The new edition of Jewish Currents, November-December, 2008, is off the press, with a "Concealed/ Revealed" column that focuses on "Jerusalem." The next edition of the column will focus on the theme, "Justice, Justice." Write for us, up to 350 words, telling a personal story on this precious theme. The deadine is November 21st. Send to me at lawrencebush@earthlink.net.


My Mother-in-Law

My mother-in-law, an unreconstructed radical, turned 90 years old yesterday and here's what I wrote to her, as a fake telegram.



The Workmen's Circle, The Shalom Center, and Jewish Currents magazine, who together are organizing the November 23rd conference in New York City, “Jews Uniting Against the War and to Heal America,” stand firm in our conviction that amplifying the voice of protest against the war within the American Jewish community, immediately after the presidential election, is of vital, timely importance.

We urge you to register and/or donate now at: https://salsa.democracyinaction.org/o/602/t/7445/shop/custom.jsp?donate_page_KEY=3732

We realize that the potential meltdown of the U.S. economy has shifted the war in Iraq to the back-burner of public concern. We realize, too, that daily violence in Baghdad and beyond has been significantly diminished — which the Bush Administration, candidate John McCain, and conservative media figures have all attributed to “the surge” and claimed as evidence that the U.S. is “winning the war” and will be able to withdraw troops from a stable Iraq within two years.

The reality in Iraq is far more complex, however, and far less “victorious,” than the cartoonish portrait that defenders of the war present. Moreover, the lessons that need to be learned from this war, for America and the world beyond, extend beyond its ultimate military and political outcomes.

Writing in The New York Review of Books (http://www.nybooks.com/articles/21935), Peter W. Galbraith, a former ambassador to Croatia and an expert Middle East analyst, observes this week that as a result of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, “Shiite religious parties that are Iran’s closest allies in the Middle East [now] control Iraq’s central government and the country’s oil-rich south.” Neither President Bush nor Senator McCain, he continues, “has explained how he will transform Iraq’s ruling theocrats into democrats, diminish Iran’s vast influence in Baghdad, or reconcile Kurds and Sunnis to Iraq’s new order. Remarkably, neither the Democrats nor the press has challenged them to do so. . . . It is hard to understand,” Galbraith concludes, “how this can be called a success — or a path to victory.”

Other knowledgeable analysts have made clear that U.S. policy in Iraq is no better guided today by a solid understanding of the complexities of Iraqi culture and history than it was at the start of the war, when U.S. intelligence was terribly flawed and gross ignorance was the rule in Washington. Instead, the war is still being treated by politicians as a black-and-white affair with two options: “surrender” or “victory.”

Beyond this simplistic scenario, moreover, the launching of the war — as the first round of the arrogant “preemptive war” doctrine enunciated by the Bush Administration in 2003 — needs to be investigated, with an eye towards formally renouncing that disruptive doctrine. The unilateralism of American policy, in total disregard for international opinion, law or legitimacy, needs to be amended. The violations of human rights and constitutional law that have accompanied the war must be halted, condemned, and compensated. The easy resort to military violence to enforce U.S. policy and guard U.S. “national interests” needs to be fundamentally challenged. The war has delivered America to an historic crossroads, and our country must reckon with the recent past in order to change direction, or else prepare itself for further tragedy and ineptitude.

“There you go again, Joe, looking back to history.” That’s what Governor Sarah Palin threw, sneering, at Senator Joe Biden during their one and only debate. But the fact is that the Iraqi debacle is not “history” and will not end on January 20th, 2009. American troops will not yet be home, and wounded veterans will not miraculously rise from their wheelchairs. The CIA torture machine will not suddenly break down, and the Muslim world will not suddenly admire us. Schools, roads and bridges will not suddenly become shiny and new, and medical offices will not suddenly open their doors to the uninsured. The dollar will not suddenly rebound in value, the national debt will not loosen its stranglehold on the federal government, and the globalized economy will not suddenly become socially responsible. The United States is bleeding heavily from multiple wounds, and it’s going to take intensive care, not over-the-counter treatment, to restore our country to health.

The election will be, at best, a beginning. The new President will have to be confronted and pressured into showing forceful, progressive leadership. The “Jews Uniting” Conference on November 23rd constitutes a critical new opportunity for the liberal Jewish majority to place ending the war high on our national agenda. We have weighed and largely withheld our words for more than five years; now is the time to lift our voices and direct our resources towards the healing of America.


Crash Test Dummy

I was rear-ended yesterday on the New York State Thruway, which threw my car into the fender of another.

Civilization came to life with cell phones, state troopers, firemen, tow trucks and insurance adjusters. The guy in front of me was a Satmer hasid, who took out his prayerbook while the cop was writing his accident report. I thought: This is a warning from the God of Vengeance because I skipped shul, once again, on the Day of Atonement.

The guy behind was a white working-class guy from Pennsylvania whose car was a total wreck. He apologized for smashing into me, and I thought: Vote for Obama, he'll fix everything.

No one was seriously injured, and I managed to drive home with my muffler kissing the pavement. But I did feel banged up, and told the insurance company that I'd see how I was in the morning.

It's now the morning, and I see in the New York Times that China is allowing peasants to own land for the first time in decades, while the U.S. government is buying shares of ownership in private banks. Gay couples can get married in Connecticut, and the Republican-dominated Alaska legislature is accusing Sarah Palin of ethics violations as governor. Manny Ramirez said nice things about a pitcher who threw at him and John McCain defended Barack Obama against the vitriol of his crazed supporters.

Maybe I'd better report a head injury to the insurance company.


Saturday morning. Susan's in the shower, I'm emptying the dishwasher, Scott Simon's on the radio in the bedroom, the bathroom and the kitchen, and Ralph Nader comes on for an interview.

As soon as he's done, I head to the bathroom, open the door, see Susan in her towel, and we both cry, "I want to vote for him!"



The Lennonzen

Today is not only the Day of Atonement, it's John Lennon's birthday (October 9, 1940). Here's a tribute to Lennon that I wrote in
Jewish Currents in March-April, 2005. I think it bears repeating.

When it came to fame, the Beatles stood apart from all the rest. early in the '60s, Lennon described the group as "more popular than Jesus," and he wasn't half wrong. But John used that top-of-the-world celebrity status to broadcast a wonderfully democratic message. When the Beatles were featured in the first international satellite television broadcast, viewed by many millions of people around the globe, John pooh-poohed celebrity and the cult of the individual by singing:

There's nothing you can do that can't be done
Nothing you can sing that can't be sung. . . .

All you need is love.

And long after the Beatles broke up, he persisted in telling his fans: Never mind idol-worshipping. I'm just a pained, uncertain, evolving human being, like you — and each of us should be valued and given the chance for fulfillment. "Because we all shine on/ like the moon and the stars and the sun . . ." ("Instant Karma," 1970). Because "Whatever gets you thru the night, it's all right" (Whatever Gets You Thru the Night," 1974). Because:

Why in the world are we here?
Surely not to live in pain and fear.

Why in the world are you there

When you're everywhere!

Come and get your share!
"Instant Karma"

And rather than responding to the emptiness of celebrity by turning to mysticism, Lennon took the existentialist plunge: "God is a concept by which we measure our pain," he wrote ("God, 1970). "I don't believe in —" and he listed every idol imaginable, including the Beatles themselves. Yet his skepticism was never despairing, for he could imagine a world "of no heaven . . . no country . . . no possessions . . . no religion . . ."

Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world
"Imagine" (1971)

When John Lennon died (December 8, 1980), I was 29, working as assistant editor of Jewish Currents, and trying to understand my elders, who formed its backbone community. Paul Novick, the 90-year-old editor of the Morgn Freiheit, wrote in that paper about the public outpouring of grief over John's murder. In an amazed and humble tone, Novick confessed to ignorance and wonder about how beloved a figure John had been. I was reminded of another great democratic artist, Sholem Aleichem, who had been similarly mourned in 1916. The "generation gap" was thus bridged by love — and here I am, still mourning for John and working, once again, for Jewish Currents.


My Yom Kippur Ball

On Yom Kippur eve
I walk in the forest
with my little dog
And cut a new path
to the fast-flowing river
Where I admire
the upside-down trees and clouds
And feel
the rightside-up perfection
of my life.

I do not want
to sit indoors
or hear the bleating
ram's horn
The gates
are already wide open
the sky is full of sheep
And there is nothing to regret
as the sun descends
into the weeds.

published in Jewish Currents, September-October 2004
photo by Zoë Griss-Bush

Such a History!

Here's how the Jews have voted since 1916:

1916: Wilson (D), 55% . . . Hughes (R), 45%
1920: Harding (R), 43% . . . Debs (Soc.), 38% . . . Cox (D), 19%
1924: Davis (D), 51% . . . Coolidge (R), 27% . . . LaFolette (Progr.), 22%
1928: Smith (D), 72% . . . Hoover (R), 28%
1932: Roosevelt (D), 82% . . . Hoover (R) 18%
1936: Roosevelt (D), 85% . . . Landon (R), 15%
1940: Roosevelt (D), 90% . . . Wilkie (R), 10%
1944: Roosevelt (D), 90% . . . Dewey (R), 10%
1948: Truman (D), 75% . . . Wallace (Progr.), 15% . . . Dewey (R), 10%
1952: Stevenson (D), 64% . . . Eisenhower (R), 36%
1956: Stevenson (D), 60% . . . Eisenhower (R), 40%
1960: Kennedy (D), 82% . . . Nixon (R), 18%
1964: Johnson (D), 90% . . . Goldwater (R), 10%
1968: Humphrey (D), 81% . . . Nixon (R), 17% . . . Wallace (I), 2%
1972: McGovern (D), 65% . . . Nixon (R), 35%
1976: Carter (D), 71% . . . Ford (R), 27% . . . McCarthy (I), 2%
1980: Carter (D), 45% . . . Reagan (R), 39% . . . Anderson (I), 14%
1984: Mondale (D), 67% . . . Reagan (R), 31% . . . Others, 2%
1988: Dukakis (D), 64% . . . Bush (R), 35% . . . Others, 1%
1992: Clinton (D), 80% . . . Bush (R), 11% . . . Perot (I), 9%
1996: Clinton (D), 78% . . . Dole (R), 16%) . . . Perot (I), 3%
2000: Gore (D), 79% . . . Bush (R), 19% . . . Nader (Green), 1%
2004: Kerry (D), 76% . . . Bush (R), 24%