Monday, May 27, 2013

Being Jewish: It's not just about religion

Another trip to Israel and the dichotomy surrounding is still pronounced and prevalent.  It also comes at a time when I find myself exploring Jewishness in the context of race and religion; a confounding concept to many non-Jews.  A concept that seems to be confounding many Israelis too.

What is Jewishness?  A religion, a genetic marker, a way of life?  I have written previously about being a Good Jew (see ), but is there a scientific explanation too?  There have been genetic studies that trace an Ashkenazi gene throughout millennia, and I can remember being confused by the concept that Jewish people had a higher risk to certain diseases than others.  How could religion make someone more likely to contract a diseases?  And yet recent studies have traced the male Y chromosomal DNA to the fertile crescent and the female Mitochondial DNA which, according to Behar et al (2006), says 40% of all Ashkenazis can trace their lineage to just four women.  Let’s face it, how many of us have said “Funny, she doesn’t look Jewish.”

If we agree there is a genetic “Jewishness”, does that address the question of a Jewish race?  Was Hitler’s motivation religion based?  There is no evidence that Hitler embarked on a holy war, but instead embarked on a purification war.  A war intent on the  elimination of  what he referred to as ‘sub races’, including Jews, Slavs, and the Roma and Sinti Gypsies.  That’s not to say that religious-based persecution has not been common, but often the hatred has been a question of race, including the stereotypes of being subversive, money hungry, or devious.  Do you hear such specific attacks against Catholics? Buddhists?  Hindi?  I am often asked if I am Italian due in part to my Mediterranean features, and when I respond, “No, I’m Jewish”, the immediate reaction is one of confusion.  After all, Jewish is not a place, it’s a religion.  But in the context of ancient races such as the Arab people, individuals will connect with a racial, before a national identity, and sometimes both.

Which brings me to the Secular Jew.  Oxymoron right?  Well, not necessarily.  Spend a Friday night in Tel Aviv and you will see bars and restaurants filled with Israeli Jews having  a great time.  Yes during Shabbat.  How can that be?  For one thing, there is a nationalistic identity for Israelis that supersedes a religious identity, a secular view that saw its seed sown by Herzl in the 19th century.  But are Israelis the only secular Jews?  I doubt that.  I am sure I am not alone when I relate more to the traditions of being Jewish rather than the religious aspects of being Jewish.  This, I am sure, is confusing to many and for some time confounded me.

But this is also becoming confusing for many Israelis too.  Theodor Herzl envisioned a state for Jews, a state where anti-Semitism could not touch them, even in societies where Jews were well established, if not assimilated.  But in a recent editorial in Haaretz, the future of Israel was questioned:  Zionism dreamed of a state for the Jews, not a Jewish state: a refuge for members of the Jewish people, not a state with an official religion like Muslim Saudi Arabia. The Balfour Declaration promised a national home, not a religious one. On Israeli identity cards, "Jewish" describes a nationality.  And yet members of the Netanyahu government want to see a resurgent “Jewish Identity Administration” in lock step with the “Religious Services Ministry”.  As a Jew, nothing scares me more than this idea of a Jewish state; a state where the last remaining traces of tolerance and inclusion are replaced with intolerance. 

To me Jewishness is more than DNA or the Talmud.  It’s not only about lighting candles on Hanukkah or keeping kosher.  It is about never accepting the status quo, it’s about seeking wisdom, it’s about never forgetting our past so that it is never repeated, it is about asking why, how come, what if, and who says so?  It is honoring our elders but remaining wary of blind faith.  It is walking in another person’s shoes to get to get to know the person.  And of course it’s about kvetching.

Religion, Race, DNA, and culture.  How about all of the above?



Sunday, May 12, 2013

A Loss of Clarity in a Confusing World

Americans have a hard time dealing with nuance.  We love black and white and we need clarity on good guys versus bad guys. Maybe it’s the byproduct of Hollywood’s Cowboys and Indians movies, professional wrestling’s heels versus baby faces, or because we have been told to ‘root root root for the home team.’ And it certainly doesn’t help when President George W. Bush tells the world “you’re either with us or against us.”  Seemingly, during the 1st half of the 20th century things indeed were simpler, we fought the Huns, the Nazis, and the Japanese.  We were attacked and responded with fierce determined force; it was black and white.  But things started getting cloudier soon after, and perhaps ignoring President Eisenhower’s dire warning of the ‘military industrial complex’ we chose to rely almost exclusively on military solutions as opposed to diplomatic solutions.  We had no long game, just short game. And as we have seen in the last twenty years, that has become a critical flaw in our thinking and foreign policy in the rapidly globalized hyper connected world.  Nowhere is that as obvious than in the Muslim world.

I am not arguing for isolation, pacifism, or abdication of our global responsibility and ignoring our national interests.  I simply believe we need to do more listening (less talking), more alliance building, and perhaps more emulating the Chinese.  What?  Yeah it seems, the Chinese have adopted the position that they’ll simply wait for us to enter every middle east, African, or southwest Asian conflict guns blazing, raise the ire of the local populace, and then they come in to clean up with reconstruction and economic aid.  Our blood, sweat, and tears, and the Chinese and others (Turks, Russians, Iranians, Europeans, etc.) reap the rewards.

Our foreign policy has become too simplistic and jingoistic; we have taken the adage “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” and created a foreign policy based on a phrase more suited to a game of Risk where the long term is a few dice rolls away.   Our short term thinking may be the result of our relative inexperience as the global leasers on the foreign stage, our need for instant gratification, or own history of being able to get things done (a skill that seems to be declining).   As former Secretary of Defense Gates said to Bob Scheiffer, we haven’t been effective since the end of the Cold War when every president, Democrat and Republican, carried on the mission of containing the Soviets.  Alas it was black and white.  Now we suffer from habitual mission creep as we contend with the abstract versus the concrete, the nebulous versus the solid, and the clear versus the cloudy.

We armed the mujahedeen to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan and we know how that turned out.  We armed Saddam Hussein in his war against Iran and well you know the rest of that story.  We trained and armed rebel forces in Algeria only to see the French have to fight these same guys in Mali 10 years later.  We invaded Afghanistan even though no Afghanis were involved in 9/11. 

We have propped up dictatorships in Iran, Egypt, Central Asia, South America, and Central America and have paid the price for sponsoring and funding such hegemony.  A decade after the Iraq invasion, we still don’t know if we created a worse situation for the people, what we do know, our reason for going was a lie, and in the process we stirred up a hornets nest. 

No, the clarity of World War II has been replaced by the confusing Muslim world.  Fighting the axis, our allies shared our values, beliefs, history, and culture; they were our friends before, during, and after the war, not so much today. 

One things seems for certain, just like in wrestling the guy we boo today, we cheer tomorrow and vice versa.  Too bad the real world isn’t as choreographed and scripted like Wrestlemania.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Tuesday's Tidbits: A Political PuPu Platter

·         What happens when your national cyber alert center gets hacked?

·         Want to know why USPS is in free fall?  Bad processes, ineptitude, and worse attitude at too many branches.

·         Chris Christie could lose 200 pounds.  It’s called the Mitt Romney distancing surgery.

·         There were 26,000 reported cases of sexual assault in the U.S. Armed Forces.  If there was ever an organization in desperate need of reform….

·         Meanwhile at the Air Force, its head of sexual assault prevention Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski, was charged with sexual battery.

·         Progress comes in the form of negotiation and compromise.  When the Tea Party crazed GOP proudly calls itself the “Party of No”, they chose stagnation over growth.

·         No one likes paying taxes, but it’s time to end the internet state sales tax holiday.  E-commerce has moved from nascent to mature.  Heck even Amazon realizes that.

·         If more sales move from e-commerce to traditional brick and mortar stores, one would expect employment to increase as the latter typically employs 2 workers for every 1 e-commerce worker.

·         The above notwithstanding, I would not bet on a big shift from e-commerce to store shopping due to the sales tax law.  The convenience factor will always be a significant driver to internet shopping.

·         Kim Jong-Un has quietly backed away from the brink.  What won’t get reported was the Obama Administration use of diplomacy with China. 

·         As smart as some people are, it amazes me that so many can’t see that there is a war within Islam and we constantly stumble into the middle of it.

·         Veterans waiting nearly a year to receive their benefits is a national embarrassment.  If the Bush administration were in power it would be getting 100x the press coverage.  The Obama administration should be ashamed.

·         The least religious and most liberal states in the U.S. have the best healthcare, education, and the most start-ups.

·         When can we expect Mark Sanford to get named by Boehner to the House Ethics Committee?

·         The very members of Congress who attack Ben Bernanke for aggressive Fed monetary policy action are the same ones who have done nothing on fiscal policy

·         In a hundred years when our army is equipped with Star Trek like Phasers, the Wayne LaPierre’s of the 22nd century will be clinging to their AR-15’s.

·         The Tsarnaevs had one gun that fateful night in Watertown.  Meanwhile Police fired over 300 rounds of ammunition and in the process likely killed one of their own.  So when Wayne LaPierre asks how many Bostonians wish they had guns that night, my guess is very few.

·         Two (2) three year olds have been fatally shot in recent days.  I guess that’s the price of the 2nd Amendment.

·         Mike Huckabee says Benghazi attack was worse than Watergate and President Obama should resign.  This logorrheic hack is as politically astute as Arnold Ziffel.