Tuesday, July 28, 2020

America's Longest (failed) War

On October 7, 2001 President George Bush launched Operation Enduring Freedom.  On March 8, 2020 President Donald Trump began the final withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, with the intent of having entirely left the country before the November 3, 2020 Presidential elections in the USA.  At 19 years plus change, this will have been America's longest running military conflict by far.  Which raises the obvious questions:

What was its purpose? 
Were our national interests successfully met?
Why did we stay so long?
And what are we leaving behind?


The following brief summary is from the Naval History and Heritage Command.

In response to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people, Operation Enduring Freedom officially began October 7, 2001, with American and British bombing strikes against al-Qaeda and Taliban forces in Afghanistan. Initially, the Taliban was removed from power and al-Qaeda was seriously crippled, but forces continually dealt with a stubborn Taliban insurgency, infrastructure rebuilding and corruption among the Afghan National Army, Afghan National Police, and Afghan Border Police.
On May 2, 2011, U.S. Navy SEALS launched a raid on Osama Bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, killing the al-Qaeda leader and mastermind of the September 11th terrorist’s attacks (O’Rourke). Operation Enduring Freedom officially ended December 28, 2014, although coalition forces remain on the ground to assist with training Afghan security forces (Torreon).
The U.S. Navy had two Medal of Honor recipients during Operation Enduring Freedom, both Navy SEALS, Lieutenant Michael P. Murphy and Senior Chief Special Warfare Operator Edward C. Byers Jr.
O’Rourke, Ronald. 2015. “Navy Irregular Warfare and Counterterrorism Operations: Background and Issues for Congress.” Congressional Research Report for Congress (November 6): 1.
Torreon, Barbara. 2016. “U.S. Periods of War and Dates of Recent Conflicts.” Congressional Research Report for Congress (September 29): 6–7.
So, the purpose of the war was to deny the Taliban a base for striking the United States, and - if possible - to punish them and Osama bin Laden for the attacks on the USA homeland on September 11, 2001.  

The US/Taliban agreement:  President Trump has consistently argued that there is little or no ongoing United States vital interest served by the use of US troops in Afghanistan.  As a candidate, and as the Commander in Chief, he has repeatedly said that troops must come home.  Entering the election year of 2020, he directed both the State Department and the Military to open negotiations with the Taliban, seeking an end to hostilities with the US and to prepare an orderly removal of our troops from Afghanistan.  He even went as far as to promote an invitation for Taliban leaders to meet in a peace conference at Camp David.  Ultimately, the only agreement to surface from those efforts was a promise on the part of the Taliban that, concurrent with the removal of several thousand US soldiers beginning this past March, 2020, they would cease attacking US forces.  
The Political Vacuum:  By all visible evidence our forces have been methodically withdrawing and leaving since March, and the Taliban have conspicuously avoided striking any US assets in the theater.  During this time, there was a final election in Afghanistan, purportedly installing a democratic and legitimate government so the US could claim that the government of Afghanistan was in place to tend to its own needs.  Predictably, the Taliban do no accept that election and continue to attack Afghani government forces and centers, pursuing a civil war which will overcome the country the day our last soldier leaves.  
The Outcome vs. our Original Goals:  Given the absence of a compelling US national interest, this would make sense.  However, the primary goal of the war was to deny the Taliban a base for striking the United States.  Is the agreement with the Taliban a new detente, allowing the Taliban to own Afghanistan once again with the understanding that they can never allow another Osama to plot from there to attack us?  It is the only logical conclusion.

What only history will tell:
So, in conclusion, the only goal met was the elimination of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan.  The Taliban are now re-ensconced and, with Russian support, will quickly overrun the Afghan experiment in US sponsored democracy.  While it may have been worth it to get Osama bin Laden at first, way back on May 2, 2011, the subsequent 9 years are being rewarded by a retreat that is justified only by trusting the Taliban's good will and giving them back Afghanistan in the deal.
From here it will be the primary task of the Intelligence Community to monitor and destabilize any emergent anti-US forces in Afghanistan.  Welcome back to 2000.  Let's hope for a better outcome.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

(Further) Annexation of West Bank Territories? Learn before you talk.

The American Jewish community is facing a serious complication when it comes to Israel in the context of the current US Presidential election cycle. 

First the Trump Peace Plan has been presented by President Trump and endorsed by Prime Minister Netanyahu. It is not easy, however, for all of us who love and support Israel to fall in line, because the plan itself does not represent a unifying or a centrist view in Israel.  AIPAC, for example, has continued its long term policy of a two state solution, with Israel and Palestine living in peace side-by-side one day.  The Trump plan would eliminate that outcome.  In addition, Israel has just resolved a year long loggerhead between the left and the right in its domestic elections, with much of the left resoundingly opposed to Prime Minister Netanyahu's hopes for further annexation.  In such a complex political environment,  it is disingenuous for anyone to claim that being pro-annexation or anti-annexation is the only legitimate way to show support or love for Israel.  It is an internal domestic hot-potato in Israeli politics, but has broad international implication.

Second, former Vice-President Biden, the Democratic challenger to President Trump for the presidency, has always been an ardent supporter of a two-state solution, and of a negotiated settlement to the conflict.  He reinforced that point of view in a statement to the AIPAC policy conference which I attended in March, and repeated it in a statement in late May.

As a result, Democrats and Republicans are lining up on the issue of annexation as if it were a simple extension of their own domestic politics, rather than a separate issue to be analyzed and understood in light of our values, Israel's ideals and the pragmatic determinations about what will be best for Israel in the long run.  Note, for example, the carefully worded statement from the Conservative Movement's Rabbinical Assembly which raises concerns while not crossing too far over the line of party politics.

While support of Israel is meant to be a unifying item in the American Jewish community, in recent years it has fallen prey to the polarization of American and Israeli political societies in general.  The recent battle over the leadership of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations is indicative of this kind of ugliness that is used on this topic, as a leader of HIAS, a Jewish agency that provides immigration support was held back from her legitimate election by those who said her policies were not in line with President Trump and therefore she should not be a leader of the Conference. 

I urge you to start fresh. Ignore the fact that Jared Kushner has designed a proposal that is clearly skewed on the Israeli spectrum to one side. Ignore the fact that the Obama/Biden presidency had a severe falling out with Netanyahu which paralyzed relations in the last year and left Israel vulnerable to UN votes without a US veto at the security council.

The fact is, Israel is considering a political maneuver with far-reaching implications, and it would be implemented by force of unilateral action.  The Palestinians have no voice in the process, for a variety of reasons.  But the main reason in this case is that they were not part of the process, and are not seriously being considered in the solution.  American politicians have diametrically opposed views of the topic: Peace through consolidation of territorial authority, or peace through diplomacy and engagement.  This is a divisive issue, about which people will differ.

Given that, you must read more and learn more.  I recommend going to the Jewish Council for Public Affairs website on the topic.  There they have gathered varied points of view and credible resources that argue their case.   Read each point of view with an open mind. Determine what you believe and why.  Then be ready to articulate that opinion in a calm, thoughtful manner in the days ahead.  No one should be shaming another person on this topic as a lack of love of Israel.

As for the American election, personally I do not believe that Israel should be our first topic.  Israel is one of the most important things in my life, for me, my children and our people.  I believe that Israel will be part of what redeems the world.  But when I vote, I vote as an American for what I believe is best for America.

I also believe that what is best for America will always be what is best for Israel, because of our deeply shared values - regardless of any given president or prime minister of the hour.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Demand Racial Justice - Invest in the Police

Demand Racial Justice - Invest in the Police

The national awakening and catharsis of the last two weeks since the murder of George Floyd at the hands of 4 police officers in Minneapolis, MN has been a remarkable moment in the history of racial justice in America. All citizens with a heart reacted in horror, and many of us non-blacks have turned our eyes and ears towards people and voices that we have previously ignored or dismissed. Protests have scooped up the well-meaning in a broad spectrum of ages, races and religions. The national cancer of racism, known but unresolved, has been laid bare and society has become open to ideas that just 3 weeks ago would have been received as the crackpot schemes of an unstable fringe.

I have followed the protests, watched hours of instagram, and heard what seem to be the primary points of the organizers.  Much of what is being said I have been preaching literally for many years.

  1. There is systemic racism in America which imbues our economic structures, city planning, health care system, education, and more.  
  2. The experience and opportunities of black Americans of any economic level or creed is different, and mostly disadvantaged, compared to their white colleagues of similar economic level or creed. Exceptions only prove the rule.
  3. The experience of policing in America is different for blacks than whites, not just in high crime neighborhoods but broadly across the country, and the difference is profoundly negative.

It is my hope and prayer that these 3 items will be moved, pushed, prodded, healed, solved, eliminated by our combined efforts in the new awakening that we are experiencing at this moment. 

And a major piece of this is accountability.  Police unions are predictably rallying to the badge to protect the wave of officers being disciplined, fired and/or prosecuted for assault on civilians in recent days.  The police are justifiably astounded at the feeding frenzy demanding blue blood.  We are fortunate to live in a media age, and I hope for a day when all police behavior is documented in video and audio recordings.  This can only help.  Yes, accountability is a non-negotiable and police forces will need to accept that it is only going to grow and it is here to stay.

But the larger issue is the systemic racism behind it all.  That will not change with a city council vote or a march.

But if that is to happen, it will only be through institutional change.  And that takes a more moderate approach, not a bullhorn. It takes investment, not divestment.

Our democracy, too often distracted by carnival barkers and political manipulators has risen up again to debate and advance a genuine issue of the people.  It is profoundly gratifying.  Examples of racial policing is one symptom of a much larger disease.

There is, nevertheless, a very real danger that it will all fade away in the months ahead. First, it is easy to be horrified and to flood the streets, but it is hard to coalesce a consensus around practical ideas that will pass muster in our democratic system.  Second, the COVID virus restrictions are being lifted and people will be in severe need of work, and security.  When people go back to work, and their food is in question, their ability to pursue sustained political advocacy will decrease.  Any significant disconnect between the leaders with the bullhorns and the broad spectrum of people engaging racial justice seriously for the first time will hamstring the movement's momentum.

These two slogans can kill the racial justice movement's new coalition, because at their face value they are absurd:

"Defund the Police"
"Dismantle the Police"

The Minnesota Mayor was booed off the stage this past weekend for refusing to commit to defunding the police.  That is the same mayor who, from the beginning, defied his own police department and demanded the arrest and prosecution of the murdering officer(s) in the Floyd case.  The movement also needs to listen.  The movement also needs to learn how to identify friends of the cause and not continue to use tools of extreme protest on the cusp of their ultimate victory. They must learn to  create institutional change. Burning it down will not work, and will lose the support of the vast coalition that has currently rallied to the cause.

The simple truth is that society demands the police more than it needs civil rights. Look at the excesses of the Patriot Act in the wake of 9/11 and see how many liberties have been unthinkingly cast aside in the name of security.

Most people want the police.  We all need the police.  The police exist as a necessary and desirable arm of our government in a social contract with the citizens of a free republic to defend and protect, to serve and support the laws of the nation and her citizens of all races and creeds.  We want racial justice in our policing, which will take additional investments in our police training and management. 

Defunding a large and complex system of individual organizations that you actually want to invest in makes no sense.

What happens when there is no police?  We are literally only days away from open rioting, looting and shoplifting in NYC when it was (correctly) assessed that the police had no power to prevent those actions.  I lived in Los Angeles after Rodney King, and the same was true there.  My friends in Quillota, Chile have seen the same in the past year.  This is human behavior.  One of the largest industries in America is the security camera industry, which is useless without the police to investigate the images they capture.  People will want the police.

The prophets of Israel and the Talmud knew this lesson well:

Jeremiah 29:7 Seek the welfare of the city to which I have exiled you and pray to the LORD in its behalf; for in its prosperity you shall prosper.

The rabbinic tradition recognizes the need for authority and governance, and embraces even bad government over anarchy.  For example, R. Hanina famously interpreted Jeremiah, saying "Pray for the welfare of the government, for if it were not for the fear of it, people would swallow up their neighbor alive" (Pirkei Avot, 3:2). 

Policing is not a zero sum game.  There are still murderers, thieves, domestic violence, fraud and more going on every minute of every day.  If you defund the police, it won't take away the racism of some or the systematic racism of many. It will take the police away from what you need them to do.  If you want a major initiative, you must invest in it.  And it's worth it.

Yes, demand racial justice.  Invest in real change. Invest in the police to make it happen.

Friday, June 5, 2020

Every Major Jewish Denomination's Statement on the Murder of George Floyd

Every major Jewish religious denomination in America has joined in condemnation and calls for justice.  The words of the prophet Isaiah, Tzedek tzedek tirdof rings in the streets of our nation.

May God grant our country a clear vision of the equality of all races in all things, guide our government and our criminal justice system to the fair and equal treatment of all, raise up the calls for justice and quiet the drive to violence in our streets.

Reform CCAR:  https://www.ccarnet.org/central-conference-of-american-rabbis-statement-on-racist-killings/

Reform URJ:  https://urj.org/blog/2020/05/30/urj-statement-witnessing-protests-rage-and-our-torahs-unbending-demand-justice-0

Conservative RA and USCJ:  http://www.rabbinicalassembly.org/story/conservativemasorti-rabbis-respond-murder-george-floyd-pattern-racism-police-brutality

Orthodox OU and RCA:


Orthodox Agudath Israel:


Reconstructing Judaism:


Worker’s Circle (non-religious):


Register to Vote by June 16 in New Jersey

New Jersey's primary election is Tuesday, July 7, 2020. 

The deadline to register to vote is Tuesday, June 16

Only registered, affiliated voters who have declared their political party as either Republican or Democrat can vote in the July 7 primary. 

If you are affiliated with a political party, such as the Green Party, it is too late to change your affiliation to Republican or Democrat and you will not be able to participate in the July 7 primary.

To see if you're eligible to vote in New Jersey, visit this page

To register to vote, download your county's postage paid voter registration form here. 

You must complete the form and it must be received by your county's office by June 16. Once you mail it back, you can track your registration here

For instructions on how to fill out the form, view this document from the League of Women Voters. 

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Black Lives Matter: the statement is true, so use it.

I have been uncomfortable with the core Black Lives Matters organization for a long time, in part due to anti-zionism and its form of anti-semitism.  However, at this time in history they have won the battle for the slogan, and society at large has adopted the Black Lives Matter slogan as a statement of truth.  We all agree that “Black Lives Matter.”  The phrase has become a national awareness that far transcends the particular organization within.  To say "All Lives Matter" now, though true, is heard as denying that black lives matter.  Please read my previous sermons on this topic, which has been a priority for me in recent years.

For those who think I am suddenly betraying my “no politics from the bima,” you may be surprised to know about the following

Rabbi Tobin First Day Rosh Hashanah, 2015 Black Lives Matter
Rabbi Tobin First Day Rosh Hashanah, 2017   White Supremacy on the Rise: A History of Racism in America

We have a moral voice for racial equality, social and economic justice, and the accountability of power.  I don’t see those issues as remotely controversial.

Rabbi Tobin

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Joe Biden on the Moment: "I Can't Breathe"

“I can’t breathe.” “I can’t breathe.”

George Floyd’s last words. But they didn’t die with him. They’re still being heard. They’re echoing across this nation.

They speak to a nation where too often just the color of your skin puts your life at risk.

They speak to a nation where more than 100,000 people have lost their lives to a virus ‑‑ and 40 million Americans have filed for unemployment ‑‑ with a disproportionate number of these deaths and job losses concentrated in black and brown communities.

And they speak to a nation where every day millions of people ‑‑ not at the moment of losing their life ‑‑ but in the course of living their life ‑‑ are saying to themselves, “I can’t breathe.”

It’s a wake-up call for our nation. For all of us.

And I mean all of us. It’s not the first time we’ve heard these words ‑‑ they’re the same words we heard from Eric Garner when his life was taken six years ago.

But it’s time to listen to these words. Understand them. And respond to them ‑‑ with real action.

The country is crying out for leadership. Leadership that can unite us. Leadership that can bring us together. Leadership that can recognize the pain and deep grief of communities that have had a knee on their neck for too long.

But there is no place for violence.

No place for looting or destroying property or burning churches, or destroying businesses ‑‑ many of them built by people of color who, for the first time, were beginning to realize their dreams and build wealth for their families.

Nor is it acceptable for our police ‑‑ sworn to protect and serve all people ‑‑ to escalate tensions or resort to excessive violence.

We need to distinguish between legitimate peaceful protest ‑‑ and opportunistic violent destruction.

And we must be vigilant about the violence that’s being done by the incumbent president to our democracy and to the pursuit of justice.

When peaceful protestors are dispersed by the order of the president from the doorstep of the people’s house, the White House ‑‑ using tear gas and flash grenades ‑‑ in order to stage a photo op at a noble church, we can be forgiven for believing that the president is more interested in power than in principle.

More interested in serving the passions of his base than the needs of the people in his care.

For that’s what the presidency is: a duty of care ‑‑ to all of us, not just our voters, not just our donors, but all of us.

The president held up a bible at St. John’s church yesterday.

If he opened it instead of brandishing it, he could have learned something: That we are all called to love one another as we love ourselves.

That’s hard work. But it’s the work of America.

Donald Trump isn’t interested in doing that work.

Instead, he’s preening and sweeping away all the guardrails that have long protected our democracy.

Guardrails that have helped make possible this nation’s path to a more perfect union.

A union that constantly requires reform and rededication ‑‑ and yes, the protests from voices of those mistreated, ignored, left out, and left behind.

But it’s a union worth fighting for and that’s why I’m running for president.

In addition to the Bible, he might also want to open the U.S. Constitution.

If he did, he’d find the First Amendment. It protects “the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

Mr. President: That is America.

Not horses rising up on their hind legs to push back a peaceful protest. Not using the American military to move against the American people. This nation is a nation of values. Our freedom to speak is the cherished knowledge that lives inside every American.

We will not allow any president to quiet our voice.

We won’t let those who see this as an opportunity to sow chaos throw up a smokescreen to distract us from the very real and legitimate grievances at the heart of these protests.

And we can’t leave this moment thinking we can once again turn away and do nothing. We can’t.

The moment has come for our nation to deal with systemic racism. To deal with the growing economic inequality in our nation. And to deal with the denial of the promise of this nation ‑‑ to so many.

I’ve said from the outset of this election that we are in a battle for the soul of this nation. Who we are. What we believe. And maybe most important ‑‑ who we want to be.

It’s all at stake. That is truer today than ever. And it’s in this urgency we can find the path forward.

The history of this nation teaches us that it’s in some of our darkest moments of despair that we’ve made some of our greatest progress.

The 13th and 14th and 15th Amendments followed the Civil War. The greatest economy in the history of the world grew out of the Great Depression. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965 came in the tracks of Bull Connor’s vicious dogs.

To paraphrase Reverend Barber ‑‑ it’s in the mourning we find hope.

It will take more than talk. We’ve had talk before. We’ve had protests before.

Let us vow to make this, at last, an era of action to reverse systemic racism with long overdue and concrete changes.

That action will not be completed in the first 100 days of my presidency ‑‑ or even an entire term.

It is the work of a generation.

But if this agenda will take time to complete, it should not wait for the first 100 days of my presidency to get started.

A down payment on what is long overdue should come now. Immediately.

I call on Congress to act this month on measures that would be a first step in this direction. Starting with real police reform.

Congressman Jeffries has a bill to outlaw chokeholds. Congress should put it on President Trump’s desk in the next few days.

There are other measures: to stop transferring weapons of war to police forces, to improve oversight and accountability, to create a model use of force standard ‑‑ that also should be made law this month.

No more excuses. No more delays.

If the Senate has time to confirm Trump’s unqualified judicial nominees who will run roughshod over our Constitution, it has time to pass legislation that will give true meaning to our Constitution’s promise of “equal protection of the laws.”

Looking ahead, in the first 100 days of my presidency, I have committed to creating a national police oversight commission.

I’ve long believed we need real community policing.

And we need each and every police department in the country to undertake a comprehensive review of their hiring, their training, and their de-escalation practices.

And the federal government should give them the tools and resources they need to implement reforms.

Most cops meet the highest standards of their profession. All the more reason that bad cops should be dealt with severely and swiftly. We all need to take a hard look at the culture that allows for these senseless tragedies to keep happening.

And we need to learn from the cities and precincts that are getting it right.

We know, though, that to have true justice in America, we need economic justice, too.

Here, too, there is much to be done.

As an immediate step, Congress should act to rectify racial inequities in the allocation of COVID-19 recovery funds.

I will be setting forth more of my agenda on economic justice and opportunity in the weeks and months ahead.

But it begins with health care. It should be a right not a privilege. The quickest route to universal coverage in this country is to expand Obamacare.

We could do it. We should do it.

But this president ‑‑ even now ‑‑ in the midst of a public health crisis with massive unemployment wants to destroy it.

He doesn’t care how many millions of Americans will be hurt‑‑ because he is consumed with his blinding ego when it comes to President Obama.

The president should withdraw his lawsuit to strike down Obamacare, and the Congress should prepare to act on my proposal to expand Obamacare to millions more.

These last few months we have seen America’s true heroes. The health care workers, the nurses, delivery truck drivers, grocery store workers.

We have a new phrase for them: Essential workers.

But we need to do more than praise them. We need to pay them.

Because if it wasn’t clear before, it’s clear now. This country wasn’t built by Wall Street bankers and CEOs. It was built by America’s great middle class ‑‑ by our essential workers.

I know there is enormous fear and uncertainty and anger in the country. I understand.

And I know so many Americans are suffering. Suffering the loss of a loved one. Suffering economic hardships. Suffering under the weight of generation after generation after generation of hurt inflicted on people of color ‑‑ and on black and Native communities in particular.

I know what it means to grieve. My losses are not the same as the losses felt by so many. But I know what it is to feel like you cannot go on.

I know what it means to have a black hole of grief sucking at your chest.

Just a few days ago marked the fifth anniversary of my son Beau’s passing from cancer. There are still moments when the pain is so great it feels no different from the day he died. But I also know that the best way to bear loss and pain is to turn all that anger and anguish to purpose.

And, Americans know what our purpose is as a nation. It has guided us from the very beginning.

It’s been reported that on the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated, little Yolanda King came home from school in Atlanta and jumped in her father’s arms.

“Oh, Daddy,” she said, “now we will never get our freedom.”

Her daddy was reassuring, strong, and brave.

“Now don’t you worry, baby,” said Martin Luther King, Jr. “It’s going to be all right.”

Amid violence and fear, Dr. King persevered.

He was driven by his dream of a nation where “justice runs down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

Then, in 1968 hate would cut him down in Memphis.

A few days before Dr. King was murdered, he gave a final Sunday sermon in Washington.

He told us that though the arc of a moral universe is long, it bends toward justice.

And we know we can bend it ‑‑ because we have. We have to believe that still. That is our purpose. It’s been our purpose from the beginning.

To become the nation where all men and women are not only created equal ‑‑ but treated equally.

To become the nation defined ‑‑ in Dr. King’s words ‑‑ not only by the absence of tension, but by the presence of justice.

Today in America it’s hard to keep faith that justice is at hand. I know that. You know that.

The pain is raw. The pain is real.

A president of the United States must be part of the solution, not the problem. But our president today is part of the problem.

When he tweeted the words “When the looting starts, the shooting starts” ‑‑ those weren’t the words of a president. They were the words of a racist Miami police chief from the 1960s.

When he tweeted that protesters “would have been greeted with the most vicious dogs … that’s when people would have been really badly hurt.” Those weren’t the words of a president ‑‑ those were the kind of words a Bull Connor would have used unleashing his dogs.

The American story is about action and reaction. That’s the way history works. We can’t be na├»ve about that.

I wish I could say this hate began with Donald Trump and will end with him. It didn’t and it won’t. American history isn’t a fairytale with a guaranteed happy ending.

The battle for the soul of this nation has been a constant push-and-pull for more than 240 years.

A tug of war between the American ideal that we are all created equal and the harsh reality that racism has long torn us apart. The honest truth is both elements are part of the American character.

At our best, the American ideal wins out.

It’s never a rout. It’s always a fight. And the battle is never finally won.

But we can’t ignore the truth that we are at our best when we open our hearts, not when we clench our fists. Donald Trump has turned our country into a battlefield riven by old resentments and fresh fears.

He thinks division helps him.

His narcissism has become more important than the nation’s well-being he leads.

I ask every American to look at where we are now, and think anew: Is this who we are? Is this who we want to be? Is this what we pass on to our kids’ and grandkids’ lives? Fear and finger-pointing rather than hope and the pursuit of happiness? Incompetence and anxiety? Self-absorption and selfishness?

Or do we want to be the America we know we can be. The America we know in our hearts we could be and should be.

Look, the presidency is a big job. Nobody will get everything right. And I won’t either.

But I promise you this. I won’t traffic in fear and division. I won’t fan the flames of hate.

I will seek to heal the racial wounds that have long plagued this country ‑‑ not use them for political gain.

I’ll do my job and take responsibility. I won’t blame others. I’ll never forget that the job isn’t about me.

It’s about you.

And I’ll work to not only rebuild this nation. But to build it better than it was.

To build a better future. That’s what America does.

We build the future. It may in fact be the most American thing to do.

We hunger for liberty the way Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass did.

We thirst for the vote the way Susan B. Anthony and Ella Baker and John Lewis did. We strive to explore the stars, to cure disease, to make this imperfect Union as perfect as we can.

We may come up short ‑‑ but at our best, we try.

We are facing formidable enemies.

They include not only the coronavirus and its terrible impact on our lives and livelihoods, but also the selfishness and fear that have loomed over our national life for the last three years.

Defeating those enemies requires us to do our duty ‑‑ and that duty includes remembering who we should be.

We should be the America of FDR and Eisenhower, of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr., of Jonas Salk and Neil Armstrong.

We should be the America that cherishes life and liberty and courage.

Above all, we should be the America that cherishes each other ‑‑ each and every one.

We are a nation in pain, but we must not allow this pain to destroy us. We are a nation enraged, but we cannot allow our rage to consume us. We are a nation exhausted, but we will not allow our exhaustion to defeat us.

As president, it is my commitment to all of you to lead on these issues ‑‑ to listen. Because I truly believe in my heart of hearts, that we can overcome. And when we stand together, finally, as One America, we will rise stronger than before.

So reach out to one another. Speak out for one another. And please, please take care of each other.

This is the United States of America. And there is nothing we can’t do. If we do it together.

Joe Biden

Paid for by Biden for President

Sunday, May 31, 2020

My Police Chief’s Statement

The death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis has sparked deep rooted outrage across the country. The videos which have emerged depict a gross negligence of lawful authority and need to be denounced by all police agencies in the strongest of terms. The incident has understandably unleashed an aftermath of escalating tensions nationwide but due process must not be replaced by the consequences of inflammatory rhetoric. 

West Orange is a community with cultural roots spread across the spectrum of ethnic and racial backgrounds. Our town has a proud history of respect and acceptance for all people. This is best exemplified in the reputation of our police department for upholding and enforcing the law with a professionally trained police force.

Town residents should be assured that the men and woman of the West Orange Police Department are committed to the highest standards of law enforcement. The WOPD is the only nationally accredited law enforcement entity in all of Essex County and one of about only 12 in the entire state. All WOPD personnel attend semi-annual training regarding our use of force policy. It specifically focuses on circumstances when there is a necessity to intervene in excessive use of force situations.  Failure to adhere to our established polices by officers may subject them to departmental charges and criminal charges if warranted.  In-custody deaths within our jurisdiction always would be investigated by the New Jersey State Attorney General.

Mayor Robert Parisi, West Orange Township Council President Michelle Casalino, Councilman Jerry Guarino, Councilwoman Cindy Matute-Brown, Councilwoman Susan McCartney, Councilman Joseph Krakoviak, West Orange Police Chief James Abbott, and the West Orange Human Relations Commission join the countless voices across the country offering support to the family of George Floyd for their profound loss. As a caring community with a committed police agency in a lawful nation we must continually all work together in the shared hope that our combined efforts achieve our common goals of justice and equality for all.

James P. Abbott
Chief of Police
West Orange

COVID trumps protests for now

I write you as your rabbi in a time of racial turmoil.  If we were able to gather physically, I would call on us to gather in our building to hold a community meeting and plan our involvement as a force for good at this time.  I would join with others to stand up and support in person all peaceful voices for racial justice in America.  I would lead any who would follow to gather with others in our area in common cause. I am frustrated that this is not possible at this time.  

I will not join public protests, and I will not participate in large unorganized gatherings at this time.  I reject the voices who say COVID is not as important as Justice, as if they were unrelated.  COVID has decimated every dense population center in New Jersey and NY, and has been especially horrific in disadvantaged neighborhoods. COVID’s impact, in unemployment and illness amplifies the world of injustice that is the background for the current strife.  Gathering large groupings of those same communities in those same places will surely be a death sentence for some. It is short-sighted to demand the protest, and roll the dice. 

I call on each of you to look at the systemic inequality experienced in America.  Regardless of your political and social views, accept that a broad and deep percentage of the nation is crying out clearly for intervention and for change based on their lived experience.  That voice is a voice of prophecy.  It is the cry of the Hebrew prophets of old, and it echoes in the streets of Minneapolis today.  

No cry of “Justice” can be ignored by a Jew.  In every way you can, get involved. Learn. Listen. Support. Demand the just society that we all believe in. And find your way to make it happen.  Whatever your piece of this is that you believe, focus on that - nurture it and make it grow.

I recognize that many say this is "too little." Please know, this is not all I do.  This is not all you should do.  This note is just about this note: I will not attend a rally right now, and I hear the cry of prophecy in the wind.

Rabbi Robert L. Tobin

Thursday, May 28, 2020

The Police Murder of George Floyd

We are all, I sincerely hope, appalled and angered at the murder of George Floyd, an unarmed black man - lying in the street in handcuffs as a white, seasoned Minneapolis police officer slowly choked the life out of him with his knee on his neck.

Bystanders did what we would hope: clearly spoke up in a non-violent way, asking the officer to stop, labelling the officer’s actions as deadly, recording the event, even as Mr. Floyd begged for air and bled from the nose. The officer ignored the pleas, clearly and methodically applied the pressure of his knee to the front/side of the neck where it should cut blood to the brain and cause Mr. Floyd to pass out.  The maneuver was absolutely clear: cause the man to lose consciousness before finishing the arrest, even though the man was cuffed and on the ground immobile. 

The officer was 100% wrong. He knowingly and deliberately applied potentially lethal force to an incapacitated man, who then died. In a word: murder. Everyone has a right to a rigorous defense in America, and this officer is no different. But I also have a right to judge and form an opinion, and I believe that this was clearly murder.  

Not only that, I know that it is the silent bystander that empowers evil. The police chief in Minneapolis has said publicly that he fired all four officers involved in the incident because silence is being "complicit."  All four ex-officers must be arrested, charged and tried just like any other accomplices in a murder would be.  As long as the other 3 walk free, the criminal justice system in Minneapolis has not done what it must to prove that it is not also complicit.  This is why the protests grow, and frustration turns too often towards violence.  It is the accusation that there is a culture of police complicity that empowers these acts against the black community.  Prove it wrong. Arrest and charge all 4 officers.

Having lived in L.A. around the time of O.J. and Rodney King, I know that anti-police protests quickly turning into riots should surprise no one.  Civic violence and mob thuggery are predictable, and inexcusable.  Yet we must know this:  Black experience of America and White experience of America are not equal. Black experience of city policing and White experience of city policing are not equal. You do not lose your moral high ground when some people smash and grab in the middle of a protest. The issue is real.

When I try to judge racial prejudice, I reverse the skin colors in the story and ask: what would happen?  I firmly believe that if I, a white Jewish male, had the police sent after me for faking a check in a store that I would never be pinned to the ground and killed by a police officer.  I am roughly similar in age and size to Mr. Floyd.  It simply would not happen, even if all other circumstances were identical. Do you disagree?

I have prejudice born of racial advantage: I believe in the good in America’s police force.  I believe when a police officer arrives, the situation improves.  I believe in the inherent good of the criminal justice system, and that everyone has a fair opportunity under law when accused.  These beliefs, I know, are not shared completely or broadly among Black Americans that I know and listen to.  The system works for me, so I believe in it.

We have seen 3 racially driven news stories in just a few weeks:  the belated prosecution of white men who pursued and killed an unarmed black man, Ahmaud Arbery, in Brunswick GA; the “central park dog walker,” a white woman who threatened a black man that she would call the police and say “an African American” man is harassing her; and the murder of George Floyd. 

The narrative draws a line:  when white police are involved in the killing (Ahmaud Arbery), justice will not occur; when white privilege is challenged (central park), anti-black labelling will call the police to their side of the conflict; when black men are detained (Floyd), they are presumed violent and too often put down with force like animals. 

The fear and anger of Black citizens in America is earned honestly by a country that was built on the back of the largest slavery system in human history - by a country whose civil war produced not liberty but institutional prejudice and disadvantage for blacks in America. Ours is a country that deliberately concentrated poverty and racial groupings in dysfunctional cities, with government resources for schools, housing, health, vocational training and more being held back by gerrymandering voter districts to disempower minority voting.  And it is earned by the persistent policing, sometimes as the culture of a department and sometimes as the action of rogue cops, that treats the black man as a threat in all circumstances in a way it does not treat the white man.

I write this because I am white.  I am listening. I think I get it. I know I won’t ever understand how it “feels.” But I do believe that I completely understand what it is.  So what can I do?  What will I do?

This is what I can and will do:

  1. I will WRITE for you and everyone who will read it. Please pass it along.
  2. I will VOTE, with this in mind.  I will tell every elected official on my ballot that this matters to me more than anything else facing America today.
  3. I will SHUT UP, when someone is trying to tell me what this means and what this is from their experience and point of view.
  4. I will SPEAK UP when I hear or see this insipid cultural prejudice against black men, and against any racial, religious, or gender victims in my community and in my country.
  5. I will try to FORM GENUINE RELATIONSHIPS with people who are different than me, racially, religiously and in every way - to be there when it matters.

I will WRITE.  I will VOTE.  I will SHUT UP. I will SPEAK UP. I will RELATE.

Will you?


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, 270towin.com 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