Can a Community Ethical Will build a bridge across the Jewish divide?

As we watched the crystal ball drop in Times Square heralding the start of a new year many of us are accustomed to using that moment to make New Year’s resolutions.  Some of us share them aloud with others while many keep them secret like the wishes made when the candles are blown out on our birthday cake.

The making of New Year’s resolutions long pre-dates my earliest memories of New Year’s Eve when as a youngster I remember watching our black and white TV at midnight listening to Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians play Auld Lang Syne.  Couples kissed, confetti flew, champagne glasses clinked and many made their personal commitments to the new year in the form of resolutions to do better and be better.

The ancient Babylonians are said to have been the first people to make New Year’s resolutions, some 4,000 years ago. They were also the first to hold recorded celebrations in honor of the new year—though for them the year began not in January but in mid-March, when the crops were planted.

The tradition of New Year’s Resolutions is long and storied.  For most of us, those resolutions are almost always about us.  We pledge to lose weight.  To exercise more.  To watch less TV and read more books.  To be more patient.  To be more charitable.  The resolutions that we make are typically about changes we pledge to ourselves about ourselves.  Less common are resolutions made that will change the community.

During my years as President and CEO of the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Phoenix our organization offered numerous workshops and seminars on the creation of an Ethical Will.  It was our belief that in addition to prudent estate planning which guides the disposition of one’s financial assets at the time of death we believed that caring and responsible individuals should consider providing for the transfer of one’s ethical and moral values and life lessons to those we leave behind.

The superb article How to write an Ethical Will by Martina Merashi in the December 2020 issue of the Arizona Jewish Life Magazine ( https://azjewishlife.com/how-to-write-an-ethical-will/ ) does a wonderful job describing why Ethical Wills are so important and how to go about preparing one.  But as is the case with New Year’s Resolutions, Ethical Wills are customarily more self-reflective and introspective. They are about us and what we believe and support.  Seldom are they about what our community should believe and support.

So what might we accomplish if our New Year’s Eve Resolutions or Ethical Wills looked beyond ourselves and our families and were instead directed toward ways of bettering our community?

Several years ago I wrote an opinion piece in which I addressed the divide that exists between different segments of many American Jewish communities.  That divide too often separates members of the Orthodox community from those who identify as Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist and other streams of organized Judaism including those who identify as non-observant or secular Jews.  That 2015 commentary ended with my wish that “we could all find channels and pathways to better connect, respect and learn from each other without the sense that there are two Jewish communities in the Valley – the Orthodox and everyone else”.  My commentary was a public call for a process that might hopefully help to mend broken bridges or strengthen and build stronger bridges among and between various elements of the Jewish community.

So what do New Year’s Resolutions and Ethical Wills have to do with building bridges?  Potentially quite a bit if they are expressed as other-directed rather than a reflection of one’s internal view of personal goals.  In other words, New Year’s Resolutions and Ethical wills, if conveyed with an eye toward the broader community, potentially have the power to change not just an individual or a family but an entire neighborhood or even a nation.

Five years ago The Greater Hartford Rabbinic Association, a group comprised of Rabbis representing the Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox congregations of Hartford, CT, may have discovered such a pathway to common ground for Rabbis who otherwise hold different halachic (Jewish Law) views which understandably separates them rather than brings them together.

The Hartford Rabbis, for all of their differences around Jewish law, custom, worship, and Jewish practice came together to write an Ethical Will for their community.  As Susan Turnbull, a life-long community activist who is involved with a myriad of social justice activities says: “if your legal will addresses ‘what do I want my loved ones to have?’ your ethical will addresses ‘what do I want them to know?’”  And this is the tool the Hartford Rabbis used to toil on common ground as they wrote an ethical will for their community.

Here in its entirety are the simple yet powerful words of the Hartford community’s ethical will:

As the Rabbis of the Greater Hartford area, we see ourselves and our congregations as stewards of the generosity of those who came before us. We found orchards of learning, bushes burning unconsumed and our air filled with compassion.

We affirm the centrality of Torah, Chesed (loving kindness), Tikkun Olam (repairing the world), Tzedakah (justice/charity), and Achrayut (responsibility), of learning, compassion, justice and communal responsibility. We have committed our rabbinate to the belief that our tradition and connection with our Creator brings meaning to our lives as individuals and as a community. We recognize that from our creation we were not meant to be alone, and that we need each other. Our enduring legacy is to exhibit generosity of resources, faith, wisdom and kindness that others might be as fortunate as we are.  We affirm that we bear responsibility to each other and that our own spiritual journey is part of a larger covenantal framework which guides our lives.

The challenges of today and tomorrow present both manifold needs and opportunities to assist in continuing the chain of tradition that is our inheritance. We affirm the inspiration and truth of the essential teaching of our tradition: ‘You are not obligated to finish the task, but neither are you free to neglect it.’ (Pirke Avot/Ethics of Our Ancestors 2:21)

What better way could all the members of the Board of Rabbis of Greater Phoenix and the Orthodox Rabbinical Council of Greater Phoenix find to come together on something that their members should all be able to agree with than the creation of an Ethical Will for our community.  Surely the right words can be found which can reflect areas of agreement among Rabbis of all streams of Judaism.  Words which communicate a unified and collective aspiration for our community.  Words which speak to what all Rabbis can agree with and which leave behind those unique and parochial differences that differentiate us.

Creating such common ground would be an enormous step toward mutual understanding and respect for one another while expressing a hopeful and unified message for the diverse Jewish community in the Valley of the Sun.

So whether we write a Resolution or an Ethical Will the idea of creating a communal vision and aspiration that extends beyond and is greater than ourselves could have a profound and unifying effect on the broader community.  And if it is well crafted just imagine the way it might help mend broken bridges.  And those bridges could help link and bring together disparate segments of our community as never before.

Even though the Times Square Crystal Ball has been dismantled and placed in storage for next year’s celebration it is not too late for that New Year’s Resolution.  So let’s all resolve to act in ways that will build or mend bridges instead of building walls.  Let’s share not only our personal ethical and moral principles with our family but help to use those values to promote a communal aspiration that emphasizes what we share in common more than what separates us politically, religiously or philosophically.

If we haven’t learned anything else from the events of the past year it should be as clear as the Times Square Crystal Ball that our words and our actions can divide or unify.  Let us all choose wisely as we start this new year.

For more commentaries by Stu Turgel go to: https://thephoenixfile.net/commentaries/

Imagine if you will…

As a child I wasn’t much of a fan of science fiction books, movies or television shows.  But there was one program that I seldom missed.  The Twilight Zone.

The original series was shot and broadcast entirely in black and white even though color TV’s were commonplace when the series ran on CBS for five seasons from 1959 to 1964.  Perhaps the appeal for me were those dark and cold scenes in black and white.  Maybe it was the voice of the show’s creator and iconic narrator, Rod Serling, a young avant-garde screenwriter, playwright and television producer. Maybe it was the eerily haunting repetition of four shrill notes of the opening theme music – once you heard it you couldn’t un-hear it.

The 156 Twilight Zone episodes explored various genres, including fantasy, science fiction, absurdism, dystopian fiction, suspense, horror, supernatural drama, black comedy, and psychological thriller.  They often concluded with a macabre or unexpected twist, and usually with a moral narrated by Serling himself.  For me, it was sci-fi like no other.  It ranked first among arguable equals like Night Gallery, The Outer Limits, The Ray Bradbury Theater, The X-Files and Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

It would take a sci-fi genius no less artful than Rod Serling to write a screenplay that could encompass all of the horror and pain of 2020.  Like all well-written sci-fi stories it would have to be intriguing, scary, and testing the limits of credulity.  An anthology of 2020 events worthy of episodes of the Twilight Zone would definitely need to fit the bill. 

Episodes of a Serling-like production based on 2020 would definitely have the viewer gripping the arms of the chair tighter and breathing a little heavier.  They would cause heads to shake and cries of “noooooo…stop it” shouted at the screen.   

Despite what most people believe, Rod Serling never spoke the words “Imagine if you will…”.  That’s actually a famous example of the Mandela Effect, an unusual phenomenon where a large group of people remember something differently than how it occurred.  It’s sort of like Smokey the Bear when there is no “the” in Smokey Bear’s name.  Or “Music hath charms to soothe the savage beast” when in fact it is “the savage breast” not “savage beast”.

With due respect to Serling who truly never said “Imagine if you will…” I will issue that rhetorical challenge.  So, imagine if you will a year like 2020 with unprecedented political divisiveness, social and racial unrest, unjustified murders of innocent people of color at the hands of law enforcement, the worst pandemic in 100 years that snuffed out one third of a million Americans, tens of millions having lost their jobs, hundreds of thousands of small businesses shuttered, isolation the likes of which we have not experienced in our lifetimes, corruption at the highest levels of government and economic disaster causing individuals and families to be homeless and hungry.

The pain and suffering of 2020 is unprecedented.  The convergence of so many calamitous events during this year from Hell have scarred the American psyche and will cause trauma to so many for so long to come.  The events of 2020 represent the basic story lines of a classic sci-fi show.  But when the year blessedly comes to an end it won’t be as simple as “fade to black…cut to commercial”. 

Rod Serling may never have said “Imagine if you will…” but he did often begin his production with a variation of “You’re traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound, but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. You are entering the Twilight Zone.”  There is no doubt that for most of us, entering 2020 was very much like entering our own personal Twilight Zone.  But as we prepare to start 2021 the question we all want answered is “how do we exit the Twilight Zone?

We’ll know we have made it through to the other side when we begin to experience wide-spread evidence of decency, tolerance, respect, fact over fiction, honesty over corruption, truth over deceit, public service over self-interest, love over lust, helping over hurting, inclusion over exclusion, faith, freedom, opportunity, humility, generosity, justice, integrity, loyalty, patriotism, empathy, compassion, kindness, courage and gratitude.

Once we feel enveloped by these positive traits and behaviors we will have left our personal Twilight Zone and begin to feel the warmth of sunshine which Justice Louise Brandeis taught us is the best disinfectant.  

For more commentaries by Stu Turgel go to: https://thephoenixfile.net/commentaries/

Cut off the oxygen fueling the flames of extremism

Hello, I’m Stu and I’m a news-a-holic. 

As a child of the 1950’s I was hooked on broadcast news.  I waited all afternoon in great anticipation for the 30-minute national news broadcasts on the three major television networks: CBS, NBC and ABC.  I became addicted to news at an early age and I remain so today.

Thankfully I never suffered from an addiction to alcohol so I was never a “Friend of Bill”, the euphemism for alcoholics inspired by William Wilson who founded AA as a society of members dedicated to helping each other achieve and maintain sobriety.

But I was a “Friend of” Walter (Cronkite), Edward (R. Murrow), Ted (Koppel), Dan (Rather), Tom (Brokaw), Cokie (Roberts), Peter (Jennings), Diane (Sawyer), Jim (Leher), Christiane (Amanpour) and so many other inspiring broadcast journalists.  I couldn’t get enough of their excellent reporting of the world’s most critically important stories and events that effected society. 

Those were my news and information “dealers” and I was and continue to be an eager and willing “user”.  But if I missed that limited 30-minute window when I could watch the national news, first on a black and white television and later in living color, I would have to wait until the next night hoping that the important stories would continue to be covered.

There was no 24/7 cable news coverage.  There was no internet where streaming broadcasts from a prior day could be watched.  There was no social media where news and information flowed from a wide-open unfiltered spigot.  And that was both good and bad.  The best of times…the worst of times when it came to the reporting and analysis of timely news and information.

Otherwise good journalists and responsible media outlets have long ago given up their emphasis on reporting truly breaking news in favor of opinion, commentary and covering stories that are repetitive and redundant.  The cost of doing this is two-fold.  First, it provides an unintended bias when it comes to the weighting and ordering of coverage by importance and priority.  Repeating the same stories hour after hour runs the risk of creating the news instead of reporting it.

Secondly, the disproportionate coverage of a handful to stories, despite their importance, ignores the many important and newsworthy events taking place around the globe each day.  I addressed this in my January 2018 commentary The Day That Cable News Died  https://thephoenixfile.net/2018/01/27/the-day-that-cable-news-died/ .

Turn on a responsible cable news outlet today and you will be certain to hear 90% of their broadcast focusing on the same few stories no matter what time of the day or what day of the week. The lead stories on most networks continue to be COVID-19; Election Fraud; Congressional Gridlock; and President Trump’s Erratic Behavior.  But when broadcast news organizations focus disproportionately on these topics they ignore or defer coverage of:

  • Terrorist attacks
  • Wars
  • Coups
  • Famine
  • Nuclear threats
  • Space exploration
  • Technology and science
  • Medicine and health
  • Popular culture
  • Environmental issues
  • Societal changes
  • and much, much more

And the unintended consequence of focusing on the same stories results in the media becoming a megaphone rather than a news gathering and reporting medium.  Emphasis on the same stories promotes conspiracy theories by extreme policy makers and fringe groups.  The vicious cycle continues when media outlets feel compelled to cover the rants and behaviors of extremists.  News directors, assignment editors and producers fall into the trap of offering equal time to voices on the edge which creates a sense of false equivalency.  And the more time that is devoted to those who promote unsubstantiated theories and allegations the more credible those positions seem to people who share their extreme views or who are undecided.

And what are those extremist beliefs that get media attention even by responsible news organizations?  Beliefs such as Coronavirus is a hoax, the election was fraudulent and was stolen from Donald Trump or Joe Biden is not recognized as President-elect. The infamous Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels said: “Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth”.  While some media outlets themselves traffic in extremist propaganda (i.e. FOX, One America News Network, Newsmax) more responsible news organizations don’t intend to fuel extremist and baseless claims they do so in what they believe to be an attempt to offer time to “opposing points of view”.  Let me be clear, opposing points of view should be covered in moderation but baseless claims, lies and dangerously unproven fabrications and deceptions have no place being given oxygen by responsible media outlets.  And yet, those dishonest and malicious falsehoods are regularly reported which risks giving them credibility.

Imagine how our current events would be reported and received in a pre-cable news and pre-internet era.  No one wants to return to that time.  The excellent albeit limited reporting of that period was the precursor for the dramatically expanded news and information sources of 21st Century media.  But with the expansion and explosion of so many sources of information come the danger of crossing the line from reporting to creating news. 

The solution is not to censor but to cover news more effectively and prudently.  Reducing repetitiveness and redundancy will allow more room in broadcast news schedules for the coverage of a wider array of important stories affecting and impacting the world.  Curtailing the false equivalency does not mean that news organizations are managing information but rather gathering and disseminating information in a more responsible manner.

The danger of missing out on important information because you may have missed the 30-minute evening news is thankfully a distant memory.  News today is ubiquitous and on-demand.  But responsible news organizations have an obligation to do whatever they can to extinguish the flames of extremism.  Their task is to deprive those flames from oxygen through more prudent scheduling of stories and more discipline in the way those stories are covered.  The flames of extremism are fanned by the attention given to misinformation in the belief that broadcasters are being balanced.  Extinguishing those flames is the best tribute that can be paid to the professionalism of some of our most extraordinary broadcast journalists whose responsible and fair news coverage was a soothing balm to news addicts like me and other “Friends of” Walter, Edward, Ted, Dan, Tom, Cokie, Peter, Diane, Jim, and Christiane.   

For more commentaries by Stu Turgel go to: https://thephoenixfile.net/commentaries/

Annus Horribilis ~ The Sequel

In December 2017 as the first year of the Trump presidency neared an end, I published a commentary entitled America’s Annus Horribilis https://thephoenixfile.net/2017/12/22/americas-annus-horribilis/ in which I referred to the way Queen Elizabeth II described her experiences during 1992.   The Queen said: “1992 is not a year on which I shall look back with undiluted pleasure. In the words of one of my more sympathetic correspondents, it has turned out to be an annus horribilis.”  She was recalling the various tragedies, scandals and misfortunes that had befallen the Royal Family during that year. 

My description of 2017 as an American Annus Horribilis seemed fitting given that we were ending a year of shameful and divisive language, hostile and racially motivated acts, misdirected economic and social policies, and dangerous rhetoric and threats on the world stage by the first President to be so widely characterized as wholly unfit for office.  For the next two years these and other behaviors by our President just reinforced what a horrible period we were living through.

But then came 2020.  A year like no other in modern history.  If President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was correct when he called December 7, 1941 as “a date which will live in infamy” then surely 2020 will be a year which will live in disgrace and ignominy.

So bad was 2020 that TIME Magazine’s Olivia B. Waxman writes:

TIME’s Dec. 14 cover crosses out the bane of a year that is 2020 with a big red “X.” It is the latest in a long tradition saved for some of the worst foes humanity has faced in the magazine’s history.

TIME has used a red “X” to cross out various things on its cover only four other times. The first time was 75 years ago, in 1945, to mark the death of Adolf Hitler (and later that year, a black “X” over Japan’s rising sun marked the end of the war in the Pacific theater).

The second use of the “X” came in 2003. This time it crossed out Saddam Hussein at the beginning of the Iraq war. The third “X” on TIME’s cover happened in 2006, when U.S. forces killed Abu Mousab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq. The most recent usage of the “X” was in 2011, for the killing of Osama bin Laden.

TIME used the X to symbolize “the end of a long struggle,” from World War II to milestones in the war on terrorism, and in 2020, the world battles the COVID-19 virus. Just as TIME acknowledged that bin Laden’s May 2, 2011, death was “the end of an era in some ways, but not the end of our struggle against terrorism,” so TIME’s use of the red X in Dec. 2020 marks the end of a historic year, but not the end of the battle to curb the spread of this deadly virus.

The impact of 2020 remains to be seen and certainly much more attention will be paid to how this historic year will shape future generations.

Every year has noteworthy events that shake us to our core.  But few years have contained so much pain, loss, and challenge as have been experienced in 2020.

  • The worst health pandemic in 100 years has caused the death of one third of a million of our fellow citizens and the loss of economic stability by millions of hard-working Americans and the permanent closure of countless small privately owned businesses. 
  • Lines at food banks not seen since the soup kitchens of the Great Depression.
  • Foreclosures and evictions are leaving families unsheltered and homeless. 
  • The continued caging of young children separated permanently from their immigrant or asylum-seeking parents. 
  • Relentless racism, misogyny, homophobia and corruption by those elected to lead.
  • The unforgiveable and contemptable murders under “color of law” of innocent black and brown Americans at the hands of law enforcement brought us to a tipping point in the fight to deal with systemic and institutional racism and our quest for racial reckoning.
  • Attempts by political leaders to overturn the will of the people by unsubstantiated allegations of election fraud and abuse in seditious and traitorous acts which have been the greatest internal threat to our democracy in 244 years.

As we flip the pages of our calendar and ready ourselves for 2021 there is certainly reason to be hopeful. 

  • The development of coronavirus vaccines may bring an end to the catastrophic death, disease and economic devastation that has virtually brought our country to its knees. 
  • The end of a despotic and lawless presidency and the beginning of the restoration of the soul of America under a new President who is decent, empathetic, inclusive and prepared for office like few others have ever been. 
  • The return of the United States on the world stage as a respected partner. 
  • The attention of the new government to the needs of the least among us.  Fairness, justice and equality in the way all Americans are treated.

The embers and memories of what was the worst of 2020 cannot be extinguished by the simple act of turning the page of a calendar.  It is critically important that we never lose sight of what made the past few years, and 2020 in particular so horrible.  As Winston Churchill said, “those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.”

For more commentaries by Stu Turgel go to: https://thephoenixfile.net/commentaries/

It’s Thanksgiving NOT Thanksgetting

Thanksgiving began as a day of giving thanks and sacrifice for the blessing of the harvest and the bounty of the preceding year.  The Thanksgiving holiday’s history in North America is deeply rooted in English traditions dating from the Protestant Reformation. It also has aspects of a harvest festival, even though the harvest in New England occurs well before the late-November period on which the modern Thanksgiving holiday is celebrated.  Pilgrims and Puritans who emigrated from England in the 1620s and 1630s carried the tradition of Days of Fasting and Days of Thanksgiving with them to New England.  The 1621 Plymouth feast and thanksgiving was prompted by a good harvest, which the Pilgrims celebrated with Native Americans, who helped them get through the previous winter by giving them food during a time of scarcity. 

Modern Thanksgiving was proclaimed for all states in 1863 by Abraham Lincoln who set the national Thanksgiving by proclamation explicitly in celebration of the bounties that had continued to fall on the Union and for the military successes in the war.  Because of the ongoing Civil War, a nationwide Thanksgiving celebration was not realized until Reconstruction was completed in the 1870s.

On October 31, 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a presidential proclamation that would formally observe the holiday on the last Thursday in November, for business reasons.  On December 26, 1941, he signed a joint resolution of Congress changing the national Thanksgiving Day to the fourth Thursday in November.

Has the spirit of those early Thanksgivings been lost?  Have we forgotten why we commemorate this special day?  Has it become, like other holidays, less a time to express gratitude and more a time to shop for a new car, a mattress, or carbo load for the marathon of Black Friday mall jogging?  Is it no longer a day to demonstrate thanks but one dedicated to watching football and televised parades?  And why has the quintessential family holiday become the Olympics of squabbling among relatives at the dinner table?

Why have holidays like Thanksgiving, Memorial Day and Veterans Day become days of consumer spending and conspicuous consumption in place of the important reasons for those observances? 

Maybe one of the few positive aspects of the deadly scourge of COVID-19 which has assaulted so many and altered the routines of virtually every American life is the opportunity to take stock in what the Thanksgiving holiday is really about.  After all, taking stock is one of the things that is at the root of acts of thanksgiving. 

For the last nine months many of us have been hunkered down living in our own bunkers and bubbles.  Being physically distanced from friends and family has created loneliness and depression.  Some have experienced life shattering job loss, economic distress and empty kitchen tables and pantries.  And if we were fortunate enough not to suffer directly, we have not been able to avoid the never-ending media coverage of death and devastation.  Lines at foodbanks are longer than anyone has seen since the soup lines of the great depression. Recreational shopping and browsing in department stores and other retail shops is a distant memory.  For many of us, trips from home have been made only when absolutely necessary for groceries or doctor visits.  Worshippers have been unable to congregate in communal spaces but rather forced to join in prayer with others through Zoom or YouTube.  Vacations have been cancelled.  Distance learning for students is the new model for education.  And there have been so many more sacrifices and losses that many of us feel like we are movie extras on the set of a sci-fi film with a story line too implausible to be true.  We are living in a virtual world where we are virtually exhausted as we crave for a return to our old normal.  Our new normal feels full of voids and losses.  Our wants have given way to our needs.  And our needs are in no way depriving most of us in the way the least among us have been denied their basic necessities.

Thanksgiving 2020 is the perfect opportunity to change our patterns of self-indulgence, needless purchases, moderation in eating and imbibing and a time to focus on others rather than ourselves.  Expressing thanks, each in our own way, for having come through the pandemic healthy in mind, body and spirit should be the way we celebrate Thanksgiving.  An even better way is to think about those who have not been so blessed and who can benefit and appreciate any gesture of help and compassion we can offer.  Donations to food banks, homeless shelters, communal feeding programs, and worthy causes that deliver direct services to those in need is a way to meaningfully express our gratitude for all the blessings we have experienced and the dangers that have passed us by.

A little wine with your Thanksgiving dinner is fine.  But a little whine for all that we miss and wish we had is a selfishness that neither serves us or others well.

I’ve read comments from people who are complaining that they can’t find or get certain products when they go to the grocery.  Those folks should be thankful that they have the ability to go to the store at all with money in their pocket to at least buy the basics if not the luxuries they’d like.  It’s Thanksgiving NOT Thanksgetting! 

Others have complained that our Phoenix temperatures have been unseasonably warm causing air conditioners to be turned on even in November.  I wish they would think about those living on the street or in sub standard housing with no air conditioning or no money to pay the costs of running their A/C.  It’s Thanksgiving NOT Thanksgetting! 

For those who miss visits with their children or grandchildren, please think about those with no family at all or those who have lost family members to COVID-19 this year.  It’s Thanksgiving NOT Thanksgetting! 

It’s time to count your blessings for all you have.  And for the people, things and activities that are not able to be enjoyed, know that for most, this will pass and those things we miss will end.  While for others, those things will never again be part of their lives.  It’s Thanksgiving NOT Thanksgetting! 

Maybe you remember the phrase that was once bandied about frivolously: “He who dies with the most toys wins.” It has been attributed to Malcolm Forbes, but whoever said it deserves to be noted for being able to get it out while throwing up a little in the back of his mouth. Easy words coming from a billionaire.  But ask the child who has no gifts of toys at the holidays how it feels.   It’s Thanksgiving NOT Thanksgetting! 

Perhaps you remember the phrase: “I wish I was Barbie cause the bitch has everything.”  Another disgustingly glib line which revealed the unhealthy envy and jealousy some felt because others had more of something or more of everything than they did.  Wrong then…even more wrong today.  It’s Thanksgiving NOT Thanksgetting! 

In Proverbs 22:1 it is written that: “A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.”  Whether you are religious or not, this is the perfect season in a very imperfect year to think about our priorities and what matters most.  It’s Thanksgiving NOT Thanksgetting! 

During this time of year in many parts of the country leaves are falling from trees.  If you come across a fallen leaf consider picking it up and turning it over.  Yes, turn over a new leaf and take stock of what this season is all about.  It’s Thanksgiving NOT Thanksgetting! 

For more commentaries by Stu Turgel go to: https://thephoenixfile.net/commentaries/

It’s over…so, now what?

On April 9, 1865 Robert E. Lee surrendered the last major Confederate army to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse.  And so ended the devastating human destruction of the Civil War and the beginning of Reconstruction, the turbulent 12-year era to reintegrate Southern states from the Confederacy and 4 million newly freed slaves into the United States.

At 11am on the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918 fighting in World War I, “the war to end all wars, ended on what would come to be known as Armistice Day.  On that day Germany signed an agreement for peace which brought an end to the fighting.  Seven months later leaders of the United States, Great Britain and France met to sign the Versailles Agreement which led to the formation of the League of Nations, a precursor to the United Nations.

On May 8, 1945 the unconditional surrender of the Axis powers and the Allies’ acceptance of Germany’s surrender brought an end to World War II in Europe.  Three months later the Japanese accepted the terms of the Potsdam Declaration and unconditionally surrendered. On September 2, 1945 the Japanese foreign minister formally signed the instrument of surrender on the deck of the USS Missouri, marking the official end of World War II.

Subsequent wars and conflicts such as those in Korea and Vietnam ultimately ended in less ceremonial fashion but when the fighting ceased the healing began.

Today, the United States has friendly alliances with many of the nations who faced us in war.  It would have been unthinkable during the fierce fighting of both World Wars that we would eventually be collaborative partners on the world stage with Germany or Japan.  And it was just as unthinkable that the U.S. would commit to contributing to the re-building and re-construction of cities in those war-torn nations that had been demolished and decimated by bombs dropped by American and Allied forces.

The total number of deaths in the Civil War, World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam was 112 million souls both military and civilian.  Yet the opposing forces in these horrific wars and conflicts found a way to reconcile their differences and move forward with a goal of peaceful, if not prosperous, coexistence.  Enemies became allies.  Hostilities gave way to restoration and rebuilding.  Animus gave way to mutual cooperation.  Foes became friends.

Wars end.  Conflicts cease.  Fighting stops. And the difficult work of healing begins.

During the past four years America has been at war with itself.  Not with bombs and guns but with ideas.  In some ways, these few years have been an ideological Second Civil War pitting brother against brother and sister against sister in the fight for ideas. Long-time friendships have been torn apart.  Estrangements among family members have caused painful separation.  And people have been condemned or ostracized for their partisan leanings.  The ammunition of this war has been words not bullets.  The engines of virtual machines of this internal war have been fueled by hateful rhetoric from elected officials, political pundits and even mainstream media.  The pain inflicted has been severe.  The conflict has been debilitating and demoralizing.  The spirit and principles our nation was founded upon have been attacked by vitriolic accusations and grenades of hate lobbed back and forth by political adversaries.

So, if bitter war-time enemies could lay their weapons down shouldn’t we expect that political foes might do the same?

Now that the most hostile and contentious political period in modern America has ended it is essential to the health of the nation that we see an end to bellicose, belligerent and antagonistic sparring. It’s time for a complete and total re-set of the way in which American politics is conducted.  It’s past time to resume the hard work of returning to a more cordial way of settling policy differences.  We would do well to return to the example set when President Ronald Reagan and Speaker of the House Tip O’Neil, two of Washington’s most affable and amiable pols, would fight like cats and dogs during the day and then set their differences aside for a few moments to sit together at the end of the work day enjoying cocktails and each other’s company.  We should remind ourselves of a time when political adversaries like Senators John McCain and Joe Biden found little to agree upon politically and yet considered each other best of friends. 

Are those bygone years of a bygone era that can never be recaptured?  No! It won’t be easy but we can’t accept that it is inevitable that those halcyon days are gone forever. To succumb to the cynical view that politics has forever changed and that it has and will continue to be tribal is a frightening, alarming and an unacceptable prospect.

Now that the election is over it is vital that we immediately enter into a period of political reconstruction.  We need a partisan version of a Versailles Agreement.  An American political version of a Potsdam Declaration.  A truce and treaty between partisans to end hostility and commit to working collaboratively for the sake of the Union.

Unlike our catastrophic military wars, no one need be seen as the victor.  No one should feel like the vanquished.  There should be no surrenders.  No admission of guilt or wrongdoing.  No banishing of the opposition.  Just simply a return to a time when public interest becomes more important than self-interest.  A time when it mattered more about what was right than who was right.  A time when political horse trading doesn’t start with the words: first, you give me your horse.

To end the great political Civil War of our time it is helpful to reflect on what President Abraham Lincoln said during the greatest period of clannish unrest and division in our history.  In Lincoln’s first inaugural address he said: “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

In his second inaugural address Lincoln spoke about the urgent need to: “to bind up the nation’s wounds”.

Now that the political battle of 2020 has ended it is critical that leaders, political and others, commit to finding ways of crafting a new alliance that will enable our wounds to be bound up. 

In 1945 representatives of 46 nations gathered in San Francisco to hammer out the principles of an agreement that would result in the establishment of the United Nations, an innovative organization committed to maintaining international peace and security, developing friendly relations among nations and promoting social progress, better living standards and human rights .  If 46 countries with disparate interests, cultures and philosophies could coalesce around those principles then surely political parties in the U.S. should be able to agree on a way forward to work together with civility and respect.

Will it be easy?  No.  Will it yield a perfect solution?  No.  But as Voltaire said: “Il meglio è l’inimico del bene” orthe best is the enemy of the good”.  In Washington speak: “Don’t let the good be the enemy of the perfect”.

People of good will and good faith who are tasked with legislating and governing should pledge to strive, not for a new way of doing business, but rather for reviving a once and honorable way of conducting themselves on behalf of the American people.  If this can be achieved, it may be the most important victory of this year’s political season.

After all of this is over, all that will really matter is how we treated each other

– Anonymous

For more commentaries by Stu Turgel go to: https://thephoenixfile.net/commentaries/

Use your keyboard to stop whining and do something good

You’ve been stuck at home for most of the past year.  You’ve been venting your spleen by typing away madly on social media trying to litigate one way or the other that your candidate is the nation’s savior and the other one is the devil incarnate.  You’ve shared endless comments, posts and memes about every political, social, and economic ill facing the nation.  You’ve read and responded to an endless number of online articles, commentaries and opinion pieces.  You’ve aired every one of your grievances through your typed messages knowing that the causes of your woes are likely to continue unabated.  You’ve spent so much time at your keyboard that your fingers ache and you’ve become a prime candidate for carpal tunnel syndrome. 

And what has it all accomplished?  Precious little.  And I should know because like many of you, I, too, have spent countless hours in front of a screen and keyboard doing all of this and more.  Sounds insane, doesn’t it?  Well you know what they say about doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome.

So may I suggest that as we begin the countdown to the end of the year it might be a better use of our time and our sense of social commitment and responsibility to think how to make better use of the technology that is in your hands or before you on your desk or kitchen table.  That keyboard has the ability to actually change lives and deliver vital services to the most needy among us.  Your keyboard is one of the most powerful devices for positive change you have and you don’t have to use it to support or condemn a candidate, a political party, an elected official, or a public policy. 

Instead, with a few simple keystrokes you can deliver food to those who are hungry.  You can provide essential human services to the lonely elderly or young people in need of a loving home or a supportive friend or mentor.  You can help countless people suffering from devastating and often life-threatening diseases and help advance the research that will prevent others from being afflicted by those same illness or conditions.  You can help those devastated by natural disasters to resume some semblance of normality even after losing everything they own.  You can help ensure that the cultural and educational institutions that enrich the community are supported and sustained.  You can help abused women, children and yes, even animals.  You can help faith communities or secular organizations. Local, national or international causes.  Small grassroots groups or mega-charities. There is virtually nothing you can’t do with some thoughtful planning and careful choices and a few keystrokes.  Imagine all the good you can do with a few taps on that keyboard in front of you.  And all you have to do is to spend some time considering how you can give by giving wisely.

But before you click on all of those DONATE NOW buttons on the websites of charities you think you know about slow your inclination to do good by ensuring that you do well.  Spend at least a portion of the time peeking behind the curtain of charities you think you know.  You deserve to devote a portion of the time researching a charity as you do when you are deciding on which smartphone you’re ready to buy.

So what should you be looking for and how do you make an informed decision about where your charitable dollars should go?  At the risk of oversimplifying this, don’t select charities based on how successful their advertising and public relations efforts are.  Pay less attention to what they are saying about themselves and more time looking at what others in the know say about them.  Try to assess for yourself the extent to which a charity is efficient with the monies entrusted to them, effective and relevant in carrying out their mission, and most importantly deciding for yourself if they are positively impacting those they exist to serve and improving the quality of life for individuals and the community.

With 1.8 million 501c3 charitable organizations in the U.S. there is no shortage of choices.  But being a strategic donor can be a bit overwhelming.  So where does one start.

We all receive more solicitations than we can count.  Some come through traditional envelopes delivered by our postal carriers.  Some reach us electronically by email or various social media platforms.  Some by telephone calls.  And still others are from friends, colleagues or family.  Whether welcome or not each of those requests for support are initiated by others in the hope that we will give for the first time or renew our past support.  And each will be dealt with either by a positive response, a polite “no” or “not at this time”, and most will simply be ignored.

But the real question is how do we know which causes are not just worthy but which ones merit our support?  How do we go about vetting the charities which seek our financial support?  How do we know if they are effective, efficient and impactful?  Where can we turn for help to make informed decisions about how to distribute our limited amount of money to benefit charitable organizations that align with our interests, priorities and values?

There are resources available to assist us in making well informed decisions.  In the same way many choose a physician we can depend on the suggestions and recommendations of those we trust.  We can also do our own research in the same way we use apps like Yelp to read reviews about a restaurant we’d like to try.

There are many research sites to consider but two of the best are GuideStar and Charity Navigator.

GuideStar (www.guidestar.org) is the largest source of information about nonprofit organizations.  Their website includes Form 990’s for virtually all U.S.-based charities.  The 990 is the Internal Revenue Service’s form that provides the public with comprehensive financial information and other very important information about a nonprofit organization.  GuideStar allows you the deepest dive you can take into a charity’s data by examining their Form 990.  The mandated annual report contains detailed financial information about the sources of income and the expenditures made for programs and services and other expense areas such as compensation for top salaried executives.  The 990 contains a wealth of other information that will help to objectively evaluate a 501c3 organization.  NOTE: You will need to register on the GuideStar website but access to the most current Form 990’s is free of charge.

Charity Navigator (www.charitynavigator.org)  is the largest and most-utilized charity evaluator in America. The organization helps guide intelligent giving by evaluating the Financial Health, Accountability and Transparency of over 9,000 charities and provides basic data on the rest of the 1.8 million U.S. nonprofits.

So while you are sitting at your computer grazing through endless partisan posts, political memes and cute cat photos, pause and think about ways that piece of technology can do some real good.  Think about which organizations you’d like to consider helping.  Go to their website. Learn more about them in their own words.  Go to an independent source and look at the data.  And when you are satisfied that you have one or more choices go back to the websites of those charities and find that ever present button, link or tab that may say DONATE or HOW YOU CAN HELP where you will find easy instructions about how to make a contribution.  And even if you are not able to donate money most organizations will welcome your willingness to volunteer your time to help in hands on ways.  As the old saying goes, consider giving of your time, treasure or talent to help those organizations which are helping the community in so many ways. 

If you have questions about the way a nonprofit operates do not hesitate to pick up the phone and ask them for additional information and answers to your questions.  Charitable organizations, while managed by professional staff and led by volunteer board members are not owned by anyone.  They exist as a public trust and as such they are fully accountable to the public and should be totally transparent.  If an organization dodges your questions or if you feel like they are spinning their responses than find another organization more worthy of your support.

I know you’re not likely to stop using your computer to kvetch or whine about this or that.  I know I won’t.  But maybe, just maybe, consider taking a pause from all of the online hand wringing and try to do something good with that keyboard.  I promise it will do good for others.  And I know it will feel good to you.

The famed 19th Century industrialist and mega-donor said: “Philanthropy should aim to do real and permanent good in this world.”  We can’t all be Carnegies.  Few of us have the kind of wealth that allows us to make the kind of contribution that will change the world.  But we all have the ability to combine our gifts with those of others of good faith to change the lives of others even if only one life at time.

In the words of Mother Theresa: “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the water to create many ripples.”  And finally in the words of Anne Frank: “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”

So give, but give wisely.  Give now.  Give often.  Give until it helps.  And try using that keyboard to create the ripples that will start to improve the world.

For more commentaries by Stu Turgel go to: https://thephoenixfile.net/commentaries/

End Social Distancing Now!

We need to put an end social distancing NOW!  In fact we should never have encouraged or promoted social distancing.  Social distancing was and continues to be a terrible concept.  It is actually harming Americans in very serious ways.  Shame on anyone and any arm of government that ever suggested that social distancing was a way of staying healthy.  It wasn’t.  It isn’t. And it won’t be.  Social distancing is one of the worst concepts ever proposed.

Before you begin to ready all of your arguments to attack and/or teach me about CDC guidelines, masking, distancing from others and all the important advice that medical experts have been preaching from the start of the pandemic let me explain my issues with social distancing.

First, I have been 100% committed to the CDC guidelines since the pandemic first appeared.  On the few occasions that I venture out of my home I ALWAYS wear a mask.  I use hand sanitizer after every time I touch public surfaces.  I have been hunkered down in my home for virtually all of the last seven months.  I have spent as much time on Zoom as I have on Netflix.  I stay maximally physically distanced from anyone outside of my home. 

Note that I said physically distanced not socially distanced.  So is this just semantics?  A distinction without a difference?  Nit picking?  ABSOLUTELY NOT! 

Coronavirus is the greatest health threat we have faced in more than 100 years.  It deserves to be taken seriously by everyone and regarded as the lethal killer that it is.  It has killed more than 208,000 Americans and more than 1 million worldwide.  7.3 million of our fellow citizens have contracted the virus and we have yet to know what the long-term health effects will be for many of those who survive COVID.  So every imaginable precaution should be taken to keep ourselves and those with whom we have contact as safe as possible from this disease.  We now see that even the leader of the nation and his wife made themselves more vulnerable to the virus because of their cavalier attitude and unwillingness to follow the guidelines of public health experts.

So why do I condemn the idea of social distancing?  Because implicit in the use of those words is that we separate ourselves from one another not just as calculated with a tape measure but also by disrupting interpersonal connections.  I have no doubt that when the term social distancing was first associated with the virus that no one ever meant that we shouldn’t remain connected to our friends, family, and loved ones.  But necessary COVID-caused isolation has resulted in the unintended consequence of separating too many Americans from those who are important in their lives.  The reality is that isolation has resulted in too many of us being disconnected from those who care about us and about whom we care.

Science has taught us that social connection helps to ensure better mental health.  It can lighten our mood and help to make us feel happier. Socialization can lower the risk of dementia and helps to promote a sense of safety, belonging and security.  It can allow you to confide in others and let them confide in you.

Research shows that having a strong network of support or strong community bonds fosters both emotional and physical health and is an important component of adult life.  Socially isolated people are less able to deal with stressful situations. They’re also more likely to feel depressed and may have problems processing information. This in turn can lead to difficulties with decision-making and memory storage and recall. People who are lonely are also more susceptible to illness

Those who have experienced long periods of isolation from other humans don’t necessarily always fare well.  For most of us, it is indeed possible to get along for short periods of time without human interaction, but it is not a condition that we are able to endure indefinitely.

For seniors in particular these signs of isolation are especially worrisome:

  • Deep boredom, general lack of interest and withdrawal.
  • Losing interest in personal hygiene.
  • Poor eating and nutrition.
  • Significant disrepair, clutter and hoarding in the house.

Isolation is both a symptom and a cause of social anxiety. Someone who feels intense anxiety about interactions with others will avoid these encounters. And someone who spends time only in the company of themselves and their worries will only provoke their anxiety further.

(Above excerpted from various scientific resources)

How then do we stay connected while remaining physically apart?  How do we ensure that relationships are preserved?  What can we do for ourselves and what can we do on behalf of those who mean so much to us?

Technology has been a true blessing to us over the past seven months.  Zoom, Google Meet, Face Time, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, and countless other social media platforms afford us the opportunity to communicate with words, photos, videos.  We should take full advantage of these ubiquitous forms of virtual communication to check in and talk regularly with friends and family.  It’s not a time for less but rather more interaction making use of every device in our arsenal from the most sophisticated to the more routine.  Emails, phone calls, even chats with our neighbors over the backyard fence.

There was a time when people used their phones to check-in to “chew the fat”, “schmooze”, kibbitz”, “gab”.  As life has become more complicated and time for what may have once been regarded as idle conversation has evaporated, we have increasingly communicated only when we have an agenda or a purpose.  Our communication with others has been changed from a discretionary choice to what we do when there is something essential to share.

With increased and growing isolation it is time to re-think how, when and why we communicate so we can help to foster a sense of Social Closeness, Social Proximity while bringing an end to the idea that Social Distancing is good.  It is not! 

And more than increasing our social nearness with our friends and family we can help reduce the feelings of loneliness and isolation particularly among those who may not have family or other close friends to talk with them.  There are many ways to become a connector with those who spend day after day without company either in person or through virtual means.  If you are part of a faith community, ask if there are programs in place to reach out to those who are alone.  If such a program doesn’t exist consider being a pioneer by helping to start one.

Check with human service organizations to see how you can volunteer to be a virtual friend to someone who is separated or isolated and in need of human contact.  One of my favorite Phoenix-based organizations is Duet: Partners in Health and Aging.  Duet is there for people whose depend on connection through the organization’s virtual and telephonic support groups. Duet connects its network of volunteers with home-bound seniors and others who are in need of a regular call and a friendly chat with someone who cares. Duet’s dedicated volunteers offer essential loving human connection to those who are alone.  Similar friendly visitor initiatives are in place at many organizations.  Find one that will connect you to someone who is alone and become their modern day, high-tech “pen pal”.

This is one of the most stressful periods in our history.  Fears and concerns about the economy, worries about racial inequity and racial reckoning, political divisiveness, and so much more have raised the anxiety and concerns of all of us.  But these issues create unique challenges for those who are alone and lonely, distanced and isolated.

So not only should we eliminate the use of the words Social Distancing, we should do whatever we can to promote social connectedness even while we remain physically distanced until it is safe to once again be with those who mean so much to us.  One day we’ll be able to touch, hug, kiss and embrace those who we have not seen for most of the past year.  But until that day comes, we need to find ways to do all of those things using virtual tools.  Now is NOT the time to be alone or feel lonely.  That’s not natural for healthy, caring humans.  Let’s all do our part to do what songwriters Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson were telling us in their song:  Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand)

Reach out and touch

Somebody’s hand

Make this world a better place

If you can

Reach out and touch

Somebody’s hand

Make this world a better place

If you can

Take a little time out (of) your busy day

To give encouragement

To someone who’s lost the way

(Just try)

Or would I be talking to a stone

If I asked you

To share a problem that’s not your own

(Oh no)

We can change things if we start giving

Why don’t you

Reach out and touch

Somebody’s hand

Make this world a better place

If you can

Reach out and touch

Somebody’s hand

Make this world a better place

If you can

If you see an old friend on the street

And he’s down

Remember his shoes could fit your feet

(Just try)

Try a little kindness and you’ll see

It’s something that comes

Very naturally

(Oh yeah)

We can change things if we start giving

Why don’t you

(Why don’t you)

Reach out and touch

Somebody’s hand

Reach out and touch (reach out)

Somebody’s hand

Make this world a better place

If you can

Reach out and touch

Somebody’s hand (touch somebody’s hand)

Make this world a better place

If you can (why don’t you)

Reach out and touch

Somebody’s hand (somebody’s hand)

Make this world a better place

If you can

For more commentaries by Stu Turgel go to: https://thephoenixfile.net/commentaries/

Mr. President: Have you no sense of decency, sir?

Even the most objective political scientists believe we are in one of the most tribally divided periods in our history. We are as philosophically divided a nation as we have been since perhaps the Civil War. Over the past few years we’ve heard a lot about building a wall but the one wall that seems to have been successfully erected runs down the aisles of both the United States Senate and the House of Representatives.

It is breaking news when a member of either party breaks ranks with their leadership.  As a result, we have seen and heard more hyper partisanship than any of us deserve.  The verbal grenades that have been thrown back and forth between the partisan trenches has been a painful assault on our senses.  Our confidence and trust for elected officials is at an all-time low. 

Even though overheated rhetoric is part of the political currency of our time there comes a point when the proverbial camel’s back breaks with the addition of just one more straw.  And that straw has become the crushing and final blow to any shred of decency and respect for the rule of law that we hoped might have been buried deep within the cold heart of the current American President.  

Donald Trump’s response to a journalist’s simple question was a stunning body blow to our notion of American Democracy.  In The White House Press Room, Brian Karem, the White House correspondent for Playboy, a political analyst for CNN and host of the “Just Ask The Question” podcast directed the following question to President Trump:  “Will you commit to make sure there’s a peaceful transferal of power after the election?”  It certainly seemed like an innocent question which should have elicited a predictable and appropriate answer.  Right?  No, wrong!  Predictable responses perhaps, but seldom does anything appropriate come from Donald Trump.

What did the President say that plumbed the depths where only despots, anarchists and authoritarian leaders go?  Trump’s words came alarmingly fast.  The President said: “We’re going to have to see what happens, you know that. I’ve been complaining very strongly about the ballots, and the ballots are a disaster.”

Karem shot back: “I understand that, but people are rioting. Do you commit to make sure that there’s a peaceful transferal of power?

Still Trump refused to commit. “Get rid of the ballots and you’ll have a very peaceful — there won’t be a transfer, frankly. There will be a continuation. The ballots are out of control.

Karem later reported that “This is the most frightening answer I have ever received to any question I have ever asked. I’ve interviewed convicted killers with more empathy. Donald Trump is advocating Civil War.”

On June 9, 1954 Joseph Nye Welch was the lawyer who served as the chief counsel for the United States Army while it was under investigation for Communist activities by Senator Joseph McCarthy’s Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, an investigation known as the Army–McCarthy hearings. Welch’s confrontation with McCarthy during the hearings, in which he famously asked McCarthy: “Senator, you’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”  Welch’s take down is seen as a turning point in the history of McCarthyism.

The question we should all be asking ourselves and certainly the questions we should pose to those who aspire to lead is this: Where is our individual and collective sense of decency? Why is there such a paucity of civil discourse emanating from The White House, the Congress, local legislative hallways, Governors’ mansions and even those running for the farthest down of down ballot candidates? Decency seems to be in truly short supply in government these days.  And if that is an indictment, then it is an indictment of leaders of both parties and their willing co-conspirators.  Co-conspirators like the Majority Leader and virtually all members of his party together with the Attorney General who, by what they say, and even more so through their silence are complicit in helping to place insurmountable obstacles on the path to what the founders described when they said that the Constitution was ordained to form a more perfect Union.

But in the Olympic Games of Indecency the Gold Medal hangs around the neck of Donald Trump whose unwillingness to commit to a peaceful transfer of power regardless of the outcome of the election is a U.S. record for political indecency.  Nothing comes close.  Bill Clinton was impeached because he perjured himself.  Richard Nixon resigned because of the cover up of an amateurish break-in at the DNC offices in the Watergate complex.  But neither man threatened to do what Trump has said which suggests that he would refuse to walk out the door of The White House for the final time on January 20, 2021 should he be defeated in the November 3, 2020 election.

Would this be a treasonous act?  Treason is a word that gets tossed around a lot these days.  I’m not a Constitutional lawyer so I’m not able to lay the charge of treason at the President’s doorstep. But whatever it is it would absolutely undermine one of the most essential pillars of our Democracy, free and fair elections.

In 2016 then candidate Donald Trump promoting seditious warnings that his supporters would respond with “riots” if he failed to secure the nomination.  He went on to say:  “Riots aren’t necessarily a bad thing if it means it’s because Trump supporters are fighting the fact that our establishment Republican Party has gone corrupt and decided to ignore the voice of the people and ignore the process.”

Trump has suggested that if he loses the 2020 election armed militia might take to the streets.  He has certainly lauded armed militia in the past.  The threat or the prospect for militia interference during voting, or if Trump loses the election, would put him in a league with the likes of Mussolini, Turkey’s Recep Erdogan, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and other tin pot dictators.  His affection and admiration for world leaders in the International Hall of Shame appeals to his sense of greed, power and authority.  Nothing about his latest repudiation of all that is sacred in our Constitution shows the slightest loyalty to the oath he swore when he took office.  And so much about what he has said and done since his inauguration has served only to place enormous obstacles in the way of our 244-year journey toward forming a more perfect union.

The words that John Nye Welch used when confronting Senator Joseph McCarthy can still be faintly heard as a 66-year old echo: “You’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?

Sadly, there is no John Nye Welch available today who will angrily and defiantly stare Trump in the face and utter those words.  But we can each be a Welch at a time when through our own words and actions we can find ways to express our disdain and disgust for the latest defilement of the Constitution by the 45th President.

Mr. President, you certainly have done enough and I, for one, would like to know just one thing: Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?

For more commentaries by Stu Turgel go to: https://thephoenixfile.net/commentaries/

Dealing with unfinished business on the cusp of the Jewish New Year

As a Jew I am proud to be a part of a people whose lives are guided by a mix of biblical commandments and laws blended with traditions and customs that have been handed down from over the millennia through Rabbis, teachers and family.  We are a diverse people who adhere to certain universally held truths all the while as we travel different paths guided by our particular practices and theology.  We describe our faith as having branches, movements, or denominations that share much in common while identifying with many different observances.  It is what you get in a religion that is not hierarchical but where rituals are determined by local clergy who decide how their congregational community should practice their faith.

Of the many things that help define Jewish practice, nothing is more identifiable than the holidays and festivals that appear on our calendar.  All Jews, whether observant or not, recognize and understand the meaning of celebrations like Passover and Chanukah even if they do not participate in those special days.  And the holidays that are most widely understood are Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year which is followed ten days later by Yom Kippur, the end of a period of repentance.  These observances, usually referred to as the High Holy Days have their own ritual practices that are known throughout the Jewish world and even among most of our non-Jewish neighbors and friends.  The trumpet-like blasts of the Shofar, an ancient instrument made from a ram’s horn, is the iconic image and sound of the Jewish New Year and the Day of Atonement.  The Shofar can be heard in every Jewish synagogue regardless of whatever else may set them apart.

We are on the cusp of the Jewish New Year of 5781.  Many will approach this holy day in new ways this year because of the way in which COVID-19 has disrupted nearly every aspect of our lives.  For so many Jews, remaining at home on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur would have been unthinkable before the pandemic struck.  But this year many Jews will be in prayer in their home sitting in front of a screen watching religious services on Zoom, Google Meet, streamed on YouTube or Facebook Live.  Not having the chance to meet our friends and family in synagogue to wish them well and hope they are inscribed in the Book of Life for a sweet New Year will leave us feeling empty, incomplete and unfulfilled. 

History teaches us that there have been countless periods when our practice of gathering together in the Synagogue has not been possible.  Jews driven out of Spain in the 15th Century couldn’t gather communally to pray.  Jews driven out of Russian villages because of pogroms had their religious practices denied.  Jews in the death camps during the Holocaust certainly had no Shofar to listen to or Torah to read from. 

During the past six months we have learned to make use of technology to link us together to meet, learn, teach, celebrate, mourn, be entertained and worship.  We are an adaptive people and we will rely on the thousands of years when we were forced to unwillingly adjust our practices and our lives.  But for all of the persecution and mistreatment suffered by the Jewish people we have learned that our work is never done.  Our lives may have been put on hold but our faith has taught us that any unfinished business would eventually be completed.

In 1957 Allen Saunders, the American writer, journalist and cartoonist wrote that life is what happens to us while we are making other plans.  Saunders taught us that we should all expect to have some unfinished business to deal with.  How we deal with our unfinished business is what matters.  We each have something we need to deal with or work on.  We all have things that we have not yet done, dealt with, or completed.  The causes of our personal unfinished business matters much less than the fact that we acknowledge that our spiritual, emotional or relational “to do list” has items yet to be checked off.

Many Jews circle Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur on their calendar as the time when they think they can complete their unfinished business.  There are those who believe that all they have done or neglected to do throughout the year is a scorecard to be settled up with the traditional call for teshuvah, tefillah, tzedakah (repentance, prayer and righteous acts) to avert the severe decree.  The notion of the High Holy Days being a once a year “get out of jail card” redeemed in exchange for confession of sin has always puzzled and confused me.

I grew up in a small New England town where my friends’ families were either Catholic or Jewish.  I knew about the Catholic tradition of confession which could be offered as often or infrequently as the faithful felt so moved.  Make the confession, get some instruction from the Priest and you were good to go.  It was like hitting a big reset button for misdeeds.  Jews, on the other hand, kept track of their sins and attended the Super Bowl of forgiveness on the High Holy Days when we offered our confession and hoped for a good outcome.

I’ve come to believe that those practices should leave the person of faith with more questions than answers.  Chief among them is the presumption that accepting wrongdoing and promises to refrain from repeating them would be sufficient.  I have never thought that was enough.  Our tradition teaches that on Yom Kippur we are to seek out those we have harmed and try to make amends.  I always wondered why we don’t work harder throughout the year to find those who we may have wronged or hurt and to try to resolve issues with others wherever and whenever possible.  Yes, changes in behavior which promise to not repeat the wrongs are important.  But it seems to me that every bit as important is to make amends with those we may have wronged.

That is the unfinished business that we should all consider completing.  Waiting for a designated date on the calendar to take care of your unfinished business seems to me to be artificial or contrived in some way.

Many Jews follow the custom of asking a sort of blanket forgiveness to others for the errors of their ways.  Some express their apologies more personally or intimately.  I have always appreciated the message that has become popular in recent years.

To those I have wronged, I ask for forgiveness.

For those I may have helped, I wish I could have done more.

For the many I neglected to help, I am truly sorry.

To those who helped me, I am deeply grateful.

The sentiment is nice but it feels like an imperfect substitute for the more direct, albeit difficult conversations we could consider having with those with whom we have some true unfinished business.  No matter how we choose to communicate and no matter whether our request for forgiveness is accepted the responsibility is on us to take the first step. We are not responsible for our request for forgiveness to be accepted or rejected.  Our responsibility is to offer it.  We are all imperfect human beings leading imperfect lives and making imperfect choices and decisions.  The extent to which the things we say and do have caused pain to others we should do all we can to express our regret to those we may have hurt or harmed whether willfully or unintentionally. The burden of carrying around the baggage of unfinished business weighs us down and slows our ability to move forward.  This is not the time to deal with unfinished business simply because we are on the cusp of the Jewish New Year.  I don’t believe in scheduling opportunities to do what is right.  Every day is the right time to try and settle any unfinished business because it is the right thing to do for others and ourselves.

For more commentaries by Stu Turgel go to: https://thephoenixfile.net/commentaries/