My Novel BESSIE in Paperback

My 1983 novel, BESSIE, loosely based on the life of my revolutionary grandma, is about to be published in paperback (as BESSIE: A NOVEL OF LOVE AND REVOLUTION, by Ben Yehuda Press). When I wrote it, I was 28-29 and the old lady was alive. Now I'm 55, and she's about 15 years gone. When my daughter was visiting from college last weekend, I read some passages from the novel aloud to her, and kept on choking up. These were passages written in 'her' voice, at age 88, and reading them aloud is one of the only ways I have to visit with her any more.

To visit with her love for me:

"I think these Saturday mornings in St. Albans were the happiest times of my life. The house got very beautiful sunlight in the morning; you could play with the shadows from the venetian blinds and you could see little bits of dust floating in the sun like a million planets. This I remember. When I sat with my grandson, I felt content. He was an affectionate boy, he hugged me all the time, and I would hug him right back. And I hug him to this very day. I get more exercise from hugging him than I do from anything.

“And when I came home from work in the morning, I would sit on the porch and I fell asleep most of the time in one of those beach chairs . . . And I would see my grandson with his friends: black and white, they were playing and yelling and running around. And these sounds would come into my dreams — I must've looked like a real old lady, sitting on the porch fast asleep! — but I would have these wonderful kind of a dreams, about a new world where everyone is playing, everything feels good, and people are all kind of a colors: white, black, brown, red, green, purple. It's true, all kind of a colors, and it didn't make no difference, I wasn't even surprised, I wouldn't even think about it until I woke up."

To hear her kibitzing:

"When you feel helpless about something, sometimes you get a little cuckoo, so you think you actually got influence just by sitting there thinking. F'rinstance, when I watch the president on television, he has his press conference, and you can just tell when he's lying, you know. So I pretend that I can make him speak the truth just by sitting there in my rocking chair and concentrating with my mind. If I think hard enough, he's gonna suddenly drop his hands and say, 'Boy, am I sick of telling lies!'

"That would be something! He would take off his tie, maybe open his belt, let out a big belch, and then he would denounce the corporations!"

To remember that 'revolution' was actually her lived experience:

"To live as a revolutionary means you got to trust yourself. 'Cause you're always gonna be persecuted — until you win. And you're gonna have a career that nobody pays for it. So you got to work a job, and it's like working two jobs, y'see, 'cause making revolution is full-time. Probably you'll be poor despite. And always with a hungry kind of a feeling, excepting it has nothing to do with food, if you know what I mean.

"You got to be crazy. You got to believe that you, a little stinker, can take to be your enemy the most powerful men in the world — and beat them! You got to believe you're a hero, even when in the mirror you see a bum.

"To me, kinderlakh, the world looks so sad. Like when you see a child with polio. The child that she should walk and run and dance, and instead she sits and suffers. Y'see, we got the potential in America that we shouldn't have to worry about things. About food, clothing, health, disease. We got so much wealth in this country! We got machines that they can make miracles, we got farmers that they can grow food faster than you can eat. It's true, we got thrown out from the Garden of Eden a long time ago, but this new place we built for ourselves, it's not so bad! You may take it for granted, but I'm still looking with a peasant's eye. Every time I see an airplane fly, I still give a look, I still say, 'Oh, boy, look at what human beings can do!'"

To get in touch with the spiritual dimensions of my atheism:

"Why do you think people go to church or to synagogue? You think it's because they believe all the meises about God and sin and all that kind of a nonsense? I don't think so. I think it's 'cause they want to be together, they want to sing together, they want to share a feeling that life is worth living, together! They want to get away for a minute from the life that they can't control at all. Who knows, any second an atom bomb might fall in your backyard. Or a chemical that it gives cancer might spill into the water you drink, if it's not there already. Or the stock market might crash on all our heads all over again. Or a computer might get a little rusty and the whole world will disappear. Isn't that what life feels like today?

"It's like everybody in the world should be as old as me We all go to sleep and we're not sure we're gonna wake up in the morning. So we become desperate to believe in something, y'see. And if we get scared enough — if the economy gets fahmisht, if we can't tell where to go, where to live, where we belong — if this kind of a alienation grows big enough, then the entire population becomes ready to take up horrible political ideas, just so they can feel a part of something, of a movement. And then they'll be able to strangle little babies with their own two hands, 'cause when you believe crazy ideas, you're ready to do crazy things.

"But there's another kind of belief: the belief in human beings. It's the feeling that you have when you're a child that you want to play with other children, you want to make, like, a gang, a team, you want to be with them all the time. It's the understanding that human beings can be responsible for each other, to share and to give and to learn, and from this we're gonna gain, we're not gonna lose. It's the belief that there's nothing the Messiah can dok for us that we can't do for ourselves.

"It's true, kinderlakh. I know it's true. I was there a dozen times, I saw the miracles that human beings can do."

And to remember that I have ancestors, and will have descendants:

"I guess this is my job, that I should be everybody's bobe. To show that you can live the way you believe and you won't end up a bum. You can join with other people to win back a part of your life from the system. My generation, we were fighters and poets. We worked for twelve hours in the sweatshops and still we had the strength to stand up and sing and remember who we are. We never made a revolution, no, but at least we never lost the spark of life.

"So we can talk about mistakes if you like, but I'd rather talk about what we learned from our mistakes. And we can talk about disillusionments, but I'd rather talk about the beauty of our ideas, y'see. We can talk about failures, but I'd rather talk about a heritage, a legacy to the younger generation."

If you'd like to visit with my grandmother, too, you can buy BESSIE: A NOVEL OF LOVE AND REVOLUTION for $19.95 from Ben Yehuda Press at (800) 809-3505, or from amazon.com or other online booksellers within a week or two.


The Shalom Center: Out of Iraq Now

I've just become a signatory to this campaign, conducted by Arthur Waskow’s Shalom Center, and I urge readers of this blog to do the same.

What better time than Passover
to begin the Exodus from Iraq?

And what better time than 9/11,
Rosh Hashanah & Ramadan, to complete it?

Dear Folks,

We at The Shalom Center are sending you what will become a piece of history: the first national Jewish call for a specific time-table for ending the Iraq war -- a call for Congress to put real funding teeth in its criticism of the war. We intend to publish it as a full-page ad in the New York Times.

We call for beginning the "exodus" from Iraq by Passover and completing it by 9/11, with Rosh Hashanah and Ramadan beginning September 12 / 13. The four steps we consider necessary include de-addicting America from over-use of oil -- an addiction that helped bring on this war, and is helping to bring on global scorching.

We ask for your signature and your support in publishing this call. We have set up The Shalom Center’s Donate page to do both. It is at --


The Donate button is also on the right-hand margin of our Home Page at www.shalomctr.org

Among the signers are Rabbi Elliot Dorff, Rabbi Laura Geller, Rabbi Gerry Serotta, Rabbi Nancy Flam, Rabbi Toba Spitzer, Rabbi David Shneyer, Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, Rabbi Tirzah Firestone, Rabbi John Friedman, former Knesset member Marcia Freedman, Shefa Fund founder Jeffrey Dekro, James and Sonia Cummings, and many others.

Please be sure to write "ad signer" in the "On behalf of" box, or if you want to support our peace work but not become a signer of this specific statement, write "peace" in the box.

We also ask you to consider carefully giving a minimum of $180. (IT'S TAX-DEDUCTIBLE.) Here's the arithmetic: The ad costs $55,000. 300 signers giving an average of $180 makes $54,000. Giving more than $180 will help balance those who really can't afford that much.

Once the ad appears, it will bring in support to make possible more action to voice a clear Jewish insistence for an early end to the war. Our voice has been missing from the chorus of opposition. Now is the crucial time.

YOUR CONTRIBUTION PRIMES THE PUMP, TO BRING FORTH THE WATERS OF COMPASSION. Please sign, and please forward this message to your friends and to other lists. This morning’s list of signers — it’s already many more -- is beneath the Call, and then a coupon for those who prefer to send a check instead of donating on-line.

Here is the full text. -- With blessings of shalom for you, and for us all.

(Rabbi Arthur Waskow)

What better time
than Passover
to begin
the Exodus
from Iraq?

An American Jewish Committee survey reveals that two-thirds of American Jews now believe the Iraq War was a mistake. It is time to act.

We ask you to join in calling on our government to bring safely home – as many members of Congress have urged, on a six-month schedule -- all American troops now in Iraq. This Exodus should begin by Passover and be completed by 9/11.

For just as Passover celebrates freedom from ancient slavery and the Pharaoh's military mindset, so today we seek freedom for both Americans and Iraqis from the death and destruction imposed by stubborn attachment to a destructive occupation. Our grief on 9/11 calls us to move beyond violence, not to escalate it. And upon the heels of 9/11 comes the wisdom of Rosh Hashanah and Ramadan, also calling us to Turn Toward Peace in our world as well as in our hearts.

Our representatives in Congress must:

1. Use their constitutional power of the purse to support our troops by ending this armed occupation and bringing them all safely home. "The king shall not amass an armed cavalry nor multiply gold and silver. Thus he will not act haughtily toward his fellow-citizens." (Deut. 17: 16-20).

2. Ask the UN, regional bodies, and non-governmental organizations to offer their services to help Iraqis peacefully resolve their future. "Justice, justice, shall you pursue." (Deut 16: 20. Tradition adds: Why “justice” twice? To achieve just ends, we must use just means.)

3. Commit fifty billion dollars -- a mere one-tenth of what the war has already cost the US -- to be spent for reconstruction, under international supervision and by Iraqi decisions. "Do not harden your heart and shut your hand against the needy. Give to them readily and have no regrets when you do so." (Deut. 15: 8-10).

4. End the American addiction to oil that was one of the main causes for this war and threats of others, for corrupt bargains with some oil-rich governments, and for global scorching, Use conservation, renewable and sustainable energy sources, emission caps, a carbon tax, and other carbon-control measures to ensure that our children can achieve the Hanukkah standard: requiring only one day's oil to meet eight days' needs.

Tradition teaches: “Seek peace and pursue it” (Psalm 34:15) means we must pursue peace even if it is running away from us. We expect no less of our government.

Signed: (Affiliations noted for identification only.)

Rabbi Rebecca Alpert
Trisha Arlin
Kitty Axelson-Berry
Michael Basseches
John Blass
Ross Brann & Eileen Yagoda
Shoshana Brown
Cherie Brown, Natl Coalition-Building Inst.
Gerald Coles, Congregation Tikkun v'Or / Ithaca Reform Temple
Jim and Sonia Cummings
Jeffrey Dekro
Rabbi Elliot Dorff, University of Judaism
Reva Ekba
Rabbi Michael Feinberg, Greater NY Labor-Religion Coalition
Rabbi Tirzah Firestone, Colorado
Ellen Frankel, Jewish Publication Society
Marcia Freedman, Former Member Knesset
Rabbi John Friedman
Rabbi Laura Geller, Los Angeles
Murray Goldstein
Rabbi Leonard Gordon Philadelphia
Sallie and Alan Gratch
Jo Ellen Green Kaiser, Zeek
Marilyn Hacker
Jay Hamburger
Paul J Joseph
Marilyn Kaggen
Beth Kaimowitz
Howard Kaplan
Melanie Kaye/Kantrowitz
Rabbi Michael Lerner, Tikkun
Rabbi Mordechai Liebling, The Shalom Center
Rabbi Ellen Lippman, Brooklyn
Steven David Masters, Esq
Jules and Ruth Mermelstein, Reconstr. Cong. Or Hadash, Ft Washington PA
Emma Missouri
Richard Neff
Carl and Susan Offner
Rabbi Marcia Prager
Heena Reiter
Ken Roseman
Harold & Sue Rosenthal
Rabbi Jeffrey Roth
Rabbi Michael Rothbaum
Richard Rudnick
Patricia Salomon
Max Samson
Sarah Saul
Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi ALEPH
Rabbi Gerry Serotta Rabbis for Human Rights, North America
Jeffrey Shapiro
Deborah Shapiro
Rabbi David Shneyer, Ohalah
Marc Sklar
Eliezer Sobel
Rabbi Toba Spitzer, Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association
Libby and Len Traubman, Co-founders, Jewish-Palestinian Living Room Dialogues
Judith Tuller
Rabbi Arthur Waskow , The Shalom Center
John & Elsa Weber
Noah T. Winer
Francie Wolff
Paul Zulkowitz


My Jewish Name

I SHOULD'VE SAID. . . For the past six years, whenever I have to announce my name "Bush" in a store, there's been someone to say, “Any relation to . . . ?”

And I should've been saying, “Yeah, he's the stupid cousin in the family."

Instead I've been saying, kind of lamely, “No — and that's another reason I want to get him out of office, to get my name back." Tally ho!

It's usually a political and social nonstarter. Then again, all I want at that point is my credit card receipt. And world peace.

My grandfather's name was Hyman Babushkin. A very cute name that now seems postmodern. High Man Babushkin. Hymen Babushkin. Hi, Man Babushkin. Human Babushkin. Any way I spin it, the name has more pizzaz than "Bush" — which is what his sons shortened it to when they opened a pharmacy in the 1920s.

Nu, if not for anti-Semitism, I'd have a very cool postmodern name, instead of sharing one with the worst president in U.S. history. So next time I'm asked by a rabbi or Israeli tourist guide if I have a Jewish name, I'll skip the secular Jewish glower and announce, "Yeah. L.D. Babushkin, known to my friends as Eldy."

Makes me sound like an Amish elder. Or an old Jewish magazine editor. Which I am.

As for Douglas Feith, I hate him. I don't even know what he looks like and I hate him. He's now #2 on my Jewish excommunication list, after Henry Kissinger.