Thursday, April 2, 2020

Polarizing in the Polls - Can OHIO lose?

Turning away from the Corona Virus Pandemic in our country for a moment, we still are in the middle of a Democratic Primary campaign, and a Presidential Election year.  Over the past month, polls have (not surprisingly) moved.

President Bill Clinton famously quipped "It's the economy, stupid" about presidential elections.  In good economies, incumbents win.  In bad economies, outsiders win.  Is it that simple?

Since the beginning of March, most of the large states with urban populations, except for Florida, moved quickly to social distancing protocols. Now, in early April, almost all states have moved there.  The economic impact is well known. In the last two weeks, 10 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits, and economists are predicting double digit unemployment by the end of the month.  Investment portfolios have shrunk, as the stock market initially lost 25% of its value, moving most people's IRA's back 3 years in time.  The stimulus package has bolstered some confidence, and Americans seem to be adjusting to the new normal for now.  What will these numbers look like in 3 months? No one really knows.

News stations are doing what they do.  Two nights ago I randomized a time of night and watched exactly 10 minutes of Fox and 10 minutes of CNN simultaneously.  CNN was reporting about death numbers, hospital shortages and two human interest stories of people afraid or affected by the pandemic. Fox ran a segment on China's "wet markets," civil rights, and how China has not moved to change the circumstances that existed there prior to the outbreak.  As I have often noted, news is not objective these days.

So, with people increasingly concerned (either about who to blame or what to do), increasingly strapped financially (unemployment, lost of savings, and soon failures of businesses and loans), polar reactions are occuring in a divided country.

For the previous year prior to March, for example, has consistently agreggated presidential polls showing the Florida, Colorado, Ohio and Minnesota were "up for grabs." Colorado and Minnesota have tended bluish, while Ohio and Florida have tended reddish.  Now, those states are beyond the margin of error in each direction.  Florida (a must win for Trump to get to 270 electoral college votes) now trends solidly Republican. But what is really interesting is that New Mexico, Virginia and Colorado - formerly safe Republican states no so long ago, are all in the Democratic column.

Even more interesting is Ohio, which went twice for Obama, and twice for Bill Clinton, and is safely Trump's these days. No president since JFK in 1960 has won the Presidency while losing Ohio, and only FDR in 1944 managed it otherwise in the last 110 years.  The general wisdom is, you must win Ohio to win - as Trump did 4 years ago and looks to do again. But can Ohio be on the losing side?

The polarization of America is showing in the polls, and the old wisdom may not hold.  As of today, there are only 3.5 states "up for grabs:" North Carolina, Arizona, Wisconsin and part of Nebraska.  Look at this interactive map to play with the scenarios. As of today, the polls would say that the Republicans must win all of those to win the election.  The Democrats have to win just one of the whole states. Here are the most recent polls in those states:

Wisconsin (April 1):           Biden 48%,   Trump 45%,     Undecided 7%  (+/- 4.2%)
North Carolina (March 1): Biden 48%,    Trump 46%,     Undecided 6%  (+/- 2.9%)
Arizona (March 16):          Biden 47%,    Trump 46%,     Undecided 7%  (+/- 2.7%)

So, if the 3 states are each a coin flip statistically, it is like flipping three times: 3 Heads, the Republicans win. Anything else, the Democrats win.  Odds of flipping Three Heads in three flips are: 1/2*1/2*1/2 = 1 out of 8, or 12.5%

Very rough numbers, because - as we learned in the Hillary meltdown/Trump victory - the undecideds will not split evenly.  Someone is going to win them, and probably not until election day.  And, presuming NC and AZ go typically Republican, it still comes down to Wisconsin... and within Wisconsin it is the 3rd district that will decide it, as I have already written in an earlier blog post.

Yes, the picture is polarizing. But it is also clarifying.  And yes, for only the 3rd time in the last 110+ years, the winner of Ohio could very well lose.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Was yesterday the day the President woke up?

Yesterday, the President said that had we not engaged in social distancing, an out of control pandemic could have killed 2 million Americans. Then he said that he had never seen those numbers before. [pause. let that sink in.]

Okay. I am glad he now knows what what every science based voice has been saying for weeks. Later, towards the fall, people will need to unpack clearly what he knew - when and why - and what he did and did not do.

For today, moving the social distance protocol to April 30 is correct. Maybe yesterday was the day the President woke up.

But, probably not. Because in the same press conference he invented a conspiracy theory of NYC hospitals using more masks than he can believe they need, and accused them of sneaking them "out the back door," inviting journalists to start an investigation into the hospitals in NYC.

I am glad he seems to have been convinced by someone of the need for national social distancing. I am saddened that he still can't comprehend the scope of the problem here in NY, NJ and CT.

For more about How 15 Days became 45, click here.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Democratic Primaries "On Wisconsin!"

The Democratic Primary Big Picture, Corona Virus Delays Abound

With the increasingly severe restrictions on public gatherings and movement, the primary season is in question.  Nonetheless, there WILL be a general election, by Constitutional law, in November.  Therefore, there MUST be Democratic and Republican national conventions this summer.  Those are in mid July.

They are almost certainly going to be held remotely, via internet links.  Expect a massive confusion around how to secure voter credentials remotely, etc., but Biden should have the 1991 needed on the first ballot to secure the nomination.  Unfortunately, at pre-coronovirus scheduling, he was on track to have it all done by the NJ primary on June 2.  Now, it will almost certainly have to wait until NY and the others on June 28.

So, the State primaries that are left will need to function in time to bind their delegates to their candidates, if the situation is to proceed smoothly.  Best practice will be to push advance paper ballots as much as possible, as in person voting should be discouraged.

At this time, I am only expecting Wyoming, Alaska, Wisconsin and Hawaii to hold their primaries in April as scheduled.  That pushes the whole process off, leaving Bernie hanging out there to sow discord and weaken Biden.  On the other hand, initial polls show Biden gaining slightly on Trump in national surveys - but after Hillary, who believes those any more?

Why Wisconsin Still Matters Now

Simply put, if Biden loses Wisconsin, he would need to win AZ or NC to win the election.  Both of those are very hard to imagine.

So, the most interesting information we will get in April is now from Wisconsin. Wisconsin (April 7) - has actual elections, not just primaries, on this date, and they probably have to do it by paper rather than leave state and local offices empty throughout the summer.

Why is Wisconsin so interesting?

Last time, Bernie showed strong in Wisconsin against Hillary.  In 2016, Bernie WON Wisconsin with 56.5 % of the Democratic primary voters.   In retrospect we now realize that was a harbinger for serious (fatal) lack of support for Hillary in general.  People didn't all vote "for" Bernie. Many voted "against Hillary" once in the primary, and then again in the general election, swinging the state (and the election) to Trump. All pundits and analysts seem to have missed this subtlety, except for the Trump campaign who responded by scheduling multiple trips to Wisconsin in the final weeks of the campaign, successfully turning a blue state red.  They simply were smarter than anyone else.

This year, Sanders  is polling BEHIND at about 38-39% of Democrats in the Primary, against Biden's 55%.  In broad strokes, that means that about 17% of the voters do NOT prefer Bernie, but voted for him because they didn't want Hillary.  While 38% is stronger than Bernie is getting nationally, so there is more enthusiasm for him there, it is not clear that there is the kind of anti-Biden feeling that there was vs. Hillary.  Conclusion:  If Bernie fails to get 40 or 50 % in Wisconsin, it is a very good sign for Biden in the national contest.

Now let's analyze that conclusion with Trump/Biden.

Where are Biden/Trump in WI polling?

From last summer through January, 2020, in Wisconsin, Biden routinely out-polled Trump by about 5% points, just outside the range of error for most polls.  During that same time period, about 13% were undecided.  But you must remember that Hillary, in November of 2016, polled almost identically, including about 13% still undecided.  Guess where the undecideds went last time?  The "undecided" voter does NOT statistically break according to the percentages of the "decided" voter in polls.  The Bernie victory should have told us that could happen.

So what is happening with those swing voters in Wisconsin this year?

In February, as the Biden campaign crashed in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada, the Biden/Trump polls moved along with him.  By the end of February, Trump was beating Biden in all head to head polls by a solid 5% points in Wisconsin.  Then came South Carolina, and the realignment of the Democratic primary in favor of Biden and against Bernie.  Biden is now, once again, polling slightly ahead of Trump and within the margin of error.

Conclusion:  As of now, Biden and Trump are in a statistical tie in Wisconsin with, you guessed it, 10-13% undecided.

Wisconsin will decide who is the next president.  But not just Wisconsin.  Drilling down, Trump won all the Republican Congressional Districts, and Hillary won all the Democratic congressional districts EXCEPT the 3rd.  This is where the President of the United States could be decided.

So What is the Wisconsin 3rd Congretional District.

91% white, 56% Rural, traditionally Republican, but with half of the city voters from MN-St Paul because of Gerrymandering.

Good Luck, Joe.

As of today, it is too close to call, but a swing back to Democrat will depend on how districts like this one view the handling of the Corona Virus Pandemic and its aftermath.

Friday, March 20, 2020

ALL Alcohol Based Sanitizers are PERMITTED on Pesach this year

As Pesach is just around the corner, a few matters for your consideration.

First, we will be offering "seder in a box" from Premier caterers here at B'nai Shalom this year.  You have the choice of the ritual items only or a full meal.  Haggadot will be provided, and a link to a Passover Seder Video that you can stream on your I-Pad in case you need help "leading" your seder.  This is all part of our electronic supports during the Corona Virus Pandemic, encouraging both social distancing and ongoing observance of our traditions.

Second, I will be announcing this Shabbat that we will be allowing mourners' kaddish to be said during our live streaming minyanim.  That means, should we still be physically closed for Pesach, we will have remote participation minyan with kaddish for Yizkor on the 8th day of Pesach.  Please plan accordingly.


Third, regarding the CDC advice to maintain a sterile environment, especially including frequent hand washing with soap and water and hand sanitizer.  The scientific community is being quite clear: soap and water is best.  In the absence of soap and water, hand sanitizer must be at least 60% alcohol in order to be effective. Most alcohol is made from grain, and traditionally forbidden to be owned or to derive any benefit from it during Pesach. The demand for Pikuach Nefesh - to save human lives - OVERRIDES that prohibition. 

To save human life, you MAY (even MUST) use alcohol based hand sanitizers, even if they are KNOWN to be derived from grain.  Halakhikly, it is possible to argue that the destruction of the grain into an inedible form of alcohol creates a d'var chadash which is not even akhilat kelev. Since it is inedible to a dog and unrecognizable as grain, the emergency situation provides room for leniency during this time of extreme need sha'ah dehak.  Nevertheless, ALL SUCH PRODUCTS ARE BEST PURCHASED IN ADVANCE OF THE HOLIDAY, AND INCLUDED IN YOUR SALE OF CHAMETZ.  In this way, you will be benefiting from the grain product of a non Jew, who themself is permitted to own it. 

This is not a leniency that operates in an area with no corona virus, nor is it a precedent for the future.

How To Join us Online on Shabbat

Please follow the slide show at this link to learn what is permissible on Shabbat for users of electronics.

  • Follow this Weekday and Shabbat Evening Minyan Link link at 8:00 pm weekdays, or 6:00 pm on Fridays.  (For those without Zoom, the call in is: 929-205-6099 Meeting ID 304-491-162)
  • Follow this Weekday and Shabbat Morning Minyan Link 7:00 am for weekday services and the following Shabbat services:
  • Shabbat Morning Youth Services are from 10:00-10:30 a.m. (For those without Zoom, the call in is: 929-205-6099 Meeting ID 450-192-936).
  • Shabbat Morning Congregational Services are 10:45 am - 12:00 p.m.(For those without Zoom, the call in is: 929-205-6099 Meeting ID 450-192-936).
  • There will be no Shabbat minchah/havdalah online.

Please note that this leniency and system are only promised to continue until the CDC relaxes social distancing.

Please note that "counting in a minyan" will be handled as a separate issue.

FOR ADVANCED USERS:  Zoom has a sound setting that isolates one voice at a time, or tries to.  Congregational singing doesn't work so well that way.  If you want, directions to change advanced sound settings in Zoom have been prepared by Don Batschelder for your consideration.

Stay safe and well.

Rabbi Tobin

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

UPDATE: Shabbat Morning Service Online

As the curfews and other social distancing protocols increase in our area, I reach out to offer words of comfort and support.  As a caring and loving community, we will come through this together.  What follows is information about our Shabbat services online, and other important information.

First, please know that this is a human, global concern.  The tradition explains it with a story:  “Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai taught: It can be compared to people who were in a boat and one of them took a drill and began to drill under his seat. His fellow passengers said to him: ‘why are you doing this!’ He said to them: ‘What do you care? Am I not drilling under me?’ They replied: ‘Because you are sinking the boat with us in it!’” (Vayikra Rabbah 4:6, ed. Margaliot, pp. 91-92). The entire world is in the same boat. If we do not help each other, we are in danger of sinking the entire boat. 

Second, please know that we are joining together online regularly now for all of our possible social needs during this time of distancing.  We are using for our online services, meetings and more. Please go to and sign up for a free account. 

All services, weekday and Shabbat, will be online until further notice, and yahrtzeits can be observed in this way. 

I will be hosting a zoom learning session this Thursday, March 19 at 7:00 p.m. to study the permitted use of electronics on Shabbat during this emergency.  (For those without Zoom, the call in is: 929-205-6099 Meeting ID 547-344-607).  Here are the links for services:
  • Follow this Weekday and Shabbat Evening Minyan Link link at 8:00 pm weekdays, or 6:00 pm on Fridays.  (For those without Zoom, the call in is: 929-205-6099 Meeting ID 304-491-162)
  • Follow this Weekday and Shabbat Morning Minyan Link 7:00 am for weekday services and the following Shabbat services:
  • Shabbat Morning Youth Services are from 10:00-10:30 a.m. (For those without Zoom, the call in is: 929-205-6099 Meeting ID 450-192-936).
  • Shabbat Morning Congregational Services are 10:45 am - 12:00 p.m.(For those without Zoom, the call in is: 929-205-6099 Meeting ID 450-192-936).
  • There will be no Shabbat minchah/havdalah online.
Third, we are calling the entire membership.  When a call comes from a member of B’nai Shalom, we are checking in to see how you are, because we care.  If you need help with a grocery run, pharmacy, or are just lonely tired or bored stuck in your house, we are happy to keep you company on the phone. If you need help with anything, please call the synagogue office at 973-731-0160 or Rabbi Tobin’s cell phone 973-518-3534.  We would love to help.  If you want to volunteer, please let us know.

Fourth, join in healing prayers.  In addition to everything the CDC is recommending from a science point of view, take a few moments for prayer.  If you, or someone you know, falls ill - consider adding them to our “misheberach prayers for healing” at minyan.  Email me at with your information, so I can join you in those prayers.

Fifth, we will not host a second night seder this year.  We will send an email regarding upcoming programs and events later this week, but in the meantime you should plan for as small a Pesach as you can consider.  While we won’t have a public seder, we are working on supporting those who normally come to us on the second night.

And finally, for now, it is a time for patience, calm and generosity. We will all be feeling the financial hardships and anxiety of the moment. But whatever you are facing, there will be so many more who are worse off than we are.  Consider supporting our efforts with a donation, or support the work of our local Jewish Federation,, Magen David Adom, or any of your favorite local, national, international and/or Israeli charitable organizations that address health, hunger and wellness. The need will only grow in the weeks ahead.

We don’t know yet when the Synagogue will begin to return to more normal activities.  Given the seriousness of the pandemic, we are not in a rush. And in the meantime, we will stay close as we care for each other in our sacred community.
Kol Tuv, ... all good things.

Rabbi Robert Tobin

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Online Minyan at Bnai Shalom

March 15, 2020
Dear Members of B’nai Shalom,

We are friends and family, facing the challenge of rapidly spreading COVID-19 “Corona Virus” in our area and the world.  How do we stay close, when we need to be physically apart from each other? How do we build community, when obligated by our tradition to protect life by distancing? How do we join in minyan, and say memorial prayers, when we can’t gather?

Beginning this evening, we will hold evening and morning services electronically online and by telephone. One of us will lead the service from the chapel, and the rest of us will participate from home.  If you have a computer with a camera and microphone, or if you have a smart phone, follow this Weekday Evening Minyan link at 8:00 pm or this Weekday Morning Minyan link 7:00 am for weekday services.  If you want to just “dial in” on a telephone, then dial 929-205-609. The access code via telephone for morning Minyan is 450 192 936 while the access code for evening Minyan is 304 491 162.  You will be connected live to the service, be able to speak and be heard by the prayer leader. 
Beginning this Friday night, Shabbat Evening services will be held at 6:00 p.m., and conclude prior to candle lighting time.  Please use the Weekday Evening Minyan link and call in numbers for those services. I am actively working on creating the best way for Saturday morning services to be handled in a similar manner: please stay tuned.
We will add special prayers for healing and strength at these troubled times, where you can add the names of those in your heart. 

Since the prayer leader is not “in a minyan,” he/she will not say certain prayers, including the kaddish, but we will, of course, say memorial prayers at the Ark (El Malei Rachamim) in memory of any yahrtzeits you may be observing for past loved ones.  In this way, with the yahrtzeitcandle in your home, your obligation for memory is lovingly fulfilled. 
If you need any assistance with this new process please feel free to contact Gary Rothschild in the Synagogue Office (973-731-0160 x202, Gary will be available via email and telephone during business hours as well as during Minyan times to help walk anyone through this process with any issues that they may have.

Stay safe, and stay involved.  We care about you and are in this together.
Kol Tuv,

Rabbi Robert Tobin