WHOSE BROAD STRIPES AND BRIGHT STARS

Back in mid-November,  synagogue regulars read about our patriarch Ya’akov giving twenty of the best years of his life to Lavan, a “wheeler dealer” who became his father-in-law. When time came for Ya’akov to finally head home, financial obligations had to be met. Leave it to Lavan to concoct a scheme involving speckled livestock and striped livestock. Leave it Ya’akov who had HaShem’s loyalty  and support to foil his father-in law’s chicanery.

As we celebrate Independence Day, I cannot help but see an inherent message in the speckled and striped livestock that Lavan intended to use as wages. For me, Lavan’s speckled and striped livestock represent the stars and stripes of Old Glory. Unlike, Lavan who intended to separate the speckled from the striped, Independence Day serves as a reminder that the stars and stripes are inseparable.

Aside from the stars representing the 50 states and the stars representing the 13 colonies, the stars and stripes deliver a message beyond that of national pride. The stars and stripes represent heaven and earth respectively. The stars remind us that this country was founded as one nation under G-d. Despite the current zeitgeist, where countless strength and innumerable effort are being expended to cleanse America from all vestiges of the divine, our Founding Fathers saw our creator as being indispensable to the success of these United States of America. Our Founding Fathers also saw the blessings of human toil and effort. As such, Americans were encouraged to build streets and roads, pathways and thoroughfares – some perfectly straight, others with many a winding turn – to traverse the vastness of the country. Symbolical, these are the stripes so proudly displayed together with the stars on the flag of this country.

Whether deserving our not, Manhattan proudly proclaims itself as the city that never sleeps. Long before New York City helped itself to this moniker, these United States presented itself with the challenge of being a country that must be constantly vigilant. This too is emblematic of our flag. The stars are only visible during the night; the stripes (our network of roadways) are only visible  during the day. Alternately, these United States, realizes only too well that it existence depends upon how it navigates its course of action not only during the day, when stripes are so easily discernible but also, and perhaps especially during the night when all we have are the stars to guide us.

I have no idea who was credited for naming the single-seat, high wing monoplane that Charles Lindberg flew on the first solo nonstop transatlantic flight from Long Island, New York, to Paris, France, the “Spirit of St. Louis.” Personally, I cannot help but feel that the “Spirit of America” would have been a far better choice. Aside from great strides in transportation, there is no question that airplanes and not ships are not only responsible for bringing continents closer together,  they are also responsible for bridging the gap between heaven and earth. Aviation aside, this too is the quest of these United States. As a defender of democracy, as a champion of human rights, as a proponent of personal responsibility and as fighter for freedom, this country serves as a constant reminder that that G-d-given rights and inalienable go side by side. Arguably the former is represented by the stars; arguably, the latter is represented by the stars.

This July 4th, the Zell home, along with countless other homes will be proudly flying the American flag. Perhaps, its broad stripes and bright stars will evoke the close ties between our heavenly Father and His children on earth, our constant vigilance during sunshine hours and starshine hours, and the narrowing of the gap between G-d given rights and inalienable rights.

 

A MEANINGFUL INDEPENDENCE DAY TO ALL!

HOLD THE CANADIAN BACON

As one who believes that clergy should not weigh in on the partial government shut-down, I was intrigued by a news article that I came across last week concerning the current situation or crises, depending on your political views. Canadian Air Traffic Controllers have been sending hundreds of Pizzas to their American counterparts, who have been working without pay for over a month. They refer to it as a show of solidarity; I see it as a gesture of mentschlechkeit. Thanks to this gesture of mentschlechkeit, Air Traffic Controllers in Ronkonkama, Long Island received pizzas, compliments of their counterparts in Gander Newfoundland and Moncton, New Brunswick. Similarly, Air Traffic Controllers in Anchorage, Alaska enjoyed piping hot pizzas courtesy of their neighbors to the south-east in Edmonton, Alberta. Regardless of the amount of oregano and tomato sauce, the two main ingredients of these pizzas are empathy and concern.

This gesture on the part of Canadian Air Traffic Controllers isn’t really about pizzas after all. This gesture on the part of Canadian Air Traffic Controllers flies in the face of the vast majority in our society, who are oblivious to the fact that other people have feelings and because of those feelings, people have every right to feel upset, angry, dejected. Because of their gift of pizza,    Canadian Air Traffic Controllers have unknowingly passed along a much-needed recipe involving human behavior.

There is  a Hasidic tale told about two Polish peasants drinking together at tavern. Wojciech turns to his buddy Stacz and asks: “Stacz, do you love me”?
Stash replies, “Wojciech! The devil take you! We’ve been friends since we were young boys. We have been through so much together. Wojciech! I love you like a brother”!
Stacz and Wojciech return to their vodka. A moment or two later Wojciech asks, “Stacz, do you know what causes Wojciech pain?”
Stacz thinks for a moment and answers “How in the world, should Stacz know what causes Wojciech pain”?
At that point  Wojciech roars, “ Stacz! If you don’t know what causes Wojciech pain, how can you say you love me”?

Unlike, the Hasidic tale of Stacz and Wojciech, our culture has unfortunately conditioned us to approach those who are hurting with meaningless questions and vacuous comments such as: “I simply don’t understand why you feel the way you do” or “why are you so upset”?

I doubt very much if Canadian Air Controllers or Air Controllers in any country for that matter, have ever heard the Hasidic tale about Wojciech and Stash. They didn’t have to. It was imbued in them. The aim of the Canadian Air Controllers who took it upon themselves to send pizzas, wasn’t to analyze or assess. The aim of the Canadian Air Controllers was to tell their American counterparts “we care about you and by no means are we oblivious to what you are going through”. And they did so, ever so tastefully.

Canadian Air Traffic Controllers like all Air Controllers (hopefully) are top notch when it comes to providing necessary headings to those at 37,000 feet, but in no way are their heads in the clouds. They seem to realize  that unless they are prepared to ask how they can be of assistance – financially or otherwise – they would do well not to ask at all!  Instead, they chose to send a much-needed hug, that typically measures 16 inches in diameter , provides 8 slices and is available with an assortment of toppings!

May HaShem continue to bless these Air Traffic Controllers  with clarity of judgement, so that they are able to instruct as far as headings, descent and climbing. May HaShem continue to bless these Air Traffic Controllers with healthy hearts, so that they are able to cause the spirits of other Air Traffic Controllers to soar!

Cheap Jew

A resident of a shtetl east of Terrell came up to me as I was standing at a display in the Perot Science Museum last week (my grandchildren were visiting). What developed into a most interesting conversation for both of us began with his approaching me and initiating the it in the following manner: “I have a question I would like to ask you and I don’t know how to phrase it. I hope that you don’t take any offense.” After I encouraged him to ask me whatever he had on his mind and assured him that no offense whatsoever would be taken, he proceeded to inquire about the uncut strands of hair that my two older grandsons wear in front of their ears. Five minutes later, we were still talking, as I handed him my card and offered to drive out to his church and speak about Judaism and or Israel.

Despite wearing a kippah on my head at all times, I find it hard to believe that I’m the only one who has been approached by a non-Jew. Chances are that a goodly number of us have been approached by a total stranger who asked: “Are you Jewish?”
Please don’t take offense at such a question. I beg you!

Unless a non-Jew accosts us or even approaches us with “Why are Jews so cheap?” or “Why do Jews have all the money?” let not our hearts be troubled.  “Why are so many Jews, doctors, lawyers or accountants” ought not to be interpreted as being anti-Semitic. This is a legitimate question which deserves a legitimate answer. I highly doubt that any disrespect is meant by asking such a question. And a legitimate answer is that our European ancestors were forbidden to own land (farms) and work the land. Instead of concentrating on our brawn or manual dexterity, as Jews, we concentrated on our brain and our mental acuity. Incidentally, David Klein – whom I have known since I was fifteen – is a plumber in Oak Park, Michigan.

By virtue of our being Jews, we are all ambassadors to the outside world. It’s a position we never asked for or in all likelihood never wanted. But that’s life. As such, getting our noses out of joint when we perceive that there is some anti-Semitic undertone to a comment or question coming from a non-Jew can only make us look bad. Somebody asked us a question. Chances are that nothing was meant by it. And even if the question or comment reeked of anti-Semitism, we can only lose by lowering ourselves to the standards of the one who asked the question or made the comment. If we really want to make a statement, then let’s do so by ignoring the question or comment. No one likes to be ignored.

Anti-Semites rarely sound off at Jews. Anti-Semites typically sound off at other anti-Semites. That way, their views are validated. At best, anti-Semites mutter under their breath. Such was the case some twenty years ago, when I took the train into Manhattan to attend the annual Salute to Israel parade. The train was packed with scores of others traveling into New York for the very same purpose. As we walked out onto Seventh Avenue, a middle aged man walked toward us. It was clear that he knew who we were and where we were headed.  He so much as said so, as he muttered “f*****g Jews” while passing us on the sidewalk. It’s highly doubtful that he would have extended that very same “greeting” to our faces.

According to recent studies, 9% of Americans harbor anti-Semitic views. Stated differently, 91% of Americans harbor no such views. As a Jew, I can’t help but feel that it doesn’t get much better than that. As for that 9%, few if any of them have any desire to engage us in conversation. Anti-Semites have little, if anything, to say to us. Let’s not ruin it by being overly sensitive to the other 91% who mean no harm and no disrespect.

Shoot Blanks

How did things ever get so far? More people die by firearms in this country than by traffic fatalities. For the record, I am entirely pareve when it comes to guns, just as I am entirely pareve when it comes to cars (not really as far as cars, but that’s for another article). I neither maintain that we have a “HaShem given right” to prevent a normal rational person from legally obtaining a firearm nor do I maintain that we have a “HaShem given right” to prevent a normal rational person from legally obtaining driver’s license and/or a car. Unlike the vast majority of substandard legislators that we are plagued with in this country, I recognize that the issue is not, nor has it ever been, gun control. The issue is and has always been people control! And until our leaders recognize this, any legislation that they propose with regard to curbing mindless murders in this country will (at best) be a shot in the dark.
Together with countless other baby boomers, I grew up on The Rifleman, Have Gun Will Travel, Gun Smoke, Bonanza and Wanted Dead or Alive; together with countless other baby boomers, at the age of 5, I walked around with a replica pistol of the one carried by Josh Logan, aka Steve McQueen of Wanted Dead or Alive, along with a holster and an ample supply of caps for “shooting outlaws”. Yet, we baby boomers went through school without the slightest concern or fear that a fellow student would enter a classroom with a real firearm and create carnage. Why was that? Could it have been that our culture — State, Church and Home — stressed the sanctity of human life? Might it have been possible that human beings were considered to have had more worth than they do now? Or was it simply that it was totally unacceptable to take the life of an innocent human being?
Richard Gordon o.b.m. was a photographer of renown, who published a number of books of his works and had various exhibitions and showings of his photography. He was a gifted artist. I would say this even if he weren’t my cousin. Among Richard’s earlier works, dating back decades, was a picture of a nondescript store advertising toys and guns. Richard was prescient.
His commentary has become a fact of life in our society. We look at guns much the same way we look at toys. We collect AK 47’s much the same way we collect Pez dispensers from our childhood. But AK 47’s are not Pez dispensers. AK 47’s, as well as all other firearms, must be treated with the greatest respect. Where is the emphasis on the part of society for total and complete restraint with regard to firearms, unless it is extremely clear that you are in mortal danger and that using such a weapon is an act of self-defense? Where is the rule, to be repeated again and again, that such weapons are to be used only at firing ranges? Until American society imbues in its people respect and perhaps even fear when it comes to guns, Americans will continue to treat lethal weapons as toys, producing disastrous as well as devastating result.
For some time now, our society has done away with the idea of being held responsible for one’s own actions. A person who is diagnosed with terminal lung cancer after years of smoking two packs of cigarettes a day sues the tobacco company and wins! Someone buys a coffee “to go” from a fast food restaurant, stupidly places the cup of coffee between his thighs while driving (that’s why we were born with thighs, so that they can serve as cup holders) only to have the lid pop open causing the coffee to slosh and burn his thighs. The “victim” then sues the restaurant and wins! We live in a culture where a disgruntled employee (he was fired) comes back to where he was employed and empties dozens of bullets into his former boss and coworkers. Unless I’m wrong, employees have been fired ever since there has been employment. Yet, no matter how disgruntled fired employees may have been, they never resorted to such methods. Once upon a time in America, employees who were fired were taught to take a good hard look at themselves. And if, after careful determination, these terminated employees concluded that they were fired for no just cause, they were taught that the best way to get back at the scoundrel who fired them was to get an even better job! Only gangsters and psychos and cold blooded murderers take revenge with a rifle! When did it happen that being disgruntled became reason enough to blame others and then murder and create havoc? Until we are prepared to take responsibility for our feelings, moods and actions, American society will remain out of control.
Gun Control is nothing more than a smoke screen. Until we look toward people control, control of American values and self-control, we will continue to shoot blanks.