Friday, November 11, 2016

The new President -- Better than Alfred E Neuman?

Hail to the New Chief

It is truly a historic week: Donald J. Trump has been elected President of the United States.  Millions upon millions of words are being written about “perhaps the most stunning political story in American History” according to one pundit.  Nevertheless, I would like to share my “Middle of the Road” thoughts for what they are worth.

Briefly, I am not happy that Donald Trump won the presidency.  At the same time, I am thrilled that Hillary Clinton was defeated.  Seems contradictory, but I know that there are many people like me, who voted more against Clinton than for Trump.

I will not focus here on the great policy differences between them.  According to my colleague Rav Avrohom Gordimer, these differences are the only things that mattered since the deep flaws of both candidates cancelled each other out. But there was more at stake, and given the awesome power and responsibilities of the position, I could not discount the character of the candidates.

Donald Trump is a deeply substandard choice, in far too many ways.  He is arrogant, egocentric, and at times crass and vulgar.  He revels in chutzpah, blurts out foolish and hurtful things, and too often has placed his mouth in motion before his brain is fully in gear.  What scares me most about him, however, is his mercurial short temper and need to lash out at any critic, no matter how petty the issue.   It is truly frightening that he will be in a position to use the immense power of the federal government -- and even to send our soldiers off to war -- with few obstacles to make him stop to reconsider.  Needless to say, I found it very difficult to vote for such a man for President.

The other choice, however, was even more “deplorable”.   Hillary (and Bill) has a long history of corruption, lies, deceit, and telling the people what they want to hear, while at the same time actively promoting an opposite agenda.  She postured as a loving, caring, Godmother; sensitive to the needs of minorities, women, and the impoverished.  In actuality she engaged in an unprecedented amount of lies, corruption and deceit while doing little to actually help people.  The abuse inherent in the “pay to play” scheme selling access to the former President and to herself (and their vast network of powerful friends and ability to influence government) while enriching themselves to a shocking degree was only the latest in Clinton scandals.  This followed  decades of ever greater corruption and avarice, making her a lowly hypocrite, and completely unfit to be our country’s leader.  In fact, had she been elected, the imbroglio concerning the ongoing investigation into her corruption would have consumed our country far more than what followed the relatively small bungled burglary and subsequent cover-up that destroyed Richard Nixon in the Watergate years.

Given this Hobson’s choice, and the fact that it was clear that in the People’s Republic of New York State my vote was meaningless, I cast a write-in vote for Alfred E. Neuman, who ran on the slogan “There are even bigger idiots running”.  At the same time, I encouraged friends living in states that were in play to hold their nose and vote for Trump.

As we all know, despite all the predictions of the media, pollsters and pundits, Trump won.   Endless commentary  attributed it to Trump’s alleged pandering to the white males' hatred of political correctness and latent racism, xenophobia, hatred of women, bigotry and prejudice.  The intelligentsia and liberal elites are crying and lamenting, liberal professors are offering “triggered students” grief counseling to help them get through this terrible trauma, as mobs of “progressives” storm the streets cursing Trump and his supporters, vowing vengeance and assuring themselves that the “correct” values will re-assert themselves when America awakens from this “nightmare”. . . I feel confident that they have it very wrong.

The reasons Trump won were several.  First, millions of people were tired and offended by the snobbery and bias of the media elites who saw it as their role to tell the unwashed masses what and how to think.   When Trump railed about a “rigged” political system, it was primarily this issue that he was referencing.  He had to overcome not only his opponent and her policies, but also the overwhelming negativity that was spewed against him in virtually every news, media, and entertainment outlet.

Second, most people knew deep down that Trump is not a bigot, anti-Semite, or racist.   While he spoke foolishly and hurtfully about the qualifications of a Mexican judge, over-generalized about Muslims, and made crude and vulgar comments about women, most people understood that while shameful, they did not reflect his core values.  Rather, they shared his exasperation about illegal immigration, the way the border with Mexico has been handled, and the coddling of illegal foreign criminals in sanctuary cities – this does not make one a racist.   They agreed that Obama was very wrong in not naming and confronting Radical Islamic Terrorism, and that is a huge domestic threat, and that the United States would be foolhardy to follow the European example and allow hordes of un-vetted Muslim immigrants from radical countries to foment the same problems they are causing there – that does not make one a racist.   It is true that he has made crude and vulgar comments about women – as unfortunately many men do – that does not make him a hater of women.

And so on.

As Bill O’Reilly put it, “when left-wing zealots masquerading as journalists pounded Trump without mercy, the voters grew numb to it”. The People were smarter than the talking heads who tried to sell this narrative, and they rejected it.

Third, the People are tired and angry about the policies of the Obama administration, such as Obamacare, the bungled Iran deal, the economic hardship, the over-regulation by Executive Orders, the lessening of America’s stature in the world and the feebleness of our foreign policy, and particularly, for those of us who care deeply about Israel, the way in which the Israeli government has been treated.  They wanted a change, and Mrs. Clinton represented not only continuity but an intensification of those policies.

Finally, the People have had enough of the shenanigans of Hillary Clinton.   The unending lies, half-truths, corruption and permitting for herself what others would be incarcerated for simply became too much.

Given the Torah readings of this time of year, I cannot help but thinking of our father Avraham, the quintessence of Chessed (Lovingkindness) coupled with Emes (Truth) who had to try to further his mission among the power brokers of his day.   We find him confronting the Pharaoh, who pretended to be a person of integrity while personally corrupt; finding a way to protect his wife and survive while getting through the dangers of a society that destroyed anyone who was different.   We later find him standing up to the Great Powers of his time (the Four Kings), in order to save his morally and ethically challenged kinsman Lot, managing with the help of the Almighty to prevail while avoiding being tainted by taking graft from Sodom.  Later we see him deal with Avimelech, who presents himself as a saint and paragon of virtue, while hiding his corruption and abuse of women and of the poor.  In all of those cases Avraham recognized that – unlike Noach – he had to engage as best he could with a depraved, corrupt society, find the good in people, look beyond the way that they presented, focus on his mission of bringing light to the world while avoiding any hint of corruption, and ultimately was recognized as a Prince among men and the supreme citizen of his time.

We have no Avraham in our midst.  We have plenty of Pharaohs, Sodomite kings and Avimelechs.   Ultimately the greatest values that we must follow are those of Truth and Kindness, and in our very imperfect world, strive to live for those values and support and encourage those around us to do as well.

As we look towards the future, we see that perhaps this whole mess of an election has given the US a rare and great opportunity.  Assuming that Trump can keep a reign on his temper and mouth, and that he listens to wise people of experience in furthering the policy agenda that got him thus far with efficiency and dignity, great things can happen.  With the White House, Senate and Congress all in the hands of his party, he can:

  • Repeal and replace Obamacare with a good and workable system that will not punish those who work at the expense of those who do not, and provide all with affordable fair health care
  • Appoint Federal judges from the excellent list that he has already provided to replace not only the great Justice Scalia, but others who likely will be retiring soon as well
  • Abolish many of the Executive Orders that unfairly hampered businesses and allow fairer competition and economic growth
  • Control the damage from the terrible Iran nuclear deal and do what he can to limit the Ayatollah’s path to the bomb
  • Secure the border, and implement fair and sensible immigration policies
  • Clean up the mess at the IRS and Dept. of Justice and the FBI
  • Find a path to peace in the Middle East based not on demanding additional Israeli concessions, but rather on the Palestinians living up to the agreements that they signed, while "crushing" ISIS and Hamas

and many more objectives.  If he accomplishes just these, he will go down as one of the great Presidents in our history; if he does more he can be transformative.

He must also find a way to ensure that in a VERY non-partisan way (i.e. staying far away from any direct involvement) the Clinton Foundation and Hillary’s email issues are given a full and fair investigation, and let the chips fall as they will with due process.  Too much has happened to allow this matter to simply slip away; the American public deserves that justice be served.

From an Alfred E Neuman voter, good wishes go to the new President that he succeed greatly in his duties.  I am confident that he will want to prove to the world that he can govern in a dignified way and make his family – especially the “First Aineklach” – proud. I fervently hope that I will be able to gladly vote for him with full confidence in 2020, with an absentee ballot from Israel.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

A chance meeting in Wyoming leads to some interesting "Reunions"!

I had some interesting news this past week!

Several months ago, I submitted the following (excerpted) letter to HaModia magazine:

To the Editor,

I have been enjoying your newspaper for a few months, and look forward to receiving it every Wednesday – I don’t know where people have the time to read even that whole issue, let alone the daily!

Your feature, “A World That Was”, is particularly intriguing to me, and I think you might be interested in this story, and help get these pictures into the rightful hands.

Several years ago, when I was a Rav in Portland, OR, I drove cross-country several times with my family so that my kids could spend their summers in “the Mountains” in New York (Of course, after driving through the Cascades, Sierra Nevada, and the Rockies I found that term laughable, but I digress).   After spending a few glorious days in Yellowstone National Park we headed east, and stayed overnight in Cody, Wyoming (a town named after Buffalo Bill, whose image is everywhere there).  I was on line at a supermarket when a man approached me and asked in a deep Texas drawl, “Are you a Rabbi”?   Somewhat disturbed that I was being drawn out of vacation mode, I replied in the affirmative.  After some “chit-chat”, he told me that he had been looking for a Rabbi for years.  Half a century earlier, young Max Krueger was a soldier in the American Army, and had been stationed in Shanghai China after the war.  Among his duties was taking photographs for potential immigrants to America and, you guessed it, among the applicants were a bunch of Rabbis who seemed oddly out of place in that city. 

Nevertheless, Mr. Krueger went about his business and took the photographs, which presumably led to US Visas, Passports, and lives lived happily thereafter.  Finding the subjects interesting, he retained copies of some of these photos, and reckoned that some Rabbi might come along some day who would also find them intersesting.   We exchanged information and our goodbyes, and some time later I received an envelope with a minyan of photos of young scholars, presumably Talmidim of the Mir Yeshiva in Shanghai.

If anyone knows who theses individuals are, I would be happy to send them along to them or their families.

Thank you

Yehuda L. Oppenheimer

As it turns out, this article has spurred quite a bit of interest.   I received many phone calls and emails, trying to help me identify  the young Talmidim in the photos.

The first caller pointed out that they were probably Lubavitcher Talmidim, as the Mir Talmidim all were clean shaven (at least while in Shanghai).

Subsequently, I received many other messages, and virtually all the pictures have been identified, as all Lubavitch Talmidim in Shanghai.   

I knew before this that there were many, many more Jews besides the Talmidim of Mir Yeshiva who had been miraculously saved from the Churban in Shanghai, 23,000 by one count .  A huge portion of them were afforded this opportunity by the heroism of the Japanese consul in Vilna, Chiune Sugihara , true member of the  חסידי אומות העולם (Righteous Gentiles), who sacrificed his career and even life to save over 6,000 Jews.   What I assumed was unique about the Mir Tamidim is that almost a whole Yeshiva survived together there, the only such Yeshiva in Europe.

Turns out that a large group of Lubavitch Talmidim, between 50 and 100, were Baruch Hashem saved there as well, and that apparently all of the pictures were of these Talmidim.

I am in touch with Dovid Zalikowski of the Chabad Lubavitch Archives who has taken great interest in this, as well as other family members, and they have tentatively identified the pictures as:
R. Moshe Rubin
R. Shmuel Moshe Lederhandler
R. Chaim Ber Gulevsky
R. Yechezkel Deren
R. Leibish Probst
R. Mottel Bryski
R. Yosef Borenstein
R. Avraham Tzvi Landa
R. Gershon Chanowitz
R. Moshe feder or R. Hirshel Rubin

We are still working out possible other claims as well.

I am so grateful this is happening.  I had these pictures sitting in my drawer for years, but I had no idea how to publicize them, until I recently started receiving HaModia, and realized that their "A World That Was" feature was a perfect vehicle.

Unforrtunately, it appears that Mr. Krueger passed away . . .I wish that I could have let him know of the results of our "chance" meeting long ago.