Would It Be Wise to Withdraw from Afghanistan?

With less than two months left in his presidency, President Trump is making bold moves on the international stage, and may possibly make good on his promise to withdraw the lion’s share of U.S. troops from Afghanistan by mid-January. Is Trump cementing his legacy by moving to end this protracted foreign engagement? Or is he just creating a mess for Biden? More at The Week.

The Trump administration has taken laudable steps toward a U.S. exit… an American withdrawal does not have to mean ending financial support for the Afghan people or leaving the region in chaos. The United States has a moral obligation to work with regional partners to try to clean up the mess we are leaving behind.

…a complete withdrawal would likely have devastating results. The war in Afghanistan would dramatically escalate, with the burden largely falling on innocent Afghan citizens. Although the imminent threat from terrorist groups—including al-Qaeda and the Islamic State—is sometimes overstated, the chaos that would follow a total U.S. withdrawal would give them room to reestablish their capabilities.

Americans are divided on many matters, but they will overwhelmingly welcome a decision to end the war in Afghanistan — regardless of whom they voted for on Election Day.

Is Israel’s Government about to Fall Apart?

No one expected Israel’s unity government to last forever, and indeed the day of reckoning for the rivals-turned-partners, Bibi Netanyahu and Benny Gantz, may now be at hand. After months of stalling on a budget, a passing motion of no confidence is becoming more and more likely. More at Jerusalem Post.

Israel has a dysfunctional government, and this has been the situation for quite some time. If — as some foreign reports contend — Israel had a hand in ending the illustrious career of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the leading Iranian nuclear scientist, I’d be surprised. How can the Israeli government simultaneously be so incompetent and so competent? How can a prime minister and a defense minister who can barely communicate execute such complicated operation together?

Gantz knows that any election in the foreseeable future will spell almost certain electoral wipe-out for Kahol Lavan. Netanyahu knows that Likud’s prospects will not revive in time for a March election if the campaign is dominated by Israel’s almost inevitable third wave of COVID-19, and he will be at Bennett’s mercy. They can barely stand the sight of each other anymore, but facing the voters right now will be more difficult.

If Gantz elects to wait, as he has done for the past six months, Netanyahu is likely to simply disperse his coalition several months from now when the budget deadline nears again, after the coronavirus vaccines arrive and he deems his political situation to be optimal.

At any rate, Gantz’s dreams of reaching the November date on which Netanyahu is obliged to step down as prime minister and hand him the reins are all but shattered.

Is Your Pod Keeping You Safe?

Though vaccines are on the horizon, a long pandemic winter lies ahead. To keep safe while staying social, many Americans are organizing themselves into “pods” or “bubbles” with other households. How strict are these arrangements and are they actually keeping people safe? More at NPR.

Bubbles might sound great—you can have your friends and your safety too!—but they don’t always work out the way they’re supposed to. Some pods are enormous. Some are open to an untold number of people’s germs through contacts of contacts (of contacts of contacts of contacts).

As soon as my family pod expanded, we caught COVID-19… Despite what happened, I don’t regret our decision to see family and benefit from being close to them, especially after missing them for months and months while we lived in fear and social isolation.

“You have to remember that there are no zero-risk scenarios and most people’s bubbles are bigger than they think they are,” Dr. Anne Rimoin, an epidemiology professor at UCLA’s Fielding School of Public Health, told Business Insider. “You will need to trust the people you are ‘bubbling’ with and that everyone will be honest and open about any exposures that they have had — or that the people around them have had.”

What Does Kamala’s Family Mean to Jews?

In January, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and Jewish husband Doug Emhoff will head to the White House. Here are three takes on what Harris’ interfaith family signifies to American Jews.

Doug is someone we can all enjoy in an unqualified way, as he introduces the appeal of the dorky, uxorious Jewish husband to the mainstream.

Doug has now quit his job to be the United States’ very first second gentleman, and while Harris is rightly celebrated as the first female, African American and Indian American vice-president, there has been much Jewish excitement (from me) that a Jew is now in the White House, just as the anti-Semites always feared.

Harris and Emhoff are breaking barriers for a community that, though it may delight in Kamala’s Yiddish-inflected nickname, remains fundamentally uncertain about unions like theirs. So far, the couple has navigated that territory confidently.

Emhoff will become the nation’s first second gentleman, and, not for nothing, the first Jewish spouse of a president or vice president… Cue the jokes about supportive Jewish husbands of more accomplished women — this is, perhaps, their moment, as more than a few have tweeted about, but Emhoff inhabits the role without irony or shtick.

Does Anyone Still Care about Yiddish?

Once upon a time, Yiddish was the Jewish language. Today, it exists on the fringe. It is spoken in ultra-orthodox communities and there is some renewed interest in secular circles as well, but is it enough to vaunt Yiddish back to its old standing as a major Jewish language?

One hundred years ago, when most American Jews were immigrants from Eastern Europe, nearly every Jew in the United States spoke Yiddish, but no one gave it any respect. Today, by contrast, everyone is full of affection for Yiddish, even though almost no one speaks it.

Yiddishism as an ideology is now defunct, said Fishman. But, 100 years ago, when some 90% of Eastern European Jewry spoke Yiddish, Yiddishists argued all of Jewish life should be conducted in Yiddish.

Would I be able to have a meaningful conversation in Yiddish? Unlikely. Am I able to read Yiddish? Slightly. Do I understand Yiddish? Somewhat. So why do I treasure it? First, I love it because it was part of my childhood; second, I applaud the ingenuity of its creation; and third, I am convinced that no other language is able to duplicate the emotion, the richness, or the humor that Yiddish produces in a single word or expression.

Where Did the Utah Monolith Come From and Where Did It Go?

Last week, the discovery of a strange metal monolith in the Utah desert prompted wild speculation about who (or what) left it there. Before any answers could be discovered, however, the object disappeared. More at CNN.

The contrast of angular, gleaming metal and sensuous sandstone was captivating. But it was also a decidedly terrestrial object. Two rivets had been ripped out of the top, perhaps from an early visitor trying to peek inside, and the entire surface was covered with streaks and fingerprints.

[The] most reasonable- explanation of this is as a publicity stunt by either an artist or a marketer. If so, this person or group is rather far-sighted and patient. Waiting years for the joke to unfold shows a great deal of restraint…. in this case, it fits well with the concept. This — either joke, art installation, or marketing ploy — is well executed and did its job: it created a ton of public interest. Kudos for a job well done.

The public’s first guess: aliens, of course. Theories and jokes abounded. Ones that only grew stronger after the federal Bureau of Land Management said Saturday that the monolith had suddenly disappeared. In its place was a pile of rocks, appearing to commemorate the vanished structure.

Today’s Hot Issues

Would It Be Wise to Withdraw from Afghanistan? Is Israel’s Government about to Fall Apart? Is Your Pod Keeping You Safe? What Does Kamala’s Family Mean to Jews? Does Anyone Still Care about Yiddish? Where Did the Utah Monolith Come From and Where Did It Go?