What Are We Celebrating This Yom Ha’Atzmaut?

Today is Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s 73rd Day of Independence. Here are three takes on what Israel is celebrating this year:

Over the course of 73 years, Israel has accomplished far more than even its most optimistic founders could have dreamed. In 1948, we had 800,000 citizens; today, there are well over nine million Israelis, comprising about half of the world’s Jewish population. Out of the ashes of the Shoah, Israel has nourished the revival of Jewish culture and, through the restoration of the Hebrew language, has made its vast library accessible to everyone.

Israel’s overall performance during the pandemic creates, in some ways, a portrait of the country, complete with outsized wins, persistent fractures and ever-present chaos. The notable failure in imposing social distancing or otherwise curbing the spread of the disease prior to vaccine distribution, for instance, highlights the country’s tendency to bounce between headshaking disaster and eyebrow-raising success.

Anyone who is willing to look up for a moment from the hardships of politics and the coronavirus and examine the success of the project called the State of Israel from a broad historical perspective knows that it deserves to be crowned a resounding success.

What Legacy Does Bernie Madoff Leave Behind?

Bernie Madoff, the notorious Ponzi schemer who swindled clients out of billions of dollars, died on Wednesday at the age of 82 in a prison hospital. Here are three takes on the painful legacy he leaves behind:

Bernie Madoff went from being a source of pride to the dictionary definition of a “shandeh” in the Jewish community. He reinforced negative stereotypes about Jews and money because he violated a foundational principle. As Hillel teaches in the Talmud “what is hateful to you, do not to any other person. That is the whole Torah…“

I’ve long been convinced that there is a link between the end of Madoff’s scheme and the overwhelming popularity of index-fund investing in the aftermath of the financial crisis… Madoff demonstrated the lie that almost any savvy individual investor could produce steady gains in a way that nothing else could. By destroying the retirements and dreams of so many, he inadvertently performed a much-needed service.

Mr. Madoff’s thousands of victims collectively lost $64.8 billion on paper and saw their lives upended and left in financial ruin following his arrest in 2008. At least two of his victims died by suicide, while others lost their homes. And though they were far from alone in being taken in by the financier, many blamed themselves for their losses.

Who Gets To Decide the Definition of Racism?

In the wake of the tragic killing of Daunte Wright at the hands of the police, Americans are once again processing the ways in which racism shapes our nation. As we navigate this difficult conversation, how do we decide who gets to define the terms?

I cannot agree that, in making space for marginalized voices, everyone else should defer to whatever ideological claims members of a minority group attach to their definition of racism. In today’s ideological environment, it tends to go like this: Defer to my lived experience; my lived experience reveals that critical race theory is true; you, too, must abide by critical race theory.

The word racism has become almost maddeningly confusing in current usage… I suspect that the way the term racism is used is too entrenched to yield to anyone’s preferences. However, if I could wave a magic wand, Americans would go back to using racism to refer to personal sentiment, while we would phase out so hopelessly confusing a term as societal racism.

If we let racists define racism, then nothing ever will be considered racist. Unfortunately, white supremacy isn’t just for people like David Duke and Christopher Barker. It is the culture we live in as Americans, and it influences what we do and what we think more than most realize.

Have You Studied the Latest “Neopronouns?”

The New York Times (below) recently published a guide to “neopronouns,” neologistic pronouns used to refer to people with non-binary gender identities. Some are familiar, like “they.” Others are less familiar, like “xe/xem/xyr, moon/moonself, star/starself, bee/beeself, and bun/bunself.”

… neopronouns are met with frustration because their use shows people divorcing themselves from continuing, unfinished gender business between men and women. Neopronoun users are trying to “construct something new and different that doesn’t have the same societal issues,” Mx. D’angelo said, as the traditional gender binary: “It’s almost like gender abolitionist.”

For decades, those who insist that identity is constructed in opposition to society’s rules — rules that must be eliminated in order to achieve human flourishing — have suggested that authentic identity is more than mere aesthetics. But now The Times has given away the show: When you construct identity as a tabula rasa, seeing all history and science as obstacles to happiness, identity quickly flattens into aesthetics.

Facing a strong backlash, neopronouns have been commonly rejected as grammatically incorrect. Besides this being utterly false, the more disturbing truth is that most people reject neopronouns, whether overtly or not, because they do not accept a gender neutral or non-binary identity as it defies social ‘norm’. Just like humans, languages evolve.

What Does the “Megadrought” Tell Us About CA’s Future?

The western United States is in the grip of a “megadrought,” which is expected to worsen in the coming months and years, creating the perfect conditions for devastating wildfires. What does this mean for California?

The warning signs are written in the parched landscape from New Mexico to California. This time last year, 27 percent of the West was in drought — now that has risen to 76 percent, turning forests into matchsticks. With the pandemic dominating headlines, the severity of the drought has gotten little attention for how bad it has become.

Scientists argue that it could end with permanent drought for swathes of the Western US, which could soon become unable to recover from recurring dry winters and summers. Reasons for the “mega drought” are twofold, a warming climate caused by human activity, and in the short term, a La Niña event in which cooler waters in the Pacific are failing to provide moisture.

The prospect of a mega drought poses a greater threat in the long haul to the welfare and health of Californians than the current pandemic.

That is not to dismiss the lives lost or those struggling to recover from COVID-19. But in terms of long-lasting devastation impacting everyone, including future generations to come, mega droughts carry a much bigger punch.

What’s New In Jewish Thought?

Can we move past “pediatric Judaism?” What kind of Judaism works for a post-modern world? Will Hasidic wisdom be the next self-help craze?

When I look around my shul, I see people operating at the highest level of academia, professional practice or business. The shul holds such a rich diversity of knowledge and life experience. However, for many there is a discordant mismatch between their advanced level in the secular world compared to their level of Jewish education.

Many of us did not have the opportunity to continue Jewish education beyond bar- and batmitzvah or cheder graduation. Imagine still reading Shakespeare in the form of the comic strip, “William for Kids”.

Professor Tony Bayfield strives to present a vision of Judaism that is of our time, and engaged with the reality of what he calls our post-modern world. In the preface he points out that any viable theology for today must reckon with the decline of faith among the population and with the calamitous upheaval in values engendered by the catastrophe of the Shoah.

Hasidism did not set out to be a self-help teaching. On the contrary, it is a self-transcendence teaching… Hasidism is a Jewish way of living into that truth. Learning and stretching yourself to become a giver in this blink of an eye that is the course of our lives on earth will transform you as well as those around you. If you’re doing it right, it should bring you much happiness as well.

Today’s Hot Issues

What Are We Celebrating This Yom Ha’Atzmaut? What Legacy Does Bernie Madoff Leave Behind? Who Gets To Decide the Definition of Racism? Have You Studied the Latest “Neopronouns?” What Does the “Megadrought” Tell Us About CA’s Future? What’s New In Jewish Thought?