Monthly Archives: February 2022


There have been far too many moments this week when it’s all been too much. I’ve had to look away from my various news sources in disgust and disbelief. I’ve even needed to tune out from my public radio station – in the middle of a broadcast! – and jump into my music to preserve my mental health.

My sense of the ethical well-being of the world has really taken a hit. Throughout the Olympics, Beijing held up a façade of welcome and serenity. Yet they simultaneously warned that anyone, athlete or commentator, who criticized China and its brutal oppression of the Uyghurs, among other human rights crimes, could be detained by the authorities. And China got away with it.

Texas governor, Greg Abbott, directed state agencies this week to conduct “prompt and thorough” investigations into the use of gender-affirming care for transgender children, a move that follows an opinion from the state attorney general that such treatments are a form of “child abuse.” And from Florida, not surprisingly, in the same week comes the “Don’t Say Gay” law. The bill, as it exists now, stipulates that schools “may not encourage classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in primary grade levels or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students.”

How is it even vaguely conceivable that such hateful and ignorant attitudes exist? And how is it possible that such drivel becomes law? What kind of nation is this, where children can be legally bullied, targeted, and marginalized?

The Reform movement is reeling after this week’s release of the Debevoise and Plimpton LLD investigation of sexual misconduct at URJ summer camps over the past several years. It was a tremendously disturbing and disheartening report to read. What a sad commentary on how men could get away with so much, even while people knew they were up to no good.

Finally, in this week’s catalog of revulsion and disbelief is the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Reading news accounts about Putin and his motivation to smash Ukraine is so profoundly disturbing. It’s the impunity of it all, the way Putin lies with a straight face, does what he wants, and then lies again. And all the while, the world looks on, impotent in the face of such determined aggression.

It would certainly not take much time to come up with more ethical outrage. In the face of it all, how are we to go on? What do we do or say in the face of evil and tyranny, in Ukraine and our own nation? In the world of philosophy, there’s a whole unique field of study that ponders those questions. Theodicy seeks to somehow reconcile the existence of God and the existence of evil in the same Universe. Not too surprisingly, there are no good answers.

My sense of all this is that the battle between the forces of good and evil, the impulse to build bridges vs. the impulse to build walls, is ongoing. There is no satisfying answer to why people resort to malevolence vs. altruism. All we can do is examine our own hearts and do what we can to build a shelter of peace in our own home and community.

At the very least, we have to continue to speak out, to fight the numbing lapse of indifference that attacks when we’re flooded by headlines and stories that blow our minds. It’s all about being an upstander – whatever that means. And this, I think, is a profoundly important reason to be a part of our community. It helps to know that we are not individuals, alone, feeling overwhelmed by the course of events. We together stand for the freedom of others, for the protection of vulnerable souls against evil and hateful people. We are upstanders from a community of conscience and hope.

Will our outrage matter to Vladimir Putin? Does the governor of Texas care about how we stand in opposition to his twisted directives? Nope. But we’re not permitted to remain silent. We must speak from our place of conscience and Jewish tradition. Showing solidarity is not a political act; it’s a mitzvah, a religious obligation.

So I do look away from time to time. But exhausted though my soul may be, I reenter the fray. It’s that damned Hillel quote every time. If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when? It’s hard to be a Jew.

Dear Whoopi

Dear Whoopi,

I’m reaching out to you today wearing several hats.

1. I am a big fan of your work. Whether it’s Ghost or The Color Purple or Sister Act, you are incredibly entertaining and talented. The full range of your repertoire is noteworthy. You’ve made me laugh and cry – sometimes in the same movie! And as far as I know, you are the only Black woman to have an EGOT (Emmy, Golden Globe, Oscar, Tony).

Speaking of laughter, your stand-up act has always been on the money. Sharp, profane, daring, but not aggressive. You have a spark and a style that are as unique as your look.

To be candid, I have never seen The View. I am not a fan of Crossfire-style tv that relies on sniping and backbiting. But over the years, I’ve read about the various fights and feuds. You seem to be on the progressive side of the fence, which I appreciate, since I, too, dwell there.

2. I am in awe of your commitment to social justice. Of course, your work with Comic Relief comes to mind first. But you’ve done so much more. You are a Goodwill Ambassador to the United Nations. You support various causes on behalf of children, the homeless, human rights, education, substance abuse, the battle against AIDS, and many more. No one can doubt your sincere desire to make the world a safer place.

3. I am the son of a Holocaust survivor, a proud Jew, and a rabbi. When I read your recent comments on the Holocaust, I thought immediately, “Oh oh.” According to The New York Times, you said that the Holocaust was about “man’s inhumanity to man” and “not about race.” When one of [your] co-hosts challenged that assertion, saying the Holocaust was driven by white supremacy, you said, “But these are two white groups of people. This is white people doing it to white people, so y’all going to fight amongst yourselves.” Oy.

You have been through the gauntlet for saying these words, which you now deeply regret. Not only did you apologize, but you also specifically acknowledged what you said was wrong then sought to share the correct information. You tweeted, “I said the Holocaust ‘is not about race, but about man’s inhumanity to man.’ I should have said it is about both. As Jonathan Greenblatt from the Anti-Defamation League shared, ‘The Holocaust was about the Nazi’s systematic annihilation of the Jewish people — who they deemed to be an inferior race.’ I stand corrected.”

In The Atlantic, Adam Serwer wrote: The Nazi Holocaust in Europe and slavery and Jim Crow in the United States are outgrowths of the same ideology—the belief that human beings can be delineated into categories that share immutable biological traits distinguishing them from one another and determining their potential and behavior. In Europe, with its history of anti-Jewish persecution and violent religious divisions, the conception of Jews as a biological “race” with particular characteristics was used by the Nazis to justify the Holocaust. In the United States, the invention of race was used to justify the institution of chattel slavery because Black people were biologically suited to permanent servitude and unfit for the rights the nation’s Founders had proclaimed as universal. Therefore, the American color line was much more forgiving to European Jews than the divisions of the old country. But they are branches of the same tree, the biological fiction of race.

What comes out of your misspoken statement ends up being a very significant way – a new way – of understanding the role of antisemitism during the Holocaust and understanding it now.

5. I wear the hat of one who accepts your apology. I truly do. Yes, there was a controversy after your statement. People, including me, were upset and angered. Had you doubled down on your statement, I would’ve called for your termination. But you’ve certainly been contrite and forthcoming. This two-week suspension from your job at The View feels very foolish. It reflects a rush to judgment rather than careful listening.

The head of the ADL, Jonathan Rosenblatt, told Don Lemon at CNN, “In the Jewish faith, we have a concept called ‘teshuva,’ and ‘teshuva’ means redemption. It means all of us have the power to admit when we do wrong and to commit to doing better. I heard Whoopi say that she’s committed to doing better. I accept that apology with the sincerity with which she delivered it. I’m committed, ADL is committed, to work with her and to work with others who really want to use this as a teachable moment”.

I’m with him, Whoopi. I hope that the network executive who did this might soften his hardened heart. The right message would be that people say things, never intending malice. And when they realize that their words were wrong and ill-considered, people ask forgiveness and clarify the truth. You did that. If it’s good enough for the ADL, it should be good enough for ABC.

I won’t be watching The View anytime soon, but I hope you’re back on the job next week.