Sunday, September 11, 2022

Of Monarchs and Terrorists - Social Justice and Amalek

 The death of Queen Elizabeth II

The 21st anniversary of 9/11

Shabbat Shalom.  This week we mark two national losses, and reflect on their meaning for us and our understanding of civil society.  This weekend is the 21st anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attack on our nation, and marks the death of the United Kingdom’s longest reigning monarch, Queen Elizabeth the second.  These national losses are opposites in so very many ways.  And this morning we continue to read the laws of the just society command by our holy Torah so many generations ago in parshat Ki Teitzei.

9/11 was an attack on our ordinary friends, neighbors, co-workers, citizens and strangers who comprise the greatest city on the face of the earth.  It was ideological murder against a country that believes in religious freedom, social diversity and democratic institutions as the core base of all power of government.  It was intentional, evil and extreme.

On the contrary, the death of the Queen mother is the loss of the single most elite person in the world. She combined nearly limitless privilege with parallel devotion to a sense of service and obligation to the society she nominally ruled.  He ideology of country affirmed religious freedom, even as she was the ordained head of the Anglican Church.  She believed in social diversity, even as she represented an inherited dynasty of white privilege that descended from the actual people who had pursued the largest colonial enterprises ever experienced in human history.  And she remained committed to the constitutional powers of the people and her countries democratic institutions.

Think of the kind of rule the Taliban represent.  Religious intolerance. Social repression. Rule by might of arms.  And think of the power of Queen Elizabeth embodying in actual monarchy the opposite.  Religious pluralism. Social diversity and freedom. And government of the people by their duly elected representatives.  Listen to the soft spoken blessings of the Queen mother in her addresses to the people, and compare the vitriolic hate and rhetoric that the enemies of democracy spew online and in terror.  

I am not a fan of monarchy. Philosophically I am opposed to everything that it is and purports to be.  We fought a war of independence to reject it in both concept and reality, and I would fight that war again and again.  Yet there is also much good in the British Monarchy in how it developed in the 20th century to become a platform for social causes and charitable acts worldwide.  If you judge a tree by its fruit, the Royal House of Windsor has of late been a force for good.

The truth is that the Torah does have ambivalent feelings about monarchy. (Quote last week), a king had limits:  Wives, Horses, Gold.  And remedies, the torah the prophet .... 

Remember the young Queen’s famous vow:

And think of our Torah this morning, Deut 23:22-24

And the high commands to treat every person with personal and economic justice:  24:12, 14, 15, 16, 17, 

and disputations and punishments... etc., ch 25.

honest weights and measures... 

And remember what Amalek did to you on your way.... 25:17

Why does our parshah this week end with the startling non-sequitor of Amalek attacking our week and our elderly from behind as we journey in the wilderness? No society of justice will ever be entirely free from attack or evil. There will always be those, like Amalek, who "doe not fear the Lord." Some of these will be religious fanatics who are so convinced that they act for G-d that they have no sense of fear or trepidation that they in fact may be wrong. Everything can be a tool for good or evil. Religion - the greatest force for peace in the world - can be twisted to hate and violence. Monarchy - the purist form of elitism over and against human rights - can be used for tremendous good in support of the needy, the stranger and the Other.

Good and bad is not what you are - it is what you do.

May the memory of Queen Elizabeth II be forever a blessing for her family, country and our world, and may God bless King Charles III as he ascends the throne.

Shabbat Shalom.

Friday, June 10, 2022

Join Me in Israel! June 2022 Blog reports and our 2023 Israel Trip!

I am thrilled to announce that we will be traveling to Israel as a community in 2023, so save up your shekels!  All COVID barriers to travel to and from the US and Israel have been lifted, and it is time to return to our dreams.

If you haven’t traveled with us before, you need to know that our trips are unique and transformative.  Talk to anyone who has come with us in the past and you will learn why and how we do this. 

Our trips are fun, meaningful and impactful.  We engage with real Israelis on the ground, with whom we have built a lasting relationship.  We visit less seen locations with incredible hidden histories.  We travel in comfort, ending nearly every day with casual social relaxation at the hotel bar and pool. And we make lifelong friends that forever change our experience of Bnai Shalom when we return home.

In anticipation of our trip, I am traveling to Israel June 13-17, 2022 to research potential partners and experiences.  Follow this Blog for daily updates, as I explore today’s Israel with an eye to your discovery.  When I return, we will have home meeting to make itinerary decisions together, and put dates on the calendar.

This is an exciting time for all of us, and it’s time to get back out there.  Follow me, and join me as we begin the long road home to Israel.

Friday, May 27, 2022

Common Use v. Common Sense

Common Use v. Common Sense: 

the turning point in the Gun Debate in America today.

Robert L Tobin

We have a long history with guns and killing in America.  Accepting where it came from has to be part of being determined to make it stop.  And we must do everything we can to make it stop.

In the past two weeks we witnessed anti-black racist mass murder at a grocery store in Buffalo, NY, a political shooting in an Asian church in California, and the slaughter of 19 innocent children and two of their teachers in an elementary school in Texas.  There are more mass murders in this country than anyone but a computer data base can keep track of. And the worst weapons of choice are those designed for the task: assault rifles.  Prior to that, the rise of antiSemitism unleashed multiple attacks on synagogues, and prejudice and racism drove other attacks against homosexuals, latinos and more.  The favored tool of hate is not the pen. It is the AR-15.

Our nation was born with a struggle between an oppressive monarchy that hired mercenaries to police our colonies with military force.  The indignity and inhumanity of that inspired colonial leaders to rise up in arms to force our independence through the pain of war.  The evil of systemic enslavement of black people, upon which the economic development of much of the new country depended, was ultimately overthrown through bloody civil war and 2% of the population lay dead through force of arms.  The conquest of the West came through the armed colonization of native territories, and the concurrent armed population defending itself in scattered towns and homesteads before law and order could be established in due time.  And in the twentieth century three generations of Americans were drafted to war, and thought to fight to protect our nation's freedom, interests and allies abroad.  Weapons have been synonymous with freedom and liberty in this land for 400 years.

When hate is unable to change society in any peaceful way it will not give up and accept the status quo.  The inevitable end to its path is killing.  

There will continue to be those who will seek the most destructive force that can acquire in order to achieve that goal.  Why pick up a pea-shooter when you can have a military style assault rifle?

I believe in the right to bear arms.  I believe that the Supreme Court has been correct in its interpretation of that right in recent years.  But we are about to face a tipping point, and it is based on two competing concepts: Common Sense Gun Laws and Common Use standards for legal possession.  Let's look at them:

Common Use:

In Washington DC v Heller (See Cornell's, the right to posses weapons for self defense was asserted, and the pistol specifically was upheld, in part by a principal called "common use."  Basically, if a type of weapon is currently in common use for legal purposes, then the court ruled that the weapon can not be banned by the government.  You can not own an artillery cannon.  You can own a rifle or a pistol.

In the coming weeks, the court is nearly certain to strike down New Jersey's may issue statute which effectively makes it impossible for ordinary citizens to carry a gun (open or concealed) anywhere but on their own private property.  Weapons in public will become legal overnight.  This will happen.  But I do not worry about this because in the 25 states that already allow it there is no increased pattern of violence.  

The real threat is not about people having guns in public, but by the accessibility of assault rifles.  It is about what gun the malevolent shooter can get their hands on.  When assault rifles were banned, mass shooter attacks decreased.  When the ban expired, mass shooter attacks increased.  To ban such a weapon, the argument needs to be made that they do not reflect a reasonable standard of common use.

What the court will need to determine at some point is whether or not an AR-15 is a weapon in common use for a lawful purpose.  With over 16 million such "modern sporting rifles" in legal possession by Americans by 2018 (see The Washington Post here), it seems like an easy argument that the common use standard will be met and the weapons will continue to be legally sold nationwide.

By this point I am trying not to seeth.  How can that be?  Yet the discussion about how to end gun violence has to begin with a dispassionate understanding of what the status of guns in America is.  We may not like the facts, but they are facts.  Assault rifles may be here to stay.

Common Sense:

So what can be done about gun violence?  I do believe that there are many effective laws that can be passed to limit access to guns and to strengthen our common defense against their illegal use, without losing the essential value that a person has a right to have and use a gun to defend themselves in both private and public settings.

Learn about and support the Common Sense Gun Law movement.  Here is Congressman Joe Morrelle's page on the topic.  It is excellent.  Encourage your lawmakers to support every one of these measures from background checks, to magazine and ammunition limits and bans against military weapons for civilian use.  

Common sense means simply that you don't need to be able to out-gun the police to be able to provide for your own personal self defense.  Common sense does not disarm the citizenry, nor does it empower the random person with the highest power attack weapons known to society.  Common sense means that people with red flags must be known to every data base, and prohibited from buying any weapons in any jurisdiction.  So that means real universal background checks for everyone's protection.  Common sense means that you must secure your firearm from use by minors or those prohibited from owning one themselves.  Honestly, only the most unreasonable extremist would hold that anybody of any history can own any gun in any place at any time.

Act Now

People are dying.  Children are slaughtered.  The time is now to act.  But act reasonably with a realistic and pragmatic hope for real change.  The "pro" and "anti" gun lobbies will, by definition, not get their way.  Given where we are as a culture and a nation, we must use our Common Sense to define and defend the right to Common Use.

An ordained Rabbi, Robert Tobin holds degrees in International Relations and Criminal Justice.

Monday, May 16, 2022

The Hate Continues: "Replacement" and the Anti-History Killers

I have written often over the past 5 years of the growth of the online community of White Supremacists who hate all Jews, all Muslims and anyone who is not "white" who dares to live in this country.  .

Today we focus on the racist murder of 10 black Americans in Buffalo for no reason but white supremacist hatred of black people. It is human evil and deserves absolute rejection by every person  of any background.


Race itself is largely a social construct, without serious biological credence.  But there are cultures of racial identity and historical legacies of race that matter. Racial superiority is a myth held by groups of people who seek power and privilege without merit or personal achievement. They assert that they are  born to rule. The idea that "white" people have a predestined right to remain racially pure and in charge of this country is arrogant, ignorant and dangerous.  It must be left in the dustbin of history.

The hatred of Blacks, immigrants and non-Christians described by these racists in terms of the "14 words" is summarized by "replacement theory."  The idea is that the sweep of history towards a multiracial and multicultural world, which is the natural outcome of freedom, civil liberty and democracy, is instead a nefarious plot by scheming elites (often "Jews" in their fantasy) to destroy white identity and culture.  Historically they hate and degrade black people in this country with intensity.

The Replacement Theory "lone wolf" attacker slowly develops their extremist ideology over time. They believe that igniting a race war that will overturn the political rule of democracy in favor of a return to an earlier day in US History when blacks and other minorities were refused basic civil liberties and the vote.  They are willing and able to kill and die in service of this hatred and prejudice.  And there are more of them developing every day.

When they act against their targets, they are guilty of hate crimes.  While hatred is a protected free speech right, acting on that hatred through violence, harassment or intimidation is illegal in most states, including New Jersey.

When they believe they can change the government through those acts, they are domestic terrorists.  The use of violence, threat of violence, or intimidation to cause fear against civilians with the purpose of illegal governmental change, is terrorism.  

With the growth of online silos and echo chambers of hate, the manifestos of racist murderers now form a self-reflective genre of lies to affirm the worst fantasies of the weak minded.  This week we saw it in an 18 year old from rural Conklin, New York (near Binghamton) who spent several years in high school fantasizing about mass murder and violence, only to follow through with the massacre of 10 innocent civilians in a racist rampage at a supermarket in Buffalo NY.  Next week may be another.

All good people of conscience must speak out and leave no silence to empower those who would  kill for their prejudicial ambition.

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Judaism Believes in Abortion Rights

 Judaism is strongly in support of the woman's right to choose the course of, or termination of, her pregnancy for a variety of compelling reasons.  It is absolutely clear.

Here is a statement from the Rabbinical Assembly of America.

Here is a resource page for more in-depth study and nuance.

Here is a link to the National Council of Jewish Women's rally in Washington, D.C.

The SCOTUS decision will stand.  To overturn it will take a Constitutional Ammendment.  That is unlikely.

Our moral and ethical duty needs to support and protect those women anywhere who need counseling and medical care in this circumstance to be able to acquire it in those states that will still protect these basic rights.

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Waving Goodbye from the Docks

 Goodbye, AIPAC

For years I have been a supporter of AIPAC, both personally and professionally.  I have made donations.  I have attended policy conference.  I have encouraged others to do the same.  I have led groups to attend.  This was for a simple and compelling reasons:  Israel is not a partisan issue.

The truth was always clear and compelling:  AIPAC invested in education of all members of Congress, regardless of political affiliation.  AIPAC sponsored fact-finding missions for Congressmen and Congresswomen to learn for themselves how Israel is a democracy and ally to our core.  AIPAC stood for the special relationship and alliance between our countries that would endure regardless of which political party or parties were in charge on either side of the relationship.  And the AIPAC policy conference was the jewel in the crown where seminars, speakers, and vendors came together from across the political spectrum in unity and shared beliefs.

I was right then, but sadly those days are now gone.  No more policy conference. And AIPAC is running US domestic agenda attack ads against primary candidates they oppose.

In the past year AIPAC has chosen to establish a superPAC, and has already begun doing exactly what I always said they would never do.  AIPAC now directly funds candidates that they believe reflect a specific approach to the US Israel relationship, and one that has in the past 15 years trended sharply to the right in both Israeli and US politics.  That means that some portion of every dollar given now will find its way not only into the political coffers of specific Congresspeople but specific candidates for Congress as well.  

When they made that decision last year, I expressed my dismay, and held back my public criticism.  I chose not to send my own donations through them anymore, since I wish to make my own political donations to the candidates of my choice - including my consideration of what is best for the US Israel relationship.  

But now, it has gone further.  I know this is the logical next step, but this is when they  lose me completely I am afraid.

AIPAC's superPAC has now committed itself to actively campaign against chosen candidates for Congress by running attack ads on domestic American political issues.  If an "undesirable" candidate is vulnerable because of their ties to criminal justice reform in the US, AIPAC will now run extreme ads accusing them of defunding the police.  AIPAC has no actual policy position on US criminal justice reform.  They will simply use it to attack.  For me, it is a core betrayal of ideal I had believed in. AIPAC may not actually mention Israel at all in these campaigns.  Whatever works to make sure the right person loses.

And, not surprisingly any more, they are not really involved in the Republican Primaries.  It is almost entirely aimed at the Democratic Party.  It will be a straight forward multimillion dollar campaign to seek to choose the leadership of the Democratic party and its delegation to the US Congress.  I am appalled, quite frankly.

For members of the Democratic Party who wish to join a powerful pro-Israel voice, there already is the Democratic Majority for Israel. It is clearly a domestic political movement engaged in primaries and the general elections.  AIPAC is duplicating this effort, and - in my view - in a disturbing way.

Now, I know how I sound.  I can hear my fellow Zionists saying, "Don't be naive, Rabbi Tobin.  This is how the game is played today." I get it.  We live in a divisive, ugly political climate where money talks and extreme voices are too dangerous to ignore.  I get it and you get it.  

I will continue to work for candidates in primaries and the general election that are good for both America and Israel.  I will consider broader issues and vote accordingly, rather than just weaponizing them for one side of this divide.  And when I wish to be partisan, I will make that decision for myself.

AIPAC was supposed to be a different space.  I lament the loss of AIPAC's legitimate non-partisan posture.  I will miss the honest big tent where all views were welcome.  And I am confident that my approach is the most appropriate for both this country and for Israel.

So, sadly, I remain where I am and wave goodbye from the docks as AIPAC sails its superPAC into the mud and muck of extremist domestic American politics.

Friday, March 18, 2022

Lend Lease Leads to War

Nobody with love in their heart wants war.  But it does seem inevitable - for us, and not just the Ukraine.

Putin's war is part of a very long cultural process of ambition on the part of the Russian Empire under the Czars, the Soviet Union under the Stalinists and now Russian hegemony under the Oligarch robber barons who have taken over the Russian republic under Putin.

The west has responded by drawing a line in the sand between Ukraine and its Nato neighbors: Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania.  That said, the entire purpose of NATO is to defend against Russian expansionism, so this move by Putin is a serious threat.  NATO exists to contain, and the current policy is designed to relegate the war to just outside the borders of NATO.  Ukraine ultimately is left to its own defense, as we have no treaty agreement with them.  

How similar is this scenario to Hitler's expansion into the Sudetenland in 1938 or Hitler and Stalin's agreement to divide Poland in halves in 1939?  How similar is America's reaction now to our reaction then?  Are we on the path to war?

There are similarities to look at, and we should walk forward with eyes wide open.

Hitler's excuse to enter the Sudetenland (modern Czech Republic region) was the large majority of people there who were "pro-German" or "culturally German:" they voted in local elections to be German.  Later in the war, Austria would join the Nazi regime the same way.  The analogy works to eastern Ukraine, whose population is majority Russian culture, with areas in the east and the Crimea that are overtly pro-Russian.  That is why Putin was able to so easily annex the Crimea in 2014 (and 1783 for that matter).  The excuse to come in and "Russify" the region gets explained as "supporting the democratic wishes of that region" which is ludicrous since in our day it was part of a sovereign nation.  El Paso, Texas can not vote to align with Mexico and hope that Mexico will send in their army to annex the territory.  It doesn't work. But here we are and Putin is doing just what Hitler did in the past.

Second, when Hitler and Russia divided Poland, nobody really reacted.  Poland was not allied with the major powers, and nobody wanted a second world war.  Americans, in the midst of a nationalist and protectionist era, where not eager to enter the war against Germany.  Again today, after Iraq and Afghanistan our country is not eager to find itself in an active war.  But "we don't want a war" is a weak starting point for diplomacy.

Third, once Hitler attacked Holland, France and England, the United States still did not enter the war.  Instead, FDR started a process of "lend/lease" of American civilian and military supplies and sent them across the Atlantic to support England or any other country vital to American security.  This is exactly what we are doing today in the Ukraine.  Germany responded by attacking the military supply columns with U Boats, swaying many American minds.  Our entry into the war became nearly inevitable.

So here we are, just like in 1941.  A major power has begun a senseless war of expansion, with claims of supporting self-determination for "Russian People" in a neighboring state.  It has already successfully annexed other portions of another country, and wants more.  The world wishes "not to start a world war," and has decided to give/lend/lease military and civilian supplies in huge amounts to prop up the defends and bog down the attackers - safely far away from our own people and military.  But how long will it be before Putin, like Germany, attacks the supply lines that we have created.  Our supplies are stopping him from advancing to conquer all of the Ukraine - or at least the more Russian cultural half of it that is east of the Dniper River.  What makes us think he will tolerate failure or defeat?

Putin shows no sign of stopping.  It is hard to see how this conflagration ends without either the entrance of NATO into war with Russia or the abandonment of the Ukraine.

The only hope would be that Russia grinds down and collapses internally as a result of this expensive and unwise war.  That is by no means a foregone conclusion, and would take a long time.  Do we, or they, have the patience for that to happen?

It does seem inevitable:  Russian will attack the supply lines.  American and NATO ally forces will be hit and killed.  What is the administration's plan in that scenario?

Friday, February 25, 2022

Support the Jewish Communities of the Ukraine in their Time of Need

 I have been asked many questions about the Russian invasion of Ukraine, about the Jewish community there, and how we can help.


First,  the Masorti Olami movement (Conservative Judaism in the world) has 4 synagogue communities in the Ukraine which are in immediate need of support.  Families from the east 3 communities are being moved in every way possible to the quieter fourth community in the western half of the country, near Moldova.  There we are supporting them, and preparing for a possible emergency aliyah.  You can support and learn more about this effort here.  Please choose “specific community” and write in Ukraine, if you wish.  This will support specific families in need immediately.

Second, our Greater MetroWest Jewish Community Federation is deeply involved in the Ukraine already.  Many of us have attended missions and programs that have taken us to Odessa, Kiev, and our summer youth camps in Cherkasy.  The Federation has immediate channels open to engage financially, socially, educationally and politically to support the broad community infrastructure of JCC’s, food and elderly support systems, schools and more.  This is a major basic reason why we give to the UJA campaign here, and by doing so you will strengthen our ability to support the Jewish community there in Ukraine through this crisis.


Prior to World War II, and the Shoah, it is estimated that 1.5 million Jews lived in the Ukraine.  From enlightenment, secular yiddish, religious and zionist communities in Odessa to widespread chasidic and traditional agrarian communities throughout the countryside, Ukraine had a long history as a major Jewish regional center.  Names like Rebbe Nachman of Bratslav come from this region. It is understood that 1 million of those were murdered in the Shoah, and today there are approximately 400,000 “culturally Jewish” people and about 40,000 “affiliated” Jews in the Ukraine.  They are centered in a half dozen cities and a several dozen synagogues and community centers which have flourished in partnership with the American Jewish community and Israel.

A more complete description of the Ukrainian Jewish community can be found in this article from The Forward, based on AJC demographics.


This week, Russia invaded the Ukraine.  Sadly, this is not new in European history, nor is it new in our lifetimes. From the Tsars to the Soviets this is an old legacy.  Putin’s invasion by land, sea and air seems aimed at immediate command and control of air superiority, including air infrastructure on the ground in the Ukraine, and controlling strategic corridors throughout the central and eastern regions of the country. This is the logical first phase of a complete conquest strategy.  The goal, as stated, is to disarm Ukraine completely, and - evidently - to topple the fairly elected government and install one favorable to Russian ethnic groups in the country and Russian ambitions in the region.

Ukraine is a deeply divided country ethnically and politically, with Russian and Ukrainian cultural regions roughly splitting the country between the east and west sides of the Dniper River. You can see how the river system divides the country in this google map.   The two major political parties split roughly along these ethnic divides as “pro-Western” and “pro-Russian.”  National elections since the fall of the Soviet Union have never shown a majority support for either major political camp’s party, but neither side has ever received less than 40% of the vote either.  A helpful wikipedia article, with colored graphic maps demonstrates this here.

In 2014 there was massive upheaval as a pro-Russian prime minister was elected, but not accepted by the West or the opposition due to accusations of voter fraud.  Protests forced him to resign, and flee to Russia and a pro-western government was then able to ascend by legal means.  The far eastern provinces experienced a pro-Russian rejection of this “Orange Revolution,” naming it a coup. Russia agreed with that assessment, but the west did not.  Russia subsequently supported the rebels in creating an autonomous enclave in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.  Russia then outright annexed the Crimean Peninsula - which was relatively popular in Crimea but not in the rest of the world.

There were two rounds of diplomacy between 2014 and 2017, named Minsk 1 and Minsk 2, which created an imperfect cease fire between Ukrainian and these various separatist forces in the east, which held until recent months.  For reasons not entirely clear, Russia has chosen this time to reassert its objections over the pro-western Ukrainian government and has decided to use its overwhelming military force to invade and eliminate the democratic government in the capital of Kiev (Ukranian: Kiv).  At that time I gave a sermon/analysis of the conflict and predicted that Russia would continue to agitate, until it had control of the eastern half of the country up to Dniper and everything south to the Black Sea. People thought I was pessimistic.  It seams I underestimated Putin's avarice.

Which brings us up to date.


As a final note, while the “pro-Western” political parties did wish to join NATO and the European Union, neither goal was ever achieved.  The United States, NATO and the EU have NO FORMAL ALLEGIANCE to Ukraine, and no obligation of any kind to defend it.  That is why US policy at this point has been to fortify NATO countries that border the conflict, and to otherwise stand back physically while sanctioning Russia politically and economically for its behavior.  For its part, eliminating a Ukrainian Army that might have become NATO allied is a major strategic benefit for Putin. 

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Time to end the "no knock warrant"

In parshat mishpatim, two weeks ago, it is clear that if someone is breaking into your home in the night, you are to assume that they opposed a mortal threat to you and you can use deadly force to repel them with no fear of consequence.  

If the thief is seized while tunneling, and he is beaten to death, there is no bloodguilt in his case. If the sun has risen on him, there is bloodguilt in that case. (Exodus 22:1-2)

The rabbinic tradition affirms this in Mishnah Sanhedrin 8:6:

[A thief] who tunnels his way in is judged on account of its [probable] outcome: If he broke through and broke a jug, should there be bloodguilt for him, he must pay [for the jug he broke], but if there is no bloodguilt for him, he is not liable.

Amir Locke, a 22 year old man, was murdered by the Minneapolis police policy of no knock warrants on February 2, 2022.

The entire scenario was a set up, where police and citizens alike were predictably placed into a life threatening conflict.  In a series of terrible facts, Amir was not the subject of the warrant when he was killed.  He was in his own home.  He legally owned his gun.  The police moved in, waking him - dark figures coming at him with guns drawn.  He reached for his gun, and now what are the police supposed to do?  They shot and killed him, sensing that he was  - correctly - going to use his gun against them.  The entire thing should never have happened.  But Amir Locke did nothing wrong, and he is now dead.  The policy, the judge and the officers all pulled the trigger.

Fact: citizens sleeping in their homes have a constitutional right to have loaded weapons easily at hand to protect themselves from violent home intrusions.

Fact: no-knock warrants - by design and intent - look just like an armed intruder when they enter the home.

If I were in bed with a legal gun in my home and someone broke through the door without announcing themselves, I would shoot.  It is the exact reason why anyone would have a gun in their home. What other possible outcome can you expect?

The tremendous stupidity of no-knock warrants is justified by the argument that armed bad guys named in the warrant need to be surprised and taken when they are vulnerable.  Perhaps they could destroy evidence if given the warning.  Not good enough.  And here are some examples to prove it:

December 2013, in Texas, Henry Magee shot and killed a police officer during a pre-down, no-knock drug raid on his home.  In February 2014, a grand jury declined to indict him, supporting his reasonable assumption of self-defense.  What did they find in the home?  A few home-grown marijuana plants.

In May, 2015, also in Texas, Marvin Guy did the same thing in the same circumstance.  The grand jury in that case did indict him with murder of a law officer.  7 years later he is still in jail without a trail, where he will eventually face the death penalty.  What did they find in the home?  Nothing.

Two dead cops for warrants on non-violent drug crimes in completely avoidable circumstances.  In the same state, two completely different outcomes.  What of equal protection?  The whole scenario is capricious and deadly.

But cops aren't the only victims, of course.  Innocent civilians victimized by the practice include a severely burned 19 month old in GA (2014) from a flash grenade, a killed 7 year old girl in Detroit (2010), and of course we now should all be aware of the killing of Breanna Taylor in Louiseville in 2020.

According to Time magazine, from 2010 through 2016, at least 81 civilians and 13 officers died during SWAT raids, including 31 civilians and eight officers during execution of no-knock warrants.

In 2006 already, the CATO institute published a scathing report about the over-militarization of police raids and their consequences.

The no-knock warrant's benefit is not worth the risk.

Monday, February 7, 2022

The Ever Changing Mask Standards

The numbers are getting better again.  Shouldn't that mean something?

In the height of the Omicron surge, my synagogue imposed a 100% indoor mask mandate, regardless of vaccination status and cancelled all indoor eating and drinking.  I completely agreed with that.

During the conversation, however, it was suggested that "in retrospect" perhaps the fact that in May 2020 we were shut down, in July 2020 we were masked, in summer 2021 we were unmasked but now we are fully masked again.... that this shows "we were too hasty in lightening up on our mandates before." I disagree with that assessment.  Here is why:

Being vigilant means being very attentive to the scientific progression of the virus in our community.  It means surveillance, because facts matter.  At times, such as the Delta surge, a deadly variant was increasing in our region.  High transmission rates resulted in high infection rates, ultimately showing higher hospitalizations and increased deaths.  Our vigilant monitoring of those facts indicated early that we should take on stricter modes of prevention before the numbers got out of hand, which we did in combination with the High Holy Days last fall.  As the numbers decreased in November, it looked like we could lighten up a bit, but Omicron came raging in and we actually had to become more strict.  

An attentive, responsible person following the science can change their protocols forward and backwards appropriately depending on the conditions on the ground. Like driving on dry, wet, snowy and then icy pavement, a good driver can make different decisions, back and forth, as the physics of the situation develop.  Only a fool does not change their driving based on conditions.  Masks and mandates are the same.

It is foolish to approach COVID as an absolute - in either direction.  The mask denier, who ignores the facts that masks mitigate spread - simply because masks don't stop the spread - is engaged in a willful self-deception.  Masks help.  They don't cure.  They are a weak prophylactic, but they are not completely worthless.  In a time of surging contagion, it is reasonable to increase - even mandate - masks.

On the other hand, foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of simple minds, no?  Forcing masks regardless of the measurement of COVID in the community is indefensible.  There must come a time when the surveillance of COVID in the field tells us that the risks are low enough to remove our masks. Sure, we might debate the number that triggers that, but the number is a real number greater than zero.  There does come a time.  I believe that time is rapidly approaching.  This morning Governor Murphy announced that masking mandates in NJ schools will be lifted in mid-March.

The only moral hesitation would be to protect the innocent.  Last summer, due to high numbers of unvaccinated people - innocent or deliberate - any spread was a significant threat to a significant number of people.  Now, with the unvaccinated being only infants and people who have chosen that risk, I would argue that the moral mandate to protect the vulnerable is rapidly coming to a close. 

Here are the numbers today in Essex County NJ, where I live. 

Infection Rate:  0.39    (Excellent, and trending even lower)

Daily New Cases/100k   :    23.1 (Very good, and trending lower rapidly)

Hospital and Death: Very low and getting lower.

Vaccination:    (86.6% and increasing)

So - My own personal conclusion is that we are nearly back to the numbers from last summer, and have hit the equivalent of driving on dry pavement - albeit in winter.  I am ready to go 55 again but I will be vigilant in my surveillance of the facts on the ground, as always.  In large and public indoor places I am likely to wear my mask for a while.  If I am standing alone in a large room to give a talk or a sermon, distant from people, I might take my mask off to be better understood.  In smaller environments, I am comfortable without masks.  In quick trips in and out of a corner store, f I don't have my mask I am okay with that.  

And - of course - I will always respectfully follow the rules of any establishment or home, public or private.  But honestly, shouldn't we do that any ways?!

Changing protocols only mean that we are paying attention.  Onwards.

Scan the QR code for the most up to date statistics in Essex County.

Friday, January 21, 2022

A statement after the Colleyville synagogue attack

GMW Federation Solidarity Gathering before Shabbat, January 21, 2022

We know why Malik Faisal Akram attacked Beth Israel in Colleyville Texas.  He believed in Antisemitism.  He believed that Jews are a conspiracy that is behind everything he thought was wrong in the world.  He believed that pointing a gun at a rabbi, and making him call a more prominent rabbi - would pull the strings of a hidden conspiracy to free a woman who shared his conspiracy theories about Jews.  And he is not alone.

Moderate voices of hate empower radical voices of hate.  Since we truly believe in democracy, justice and equity, we will have political differences, and we must oppose political and economic injustices as we see them.  But, when any person blames an entire group of people, whether a race, a culture, or a religion, for the political, economic or social situation that they hate, then they transfer that hate to all members of that group. It is lazy, stupid and inevitably violent.

That is how all hatred, bigotry and prejudice works.  The racist might blame black people for crime.  The islamophobe will name Islam terrorism.  The homophobe will slur gay, lesbian, transgender or non-conforming individuals as pederasts or deviants.  And the antisemite will blame the Jews for anything and everything.

Hatred is self-affirming.  It requires no logic or facts.  The capitalist antisemite calls Jews communists.  The Communist antisemite calls Jews bankers.  The counter cultural antisemite says Jews control hollywood.    The QAnon antisemite thinks Jews run a deep state conspiracy in the American government. The white supremcist and xenophobic antisemite says Jews are seeking to destroy this country and the white race by supporting immigration.  The antizionist antisemite accuses Jews of hating muslims, Palestinians and Arabs and accuses Jews of attempted genocide. The Al Qaeda antisemite thinks Jews control the American military. 

The attacker in Colleyville was an Antisemite.  The attack was on Jews and a peaceful house of worship.  Not because he was insane, but because he was a believer.  He had read and believed the voices of hate who turn their political anger into Jew hatred.  He joined the long line of bombers, shooters, and haters who have maintained this Antisemitic cancer and polluted society after society for hundreds of years. Pittsburgh.  Poway. Colleyville. Charleston.  El Paso. Christchurch.  They know each other’s work.  They quote each other’s conspiracies.  They hate in common cause. And the Jew is central to each of their fantasies.

Scapegoating people to demonize, dehumanize and destroy their dignity denies the image of God that lives within each of us.  When will we finally admit that anyone who holds hatred in their heart and mind will eventually hold a gun in their hand or embolden another to do so.

Every one of us must be on guard.  We must be on guard not only against those who drew swastikas at my synagogue last month or who attacked Beth Israel last week. We must be on guard, whether Christian, Muslim, or Jew, against the grouping, the stereotyping, the building of  narratives of evil that drive fantasies of hate.  And every one of us must call it out in our own communities whenever and wherever we see it.  Listen. Explore. Dialogue. Understand. Improve. Maybe even Love. And in all things, refuse to empower hate.

Hatred is on the rise.  Antisemitism is on the rise. The attacks are increasing.  The world is a dangerous place, but if we can join together like this in common cause to oppose hate - we can face it unafraid.

In the words of Rabbi Nachman of Batslav, the world is a very narrow bridge, and it is essential not to be afraid.  That message of assurance and hope was in the hearts and minds of all peoples of peace in this country, in Israel and the world, and it is presented to us today by the IDF Education Corps’ to encourage us to not be afraid.  It is essential to not give in to fear.

Thank you.