31 March 2011

162: Opening Day

After running the kids to school in the gray of day with a kind of snowy rain falling, I contemplated briefly that the baseball season was opening.  Reminding myself to check my subscription on the MLB website for my season pass to radio coverage of this great game, I warmed against the weather to the thought of hearing Bob Uecker call games for another season.  I don't have *great* expectations for the Brewers but I have expectations, and one of them is that I'm hoping he'll provide some comfort in the face of an increasingly troubling world by waxing eloquent about bratwurst several times during this 162 game span.

Met with a few congregants ahead of a sitdown with New York City Councilman Steve Levin, a bright young leader in city government, who stops by CBE once in a while to check in on his constituents.  We talked about budget cuts, the city's schools, our work with Osborne Association and my own personal desire--how to start a meals program so that CBE can start providing more for the city's poor (he had some good advice--more on that after Passover.)  I so enjoy seeing young leaders move into position with a sense of realism and optimism about where this city ought to be going.

I ran from the meeting with the councilman to a bris and a baby naming in the Chapel.  One of our community's families had their second set of twins and it was such an intense moment to witness.  I got to work with Rabbi David Kedmi, a wonderful mohel, who shared with me a brilliant teaching which he learned from Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, who learned it from Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik.  When we circumcise a child, the liturgy says "zeh ha'katan, gadol y'hiyeh--this one is small, may he become great."  The Rav taught that the reason why we say this is to remind ourselves that in the story of creation, the moon is referred to as the "small" light and the sun is referred to as the "great" light.  Therefore, we say "this one is small, may he become great" in order to declare that at the beginning of life, a child reflects the parents' light, like the moon, but eventually the child grows to give off their own light, experience, and acquired wisdom.  A beautiful teaching.

The girl was named with the same ceremony (minus the bris, of course) and mother and father told powerful, moving stories about the enormous strengths of the great-grandmothers for whom they were named.  The power of bestowing names never ceases to amaze me.

From there I ran to New York City College of Technology's Jewish Faculty and Staff Association's annual Passover Mock Seder Demonstration, where our beloved member and CBE past-president (and first woman president in the history of the congregation) Donna Rosenthal was honored for her contributions to civic leadership.  I love Donna.  She is so generously hearted and we always have a good time working together.  It was a joy to be there with her to be honored.  After presenting her with the award, we sat together for the brief Seder led by Rabbi Alan Kay, a wise and funny man, and then I headed back to the neighborhood. 

Nathan needed a walk; a made a few tortillas; and then sat quietly, at my mid-day repast, as Ricky Weeks, Carlos Gomez and Ryan Braun started the Brewers' season right with a few homeruns.  I was thrilled.  Bob Uecker mentioned brats.  What could be better.

Back to shul.  A few bar and bat mitzvah students entered my study and we worked on their speeches about turning thirteen, being Jews, and what the Torah means to them.  The Tree of Life is a heavy object--it's a lot for a kid to take on.  These kids are heroic in their attempt to make sense of it all.

The actual wood, in the ballpark in Cincinnati, seemed to get heavier for Milwaukee in the late innings and to my shock and dismay, when I arose between students to turn up the volume on my computer, I listened as the Brewers gave up a ninth inning two out three run homer to lose game one of the season.

All in all, however, the loss was firmly implanted in a rich bed of precious perspective.

Here's to Hoping the Good Guys Win

There are many measures to the man; and in my case, one of them is baseball.

It bothers me little that snow is destined to descend upon several fields tomorrow when Major League play resumes:  Deal with it.  That's the weather, is all.  It's hardly a tsunami, a disaster, a nuclear meltdown.  Going to Opening Day?  Dress warmly.

Rather, when I contemplate the commencement of the ritual of one hundred and sixty two games being played--the longest season in professional sports that casts a sublime and blessed shadow over more than six months of competition--I behold a touchstone of time, a ritually rendered manifestation of national clock-setting to the *oughts* of history:  who we were; who we are; and, who we are yet to be.

I consider myself a loyal guy.  And so yet again, hope against hope, I'm pulling for a team--the Brewers--that no one who takes this stuff seriously believes has much of a chance to make the playoffs.  But I love them nonetheless.  That's the nature of the beast.  The unconditional loyalty of love.  The *hometown team*.

And I measure my loyalty to team, if you will, up against my loyalty to other teams--the State and Nation in which I live.

So as muscles stretch and expand, as uniforms adorn the agents of tradition, I can't help but contemplate the choices we make as the Team of New Yorkers, or Wisconsinites, or Americans, that stand at the edge of time and stare into the face of the future, our future, this season.

We're a team that faces the dilemmas of uncertain wars and the dilemmas of a dangerous world in demand of our clear-eyed and insistent sense of optimism for what can be.  We're a team that faces the choices driven by our dilemmas from the increasingly polarized perspective of a political system that divides more than it unifies.  We're a team that, in tough economic times (and for some inexplicable reason) continues to feed and reward the rich while diminishing the voice and the dignity of the poor.  We're a team riding upon a ship of uncertainty, in a sea of dangerous waters and uncertainty.

But we're a team, right?

A team?

I wonder sometimes.

Late tonight I gave my first in what I'm certain will be a series of very annoying sentimental lessons on the death of the newspaper to my eldest child.  With great Shakespearean love, I espoused the virtues of the structure of the New York Times--from masthead to headline to byline to body--for a young one who gets most of her information in Immediacy's Digital Hurricane.  I felt like one of those wizened, sun-stroked tour guides on an archaeological dig in Israel, explaining historical layers, lost, past names, and structures long-gone but loaded with meaning.  God bless the kid:  she maybe grasped 40% of what the hell I was talking about.

Look here, I said, folding back the left column of the Opinion Page.  The Editors of the New York Times--the greatest journalists in America--think that you should be thinking about poverty and state budgets!

This caused a stir.  And it allowed me to show the picture from today's paper about the Governor's girlfriend and the brave journos who showed up at her Bake Sale in Grand Central Terminal and publicly questioned the ethics of peddling cookies while millionaires got tax breaks and poor folk struggled even more to make ends meet.

"Hold it in your hand, kid," I said.  "Paper has been the agent of change since before Ben Franklin.   Whole governments were toppled by opinions written in papers.  This stuff really, truly matters."

Opinions here.  Letters there.  Op-eds over there.   Like lines painted in chalk, these  parameters map out our reality in ways we seldom truly appreciate until we take a breath, consider the scope, and run the paths.

Where we're going.  How we get there.  To home-base, that is.  These things truly matter.  There's no time like the present to not only remind ourselves of this truth but to make the genuine effort to achieve what it is we ought to achieve through the simple act of trying.

Trying to figure out:  who we were; who we are; and, who we are yet to be.

Getting to the World Series will be quite the Journey.  Here's to hoping the Good Guys win.

 

30 March 2011

Visit to Rikers Island

The last time I walked through the gates of a jail was more than twenty years ago, in upstate Wisconsin, where I often visited a small group of Jewish prisoners in a medium-security prison there.

Yesterday I boarded a bus in the parking lot at Rikers Island with representatives from the Osborne Association, an incredible organization that provides support and education for families of men and women incarcerated in the New York State system.  CBE, under the leadership of our members David Goldberg and Wesley Weissberg, has been volunteering with Osborne for several months now.  Community members have created children's play areas in a few facilities; organized family visits; and yesterday we attended the graduation ceremony of 18 men from Osborne's "Fresh Start" program at Rikers Island.  The men received a certificate of graduation for their hard work in learning essential skills for employment upon their release from jail:  computer skills, basic cooking skills, and maintenance skills.

By my estimation, among the 18 men were a couple Latinos, two whites, one Arab and thirteen African Americans.  One of the endemic challenges of the American justice system in a microcosm.

Sitting in the audience at graduation was an incredible support group of family and friends, spouses, parents and children--all present to cheer on the men.  Mantras were repeated over and over again.  Two particularly stirring pieces of Torah that were shared:  One Fresh Start instructor reminded the men about a famous scene from the film "Glory," when Denzel Washington urges on his soldiers with the words, "We're men, ain't we?"  And this line was repeated by the instructor several times during his speech to the prisoners, in order to hammer home the point that the essential part of their rehabilitation was about taking responsibility as men.  Another statement, echoed several times, was the simple phrase, "You can change three things in your life:  People, Places and Things."  Impossible to argue with that statement.  It represented the steely reality of Choices these men would be facing as they prepared to leave Rikers Island.

I was asked to deliver the Invocation for the graduation ceremony and so elected to share two particular texts--the first from the morning blessings in which we thank God for "freeing the captive."  In it I attempted to address not the desire to actually escape the jail but the desire to escape the circumstances, to break the bonds of darkness that kept one imprisoned in the cycle of bad decisions.  Though never having been imprisoned or jailed myself, I've certainly been depressed; or caught in a cycle of poor decisions.  Who hasn't?  I tried to relate to that feeling, build a bond, through the words, "Free the captive, God, from the darkness that has held us down into the light of your life and wisdom."  It was also important for me to attempt to quote some scripture that they might know, so I chose to recite a section of Psalm 23, not in any funereal sense as it's often read at death but rather as a sign of redemptive hope.  I chose Robert Alter's rendering, "though I walk through the valley of deepest darkness" instead of the "valley of the shadow of death" and spoke to the men about the psalmist's sense of gratitude for the overflowing cup of family, teachers, community support during their time of struggle; and how they are standing now above a valley where "goodness and mercy can follow them--if they choose--all the days of their life."

I was so moved by these men and their families and as we walked about the room to shake hands afterward, one could see that the sense of promise in the air was stronger, it seemed, than the bright light that shone outside where our bus awaited us to deliver us to our own luxurious freedom. It's true, what the doctrines of Judaism teach:  there's that light that hangs in the sky; and then there's the Source of Light, which burns forever.

Unquestionably, the challenges that lie ahead for these men and their families are great.  I am so proud that our CBE community will continue to do its part to help them in the months ahead.  

===

If you want to get involved, let me know.

24 March 2011

We Need Peace--Now.

A suicide bombing in Jerusalem.  Rockets falling in Ashdod and Yavne.  Retaliatory strikes back in Gaza.  It's clear to many that when Israeli and Palestinian leaders cannot agree to terms for talking, when they cannot do what we are taught to do since childhood--sit down, talk it out and agree not to fight--that events spiral out of control, innocent people die, and things get worse.  The Fogel family's horrifying deaths already a distant memory in this new round of violence leading nowhere.

At this point in time it is beyond tragic; at this point in time it is inexcusable.  At this point in time we are witnessing a monumental failure of leadership from both Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas.  Their inability and their refusal to take the necessary risks for peace have indirectly caused the loss of innocent life.

And further, the Likud-led government, passing racist laws in the Jewish democratic bastion known as the Knesset, for all the world to see, is nothing less than a radical embarrassment and an abrogation of the Zionist dream.  Ham-fistedly passed on the same day that Avigdor Lieberman, Israel's Foreign Minister, calls for the U.S. bombing of Iran and Syria as well?  Who speaks for whom?  Who's in charge in Jerusalem?

And for all the bleeding heart defenders of the Turkish support for the Flotilla brigades and the innocence of the open borders between Gaza and Egypt, we now see a clear connection between those events and even more dangerous weapons making it into the hands of radicals in Gaza who are lobbing rockets and wreaking havoc and destruction in Israel.  Unable to police Gaza itself, Abbas can only control what he can control, leaving to the fate of historical spoilers the lives of millions of innocent Israelis and Palestinians.

The rebellion of the Arab street threatens to absorb this annoying little conflict.  The lives of millions more Arab citizens hang in the balance; and before we blink, the Israeli and Palestinian conflict may be subsumed by a greater battle, which, it seems to me, cannot end well for Israel.  The mandate to get to peace has never been greater.  The door to walk through in order to achieve that peace has never seemed more narrow.

Nor have these words seemed more true:  "All the world is a very narrow bridge; the most important thing is not to be afraid."

We need peace--now.

18 March 2011

Qadaffi's Mustache

You don't have to believe that things happened in the Scroll of Esther the way the Bible says they happened in order for them to actually mean something.  In fact, there's near universal agreement that of all the books of the Hebrew Bible, Esther's plot actually never occurred and in reality, what we're dealing with is a *construct* or meta-idea about certain historical truths that in a dramatic flow of ancient trope and costumed mayhem yields greater truths about human existence than say, an historical document.

The Israeli writer Aharon Appelfeld once famously said in an interview with Philip Roth that in writing about the Holocaust, fiction and fabrication allowed for deeper truths to be revealed than a mere recitation of facts.  I think of that when I think of the Scroll of Esther, its farcical tale told of the City of Shushan, it's hapless King, his Jewish adviser, a brilliant beauty named Esther and the Evil Haman.   Why do they need to be real when there's Hitler, Qadaffi's mustache, and Kim Il-Sung?  Purim, of course, is set in Persia and who but Ahmadinejad is more focused on the destruction of Jews today?  We've enough macabre mendacity coming from real dictators.  Literature allows us to laugh in the face of such evil, a necessary release in order to keep our minds from crumbling under the pressure of evil's relentless march in this world.

We make a whole helluva lot of hay out of Charlie Chaplin dressing up as Der Fuhrer and kicking an inflatable globe about on the silver screen while forgetting (thanks for the reminder, Bronstein) that the Stooges were making fun of Hitler's perverse perceptions even earlier.

Of course, the Sages got it even earlier, often disguising various evil emperors' actual identity by citing Amalek or Pharaoh when they really mean to refer to a particularly evil Roman emperor whose ire they were in no position to repel.  When Rabbi Dr. Joachim Prinz was preaching in Berlin in the 1930s, he did it too, according to historian Michael Meyer, in an effort to give moral uplift to his community in the face of the Nazi oppression because "the presence of two Gestapo officers at every service required ingenuity in delivering an unvarnished message.  He effectively achieved that by using negative biblical images symbolically:  Haman for Hitler, Amalek for the Nazis, and the like."

The text as truth or a mirror of truth--which is which does not always matter--and that is Purim's ultimate message.

We Liberal Jews don't believe it happened--so that's our Truth--but don't actively stock up our Food Pantry for the Poor and take too much care in delivering Mishloach Manot--meal packages--as a sign of celebration and thanksgiving.  Traditional Jews read the Scroll as if it happened (a fabricated truth) but collect food and feed the poor with an admirable, loving and humbling fervor that can call into question classic Liberal Jewish tropes like "Tikkun Olam."

One of our members announced on email today that he is organizing a new initiative in our community where we are going to make ourselves responsible for feeding the hungry at a local shelter on a monthly basis.  To buy, prepare, cook and serve the food--once a month--without fail. 

Here's another thing that can't fail:  selflessly feeding the hungry.  An historical narrative that is factually verifiable or a metaphoric farcical expression of ancient literature yields the same result:  humans digging deep into pain of personal suffering and demonstrating their understanding of their personal suffering by redeeming others.

That one gets to laugh along the way as the sun goes down tomorrow night and the words of the Scroll are unrolled for another year is cause for great joy.

God willing it will be heard--what with all that jelly and poppy seed stuffed into Haman's ears.

17 March 2011

Wake Up

I don't sleep.

So I get up regularly from 2-4 and do some reading.  It's mildly relaxing, though no more comforting.  The world, it seems, is in great turmoil.  And so I find myself in these early morning hours taking a quick look around to see what new problems have arisen.  No near-term solution seems in sight for Libya and Bahrain and last night I saw that four reporters from the New York Times are missing in Libya.  God willing they'll be returned to safety.  The nuclear dangers and radical dislocations of the Japanese, experiencing their worst disaster since the Second World War has the entire globe on alert--reaching out with one hand of compassion and making emergency adjustments to our own nuclear facilities in order to prevent our own potential disasters.  It seems more than a metaphor for our age that we can barely control an air and water bound contamination that is spreading throughout the globe.  Wisconsin, still in my mind a powerful symbol of a democratic process at a blessed, full-boil, teeters into classic partisan dysfunction when in fact its leaders have the potential to exploit the Capitol Crisis in their favor and create a productive way Forward. 

Like I said, I don't sleep.

Closer to home we're zeroing in on finalizing documents for our Sanctuary Roof Repair and raising the necessary $3 million (give or take) for the First Phase of multi-year campaign to repair and restore both of our buildings.  This first phase will replace the Sanctuary Roof, Parapet Walls, and Dome.  It might even be enough for the Temple House windows, too.  We'll know soon enough.  Our community is really coming together beautifully in support of this project, lots of efforts are being expended to get our house in order so that we can raise the money we will need--what will surely be a multi-million dollar endeavor.  It will come from us and a few angels out there.  (If you're reading and can help, please do!)

In between books during one of my recent insomnia-driven excursions to the couch in the den I skyped a friend in Tel Aviv to check in.  The Fogel family had just been savagely murdered by Palestinian terrorists in Itamar; the government announced more settlement expansion; the Quartet announced that it saw no current hope for a peace agreement.  "We need a revolution like Wisconsin," he said.  I tend to agree.

It's impossible to see what else can be done.  There's a feeling of helpless powerlessness in the face of such intractable refusals on both sides to the necessary risks to get to peace.  And we American Jews it seems are highly skilled in talking about it but not having much power to actually do anything about it.

After a year and a half on the J Street Rabbinic Advisory Board, I decided to leave it a few weeks ago, mostly because I didn't see any real positive net effect in staying involved.  I was forever answering friends on the Right about all the missteps--most recently the lack of transparency about George Soros' funding (I support Soros' funding but not revealing it was a mistake) and then publicly criticizing Representative Gary Ackerman over the U.N. veto was, for me, the final straw.  There didn't seem to be the required discipline to really manage a message and increasingly, it seemed, the message was getting garbled--all in an effort to expand the tent of what it means to be "pro-Israel."  The Right's cynical campaign against J Street and other Left-wing organizations nothwithstanding, I reached the conclusion that while it's certainly *nice* that liberal Jews have a voice in Washington, a place to gather in the warm sun of shared concern for Israel, it was no clear who of consequence was actually listening.  Frankly, if I were Israeli, I'd find it annoying that 2000 American Jews gathered at a conference to tell Israelis what to do, but not to live among Israelis and make it happen.

And so, while it's true that Prime Minister Netanyahu and his government openly hold President Obama in contempt, how much more so must they consider J Street?  Finally, a quick look every day at the Israeli papers demonstrates that the government is paralyzed.  Q.E.D. (as Arthur Hertzberg used to say) Israeli needs its own democratic uprising.  It's citizens need to demand a way forward and until that happens, the alienation will only grow between a know-it-all American Jewry that's not willing to put its own lives on the line (dispensing with advice from here--and I'm talking about ALL the American Jewish organizations that weigh in--from AIPAC to J Street).

I was supposed to be at one such communal conversation today about the crisis--but what really is there to say anymore?  We meet in board rooms over nice lunches and wring our hands and yet increasingly we're not being heard.

Like I said, I don't sleep.

So here's my pledge:  Teach in our Synagogue.  Visit Israel.  Learn about Israel.  Support Israel in whatever way you decide.  And if you really, truly care:  move to Israel and make a difference in whatever way you can.  I'd be willing to bet that if you did a financial analysis of this idea, you'd find it every bit as efficient (or perhaps even more) than the current communal structure of dozens of organizations with bloated budgets, telling Israel what to do from here, while a dangerous paralysis takes hold there.

To those who also can't sleep:  Let's join together in telling everyone else to wake up.  Rise up.  Make peace.

06 March 2011

Love to Serve

cross-stitch by Barbara Bachman, 1964
One of the ideas that I tried to capture in my remarks on Friday evening at Shul was an idea I've been thinking about a lot lately:  Americans have too much of a sense of entitlement when it comes to their money, especially when it comes to their money and the government.  Long gone are the days--or so it sometimes seems--when one defined one's citizenship based upon the measure of how much one has given back to his or her country.  When President John F. Kennedy offered the idea to "ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country" we should have figured out that if he had to say it then, by then, the idea of selfless devotion to the ideals of a nation were already in a state of disrepair.  The facts of history always seem to precede our actual awareness of them.  By the end of the Vietnam War, the Selective Service had essentially been rendered non-functional and were it not for the efforts of Presidents Clinton and Obama in the face of recalcitrant Houses of Congress, programs like Teach for America and Americorps would be all but extinct, two of the embers left over from President Kennedy's and Sargent Shriver's vision for a post-World War II citizenship devoted to National Service.

While Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker attempts to dismantle collective bargaining; and state governments in nearly all fifty states fend off an organized assault on their budgets by those who would argue that government spending is an infringement on our rights as individuals; while Tea Party rallies facetiously borrow from history, rooting their anti-government accountability movement in the early American revolutionaries claim that "taxation without representation" is unjust; my mind pivoted this past Shabbat around the valiant and heroic sense of obligation that our ancestors expressed when it came to fulfilling God's command that in building a Sanctuary so that God may dwell among them:  each and every Israelite had to give their "half-shekel."  Their relationship to "taxation" was not only obligatory but religious as well.

Each and every one.  Rich and poor had to give.  And the Torah is quite clear that their giving was an "offering for God תרומת לה." And not only that, but in the act of giving, every person effectuated a "ransom of his soul unto the Eternal--איש כופר נפשו לה."

One was considered to have a relationship with their giving to the central sanctuary of Jewish life that demanded a sense of repentance and atonement in their giving.

This Devotion.  These Labors.  These Contributions--as Atonement--is what allowed God to fill the Tabernacle with the Divine Presence.  And as I read these words and considered these ideas I thought of the State Capitol in Madison; the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C.  And our schools across the land that are being decimated by budget cuts.  Or even closer to home, the wide-range of reactions that people express with regard to giving money to the synagogue--for some, their tzedakah (whatever the amount) is the highest devotion they can express as Jews; for others, their money comes with anger and resentment.  The disparities are remarkable.

I consider paying taxes to be among the most sacred privileges we have as Americans.  Ever mindful as I am about what the money goes toward.  The public education that schooled my grandparents, parents, myself and now my children; the police and fire departments which protect us from danger; the military which secures our borders; and the social infrastructure to support the poor and the needy and the defenseless, a promise we make to our deepest ideals, to the moral architecture of who we are meant to be.  Not to mention the maintenance of the roads we drive upon with our sacred chariots.  The all-pervasive sense of complaint about our personal devotion to our money is misguided.  It is not the highest expression of our society's aspirations and our Torah portion from this past Shabbat, the last of the Book of Exodus, the eternal narrative of our national liberation, teaches us Americans something.

We Jews learn from the Torah and have the opportunity to remind ourselves and our fellow citizens that the Divine Presence dwells among us when our material devotions match our moral aspirations--when we say we believe we ought to be free and are willing to pay the price for that freedom by, well, paying for it.

We want to be a great country?  We need to pay for great schools and great teachers.   We want to be a great country?  We need to be proud to demand that our citizens serve, like older generations did, and show a willingness not only to live but to die, if not "give one's life" for one's country.

Last night I had the occasion to speak to a former U.S. Marine from Sheepshead Bay who is now an undercover police officer at a local Brooklyn precinct.  After serving in the Marines for 4 years and completing two tours of duty in Iraq (where several of his friends lost their lives) he moved back home, joined the NYPD, and works a shift til 4 am most days in order to keep us safe.

Why do you do it?  I asked.

"It's simple:  I love to serve," he said.

God calls the Jewish people and asks for them to devote themselves to the Oneness of the God and all Humankind.  "Hear O Israel:  The Eternal is Our God, the Eternal is One."  And then the first word that follows this declaration:  "Love.  You shall love--with all your heart, all your soul, all your might.

We Americans are desperately in need of that kind of devotion to our own national enterprise, before we get gobbled up by the corporations and our digital media telecommunications devices. 

I love to serve God and country.  Do you?

03 March 2011

Start Worrying Now

I met with a local principal today, part of a small listening campaign some of us in the shul are undertaking in order to understand the dynamics of what's happening to education on the local, grassroots level in our city these days.  Within five minutes I was deeply impressed by her intensity and focus; and after forty-five minutes I was blown away by her commitment to all the children and their families in her school--those of exceptional academic aptitude and those on the special education spectrum who are being nurtured and trained to join the public work-force one day.  Here was public education being employed for all the right reasons--learning, training and citizenship.  Not in the shadows by any means but certainly heroic, unheralded, and profoundly inspiring.

At one point, in a candid moment, I learned about the teacher's ulcer and how the last time it acted up, how she didn't get herself to the hospital until a certain crisis at the school was averted.  Ulcers are the kind of things that ought not to wait for treatment (though they usually do) and one could see from the look in her eyes that the principal was just that type.  "I do what needs to be done and I take alot of pride in that," she said.

There's a lot of talk about the Mayor of our city slashing several thousand teaching positions from the City Budget this week.  In states across the country, teachers jobs--not to mention salaries and benefits--are being cut at alarmingly high rates in order to avert a fiscal crisis that is sweeping the nation's statehouses.  But as far as I can tell so far, only one state, California, is actually talking about raising taxes *and* cutting its budget in order to respond to its deficit.

I'm not an economist.  Obviously.  But nonetheless, I consider myself a pretty smart guy.  And here's the thing:  If I had to save money for a society, the LAST place I'd look to save would be in the public service sector which concerns itself with the intellectual and vocational training of that society's present and future population ("school-children.")

I really don't mean to be hyperbolic here.  But allow me to ask:  How debased have we become as a society that we are balancing our state budgets not by prioritizing our choices on the aspirational language of what a society ought to do in order to live out its values but rather by expending our energy denigrating some of the least expensive public servants with some of the highest ideals by insisting that they, and not those with the wealth and the means to be able to withstand tax increases, should make the greatest sacrifice?

Our priorities as a nation of purported ideals and our priorities as a society of human beings (George Costanza comes to mind here) are seriously out-of-whack.

Trip Gabriel sums it all up rather nicely in the New York Times.  You can read it here. 

Frankly, I don't understand (which is a facetious way of saying I actually do understand:  America has gone nuts.  And we've deeded the country to the rich, rewarded them for their bad behavior, and have lost any ability to justify why it is that we tax in the first place--namely, to pay for stuff that we agree as a society should be paid for.)  How it is that the culture of ME ME ME has come to prevail with the strength and odor that it has is completely beyond my comprehension (except in my most cynical moments.)  And no small source of shame in myself and my nation that not only have we fallen behind other nations in every major academic category in our schools but we are hurtling toward the bottom of the barrel in terms of raw investment in our educational system as well.

BLECH!

Natalie Portman studied science in college BLAH BLAH BLAH.  The rich are fleecing the government; our values have been diluted; America is on the verge of becoming a big old boring mega-mall where everything is for sale, sold to you by workers whose once-fought-for-rights-to-bargain-collectively have evaporated beneath the hot lights of corporate lobbying.  It should say something to us as a nation about our sad state of affairs that while this week our most famous Oscar winning Jew chose to denounce a harmless drunken idiot like John Galliano, our mega-celebrity flavor of the month should have decried the horrifying hatchet job being taken to teachers from Wisconsin to Ohio to New York City.

Here's what disgusts me:  Picking on teachers and giving tax cuts to the rich.

Here's what inspires me:  "Resh Lakish said in the name of Rabbi Judah the Patriarch:  The world endures only for the sake of the breath of schoolchildren.  Not even for the building of the Temple are children to be deprived of their study of Torah.  Resh Lakish said to Rabbi Judah the Patriarch:  I have a tradition from my forebears that if there are no schoolchildren in a town, it is bound to be destroyed."

I wonder when we start to really worry.  Because I'll be honest--I'm ready to really start worrying now.