Being Jewish is a religion, but for many of us, it isn’t only a religion. In fact, for a lot for us, Judaism isn’t religious at all, but rather a commitment to a lifestyle. It entails a wide range of ethical and moral beliefs.
One of the things it includes — if you are of my generation — is a lingering belief that all non-Jews are secretly your enemy, no matter what they say to your face. This remains true even when you are married to a Christian and got married in a Christian church. And your kids don’t even consider themselves Jewish. Somewhere inside, some little piece of you is screaming “Remember the Inquisition and the Holocaust.”
It’s an angry and frightened little voice, always alarmed and ready to grab the Torah (like I own a real Torah, right?) and run for the caves.
My kids don’t have this voice in their heads or this fear because I did not bathe them in the blood of our tortured ancestors or the piles of corpses from the Holocaust. I didn’t push this on them because I thought it was time to let it go and move on.
My mother was an atheist. She did not believe in God or gods. Her bonds to Judaism were entirely ethnic and tribal. So are mine … but ethnicity and a fondness for our cuisine isn’t something one can always pass along.
Regardless, Judaism is a religion. When you are ethnically Jewish but practice no aspect of the religion, what do you pass to your children other than recipes and a totally irrational fear of non-Jews.
Your ethical and moral commitments can stand on their own. They don’t need a religious attachment. They ought to be a part of the mental armament of any sane person. Religious or not, you ought to know the difference between right and wrong.
I didn’t pass this on to my kid or grandchild because I thought it was time to end the terror and move on to a different world.
These days, though, I wonder if maybe I was precipitous. Just because I thought the danger ended, it reared up its monstrous little fanged head again. And suddenly, safety is not so safe.
Maybe it’s about more than recipes for matzoh balls. Hatred appears to live a lot longer than I imagined possible.
Last night, I got a note explaining that all my problems with WordPress deleting my site from the search engine along with all five writers — and 200 other followers who turned up missing yesterday — is because I do not write well enough. I am not generating enthusiasm by writing about exciting new subjects.
Apparently all the problems are actually MY fault. By not protecting the title of my blog and deleting me and the other writers and making us disappear from the engine (for what is now nearly three months) — that had nothing to do with it.
It’s all my fault. I’m not good enough.
I can’t begin to explain how this makes me feel. I’m not sure whether my primary emotion is anger or hurt. Or both. I do know that I’m not in any mood to write at the moment, so forgive me. I need to back off for a while.
At this point, I don’t know what to do or what I want to do. It’s not that I don’t love you all because I do — but I feel so damaged. In all of this, with all the reports and the back and forth with engineers, to be told there was no problem, never was a problem, and it was all my failure to write well enough to keep my audience.
Well. If that’s true, I have nothing more to give, so I’ll just slink off into my cave until I feel better about life.
I apologize to anyone I should be talking to. I just don’t feel like chatting right now.
I’ve been watching the Republicans trying to convince themselves and the world, yet again, that 2 + 2 = 5. An overtly political Republican Congressional memo was released recently that clearly states “A”. However, it is being touted as proof that “A” is false. Most of the country has not been taken in, but a majority of Republicans have been.
This is just the most recent example of a Republican misinformation campaign. This one is designed to prove that the entire intelligence community, all 17 agencies in the government, are all biased, corrupt and working together to overthrow the Trump government. This is a ludicrous, far-fetched and dangerous idea.
But so was the popular right-wing conspiracy theory about the Newtown School massacre. The conpiracists claimed that the massacre never really happened. Actors were hired to make it look real. It was faked to make Second Amendment gun advocates look bad. Hard to believe that people actually bought into this craziness. But many Republicans did.
Whatever happened to the rubric, ‘When you hear hooves, assume horses, not zebras’? What kind of person is willing, if not eager, to believe the convoluted conspiracy theory rather than the simple reality? Do you have to be somewhat paranoid yourself to believe this shit? Can you just be a low information person who never goes anywhere near critical thought?
I think you have to believe that people are horribly nefarious and at least a little bit out to get you. But you also have to so desperately want to cling to your beliefs that you will buy into anything that allows you to keep them, untarnished.
I strongly believe what I believe. But I critically evaluate the information I’m given both for and against my positions. I would get no comfort from a flimsy, outlandish theory that could not be verified, just because it bolstered my world view. I would analyze it and reject it as false or unsubstantiated. And move on.
So we’re back to what makes me reject the ridiculous theory and others embrace it. Maybe it’s that my most fervent belief is in the existence of absolute facts. I believe that there is a way to determine, definitively, what is real and what isn’t. Maybe others have a looser definition of ‘truth’ than I do. Maybe others don’t care if something is true once they choose to believe it.
Have you ever watched “America’s Got Talent”, or any other talent show? There are people out there who genuinely think they are great singers or dancers, or whatever. And they are, in fact, horrible. So horrible that they get booed by a huge audience and eviscerated by a panel of judges. Yet most of these performers leave the stage believing that everyone is wrong about them. That nobody sees or ‘gets’ their true talent.
That may be the answer to my question. People have a great capacity for self-deception. Particularly when there is a deep seeded need to perpetuate that deception.
People don’t want to be bothered informing themselves and finding actual facts to back up their beliefs. They just want to ‘feel’ that they know what they’re talking about, that they understand the world around them. Most important, people want to ‘believe’ that they are 100% right about their beliefs.
Everyone wants to think they are smart and have a good sense of humor. So they just ‘believe’ it. And they live happily ever after.
I don’t know why I’m writing this. I don’t know why I’m wasting both my time and yours. But, what the hell. As I’m writing this the news is still in full-time coverage of the latest mass shooting at a public school.
This time in Florida, not that it matters much. It could have been anywhere in the country. Hell, it has been anywhere in the country. Tomorrow it will be somewhere else. And of course, politicians, mostly Republicans, trotted out the same old crap. “Thoughts and prayers” and “now is not the time to talk about gun control”.
You know, the usual bullshit. One of Jimmy Kimmel’s writers posted all the Republican tweets next to the amount of money the NRA has given them. The average is around 3 million dollars. Except for Trump. They gave him 21 million. You can read it here.
I did notice one new thing this time. As the students were being led to safety by the police they all had their hands in the air.
Why? Well, they hadn’t caught the shooter yet and the police couldn’t trust anyone. There might be a second or third shooter amongst them. I thought the photo of the three-year-old girl practicing standing on the toilet seat because that’s what her preschool taught her to do “when the shooters come” was as sad as things could get. I was wrong.
When it was happening, the initial report was that one person was dead and 17 injured. Ellin’s first response was “Only one dead? That’s not so bad”. A few moments later she said “I can’t believe I just said that. I’m getting immune to this”. As it turned out, it wasn’t just one dead, it was all 17. Not the record, but the shooter sure gave it the old school try.
Instead I’m going to completely change the subject. I’m going to tell you a story. It’s a true story. It happened to me when I was in first grade. I was 6 years old. It was 1957. I grew up in Schenectady, New York. I went to Lincoln Elementary School.
It was one block away from the original Freihofer’s Bakery.
The bakery was local back then. Today you can order their products on Amazon. Every day at 3 pm, I would leave school and be enveloped in the amazing smell of freshly baked bread. It was awesome. They had horse-drawn carriages that delivered their baked goods right to your door. The horse that came up my street every day was named Tony.
My Grandpa used to follow Tony up the street everyday and scoop up Tony’s “droppings”. He used them to fertilize a tiny tree he planted in our back yard. Today the tree is over 50 feet tall. It’s over 60 years old. Tony made good fertilizer.
We only had three TV channels back then. CBS, NBC and ABC. The NBC channel, WRGB, had a daily afternoon show called “Bread Time Stories”. But everybody called it “The Freddie Freihofer Show”. It starred Uncle Jim Fisk.
His sidekick was a puppet called Freddie Freihofer.
They played cartoons, had a band and the show had an audience of kids.
It was basically a rip off of The Howdy Doody show. But we didn’t know that. What made this show different was they also had “Birthday Boys and Birthday Girls”. They got to sit in the front row. They each had their own special birthday cake. A Freihofer’s cake, or course.
At the end of the show all the kids would line up in front of a big box with a handle on it. Like on a slot machine. Each kid would pull the handle and get a prize. Freihofer’s baked goods! (Duh) The show was just a big infomercial, but me and all my friends didn’t know that. You have to realize that Freihofer’s made some really good stuff. Their chocolate chip cookies were the best in the world. Their sugar donuts where amazing. At school, we had a scale of best to worst. Chocolate chip first, oatmeal raisin second, sugar donuts third and so on.
But the main part of the show, the most amazing part of the show was “The Squiggle”. You see, Uncle Jim was a genius. He would give a kid a big piece of white art paper and a magic marker.
The kid would then make a random squiggly line on the paper. Then Uncle Jim would make his magic. He would look at the squiggle and say “Wow, you just drew a bunny rabbit. He would then draw around the random line and PRESTO! A bunny rabbit!
Forget Picasso, DaVinci, Van Gogh. They were nothing compared to Uncle Jim! I found out later in life that it was something that pretty much any first year art student can do. But who cares? It was a Squiggle!
I tell you all this because I was actually on the Freddy Freihofer show! My friend was having a birthday and his Mom got him on the show. He could bring one friend. He picked me! I was an instant celebrity at Lincoln Elementary School! I was going to be on “The Freddie Freihofer Show!” I was going to get a Squiggle! And a prize! Cookies? Donuts? Who knew?
Kids were asking for my autograph!
So, the day finally came and reality set in. I didn’t know it then, but the universe was giving me a heads up on what my future career in TV would be like.
First, when I got there I was put up in the farthest back row of the peanut gallery. I wasn’t “a birthday boy”. I was basically an extra to fill a seat. Second, my friend’s Mom had to actually buy the Birthday cake. No freebies from Freihofer’s. Before the show started a producer came out and promised us that if Uncle Jim didn’t make us a Squiggle during the show, he would stay, and we would all get one after the show. Phew, I was worried for a while there.
So, the show started and out came Uncle Jim. Looking and acting much like my Dad and my Uncle Dick used to act on New Year’s Eve. We did the whole show, and of course, I didn’t get my Squiggle. I mean, I was up in the nose bleed section. But I wasn’t worried. The producer said we’d get one after the show. The show ended and we all lined up in front of the big prize machine to get our prize. They ran the credits over us. I was last in line. The credits ended before I got my turn. I then experienced what in the TV biz is called “a union shutdown.” That’s where 5 seconds after you go off the air, the crew shuts everything off and leaves the building immediately. Whoosh! Gone. Everybody. Including Uncle Jim.
So, there I was, standing in the dark, suddenly realizing I was not getting a Squiggle. But, it was OK. I mean, I still had my prize! By the time I got to the prize box I was all alone. In a dark TV studio. I pulled the handle. Oh, the suspense! I might not be able to bring a Squiggle to school, but I’d have my prize! What would I be sharing with my friends? Chocolate Chip cookies? Oatmeal Raisin? Hell, even sugar donuts would be OK. It seemed to take forever, but finally, out came my prize! And what was it?
A PACKAGE OF ENGLISH MUFFINS!
English Muffins!? Are you kidding me??? I have to go back to my school mates with no Squiggle and a package of friggin’ English Muffins. I say friggin’ because I’m sure if I said fucking English Muffins back then, my Mom would wash my mouth out with soap. It was a thing back then.
So, with my head down, I slowly walked out of the dark studio, back into the sunlight. A package of English muffins in one hand, and no Squiggle in the other.
But I still got to leave school every day to the smell of freshly baked bread. I never had to practice standing on a toilet seat. AndI never had to leave school with my hands over my head.
You think you know someone. You hang out with them. Exchange emails, jokes, anecdotes. Maybe you even work with them. One day, out of the blue, you discover they are fundamentalist Christians who think you are going to Hell. Or a hard-core right-wing Republican who voted for you-know-who. Maybe a conspiracy theorist or a proud believer in the upcoming zombie apocalypse.
I lived in Jerusalem for almost 9 years. It probably should not be a big surprise that you meet a lot of people who are sure they are Jesus Christ come back to finish His work on Earth. One of them worked at the local pizza joint and seemed perfectly normal, until in the middle of a casual conversation, he would drop a bomb about his mission and there you were, transported to wacko central.
I had a casual friend who was a piano player. He sang and played at fancy hotel lounges, like the Hilton Hotel lounge. He was, like me, an American. So it was inevitable we would meet. I did his horoscope for him because in those days, I did horoscopes for an awful lot of people.
We struck up a chatty little relationship. One night, he called and invited me over. He had something important to tell me.
Important? Our relationship consisted of reminiscing about life in the U.S. in the 1960s — and then, there was his horoscope. I was (coincidentally) the astrology columnist and managing editor of a short-lived English-language weekly. Please, let’s not discuss astrology or my psychic abilities (or lack thereof). You don’t want to know and I don’t want to tell you.
Having nothing better to do at the time, I walked over to his house (just around the corner) and we got to talking. Suddenly, I knew. He was going to tell me one of two things: he was an alien from on another planet … or … he was Jesus Christ.
It turned out to be the latter. Yet one more Jesus. He wanted me, because of my brilliant psychic abilities, to be his Paul and spread the word. I told him his timing was off. I promised to advise him when the right moment arrived. Then I fled into the night and home.
He was one of several people who convinced me there was no future for me in the psychically predictive arts.
Then there was the guy I worked with at a high-tech company in Rhode Island. One day he told me he was going to quit his job and move to an underground bunker in anticipation of the coming American apocalypse. I hadn’t even done his horoscope. Our relationship went rapidly downhill.
These surprises have made me wary of new friends who don’t come with references from other friends. I’m afraid of what might be revealed when we get to know each other better. The thing about people who believe in cabals — or that they were dropped from an alien space craft or will be leaving on one shortly — are that they are sure God has assigned them a mission and you cannot argue with them.
You can’t point out the incongruities and contradictions of their beliefs. They believe what they believe and that’s that. Facts are irrelevant. They ignore evidence. They know everything they need to know and given where they’re coming from, that’s probably enough. For them.
I haven’t personally met a real nutter lately, so I think I’ve got an opening in my tribe. Any applicants?