Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A blue candle burns

When your sailor goes to sea you burn a blue candle. As his ship sails you hope he will catch a glimpse of the flame. Our son is about to set sail and we want him to know that in this home a blue candle burns for him.

Monday, November 21, 2011


"... democracy is now but a term for the various means by which the few govern the many."
Jonathan Clark, in a review of a new book on Thomas Paine's Common Sense, by Sophia Rosenfeld (Harvard Press 2011) Times Literary Review November 11, 2011, p. 12.

See also, Al Jazeera's excellent piece on the Koch brothers at

Sunday, August 21, 2011


My love she speaks like silence ...
She knows there’s no success like failure
And that failure’s no success at all.
Bob Dylan, Love Minus Zero, 1965

In Judaism there is the concept of rav hamuvhak - the identifying teacher. For example, one thinks of Plato as the student of Socrates or Margaret Mead as the student of Franz Boaz. In the world that I come from the teacher is the master of the student and the student bears the master’s mark. Thus, Israel Salanter was the student Rav Yosef Zundel who in turn was the student of Rav Chaim Volozin - as I am the student of my teachers, Rav Zechariah Fendel and Professor Jerry Hirsch.

Success for a teacher is to have students who bear his mark. In that sense, I have failed. But, as my father taught me, by sheer repetition, “we live in hope.” I still have work to do. Each day I shovel sixteen tons and what do I get? Another day older and deeper in debt. St. Peter don’t you call me, cause I can’t go. I owe my soul to the company store.
Merle Travis, Sixteen Tons, 1946.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Databases and DOplomas

Re: Renewal of the Ferris Library subscription to the Proquest Historical Newspapers Database.

Ferris State University currently subscribes to the six most important newspapers in the country including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor, the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times. Over the past seven years Ferris students have accessed these databases 112,566 times. But these are hard times and the tenured historians have been asked to help our librarians as they face the “hard decisions” that have to be made. The question is, which ones can we do without? We have also been asked to suggest areas where more money needs to be spent to bolster any significant gaps.

One of the many Ferris billboards on US 131 reminds us that at Ferris students don’t get diplomas, they get DOplomas. The cost of these billboards, like the cost of our databases continue to rise. It is important for us to remember that without these billboards we would not be able to attract the DOploma seekers who pay our salaries. It is because of these billboards that Ferris is the fastest growing university in Michigan. Our local paper recently headlined a story on declining enrollments among Education majors, apparently because there are no jobs in Michigan for teachers. Our History Ed majors don’t need databases, they need jobs and the way Michigan is going to recover from our current slump is by slashing our education budgets, cutting teacher salaries and eliminating databases so that we can afford tax breaks for business. And it’s working. Forbes magazine recently reported that Detroit had a higher rate of increase in millionaires that San Jose! Last year alone Detroit saw an increase of 4% in the number of millionaires. Teachers don’t stimulate the economy, tax breaks do. It is obvious that we need lower taxes, not more teachers. That is why I have converted all my history courses into The Barry Mehler Show. I don’t need databases or even books, the show depends exclusively on YouTube videos. My focus is entertainment, not education. I urge our librarians to cancel all of our database subscriptions so that we can bolster our billboard advertising to insure a steady stream of students interested in DOplomas. Furthermore, cancelling these subscriptions would have the added benefit of giving our students more time for their Facebook pages.
[Forbes, America’s Fastest Growing Millionaire Cities 7/14/11:].

ps. No historical databases were used in writing this essay.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Teaching Kindergarten in Abu Dahbi

Navigating the "madcap" Abu Dahbi housing market can be a challenge. Fortunately, this kindergaten teacher is given a 65K housing allowance. But she will have to hurry and straight from a fourteen hour flight, she looks at 3 apartments in a single day. She rents a spectacular luxury apartment a few blocks from the Mediterranean. In Abu Dhabi, education is important.

Check it out, America has become a third class nation with a collapsing housing market and educational system. The only thing that we still excel in is our nuclear submarines and other military technology.

For the entire program:
or a snip from youtube.

We are a civilzation in decline pretending that all we need is a tea party. That might have worked in 1774, it is delusional in 2011.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Defending White Supremacy

The Sacred and Profane:
Class Assignment for the Fourth of July Weekend for my American History classes.

Robert E. Lee believed that Virginia was the nearest thing to a Godly kingdom that could be found on earth. Certainly, Northern society had lost it’s organic connection to God. It was a materialist culture. The South was a spiritual culture. It was wisely governed by a nobility of white men, just as God had ordained that it should be. The negro, cursed by God as the descendants of Cain and cursed again by Noah as the descendants of Canaan, were at the bottom of this Godly society - as they ought to be. God certainly could not want the negro raised to an equal level with the white man. It was unthinkable. The fabric of reality made up of all the facts made it unthinkable, but only for whites. For blacks it was more than thinkable, it was dreamable, but for most only as a reward in the world to come - swing low sweet chariot, coming for to carry me home! Even slaves are caught up in the fabric of reality in which they are glued. Slaves internalize the values of the dominate society, just as everyone else does. From the King on top to the slave at the bottom, everyone internalizes the values of the society.

More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette. They could have claimed, more lawyers smoked camels or more truck drivers... the fact, the real fact, was that for decades, Camels was the favorite cigarette of Americans, this American included. Yes, I will say it even now that the “facts” have all been changed thanks to our paternalist overloads who control thought - I will say it even now, I smoked Camels because it was a high quality, no bull shit, smoke. Fuck filters. Did I know then what I know now, that smoking is bad for your health? What kind of idiot do you think I am, of course I knew. I was an athlete. I trained hard and I knew exactly what cigarettes did - they crippled you. Yet, I smoked. Why? Because I wanted an A on the exam and I was staying up all night smoking and drinking coffee. And here I am professor Mehler. You see my point. Smoke Camels and you too can become a Jewish professor of history. I am not sorry I smoked Camels. You won’t be either. Take the Camels challenge today. Smoke Camels for 30 days and see if your throat doesn’t feel better!

Last season, I asked audience members to defend slavery and many of them simply refused. It was like I asked them to do something that they knew was wrong. You don’t want to think about things that you shouldn’t think about because you know before you start thinking where you are supposed to end up. And since you already know the answer, there is no longer any reason to think about the question. Might as well turn out the lights and go back to Facebook - somebody might have noticed me.

Remember this: You are unique, just like everybody else. You are just like everybody else. You don’t need to think. Just follow instructions and take notes. So, take note: Slavery is good. The negro is the descendant of Cain and Canaan, twice cursed by God. Don’t blame me for these propositions. I am one of those chosen by God to rule as your Emergency Manager sent here by Gov. Snyder to fire you’re Mayor. You don’t need a Mayor or a City Council. The best way to solve these fiscal problems is to bring in someone who has no stake in the community and is not accountable to anyone in the community. The EM’s job is to cut the budget and fleece you of millions before he disappears into the sunset with no liability.

George Washington asked, “Shall we become slaves, like the negro, over whom we rule with such arbitrary sway?” So, what are you, man or mouse? white man or negro? Get your head out of the mud and start thinking like a slaveholder. Sit back with a Camel and a shot of Jack and let your mind wander across the historical horizon. Despite everything you ever were taught - IT IS OK TO THINK. Don’t tell me slavery is bad and therefore I can’t imagine how to defend it. You are an attorney and I am your client. It doesn’t matter what you think. You have to defend me. And to do that you have to suspend your judgment. I know that is hard to do. Do it anyway. Do it because I’m telling you to do it and I’m your teacher. This is your homework assignment: Suspend your god-damn judgment... and come with me to the world outside your head. You will discover what a very small world you live in and you will begin a journey that will make your little world bigger. If you work hard at it, you too could someday become a old Jewish Professor of History teaching in a cesspool of intolerance for thought or provocation.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Managers Excepted

“Der Jude Kann nur judisch denken. Screibt er Deutsch… aber judisch denkt, is ein Verrater” - Heidegger, 1938 Recktorship Address cited from Emmanuel Faye, p. 332. “Emmanuel Faye incontestably shows that Heidegger’s Nazism was not fleeting, casual, or accidental but central to his philosophical enterprise. Faye’s book challenges us to recognize the ethical consequences of this fact.” - Robert Norton, Notre Dame.

I wonder about Heidegger’s teacher, the Jewish phenomenologist, Edmund Husserl. Was he, like my Lutheran, to discover that he was a Jew and that this fact was far more important than he had ever imagined? And what possible value could that have had to him sitting in his study at home, watching Germany being transformed by Nazis antisemitism and denied the use of the university library by his own prize student.

We, like the moon, are caught in the gravitational field of something much larger than we are. The moon might like to travel in a straight line, but the fabric of space-time is warped and it cannot escape. Antisemitism is a huge gravitational force. It is like a black hole that we would rather not think about. Yet we see all around us evidence of it’s power to influence minds, great and small. There is already a global coalition of groups representing the widest and most irreconcilable contradictions of ideology, theology and philosophy from the politically progressive evolutionary biologist, Steve Rose to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. From Russia, Eastern Europe, the European Union countries, the progressive left and reactionary right. One thing only they can all agree on - Israel is a racist apartheid state that has no right to exist. Fundamentalist Christians love us so much they want to save us from our Judaism, not realizing that most Jews have nothing to do with “Judaism.” Yes, there are still Jews, like myself who get up each morning and put on tefillin but the majority of Jews do not pray. Most Jews in the United States are assiduously working to shed themselves of their Jewish identity.

I do not see myself as an American. It just doesn’t mean anything to me. I study American history, the way I study Holocaust history. What is there to be proud of, the Tower of Babel? Walter Benjamin noted that as historians we must never identify with the oppressors of the past. “Empathy with the victor invariably benefits the rulers” and do we want to be a benefit to the emergency manager? The ruler who can dismiss the will of the people, usually, by the way, black people. The emergency manager system is as racist as the Drug War, which has also disenfranchised black voters. We have always known they weren’t smart enough for democracy. They need managers to handle their financial affairs, to steal what still can be stolen with impunity. No impoverished ghetto is too poor to steal from. Everyone has to pay their fair share for global war, managers excepted, of course.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Catching a glimpse of history

Walter Benjamin wrote that the “past can be seized only as an image which flashes up at the instant when it can be recognized and is never seen again.” I imagine a Lutheran who was arrested by the Nazis and put into a holding cell with a bunch of Jews headed for Auschwitz. The man protested that he was not a Jew, he hated Jews, in fact. He was a Lutheran. He was born a Lutheran. The Nazis replied that his mother was a Jew and so he was a Jew. No, he replied with passion, my mother converted to Christianity long before I was born and she married a Lutheran and she raised me a Lutheran and she was a Lutheran. No, the Nazis replied, she was a Jew. And so the man found himself in a chamber load of Jews as the gas was being dropped. As he drew his last breath it finally dawned on him, "oh, my God, I'm a Jew!" All his life he thought that he knew who he was. He was a German and a Lutheran and he hated Jews. At the very last moment of his life he discovers that he is a Jew. He realizes that on some level this fact was fundamental to who he was and what his destiny was to be, but what purpose does his final insight serve?

Philosophy of History

I have no philosophy of history. I have only the tattered remnants of an ancient theology and a guardian angel - the Angel of Death - who protects me from illusions. At the age of three, I was diagnosed with Bright’s disease. My kidneys were going to fail and when that happened, I was going to die. From the age of three to the age of thirteen, the Angel of Death pursued me. Waking in the middle of the night in intense pain, going down the hall to my parent’s bedroom, I would wake my mother. The terror on her face left me with little hope and protected me from illusions.
- Quoted from "Dead Last," Dr. Mehler's 2010 Merit Promotion Essay.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Guilt and Shame

Sometimes the guilt and shame over what we have done, what I have done, is overwhelming. They did not do this to us. We did it to ourselves.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

My Job as Professor of History

Dr. Mehler, the host of the Barry Mehler Show, never tells the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth because there is no truth to tell any longer. Simply put, the problem is that in the modern world political, technological and scientific jargons, inaccessible to the non-specialist, have created a situation in which language is receding exponentially from the grasp of ordinary people. Worse still, propaganda, advertising and mass communications are making truthful speech impossible. Modern speech is nothing more than an eroded jargon. Even when we talk to ourselves it is nothing more than a string of clichés.

We are engaged in historical analysis. Nothing is understood outside of the tightly woven fabric of what we “know” as facts, for example, that cigarette smoking relaxes the throat. Don’t believe me, take the Camels challenge - smoke Camels for thirty days and see for yourself if your throat doesn’t feel more relaxed. Remember, more doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette.

We once knew the earth was flat, we were the center of the universe and the apple of God’s eye. Then we knew that matter and energy and time were all separate things. Now we know that everything we knew was mistaken, ergo, everything we now know is probably also mistaken. Where does that leave us?

An object, like a pack of cigarettes, is understood by how it fits into our tightly woven fabric of reality. We, like the moon, are caught in the gravitational field of something much larger than we are. The moon might like to travel in a straight line, but the fabric of space-time is warped and it cannot escape. Our thoughts are like that. We see a pack of Camels and our thoughts are filled with all the cliché’s we have heard over and over. All around us adults smoke. From the movies we learn of the pleasures of mixing tobacco and sex. After a fine dinner we light up a cigar. Everyone knows that tobacco is good for the digestion.

I am not interested in historical chronology or “wie es eigentlich gewesen war.” My focus is on the metaphysical contours of history. For example, democracy was an unintended consequence of the American Revolution. Furthermore, unintended consequences are the rule, not the exception in history. We never know what will come from our efforts, individual or communal.

So, what is the shape of history? Are we moving forward, making progress, going in circles? Or, are we, like everything else in the universe subject to entropy?

This is a radically new way of thinking about historical reality. Clearly, understanding reality is more difficult than at first imagined. You have to make a conscious effort to focus on the hocus pocus. And that is my job as professor of history, to provide the hocus pocus. Your job is to figure it out. I don’t have the answer.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Holocaust

I once had a nightmare about the Holocaust and when I woke I realised the Holocaust was still going on. It was after my family was threatened with death that I realised, I think for the first time, that they really do want me dead. They want to kill me and my family.

The Holocaust gave us a glimpse into what awaits us. It was a taste of olam haba'ah - the world to come.

Friday, May 27, 2011

1985, when all was well with the world… I had a dream:

“When my son, Isaac, was two years old, he could already sing the Shema and the aleph bet song. I dreamed he got into my van and somehow had released the break. The van was careening down a hill and I feared for his life. There was heavy traffic and I was desperately trying to stop a car in order to get help. But the cars swerved around me as I waved my hands hysterically. They would not stop. I woke up in a sweat. And that is just how I feel sometimes - like a man desperately trying to stop the passing traffic in order to save the life of his son.”

Quoted from, “Amalek: Vengeance, Justice and Reconciliation,” a paper I read at my brother Peter’s shool, Congregation Beth El, I believe in Clearwater, Florida 19 May 1985.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Hitler was an emergency manager.

He abrogatted contracts and ruled by fiat.
Germany was the envy of the world in 1936.
If Hitler could do that for Germany, think what he could do for Michigan!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Emergency Managers

If Governor Snyder can legally appoint an emergency manager for any city in Michigan deemed in financial distress, by what logic would it be inconceivable for the President of the United States to appoint an emergency manager for a state like Michigan which is in economic distress.

First they came for our cities and I didn't act because it wasn't my city. Then came for my state, but by then they had already taken over the Presidency and there was no need to appoint an emergency manager. Goldman Sachs had already done that.

Imagine the White House under Donald Trump. They would call it "The Trump House."

Time to Strike

The GOP leadership has challenged the MEA to strike, threatening to decertify the union and fire the teachers.

Surely, it is time to act. We need to close down every school in the state – come the first day of class in the Fall. If the Republicans take the actions they threaten, we will have to keep the schools shut and begin a struggle that will determine whether we shall be free people or abject cowardly dogs. The choice is ours to make. It is time for those of us who still have the courage to speak out, to stand against the rising tide of oligarchy.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

We will miss you, Manning...

Manning Marable died Friday 1 April 2011.
In 1983, he was kind enough to recognize my
work in his column, From the Grassroots.

Dr. Manning Marable, “Academic Racism,” (July 2, 1983):

Part of the renaissance of racism today is found on college campuses. As most of us know, racism has taken the form of attacks against affirmative action in the hiring and promotion of black faculty and staff.

Consider also the decline in the recruitment of black graduate and undergraduate students at white schools: the attack against black studies departments; and the loss of federal and private funding for historically black universities. There is one other component of “academic racism” which must be evaluated – the growth of new eugenics research which describes blacks as “generically inferior” to whites.

As documented in a recent issue of “Science for the People”, Barry Mehler notes that there is a direct connection between racist white academic researchers, the New Right and politics of the Reagan Administration.

Over recent years the Pioneer Fund, an academic foundation has funded a number of racist college professors. The officers and directors of the Pioneer Fund in 1981 included Thomas Ellis, a major financial contributor to Reagan, and John B. Trevor, a founder of the American Coalition of Patriotic Societies.

The Pioneer Fund has given thousands of dollars to British fascist Roger Pearson, author of “Eugenics and Race”, and an organizer of a large “neo-fascist and antisemitic” conference in Washington, D.C. in 1978; the fund has also supported notorious racist William Shockley, who has written major studies trying to “prove” whie supremacy; Arthur Jensen, “America’s leading proponent of black inferiority”, University of Georgia professor Frank McGurk and Audrey Shuey, authors of “The Testing of Negro Intelligence”, termed by Mehler, “a book that has formed the basis for numerous racist studies.”

What kind of academic research in the fields of biology, psychology and sociology is being distributed to thousands of college students and public policy makers? A brief passage from the 1978 book, “Human Variations”, edited by R. Travis Osborne, Clyde E. Noble and Nathaniel Weyl, is clear enough: “(During slavery) the environment was more favorable that anything (blacks) had experienced in Africa. As slaves they improved in health and increased in numbers. When the Negroids were liberated from agricultural slavery, they were thrown free to shift for themselves in largely Caucasoid societies… These simple, unskilled rural people were suddenly offered irregular urban employment combined with opportunities of drink and drugs, gambling and prostitution, and no reliable means of productive, creative or congenial labor.” The authors conclude that there is no “scientific and historical evidence” that blacks are equals of “the intellectually well-endowed races.”

Mehler notes that the goal of this new eugenics research “is a world of racially pure stocks living in separate geographic areas, with strict apartheid practiced in areas where racial groups share one geographic land mass. The extreme wing of this movement openly advocates the elimination of all non-white races, Jews and homosexuals.”

Some of us might think that this racist garbage could not possibly be taken seriously in respected universities. Think again: Jensen’s writings have appeared in the “Harvard Educational Review”, and his “theories on the inferiority of black children”, have been published in the “New York Times”, “Newsweek”, the “Educational Digest”, “National Review” and “Science News”.

Former University of Chicago professor Dwight Ingle has widely published his view that “Negroids” problems are “not caused by racism” but the “Negroid-Caucasoid IQ gap.”

The task of uprooting white supremacy was only begun when we removed the Jim Crow signs and when Civil Rights legislation was passed in the 1960s. Now we must develop a serious campaign to destroy racist ideology in every form in the campuses across this country.

Dr. Manning Marable is director of Third World Studies, Colgate University, Hamilton, N.Y. “From the Grassroots” appears in 150 newspapers internationally.

Remembering Pumbedita


Abaye haveh mesader seder Hamaracha...
Abaye listed the order of the alter service based on the tradition according to Abba Shaul.
The arrangement of the large pyre preceded that of the secondary pyre for the incense offerings; the secondary pyre for the incense offerings preceded the placement of the two logs; the placement of the two logs preceded the removal of the ashes from the inner alter...
Talmud Yoma 33a

This esoteric listing of the order of the alter service, virtually incomprehensible even to most Orthodox Jews who include the morning “Korbonot” service as part of their morning prayer service, has been completely dropped by Conservative Jews and is not even included in their prayer books.

Abaye (278-338 CE) listed this order at a time when the Temple itself had been destroyed over two centuries earlier. As the head of the Academy of Pumbedita in Babylonia, Jerusalem and the Temple were only distant memories.

The Academy at Pumbedita (pum=mouth, Bedita=a tributary of the Euphrates) was a major institution of Jewish learning for 800 years (220-1058). It lasted nearly as long as Plato’s famous academy (378-529 CE). The dialogues between Abaye and Rava (Havayot d’Abaye v’Rava) formed the foundation for the dialectic method of Talmudic study. In one such complicated debate over inheritance law between Rav Sheishet of Nehardea and Rav Amram, Rav Sheiset joked, “Are you from Pumbedita, where they push an elephant through the eye of a needle? (Bab Metzia 38b).

The last Rosh Yeshiva, Hezekiah ben David was tortured to death on orders of the Caliph. The Academy was closed, the Jews driven out and name of the city changed to Fallujah. Today, Fallujah is Judenrein, like much of the rest of Iraq.

And every morning, I am reminded of the order of the alter service and the great Academy of Pumbedita, where my intellectual roots were nourished on the dialectics between Abaye and Rava, and just as Abaye prayed for the restoration of the Temple, I dream of the restoration of that great institution of Torah scholarship that was once part of the thriving city of Pumbedita. I imagine a world were Jews can live in Mecca and Mexicans can live in Arizona.

Walter Benjamin writes, “Our image of happiness is indissolubly bound up with the image of redemption. There is a secret agreement between past generations and the present one. Our coming was expected on earth. Like every generation that preceded us we have been endowed with a weak Messianic power, a power to which the past has a claim. That claim cannot be settled cheaply. Historical materialists are aware of this.” (Second Thesis on the Philosophy of History).

For me, the most esoteric parts of the morning service are the most meaningful. We read recipes for incense that has not been burned in two thousand years, details of services abandoned for centuries, rescued from oblivion by the heroic efforts of teachers who believed that if the incense could not be smelled, at least the recipe could be recited. If the meal could not be eaten, at least the order of its preparation could be recalled, reminding us always of how much we have lost; of our hunger.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Snyder's Dream

I imagined the Governor declared Big Rapids in crisis and hired a corporation to manage the city for profit. The Mayor and city counsel were fired, all public employee contracts were abrogated. Everyone was impoverished and the housing stock continued to deteriorated, but the good news was that corporate profits were up.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Akedah

Israel Diary, 1996.
In 1996, I took my son Isaac to Israel for his Bar Mitzah. The following is from my diary.
"Take now your son, your only son whom you love, Isaac, and get yourself to the land of Moriah and offer him up there as a burn offering." Genesis 22:2

Sunday February 25, three days before our departure for Jerusalem, the number 18 bus is blown up by a person wrapped in explosives who got on the bus and detonated the explosives. We arrive in Jerusalem four days later.

Sunday morning, March 3rd, the number 18 bus was again blown up, only this time we are close enough to hear the explosion. Have I taken my son, my only son, that I love, Isaac, to this holy place to offer him up as a burnt offering?

The bombing did not change our plans for the day. Isaac and his mom joined the tour group, I went off to visit an old friend who lives in Bayit Vegan. He made calls for me to find out where Isaac and I could go to hear the Megillah reading for Purim, which began on Monday evening outside of Jerusalem, but would not be celebrated in Jerusalem until Tuesday and by that time we would have been moved along by our tour group. He wrote down the name of a synagogue in Ramot Daled - a suburb of Jerusalem, not considered part of the city itself and thus they celebrated Purim on Monday, not Tuesday.

I took the bus back to the city center during rush hour. Standing in the packed bus, we passed the bombed out shell of the number 18 bus that had been blown up that morning. Workers on cherry-pickers were still scraping pieces of human flesh from the side of the building next to the explosion. All human remains, identifiable or not, had to be collected for burial. In this crowded bus, no imagination was necessary. We would all die together and our bodies would become one mass of torn flesh.

Monday March 4th - Isaac and I left Jerusalem just as the news of yet another bombing - this time by Islamic Jihad in Tel Aviv. I told Isaac that we could take a cab to the suburbs, but we would have to take a bus back into the city. I needed to know if that was ok with him, since we had been witness now to three bus bombings. His mother didn't want him to go. "As long as it's not the number 18," was his reply. I have a sense of great pride in my son, Isaac, who is not afraid to live his life. That he would trustingly come with his father and enter a bus that might turn into his own funeral pyre, moved me and filled me with love for my son. He is the perfect gentle warrior.

We witnessed a remarkable transformation in Israeli society. Just a few weeks ago, Labor was sure to win the elections scheduled for May 29th, but as each day passes it becomes more and more clear that Hamas may actually sway the vote toward Likud! It is strange that Hamas should so easily manipulate Israeli politics and that they would want to push the Israeli government to the right. Of course, the last thing anyone wants is peace, not when you have the attractions of endless conflict.

Tuesday March 5th - Road to Jericho.

Our tour was scheduled to visit Jericho, a city considerably older than Jerusalem, which is under Palestinian Authority control. Our bus was stopped by Israeli border guards on the old Roman road to Jericho, and ordered to turn around. Jericho had was being closed off from Israeli society.

The vise tightens and each day more and more soldiers appear. Now there will be a complete separation of Israelis and Palestinians. What a tragedy. When we arrived, even after the first bombing, the Arab shuk in Jerusalem was open and jammed with tourists and Israelis. Isaac insisted on going into a small shop that carried Casio watches. I couldn't believe that Isaac had come to Jerusalem and wanted to spend his money on a Casio watch that he could buy at Walmart, but it was his money, so I sat myself down and wallowed in my disapproval and disappointment. Isaac bargained the price down from $190 to $100. Much later, after we were back home in America, I asked Isaac what the highlight of the trip was for him and without hesitation he said, "buying the Casio watch in the shuk."

Outside of Jericho, our bus, having turned around, stopped at a dusty roadside rest stop. It was nothing but bathrooms and vending machines, but there was also a tent set up where an Palestinian from Jericho had set out cheap trinkets before the curfew had been imposed. He was waiting for orders from the border police to pack his stuff up and get back to Jericho.

Isaac saw something that he had been looking for since the shuk and he called to the man in the tent to ask how much it was. A Canadian tourist who was with us on the tour started screaming at Isaac, "We are at war with these people. You cannot buy from them." I was livid with anger and bellowed back at the man, "You may be at war, but my son and I are not. How dare you raise you voice at my son." Seeing the commotion, the Palestinian merchant retreated further to the back of his tent. I turned to Isaac with tears in my eyes and said, "Isaac, I wish we could buy what you want, but you see how tense the situation has become. We are surrounded by warriors - some of the them foolish tourists and others serious soldiers. I would gladly buy you what you want, but we can't jeopardize the man in the tent. Believe me, I am sorry."

Looking back on it, I realized that Isaac was right. The high point of our trip to Israel was watching my son buy that Casio watch. There, in the Arab market of Jerusalem, my son and a young Palestinian merchant negotiated a deal. Both left satisfied.
If only it were that simple.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Max Kantar's Statement

Max Kantar graduated Cum Laude from Ferris State University in 2009. In August 2010 he was arrested after reading this statement. He was not arrested for reading the statement, he was arrested for the apple pie that was pushed into Senator Levin's face after he read the statement.

Max faces eight years in federal prison. The story has gone national, but the story is all about the pie. It seems to me, the story ought to include his reason for putting his freedom at risk.

Below is the statement Max read. This is Max's opinions and they do not necessarily represent those of the blogger.

Senator Levin,

There's no doubt that you are one of the most respected senators in the United States. Coupled with three decades of senatorial experience and your role as Chairman of the Armed Services Committee, this respect translates into great influence in policy making, especially in regard to US foreign policy.

Despite your relative popularity, I sincerely doubt that many of your constituents know the extent of your contributions to increasing human suffering around the world.

How many people know that you were an enthusiastic supporter of the primarily Clinton-era US-led sanctions on Iraq during the 1990s--sanctions which likely killed over one million innocent people by way of starvation, disease, and denial of medicines? Who were these victims? Certainly not Saddam Hussein and his regime--their grip on the besieged population was strengthened as a result. The victims were poor people, children, the sick, and the elderly. Publicly available declassified government documents now reveal the murderous (and ultimately successful) intentions of the US government to destroy Iraq's water system and then to systematically ban the importation of crucial items such as chlorine-- the effects of which were designed, according to top officials, to unleash "disease epidemics" which were predicted to affect "children in particular." The result? Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children were deliberately murdered, perhaps up to half a million, according to mainstream estimates. Their blood is on your hands.

For three decades you have been the strongest supporter of Israeli war crimes against the Palestinian people. While the record is far too long to run through here, it is worth mentioning that just two winters ago, the Israeli military slaughtered some 1,400 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. Over 1,000 were civilians according to leading Israeli and Palestinian human rights groups. Over 300 were children. Israel used F-16 fighter jets paid for by us; they used guns and ammunition, paid for by us; according to Human Rights Watch, Israel dropped white phosphorus--a chemical weapon supplied by US taxpayers which burns the flesh at 1500 degrees Fahrenheit--on Palestinian schools and incinerated children and noncombatants alive. Your response to these atrocities was to co-sponsor a Senate resolution praising the US-organized bloodbath. In fact, for years you have worked diligently to make sure that US taxpayers subsidize these campaigns of murder and oppression against the Palestinian people. Perhaps this is why you receive more pro-Israel lobby money than any other senator aside from Joe Lieberman. The blood of thousands of Palestinians living under military occupation and apartheid is on your hands.

You have repeatedly voted to allocate billions of dollars in funding for the US invasion and occupation of Iraq; an occupation and invasion which has killed, according to conservative British estimates, well over one million human beings. It might behoove you to remember that according to the ruling at the Nuremberg Tribunals following World War Two, an aggressive war is "the supreme international crime" because it encompasses and is ultimately responsible for all of the crimes and suffering that comes about as a result of the aggression. This funding--our money--is the lifeblood of a brutal military occupation which has killed, maimed, caged, tortured, humiliated, devastated, impoverished, and otherwise destroyed the lives of millions and millions of people. But you don't care how many Iraqi mothers bury their sons; you don't care how many tears are shed over the unfathomable amounts of death, destruction, degradation, and humiliation suffered at the hands of the US and its surrogates. This blood, too, is on your hands.

And power learns no lessons about human suffering. Today you urge more taxpayer support for the war in Afghanistan and for a so-called government in Afghanistan which is run by, in the words of Human Rights Watch, some of the "most notorious warlords in the country,"; warlords and criminals who killed some 50,000 Afghans during the early 1990s after the US and Russia had systematically destroyed Afghanistan in a nasty game of imperial Cold War politics. The blood spilled in every house raid and every air strike on civilians is on your hands.

Today, you continue to call for more murderous attacks in the region. You have prominently called for increasing US drone strikes in Pakistan. These cowardly bombings--which are carried out by robot planes guided by Americans sitting at computers on an Air Force Base in Nevada--have killed several hundred civilians, including women and children. Not only are these bombings wildly immoral because of this, but they also inflame and incite, quite understandably, hatred against the United States. Pakistani blood will continue to drip from your hands as long as the bombings continue.

You remain hawkish and aggressive in your posture towards other sovereign nations as well. For example, your position on Iran--a country that, in stark contrast to Israel, hasn't attacked its neighbors for centuries--is that "all options, including military options, should be on the table." In plain terms, this is a threat to bomb Iran, maybe even with nuclear weapons. Such threats are flagrant violations of the UN Charter, if anybody cares. If and when the US or its Israeli client attacks Iran, that blood, too, will be on your hands.

Senator Levin, reasonable people can disagree on policy and politics. BUT, reasonable people CANNOT disagree on basic human principles of justice and decency. It is both perverse and shameful that you claim to uphold values like freedom and justice while actively taking part in the murder, mutilation, repression, and infliction of suffering on millions of Iraqis, Palestinians, Lebanese, Afghans, Pakistanis, and many more peoples living under the whip of US imperialism, from Latin America to Africa, to Asia and the Middle East.

And back home in Michigan, you treat the people you purport to serve with equal contempt. While you go to sleep in your Detroit mansion as a millionaire each night, nearly 20,000 human beings in the same city go to bed homeless, on the streets. Do you have even the slightest idea what being homeless entails? These people could be housed with money you prefer to spend on war, or money you prefer to spend on yourself. While you sit self-righteously in Washington making laws to protect power and privilege, the police systematically brutalize and imprison our state's African-American population at rate nearly THREE TIMES that of South Africa during the years of apartheid.

The truth is that, on principle, you are no different than every other senator in the U.S. and I don't respect you. And I'm not the slightest bit interested in hearing your entirely predictable response, replete with the same old lies and apologetics for heinous crimes against humanity. If there was any justice in this country or in this world, you would be in prison and I am going to say it straight to your face.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Zechariah Fendel (1929-2011): A Remembrance

Arutz Sheva, the Israel National News service English language edition carried this brief obituary notice on Friday January 14th (9 Sh’vat 5771):

Rabbi Zechariah Fendel, prolific author and founding principal of the Chofetz Chaim Yeshiva High School in Forest Hills, New York, passed away last night at the age of 82.
He is survived by his wife Chava, 12 children, some 100 grandchildren, and brother Rabbi Meyer Fendel of Jerusalem. His funeral will be held in Flatbush, New York, at 10:30 Friday morning.
The late Rabbi Fendel authored some 15 books, as well as several other works, on Jewish thought, ethics, history, holidays, and more, many of them geared specifically to those who are taking their first steps in Judaism.
One Yeshiva head called him "the Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch of our generation.”

Twelve children, some 100 granchildren and 15 books, and before all that, he was my rebbe at Chofetz Chaim Yeshiva High School in Forest Hills, New York. The year was 1962, I remember because one Friday, erev Shabbos, I stared out the window, at Chofetz Chaim thinking, “Monday may not come.” On the previous Monday, President John F. Kennedy delivered a televised speech announcing the crisis and the quarantine. By Friday, it was clear that we were at the brink of a nuclear war that would annihilate Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim, along with everything else. It would be the end. Not the end of the United States, just the end, the end of everything for humanity. Monday might never come.

Jerry Hirsch (1923-2008) was my last great teacher, “a pioneer in the field of behavior genetics and crusader for social justice.” Rabbi Fendel was my first great teacher and between them were clusters of great teachers, but none touched me the way my rebbe did. Without him, I would not exist as I am today. Certainly, nothing of what is essential to my being is my own creation. Without my teachers, I would be a shell of human being without consciousness. My teachers awoke in me my consciousness and their character and integrity always drove me to feelings of shame and inadequacy. Twelve children and fifteen books! And what books, the scholarship, the command of the literature is astonishing, but what is breathtaking was his command of the moment. He created the Yeshiva that existed for a short moment in time. The Yeshiva High school he created no longer exists.

My father brought me to meet Rabbi Fendel for the first time to determine if I would be admitted to his Yeshiva. It was a very small school with only ten or fifteen boys in each grade. It was known for its intensive Talmudic training and its focus on mussar. His office was small and chaotic. We sat in two wooden chairs in front of a wooden desk. My father was explaining to Rabbi Fendel that my IQ scores were below normal and he was concerned that I might not be able to keep up, especially since I was inadequately prepared for Yeshiva High School. Most of the boys had come up through the Yeshiva system and were already proficient in Hebrew, Aramaic and Talmud study. I had only the pathetic synagogue after school training. I could barely read Hebrew.

My father had studied psychology and IQ testing with Edward L. Thorndike, one of the pioneers of the field, at Columbia University in the 1930s. I had been told that my IQ test scores said something about my abilities; limited what I could achieve. My older brother Marty called me a dummy and, in fact, I believed it was true. My older brother Edward was "quick" and I was "slow". But sitting with Rabbi Fendel and my Dad in his office that day I heard my dad explain my limited intellectual abilities to Rabbi Fendel who looked at me and then to my father and said, "Mr. Mehler, I do not believe in IQ. I believe in God." Rabbi Fendel lifted something from off my shoulders. He gave me faith to challenge the limitations of arbitrary definitions. And then he looked at me and asked me, directly, in a way no ever had before, “is this what you want, Binyamin? Do you want to study Torah all day long?”

That was it, that was all that mattered. If I wanted to study Torah all day long, then that was enough for Rabbi Fendel, who turned to my father and explained that only God knows the potential of any child and that it was faith and desire, not any fixed IQ or abilities that determined ones intellect. Intelligence and humanity are things inculcated. We are not born with the ability to think. We are not born with moral character. These are things we learn if we are lucky enough to have teachers. There is today a Chofetz Chaim Yeshiva High School. In fact, there are several of them, but the Yeshiva that was open to one such as I with no training and a father with no money, that Yeshiva no longer exists.

In his masterful book, The Ethical Personality (New York: Hashkafah,1986), he wrote an An Urgent Message for Our Times in which he spoke of “an insidious problem of great magnitude, which threatens to destroy the entire cohesive fabric of the Jewish community.” It was not the strife of factionalism, but a deeper underlying current that went beyond “religious and political differences.” There is, he said, an underlying current of sinat chinam - gratuitous hatred of Jew for Jew. That is, we do not hate because of ideological difference; we do not hate black people because they are lazy and criminal or Jews because they are the killers of Christ - hatred is a gratuitous gift - an expression of our own poverty and self-loathing. It was his hope that by “ethical sensitivity” we might replace this gratuitous hatred with peace, brotherhood and friendship. Furthermore, it is our lifelong responsibility “to engage actively in the quest for character improvement.” For Rabbi Fendel, Torah was essentially “a perpetual dynamic growth process, which makes no allowance for spiritual smugness or complacency, or for ethical or moral stagnation.” For Jerry Hirsch, the same could be said of science, the pursuit of truth. For Jerry Hirsch, the pursuit of science required the highest ethical standards.

In many ways my first great teacher and my last great teacher were similar. They were men of ethical sensitivity and integrity who believed that education could foster brotherhood and peace. Born during the Depression and raised during World War II, it is hard for me to understand where their faith came from.