Anne Frank is a Syrian girl

Screen Shot 2016-08-27 at 7.20.19 AMThe article reveals an important point about Jewish teachings and ethics, a point that I have been at pains to make for many years. Jewish values as expressed in the Torah are constructed in such a way that applying them forces us to open them up as we think, study and interpret them. The direction of this opening seems invariably to be in the direction of greater justice, inclusivity and universality. Yes, in the world of Torah, the truth of God’s word drives us toward metaphor, and the truth of metaphor expands the domain of meaning in which we recognize that God’s word is true. —Rabbi Kerry Baker

Read referenced article: Anne Frank Today Is a Syrian Girl – The New York Times

Abrahamic Value of Hospitality

Screen Shot 2016-08-25 at 6.04.41 PMHere’s a great modern-day example of the Abrahamic value of hospitality, a value shared by both the Jewish and Islamic traditions. —Rabbi Kerry Baker

Referenced article:

Bernie Sandwiches Won New Hampshire

Subway, Jersey Mike’s, Thundercloud, Jimmy John’s, et al…I love HRC as a (perpetually) stereotypically disappointing and guilt-inducing Jewish mother. Who else supports her children by adopting a Christlike acceptance of suffering: “Why have you forsaken me?” or alternately “Don’t worry about me; I’ll just sit in the dark.”? —Rabbi Kerry Baker

My Fellow Citizens…

Nostalgic for opposition to fascism? Searching for prophetic voices in hindsight? Although thoughtful people 90 years ago had little impact, do you yet hope that the same kind of people will have impact now? Some of us have been here before, and we’re not holding our breath. We’ve been quoting chapter and verse of this text for many years to small effect; now, friends, it”s your turn. —Rabbi Kerry Baker

D’var Torah: Parashat Balak

On 7/23/16, Rabbi Kerry Baker led Torah study on Parashat Balak at Congregation Beth Israel in Austin, Texas, focusing on this passage. Here’s the entire audio file from the session:

“Balaak, the son of Zippor, who was king of Moab at that time, sent messengers to Bilaam, the son of Beor in Pethor, which is by the Euphrates, in the land of his kinfolk, to invite him saying, ‘There is a people that came out of Egypt; it hides the earth from view, and it is settled next to me. Come then and put a curse on this people for me, since they are too numerous for me; perhaps I can thus defeat them and drive them out of the land. For I know that he whom you bless is blessed indeed, and he whom you curse is cursed!”’ —Numbers 22:4-6

And here’s the handout for the study, giving ancient and modern views on this parashat:

The Prospect of a Trump Victory

A section of Dana Milbank’s account of a Trump rally at the start of the GOP convention: “Dozens of attendees wore ‘Hillary for Prison’ T-shirts. One sign that said ‘Latinos for Trump’ featured a bumper sticker declaring ‘9/11 was an inside job.’ The flip side had the message ‘Hillary for Prison’ (the first ‘i’ was dotted with a Jewish star and Muslim crescent) and a bumper sticker declaring fluoride ‘poison in the tap water.’”

Milbank’s general point is that the Trump campaign supports, and at the convention the campaign features, fringe loonies such as Alex Jones and their bizarre conspiracy theories. Trump himself has actually appeared on Jones’ show many times to promote the idea that President Obama is not an American citizen. A prominent Trump’s consigliere who appeared at this very rally, Stone, recited the list of the “greatest hits” of American political paranoia, from calling the 9/11 attack an “inside job” perpetrated by the US government to the conspiracy to undermine America through the introduction of fluoride into the nation’s drinking water. This latter has been a favorite of the John Birch Society since 1953.

The presence of such mentally destructive high jinks should give us pause when it shapes a presidential campaign, and is not disavowed but promoted by the candidate himself. And the connection of this mishegas to anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim sentiment should not be surprising: in the 1920s the nascent Nazi party was ideologically influenced by extreme “nationalist” groups such as the Thule Society. Taken together these groups promoted a strange but powerful mixture of conspiracy theory, twisted anthropology, nativism, pseudo-science and occult thinking, characteristics which mark the groups that have come together to shape and support the emerging GOP under Trump. Add to this the cult of personality Trump projects and you have the very witches’ brew that once gave rise to Hitler and now gives rise to Trump.

The argument that Trump can’t be held responsible for every insane expression or immoral act by his supporters is fatuous. Was a naive German nation simply cleverly seduced and manipulated by Hitler, or did the German volk find in Hitler an ingenious, perfect tool for exploiting their fears, prejudices, cultural vulnerabilities and national characteristics? Perhaps Hitler did not prey upon a passive German population; rather, perhaps the German people and Hitler found in each other the perfect partner in the pursuit of mutually assured destruction. Perhaps this is why we are so unsettled and disturbed by Trump’s candidacy and the prospect of a Trump victory. If Trump projected resonances of the buffoon Mussolini, we would give any of this a second thought. —Rabbi Kerry Baker

We Take Care of Our Own


I want to thank Eileen Ladd, one of our erstwhile Thursday Torah study group (generously hosted by Cong. Beth Israel), for sending out this article by David Brooks. His analysis is a signal example of the embrace of paradox which is such a distinguishing characteristic of Jewish thinking from the Bible to today. Do I have to point out that Mr. Brooks is Jewish? And that Jewish culture, its concepts, values and development, are enmeshed with human culture in myriads of powerful and subtle ways? —Rabbi Kerry Baker

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