Joel wore this jacket during the encore of his New York City concert. It also had a second Star of David on the back.
Serious admiration for Billy Joel for his wardrobe stance during his recent Madison Square Garden concert, a reaction to the White House response after Charlottesville by a reminder to WWII when the Nazis overran Denmark. By way of reminder, they ordered Danish Jews to wear a yellow Star of David so that Jews could be singled out and always identified -- and pretty much the entire nation wore one, including the Danish king, which rendered the decree meaningless.
Joel wore this jacket during the encore of his New York City concert. It also had a second Star of David on the back.
Today, Republicans are expected to bring up their version of national health care up for a vote in the House of Representatives. Critically important as this is, it may not be the most important piece of legislation to be dealt with on Thursday. Mind you, this isn't to say it's not seriously important -- it is, obviously. It's just that even if it passes the House (no certainty, though you'd think Republicans wouldn't bring it up for a vote unless they were sure it would pass -- but, who knows? Maybe they're only close and think the vote might pressure those on the edge), it chances of ultimate passage into law is still uncertain because it stands a very difficult time passing the Senate. That's why the other matter may be more important -- besides which it has a great deal of deep and far-reaching importance of its own.
It's that Trump is expected to sign an Executive Order that would allow religion to have a greater involvement in politics than it does now. At present, of course, because of 1st Amendment protections which allows for religious organizations to be tax exempt, the restrictions against them participating in political activity directly are high. If Trump does sign, then that barrier will drop.
This is a horrible matter. Significantly so. Not just for matters of fairness or for dancing the line too closely of Constitutionality, blurring the protective wall between Church and State. But much more substantively with real-world ramifications. Consider --
Not only are money donations to religious organizations tax exempt, but there are no restrictions on how much money a person can donate to a religious entity. Donate $10,000, a million, whatever you want. Every year, every month. Leave your entire estate to the religion of your choice in your will, if you wish. In some religions there's almost a requirement to tithe a portion of your income to them. And if the Executive Order is signed, then that church, ministry, temple, mosque, whatever the house of worship can use it to push its (or in essence, and as much to the point, the donor's) political agenda.. There will be no restrictions. We're not just talking preaching from the pulpit to the flock. Several houses of worship can pool their resources, an even larger religious group could form a PAC. Make TV ads, buy time on the radio, put up political billboards. Expand your thinking, as well, to include televangelists into the mix. And better still, the donor can take a deduction on it, to boot, since it is all tax free.
And for anyone who still thinks this is a great thing, consider that once you allow religion to cross the street into the secular world, that street is two ways. And government laws and restrictions can come into play on how that political money can be used, blurring the line even further that divides church and state.
Decades ago, Stan Freberg made a classic comedy record called, "Green Chri$tma$," in which one of the lines spoken by the greedy chairman of the board Mr. Scrooge was, "Christmas has two "s's" in it, and both are dollar signs." The premise was about the slippery slope when religion and business are mixed in advertising, but little did Freberg know how prescient he was in a far-worse, even politically-dangerous arena,
("Wake up, Cratchit, it's later than you think," the meek junior executive is brusquely told off when he speaks up about how wrong it all is. His response, the last spoken line, almost-whispered in sorrow is, "I know, Mr. Scrooge. I know.")
By the way, it's actually even worse than all this, hard to believe as that may be. Because in either a separate Executive Order or part of this same one (I can't quite tell),private employers will be allowed to use religion as a reason for denying specific issues of coverage to their employees, including -- and likely, most notably -- reproductive health care. This goes under the disingenuous heading of "Religious Freedom."
Assuming the signing does occur today or whenever, this would be an absolutely terrible Executive Order. One of the worst "dark money" situations we've had for politics, on a level with the Citizens United ruling. If Trump signs the Executive Order. I think it's fair to assume he will.
Which will be the only fair thing about it.
My pal and fellow board-member of Elisberg Industries, Rabbi Jack Moline -- who in his spare time is president of the Interfaith Alliance -- sent me this. It's not only quite funny, but particularly timely, thanks to dear Sean Spicer with his chain of Holocaust Centers. And since it fits well into today's theme, it seems a fine time to post it.
This is a musical number from the TV series, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. I've never seen the show, but checking some details out, it seems as if they do a lot of musical sequences on the show.
There are a couple of small tidbits worth nothing. In addition to two-time Tony Award-winner Patti LuPone – who's very good in the scene, but particularly funny for not being Jewish, though playing a rabbi's wife here – the other “mother” in the scene (who joins her at the :39 mark singing and dancing about the Holocaust is Tovah Feldshuh, who's a semi-regular on the show (as the mother of the main character) and also has a very long Broadway career, with three Tony nominations, and among for many credits starred as “Yentl” in a short-lived stage adaptation of the story. And most recently she was in the current revival of Pippin. So, the TV show got some pretty good names for the sequence.
Last night at the Passover service I attended, there weren't the traditional Four Questions. It's not that they weren't asked -- they were, but rather that there was a fifth. The additional question was, "So, do you think Donald Trump will attend his son-in-law and daughter's Seder tonight?"
Actually, I thought that was a much easier one than the others, even taken into consideration that everyone at the table all had heard, "Why is this night different from all other nights?" annually for several decades since childhood and knew the correct response by rote. I answered the Fifth Question immediately. "No," I said. Really??, I was asked in return, You don't think so? (And for people keeping track of such things, no, that doesn't count as a Sixth Question.) "No way," replied.
And not shockingly, to me at least, the answer came in this morning's news. I particularly like the sub-headline –
The only difference between the empty seat left for Elijah and the one for Trump is that no one should have left the door open for Trump in case he might show up.
What would have been a shock is if it were otherwise. After all, this is a man (using the term loosely) who on Holocaust Remembrance Day, released a statement that didn't remember to mention the six million Jews who had been the far-largest victims killed in the Holocaust. And he's someone whose chief adviser ran a White Supremacist news site that's virulently anti-Semitic. And whose foundational support comes from racist groups. And who throughout the presidential campaign often re-tweeted postings from known White Supremacist accounts. And who is, it's my personal observation, among his many attributes, a racist anti-Semite. So, what would have been a shock is if he had attended a Seder, and dared offend his base...along with his own delicate sensibilities. Trusted son-in-law and daughter be damned.
The author of this news story here about Trump's non-attendance postulates that specifically because of the Holocaust Day omission it seemed likely that Trump would have attended a Seder, to smooth over bad public relations and bad relations period with Jews. But that strikes me as a foolish analysis. The omission wasn't a gaffe, but intentional.
Indeed, if Trump had attended a Seder, that would have been the answer to the First Question, and explained precisely why the night was, in fact, incredibly different from all other nights.
Donald Trump finally said something about the growing wave of anti-Semitic attacks around the country. The good news is that he's apparently against them.
What he said is that “Anti-Semitism is horrible, and it’s going to stop." He added that anti-Semitism was "age-old, and there's something going on that doesn't fully allow it to heal. Sometimes it gets better and then it busts apart."
Certainly this is hardly the soaring, eloquent level of response one hopes for from a president, but given his silence, at least it's something.
On the other hand, his comment that "there's something going on that doesn't fully allow it to heal" is tone-deaf. What's going on is that we had a presidential candidate who took a leading anti-Semite on to run his campaign (and then making him chief adviser) and stirred up up intolerance and racism in his run for the presidency and kept quoting from white supremacist website and in his refusal to denounce these groups throughout the race gave them winking approval that their actions could enter the mainstream.
That's what busts the healing about.
Bomb threats against Jewish community centers have greatly increased in recent weeks. In fact, anti-Semitic hate crimes against Jews in New York City have already doubled this year...and we're only in February. And thus far -- silence from the White House.
At his event with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week, Trump was asked about charges that his administration "is playing with xenophobia and maybe racist tones.” Rather than take the opportunity to at least try to explain (whether accurately or not) why that was not true, he used the question to talk about how he won the election with 306 electoral votes. No, really.
(Note for those keeping scoring: 306 electoral votes is not that many -- especially when you lost the popular vote by almost three million.)
The next day, at his now-infamous out-of-control press conference, Trump was asked a similar question, what he planned to do about the 48 bomb threats in recent weeks against Jewish community centers and do to combat growing anti-Semitism. Rather than answer, or talk about his electoral votes, he actually cut the reporter off, told him to sit down, and instead replied, “See, he said he was going to ask a very simple, easy question, and it’s not.”
First of all -- yes, it IS a simple, easy question. "What are you going to do about growing racism of any sort?" is an incredibly easy question. You start by saying, "I'm against it. " And then, if you want to go on, you then add that there's a reason it's called a "hate crime" because it's hateful. And you denounce it and call on all Americans to denounce it.
You can even stop right there if you want, if you're stumped and can't think of anything else to say. It wouldn't be a great answer, but it would not only be an passing-grade C- answer, but a simple, easy answer.
Instead, Trump continued to avoid the simple, easy question by going on to say, "I am the least anti-Semitic person that you’ve ever seen in your entire life." Adding that,. "I hate the charge. I find it repulsive.” Okay, never mind that the reporter didn't make "the charge," as true as arguably it might be. And okay, never mind that we have zero evidence that Trump is even remotely not anti-Semitic, let alone "the most anti-Semitic." Actually, given that he's now the most powerful man in the world and yet he is avoiding not only doing anything about growing anti-Semitic hate crimes, but avoiding even answering any questions about them -- which gives aid and comfort and tacit approval to those committing them -- it could be argued that Donald Trump therefore could be the most anti-Semitic person we've ever seen in our entire life.
(For the record, just because he brought it up, I know a whole lot of people who are less anti-Semitic than Trump. I'm guessing everyone reading these words, whatever their politic positions, do, as well. Indeed, I think most people I know are less anti-Semitic than Trump. I've bumped into angry strangers on the street off their meds who I'm sure in their isolated world are less anti-Semitic than the powerful Trump. My childhood friend Jack Moline -- one of our fine board members here at Elisberg Industries -- is a rabbi and president of the Interfaith Alliance. He is monumentally less anti-Semitic than Trump. Every day, he writes and speak about bringing peace and unity among religions. It's his job. And his personal core. So, there, we have at least one person by name to prove Trump wrong. I'm going to guess that Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel who Trump shared the stage with only the day before, is much less anti-Semitic than Trump, as well, so there we have another. I'd keep the list going, but we'd be here for a very long time and never get to "second of all."
Actually, we'll have to still wait and get to "second of all" in a moment.
That's because later in the same press conference, Trump was again asked about the same issue of growing anti-Semitism, and he shunted it aside as fake news created by his political opponents. Note: in real news, only days later, on Monday, there were five more bomb threats against Jewish Community Centers. And that same day, nearly 200 headstones at a Jewish cemetery in St. Louis were discovered vandalized.)
Which finally brings us to second of all.
In what alternative fact universe does Trump think that the president of the United States is only supposed to get "simple, easy questions"???????!!!
President of the United States may be the most difficult job in the world. And the whole point of "most difficult job in the world" is that it's...well, difficult, and so every day there will be a roaring stream of difficult, challenging, pounding questions that require being answered.
And Trump is going to tell reporters to sit down because their questions aren't simple and easy?? Well...that sure isn't going to fly very far. You stop answering challenging questions and leave them open, and not only will they come pouring at you from all directions, but soon the public starts seeing the problems aren't being addressed. And they get really pissed off.
Besides, how hard is it for a high-level politician (or any politician) to dance around a question and obfuscate without actually answering? It's part of the job requirements, it happens regularly throughout every day. Only yesterday, in fact, vice president Mike Pence was asked at a European press conference if people are supposed to believe what he says when it contradicts the president, or believe what the president tweets when it's different from Pence's subsequent correction? Pence waltzed for a few moments without answering and then moved on. (Though believe it or not, he did begin by saying "That's a good question" -- which it is.) When Trump was asked his simple, easy question that he didn't want to answer, he told the reporter to sit down.
It was a simple, easy question. "What are you going to do about growing anti-Semitic hate crimes?" It's a softball question that most politicians should be happy to get. "I'm against hate." How hard is that??! But Trump said absolutely nothing.
In the end, I guess we really did get his answer.
The Victoria Islamic Center in Texas that was burned down by arsonists hours after Trump signed his Executive Order on immigration has now, within days, received $1.1 million to rebuild, for a need of $850,00 Quite a great response from Americans -- except for Trump who, as far as I can tell, has been silent. Bringing Americans together, indeed. What a nurturing response from the president of all Americans.
In the meantime, while the rebuilding takes place, the local Jewish synagogue contacted the Muslims about letting them use their temple. The president of the synagogue, Robert Loeb, told a newpaper, "We have probably 25 to 30 Jewish people in Victoria, and they probably have 100 Muslims. We got a lot of building for a small amount of Jews."
One of the leaders of the mosque, Shahid Hashmi, said: "Jewish community members walked into my home and gave me a key to the synagogue."
The man who began the online GoFundMe campaign, Omar Rachid, said: "Our hearts are filled with gratitude for the tremendous support we’ve received. The outpouring of love, kind words, hugs, helping hands and the financial contributions are examples of the true American spirit."
Donald Trump has said nothing.
If you're interested, the crowdfunding page is here.
Ah, simpler times. Remember back when the far-right spun themselves into a tizzy and was outraged (!!) when Barack and Michelle Obama made a supposed fake-terrorist fist bump? The good ol' days.
Imagine this from them.
I think the screaming would have been even louder and more horrified than when Starbucks changes its holiday cups from red to green.
On the other hand, I did figure out why Trump sent this! He must have been watching an old rerun of Seinfeld and instead of "Festivus" thought they said they were celebrating..."Fistivus"
What I still can't figure out though is why, in a family card, it didn't include his wife and children. Just him and his tiny fist.
As this is the first day of Hanukkah, I thought it right and proper for today to be when I bring back my annual piece about a new, beloved Hanukkah story. Okay, I'm not sure how "new" it really is anymore, now that it's been annual for a while, and I've never precisely asked widely how "beloved" it is, but in the Hanukkah spirit of miracles it just makes sense.
Several years back, a mixed group of writer friends was discussing religion, when it veered off track a bit. "A bit" as in, someone whimsically bemoaned that Christmas got all the good colors, while Hanukkah was pretty much stuck with blue and white.
I'm guessing that this wasn't the kind of debates Spinoza or Moses Maimonides ever got into. Though you never know.
Another person decided to raise the holiday spirits, suggesting that since there was an actual, physical limit of primary colors in the world, and therefore nothing could be done about that at this point, perhaps instead a new fable could be created. A few days later, this second fellow and his wife came up with the Twin Dalmatians of Hanukkah, Pinkus and Mordechai. The pups scour the earth to bring hats of joy, filled with treats, to the children on the first night of Hanukkah. Pinkus, the cheerful one, would load them up with tasty goodies, while practical Mordechai with a bell on his collar would leave practical gifts, like slide-rules.
The benefits of this new legend were clear to see. For one, it meant that that you could add a whole new color scheme to the Hanukkah celebration palate for displays across the land and trimmings in stores everywhere - black and white, the Dalmatian decorations! And also, Pinkus and Mordechai "pup helpers" would prance throughout shopping centers to the joy and happy laughter of those with childhood in their hearts. And of course, when you're competing with Rudolph, Frosty, the Little Drummer Boy, Scrooge, Magi, Santa, and so many more, it never hurts to have as many fables as possible to pass down through the generations.
He and his wife wrote a few verses to show what he meant, and I thought an unfinished poem was no way to celebrate the season of holidays, and therefore completed it.
Like all good stories of the season, this one ends with a miracle. My friend went on to create a TV series for ABC a few years later, and then another one for CBS. So, it's good to know that poetry and warm spirit in his heart (along with a touch of lunacy in their heads) had such a positive impact on his life. He also now has a reputation to protect and by his request shall remain nameless.
Since 'tis the season, then 'tis appropriate to finally bring the story out of its dusty pages where it has annually passed from glowing face to glowing face of the few lucky children to hear it told, and when a few years back on the Huffington Post I presented the new fable to the world.
Okay, maybe there haven't been all that many glowing faces, and maybe it's passed Hanukkah this year (man, it came so early this year!!), but it's the holiday season and time of miracles, so anything's possible.
'Twas the night before Hanukkah,
And all through the shul,
Not a creature was stirring,
The meshpocheh was full
With latkes and brisket
And kugel and more.
Through the heads of the kinder
Spun dreidles galore.
But I in my yalmulka,
And she in her wig,
Settled down in our beds
With warm milk (but no pig).
When up on the roof
I heard such a bark
That I yelled "Oy, gevalt"
(To the goyim that's "Hark").
And I knew with a jingle,
Then a second great "woof,"
That jolly ol' Pinkus
Was up on our roof.
Though t'wasn't just Pinkus,
But Mordechai too,
The Hanukkah Puppies--
Those Dalmatian Jews.
So I sprang to my feet
And quick threw on a shmotta.
And I saw our kids' hats
Were now filled with a lotta:
With toys and candy from Pinkus
And from Mordechai, socks.
And for me and the Mrs.
Some bagels and lox.
The dogs silently worked,
As if studying Torah
(Though Pinkus got playful).
Mordechai lit the menorah.
Then straight up the chimney
Pinkus leapt from the floor.
Mordechai politely went out
the front door.
It's hard to explain
The joyous nakhes I felt
As I saw the Dalmatians
Go to hand out more gelt.
And I heard Pinkus bark,
"Kids can have all they want if."
"Happy Hanukkah," said Mordechai.
"And to all a Good Yontif."
A few years back, I wrote a piece for the Huffington Post about new discoveries surrounding the holiday classic, Handel's "Messiah." Several months later, I followed it up with additional revelations. Given that 'tis its season yet again - it seems like a fine time to repeat the story, as just another of the many holiday traditions. Sort of like a very early, 18th century version of "The Grinch."
But have a glass of nog, as well. Fa la la...
Over the passage of years, we lose track of the conditions that existed when artworks were created. When those years become centuries, the history vanishes, and all that remains is the work itself.That is, until someone researches that history, and puts the piece in its original context.
And that brings up Handel's "Messiah."
By any standard, it's a brilliant piece of music, which has understandably lasted 250 years. Even to those who don't share its religious underpinning, the music is enthralling, and part of the celebration of the Christmas season.
Now comes this detailed, deeply-researched article in the New York Times by Michael Marissen.
"So 'Messiah' lovers may be surprised to learn that the work was meant not for Christmas but for Lent, and that the 'Hallelujah' chorus was designed not to honor the birth or resurrection of Jesus but to celebrate the destruction of Jerusalem and the Second Temple in A.D. 70. For most Christians in Handel's day, this horrible event was construed as divine retribution on Judaism for its failure to accept Jesus as God's promised Messiah."
Mr. Marissen does an impressive, scholarly and even-handed job uncovering the history of Handel's "Messiah." If anyone is interested in that history, do read the article. At the very least, read it before stating an opinion on it...
To be clear, this is not about political correctness. This is about correctness.
The truth, we are told, shall set us free. Either we go out of our way to learn the truth in our lives - and embrace it - or we bury our heads in the sand and listen to the sounds of gravel.
People will still listen to Handel's "Messiah" for centuries to come, whatever the reality behind it. The music is glorious. The words? Well, be honest, it's a fair bet that most people don't know <em >exactly</em> what's being sung about anyway - it's 2-1/2 hours, for goodness sake. Most fans wouldn't listen to "American Idol" for that long. People tend to tune out Handel's "Messiah" about six minutes in and let the music wash over them. When the "Hallelujah Chorus" is about to begin, they get nudged and sit up straight. And even at that, the only words most people know are "Hallelujah" and that it will "reign forever and ever." (Some people probably think it's about Noah's Ark.)
So, in some ways, the libretto of Handel's "Messiah" is not of critical importance 250 years after the fact. And that might be the biggest joke on Charles Jennens, who wrote the text and apparently saw the work as a way to confront what he believed was "a serious menace" in the world By having his friend Handel set his pointed tracts to music, Jennens felt that would help get his point across more subtly to the public. The result, of course, was that the spectacular music swamped over the words, and over time they took on a completely different meaning.
This is known as the Law of Unintended Consequences. Or also, be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.
Somewhere up in heaven, or more likely down in hell, Charles Jenniens has been pounding his head against a wall for the last couple hundred Christmases, screaming, "No, no, no! Don't you people get it?!! It's supposed to be about celebrating the destruction of heathen nations, not the embracing love of mankind. You people are so lame!"
And it gets worse, because starting the day after Christmas - until the next Christmas when Handel's "Messiah" starts playing again - Jennens berates himself all year, wondering if he screwed up his work and didn't make it clear. Like maybe he used too many metaphors, or commas. Or perhaps in Scene 6, when he wrote, "Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron," he should have explained who "them" was or described a different bludgeon.
No doubt there will be some people aghast by the revelations (no matter how valid) about the writing of Handel's "Messiah." I also have no doubt that almost all those who are aghast have never sat through the 2-1/2 hour work. Nor that most of those ever paid attention to what the precise words actually were. But they will be aghast anyway.
On the other hand, most people who <em >have</em > sat and sat through a 2-1/2 hour performance of Handel's "Messiah" likely welcome having an excuse now not to have to do so again.
Mr. Marissen concludes his study with a thought on the subject.
"While still a timely, living masterpiece that may continue to bring spiritual and aesthetic sustenance to many music lovers, Christian or otherwise, 'Messiah' also appears to be very much a work of its own era. Listeners might do well to ponder exactly what it means when, in keeping with tradition, they stand during the 'Hallelujah' chorus."
And while singing along, they might want to add a "Hallelujah" for the truth, as well.
And that, I thought, was the end of the story. But it wasn't.
A few months later, while reading Volume 9 of Will and Ariel Durant's majestic Story of Civilization, entitled "The Age of Voltaire," I came upon their extensive discussion of Handel. After the passage on "The Messiah," the Durants continue on with the composer's life and eventually reach five years later, April of 1747, when Handel had hit hard times. Not only had he written a string of failures and needed to close his theater, but he went into a sort of retirement, and rumor passed that he may even gone insane, though perhaps it might have been mental exhaustion. (The Earl of Shaftesbury remarked, "Poor Handel looks a little better. I hope he will recover completely, though his mind has been entirely deranged.") However there was yet more to Handel - and to the story relating somewhat to the controversy today about "The Messiah." The Durants write -
"...Handel, now sixty years old, responded with all his powers to an invitation from the Prince of Wales to commemorate the victory of the Prince's younger brother, the Duke of Cumberland, over the Stuart forces at Culloden. Handel took as a symbolic subject Judas Maccabaeus' triumph (166-161 B.C.) over the Hellenizing schemes of Antiochus IV. The new oratorio was so well received (April 1, 1747) that it bore five repetitions in its first season. The Jews of London, grateful to see one of their national heroes so nobly celebrated, helped to swell the attendance, enabling Handel to present the oratorio forty times before his death. Grateful for this new support, he took most of his oratorio subjects henceforth from Jewish legend or history: Alexander Balus, Joshua, Susanna, Solomon and Jephtha. By contrast, Theodora, a Christian theme, drew so small an audience that Handel ruefully remarked, "There was room enough to dance."
No doubt, Charles Jennens, author of the text for "The Messiah," is spinning even faster and deeper in his grave. But quality does win out over time. And so does transcending decency. And that, perhaps, in part, and in the end, may well be what we're left with.
Robert J. Elisberg is a two-time recipient of the Lucille Ball Award for comedy screenwriting. He's written for film, TV, the stage, and two best-selling novels, and is a regular columnist for the Huffington Post and the Writers Guild of America. Among his other writing, he has a long-time column on technology (which he sometimes understands), and co-wrote a book on world travel. As a lyricist, he is a member of ASCAP, and has contributed to numerous publications.
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