Monday, September 28, 2020

tikkun olam and the new year

 I, more often than not, have trouble on Yom Kippur staying focussed.  I like the ceremony of Kol Nidre on the evening of the holiday and almost never miss it.  In the morning I have more success than later in the day staying with the goals of the day.  But the holiday is a fast day so by the time early afternoon comes, I am often dwelling on how long it will be before I can eat.

Often what helps is that I am in a book. When I am in a book I will spend time in the afternoon reading whatever it is that I am reading. Reading helps me think. While a novel is not prescribed on Yom Kippur (probably is forbidden) it does good things for me beyond filling up hours. I'll read something and that triggers a thought and before I know it I'm engaged in some introspection.  A problem this year is that I am not in a book presently.  And, of course, to make things more difficult there are no synagogues open.  I did later in the day watch services from both Buffalo and Cincinnati which were excellent.  These were Reform services with much in English so that made it more valuable to me.  Besides the English, the services were well thought out and likely more choreographed than they would otherwise be. I found the readings very meaningful, especially the end of the Neilah service in Cincinnati.

Around mid day, well before I travelled by computer to Buffalo or Cincinnati,  I played a dvd I had taken from the library.  Around twenty years ago I read what is one of the top twenty, maybe top ten, books I've ever read, American Pastoral by Philip Roth.  I found out around a month ago that there was a movie made of the book, so I borrowed it from the Waltham public library.  And around noon I watched American Pastoral. (A shout out to the Waltham public library--the people there during this pandemic are trying very hard to provide books for the community in a safe way.  Very pleasant and helpful under what are trying conditions).

If you want to read the book or see the film you might want to skip this and the next paragraph.  A young man named Seymour Levov is nearly perfect.  Handsome, intelligent, considerate, and an outstanding athlete.  He is a high school hero, goes off to fight in World War II with the Marines and returns healthy.  He falls in love with a woman who is intelligent, considerate, from humble beginnings and beautiful.  She represented the state of New Jersey in the Miss America pageant. Theirs is a perfect match.  He inherits his father's glove factory and considerately manages the facility being kind, as his father was, to the workers. The business is successful. The couple buys a beautiful home in the country. They are wonderful beautiful people. 

However, they have a child who becomes a revolutionary and maniacal in her activities.  The child leaves home after a bombing and the parents fear their daughter might have planted the bomb which killed a neighbor.  The couple is emotionally ripped open because of the events.  The book/movie describes how these actions by the daughter and her disappearance--which were not brought on by parental negligence--destroy two wonderful people.

It was a good movie to see on Yom Kippur, a day of atonement.  Jews are taught to practice tikkun olam--not only to look within and clean up the debris that accrues in our souls, but to look at our society and work toward making our world better.  But sometimes it does not work. Sometimes you can be a wonderful soul and be socially conscious and practice Tikkun Olam as a matter of course, but some things happen. There is an impediment of someone else's making that gets in your way.  Often times the impediments that appear to be of someone else's making are self created, but in the case of Mr and Mrs. New Jersey, something out of their control affected their lives.

It's a test.  Cleaning out the debris that you've accrued, and working towards repairing the world (tikkun olam).  My take aways today, at three score and ten pushing three score and eleven, are these: sometime the debris that you think someone else created is stuff you've created; regardless of the crud in your system and the crud surrounding us, it is our job to work and work to make it better.  And if we think we have problems, maybe we should consider what happened to Seymour Levov.  

And now, as the sun sets, I am ready to eat. Whatever is being made downstairs smells heavenly.

Happy new year.  Apples, and honey, and joy to all.

Friday, September 25, 2020


 I read this morning the obituary for Sylvester Stallone's mother.  She was, if the obituary is accurate, a remarkable entrepreneur who engaged in various activities some of which were way ahead of her time.  She invested in a gym in the 50s just for women, for example.  How many "health clubs" beyond Vic Tanny's existed in the 50s.  She became a successful astrologer, but had--toward the end of her life a new technique for predicting the future. She would explore the lines of one's buttocks to learn about what was forthcoming and advise her clients.  Ms. Stallone called this approach rumpology and at the end of her life was still active as a rumpologist charging customers 300 dollars a cheek for her wisdom.

My libido is down these days from my college years, but I wouldn't mind a stint as a rumpologist--assuming I could filter the clientele to some extent.  I imagine that otherwise the job might be less than pleasant. Plus, I have doubts about what one could learn from such explorations that could predict the future. "You have lovers in your future" "You should quit your sedentary job"; "more rigorous hygiene would improve your chances for romance."

Rumpology. Ah, America. What's the office slogan?  "Have no fears. No bum steers."

Still the obituary set me to thinking about next steps. Ms. Stallone, starting at 15, tried this activity or that--always staying active.  I write textbooks and teach courses about Communication.  I like my work; think I am good at it; have had better than average reviews for my efforts; and can get immersed in a writing project which is at once all consuming and energizing.  Yet, I've been doing it for some time.  Maybe it is time to start exploring.

What may have fueled my thoughts about next steps is that I was told on a weekly zoom call that an old college girlfriend of mine passed in March.  Our stint as sweethearts was only a couple of months long, but I did bump into her coincidentally at a party a decade after graduation and we had fun for a day reminiscing and cavorting around the campus.  I was stunned by the news. I could barely recognize her in the obituary that I unearthed, but reading it made me think about this precious thing we have called time and life.

I will not, no matter what, go into rumpology as an entrepreneurial endeavor.  But it might be fun to explore other rides before the amusement park closes.    

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Insidious Cancer

 In four years the fabric of this country has changed. 

Four years ago lawmakers asserted, aggressively, that a supreme court justice should not be replaced during an election year. Now, the same lawmakers are asserting, aggressively, that they have the right and will attempt to replace a supreme court justice during an election year.

That we have a group of lawmakers who are unethical is clear. That we have a citizenry that supports such amoral behavior indicates how the fabric of our country is shredding and has shredded.

People who had, at least superficially, spoken about patriotism, moral values, and integrity have now abandoned these platforms.  Honesty means nothing to over 40 percent of the population. The president of the country is honest about how honesty is irrelevant to him. And yet in many states the majority of people support the president.

And the toxicity seeps into our culture and distorts what the United States claims to stand for.  Even in so called blue states there is evidence of amorality spreading like an insidious cancer.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Good lasagna

 I went to send a note to my brother to wish him a happy new year.  In Hebrew, you wish a happy new year by saying or writing, l'shana tova.  Tova means good. Shana means year.

So, I typed l'shana tova into my phone. The spell checker changed l'shana into lasagna.  

Okay, so, good lasagna to all.

Rosh ha shana means-- new year.  Literally, the head of the year.  Rosh = head. Ha=the. Shana again year.  

The holiday begins a ten day period of introspection.  A time for people to assess how well or how poorly we are doing morally and ethically.  And a time to pledge to work toward being the best we can be.  

Often the holiday begins with a big meal.  And often the meaning of the holiday is lost because the food consumption becomes more significant than the reason for consuming in this way.  I'm as much a miscreant as the next person.  The holiday began last night and we had a big meal and I read some parts from a book I like related to the holiday. Yet, just this morning I became furious at city hall about something inconsequential.  I hissed venom at the Republican party for not waiting for a supreme court justice's body to be cold, before trying to rush in a replacement.   And other stuff crept into my head that was not conducive to a healthy reassessment of where I am at.

It's work to examine oneself.  And work toward making the new year a happy one.  Good lasagna.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Chance and Time

This is Chance by Jon Mooallem is an interesting and engaging read. 

It is about the 1964 earthquake in Anchorage and centrally about Genie Chance a radio broadcaster who, by chance, was thrust into the role of communicating to all of the world about what was happening in Alaska. 

Mooallem takes a very challenging approach to presenting the narrative. He frames it within the context of the Thornton Wilder play Our Town which just so happened was scheduled to be performed in Anchorage a few days after the earthquake. 

He suggests that he, the author, is the stagehand like the stagehand in Our Town. And that this earthquake is best understood by viewing the various characters in Anchorage during the quake and after the quake, in the same way as the stagehand presents the characters and story in Our Town

I read a positive review of the book which is what caused me to request it from my library network. Someone, maybe that reviewer maybe another, commented that there was too much about the background of the various characters in the narrative particularly Genie Chance. That the space dedicated to background and what happened before and after the event was relatively inconsequential to the central events of what happened in Anchorage that Good Friday in 1964.

 I disagree, I think the background and the character descriptions does just what the author wanted to do, frame the event as an extraordinary incident within which ordinary people acted.  We learn mostly about Genie Chance, why she came to Alaska from Texas, her children and their father, and what happened to her after she gained a sort of celebrity status. There are several other characters who had a part in the drama surrounding the earthquake.  The author tells us how they arrived in Anchorage and, while relaying the present, how they died in the future.

Like the author I am a fan of Our Town.  Like Our Town, a point in This is Chance is that we don’t acknowledge while we are going through time the priceless phenomenon of time.   It was in large part chance, that Genie Chance, was put in a position to become an important resource and celebrity. Yet, how she got to where she was, so that when the earth quaked, she could be such a resource was not by chance. Even the most introspective among us have a difficult time looking at the present as a point in a series of episodes that will affect the future, and collectively, like an artist's rendition depict and capture our lives.   

Friday, August 21, 2020


 I am reading rave reviews about the Democratic Convention.  While I will be voting for Biden and hoped Biden would get the nomination--(not because I think he would be the best president among the democratic contenders, but because I think he has the best chance of beating the abomination)--I was not as carried away as the pundits seem to be by the four days this week.

Even a Fox correspondent commented that Biden's speech was excellent and put to rest concerns that he has lost an edge.  I did not hear him stumble, as he did during the campaign, but I found his talk boring. When I climbed up to bed on Thursday night relatively unimpressed I thought that the best strategy for the democrats is to let Trump speak because it is Trump who will energize people to vote against him.

Kamala is a strong pick and, once Biden announced he was going to pick a woman, the best pick.  The question is can she, particularly in a COVID era, get the vote out.  How easy will it be to reach the people and create a sense of urgency when there will be limited campaign stops?

I've spent quite a bit of time looking at polls and the electoral map. As I see it, right now, Biden wins with 337 votes, but stuff happens. Trump has yet to get a bump from the Republican convention. And the news from COVID could not get worse, so it will likely get better, which will allow those Republicans who want some reason to vote for Trump to vote for him even though they find him repugnant.  Never mind that he is actively and even transparently trying to suppress an election; that according to him every woman is Nasty; that he did indeed commit an impeachable offense with the Ukraine; that he has yet to reveal his taxes or do many of the things he promised when he campaigned.  Never mind that he is clearly creating division in the country; or that he is capriciously firing inspector generals; and commuting sentences of enemies of democracy. Never mind that he sat on his hands when a foreign power paid an adversary to kill American soldiers. Never mind all that--there are those hoping for some reason to vote for the guy.

I wish I could have felt more buoyant after these four days.   I know that in the past I have been a very bad predictor of political outcomes. I can remember George McGovern's acceptance speech in 1972 as if it was yesterday. (Tell me, how did a mensch like McGovern, come from a state that has elected a governor who, moronically, invited citizens to NOT social distance to celebrate Herr Trump's visit to Mount Rushmore). When McGovern finished that speech I thought Nixon did not have a chance.  Very bad prediction. When Reagan was nominated I can remember, in the summer of '80 thinking to myself "who the hell is going to vote for this guy? He's an actor."

So, my reaction to the convention is not that significant. But I, someone who wanted to be energized, was not that wowed. Part of this could be that except for Biden, I kept falling asleep before the heavy hitters gave their speeches. I heard Obama and Harris and Bernie and Powell leveled Trump. However, I was already leveled by that time.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Those Who Save Us

 Donna was about to donate the book, Those Who Save Us. The Viet Nam Vets were coming for a pick up on Wednesday and one bag was filled with books.  I looked through them and, for the most part, had no interest in what was in there. But I did stop and take a look at Those Who Save Us.  I decided to keep it and give it a shot.

I snorted it.  It's not a short book, not enormous, but about 500 pages.  Zip Zip.  Of course, I have completed a writing project so I've got some time before school begins again. Still some books even when you have time can take a spell because you're not that engaged with what's happening between the covers.

This is a page turner.  Some extraneous characters and sections that now, in retrospect, I have no idea why she decided to include, but she writes descriptively and the topic was of interest.  

The book starts at a funeral. Mother and daughter are in a church with neighbors in a cold Minnesota rural town. Townsfolk are there for support. Jack, has passed, and Trudy the 53 year old daughter, and Anna the widow and mother are attending.  We learn a bit about the mother, and the daughter's relationship with the mother, and the townsfolk's attitudes toward Anna in the first few pages.

The book then toggles between scenes from Weimar during the Nazi years and the Twin Cities where Trudy is a history professor.  Anna had been in Germany during the war years. The author goes back and forth until we learn what happened to Anna and how she wound up in rural Minnesota married to a fellow from Minnesota with a--by the time the novel ends--57 year old daughter.

How did the Germans who survived the war live with themselves after the war knowing what was done and what they, personally, did during the war?  Do you forget the past? Do you vow never to speak of it? Do you change the narrative of the past to permit sleep at night?  And what exactly did Germans do in order to survive during the war?  

This is Jenna Blum's first novel and hats off as she was born in 1970 and has gotten in the weeds with the Nazi era which took place thirty years before she was born.  As I wrote above there are some scenes--with Trudy's ex husband for example, and Trudy's colleague, and Trudy's videographer--that just seem to be--while not uninteresting--not central to the story. 

Recommended. If you're looking for a message beyond what one can glean from the plot line, it might be disappointing.  I was not disappointed.  It was a good weekend read, and a book that will stay with me.