Thursday, August 17, 2017

Don't Play With the Nazis! Laugh At Them.

Dear Amy Schumer, Aziz Ansari, Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle, Eddie Izzard, Henry Cho, Janeane Garofalo, Jerry Seinfeld, Kevin Hart, Louis C.K., Margaret Cho, Maz Jobrani, Patton Oswalt, Sarah Silverman, Tig Notaro and Wanda Sykes:

America needs your help, right now. And we need all of your funny friends and colleagues who I did not name (I just chose the sixteen who make me laugh the most, and who also represent so many demographic groups hated by the Nazis) but don’t have room to include.

I have been reading about a number of places around the country where groups are applying for permits to have demonstrations similar in nature (to varying degrees) to the “Unite the Right Rally” in Charlottesville, VA last weekend. Some will be held this weekend. An old friend from my high school youth group days who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area had posted about one such permit request on Facebook. She was joining others who were asking friends to contact various public officials connected to the permitting process to urge them not to grant the permit.

Here is my response to her:
So when the Nazis marched in Skokie, Illinois in 1977, I lived in the area as a teenager. Skokie at the time had a huge Jewish population, including a lot of survivors. All of the youth movements joined the adult organizations in deliberating what to do in advance of the rally.

I will skip the long story. We all eventually agreed with ACLU that in America, we have to let them march and speak. But in America, we don't need to listen. We went out of our way as a community to empty the streets, leaving a dozen idiots with a megaphone on display to a bunch of journalists. And a handful of Kahane followers from the JDL. (At least that's who showed up when they finally marched in Chicago the next year. They never marched in Skokie even though they won the right to do so.)

It was beautiful. I am not critical of those who went to Charlottesville to protest the hatred. I stand with them. And if that is the decision in New York or Boston, I will stand there as well.

But I do wonder how much coverage these anti-American idiots would have gotten if there was no one for them to fight.

Maybe the best move would be to have an anti-Hatred comedy festival across the bay from these mouth breathers. Let them play in the park by themselves while everyone with a brain and true love for America and all it stands for and promises, with the whole spectrum of skin tones, faiths, identities, political preferences and countries of ancestral origin represented comes to hear the funniest people in America tell jokes about the fools who "don't want to be replaced?" (And who wants their places anyway? I am sure they smell by now.)
I do believe that these feckless idiots (yes, I am judging) have every right to march and speak. The Boston Common or a Park in San Francisco or the public land in Mountain View, CA in view of the Google campus are theirs as much as they are ours. And these open spaces are not crowded theaters. No one is shouting fire.

We love the Constitution and the First Amendment. They give us our lives and meaning as Americans. And if one group can silence another in the public arena, then in the words of Sir Paul McCartney, we are “Back in the USSR.” So yes they get to hold their little rallies.

So Amy, Aziz, Chris, Dave, Eddie, Henry, Janeane, Jerry, Kevin, Louis, Margaret, Maz, Patton, Sarah, Tig and Wanda (and friends) – this is where you all come in. We need you more than ever. We need you to put on a Summer of Love and Laughter. Many of you have been tweeting your outrage (and making us laugh). Let’s take the show on the road!

Maybe in small groups you can set up in a public space ten miles away from wherever the Nazis, White Supremacists and their fellow idiots (let's not give them the cover of calling them the "Alt-Right") get their permits. Invite everybody who stands against them to come out for a few hours of laughter. Invite food truck owners to serve. Invite other artists to perform. And give the Nazis an empty space.

In his commentary about the Charlottesville events and why David Duke and the Nazis like Donald Trump, John Oliver suggested that Nazis were a lot like cats. If they like you, it is only because you are feeding them.

So come on comedians – Unite! Starve the Nazis for attention. And help us laugh at them.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Neshama of Baseball - a New Season

A busy winter has kept me away from the blog. But it is time for spring, Pesach and Baseball (although it looks like opening day is a wash for the Cubs and Cards. One of my favorite Cardinals fans is Stephanie Crawley, who is a rabbinic student at HUC-JIR and who interns at our congregation. This was a D'var Torah she gave on November 4, the week before the election and the week after the Cubs won the world series. She agreed to let me post it for opening day. Please enjoy!

Each year at this time, Jews read the story of Noah, of the terrible flood, and of the miracle of the rainbow, which signified a better future for humanity. 

On Wednesday night, an estimated 40 million people sat on couches, on bar stools, and on stadium seats, witnessing the Chicago Cubs make history.

For Noah, It rained for 40 days, and 40 nights.

For the Cubs, I did the math, and turns out that if you count the days, their 108-season World-Series losing streak amounts to just about 40 total years of baseball played.

For 40 years of day games and 40 years of night games, it rained on the Cubs.

Earlier this week, when the Cubs were down 3 games to 1, it seemed like the deluge of despair wasn’t going to end.

Noah anticipated his salvation. He had hope, sending out a raven to search for dry land.

The raven never returned, but like the Cubs’ fans, Noah didn’t stop hoping.

Noah sent out a dove who returned with an olive branch,

and the Cubs came back to tie up the series 3-3.

Noah’s ark finally came to rest on dry land after 7 months, on the 17th day of the month.

And the Cubbies finally broke their curse in the Game 7 of the world series, in their, wait for it, 17th postseason game.

Coincidence? Almost certainly. Creative mathematics? Maybe.
Or, perhaps, a sign of the magic that baseball and Judaism share.

Wednesday night was the stuff of legends, a game for the ages, baseball at its best—two underdog teams battling it out in a fantastical, impossible journey to win it all in the end.

Hearts jumped in simpatico as we watched home runs, stolen bases, errors, and even… a rain delay.

We were attending, what the classic baseball movie, Bull Durham, poetically describes: “the Church of Baseball.”

For as long as I have been a Jew, I have been a baseball fan. I am not unique in this respect. Much has been written about the love affair between baseball and the Jews. This passion can be attributed to the history of an immigrant community hungry to be a part of American culture.

But it is more than just historical correlation. Rabbi Jonathan Cohen enumerates the numerous parallels between baseball and Judaism: “both venerate tradition, both emphasize community, both attach importance to special foods (think of ballpark franks, and don’t forget the peanuts and Cracker Jacks). Both have their rituals – e.g., the ceremonial throwing out of the first pitch, the seventh-inning stretch. There are even baseball “holidays,” such as the All-Star game and the World Series.”[1]

One of my favorite jokes asserts that even God is a baseball fan. How do we know? Because the Torah starts with “In the Big Inning…”

But the most important commonalities have less to do with the superficial similarities like traditional foods or dates on the calendar. The parallels exist on a more spiritual plane. Love for a team, or a sport, like faith, can often seem irrational. A pure rationalist might look at the outpouring of tears and celebrations that took place on Wednesday night, or at today’s parade in Chicago and deem them “silly.”
“It is only a game,” they might say. “What’s all the fuss?”

My answer to that would be, that, at their best, baseball and Judaism are about experiencing the ineffable, about transcending the mundane. The religious or spiritual resides [in a domain beyond words.] In an age of gigabytes and picoseconds, we tend to live too quickly and to miss much that we might see. Baseball, as it turns out, can help us develop the capacity to see through to another, sacred space,” writes former NYU Chancellor, John Sexton, who taught a yearly seminar entitled Baseball as a Road to God, which he later turned into a book.[2]

Baseball provides an opportunity “to transcend the mundane experience of everyday life…”[3] Sexton writes.  “While the teams and players on the field may change each autumn, the game’s evocative power is continuous. Opening Day in the spring and the World Series in the fall are the bookends of baseball’s liturgical time, and within the rituals of each season, fans are converted to believers…and events become part of a mythology, forever remembered and repeated with the solemnity of the most beloved sacred stories. And inevitably, each season brings its moments of heightened awareness—divergent from ordinary time and place—in which some discover a connection to something deeper than the ordinary. Such moments are remembered not merely for what they literally were but for what they evoked in those who experienced them.”[4]

If we just changed a little bit of the vocabulary, I could make this very same statement about Judaism.

Our team is Judaism. The worship-ers and synagogues may change over time, but every spring, Passover still arrives, and we still have Rosh Hashanah every fall, we repeat the same stories over and over, and add our own stories to Judaism’s sacred narrative. And from time to time, when it really works, we may experience moments of heightened awareness, some kind of connection beyond our ordinary experiences.

We need these rituals in order to experience moments of ineffable power. As much as we may try, we cannot rationalize the feeling of 100,000 people holding their breath as they wait to see if the wind will carry the long fly ball into the stands for a home-run.

Nor can we articulate the awesome power of hearing the blast of the shofar, or watching a Bar or Bat mitzvah chant from the very same book that our ancestors read.
This world series brought joy, comfort, and escape in a difficult time in our divided nation.

In his famous speech in the film Field of Dreams, James Earl Jones’s character declares the saliency of Baseball in our nation: “The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It's been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and it could be again.”

I don’t know what the outcome of Tuesday’s election will be. But I take comfort in the fact that in 149 days, my beloved St. Louis Cardinals will repeat the sacred cycle, and have another chance on opening day.

There will always be another year, more awe-filled moments, and a reason to hope.

[1]Sermon by Cohen, Rabbi Jonathan. "Baseball and Jewish Values.
[2] Sexton, John, Thomas with Oliphant and Peter J. Schwartz. Baseball As a Road to God: Seeing Beyond the Game. New York: Penguin Publishing Group, 2013. p. 5.
[3] Sexton, 9.
[4] Sexton, 14.