (her protests are "staged") and then he compared her protest to "forged documents," which sounds to me perilously close to calling her a liar.

Casey Sheehan gave his life keeping the oath he took when he swore to protect the Constitution. Cindy Sheehan lost her child. She has every right to grieve, every right to be angry, and our vacationing President should have the common decency to take 10 minutes to say, "Ma'am, I'm so sorry," in a tone of voice that suggests actual sorrow.

Personally, I think she's asking some excellent questions, too. Why *did* we go there? Tha'ts less and less clear, as the administration has virtually admitted with its changing account of what it is: "War on Terror?" "Operation Iraqi Freedom", "Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism?"and so on. Best of all, exactly what is the connection between the bloodbath in Iraq and the U.S. Constitution that Casey swore to defend?

And why, if it is so important that we be in Iraq, are we not sending everyone's children, instead of volunteer reservists who have been turned into virtual slaves, stuck in Iraq for long past the time for which they committed? Why are there no young Bushes in the service, if it's so important we be in Iraq?

Why are we simultaneously conducting a war, cutting taxes on the wealthy, and cutting veterans' benefits?

Why, why, why, Mr. Vacationing President?

I'm going to avoid that dial on the radio for a while. I can listen to a lot of stuff and be calmly interested, but I can't listen to that man trash a grieving mother. She's said some things I don't agree with, either, but were I to meet Cindy Sheehan, I would have only one thing to say to her:

Ma'am, I am so sorry.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

The stories from Gaza are all over the news today. A soldier talks about obeying his orders, given him by a democratic government in search of peace. A government official talks about "land for peace." Anguished settlers cry and fight and finally hole up in synagogues, only to be carried out by young soldiers. A Palestinian spokesman minimizes the loss -- it wasn't their land anyway. Someone at the UN warns that Israel shouldn't think that this will make up for occupation.

I have never been a fan of the settlement movement, and my first reaction when I heard that Sharon had decided to pull out was that it was high time those people got out of there. I never visited the settlements while I lived in Israel, because I was told by the school that it was unsafe for me to go there. I did have the opportunity to meet and talk with people who lived there, and who believed passionately in what they were doing. Even after the conversation, my convictions were unchanged: those folks had no business there.

This summer, when I saw the orange kippot [skullcaps] and the orange-striped prayer shawls for sale in Jerusalem, to express solidarity with the settlers, I was impatient. In my mind, nothing good could happen until Gaza was empty of Israelis.

Intellectually, I still hold those opinions, but my heart breaks at the photos and the stories on the radio. The settlers moved to Gaza as a patriotic act, and from the day they moved there, it was dangerous. In 1970, they provided a settled buffer against Egypt. They built their homes and their greenhouses and grew organic vegetables; most of the cherry tomatoes in Israel came from the Gaza greenhouses. They were told by the government, and most especially by their hero, Sharon, that they were heroes of the Jewish People.

Now Sharon tells them that they are simply in the way of peace, that they have to move, that they have to start again, somewhere else, in that very unforgiving land. Other settlers in the West Bank are watching, as are the Israelis living on the Golan. Sharon may know where this will end, but he isn't telling.

Meanwhile Hamas hoots and hollers that they've driven out the Israelis, that if they keep on killing and shooting and bombing buses full of civilians, eventually Israel will go away. And some fool at the UN -- I didn't catch his name -- minimized the losses of the settlers and said that this really doesn't accomplish much; it's a step in the right direction, but that's all.

I had to shut off NPR at that point.

Jews are losing their homes, are being carried away from homes they have lived in for 30 years. Other Jews -- young men and women who are their cousins and siblings -- have to do the carrying. This is hideous and horrible, and utterly necessary. Without this move, peace is never going to come.

What I wish is that the other parties, the Palestinians and their supporters, could see this action for what it is. No one has been "driven off" -- a democratic society is making a historic step towards peace. And yes, it is unilateral, but so far I cannot see what the Palestinians have been willing to accomplish via negotiations: remember Oslo? remember Camp David in 2000?

I do not know what the answers are. I do know that while I do not agree with the settlers (on almost anything) I honor their losses, which are beyond my complete comprehension. For their sake, and for the sake of the Palestinians who will have Gaza to themselves, and for the sake of everyone in that region, I hope that this has accomplished something. For now, I just feel sad.

Friday, August 12, 2005

It may be only August 12, but summer is over for me -- I'm sitting in my "office" in Merced (aka Starbucks) back in the swing of my student pulpit, with an email box full of information about booklists, class schedules, and the usual beginning-of-term negotiations.

I feel a little frantic, but good. There's already too much to do, and officially, school doesn't even begin for a week.

This week begins Devarim [Deuteronomy]. The Torah seems to stop and repeat itself, sort of, only with more detail about the laws. September is like that. The beginning of the 4th year of rabbinical school is like that, too. We gather together, we take a deep breath, and we do it again.