Thursday, December 21, 2023

In This Moment: If it Goose Steps like a Duck; State of the Synagogue...30 Years Ago


In This Moment

Great Moments in TBE History

Christmas Eve at Pacific House, 1998 and 2012

If it Walks Like a (Goose-Stepping) Duck

...It's a fascist, racist duck.

The photo above is from a controversial anti-Nazi propaganda film, "Der Fuhrer's Face" from 1943 (see the full video below). Which brings me to the "poisoning the blood" comments by Donald Trump this past week. Those comments went so far beyond the pale that what was most deeply disturbing about it was how few people were deeply disturbed.

As the calendar turns to the fateful year of 2024, I'll say now and repeat as needed that Trump and Trumpism must never come to rule this country again.

See the article in the NYT (below), where he doubles down on the comments made at prior appearances, saying that migrants crossing the southern border are “poisoning the blood” of America, using tropes right out of Mein Kampf. Anyone who ignores this threat, or whatabouts it to absurdity - all they're doing is "ducking" (sorry, Chris Christie, for using your Donald Duck line) the obvious conclusion and forestalling the remedy.

Let me state this clearly, for all you moral clarity fans:

Anyone who speaks of racial or ethnic contamination of blood, replacement theory or humans being a form of "vermin" has crossed the line. This goes beyond simple hate speech. We've crossed over into Nuremberg Laws territory. This is overt racism.

Read the NYT article and if you know anyone in Ohio, ask them to write to Senator Vance and ask him what in the world he is talking about.

In the 1943 Disney feature, Hitler was lampooned as a buffoon with funny hair, as was common back in the day. But funny hair on the face of evil does not render that face less evil. There's nothing clownish about 6 million dead.

While I'm at it, memo to James Austin Johnson of SNL: Your Trump send-up is spot on, except that it's not. You get the buffoon part right - but in doing so, you inadvertently downplay the true evil of what he is saying. By making it sound like garden-variety dementia, you neutralize the venom, and in doing so, we laugh at what should appall us. We already know that he fancies the idea of injecting industrial cleaner into our veins. He's a stickler on getting out those nasty stains wherever they are - even in the bloodstream. We know that every word - every syllable of every word - MUST be taken seriously.

And any politician, journalist, influencer, entertainer or religious leader who is not screaming this to high heavens deserves the (man-made) hellfire that will certainly consume this country if Donald Trump is elected. I make this pledge: As we turn the page to 2024, even if I need to harp on this every week, I will not let a single abomination from his lips pass without comment. If not now, when?

Watch Der Fuhrer's Face (make sure subtitles are activated).

See more about this propaganda cartoon.

And Ohioans, please insist that Senator Vance read this pertinent section from Mein Kamp (below). I'd be interested to know what he is thinking is so "objectively true" about the "poisonous" blood of immigrants.

From Mein Kampf

A Moment of Unfathomable Grace and Humanity

In his daily missive, Daniel Gordis features the video above, a message from Iris Haim to the soldiers in the unit who accidentally shot her son as he was desperately trying to escape Hamas captivity, which has riveted Israeli hearts and minds since it went viral on Instagram. 

Noa Tishby Rebuts Greta Thunberg

Click on posting to watch YouTube

Israel's Front Pages

Jerusalem Post


Yediot Ahronot

Ha'aretz Daily Summary

State of the Synagogue...

(30 years ago)

At the conclusion of each programming year, I used to lay out my "State of the Synagogue" with a focus on religion and education, youth and social (the president would give the financial report). Here is one from exactly 30 years ago, in 1994. You can see some of the dreams we had then and assess how those aspirational strategies have withstood the test of time. (To see a clear pdf of these pages and see the rest of that bulletin, including some notable b'nai mitzvah, click here)

It was a time of great ambition and growth. Our membership had ballooned to an all-time high (at that time) of over 700 families, having gained 120 new families in the prior two years since my becoming senior rabbi. It's hard to recall that we averaged easily 50 attendees on a Shabbat morning when there were no B’nai Mitzvah (we did have lots of B'nai Mitzvah) and sustained that growth for many years, assisted by home-cooked lunches whipped up by our Shabbat committee. We had multiple children’s services each week, plus Tot Shabbats on Friday nights. Some of what we did then can be replicated now, though some of the demographic headwinds now are more challenging.  And of course. success should never be measured based on numbers alone, but however you measure it, Shabbat took its rightful place as the center, the spoke of our spiritual and social wheel. Everything else revolved around it and was strengthened by it.

Here’s how I spoke of Shabbat mornings back in 1994:

Looking back at that 1994 report, you can also read how we established havurot (friendship groups) and had our first healing service, to reach people where they were at. They were very successful at the time. We also had congregational trips, including a trip to Israel that summer.


It was at this time that secular Jewish organizations were returning to the notion that the synagogue is the prime address for Jewish identity.  And here in Stamford we partnered with our federation and other synagogues to make that happen. As I wrote back then:

Here’s how I concluded my State of the Synagogue report for 1994:

It's always been important to aim high as a community but also understand that ultimately, success can not be measured by collective achievements but rather by the flourishing of each individual, each in his/her/their own way, through the relationships and support systems nurtured here.

As a bonus, click here for another bulletin from Jan/Feb of that same year, 1994. And check out this very timely article below by a certain 12th grader who, we knew even then, could someday become president...of TBE, as she will, God willing, very soon. 

  • Friday is the Fast of Teveta minor fast but major curiosity, commemorating an obscure event in Jewish history that doesn't seem to tragic at all - the translation of the Torah into Greek, known as the Septuagint, in Alexandria, in the 3rd century BCE. Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin explains why it is considered a tragedy. It has also been adopted as a generic Yahrzeit date for Holocaust victims, many of whom died on unspecified dates.

  • Why is Starbucks being targeted by activists for both Israel and Gaza? (Forward) Protesters chanting “Starbucks supports genocide” have made headlines; vandalism has disrupted business in many locations – the latest incident was Wednesday in Brooklyn. At the same time, the world’s largest coffee chain has also been hit with boycotts and harassment from those supporting Israel. The reason it’s being attacked from both sides? Our Beth Harpaz explains

  • Author Dan Greenberg is dead - Best known for the '60s book, "How to Be a Jewish Mother." which perfectly embodied the spirit of Jewish humor (read: guilt) of the "Portnoy's Complaint" era. It was the best selling nonfiction book in the U.S. in 1965, capturing the national zeitgeist at a time when "Fiddler" was also taking Broadway by storm. You can read Greenberg's entire book online, and learn the secrets to a Jewish mother's success, like how to make guilt work:

Underlying all techniques of Jewish Motherhood is the ability to plant, cultivate and harvest guilt. Control guilt and you control the child. An old folk saw says: "Beat a child every day; if you don't know what he's done to deserve the beating, he will."

A slight modification gives us the Jewish Mother's Cardinal Rule:

"Let your child hear you sigh every day; if you don't know what he's done to make you suffer,  he will."

Once you've mastered that, you are ready to move on to the "Technique of Basic Suffering."

To master the Technique of Basic Suffering you should begin with an intensive study of the Dristan commercials on television. Pay particular attention to the face of the actor who has not yet taken Dristan. Note the squint of the eyes, the furrow of the brow, the downward curve of the lips-the pained expression which can only come from eight undrained sinus cavities or severe gastritis. This is the Basic Facial Expression. Learn it well. Practice it before a mirror several times a day. If someone should catch you at it and ask what you are doing, say:

"I'm fine, it's nothing at all, it will go away."

This should be said softly but audibly, should imply suffering without expressing it openly. When properly executed, this is the Basic Tone of Voice.

The book is still very funny, in part because ethnic stereotypes like the Jewish mother are making a comeback, even though Jewish mothers have long since stopped being "Jewish mothers," and all the guilt that came with the rapid assimilation of that post-immigrant generation has long since melted away. We have plunged fully into the Melting Pot, but nostalgia is a powerful thing.

See more below, from his classic book, How to be a Jewish Mother.

Another great moment, from the archives, 1988

See Fred and Joan Weisman, Frieda and Sam Kravitz,

Dick Fisher and Charles Boodman

along with myself and Mara

Click to see the article enlarged

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