It’s easy to feel disheartened, even despondent, as Rosh Hashanah approaches, at the realization that some of the things we did teshuvah for last year are things we need to repent for again this year.
Rav Shlomo Yosef Zevin, zt”l, notes in his sefer L’Torah Ul’moadim that the ben sorer umoreh, the “wayward son,” is punished not for what he has done – stolen from his parents and acted gluttonously – but rather for what the Torah teaches us he will one day do: become a violent bandit.
Yet, Rav Zevin points out, we find Hashem refusing to allow the evil that will be wrought by descendants of Yishmael to affect His mercy on the boy himself, abandoned in the desert. Yishmael is judged only baasher hu sham, “where he is” at that time.
Explains Rav Zevin, the ben sorer umoreh is currently a sinner, and his present behaviors are the roots of what will become his future deeds.
Yishmael, by contrast, although he, too, exhibited negative behavior hinted at by Torah in the word “mitzachek,” did not act in so egregious a manner, and his bad behavior was not what led to the terrible crimes of his descendants. At the time of his crisis, he was effectively innocent, and so is judged in the moment.
As are we. Which may be why, Rav Zevin continues, we read the account of Yishmael on Rosh Hashanah.
Several years ago, I was struck by a one-liner in an obituary of a comedian. The fact that Rosh Hashanah was approaching may have predisposed me to notice it.
“I used to do drugs,” the hapless performer had deadpanned. “I still do, but I used to, too.”
It’s never a good idea to try to deconstruct a joke. But why, I wondered, was the line funny? Was it simply that the comedian had found an absurd way to characterize his long-time substance abuse? To me, the joke was more profound. What I think the fellow meant to convey was that he had once (likely more than once) quit his drugs, only to re-embrace them. When he was clean, he “used to do drugs”; now, fallen off the wagon, he does them once again.
Can we recidivist penitents relate?
We who find ourselves resolving to improve in some of the very same ways we had resolved to improve last year, do we not “used to” do things that we currently do, too?
Among the collected letters of Rav Yitzchok Hutner, zt”l, is one that was written to a talmid whose own, earlier, letter to the Rosh Yeshivah had apparently evidenced the student’s despondence over his personal spiritual failures. The Rosh Yeshivah’s response provides nourishing food for thought.
Citing the maxim that one can “lose battles but win wars,” Rav Hutner explains that what makes life meaningful is not beatific basking in the exclusive company of one’s yetzer tov but rather the dynamic struggle with the yetzer hara.
Shlomo Hamelech’s maxim that “Seven times does the righteous one fall and get up” (Mishlei, 24:16), continues Rav Hutner, does not mean that “even after falling seven times, the righteous one manages to gets up again.” What it really means, he explains, is that it is only and precisely through repeated falls that a person truly achieves righteousness. The struggles – even the failures – are inherent elements of what can, with sincere determination and perseverance, become an ultimate victory.
Facing our mistakes squarely, and feeling the regret that is the bedrock of teshuvah, carries a risk: despondence born of battles lost. But allowing failures to breed hopelessness, explains Rav Hutner, is both self-defeating and wrongheaded. A battle waged, even if lost, can be an integral step toward an ultimate victory to come. No matter how many battles there may have been, the war is not over. We must pick ourselves up. Again. And, if need be, again.
Still, it’s a balancing act. The knowledge that we are Divinely judged only in the moment and that failing isn’t forever cannot permit us to treat aveiros lightly. Even as we reject dejection, we must sincerely resolve to be better people than we have been.
The comedian who “used to do drugs” but still did may have given up on trying to change his ways; he left the world young, the result of an overdose.
As the Aseres Y’mei Teshuvah begin, may we all find the fortitude to refuse to give up, and rededicate ourselves, as often as we need, to embracing teshuvah.
And thereby, baasher anachnu sham, merit a kesivah vachasimah tovah.
© 2017 Hamodia
(in slightly edited form)
A remembrance of Leonard Fein, who was a dear friend of mine over many years, appears on Tablet, and can be read here
Something recently reminded me of one of the many lessons I was privileged to be taught by Rav Yaakov Weinberg, zt”l, (pictured here with me at my wedding) who served as Rosh Yeshivah of Yeshivas Ner Yisroel in Baltimore.
As an 18-year-old studying in the Yeshivah in 1972, I watched him at first from afar, then learned from him up-close. The depth of his knowledge, his eloquent, brilliant analyses of Shas sugyos, and of history and science, made a deep impression on me.
His intellect and erudition, though, were mere tools with which he was gifted. His essence was his dedication to Torah, to emes, and to his talmidim – indeed, to all Klal Yisrael.
When I think back on the many times I telephoned Rav Weinberg from wherever I was living at the time to ask him a question about halachah or machshavah, or for an eitzah, I am struck by something I gave little thought to at those times: He was always available. And, I came to discover, not only to me. So many others – among them accomplished talmidei chachamim, rabbanim, and askanim – had also enjoyed a talmid–Rebbi relationship with Rav Weinberg. In my youthful self-centeredness, I had imagined him as my Rebbi alone.
Nor did his ongoing interactions with his talmidim prevent him from travelling wherever his services were needed. A sought-after speaker and arbitrator for individuals and communities alike, he somehow found time and energy for it all.
In the early 1980s, Rav Weinberg was asked to temporarily take the helm of a small Yeshivah in Northern California that had fallen on hard times. He agreed to leave his home and position in Baltimore and become interim Rosh Yeshivah.
My wife and I and our three daughters lived in the community; I taught in the Yeshivah and served as principal of the local Jewish girls’ high school. And so I was fortunate to have ample opportunity to be meshamesh Rav Weinberg, and to witness much I will always remember.
Like the time the yeshivah placed Rav Weinberg in a rented house, along with the yeshivah’s cooks – a middle-aged couple, recently immigrated from the Soviet Union.
Though Northern California has a wonderful climate, its winters can be cool, and the house’s heating system wasn’t working. The yeshivah administrator made sure that extra blankets were in the house, and an electric heater was procured for Rav Weinberg. (The cooks, it was figured, had been toughened by a colder clime).
After a week or two of chilly, rainy weather, it was evident that the Rosh Yeshivah had caught a bad cold. Someone went to his room to check the heater. It wasn’t there.
It was in the cooks’ room. Confronted with the discovery, Rav Weinberg sheepishly admitted to having relocated the heater. He “thought they might be cold” he explained.
We bought another heater. And learned a lesson.
But the particular memory that was recently jogged in my mind was of the yeshivah’s janitor. A young black man, his surname was Barnett. And that’s how we referred to him. “Hey, Barnett, how’s it going?” “Yo, Barnett, can you take care of this mess?” “Barnett, you working tomorrow?”
Once, Rav Weinberg heard one of us call out to the worker. Fixing his eyes on us, the Rosh Yeshivah said, quietly but firmly, “Mr. Barnett,” pointedly articulating the “Mr.”
What reminded me of that incident was a report about a commencement speech Supreme Court Justice John Roberts made at his son’s ninth-grade graduation from a prestigious New Hampshire school. He had much of worth to share with the boys, warning them, for instance, that their privileged lives will not insulate them from adversity, and suggesting that they take ten minutes a week to update and thank one of their former teachers with a written note (“Talk to an adult, let them tell you what a stamp is. You can put the stamp on the envelope”).
He also told them that, when they get to their new school, each of them should “walk up and introduce yourself to the person who is raking the leaves, shoveling the snow or emptying the trash. Learn their name and call them by their name during your time at the school.”
And so I was naturally reminded by that advice of Rav Weinberg’s “Barnett lesson” – that kvod haadam extends to every rung of the social ladder (and all the more so within Klal Yisrael’s social order!).
Then, suddenly, I realized that Rav Weinberg’ yahrtzeit, Shivah Asar B’Tammuz, was mere days away.
Yehi zichro baruch.
© Hamodia 2017
“Gentlemen! Start your engines!”
Or, maybe better, “In this corner, heavyweight champion…!”
Neither phrase was actually blasted from a loudspeaker on either June 8, when ex-FBI director James Comey testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee, or last Wednesday, the 13th, when it was Attorney General Jeff Session’s turn to answer questions. But, predictably, the reactions to the two men’s sworn responses to committee members’ questions came flying as fast and furious as any race car or boxer’s hook.
Mr. Comey, who served in the Department of Justice before being appointed to head the FBI in 2013, has the distinction of having drawn harsh criticism over the past year from both sides of the political aisle.
Last summer, Republicans condemned him when he told the media that he would not recommend that Hillary Clinton be prosecuted for using a private email server as secretary of state.
Democrats, for their part, castigated him for his pointed criticism of Mrs. Clinton’s actions. Then, when Mr. Comey announced mere weeks before the election that the FBI was reopening the investigation of Mrs. Clinton, her supporters were further outraged.
Being blasted by both sides in a dispute is often a sign that one is doing things right. Mr. Comey is clearly not beholden to any party, only to what he sees as his duty as a public servant.
That image was only enhanced, at least for me, by his Senate testimony, much of which focused on his impression that, in a private meeting with Mr. Trump on February 14, the president had subtly tried to pressure him to drop the investigation of Michael Flynn, Mr. Trump’s erstwhile national security advisor.
Having subsequently been fired by the president, Mr. Comey was asked by Senator John Cornyn, “If you’re trying to make an investigation go away, is firing an FBI director a good way to make that happen?”
“It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me,” Mr. Comey replied, “but I’m hopelessly biased given that I was the one fired.” That admission, to me, reflects a self-awareness all too rare in government today.
The partisan pugilists, though, took it as an admission that undermined Mr. Comey’s entire testimony. They also focused on Mr. Comey’s having shared with the media a memo to himself about his uncomfortable meeting with the president, written right afterward and intended to preserve his immediate impressions.
Fast-forward five days. Mr. Sessions acquitted himself well, too, convincingly condemning accusations that he had had conversations with Russian officials about the presidential election as an “appalling and detestable lie.”
The attorney general, too, was seized upon by the partisan pack, mainly for what it characterized as “stonewalling” – his declining to respond to questions about private conversations he had with the president. But, as Mr. Sessions explained, since Mr. Trump is protected by executive privilege, he, Mr. Sessions, did not feel he could relate information that the president might not wish to become public. Many of us might relish the thought of hearing about those conversations, but the attorney general’s point is entirely defensible.
The only conflict between Mr. Comey’s and Mr. Sessions’ testimonies lay in their description of what transpired on February 14, when Mr. Comey emerged from his private meeting with the president and expressed to the attorney general that he, Mr. Comey, felt that such a one-on-one meeting was improper.
Mr. Comey said: “I don’t remember real clearly. I have a recollection of him [Mr. Sessions] just kind of looking at me – and there’s a danger here I’m projecting onto him, so this may be a faulty memory – but I kind of got… his body language gave me the sense, like, ‘What am I going to do?’”
Mr. Sessions, for his part, testified that he did in fact respond to Mr. Comey’s expressed discomfort, and that he agreed with him on the importance of maintaining proper protocol.
As explosive contradictions of testimony go, this was more a fizzled-out sparkler than a bombshell. The discrepancy between the “body language” of Mr. Comey’s recollection (especially qualified by his admission that his memory of the moment is unclear) and the short response of Mr. Session’s remembrance is hardly the stuff of perjury.
And so, what the two testimonies leave me with is a favorable impression of two upstanding public servants responding as best as they feel they can to Congressional questions.
Pundits are expected to take sides here, to find some fault in Mr. Comey or Mr. Sessions. But I don’t see any glaring ones. I’m left only with a positive impression of two honorable men.
Is that allowed?
© 2017 Hamodia
It was more than 30 years ago, in Providence, Rhode Island, that I received my first letter from Rabbi Nisson Wolpin, z”l. I still have it, and keep it in a safe place.
For a relatively young out-of-town high school rebbe /would-be writer having just made his first submission to the Jewish Observer, the flagship printed medium for the dissemination of Torah thought and perspectives, simply receiving an acceptance letter from the magazine was a wonderful surprise.
More wonderful still, though, was the warmth of the words in Rabbi Wolpin’s personal note, in which he expressed his appreciation for my offering and which was full of encouragement to keep writing. And over ensuing years, both before and after I joined the staff of Agudath Israel of America, each of the essays I wrote for the JO was acknowledged with new words of appreciation and encouragement from its editor. That was Rabbi Wolpin. He was rightly renowned as a top-notch writer and a top-notch editor. But he was a top-notch mensch, too, a top-notch nurturer, empathizer, partner and coach. And, although he was much my senior in both age and ability, he was a top-notch friend, too.
It was 1970 when Rabbi Wolpin assumed the editorship of the JO. Back then, as a high schooler myself in Baltimore’s “T.A.”, or Yeshivas Chofetz Chaim, I had a keen interest in hashkafah, and a literary bent. And so I read the Jewish Observer avidly and considered Rabbi Wolpin, whose keen insights and wonderful prose animated the magazine, an intellectual hero. So it’s no wonder that first acceptance note, years later, was, and remains, cherished to me.
As does the memory of the first time I met Rabbi Wolpin in person. It was in the mid-1980s and my wife and I decided to take a long-distance shopping trip from Providence to Brooklyn one Sunday with our two youngest children. I called Rabbi Wolpin to see if we might stop by his home to meet him, and he and his rebbetzin, tibadel l’chaim tovim, didn’t hesitate to answer in the affirmative.
I vividly recall how welcoming the Wolpins were to us when we arrived at their home. And I remember, too, how our two-year-old son, our first boy, ran around the room and repeatedly tossed off the yarmulke we had recently begun putting on his head. I was embarrassed by that behavior, even a little worried that it might herald more rebellious actions in the future. Rabbi Wolpin laughed and assured me that it was perfectly normal and that I had no reason to be concerned. I was greatly reassured. (The little boy is a respected talmid chacham and rosh chaburah in a large kollel today, with a family of his own – and he keeps his head properly covered.)
A decade after that visit, at the invitation of Rabbi Moshe Sherer, z”l, we moved to New York and I was privileged to joined the staff of Agudath Israel. A large part of that privilege was being able to work with Rabbi Sherer, of course, and with Rabbi Wolpin.
Whenever I had the opportunity to interact with him, the experience was rewarding. Whether it was on a professional level, regarding articles in the JO or interaction with various media, or on a personal level, like when one of us happened to pass by the office of the other and stopped in to ask a question or offer an observation, I was impressed anew each time by his incredible knowledge, savvy and insight.
And then, as I came to realize what Rabbi Wolpin’s position as the JO’s editor actually entailed, I was much more than impressed.
Soliciting manuscripts, fielding submissions (including the surely difficult task of sending rejection letters that were nevertheless kind and encouraging), analyzing and editing copy, interacting with writers and editorial board members – not to mention penning his own perspectives and well-wrought commentaries – were all part of his portfolio. And I don’t remember ever seeing his face show any of the pressures under which he labored. Always a smile, always a happy greeting, almost always a good pun or humorous observation. Just thinking of him now makes me smile as I write.
Above all, perhaps, his respect for talmidei chachamim was a life-lesson in itself. He was, it seemed to me, in almost constant contact with not only the respected Rabbanim on his editorial board but with members of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah. He would consult them on “judgment call” issues and they would call him with concerns and guidance. And he was always appreciative, seeing himself as fortunate for the very fact of those interactions. He was a modest man, and, despite his important position in Klal Yisrael, kept as low a profile as he could manage. While he was a true and illustrious oseh, a “doer,” he saw himself more as a me’aseh, a facilitator of the work of others.
There can be little question that the world of intelligent, well-written and compelling Torah thoughts in English today derived directly from the toil of a Seattle-born, public school-attending melamed’s son, who was born in 1932 and, at 15, traveled to New York to study at Mesivta Torah Vodaath. There, the boy, who would become the Rabbi Nisson Wolpin the world of Torah would come to know and revere, absorbed the teachings and devotion to Klal Yisrael of Rav Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz, zt”l, and became close to Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky, zt”l and Rav Gedalia Schorr, zt”l. Several years later, he joined the yeshivah founded by Rav Simchah Wasserman, zt”l and then studies in Bais Medrash Elyon in Monsey.
After his, and the JO’s, retirement in 2008, Rabbi Wolpin effortlessly slipped back into the life of the beis medrash, which he had really never left. Two years later, he and, tbl”ct, Mrs. Wolpin moved to Eretz Yisrael.
Rabbi Wolpin’s nurturing (and skillful editing) of younger writers like my dear friend Yonasan Rosenblum and me, and his featuring of seasoned scribes like Rabbi Nosson Scherman, shlita, and Rabbi Moshe Eisemann, shlita, made the JO what it was – and in the case of the former group, helped us develop our critical thinking and writing skills.
Recently, I had the opportunity to leaf through scores of Jewish Observers. It was a bittersweet experience. I was enthralled anew at the quality of the writing, so much of it not only perceptive but prescient, and so much of it still timely even after the passage of many years. But I was anguished anew at the fact that the JO has long ceased publication. And, of course, well beyond that, anguished at the fact that Rav Wolpin, z”l, is no longer with us, at least not in person, here in this world.
Yehi zichro baruch.
© 2017 Hamodia
Some people, it seems, like some dogs with teeth planted firmly in mailmen’s legs, just can’t let go.
Take Peter Beinart.
I have no problem with the columnist and former The New Republic editor’s expressing liberal Zionist views, much as I may disagree with some of them. There is room in this world for different perspectives.
Nor am I particularly vexed by his longtime opposition to President Trump; the president has certainly left himself open to criticism on many occasions. Mr. Beinart’s past insinuation that the president harbors tolerance for anti-Semitism was a silly and unfounded charge, but there are always plenty of those to go around.
What’s more troublesome is the columnist’s refusal to give Mr. Trump credit when it is due, like after the president’s speech last week at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.
Speaking to a crowd of several hundred at the museum, and belying once and for all accusations of his insensitivity toward the Jewish people, the president spoke of how “the Nazis massacred six million Jews,” how “two out of every three Jews in Europe were murdered in the genocide.”
Addressing survivors present, he said, “You witnessed evil, and what you saw is beyond… any description,” and asserted that, through their testimony, they “fulfill the righteous duty to… engrave into the world’s memory the Nazi genocide of the Jewish people.”
He also spoke of Israel as “an eternal monument to the undying strength of the Jewish people.” And he deemed Holocaust denial “one of many forms of dangerous anti-Semitism that continues all around the world,” concluding with the words: “So today we mourn. We remember. We pray. And we pledge: Never again.”
Enter Peter Beinart. Well, not into the museum, but into the pages of the Forward, where he cited Mr. Trump’s recounting of the story of Gerda Weissman, who, in 1945, as an emaciated 21-year-old veteran of Nazi work camps and a death march, was liberated, and elated to see a car sporting not a swastika but an American star. Her liberator turned out to be a Jewish American lieutenant, Kurt Klein, and they eventually became husband and wife.
Mr. Beinart reflects on “how [Mr. Trump’s] views might have affected people like Gerda Klein had he been president back then.” The original “America Firsters,” war-era isolationists, he contends, “shared a mentality” with the president – to protect the United States’ “shores and its people” and to “not squander money and might safeguarding foreigners in distant lands.”
“It is this mentality,” he asserts, “that earlier this year led Trump to propose a budget that cuts U.S. funding for the United Nations in half,” which could bring about “the breakdown of the international humanitarian system as we know it.”
The postwar Displaced Persons Camps, Mr. Beinart goes on to remind us, were administered by a U.N. commission, and paid for largely by the U.S. President Trump, he confidently states, “would likely have seen it as a prime example of other countries ripping America off,” and would “surely have disapproved,” in 1946, when anti-Semitic pogroms in Poland “sent tens of thousands of Jews streaming across the border into U.S.-administered DP camps in Germany,” of allowing any of them onto our shores.
Because Mr. Trump is president, Mr. Beinart concludes, “the Gerda Kleins of today are unlikely to see America’s symbols the way she did.”
One needn’t be a proponent of a Mexican wall to recognize that there is no comparison between, on the one hand, caring for people who narrowly escaped a multi-national genocidal effort only to face murderous pogroms, and, on the other, welcoming every foreigner seeking to improve his economic welfare.
Nor need one like Mr. Trump’s immigration ban to understand that, justified or not, the fear of terrorists infiltrating our country is somewhat more plausible today than it was regarding Jews in 1946.
Mr. Beinart, though, insists on twisting Mr. Trump’s sentiments into an impossible pretzel, into something cynical and hypocritical.
“He praises Holocaust survivors today,” the columnist writes about the president, “because it’s politically expedient. But his actions desecrate their memory. Had he more shame, he would not have spoken at the Holocaust Memorial Museum at all.”
But Mr. Trump, Mr. Beinart surely knows, isn’t currently running for office. And if there’s one thing most everyone agrees about, it’s that he expresses things bluntly, as he believes them to be. Had Peter Beinart more shame, he would not have written his article at all.
© 2017 Hamodia
The most incriminatory and unarguable allegation leveled by some Senate Judiciary Committee panelists against Supreme Court nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch was, apparently, that he isn’t Merrick Garland. Guilty as charged.
Mr. Garland, of course, for anyone blessedly short of political memory, was former President Barack Obama’s nominee for the seat left vacant since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February, 2016. Republican senators refused to schedule a hearing for that nominee since, they argued, a new president would be inaugurated a mere ten months later.
In this observer’s mind, and entirely unrelated to either my feelings about Mr. Obama or the fact that Judge Garland is Jewish, that refusal was a failure of congressional conscience. No matter how lame a presidential duck may be (and ten months is a substantial amount of time for a waterfowl to limp about), a sitting president has a right to nominate a candidate for a vacant Supreme Court seat; and the legislative branch, a responsibility to fairly consider him.
But the fact that something unconscionable was done cannot change reality. Bad things happen (or are wrought), but life must go on. Mr. Garland’s mistreatment does not implicate Mr. Gorsuch in any way. And the latter, as per his reputation and his thoughtful responses during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings, is an individual eminently qualified to serve on the nation’s highest court.
Less incriminatory, and entirely arguable, were two other charges brought against the nominee: that he once made remarks disparaging to expectant mothers, and that he showed callous misjudgment in a fraught legal case, ruling for an employer against an employee.
In the first case, a former law student of Judge Gorsuch alleged that, in a course at the University of Colorado Law School last year, he told his class that employers, specifically law firms, should ask women seeking jobs about their plans for establishing a family, and implied that women routinely manipulate companies when they are interviewed, in order to extract maternity benefits.
Asked if the charge was true, Mr. Gorsuch replied, “No.”
“I would have never have said [such a thing],” he continued, “I’d be delighted to actually clear this up.”
In a letter to the committee, another student in the class disputed the account. And a former law clerk for Mr. Gorsuch, Janie Nitze, said that when she heard the allegations, “I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.” She and 10 other female former clerks also sent a letter to the committee in support of the candidate. In it, the 11 women asserted that “The judge has spoken of the struggles of working attorneys to juggle family with work obligations; not once have we heard him intimate that those struggles are, or should be, shouldered by one gender alone.”
The second attempt to portray Mr. Gorsuch as an ogre involved the case of a truck driver who was fired for abandoning his cargo trailer when its brakes froze in sub-zero temperatures. The unfortunate man, after repeatedly being told by the company to stay put since help was on the way, decided – entirely understandably, considering the temperature and the malfunctioning of the heater in the truck cab – to detach the trailer from the cab and drive away.
The legal question in the case was whether a “whistleblower” provision that protects a driver when he “refuses to operate a vehicle” because of safety concerns covered the trucker who chose instead to operate his vehicle.
It may have been heartless for the employer to fire the trucker, in other words, but did it violate the letter of the statute? Judge Gorsuch, in a dissent to a 2016 ruling by his two colleagues on a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, contended that it did not.
For that stance, the nominee was painted as heartless himself, unconcerned with the “little guy.” But an American judge, of course, no less than, l’havdil, a posek in a monetary issue, must render his dispassionate judgment, devoid of sympathy or antipathy toward either litigant, “big company” or “little guy.” The Torah enjoins us to not “favor the face of the poor one” in court (Vayikra, 19:15).
In 97 percent of 2,700 cases, Mr. Gorsuch noted, his judgments were part of unanimous decisions; and he was in the majority 99 percent of the time.
No, he’s not Merrick Garland, it must be conceded. He is Neil Gorsuch.
And eminently qualified for a seat on the republic’s highest court.
© 2017 Hamodia
In the current polarized political atmosphere, where “team” mentality – “our guys are great, yours are bums” – seems to be the default state of mind, and where objective, thoughtful fairness is the rarest of birds, it must be particularly hard to be a black conservative Republican.
Like Justice Clarence Thomas, Stanley Crouch and Thomas Sowell before him, Dr. Ben Carson, the once-presidential candidate and now Housing and Urban Development Secretary, was recently reminded of the perils of that identity, when an entirely innocent comment he made was blown out of all proportion by a horde of players from Team Black and Team Democrat.
As he began his first full week leading HUD, which provides housing assistance to low-income people and development block grants to communities, and enforces fair housing, Dr. Carson spoke to a standing-room-only audience of the agency’s employees.
He praised them for their dedication to HUD’s mission of “helping the downtrodden, helping the people in our society to… climb the ladder.” And then he extolled the United States as a land of opportunity, saying: “That’s what America is about. A land of dreams and opportunity. There were other immigrants who came here in the bottom of slave ships, worked even longer, even harder for less. But they, too, had a dream that one day their sons, daughters, grandsons, granddaughters, great-grandsons, great-granddaughters might pursue prosperity and happiness in this land.”
The positively lupine reaction to that eloquent paean to America was to pounce on Dr. Carson’s pointedly loose use of the word “immigrant” with reference to African slaves brought to these shores in the 18th and 19th centuries. From the overheated comments that suffused the media, one would have thought that the doctor had extolled slavery rather than the aspirations of slaves, that he had made a direct comparison rather than a clear contrast.
Pundits and academics across the land rent their garments at the desecration, and Congressman Keith Ellison of Minnesota railed that Dr. Carson had shown a “stunning misunderstanding of history… a very scary thing,” and declared that the doctor’s perspective makes him unqualified to lead HUD.
I don’t know what sort of president Dr. Carson would have made, had he prevailed in the Republican primary. He certainly showed misjudgment by imagining that civility is something appreciated by the American electorate.
But I find it easy to envision that he might be just what an agency like HUD needs: someone who recognizes that, however dismal one’s past was or one’s present is, the healthy attitude is fortitude, seeing opportunity in the future and recognizing the role one can play in his own destiny.
Dr. Carson’s personal story exemplifies that well. A poor student in Detroit with, by his own recounting, an anger management problem, he “ask[ed] G-d to help me find a way to deal with this temper” and studied Mishlei. The passuk, he says, that spoke to him most powerfully was “Tov erech apayim migibor…” – “Better a patient man than a mighty one, [better] a man who controls his temper than one who overtakes a city” (16:32). He set himself to the task of self-improvement and earned a full scholarship to Yale, working summers as, variously, a clerk in a payroll office, a supervisor of a crew picking up trash along the highway and on an assembly line. At Yale, he worked part-time as a campus student police aide.
In 1984, when he was 33, Dr. Carson became the director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins University, the youngest doctor in America at the time to hold such a position. And he went on to distinguish himself, pioneering groundbreaking surgeries and receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the U.S., in 2008.
Interestingly, an American president, during a naturalization ceremony at the National Archives, made a similar point to the one that earned Dr. Carson such opprobrium.
He said that “Life in America was not always easy. It wasn’t always easy for new immigrants. Certainly it wasn’t easy for those of African heritage who had not come here voluntarily, and yet in their own way were immigrants themselves… But… they no doubt found inspiration in all those who had come before them. And they were able to muster faith that, here in America, they might build a better life and give their children something more.”
That was Barack Obama, in 2015.
Dr. Carson, in his speech, pledged to lead the agency with an “emphasis on fairness for everybody… complete fairness for everybody.”
How shameful that fairness seems to utterly elude the “team players.”
© 2017 Hamodia
Mere days after senior Hamas operative Muhammad Hemada Walid al-Quqa blew himself up preparing a bomb, The New York Times noted, in a recent front page story about the Muslim Brotherhood, that “some of [its] offshoots – most notably Hamas – have been tied to attacks.”
That phrase would seem to imply some tenuousness or doubt. In reality (which, despite “alternate facts,” still exists), Hamas has been openly attacking and murdering Israeli civilians and soldiers since 1987, demonically celebrating its every “success.”
A study published in 2007 by the Journal of Economic Perspectives, an apolitical academic publication, found that, of the scores of Palestinian suicide bombings that took place from September 2000 through August 2005, 39.9 percent were carried out by Hamas. (The repugnant runner-up was Fatah, at 25.7 percent.) And then there are the rockets that have rained down on Israel from Gaza in more recent years.
As to the Muslim Brotherhood, which, as the paper of record records, hatched Hamas, while it has been trying to present a more pleasant face of late, one of its mottos is more telling: “Jihad is our way; death for the sake of Allah is our wish!”
Several days after The Times referred to the Brotherhood’s spawn as merely “tied to” attacks on Jews, Hamas chose a new leader in Gaza, Yehya Sinwar.
Mr. Sinwar was sentenced decades ago in Israel to four life terms for the murder of Palestinians he suspected of collaboration with Israel. According to Israeli security experts, he also played a pivotal role in the planning and execution of attacks against Israeli soldiers.
The new Hamas leader was also one of the founders of Al Majd (“Glory”), a precursor of Hamas’s military wing, Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades.
After serving more than 20 years in jail, Sinwar was released in 2011, one of the 1,000 Arab prisoners exchanged for captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
The Times, along with many media (the BBC, CNN, the Washington Post, Huffington Post, The Guardian and ABC News, among others) referred to Sinwar as “hardline” or a “hardliner.” While that description isn’t inaccurate (“hardliner” meaning “a person who adheres rigidly to a dogma, theory, or plan”), some other adjective might have been more informative, something, perhaps, like “convicted murderer.”
Interestingly, as it happened, another “hardliner” was in the news, too, last week: David Friedman, President Trump’s designate for ambassador to Israel. That was the word used by many of the very same media noted above to describe Mr. Friedman.
Mr. Friedman has not, to anyone’s knowledge, ordered the murder of anyone, or founded a terrorist group. His hardliner-ness consists of his past skepticism about a two-state solution to the Israel-Arab conflict and various intemperate statements he made about Jews and others who he feels have advocated for Palestinians to the detriment of Israel.
Last Thursday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee grilled the nominee. In light of some of Mr. Friedman’s earlier statements, I was prepared to be uninspired. But the give-and-take between Mr. Friedman and his Senatorial inquisitors left me, instead, impressed. Deeply so.
Mr. Friedman was composed (even when pro-Palestinian activists obnoxiously interrupted the hearing, shouting slogans – one, righteously blowing a shofar – before being escorted out of the room by security personnel), eloquent, thoughtful, fair-minded and – most impressively – willing, under oath, to publicly and without reservations, renounce the extreme things he had said or written as a private citizen.
“While I maintain profound differences of opinion with some of my critics,” he said, “I regret the use of [harshly insulting] language.”
Asked by New Jersey Senator Cory Booker if he believes, as he had once seemed to say, that former president Obama is in fact an anti-Semite, Mr. Friedman, without hesitation, replied: “Not at all. I don’t believe that for a second.” (Halevai other erstwhile Obama-defamers would own up to their own excesses.)
Pressed repeatedly (and disturbingly – just how many apologies were required?) by various senators to address the issue of his past statements, Mr. Friedman didn’t get upset. Nor did he offer the typical politician’s “non-apology apology.” He stated clearly and forthrightly: “There is no excuse. If you want me to rationalize or justify [the words I used], I cannot. I regret [them].”
Mr. Friedman proudly and convincingly expressed his desire to fortify the American-Israel relationship, and demonstrated that he has no animus for Arabs and wants to see peace between Israel and the Arabs in her midst.
Of course, and unfortunately, many obstacles stand in the way of that goal. Prime among them, his “fellow” hardliner in Gaza and the all-too-many others like him.
© 2017 Hamodia