A Woodstock Carol

(Any resemblance to anyone living or dead or somewhere in between was purely intentional. The names of some characters may have been changed to protect the as of now presumed to be innocent.)


Ebenezer Sludge was sitting in his office counting his newfound money when at the door there was a rap. He had his secretary let in the rappers. No, it wasn’t those kind of rappers, this being Woodstock and all. Rather, it was a group of beggars.

“Please, Sir,” they begged, “might you find it in your heart to clean up our water? We fear our wells will make us unwell.”

“Bah,” replied Ebenezer. “I’ve got this little document here that says, ‘Please excuse Ebenezer from cleaning the water….’”

Before he could finish, a young beggar boy limped forward. “I think you’re using that as a crutch,” said he. With that Ebenezer hurried out of the room amidst heated scoldings.

That night, while lying in bed he heard a sound, one getting louder, and it wasn’t music, there were new codes for that. It was the sound of jangling chains. Suddenly, the door flew open and standing there was Bob Dylan! “I am the Ghost of Woodstock Past” he garbled.

“But you’re not dead, Bob,” Ebenezer reflected. “Oh, right,” Dylan concurred, whereupon he walked back to the door and handed the chains to Levon Helm, who remarked, “It Ain’t You, Bob” as Dylan left. Helm approached the bed. “It is I who has returned from the dead!”

Ebenezer sat up. “No, actually you were from The Band, not the Dead, but continue. You have two minutes.”

“Mr. Sludge, I am here because you have failed as town leader and would-be Democrat to clean up the poisons that threaten these good people you supervise.”

“But my hands are tied,” Ebenezer pleaded. “Hmm, that’s a good idea,” responded Levon, as he wrapped the chains around Sludge’s wrists. “We will be going on a journey, back to the past, to the Woodstock of old. Actually, let me rephrase that, since this town sure ain’t the Woodstock of young anymore. Let’s just say we’re going back in time, is that cool?”

Before Ebenezer could reply, the going-back-in-time sound effects played and they were whooshed back to Woodstock BCVS.

Ebenezer found himself in an apartment above the Café Expresso. There, a young Bob Dylan was composing a song. He stopped long enough to acknowledge his visitors with a, “Hey, nice to see you again,” before returning to writing. “But it ain’t me, Babe. No, no…. oh, now I get that joke from before, Levon. Good one. But I’m in the right place now, right?”

“Yes, Bob,” Levon replied. “You’re in Woodstock, the home of peace, love and harmony.”

“Are you sure about that?” Ebenezer questioned.

“Yes, Ebenezer,” Levon answered. “Come, let’s look around.” With that, they were transported outside, to streets filled with the echoes of guitars and drums. Peace signs and tie dye decorated the landscape. Hippies roamed free, and people exchanged pleasantries as they passed. Levon took Ebenezer from one community store to another, each with its own distinctive smell of incense and sound of classic rock (or, as it was known at the time, “rock.”).

Then, instantly, Ebenezer found himself inside someone’s home. In it there was a family, with children, their voices innocent and joyous. One spoke up. “Mom, I’m thirsty.” “Go to the sink, dear, and get yourself a glass of water,” she directed. And so he went, pouring water directly from the tap and actually drinking it. Ebenezer looked back at the mother, who was showing no signs of concern.

Father was sitting at the desk writing checks. “How’s it coming, honey?” his wife called to him. “Fine and dandy” came the answer. “Our rent is paid and we have plenty of money left over to go shopping at the Grand Union.”

His wife walked over and hugged him. “Isn’t it wonderful to live in such an affordable town,” she beamed. “And to have so many families with children, and from different backgrounds, for ours to play with. Such wonderful and welcome newcomers. And what a great school we have.” “We certainly are blessed,” he responded.

Next, Ebenezer was flown to Town Hall. A meeting was in progress. The citizens and town leaders were sharing concerns and ideas together, with no signs of rancor, privilege, power, intransparency or time limits. Woodstock laws were followed. Board members were free to exchange ideas, free of factions and gag orders. It was truly an exercise in representative democracy.

“I don’t like this!” Ebenezer cried. “Take me away!” And so Levon did, back to Ebenezer’s bedroom in the present, whereupon he disappeared.


Ebenezer dismissed it all as a bad dream, and tried to go back to sleep.

But as he was tossing and turning, turning and tossing, another visitor popped up!

“I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees.”

Ebenezer sat back up. “This is just silly. What are you doing here? I thought you were next door.”

The Lorax coughed back, “I am the Ghost of Woodstock Present.”

“Present?” cried Ebenezer. “You brought me a Christmas present for being such a good boy all year?”

“Hardly,” responded the Lorax.

“That’s okay,” Ebenezer sighed, “I already gave myself one.”

“And it’s not “Woodstock Presents,” it’s “Woodstock Present.” Do I look like an elf? It’s like, you know, the now, capeesh?”

Indeed Ebenezer had to, from all that drinking earlier. After returning from capeeshing, his next thought was, “Okay, so how can you be the Ghost of anything, you’re not dead, you’re fictional.”

The Lorax responded, “Well, admittedly, ’The Ghost of Woodstock’ himself was supposed to be taking over this time slot, but he thought I could provide more poetic justice. Besides, we’re all kind of fictional here, though some of us more than others. Anyway… ahem….”

“Get out of your bed, you’ve slept on this too long
It’s time to account for the things you’ve done wrong
Through the windows and walls, with a hop, skip and jump
Your legacy calls, the next stop, Shady Dump”

“Again with the rhymes,” Ebenezer moaned, as he was whisked away to a place he thought he would never again have to see, or so he prayed, Church Road.

“Some of the fragments in this soil bed
Are arsenic, mercury, pyrene and lead
They threaten the water that your neighbors drink
A leader should care and take action, ya’ think?”

Ebenezer huffed. “We did clean it up. The DEC says there’s no problem.”
With that, the Lorax got mad.

“You said you would clean it, the people here begged
You said it would all go, and then you reneged
Instead you decided to go with ‘Plan E’
Which just cleared the big stuff that people could see
And spread out the rest though it’s still within reach
Allowing the remnants to fester and leach
That two page report that you’ve used for excuses
They wrote just to cover their own sad cabooses
But they even said that the town has permission
To follow its own laws, it was your decision
It was clear all along this case had to be tried
So now you’re in court, but you’re on the wrong side!”

As was his way, Ebenezer tried to make his escape, but the Lorax lifted him deeper into Shady, into the home of the Eighmey’s.

“The Eighmey’s had pleaded, you ignored their voice
So finally they felt that they had no choice
This family’s spent more than one hundred grand
To take you to court so you’d clean up their land
A GoFundMe to get them out of this jam
Was labeled by you nothing more than a ‘scam’
You’ve continue to dismiss this neighborhood’s fear
So answer this question, would you, Sir, live here?”

Ebenezer wouldn’t answer, so the Lorax turned on the faucet.

“How would you feel if they got a court order
Requiring you to drink from the same water?”

The Lorax approached him, holding a freshly filled glass. Ebenezer backed away. “No, take it away! Take me away from here!”

And with that, Ebenezer was, once again, back in his bed.


Ebenezer lay shaken and thirsty, paranoid now about drinking even his own water. Dibenzo(a)anthracenes and acenaphthylenes and indeno(1,2,3-cd)pyrenes danced like toxic sugar plums in his head. He had almost drifted back to sleep when a shadowy, hooded figure crept in.

“I am the Ghost of Woodstock Future,” he hissed.

Ebenezer shot up. “Hey, I’d be interested in purchasing some futures,” he replied eagerly, his self-gifted bonus still beside him.

“Here we go again,” moaned the spectre. “It’s not Woodstock Futures,” it’s “Woodstock Future! Geez! Not everything is a material matter.”

“Well you’re sure not,” cracked Ebenezer. “I can see right through you.”

“And I you, in a figurative sense, of course,” the Ghost retorted. “Now, can we get on with it?”

“Okay,” Ebenezer relented. ”What now?”

“No,” the Ghost corrected. “Not now, then.”


“The futu….” Oh, just follow me,” the spectre hissed, as he beckoned with his bony finger.

The next thing Ebenezer knew, they were standing on the Village Green, beside a misshapen Christmas tree and a prematurely lit menorah. “Don’t blame me,” Ebenezer commented.

“We should put that on a t-shirt for you,” the Ghost countered. ”But on a more serious note, you are here standing at the intersection of two possible paths….”

“I can see that,” Ebenezer interrupted, “one heading up Rock City Road toward the cemetery and one leading down Mill Hill toward the golf course. Hey, wouldn’t it be nice to have a really professional golf course in Woodstock?”

“Uh, no… no it wouldn’t. And anyway, you’re being too literal. I was referring to two spiritual paths. We’ll get to the cemetery bit later. So, Ebenezer, which path do you wish to travel first, the one we’re on or the one that could be?”

“Well, the traffic is usually lighter going toward the cemetery….”

“Forget the traffic! Forget the cemetery! This is a metaphor. Just choose one!

”Okay, okay. Let’s go for the second one.”

Instantly, the scene changed to a renewed Woodstock. Back were the artists and youngsters and hippies, oh my! Locally owned small businesses, co-ops for food and energy, modest single family dwellings and the gifts of the natural environment thrived. Music and the mixed scents of clean air, incense and weed filled the air. Tourists flocked, diversity grew, and newcomers were welcomed. The doors of Woodstock Elementary remained open, there were parks and playgrounds, and families stayed, passing on the treasures of Woodstock to their children and their children’s children.

And Shady? The water was clean and the neighborhood was at peace. And it was all due to the legacy of Ebenezer Sludge, whose statue sat on the Village Green. Having seen the error of his ways, his honesty and ethics, dedication to transparency and democracy, and championing of the environment and affordability saved the Town.

“I always knew I’d be a hero,” Ebenezer laughed as he polished the statue.

“Hold on there, buddy boy,” the spectre admonished. “You haven’t yet seen the other path.”

With that, this glorious scene melted away. In its place, Ebenezer found himself standing at the border between New Woodstock and Old Woodstock, two towns divided by wealth and politics.

Looking down over New Woodstock, Ebenezer saw a shiny new Starbucks where Candlestock used to be… and one on the other side of the street in the old location of the laundry. The heart which had stood in front of Mirabai was still there, fronting for its new tenant, the “Love Travel Agency.”

Further down, what had been the Sunflower plaza now housed a huge L.A. Fitness club and a Jared jewelers. A luxury apartment building, “The New Woodstock Arms,” spanned much of the street space between “Starbucks 1” and CVS, and Airbnb’s abounded. And behind CVS, on the field where Mower’s flea market had graced the area for just short of fifty years, a gated condo community was now situated, after having had to clear nearly a half acre of trees, of course.

As the pair ventured further, past Whole Foods and Monsanto, they came to the Zena Woods development, with its now famous “Woodstock National Golf Course,” the “Open Space Helipad,” and the newest addition, the members-only, Olympic size “Drudge Pool and Spa.” Behind it, condo developments broke up the mountain view.

“Well,” remarked Ebenezer, “this doesn’t seem so bad. Actually….”

The Ghost cut him off. “Wait, you haven’t seen Old Woodstock.” Swiftly, they were back at the Village Green, now green in name only. “Come with me to the other side.” And so they backtracked up Tinker Street.

Tattered tie-dye and rainbow flags still hung over the town. Two bohemian stores were still there, albeit empty and in decrepit shape, alongside a McDonald’s and a 7-Eleven respectively. Street people and what few families remained were entering and exiting the dollar store and food pantry. A multiplex housing unit stood on the field where children once sledded during winters such as these, and a row of abandoned “affordable” homes stretched past the Post Office.

The old Tinker Street Cinema was now a check cashing storefront, and the Woodstock Library had never opened due to the excessive costs of its decontamination. The drum circle had moved to Bearsville, in the center of the complex that included the Bearsville bar and grill and the Taco Bell. And Shady? It was a ghost town, its streets strewn with plastic water bottles and discarded legal papers blowing in the wind.

“Who’s to blame for this?” Ebenezer asked. The spectre shook his cowled head and then spoke. “It’s time to visit the graveyard, Ebenezer.” “No! No!” Ebenezer pleaded, but before he could attempt to make a deal, there they were, standing before a black cloth-covered headstone.

“Who’s to blame, you ask?” the Ghost cackled. “Look and you shall see!” He lifted his hood, and a trembling Ebenezer stood face to face… with himself!
Now the Ghost pointed his skeletal finger at the gravestone. “Come closer, Ebenezer, and look at what lies beneath the cover!”

“Why must I?” Ebenezer begged. The Ghost sighed. “It’s another metaphor, you know, for the lies and cover ups you have been guilty of. Just go do it already. It’s getting late and I’m wanted in Washington.”

Fearfully, Ebenezer approached the gravestone, knelt down, and pulled up the cover, expecting to see his name. Instead, the tombstone read, “Woodstock. 1903-?” All at once, the Ghost was gone, and Ebenezer was once again back in bed, pulling up the cover.

Was it all a dream? Would Ebenezer change? Would Woodstock, as we do, did or could know it, survive? Would the Lorax ever find happiness or be left to pine? Only time will tell….

Hitting Children

I am so sickened by all of the “good old days” posts I see on social media these days. There is so much that is, in fact, sick here, but, as an educator, child development specialist and child advocate, I have to react to the “wooden spoon” sickness. We can start with the fact that hitting children with an object of any kind is illegal, but discussing legality is not the priority when you have morality and practicality.

There is no question, I repeat, NO QUESTION, that hitting children does damage, not just physically, but psychologically, socially and mentally. The research is clear and unequivocal. Deniers are just that, in denial. Sure, some are affected less than others, and there are all sorts of reasons for that, from temperament to culture to prevalence to other aspects of the parent-child relationship. It can, and to one degree or another does, cause fear (which is NOT the same thing as respect), anxiety, anger, guilt, humiliation, low self-esteem, corruption of social and sexual development, poor school performance, lower IQ’s, desensitization to violence, either over-passivity or hostile aggression (two sides of the coin), and cycles of abuse in parenting.

Consider the message given to the daughter that hitting is an expression of love and the consequences when she grows up and chooses and lives with a partner. Consider the message to the son, who will one day be that partner. Consider the sheer illogic of the message that hitting a child teaches that child not to hit. Rather, it teacher the child that hitting is perfectly fine as long as you’re bigger, more powerful and think you’re right. The message should be that one should never consider putting one’s hands on anyone, not a child, not a spouse, not a pet, unless in necessary self-defense.

Sure, people who were beaten/abused (whatever name you want to give to it, just don’t call it “discipline,” because it’s not) have a psychological need to justify it. To not do so requires confronting the possibility that maybe it was damaging, maybe their parents weren’t so wise and effective and honorable, maybe they really weren’t “bad” and deserving but were just kids. So you have to pretend it was okay, you have to forget how it made you feel, you have to ridicule those (including virtually every psychological and medical expert) who threaten to burst your self-protective bubble, and you probably have to hit your own kids to prove its legitimacy.

Hitting children does not work. In fact, research shows that it more often causes increased misbehavior. It doesn’t teach anything generally, except perhaps either blind obedience or sneakiness. It doesn’t teach what was wrong about the behavior, it’s perceived by the child as purely arbitrary, certainly nothing that can be applied when the spoon is no longer hanging over the child like the Sword of Damocles. In one of my classes, when we came to this subject one of my students responded with the typical, “My father hit me and it didn’t do me any harm.” So we played a game. I asked him what his father might have hit him for. “Taking some candy” was his answer. So I told him to imagine there he was, eight years old, there’s the candy, and your father will never know. What would you do? “Then I’d probably take the candy.”

“Discipline” comes from the root word “disciple,” which means “learner.” Discipline is about teaching, not hurting, not punishing, but consequences that are logical and consistent and teach.  A parent teaches by example. Hitting a child is a disgusting example. And when parents assume the power to hit, they are opening the door to their rage or frustration, to alcohol or drugs, or to emotional problems, perhaps triggered by their having been hit themselves as children, to cross the line into even more serious abuse. I never hit my child… nor either of my wives… nor my dog. It must be instilled as a line not to cross. It isn’t funny, it isn’t nostalgic, it’s dangerous.

I know some people reading this are ready with the ridicule and hostility and defensiveness and counter-arguments, if they’ve gotten this far. That’s on them. They have to deal with this, because it’s not debatable. I could attach dozens of articles, from medical journals and psychological journals and university journals, but if one needs to dismiss this then no volume will matter. But if one person is impacted by this and stops hitting his or her child, or even takes a deeper and more loving look at themselves, then all of this writing and whatever reaction it will get are more than worth it.

Such a Long Time Ago

A long time ago, in a galaxy that now seems far, far away, there was a young boy. When he was a baby he was happy and healthy. Passersby would comment at the big smile he exuded. But when he moved from infancy to toddlerhood, things seemed to change. His smile disappeared, his eye contact diminished, his words vanished, his play consisted of lining things up, and the dreams of his father hit a tailspin. There was a name for what had happened. Well, there were many names: “pervasive developmental disorder,” “sensory integration disorder,” “Asperger’s syndrome.” It could be labeled however one preferred, he could be classified with whatever was useful, but his father’s only child was autistic.

The school aged boy was impaired and afraid when it came to making friends. He was too egocentric and viscerally scared of being rejected or taken advantage of. He hated school, and thought himself stupid because schools didn’t accommodate to his ways of being and being smart. He was, however, smart enough to lower expectations, for his teachers and his parents. He projected himself, first as an alien, then as a robot, to embody his struggles with emotions, vulnerabilities, being touched and feeling different. But he also showed a self-aware sense of humor that the “experts” would consider impossible for someone with autism.

He went through social skills programs, which were intended to do what one of his therapists offered as the secret for all of us who weren’t blessed with the social instinct, to learn to fake it until it becomes habitual. In school he had floating teachers with the intention at least of helping him stay focused and less frustrated. At his elementary school graduation, thanks in part to one caring teacher, he was bestowed with two awards for the progress he had made, the President’s Award for Academic Achievement and the Attorney General’s Triple C Award for “character, commitment and courage.” These awards are given to children with special needs. That wasn’t enough.

In middle school he had two very insightful and caring guidance counselors, who helped him with his organization and his mood. He was in a special social skills group, but he wanted out, telling his father that the other children were more impaired than he was and that he was being pulled away from socializing with his friends at lunch to be taught how to socialize. So his father came in to get the perspective of the one guidance counselor about his son’s need for this program. His father will never forget the day, or the tears, when he was told that his son didn’t need it, that he was, for want of a better word since all of these labels are terribly arbitrary, a “normal” kid.

But his grades still suffered. He told his parents to never expect better than a C from him at best, continuing his efforts to lower expectations, for them and likely for himself. He was convinced that his future lay with the physical, not the mental, and once he realized he wasn’t equipped to become an athlete, he figured he would get some job with his hands. By now, though, his intelligence, which IQ tests and schools had denied, and even his father, who had always expected a genius of a child, had been cautious about believing, was undeniable.

Then something happened mid-high school. It’s unclear whether some mysterious switch went on or his practical mind told him that now his grades would actually count. And so they soared. C’s and D’s started becoming the supposedly impossible A’s and B’s. The teen who had said he neither liked nor was good at anything started to recognize and follow his interests and talents in music, sound and media. Deciding to enroll in the Radio and Television Production program at Suffolk, he took their placement tests, and not only didn’t he have to take any developmental courses, his scores were among the highest ever seen. Dean’s Lists, Academic Achievement Awards and Honors’ Societies would follow. And meanwhile, he was becoming a social star, making a circle of friends that remains staggeringly wide. From then to now, he can’t seem to go anywhere without being recognized, and not just for his hair, and flocked to.

After graduating Suffolk with honors, he chose Five Towns College and its Audio Recording program, where his honor-level grades have continued, as have the growth of his brilliance, sociability and maturity. The boy who wouldn’t even read a paragraph in school was now a young man who was picking up weighty philosophy books on his own. The boy who wouldn’t write more than a sentence or two in school was now helping his father with his writing and working on a book of his own. Looking back, maybe he was right about being an alien. He’s like one of those creatures that emerged in some evolved state from a pod. He still has subtle vestiges of whatever one wants to label him with, and can still be a pain in the ass, but, in much larger part, he defies labels and expectations. Today my son graduates, on the doorstep of greater, no, great things, and this recognition is for him, what he has accomplished, proven and become.  One thing has never changed: he is very loved.

P.S. This is from 2019. He’s now in Law School. He has read philosophy, economics and politics extensively. He’s surpassed me, which is the hope of every father, I’d like to think. He may even run for office someday. But that’s another story.

Jews and Muslims and Blacks, Oh My

Okay, so now we find ourselves all essentially in the same boat, and “the ship be sinking.” The question is whether we will continue to struggle with each other until we drown or struggle together against “Trumpism.”

I have basically had to take a break from Facebook because of all of the anti-Jewish attacks and myths perpetrated by not just the right but by disturbed corners of the left as well, not just by those whom I have argued against but by those whom I’ve argued for when it comes to attacks and myths propagated against them. I am not religious, but I have come to be proud of my Jewish cultural heritage, the tradition of helping, of questioning and debating, of the valuing of facts and knowledge, of social conscience born of history and guilt, and, most of all, of siding with the “underdog.” Yes, I’ve seen in my lifetime too many Jews diverge from the direction their moral compass was pointing, out of both the typical paranoia suffered by most oppressed groups and their attempts to assimilate into White culture. But what still distinguished them… us… was that there was usually a wall that kept our missteps from reaching the depths to which members of most other White ethnic groups could sink, and that there were still many of us, disproportionately more in fact, that could never abandon our progressive roots. Where once we were the staunchest allies of African Americans in their struggles for civil rights, we allowed, and were substantially responsible for, a bitter schism to develop. And though we shared so much kinship and pain with Muslims, we are not only at odds, we are at war. And all the time, those who rule the world laugh at the success of their divide and conquer games: at the belief that it is “Zionists” and not corporatists that hold their seat of power, at the belief that it is Islam and not imperialism that is the principal and true source of terrorism, at the belief that it is the scapegoats, immigrants or Blacks or poor people or “political correctness” depending on the election season, that are the enemies of angry working people and not them, and at the belief that we, Jews and Muslims and Blacks, whatever our misunderstandings, are not natural and necessary allies in a battle for our mutual survival.

Once upon a time, Jews were not only active partners but in leadership positions in the civil rights movement. Many had commitment and courage enough to be beaten, and some, like Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, famously, to be lynched alongside their African American brothers and sisters. For decades, surveys of different ethnicities found Jews far and away the most supportive of African American rights. But in a racist society, it’s hard, even among the well intentioned, to avoid absorbing some of its prejudice, and many Blacks felt that the Jews who were supposed to be supporting them were actually more paternalistically trying to lead a movement that should be self-determined. In addition, as the Black Power movement grew and anger against Whites started to be freed, Jews became a particular target. I think this was because of two visibility factors: that we were the last White ethnic group to escape segregation and poverty and leave the communities that Blacks were moving into, with some remaining in the capacities of landlords and shop owners, and because of the tradition of serving in the helping professions, making us the teachers and social workers that Blacks were, not always pleasantly, dealing with. Unfortunately, for some African Americans, ranging from the Nation of Islam to, at one time, Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, the anti-Semitic stereotypes cast onto Jews coming from within other White ethnic groups that were nowhere to be seen seemed too tempting not to embrace. And many Jews, who couldn’t or didn’t want to understand this dynamic that was unfolding or the role of some of their own in its percolation, reciprocally turned their own backs on their former allies, albeit still not as much as those who had never been sympathetic in the first place.

Meanwhile, we have the greater mutual hatred centered in the Middle East, between Jews and Muslims. We should see this as fratricide. Jews and Arab Muslims are bound together as Semites, “the seed of Abraham.” Both claim the bequeathing by God of the “Holy Land” to them, and not coincidentally. Now, being non-religious, I would have found it more politically practical and morally justifiable if the subdivision of Germany had been for the purpose of creating the Jewish State rather than it being a plaything for imperialists. I am not a Zionist in the sense that I am not a nationalist and have no allegiance to Israel, especially given its reactionary and oppressive policies. But unlike too many, I understand what Zionism is, and is not. Zionism is not some conspiratorial international power elite of bankers and merchants, despite the ravings of neo-Nazis and people who have chosen, intentionally or defensively, to believe them. Zionism does not control America or Britain or any country other than Israel; the tail does not wag the dog. It is hard to blame Jews fleeing pogroms and gas ovens and millennia of other inventions of extermination to want a homeland of their own, again. Some of the leaders of their movement were imperialists, sure, but most were survivors who, like Moses, were trying to lead their people toward their prophesied salvation. Some really believed that Palestine was “a land without a people for a people without a land,” and some clearly knew otherwise. It’s not very different from the “manifest destiny” that led victims of religious persecution in Europe to the alleged “New World.” The moral questions arise once each group arrived and (pardon the expression) “discovered” that there indeed was a people already settled there and for a long time (for those who believed that time is relevant to their “eternal God”). What followed were displacements and massacres. In Palestine, Jewish terrorists (yes, we can use that term, too), the Irgun and the Stern Gang, were ruthless in the colonization, and the rest of the immigrants either tacitly approved or looked away. The intention, even after the partition imposed by the Western powers that saw the remaining Arabs getting the least desirable and cultivable of what had been their homeland (since, like the Native Americans, they didn’t know what to do with the land anyway), was clearly to take over all of “Eretz Israel,” which has become reality with the support of those Western powers. And why did they provide that support, and those arms and vetoes? Not because “Zionists” control anything, but because having a “friendly ally” in an area where their control was shaky at best was and is good politics and business, hence the propping up of other “friendly” regimes, from that of the Shah of Iran to the current government of Iraq. Even Westerners ranging from neo-Cons to neo-Nazis who otherwise hate Jews as much as, if not more than Muslims support Israel, for reasons political, economic and/or religious. Anyway, the “anti-Zionist” sentiment of Palestinians, fellow Muslims, and their supporters, who in America, again, happen to be disproportionately Jewish, is more than understandable. But sadly, beginning with the collaboration between the Nazis and some Arab leaders, and continuing as too many Palestinians, from their vantage point, started seeing Israel and Zionism as a multi-tentacled giant that embodied and confirmed the historic stereotypes of Jews rather than just one of hundreds of governments that oppress their minorities, “Zionists” became a code word. This further provoked the paranoia and tightened the blinders, very typical of “post-oppressive syndrome,” of many Jews internationally, who already believed themselves “chosen” and carried their own horrible myths and stereotypes about Islam.

And now we live in a world of lies and self-fulfilling prophesies, and we Americans are facing a regime made up of racists and of anti-Semites in the fullest sense of the term. Trump supporters are celebrating a victory for White Christian America, with, by now since the election, over a thousand cases of harassment and assault against Jews and Muslims, African Americans and Latinos, and the spray-painting of swastikas and “KKK” next to “Trump” in schoolyards and dorms and on people’s cars and homes. White supremacists have been fueled and emboldened, and a White nationalist/anti-Semite has been appointed the chief Presidential advisor by a President-elect who used neo-Nazi sources of “information” for his campaign, picked someone who was too racist for a Republican Congress to approve for a federal judgeship to be our Attorney General, and still talks about a registry for Muslims. So I am reaching out to my Muslim and Black brothers and sisters. Can we afford to be divided anymore? Does it even matter “who started it” when the specter of someone else “finishing it” hangs over our collective heads? In the face of “divide and conquer” we have to unite, and finally understand now that it is undeniably clear that an attack on any of us is an attack on all of us and requires that we stand and fight back together, as we should have all along. 

Israel and Palestine

(as submitted to a local newspaper)

The back and forth between “anti-Israel” and “pro-Israel” letter writers has been missing something: complete honesty, because complete honesty creates complications and inconveniences. I am Jewish, and, as such, I believe that my progressive heritage demands that I side with the oppressed, the deprived and the dispossessed. So I have been a supporter of Palestinian rights for over fifty years, and embarrassed by the nationalistic blinders worn by so many of “my people” when it comes to the slaughters and displacements, the apartheid and oppression committed by the Israeli government and perpetrators acting in its name.

But such blinders are hardly unique to Jews. How many Irish Americans, for example, were ardent supporters of the I.R.A. while condemning virtually all similar freedom fighting groups as “terrorists?” And blinders are not unique to the pro-Israeli side either. In fact, the issue of “uniqueness” plays an important role in this whole discussion.

While opposition to Israel, including the boycott (which I do support), is not in and of itself anti-Semitic, there is no question that some who advocate for the Palestinians, on the left as well as the right, have not abided by that distintinction. Israel is certainly not the only country that abuses its minority population. Zionism is clearly not the only form of nationalism that has been corrupted by manifestations of racism and colonialism. Yet for some, Israel and Zionism are the very symbols and sources of all evil. For too many, “anti-Zionism” bears too striking a resemblance to the myth of the international “Zionist” (read “Jewish”) conspiracy propagandized by the Nazis. Nazis did, for their own purposes, exploit the legitimate resentments of Palestinians toward their colonizers, and “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” remains popular reading among many Palestinians.

We read mirroring manifestos from fringes of the right and the left peppered with code words like “Soros” and “Rothschild,” wherein “Zionism” is not understood to have been an outgrowth of the desperation of a genocidally persecuted people to come together and find a safe home, but, rather, a “cabal.” To me, it was unfortunate that a partitioned Palestine was chosen instead of, say, the partitioned Germany. Neither ancient history nor religious beliefs justified it. Should the masses of innocent refugees fleeing extermination, who were told that the land was unoccupied and willed by God, have not turned a blind eye to the killings and displacements once they arrived, sure, but that’s easy to say, especially when no one else wanted them. Should we expect Palestinians to confine their resentment to just their persecutors and filter out the age-old myths, and to respond to their own desperation, their own persecution, their own homelessness with less violence and less hate than they experienced, sure, but that, too, is easy to say, especially when the abuse and expansion continue. What’s harder to say is what we do about it now. We could start with dialogue and empathy. Time has legitimized Israel, just as it has legitimized this country, also founded through displacement and massacre justified by a version of “manifest destiny.” But time can’t legitimize inhumane governmental policies. We should condemn those by the government of Israel, but without mythologies and disproportion. We must support a homeland for the Palestinian people, also without mythologies and with equal respect for their rights and religions. If we keep deluding ourselves about history, morality and truth, more generations of both Palestinians and Israelis are doomed to die.

The Olives and the Grapes

A very, very long time ago
In a magical place called “Palacetown”
There lived a family known as “The Grapes”

They believed that the Great King
Had decreed that Palacetown
Belonged to them
And their children and their children’s children

But one day a new landlord took over Palacetown
And kicked out the Grapes
So, with no home of their own,
The Grapes spread apart
To many different places

Sadly, in almost every place they went
They were treated very badly
In some places so terribly
That it wasn’t clear if the Grapes would even survive

Meanwhile, in Palacetown
One landlord after another took over
And came to rule over
And mistreat the Olives
Who had been living there for a long time
Since the Grapes had left

A funny thing about the Olives
They also believed that the Great King
Had decreed Palacetown to them
And their children and their children’s children
Just like the Grapes did

As you can see
Palacetown was a very important place
To both the Grapes and the Olives
And to others
Including another big family
Known collectively as the Passion Fruits

Many years passed
And the Grapes continued to suffer
In every place they went
Some remembered Palacetown
And came there to live

And as things kept getting worse for the Grapes
In other places
More started coming

Some of them were content to live alongside the Olives
And even considered them cousins
Some of the Olives were content to live alongside the Grapes
But some Olives felt threatened
Especially after some of the Grapes started taking things over
And started to say that Palacetown really belonged to them

In a very, very bad place ruled by the Not-us
The most terrible things of all started to be done to the Grapes

A small number of them escaped
But where could they go?
They were scared that what was happening with the Not-us
Would happen to them again and again
And they were tired of running

Some believed that the only way to protect themselves
Was to have a real home of their own again
And many of them had never given up the idea
That the Great King wanted that home to be Palacetown

And then when an invitation was sent out
Not by the occupants, but by new overlords
To come and establish a home there
That’s what many of them did

Some of the leaders of the Grapes
Had even told their followers
That nobody lived in Palacetown
Or at least nobody important

But the Olives lived there
And had lived there and had suffered there
For many years
But it was almost like nobody seemed to notice
Or care about that

Meanwhile, to complicate matters even more
Some of the leaders of the Olives
Had been listening to and working with the Not-us
And told their followers horrible things about the Grapes

Many of the Olives
Who were already angry at the Grapes
For starting to take their home away from them
Began to believe those horrible things

And so, because of all of this mess
The Olives and the Grapes starting hating each other

Many of the Grapes
Came to believe that the Olives were really beasts
And couldn’t take care of Palacetown
And many of the Olives
Came to believe that the Grapes were actually devils
That had to be stopped

So, sadly
The Grapes and the Olives started fighting

And some Grapes
Started doing things to the Olives
That were almost like the things that had just been done to them
In other places
In order to drive the Olives out of Palacetown
And claim it once again as theirs

Not all of the Grapes liked this
They hadn’t really understood about the Olives before they arrived
But they were desperate
And they believed that it was what the Great King had wanted
So they turned their heads
And accepted it

And as a result
Many of the Olives fled Palacetown
Just like the Grapes had fled from the Not-us
But some of the Olives fought
To drive out the Grapes
Believing that that was really what the Great King had wanted

Soon the landlord
Decided to divide up the land
Giving half to the Grapes
And half to the Olives
Or should we say taking half from the Olives

Some leaders of the Olives
Wanted to fight
To take back all of Palacetown
Some leaders of the Grapes
Wanted to fight
To take all of Palacetown, too

And, so, there was a huge battle
Neighboring places got involved
Some to help the Olives
Some to benefit themselves
Some because they hated the Grapes

And out of this big fight
Most of what was Palacetown
Now became “Is-grape”
And the rest of it
Was held by those neighbors

And the Olives?
Most of them were left
Living in not so great places
Now owned by those neighbors

And the ones that stayed
Were treated like they didn’t belong there anymore
Because they weren’t Grapes

Now it was the Olives
That needed a home of their own
But they believed
Like the Grapes had
That that home should be Palacetown

There were more big fights
Is-grape got bigger and stronger
It took over some of those nearby areas
On which Olives lived
Saying that they were part
Of what the Great King had once given them

The Olives grew more hopeless
And desperate
And mad
And kept on attacking Grapes
And the Grapes attacked back
And forth

The Grapes said
That when they attacked the Olives
It was to protect the home
That they had always dreamed of

But when they looked at the Olives
They didn’t see the real faces
Of people they had mistreated
They saw instead
The faces of the bad people
Who had mistreated them over the years

The Olives said
That when they attacked the Grapes
It was to reclaim the home
That they now dreamed of

But when they looked at the Grapes
They didn’t see people
Who had been chased and terrorized
All over the world
They saw instead
Some giant evil force
That somehow actually controlled the world

And, so, the world chose up sides
Some of it supporting the Grapes
And some of it supporting the Olives
And at times it seemed
That this would lead to the biggest fight of all
In the whole wide world

Some of the supporters of the Grapes
Were only using them for their own interests
They really didn’t care much about the Grapes
But cared even less about the Olives

Some of the supporters of the Olives
Didn’t really care about them either
But they still held that same hatred of the Grapes
That they had learned from the Not-us

And then there were some
Who wanted peace
But it seemed impossible
Maybe they could split up the land again?
Have an Is-grape and a Palacetown
Side by side?

That possible solution started growing
But some Olives thought it wasn’t enough
And some Grapes thought it was too much
And neither group trusted the other
Or felt safe living side by side

And even if they could solve that problem
There was one that seemed insurmountable
And that was the status of Gem-salem

You see
Gem-Salem was a place of special importance
For the Grapes
And the Olives
Not to mention the Passion Fruits

And even if they managed
To live side by side
Gem-salem was smack dab in the middle
Of the part that would belong to the Grapes

The Olives needed to get to Gem-salem
Its magic was as necessary for them as Olives
As the Grapes felt it necessary for them as Grapes

But even if the Grapes allowed them to visit
That’s all they would ever be, visitors
And they’d have to travel through Grape land
They didn’t think that was fair or safe
Or what the Great King wanted

Both sides worried about their safety
There was already lots of fighting going on
On the outsides of Is-grape

With Grapes attacking Olives
To keep them out
And in their place

And Olives attacking Grapes
Sometimes in horrible ways
That reminded the Grapes
Of the horrors of their past

Those horrors should have been a lesson
In how not to treat people
The Grapes had always been better than that
But sometimes lessons can be mislearned

And fear and hate and desperation
Can be blinding
As became the case
For both sides

They say that all roads lead to Gem-salem

But they’re winding and perilous ones
Where does the answer lie?
Would it be to divide? Could it be to unite?
A Gem-salem forever at odds
Or a Gem-salem for the world

It would take some imagination
And some dedication
And some courage
And some sacrifice

But those
Are in short supply
In Is-grape
Or Palacetown
Or whatever you want to call it

And meanwhile
The children of the children of the children
Of the Olives and the Grapes
Are doomed to hate
And to fight
And worse

And to forget
That these two special fruits
Come from the very same seed.

To Those Appalled by Property Violence

Okay, so where were you and your outrage as violence against people was being committed? For four hundred years this country has committed violence against African Americans, from genocidal violence to police violence to societal violence. Have you expressed how appalled you have been about the more than one hundred unarmed Blacks killed by police per year? Have you spoken out regarding the horrific disparities in health care, life expectancy, education, employment, income, environmental protection, police stoppings, arrests, convictions, sentences and incarcerations? Where was your outrage about New Orleans and Flint, Michigan, and during this epidemic how concerned were you about the dramatically disproportionate deaths in the Black communities? What did you do in the face of racist jokes and stereotypes and words? When did you show your disgust for the vile racist language and racist history of your President, and are you still with him, even as he continues to inflame the situation solely for his own political gain by substituting shoot to kill directives and military attacks on peaceful protesters for expressions of sobered empathy and calls for unity?

You don’t like violence? Fine, neither do most of the protesters, self-evidently. But what changed after the police murders of Eric Garner, John Crawford III, Michael Brown, Ezell Ford, Dante Parker, Michelle Cusseaux, Laquan McDonald, George Mann, Tanisha Anderson, Akai Gurley, Tamir Rice, Rumain Brisbon, Jerame Reid, Matthew Ajibade, Frank Smart, Natasha McKenna, Tony Robinson, Anthony Hill, Mya Hall, Phillip White, Eric Harris, Walter Scott, William Chapman II, Alexia Christian, Brendon Glenn, Victor Manuel Larosa, Jonathan Sanders, Freddie Blue, Joseph Mann, Salvado Ellswood, Sandra Bland, Albert Joseph Davis, Darrius Stewart, Billy Ray Davis, Samuel Dubose, Michael Sabbie, Brian Keith Day, Christian Taylor, Troy Robinson, Asshams Pharoah Manley, Felix Kumi, Keith Harrison McLeod, Junior Prosper, Lamontez Jones, Paterson Brown, Dominic Hutchinson, Anthony Ashford, Alonzo Smith, Tyree Crawford, India Kager, La’Vante Biggs, Michael Lee Marshall, Jamar Clark, Richard Perkins, Nathaniel Harris Pickett, Benni Lee Tignor, Miguel Espinal, Michael Noel, Kevin Matthews, Bettie Jones, Quintonio Legrier, Keith Childress, Jr., Janet Wilson, Randy Nelson, Antronie Scott, Wendell Celestine, David Joseph, Calin Roquemore, Dyzhawn Perkins, Christopher Davis, Marco Loud, Peter Gaines, Torrey Robinson, Darius Robinson, Kevin Hicks, Mary Truxillo, Demarcus Semer, Willie Tillman, Terrill Thomas, Sylville Smith, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Terence Crutcher, Paul O’Neal, Alteria Woods, Jordan Edwards, Aaron Bailey, Ronell Foster, Stephon Clark, Antwon Rose III, Botham Jean, Pamela Turner, Dominique Clayton, Atatiana Jefferson, Christopher Whitfield, Christopher McCorvey, Eric Reason, Michael Lorenzo Dean or Breonna Taylor? And now George Floyd….

Now all of a sudden not only was the murderer quickly fired, but those who stood by and did nothing are also facing justice, and police are being fired or suspended for using excessive force on demonstrators, and police chiefs across the country are promising reforms, and one police officer forced another to get his fucking knee off of a detainee, and police are kneeling, and television shows about institutional racism are popping up all over, and threats of violence AGAINST the protests are driving MORE people into the streets. Did purely “peaceful” protests ever accomplish all that? And since you’re so adamant that this isn’t the right way, were YOU doing it the right way, were YOU marching and speaking out for justice, were YOU among the White people who, had they been saying NO MORE all along would have prevented us from having reached this point?

Yeah, I feel badly, too, for the small shop owners whose businesses were demolished, whether by protesters or the police agents, White supremacists and other Trump supporters who are trying to discredit the protests or use them as a cover for more racism. Interestingly, though, many of them have nonetheless expressed sympathy for the protests, because, unlike you, they know what it’s like to have to sit your child down and have “the talk” with him or her about what to do when stopped by a police officer, and what to wear and how to look when walking down the street, and what not to do when confronted with a slur, and what to do with their anger at the injustices and debasements they are seeing around them. Your sympathies for them ring hollow. Ironically, it all seems like a good cop-bad cop scenario. There are millions of peaceful protesters. Finally LISTEN to them, because, otherwise, there’s your alternative.


Rep. Omar’s Words and the Backlash

Those who condemn Rep. Ilhan Omar and those who defend her are both wrong. The issues are far more complicated than that. I do not believe that her comments were intentionally anti-Semitic. Had they been said about pretty much any other group or lobby they would have been taken as relatively innocuous political analysis. Yes, money does buy politicians. Yes, Israel does receive special treatment and blind loyalty by many of its supporters (just as it receives special treatment and blind hatred from many of its detractors). And clearly it is not anti-Semitic to criticize the contemptible government of Israel. Moreover, it is unconscionable to deny its historic oppression of the Palestinian people. It is, or at least once was, in the spirit of the Jewish people to identify with the persecuted and dispossessed and to shun the blinders with which the world has looked upon they themselves.

But Representative Omar’s words struck a nerve, and it’s a real one. And I’m not referring to the reactions of many on the Right who are hypocritically exploiting her remarks for political purposes or answering her alleged anti-Semitism with Islamophobia. Nor am I referring to the reactions of many on the Left whose doctrinaire, black and white perspectives on Zionism and often Jews themselves more closely resemble National Socialism than Socialism. I am referring to the raw nerves of the descendants of genocide, who are still the victims of hate crimes and hate speech. We cannot ignore their legitimacy. Too many people seem to understand the power of words when directed at themselves but are easily dismissive of the offense taken by others to what they perceive as slurs or stereotypes. And if we are to be truly honest and even-handed, we must also understand the counter-reaction by people whose families have also been massacred, displaced and ignored, and who themselves also still deal every day with hate crimes and hate speech. Shouldn’t the parallels of the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre and the New Zealand mosques massacre tell us anything? Shouldn’t they tell Jews and Muslims that mutual understanding is a means to their survival?

When Rep. Omar talked about “the Benjamins,” she was using an expression, popularized in a rap song, that I believe she at least mostly meant to refer to the influence of money in politics. Again, if the reference was to lobbying by the N.R.A. or the Fossil Fuel industry or Big Pharma, it wouldn’t have stirred much reaction other than typical Left-Right sparring. More to the point, had it been directed at Saudi Arabian influence on our government, it not only wouldn’t have set off much controversy, there might not have been much sparring over it at all. But the hateful historic stereotypes about Jews and money are too deeply rooted and felt to be ignored. They’re still with us. The code word on the Right these days is “Soros.” The code word on the Left is “Rothschild.” The verb “to Jew” is still in the lexicon.

Trump’s campaign speech to the Republican Jewish Coalition was filled with such stereotypes. He once said that he didn’t want Blacks handling his money, he wanted people with yarmulkes. His campaign several times used tweets from neo-Nazi groups, replete with Stars of David and dollar signs. Whenever there’s a demonstration, the Right is quick to claim that the protestors were paid for by “Soros.” Meanwhile, on the Left we see lots of willful confusion over what Zionism really is and sometimes even what Judaism really is. We find too many so-called “progressives” who have somehow bought into the Nazis’ big lie about an international conspiracy of Jewish bankers, one which controls American politics, seeing it as cutting-edge Marxism without any sense of its cutting edge. And despite all fact and reason, some reading this might still believe there’s some truth to the myth that was used to slaughter much of our ancestry, and it would be very tempting by now to tell them to go to Hell if Jews believed in one.

There’s also a long and painful history of questioning the loyalties of Jewish Americans. Catholics should be able to relate to that, were it not for the “special otherness” of Jews. Japanese Americans, whose parents may have been locked up in “internment camps” during World War Two should also be able to attest to the toxicity of such charges. And now, and not surprisingly given so many parallels between Jews and Muslims, American Muslims including Rep. Omar are being questioned about their allegiance to “Sharia Law” instead of the American Constitution. Sure, Jews have the right to immigrate to Israel and request citizenship, under “The Law of Return” drafted after two thousand years of wandering. But that’s quite different. European non-Jews with actual dual citizenship aren’t subjected to the same suspicions. And although it is fair and right to point out that this provision allows American Jews preferential status in Israel over its native Palestinian population, one simply has to take an objective and sensitive look at history.

Why would Jews want a Jewish state? Why do Palestinians? After two thousand years plus of persecution, uprooting and genocide, the safety and unity provided by a homeland should be easy to understand. Thus, Zionism should be easy to understand. One can certainly argue that the homeland should not have been in Palestine. Personally, I believe that instead of dividing Germany between the imperialist powers a Jewish refuge should have been created there. But there were those who believed that their God decreed that it be in their Biblical holy land, essentially the same thing that most Palestinian Muslims believe. Did some imperialists exploit the religious argument and lead desperate refugees there to gain a foothold in the region, sure. Can one make the argument that nationalism, whatever the legitimacy of its initial motive, is divisive and chauvinistic, yes. Can Zionism also be compared to the “Manifest Destiny” of the European conquerors of the Indigenous population of the Americas, of course. Could those desperate Jewish refugees, once arriving and seeing that Palestine/Israel was not a “land without a people for a people without a land” still have made a different moral choice, probably so. All of that is fair argument. What is not fair argument is tying Zionism to some singular, sinister international plot, and calling out Israel alone as a central source of evil in a world full of racism and oppression and terror and corruption. And it is equally unfair for some to believe that they can get away with bigoted innuendos about Jews that would not be permitted against almost any other group.

While Jews were fleeing from place to place, persecution to pogrom, for millennia, Palestinians were being ruled by one occupier after another after another after another. The Palestinian struggle for human rights and a homeland is a just one. But, unfortunately, just as some of the Zionist leadership was corrupted by imperialists, some of the Palestinian and Arab leadership were corrupted by Nazis. They conspired in the persecution of Jews, just as some Jews have persecuted the Palestinians. It’s understandable that a population occupied and abused in the name of a particular group of people will, without any further frame of reference, grow to embrace hate-filled views of that people. But young Palestinians are still being indoctrinated with the likes of the fake “Elders of Zion” alleged manifesto, answering bigotry with bigotry, stereotypes with stereotypes, and ignorance with ignorance, leaving no higher moral ground for anyone to stand on.

I am glad Rep. Omar listened to those who were hurt by her words, and am heartened that she volunteered an apology. I am also glad that the Democrats chose a resolution that condemned all forms of bigotry and stereotyping and did not escalate what is better to understand as misunderstanding. But I condemn those who, despite rabid anti-Semitism in their own backyards, wanted to (or did) beat her up to advance their own agendas, just as I condemn those who tried to undermine this potential learning experience by turning her into the victim. The efforts going on currently for Muslims and Jews to listen to and communicate with one another has been uncomfortable, sometimes painful. But it has to happen. There are many Jews who have shown support and solidarity with Palestinians and Muslim Americans, just as there are many Muslims who have themselves decried hatred of all kinds, including anti-Semitism. We are used and hated by the same people and institutions. If we don’t find understanding and common ground, who will be there when they come for us?

Please Don’t Wish Me a Merry Christmas

Okay, so you got your Christmas back. Praise Trump and Hallelujah. Nobody is going to make you say “Happy Holidays,” or display a menorah next to your tree, or take away your God-given Christian civil rights ever again. Hell, nobody is going to stop you from saying that word, or telling that joke, or evading the P.C. police anymore. Put that creche back in the town square. Get Santa back in the classroom along with Jesus. I mean, we non-Christians are going to hell if we don’t get converted and Christianized anyway, so why bother with those bygone ideas of diversity, inclusion and sensitivity? You’ve got your Christmas back, and not just December 25th, but the whole twelve days. Nah, why settle for just that when you can have the world? Get those lights and songs and sales started in November, or, better, October, the whole blessed Christmas “season.” After all, this is a Christian nation again, just like the politicians you listen to say. It’s the way the Founding Fathers would have wanted it, according to the news network you watch. I mean, if you can leave races and genders out when it comes to the rights of the national Constitution, what’s the big deal about leaving religions and non-religions out when it comes to the blessings of a national holiday?

Except that nobody ever made you stop saying “Merry Christmas” to everyone, nobody told you that you had to say or display anything that recognized the faith or culture of any customer or passerby or loved one that didn’t share yours, except maybe your boss or your mother. It was done out of consideration. It was done in an effort to balance the dominance and restrain the imposition of one subculture over others, just like we added holidays and months of recognition and statues and Constitutional amendments. The thing is that “P.C.” gets a bad rap. When I went to school there was no mention of Hanukkah, and we were all asked what we would be getting for Christmas. If you have ever felt marginalized or excluded or devalued, and many have experienced those feelings in far greater ways, maybe you’ll get it.

The intention of “political correctness” was to create safe, comfortable, inclusive, non-biased environments for students, workers, customers and the like, free of racist jokes, hateful words, unwanted actions, denials of self-definition and thoughtless imposition. Obviously, people in their homes, neighborhoods and own businesses can’t be governed by such requirements, they have to do it consciously and voluntarily… even when they get permission not to. I light the kinara not because I’m African American, I put up the Christmas tree not because I’ve assimilated, but out of respect for my son and my friends. I light the menorah not because I’m religious, but because I’m making a statement about who I am, and who I am not. Admittedly I sometimes put up the Christmas tree grudgingly, ever aware of the pressure that Jewish kids, that I was under to give in and join the big celebration that doesn’t even pretend to be religious anymore, thereby allowing it to be nationalized, rather than staying in the lonesome shadows behind all of the Christmas lights and settling for the little presents of dreidels and gelt spread out over eight days. Sure, put Jesus back in Christmas, even if he was born in the Spring. At least that would draw the lines more clearly.

But I also think of the Islamic kids, the Buddhist and Hindu and Sikh and atheist kids, and, perhaps most of all, the Jehovah’s Witness kids. Where do they belong? I think of the depressed and suicidal kids during this time of family festivity, and the impoverished kids in this time of commercialism and gluttony, who in their own ways are also left out and for whom “Merry Christmas” can be a cold slap in the face. I think of the hypocrisy of all of the words about “peace” and “good will” and “sharing” and “harmony” that disappear along with the New Year’s Day hangover, when we go back to war and bigotry and greed and division, disparaging the poor, neglecting the sick, following the tyrant and keeping out the wanderer, just as Jesus would have wanted it.

I know, you’re probably thinking that I think too much, that it’s just some words and some fun. People in the dominant culture always minimize the arguments and the feelings of those on the outside looking in, because they don’t have to look out. “Lighten up, it’s just a joke, where’s your sense of humor?” “It’s just a word, your people use it. Get over it. Making an issue of it is reverse prejudice.” “We can call it a ‘civil union,’ it doesn’t have to be called ‘marriage,’ marriage means something else. It’s really the same thing.” “Why take down the statues? They’re part of our history. You want to wipe out history.” “We can’t change the name of our team. You’re being oversensitive.” “Now it’s men who are the victims.” “We didn’t use to have a problem before all this PC.” “What’s the big deal, Christmas is for everybody.”

It sure seems that “Christmas is for everybody,” since one can’t escape for months all of the Christmas music in the stores and the elevators and one’s favorite rock stations, or all the Christmas-themed TV shows invading one’s living room and interrupting the regular entertainment from which one seeks escape and comfort, or the fact that everything in the whole immediate world closes down on Christmas Day except for the Chinese restaurants and movies, our tribe’s congregation places. But I digress. So, anyway, please don’t wish me a “Merry Christmas.” That’s not who I am. Don’t even wish me a “Happy Hanukkah.” That’s really not who I am either. If you want to wish me something, wish me health and love and friendship and peace… every day equally… and I will happily and merrily do the same.

Isn’t It Ironic?

So I have almost no voice now. I don’t mean that in some political or existential sense, I mean it literally. I have a polyp on my vocal cords. Yes, the same vocal cords that became inexplicably paralyzed twenty something years ago, a condition which didn’t just change and compromise my voice, but left me with a dangerously narrowed airway. That’s why they can’t simply surgically remove it. So instead I’m being sent for vocal training, to not only reduce the strain but perhaps heal the polyp. There have been so many interlocking ironies.

Up until the laryngeal paralysis I had had two great passions (besides sex, of course), writing and playing softball. I had been writing since childhood, and had been giving readings of my poetry in my early twenties. But writing hardly seemed the basis for a money-making career. (As it turns out, it’s quite the money-killer for a post-retirement second career as well.) So instead I ultimately chose teaching. This in part stemmed from a fantasy I had during the Vietnam era of fleeing the country to avoid the draft and teaching at McGill University in Montreal. What I was at all qualified to teach at the time was beside the point. But I ended up avoiding the draft by having to remain in college an extra semester because my anti-war activities took away from class time. I, a socialist, then found myself working in a financial company down by Wall Street. I also found myself coping with anxiety. It was because of my anxiety that I got into teaching, thanks to a referral by my psychiatrist.

I expected to be teaching kids somewhere in the elementary to pre-secondary grades. But I landed instead in preschool, in part, I’m sure, due to whatever psycho-therapeutic benefits it may have had for me. Years later I would make the transition, almost accidentally, to college teaching, circling back to my initial vision, in order to train new preschool teachers. But whereas I was and am a natural writer, I may have become pretty good at teaching through hard, sometimes self-flagellating work, but I was never a natural. And standing in front of a room of adults would cause consistent performance anxiety and periodic panic attacks. So, ultimately, teaching, which resulted from my efforts to deal with my anxiety, would prove to be the greatest source of my anxiety.

Oh, and then there’s my voice. Every new year of college teaching would bring a temporarily hoarseness in readjusting to lecturing five classes. One year it wasn’t temporary. Doctors at the time didn’t really know much about laryngeal paralysis, and, so, I was sent for some vocal training, which at the time wasn’t the issue, albeit that it now is. I learned to teach with a microphone, which, as I managed to compensate for my loss of projection, became unnecessary in smaller classrooms. There’s no way I could do any of that now. But I don’t have to, since I’m now retired from teaching and focused on writing. So I don’t need much voice, except for the telephone. It would have been a disaster had this come earlier than my retirement date.

However, I do miss being able to sing in the car. I was a really good singer, especially before my voice changed, and, then, before it was damaged. I did learn to compensate for that a bit too, reclaiming some vibrato if not the air to sustain it, until now. I could have pursued singing, too. I even had had a band, for a couple of weeks at least, of which I was lead singer. I could still sing, though my voice had suffered a little from the coming of adolescence, as did many things. We did have a cool name, though: “Topaz and the Chocolate Albatross.” I was Topaz. A psychic later told me to stay away from crystals, but I won’t even get started with the many ironies involved with him. The band disbanded because we weren’t just untalented, we were way too white. Two years later I’d be working with the Black Panther Party, but fortunately not as a singer, although that might have been safer.

And as I had said, I had loved playing softball. I was a horrible athlete as a child, in part because I was quite overweight. It would be a massive crash diet and some resultant anorexia when I had just turned sixteen and was entering college that would bring my anxiety to the surface, leading to the psychiatrist, leading to the teaching, etc. And of course the medication led to self-medication led back to medication. But I was lucky enough to have grown up in a neighborhood of kids my age who played ball every day. So I became competent, and, eventually, a good softball pitcher. It didn’t just keep me in shape, it didn’t just make me a central star without having to stand in front of a room, but the stress of pitching competitive games was actually a perfect outlet for my anxiety… as writing is presently. I’m not sure if I would have stopped playing softball by now, but I had to stop way prematurely. And the rapid weight loss, as damaging as it was to my health, repercussions of which I continue to deal with, did benefit me greatly with that sex thing I parenthetically mentioned. It was also the psychiatrist who inadvertently led me to the singles bar scene. And I got pretty competent at that, too, as I have apparently always been at compensating. But of course then there was that performance anxiety thing that I mentioned, so there you go.

I don’t know if I’ll be getting my voice back. Ironically, it’s not that big of a deal. After all, I’ve got this. I’m probably too old for the softball and maybe even the teaching, and, for that matter, the sexual exploits. But after book number four is published in a matter of weeks, I have a fifth already begun, another short story starting to take shape, and the preschool education book waiting in the wings. And I do have one more thing that I didn’t have before. Not that I’m dismissing what I’ve accomplished as a writer or even teacher, but the one thing that brought the most meaning and value to my life was being responsible for and taking care of my son. He’s now grown. And he’s grown from an autistic child who struggled academically to an incredibly sociable and brilliant young man. But now I have someone in my life whom I am responsible to and take care of and who does the same for me. So as I, in this chapter of my life, deal with my greatest source of anxiety and panic, I know that I’m very lucky. And, you know, I probably always have been.