Friday, June 09, 2017


As a father of two little Jewish girls, I was very eager to share my impression of the Wonder Woman film with them. Below is a transcript of that conversation with Elenaor, age 4, and EDIE, age 2.

ME: Hey, girls.
ELEANOR: Hello, Father!
EDIE: Dadddeeeeee!

ME: I have just returned from seeing the Wonder Woman movie.
ELEANOR: Cool, what’s a movie? Just kidding. It’s a two hour boring thing.
EDIE: Daddeeeeee!

ME: You know what a movie is. Anyway, it’s taken seventy-five years for this film to be made and let me tell was worth the wait.
ELEANOR: It took seventy-five years for them to make a movie about the most popular female superhero of all tiME? What kind of world did my mother spawn me unto?
EDIE: Spawwwwwwn! [Giggles]

ME: Well, it’s a valid question. And I do think that there are many implications for why it hasn’t been made until now. But it’s the typical blend of misogyny, male hierarchy, sexism, an unwillingness by the fanboy community to embrace an empowered female character, one that isn’t relegated to being a piece of meat on display or fantasy fodder for their, ahem, “alone time.”
ELEANOR: Good G-d, father! I’m only four years old!
ME: Understood. Sorry.
EDIE: Wheeeeeeee!

ME: Anyway, I’m here to tell you that it there were certain problems with it. But they were minor nuances here and there, like a cheesy line of dialogue or a lack of…
ELEANOR [interrupts]: Hold on a second. It’s 2017, so I’m hoping they took the opportunity to make Wonder Woman a woman of color.
ME: Sorry…?
ELEANOR: Well, she’s an Amazonian. And weren’t they Greek? Which means they could have been anything other than white?
EDIE: Elmo!

ME: You know that the Amazon is mythology so they’re not real which means there aren’t any real Amazonians. You can’t say what they were, because they actually didn’t exist. Like, according to legend, they cut off one breast so they could be better archers. Should we seek accuracy in that regard as well?
ELEANOR: Interesting. Go on, father. Also, gross regarding that breast thing.

ME: In Wonder Woman’s seventy-five years as a fictional character, she has always been white. It’s true that she had a black half-sister named Nubia, but Diana, as she’s known amongst her people was always white. And yes, it’s true that in one of the Multiverses, Nubia is their world’s Wonder Woman. But that’s not considered our timeline.
ELEANOR: Are you saying that there’s more than one timeline? Is there more than one Eleanor? Is there an army of Elenaors out there all refusing to go to the bathroom even after they’ve been asked to?!?

ME: Let me ask you something. Why are you asking about that person of color consideration now and not when they cast the third white Spider-Man for a movie out this summer, when in the comic books, right now, there is an iteration of Spider-Man that is a Latino teenager? Could’ve been a huge opportunity there.
EDIE: Ondele!

ME: By the way, I'd like to add on a side note--and this is neither here nor there, but there is a precedent for a person of color-led comic book/super film. In fact, there have been five. Steel, Catwoman, Hancock, Blade and Spawn. While it's true that this number is disproportionate when compared to those that have featured white leads, and while at least four of those were terrible, I'd like us to take a step back and appreciate Wonder Woman for what it is as opposed to asking it to be so much more. It's a success. A massive success. And it's indicative of more successes to come. Let's enjoy it.
ELEANOR: Wait a second. You saw Catwoman?
EDIE: Poop.

ME: But you want to know what I’m most excited about?
ELEANOR: Sure. But as a four-year-old, my attention span is limited. So let’s get to the thing you’re excited about so I can go back to tantruming over everything and anything.
ME: Will do. I’m most excited about the fact that the woman portraying Diana is not only Jewish, but she’s Israeli.
ELEANOR: But surely her Jewish identity is causing a stir. After all, being Jewish is controversial.
EDIE: [fart sound]

ME: Did you know the religion of any other actor portraying a superhero?
ELEANOR: I’m pretty sure Robert Downey, Jr. worships himself.
ME: Good one.
ELEANOR: Thanks.
ME: Paul Rudd is Jewish. And he was Ant-Man. I heard zero controversy there.
ELEANOR: You’re saying this is a woman’s thing?
ME: Not necessarily a woman thing, but an Israeli thing. After all, Wonder Woman is currently banned in Lebanon, and there’s talk of it being banned in Tunisia. And you know the Tunisian market makes or breaks a film.
EDIE: TOOOOO-NEEEEEEEE-shhahhhhhhhahahahahahahahahhaahhah!

ME: See, here’s the thing. We should be so proud of Gal right now. So, so proud. It’s a significant moment on all fronts. A Wonder Woman film! Let’s all be excited. Let’s see it for what it is. Why is there a need to see it as so much more?
ELEANOR: I heard a rumor though that she lit Shabbat candles and posted a picture of it on Instagram.
ME: Uh-huh.
ELEANOR: Shabbat is controversial. I also heard she served in the IDF.
ME: Uh-huh. I see where this is going. The Palestinian struggle.
ELEANOR: Yes, the Palestinian Struggle.
ME: Are most four-year-olds this informed?
ELEANOR: The Internet. Four years olds are woke.
ME: This isn’t a movie about Israel. Nor is it a movie about her love of Israel, both of which she is 100% entitled to. Tell me, have you seen The Force Awakens?
ELEANOR: I’ve seen one movie in my life and it was Frozen.
ME: Adam Driver was in the US Military.
ELEANOR: Not the same thing, dude.
ME: Don’t call me “dude.”
ELEANOR: ‘kay….bro.
ME: My point is that Adam Driver was in the US Army but no one knows that because it’s not a part of his identity. Why aren’t pacifists saying that they’re banning the new Star Wars trilogy? Why won’t countries currently at war with America still showing the new installments? I know it’s not the same exact analogy, but it makes me so uncomfortable that Gal’s nationality so integral to the consideration of seeing a movie or not which would otherwise be a no brainer. There feels something more substantive there behind that consideration. To me, it feels almost subtly anti-Zionist which is to a degree anti-Semitic.
ELEANOR: Whoa. Whoa. Whoa. Whoa.
EDIE: Whoa.
ELEANOR: You just pulled out the anti-Semitic stamp. You don’t get to drop that thing all willy-nilly.

ME: I can’t help but consider that now is a time in which the universe should be celebrating together. All the snowflakes. All the cucks. All of us holding hands in one big kumbaya moment. But instead the liberal movement yet again has to impose all of its hang-ups, predilections and agendas on something completely undeserving of that treatment. Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we stunt the progressive movement by invalidating any and all moments of progress with navel gazing myopia.
ELEANOR: Not sure what that meant.
ME: Which part?
ELEANOR: All of it.
ME: When we actively look to get enraged, we will always find something rage-worthy. Granted, there’s what to get enraged over if, again, you seek it.
ELEANOR: I’m just saying that there’s a lot of baggage, and this little unicorn backpack I’ve got here won’t fit any of it.
EDIE: [Sigh]
ME: Here's another thing. Remember I said how happy I was that there are a number of projects on the horizon that feature heroes who identify as people of color and take great pride in it. As they should.
ELEANOR: Yup. That was like two seconds ago.
ME: There has never been a super hero movie ever in which one of the main characters proudly identifies as a Jew. Not a one. And that scene in the Fantastic Four in which Ben Grimm walks past a Menorah doesn't count. And this is what I here to tell you. That deep within my heart, I don't know if such a thing could ever exist for us in the same way a Latino or a Black or a female or a Muslim superhero can and has found an audience to champion behind it. I don't know whether a prominent Jewish superhero would find the same level of support. I'm not saying that he or she wouldn't. But I just don't know....
ELEANOR: The way this conversation is going, right now, I'm deciding between Buddhism or atheism.

ME: I liked the movie a lot. It moved me. I’m happy it exists. I am saddened that I have to simultaneously be defensive of it even though--and let’s not kid ourselves--that voice of dissent is a small minority. But nevertheless, it’s like inviting all these guests to your wedding and that one guy in the back yelling “DON’T MARRY HIM!” It’s one voice, but it ruins the vibe.
ELEANOR: Are you and mom not married? Am I illegitimate?
ME: ELEANOR, I wish you were older. I wish you were both older, so I can take you to this movie and you can see a strong, beautiful, confident, formidable Jewish woman who is finally not Scarlett Johansson. A Middle Eastern, Semitic brunette who speaks with an accent. Who posts pictures of herself lighting Shabbat candles. Who embraces her identity despite the naysayer, the haters who criticized her breast size, the trolls who thought she had a gut, the critics who can’t see the movie for what it is and the blatant anti-Zionists who are standing side-by-side with Lebanon and Tunisia for reasons more than political.
ELEANOR: There will always be the sequel, dad.
ME: Yup, there’s always the sequel.
EDIE [to audience]: Help. My dad is a dork.


Wednesday, November 16, 2016


In light of yesterday's open letter to Jared Kushner, I have received a great deal of feedback either through Facebook, or via text and email. I have therefore collected all those shared expressions and will now attribute them to an imaginary character named Mr. Komments.

Below is a script for my one-man show called Mr. Komments and Me. 


Me: Oh, hey. 

Mr. Komments: Hey, man. How's the big anti-Semite watch going?

Me: Whoa, whoa, whoa. We're starting there already? What happened to small talk? Nice day out maybe? Having Thanksgiving guests?

Mr. Komments: Well, dude, you're the one who started all of this yesterday with your open letter to Jared Kushner. I mean, c'mon. Are we still talking about Donald Trump? It's been a whole week since he won. Move on. 

Me: I've already addressed that. No, it's not time to move on. Now take your daily dose of Ritalin so you can accept people focusing on one singular topic for more than a few minutes.

Mr. Komments: Did you get that rubber "anti-Semite" stamp you ordered from Etsy yet? Should come in handy. 

Me: I assume you're referring to my utter distaste for Steve Bannon and his appointment as Campaign Strategist to the White House?


Me: Look, man, I never called Bannon an "anti-Semite," and in fact, I think it's almost irresponsible to.

Mr. Komments: Oh, word....?

Me: Yeah. I have no idea what's going on in his heart. And I could never make that accusation especially when the proof is not all that substantive. We're talking about something his wife said about him in court during a custody battle. Or there's that time, under his editorial leadership at Breitbart News when one of his writers called Bill Kristol a "Renegade Jew." Personally, Renegade Jew sounds like nothing more than a Seth Rogen movie. A pretty funny one, mind you. 

Mr. Komments: Ah-ha! So, Steve Bannon is a friend of the Jews! Hoorah, hoorah! [To the rest of the bar] DRINKS ON ME, GUYS!

Me: I didn't quite say that. It's presumptuous to assume that that's the case. 

Mr. Komments: [to bar] DRINKS NO LONGER ON ME, GUYS! [To me] But I don't understand. Shmuley Boteach, who is "America's Rabbi" has gone on record saying...

Me: [starts laughing hysterically]

Mr. Komments: What's so funny?

Me: [wiping tears] You said "Shmuley Boteach is America's Rabbi."

Mr. Komments: But he is. He was friends with Michael Jackson. He had a reality show. He's written thirty-one books! One of them is even about having relations with food. 

Me: You know Kosher Sex is not about that, right?

Look, no disrespect to the man, but it's just a touch presumptuous proclaiming and touting yourself as "America's Rabbi." Was there a Rabbi America pageant? Did he beat out Rabbi Puerto Rico? But I'm not intent on dismissing his credibility overall. Just this time. In his essay titled, ahem, "America's Rabbi rises to defend Steve Bannon." How heroic, by the way. 

Mr. Komments: I sense sarcasm. It's palpable. 

Me: Possible. Here's the thing, though, when it's buried in the third paragraph "I barely know Mr. Bannon, having met him for the first time last week at The New York Hilton," but then you go on to defend based on the characterization of one of Bannon's own employees...well, then credibility shot. 

Mr. Komments: But then isn't that what you're doing here; presuming to know a man without, you know, actually knowing him. 

Me: Incorrect. What I'm saying here--and I want you to pay attention to this really closely because this is the important part, kind of like that point in the movie when the main character explains that he's been dead the whole time and he's actually a ghost and the kid can see dead people. I am not calling Steve Bannon an anti-Semite. I am not saying the Holocaust is coming. I am not saying that the Nazis are taking over the White House. I have not broken the glass over the Hide in Your Attics Alarm. 

I am simply stating that Bannon, who is in large part responsible for the success of Breitbart News has courted and flirted with the alt-right movement--who should be called, for the sake of total transparency, "white nationalists"--and is right now being touted as their hero. 

Let me ask you you trust CNN?

Mr. Komments: You mean the Clinton News Network? 

Me: [sighs] Yeah. That one. Anyway, just yesterday they posted an article about white supremacists celebrating his appointment. In fact, David Duke, who also loves a spotlight, said--and I quote--"You have an individual, Mr. Bannon, who's basically creating the ideological aspects of where we're going. And ideology ultimately is the most important aspect of any government." How can you not see that as problematic? That outspoken racists are high-fiving one another because of Bannon. 

Mr. Komments: You've got it all twisted, dawg. The Zionist Organization of America thinks he's the bee's knees.

Me: First off, any organization with the name "Zionist" in it cozying up with white nationalists is beyond surreal to me. Like, imagine the awkward pillow talk. Two, did you know he's a guest at their dinner this Sunday? Would be kinda awkward if they trash talked him before he even got a chance to sample the buffet. Three, here's an important point I'd like to make...

Mr. Komments: Another one? Two wasn't enough? We needed a third?

Me: Breitbart News was established by Andrew Breitbart who was himself a Jew and a profound lover of Israel. Andrew is now dead, and with him, his restraint. Breitbart News didn't always flirt with the alt-right in the way that it does now. And you can blame that sea change on Bannon and Milo Yiannopoulos, specifically when the latter wrote his alt right screed titled An Establishment Conservative's Guide to the Alt-Right. 

[Looks up at the ceiling] Dude..the impression that these deplorable basket fillers are friends of Israel is not totally wrong, but we embrace that notion at the sacrifice of the safety of American Jewry. 

But here's another scoop of truth I'm going to serve on your lunch tray of thought; just because you're a Zionist and pro-Israel doesn't always mean you're 100% pro-Jew. 

Let me draw that distinction; white American nationalists wants America to be white. Other countries are not of their concern. All the Jews can go to Israel for all they care. Just as long as they're not here. Oh, and take the Muslims, gays and blacks with you while you're packing up your Moishe's Movers truck. 

And I need to clarify again before your Semite sense goes off. Steve Bannon may not feel that way personally. But he represents it and validates it. And it's irresponsible of media outlets...forget that, it's irresponsible of my friends to say otherwise. 

Mr. Komments:, I'm getting a better sense of where you are on Bannongate. Incidentally, have you seen that Buzzfeed article titled "This is How Steve Bannon See the Entire World?"  

Me: You mean the one we just got emailed to us like fifteen minutes ago? Yes, I read it while you were talking. There's one weirdly vague and somewhat unsettling part of the whole thing. This article features a transcript from the Human Dignity Institute conference in 2014 which Bannon spoke at. The speech and the Q&A segment is more or less pretty uncontroversial, but at one point Bannon is asked about the racist inclinations of the conservative right. 

And he says, "I’m not an expert in this, but it seems that they have had some aspects that may be anti-Semitic or racial. By the way, even in the tea party, we have a broad movement like this, and we’ve been criticized, and they try to make the tea party as being racist, etc., which it’s not. But there’s always elements who turn up at these things, whether it’s militia guys or whatever. Some that are fringe organizations. My point is that over time it all gets kind of washed out, right? People understand what pulls them together, and the people on the margins I think get marginalized more and more."

Bannon ostensibly first diminishes the criticism by making the "they" into a delusional enemy. Secondly, he denies the racism as a whole by saying "which it's not." Then he talks about the racism and attributes it to a fringe, or just "militia guys." Finally, and the most offensive part of the whole thing, is that he proactively refutes any claim otherwise by assuring us that "over time, it all gets kind of washed out." 

Mr. Komments: Hmmmm...

Me: Yeah. "Hmmm." Racism doesn't get washed out. Anti-Semitism doesn't get washed out. Homophobia doesn't get washed out. I mean, of all the terms to use in regards to racism..."Washed out?!?" Like bleach white-washed out? Really? 

Look, it's getting late. I've got to get home to the fam. I don't want to go on too much longer about this because it is what it is. I just wanted to clarify my position here. I'm not presumptuous enough to name call. Calling someone an anti-Semite is only something you can do once they have been outwardly anti-Semitic. This is not the case here. 

I would also never bring up the Holocaust and Nazi Germany flippantly. All I'm saying is history offers us many lessons and when we look back on it, we can parse valuable things from it. Such as when some dude who is also an alt-right thought leader gets a position in the White House. Things that make you go hmmmm.

Mr. Komments: Oooh, delicious. A C + C Music Factory reference? 

Me: And I know everyone is exhausted about all of this. I'm exhausted. I'm tired of caring so much. I'm tired of second guessing myself about caring so much because some good friends are telling me to get over it. But I don't know, man. That's like telling your heart to stop loving someone. Or telling your stomach to stop reacting to dairy with bad gas.

Mr. Komments: Is that what I've been smelling?

Me: This is how I feel. I feel conflicted. I feel concerned. You can tell me anything and everything about how much Breitbart loves Israel. How Steve Bannon says "shabbat shalom" to some rando Jew who literally five hours ago accused NPR of racism. And I sure as Hell won't trust the self appointed "America's rabbi." 

So, Mr. Komments, don't work so hard on invalidating the concerns of millions because you don't relate to them. Just as I may not relate to your concerns. 

[Smirking] And you want to know something? I envy your peace. I'm jealous that you're so accepting of this reality because it's probably nice to go home and chill and watch an episode of Kevin Can Wait without having that "holy moly"-moment. must be nice.

[Phone rings] 

Me: Hello? Hey, kiddo. Yes, I'm coming home. OK. See you soon. 

[To Mr. Komments] Look, man. That was my kid. I gotta go. But it was good chatting. I appreciate our talks. It's...cathartic.

Mr. Komments: Yeah, me too, dude. I get where you're coming from. No disrespect for challenging that. 

Me: All good. Hug?

Mr. Komments: Oh, most definitely.

[They hug. Lights go out]


Tuesday, November 15, 2016



During Dave Chappelle's opening monologue on this week's Saturday Night Live, the comedian joked that "if I could quit being black today, I'd be out tha' game." And in context, it was pretty funny. But as a provocation, it unsettled me. 

I had a hard time sleeping that night because for the first time in my nearly four decades on this great planet, I thought about the choice I would make if I had been offered the opportunity to quit being a Jew. To give up this rich tradition I value immensely. To go "full goy." Again, for the first time in my life, I had thought that yes, I probably would. I would give it all up. And those feelings shocked me. 

But it wasn't because I was inconvenienced by strict kosher regulations. Or that I had lost my appreciation for daily prayer. Or even that I didn't cherish my observance and how it shapes a moral and meaningful life for both me and my family.

It was because I was scared. Simply put. And the fear was palpable and real and concrete. And it has a name associated with it and it is Steve Bannon. 

Before I articulate my inarguably valid concerns, I want to congratulate you on the election win. It's an incredible thing to be the President of the United States' son-in-law. I'm sure surreal doesn't even cover it. Good luck on all that follows. 

But platitudes aside, I want to first express just how much I have valued your family's presence in my life over the years, and to reiterate how deep our mutual history goes. My family was involved for nearly twenty-five years in building and solidifying the prominent reputation of the Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy, a school that does profound and wondrous things for your grandfather's legacy, may he rest in peace. He was an incredible man whose name now boasts an indelible impression on the Jewish community as a whole. 

Your own mother and father have opened their hearts to me a number of times over the years with selfless consolation in times of tragedy and generous advice in times of career stagnation. I have even  shared a simcha or two with the Kushners. In fact, speaking of smachot, I myself was married in the Puck Building and that magical night could have never happened without your father's involvement, and for that I am forever in his debt. Incidentally, both he and your mom were there. 

Jared, you have always been a mentsch to me whenever I reached out whether it was to wish you a mazel tov on the birth of a child, or when I sought your advice on the media industry. You have always been a consummate gentleman in my presence. Which is why I am so torn apart inside about all that is transpiring right now.

I cannot fathom it. I cannot comprehend it. I cannot accept it.

Now, I know you have been outspoken about your father-in-law's embrace of you and your religion. You wrote in The Observer, "The fact is that my father in law is an incredibly loving and tolerant person who has embraced my family and our Judaism since I began dating my wife." And then added, "There’s real racism in the world. There’s real anti-Semitism in the world. These are pernicious, dispiriting truths."

Steve Bannon is now Donald Trump's Campaign Chairman. We can argue on semantics as to whether we have the right to label him outright as a racist or not. Whether he is an anti-Semite or not. Whether he is a misogynist or not. But the fact that we're even having this conversation after months and months of divisive campaign rhetoric?  The fact that we're even having this conversation after your father-in-law has assured the rest of the country that he'll bring everyone together? The fact that we're having this conversation about someone who has the undivided attention of the President of the United States of America? This is beyond problematic. This is crisis. This is history on the brink of impending catastrophe. 

Steve Bannon courts the alt-right, as you know. He is outspoken about doing so. And while I could never know what it is in his heart, the movement's platform is built on white nationalism. It resents political correctness. It embraces homophobia. It believes in the age old Zionist protocols of Jews owning the banks and the media. The alt-right's anti-intellectualism feeds on hate. Its solipsistic leadership encourages the bullying of any detractor with name calling ("cucks"). It is a destructive force to all that is open-minded, progressive and empathetic.

Since Donald Trump won the White House, I have started reading Breitbart News to familiarize myself with this Person Who Is Not Me. It can be argued that the content in of itself, while controversial, is not outwardly racist. The undertones are there, but it's coy about intolerance. I invite you, however, to read the comments which should scare in a way that the worst horror movie couldn't. 

These are the people your father-in-law has now ennobled and validated. They are the dregs of society who now have a White House ambassador to represent their white nationalistic hate. The message this sends reverberates throughout our country in a pungent and unprecedented way. 

Jared, I call on you this time to not just write an editorial defending Donald Trump and his misconceived appointment. I call on you to do more than speak out to news outlets about this threat to our liberties. Not that either of things have been done yet.

No. I call on you to demand of your father-in-law in the strongest terms that you can muster to reverse this appointment. For him to come out and speak against the alt-right's burgeoning movement of hate. I call on you to remind Donald Trump that your children are Jewish and are at risk of growing up in a society which is now inexplicably reacting to racism and hate with shoulder shrugging apathy and denial. We cannot just give Bannon a chance, as many are saying. We simply don't have that luxury. 

These are scary times indeed. So much so that a proud Jew--the son of a revered Modern Orthodox rabbi and a respected Jewish educator and leader--finds himself questioning his faith, and worse, his fate. This is a moment in time in which we need to stand on the right side of history. 

For our children? Kind of.

But more so for our grandparents and their respective memories. Because they all experienced something eerily similar to this in the lead up to the Holocaust. 

This is not to say that we are heading toward a Holocaust. I'm not prone to hyperbole. But the unknown of a Steve Bannon appointment to the inner White House council sure does send the mind to some terrible places. Which are now all conceivable. 

All best to you and yours. 

Arye Dworken

Monday, November 14, 2016


"This is not normal."

John Oliver, during the last episode of his HBO series' third season, recommended that we fight the normalization of the Donald J. Trump presidency by sticking a post-it-note on our refrigerator. It should say "This is not normal.

Because it's not. 

Yet over the weekend, I had a few friends tell me that everything will be okay. As if only six days after the country was completely jolted into a new reality by the 2016 election results, we should all #moveon. As if they had been briefed directly and assured by the president-elect on policy in his Fifth Avenue penthouse and felt more comfortable about a Donald J. Trump presidency. Just you and him talking about Mexicans, gay people and Steve Bannon. 

"You can't know that," I responded. Because they couldn't. There's no way to see this as a glass half full just as there is no way to see this as a glass half empty. [Although I would say that there's a stronger precedent for the half empty scenario.] This is not normal, we have to all remember. And that means sometimes being inconvenienced by impassioned screeds. Well intentioned screeds. 

Because I presumptuously believe this is minimally what needs to be done when things are not normal. Yet, over the weekend, I also saw people talking about the "unfollow" option on Facebook as if they had been inconvenienced by readings things that did not align with their thinking. Or worse, they felt their Facebook feed had gotten too "melodramatic."

I'd like to reiterate that it's only been six days. It is not time yet to return to adorable puppies and cute photos of your kids. We don't have the luxury of moving on just yet. We are willfully irresponsible if we assume everything will be okay. We are ignoring history's many paradigms of intolerance and hate. We are just as culpable for falling into passivity if and when we're made to feel guilty for feeling an unquenchable ire deep within our bellies.  

In fact, noted writer and philosopher Leon Weiseltier wrote in the Washington Post that we should "stay angry." 

"Difficult times are giving way to dark times," he writes, "And dark times require a special lucidity and a special vigilance and a special ferocity about principle. We must not lose our faith in moral progress and in social progress, but we must remember that moral progress and social progress are not linear and unimpeded and inevitable." Meaning, we are already taking our liberties for granted. 

And as Donald Trump has showed us in just the last twenty-four hours with the appointment of Breitbart's Steve Bannon as his chief strategist, we can take nothing for granted. Especially not normalcy. Because a man known for his poisonous invective now has the ear and the attention of the President of the United States. A hate monger who has on record showed his disdain for immigrants, Muslims, Jews and women has been embraced by the office of the White House in a way that should unsettle everyone, regardless of faith and culture and demographic. 

This is not normal. 

And amidst all of this, where is the universal outcry? Why aren't religious leaders who spoke out against Donald Trump during his campaign screaming out now? Where are the Trump supporters who insisted on their candidate being the furthest from being a racist? Where are my friends who groan about the Facebook rants and threaten to brandish the unfollow button like it were noise canceling headphones? This is a very tangible threat to our liberty. Why aren't we all literally and appropriately overreacting as such? 

Last night, Shana told me she was scared. Not worried. Not even concerned. She was scared.  We talked about escape plans. We talked about procuring weapons. We talked about a great many things, but none of them was about hope. It's intense to have these conversations in 2016. In a world of irreverent nightly talk shows. In a world in which we have made so many progressive strides. 

Shana wondered aloud how we could watch normalcy erode and that so many people can be okay with it. Move on, they say. Everything will be fine. 

I remember hearing a myth once that women forget the pains associated with labor so they would be more amenable to having children again. And I couldn't help think that this is also very much how we process history; if humanity would internalize and absorb all of our collective pains from throughout time, optimism would be impossible. Procreation would be pointless. Hell, it would be difficult to ever smile. And so we almost have to forget. So we can live. So we can go on. 

But this means we also have to experience hate and intolerance firsthand for that is the only way we can be awoken from our apathetic slumbers. And that is what is happening right now. The trade off. 

This is not normal. 

Monday, November 07, 2016


I'm not the kind of guy who says things like, I want to take every opportunity and use it as a learning experience. I'm not that insightful. On the contrary. I'm fairly superficial. For example, today I am wearing a multi-colored polka dot shirt. If that doesn't say "lacking substance," I don't know what does.

But that being said, on the day before the election, I'd like to take a moment or two to reflect on what I've learned about people in the last year or so. Or in other words, I'd like to take this opportunity and use it a learning experience.

It's been a fairly enlightening year and in many ways, it's also been a frightening one. Of all the things I've learned about my friends, acquaintances and strangers, I realize foremost that social media has almost inadvertently made us all exponentially more passionate about the things we know and feel. Because it's encouraged all of us to be more articulate. And articulation is the catalyst for unearthing intensity.

Being passionate is good. It's just what's done with that passion...that's where it gets iffy.

FEELINGS: This isn't some profound thought here, but I've noticed both sides of the argument using "I feel" as the prelude for citing inaccuracies. I've been guilty of this as well which is why in the last few months, any time I've felt compelled to say "I feel" when discussing the election, I've made every attempt to either turn that feeling into fact or give it enough substance that it's not irresponsible to say it.

It's probably too late to reverse the cultural degradation of fact, but I know, personally speaking, that I'll try less to presume based on my feelings. As hard as that may be.

[Incidentally, when you debate with facts as opposed to arguing about feelings, opposing sides tend to get less offended and/or less hostile]

CONFLICT; RELATIONSHIPS: This is a tough one and it's one I've been thinking about for a lot of the time throughout this whole fiasco. What happens when I find out people I like and hold in high regard are actually ideologically opposed to what I believe in? What happens when I start wondering whether we share any of the same core values? What happens when I start asking questions about someone's character? Is that judgmental? Is that unfair?

I am certainly guilty of unfollowing people on Facebook and I would assume there are those who have unfollowed me as well. I'm okay with that. And I can't help consider that my rabbi encouraged his congregants a few months back to reach across the aisle and share dialogue with the "opposition" but I'm finding it hard to even want to do so. Like, I have zero interest right now. Because doing so is exhausting. Attempting to have a discussion with someone interested in solely venting their feelings (see above) is rarely productive.

Last night, Shana and I lamented on how Facebook has become this fraught place, while we'd rather use it to share good news, family photos and (for me) updates on superhero movies. But it's become a revealing indicator of character and values. A outlet for faulty liberalism or vitriolic conservatism. Intolerance and, in a few instances, spiteful aggression.

It's hard to look at people the same when they say a man like Trump is for their best interests. It's hard to value the friendship of someone who lacks the dignity and respect to engage in civil political discourse. I have seen many people on my social periphery who have shown their worst selves completely unaware of the reverberations. I'm still not sure what to do with all that information. Still processing it. But it's heavy stuff, man.

OUTLOOK: Gosh, how does one maintain a positive outlook on things when he or she is told the country is a mess, that a lot of people hate Jews, and that everyone is corrupt and bad? It's not easy, but no matter how challenging it's become, I'm trying my damnedest to remain a hopeful idealist.

The logic behind my optimism (or naïveté, according to some) is that I believe that no matter how intelligent you are--I'm talking a hypothetical Mensa, here--you are still susceptible to the media. No one is immune. It's an inarguable fact. Trust me here. I do this for a living--make people believe in things which in my instance is nothing more than a product.

It's in the media's best interest to amplify everything because amplification means crisis and crisis means viewership. If they keep telling us how awful things are, you'll eventually believe they are awful. But you'll also want to keep watching just in case things get better or even more awful. All media outlets benefit from that fear. It's unfortunate but they're all in the business of fear mongering, some to a lesser degree than others (but nobody does it better than Fox News--I need a stiff drink after just watching five minutes of it. Heck, I'm googling architectural plans for underground bunkers).

This is not to say that things are not bad. They are bad. Oh, I know they're bad. But they're not quite apocalyptical. Again, it could be naïveté, but I embrace that warm enveloping blanket. Because as a parent, I'd rather expose my children to hope and idealism than indoctrinate them with toxic fear.

ENTITLEMENT: We've become a very entitled nation. I've become a very entitled guy.

And I think that's the reason for a lot of divisiveness. From how I see it, we hate Obamacare because it makes things expensive for us. But what about all the people who can't afford their own healthcare? Some of us are a religious people and therefore, the rest of the country should be subjected to our belief system when it comes to gay marriage and abortion. So, let's regress on all our social progress and make that into an actual platform selling point.
We want to read all of those 33,000 Hillary Clinton emails and, well, why can't we? Maybe it's because we're not privy to all of it. But why not? Aren't we privy to everything?
We're not? Then put her in jail.

If you want to tell me that this country has fallen apart, perhaps you could focus on the aspect of unity and collective concern for one another. The "I" has taken place of the "We, the people."

As an Orthodox Jew, this resonates with me. I have chosen a lifestyle for myself but cannot and should expect others to be subjected to my choices. It's selfish and inconsiderate. Ultimately, as an American, I want to see this country as a place of mutual respect for another. Which is why I tend to lean liberally and this election has reinforced that perspective.

LIVING IN AMERICA: Which brings me to my next point. I love Israel and as a Jew, I value it immensely. No one has the right to doubt that. But I do not understand when it becomes the singular issue. I don't relate to it. Without going into the candidates' policies, I have concluded that since I live here with my wife and children, there is way more to consider than the relationship we have with Israel. That's my prerogative.

But what makes me uncomfortable is how our relationship is being used--yes, being used--by Jewish people and politicians opportunistically. In some instances, without merit. Just the other day, someone posted about support for a local New Jersey politician who is "a friend of Israel." Mind you, this is a local politician who will has zero relevance to foreign policy. It felt like a ruse. As if your civic duty to research on overall policy wasn't necessary because of that key phrase: "friend of Israel."

I challenge myself to consider more than just that, and I think I've so far succeeded in that. And I challenge others to maintain their love for Israel but to consider the larger platform as well. Right now, we live in America--sure, that could change, and good luck to you. Sincerely--but there's a fringe but growing acceptance of anti-Semitism. I think we do ourselves a disservice when we look at this country as a rental, and not as our home. [I'm not suggesting you not see Israel as a home]. It sends the wrong message that we're not invested. It reinforces the wrong supposition that we're just a people of opportunists.

I love living in America. I feel lucky to be here and not in, say, France or England or Turkey or South Africa. And so I want to show that appreciation by valuing America and what it has to offer. That, in this instance, happens to be an overall consideration of its future.

THE THINGS I'VE LEARNED: I'm only started to process it all here. I'm sure more insights will come to mind in the next week or two as the healing commences.

Some friends think that healing won't come and it will just get worse in the next four years. Who knows? I do know however that I have control over myself and how I think and feel. And that's what I'm starting with. By taking everything I've heard, felt and seen and contemplating on it in an effort to better myself as a person, as a Jew, and as an American.

Call it a learning experience.