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Posts Tagged ‘Politics’

 

An Authenticated or Authentic Self?

Posted on: August 12th, 2018 by Hayim Herring No Comments

When I start my computer, the first words that appear on my screen are “Looking for you.” I use its facial recognition software to log on, so each time I restart my computer I aim my face precisely at its camera because it’s “looking for me.” I’m also using a few other services that use biometric-based technologies, like fingerprints and iris scans, to verify that I’m the person whom I claim to be. These technologies are more secure at “authenticating” the user and preventing a hack attack, and corporations and governments are increasingly adopting biometrics for security purposes.

I’m glad that my computer misses me when I’m away from the keyboard and is “looking for me” when I return. But what are the implications for you and for me now that our devices can quickly scan our physical identities? A camera can look at a person to authenticate a physical self. But only we can choose to look within and cultivate an authentic emotional and spiritual self.

 

Photo courtesy of Computer World Magazine

 

As a country, we’re at an inflection point where the phrase “looking for you” feels existential. Many of us are here because our immigrant grandparents and great-grandparents fled persecution and were welcomed by the United States. But these days, our government intentionally separates parents from children who seek not just a better life, but life itself. If they remain in the danger zones that they call home, it’s a likely death sentence.

The time feels right to take a digitally-generated prompt from a device, “looking for you,” that really means, “looking at you,” and turn it into human advice: let’s look within ourselves and restore civility and empathy that enable creative solutions, the kinds that bring us together and don’t pull us apart. We did that until recently and it isn’t too late to start doing so again. On a personal note, because on the Jewish calendar we’re about one month away from our holy day season, it’s a natural time for me to do some extra introspection. And I’d like to invite you, whether you’re atheist or secular, Republican or Democrat, Jewish or a person of another faith tradition to join me in looking inward so that we remember how to better look at one another instead past one another.

A Confession: What I Learned at a Shooting Range

Posted on: March 6th, 2018 by Hayim Herring No Comments

 

I grew up in a white, middle-class urban Philadelphia neighborhood in the 1970’s, where the only gun culture in our neighborhood was supported by Mattel, a toy manufacturer that sold “cap guns.” Cap guns imitated the sound of gunfire and emitted a puff of smoke from the slight amount of explosive contained in the caps (and for those who don’t know what a cap gun is, here’s a photo of one model). It was common from the 1950’s through the 1970’s for boys to own these kinds of toy guns, imitating the behavior of their favorite T.V. Western star. I still somehow managed to injure myself with this toy when a cap misfired, causing a slight flesh burn. That ended my interest in toy guns that had anything resembling explosives-or at least I don’t remember receiving any more toys guns from my parents after that little incident. So why did I decide to spend three hours learning how to shoot a pistol and a rifle in 2013?

In June 2013, there had been another lethal shooting on a college campus in Santa Monica, California. The shooter had legally purchased components of an AR-15-type semi-automatic rifle, which he then modified and assembled before he went on his shooting rampage. There had already been several mass shootings at high schools and universities, and by the end of 2013, the last year in which the Centers for Disease Control was able to collect data on firearms, well over 11,000 people were killed intentionally by someone with a gun and a staggering 21,175 committed suicide using a firearm.

 

Facts and figures were one way of understanding the realities of the lax gun laws that we have in comparison with other Western countries. But I needed to see if the experience of firing a pistol and a rifle would give me better insights into what it was about Americans and their relationship to guns. Having made Minnesota my home, I had also gotten to know gun owners who grew up in rural areas where owning a gun was a part of the community culture, and they are as kind, caring and generous as you could hope for in a human being. Guns are not my thing, but I don’t automatically assume that just because someone owns a gun that person has an inferior moral compass. In fact, some of these gun owners are also city and state prosecutors who have seen the horrifying effects of gun violence in domestic abuse cases.

So here’s what I experienced, and learned in a way that I couldn’t have without having fired a shot. For about the first two hours of this training, I was drilled about the critical need for extensive annual training, gun safety – especially locking guns securely away from other family members – and how easy it is to miscalculate using a weapon and unintentionally injure innocent people or yourself. Only then were we permitted to practice, under very close supervision. And I will confess openly I felt an adrenaline rush when I fired a pistol and then hit the inside ring of a target six out of seven times with a rifle. The experience of that feeling helped me to understand why responsible gun owners take pride in their training and proficiency and gave me a glimpse into why they enjoyed hunting during our annual hunting season, even though I have no interest in ever touching a gun again.

But I also learned how easy it is to maim or kill somebody unintentionally unless. As one of my gun owner friends said to me, “if you’re serious about owning a gun, then be prepared to live with it more than with your family.” In the United States, toddlers accidentally shoot someone every week. Please reread this sentence-I am not talking about toddlers who are shot, but toddlers who get their hands on guns and wound or kill siblings, parents, or themselves. I remembered reading about a couple whose granddaughter had recently moved from another state to Minnesota to live with them. Because there had been some neighborhood burglaries, the husband legally purchased a pistol, and he and his wife had a plan in place if an intruder tried to enter their home. Despite that plan, when he fired off two rounds at someone he thought had come to burglarize his home, it turned out to be his 16-year-old granddaughter, who fortunately survived her wounds. Some years ago, during synagogue services on the high holy days, an older retired law enforcement officer accidentally dropped his loaded handgun, striking his 42-year-old daughter in the foot, and causing some minor injuries to two other people in the congregation.

Mental background checks, ongoing training and recertification, mandatory waiting periods before purchasing a handgun, making it illegal to purchase a gun at a gun show or from a friend, limiting the amount of ammunition that a person can purchase and permitting only those during active military service to carry and use assault weapons are some measures that individuals of any political party should be free to have a debate about.

So to those students who are leading the charge to have an open debate about safe and responsible ownership of guns, don’t quit. Open debate of ideas is your right as citizens of a democracy. The hateful tweets about you hurt but don’t be discouraged, because when you “put yourself out there,” it’s something you have to expect. Let it hurt and then wear the insults as badges of honor because it means that you are shaking a status quo that has far too long been complacent with inaction around the preventable loss of life.

You grew up with technologies that enable you to do things which those of us who are Baby Boomers can’t always imagine, so keep using your skills to track and publicize information about how much money is spent on lobbying for guns versus lobbying for education, how much money elected officials receive from the NRA on the city, state and federal levels and create your own “report cards” on politicians based on your values. Encourage your peers who are eligible to vote to do so and remind those who are already eligible voters to vote in elections. Look for groups with whom you can form strategic alliances to multiply your influence. Profile and praise individuals who have expressed their views with courage and eloquence through videos and also continue to speak respectfully of those who legally and responsibly own and use guns, and like you are deeply troubled by the pervasive availability of guns and assault weapons. Continue to forge a “third way” that breaks the gridlock that prevents action and do not despair. Many more faith leaders will be with you, praying the words of the ancient prophet Isaiah, “they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning knives (2:4),” and we will protest and march with you.

So yes, I learned how to shoot a pistol and a rifle, and it strengthened my resolve to stand up to those who invoke “rights” yet won’t discuss revoking laws and loopholes that can save lives. Being number one in owning more guns per capita than any other country in the world is a record we need to change. Now.

 

A Search for a Definition Can Motivate A Search for Meaning

Posted on: November 29th, 2017 by Hayim Herring No Comments

A couple days ago, dictionary.com selected “Complicit” as its 2017 Word of the Year. Dictionary.com defines complicit as, ‘choosing to be involved in an illegal or questionable act, especially with others; having partnership or involvement in wrongdoing.’ Or, put simply, it means being, at some level, responsible for something . . . even if indirectly.”

You can click here to read about the logic behind dictionary.com’s choice, and the graph below shows those times during the year when there were spikes in the number of searches for the definition of complicit:

 

 

You might also be interested in knowing what other words trended highly this year on Dictionary.com’s site:

It also appears that the words “power” and the phrase “sexual assault” were frequently searched.

Dictionary.com isn’t the only dictionary that selects a word of the year. Another dictionary, Collins, selected “fake news” as its 2017 first choice, with “gig economy” as a close second. Other dictionaries will wait for several weeks to announce their winning words, but let’s not confuse a search for definition with an inquiry for understanding. While these dictionaries compete for our attention with gimmicks like “the word of the year,” probe beneath the number of searches for a word’s definition, and you’ll find that it speaks to our yearning to understand the world about us. Looking up the definition of a word won’t change the world. But in the case of “complicit,” knowing what it means can motivate us to fix what we don’t like.

There is a wise insight found in the Jewish tradition about the power of words and their ability to create worlds (see Pirkei Avot 5:1) This insight is based on the Genesis creation story (Chapter 1), in which God’s words literally give birth to the world and its creations, a world that, when completed, is described as “very good.” Words, then, can create worlds of meaning and purpose, or become weapons to distort truth and poison relationships.

As we ready to close the secular new year, it’s worth quoting the last paragraph of the article by dictionary.com explaining its choice of “complicit” as the 2017 Word of the Year:

Our choice for Word of the Year is as much about what is visible as it is about what is not. It’s a word that reminds us that even inaction is a type of action. The silent acceptance of wrongdoing is how we’ve gotten to this point we must not let this continue to be the norm. If we do, then we are all complicit The good news: we have over a full year to work toward a more optimistic finalist for the 2018 Word of the Year. What would you like it to be, and what work are you willing to do so that the number of people who search for it in 2018 will reach a record-breaking high? Let me hear your suggestions below and thanks!

After the Rules Changed

Posted on: November 15th, 2016 by Hayim Herring No Comments

Since the election, like many, I’ve had numerous conversations with family members, friends and acquaintances, ranging in ages from 14 to 92. I have friends who are Democrats and friends who are Republicans. Despite their differences, they’re equally astonished at the outcome of the election. And who isn’t? But I have also felt the weight of their pessimism, which for some may become paralyzing. People need time to adjust, to protest, and to reflect on how we got to where we are. But I’ve been troubled by the despair, which can become a barrier to action. So I wrote this poem, or more honestly, it emerged from some surprising place within, about some changes that I’ve been through and that I’ve been witness to. It’s my reaffirmation of the rocky, uneven and unpredictable pathways that take us to higher ground if we’re willing to stay on the road.

After the Rules Changed

I came of age in 1976,
I was middle class, but felt pretty rich.
I never made my bed,
I rarely set the table.
Those were house rules,
Although I was able.

I left home,
For an Ivy college,
I came back to visit,
Primed with world-class knowledge.

We sat around the table,
Talking banal stuff,
Got up when I was finished,
But they had had enough.

Why don’t you clear the table?
You never made your bed!
Their questions had me spinning,
They hurt my head.

There was something that was cooking,
Had been something that was brewing,
My sisters turned feminists,
For years they had been stewing.

That one routine dinner,
Fed me more than I expected,
All of my upbringing,
Crashingly redirected.

It wasn’t just potatoes at the table that were mashed.
Blind to inequality,
All assumptions had been smashed.

It was they who were enraged,
Looked at me as a fool,
But I wish I saw the memo,
About changing the rules.

As we rewrote the playbook,
We had to improvise,
And here we are again, America,
Taken by surprise.

I’ve been here before,
You’ve been here, too.
Like yesterday, back then,
Unacceptable to just “make do.”

We’ve done it before,
We’ll do it again,
Some will lose, and some will win.
It may not be fair, it’s out of balance,
When restoring dignity,
You have to make allowance.

It’s not an excuse to rail with hate,
We won’t heal if we only berate.
Winner take all,
Is a recipe for the fall.
Look-haven’t all have fallen, one time or another?
Serve up compassion,
And you’ll see it’s your brother.

Cross-posted to the Huffington Post

Zionism: Once Again Today’s Rorschach Test for American Jews

Posted on: August 10th, 2016 by Hayim Herring

 

As a member of a Jewish youth group (USY) in the mid-1970’s, I remember our advisors often leading us through a “Jewish values clarification” activity about being a Zionist and an American. It was designed to help us gain insight into the inherent tensions of a hyphenated Jewish-American identity. One variation of this activity’s trigger question was, “If Israel and America were on opposite sides of a war, what side would you choose?”

 

As context, at that time, there was a string of historic events involving Israel whose impacts were felt in the United States: the June 1967 Six Day War, the1973 Yom Kippur War, the OPEC oil embargo from 1973-74 that caused severe economic disruption, and the 1975 United Nations resolution describing Zionism as, “…a form of racism and racial discrimination.” Being a Zionist was a kind of Rorschach Test for American Jews. Did the images of Zionism make you see yourself as having a binary choice of being Jewish/pro-Israel or American? Or, as our youth group values clarification exercise sought to do through debate and self-exploration, could we feel that being proud citizens of one country (America) was generally compatible with deep feelings for our “Jewish homeland,” despite periodic tensions?

 

Zionism is once again a Rorschach Tests for American Jews. There were early warning signs that anti-Zionism was on the march: several Christian denominations that castigated only Israel and not Palestinians for the ongoing conflict; the growing campus “Boycott Divestment Sanctions” (BDS) protests; and, blatantly anti-Semitic articles by the likes of academics including Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer.

 

Because of its unabashed anti-Israel platform that asserts Israel’s campaign of “genocide” against Palestinians, the Movement for Black Lives has “called the question” for American Jews: Do you stand with the progressive American social justice movement and against Israel, or do you stand with Israel, which by definition, negates your social justice “creds” and invalidates your alliance with progressive social justice issues. The compartmentalized explanations about simultaneous commitments to social justice work in America and staunch support for Israel do not work anymore; Jewish organizations will increasingly have difficulties in forming alliances with NGO’s and faith-based groups dedicated to social justice causes.

 

This ultimatum for a binary choice creates a painful dilemma for the many American Jews whose Jewish identity rests upon deeply rooted Jewish values and teachings to address mounting social justice issues (structural racism, economic inequities, literacy gaps-to name just a few). Some, most recently like American Jewish historians Hasia Dinar and Marjorie Feld, have let personal ideologies override historical facts and publicly renounced their Zionism. As Jonathan Sarna incisively noted, their ideas are naively delusional (and I would add, destructive) propaganda. But because they are scholars of American Jewish history, their personal animus against Israel creates pressure for other American Jews to “act bravely” and renounce Zionism.

 

While Diner and Feld’s agenda is to undermine American support for Israel within and outside of the Jewish community, there are many American Jews who love Israel but are justifiably weary about having to defend Israel’s actions before their peers. Israel did not seek the wars that led to its conquest of territory. But fair or not, after forty-nine years, the Israeli government is a co-owner of the indignities that Palestinians who are entitled to sovereignty suffer every day. Especially under Prime Minister Netanyahu’s administrations, the Israeli government continues to promote an environment that chills democratic values of a free and independent press, and funds right-wing religious bigotry, courtesy of the Chief Rabbinate. So American Jews who care deeply about Israel, like many Israeli citizens, have ample reason to to express disapproval about the direction of Israel as a Jewish and democratic nation.

 

And that is why I worry that as an American Jewish community, we are losing our collective ability to withstand the trap of the binary choice of either being with social progressives and against Israel, or with Israel and against social progressives. Extremism has taken root on the left and the right in the American Jewish community. Often, the American Jewish left looks blithely past the realities of living in Israel and raising a family: Intifadas, knifing attacks, bus bombings, vehicles turned into weapons of mass destruction by plowing into crowds of pedestrians, withdrawal from territories that lead to greater violence, ISIL at all of Israel’s borders….At age eighteen, American young adults complain about not having enough “safe spaces” for troubling ideas in college classrooms. At age eighteen, Israeli young adults worry about safety for their lives as they enter mandatory military service. It’s easy to talk about all of the failures of another country that you don’t visit, let alone live in, from a safe distance of 6,000 to 8000 miles away.

 

At the same time, the American Jewish right often ignores the indignities of daily life for Palestinians, even those that can be more easily ameliorated, with a justification that there are, “no partners for peace.” Maybe there are no partners for peace, but what actions can Israel take to try to cultivate better relations and the possibilities for having future partners for peace? There are over 200 retired senior officials from Israel’s security agencies who believe that, “launching an Israeli regional initiative is essential, possible, and urgent.” They assert that, “…a two-state solution can be implemented and sustained while providing both Israelis and Palestinians with the security, sovereignty, and dignity they deserve.” What special military and diplomatic insights does the Jewish political right wing have that makes them dismiss statements like these?

 

The mutual extremism of the left and right only reinforces the unsatisfactory status quo because vitriolic attacks against “the other side” don’t demand new and divergent ways of thinking. They only make people defend their failed positions.

 

I’m in Israel now. It’s a relief being away from the degrading political scene in the United States, and having some momentary respite from news about violence continuing in communities across America. But even on my days of very low feelings about the current state of America, it would never occur to me to label America as thoroughly evil country responsible for all of the world’s ills. There is still a lot of goodness in Americans, despite the tremendous amount of corruption in politics. I’m not blind to the shocking social problems that are besetting us as Americans. But would I renounce my faith in America and abandon hope in believing that we can make progress? Absolutely not!

 

That leads me back to memories of my youth group values clarification activities. I’m still a Zionist, but a more mature one: aware of some dangerous tendencies today in Israel, and equally aware of Israel’s tremendous achievements despite its location in a region that makes it ever vulnerable. That means that I won’t support any progressive cause that has aligned itself with those who seek to legally dismantle Israel’s right to exist by using the kind of intentional, malicious rhetoric found in the Movement for Black Lives platform, but I will support other progressive groups that don’t make taking an anti-Israel oath a prerequisite for involvement. Nor will I support any right wing groups that dismiss the reality that Israel occupies territories that have a Palestinian majority who are ultimately entitled to statehood (which every Israeli government has affirmed, since the Oslo accords in 1993 to this very day) or refuse to take greater steps to increase chances for the implementation of the two-state solution.

 

I’m on firm ground in staking out the desideratum of holding on to the tensions of being a proud American Zionist who cares about progressive causes. Between the Fast of the 17th of Tamuz and the week leading up to Rosh ha-Shanah, there are 10 weeks, each with specially designated haftarot. The first three are rebukes to the Israelites by the Biblical prophets, Isaiah and Jeremiah, for immoral and unjust behavior. These three prophetic portions are then followed by seven others expressing hope and consolation about the redemption of Zion through justice. Three prophetic portions about rebuke, and seven about hope. Coincidently, recent brain science suggests that a person needs an average of about six messages of positive feedback in order to accept one piece of constructive criticism, approximating that ratio of positive to negative feedback during this ten week period.

 

Dinar and Feld claim that we are not sufficiently self-critical within the Jewish community. They are not only wrong, but they misconstrue the purpose of criticism or tochekha that this ten-week period gets right. Self-criticism isn’t a goal, but one of the tools that leaders use as a springboard for striving closer toward Jewish ideals of peace, justice, and an overall better condition for all of humanity. So while I have deep disappointments in the lack of progress toward a two-state solution (just like I have deep disappointments about so many problems in America today), and I will lovingly express them, I won’t make statements that feed distorted, destructive narratives about Zionism and Israel. There are enough other people who are happily doing so already.

 

On The Rebellions of 2016

Posted on: July 26th, 2016 by Hayim Herring

 

 

I recently read Frank Bruni’s op-ed on election season in the New York Times, titled, The Rebellions of 2016. In comparing both Republican and Democratic conventions, he writes: “The parallel speaks volumes about 2016’s mood, which is one of untamable grudges and unquenchable rebellion.”

 

Rebellion

 

 

The current cycle of weekly Torah readings from the Book of Numbers has eerie comparisons and could be called the Book of Rebellions:

 

+The people rebel over the food

 

+Moses rebels against God by hitting a rock instead of speaking to it to draw water for the people

 

+Miriam and Aaron-Moses’s siblings-rebel against his leadership

 

+That causes a ripple effect leading to a broader popular rebellion led by Korach,

 

+Finally, leading to a rapid slide to a full-scale popular rebellion (Israelite men co-mingling with Midianite women)

 

Pinchas, a priestly leader, literally takes the law into his own hands and quells the rebellion by being judge, jury and executioner (Numbers 25:7). That’s why Pinchas is given a b’rit shalom, “a covenant of peace” by God for his decisive but extrajudicial action. We focus on the restoration of “shalom” or peace in this phrase, but the word “b’rit” is equally important. Reintegrating relationships into a legal framework or “covenant” mitigates the possibility of a just rebellion from deteriorating into community chaos.

 

I think this is an important message to those of us who are religious leaders. We can consider that the Book of Numbers is a wake-up call to create frameworks of dialogue and action, so that righteous anger doesn’t indiscriminately scorch everything in its path, but focuses energy for change to where it’s needed.

 

 

Wars Against Israel: Beyond the Gaza Operation

Posted on: July 28th, 2014 by Hayim Herring

 

Intertwined Lives Once Again

 

This past Shabbat, we completed reading the Book of Numbers in the annual Torah cycle. The close of that book sets the stage for the Jewish people’s next steps, from wanderers to returnees to their ancestral land. But two tribes, Reuven and Gad, and one half of the tribe of Manasseh, remain on the other side of the Jordan and do not enter the land. Interestingly, while Reuven and Gad directly ask Moses for permission to remain in Transjordan, Moses is the one to designate half of the tribe of Manasseh’s portion in Israel and half in Transjordan (Numbers 32:33) Moses creates an intentional Diaspora, and causes the exile of one part of a family from another. Why?
 

Perhaps Moses foresaw the need to create a reality where Jewish people inside and outside of the land of Israel had a shared a past. The severing of direct family connections might better ensure their chances for a shared future. If only two whole tribes separated from the other ten, it would have been much easier for each side to forget about the other. But by splitting a single tribe in half, Moses increased the odds that caring would transcend geography and time, and that a family that was literally divided would better remember that a shared past meant an intertwined future, one in which each half would help the other in times of need.
 
And that is the contemporary situation of worldwide Jewry again. We share not just a past, but also a present in which many of us have immediate family members and some of our closest friends in Israel. We are both obligated and personally motivated to secure a shared, peaceful future for the State of Israel and Jewish communities around the world.
 

 israel-gaza
 
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