When Lovers Fight


When lovers fight it can become very intense. Harsh things are said, even threats sometimes. Voices are raised, one or the other storms from the room (in the best of moments, someone may ask for a “time out” but often that nicety is lost).

Is that what is happening in our national life, too?

It seems as if we are two people–one very afraid and sure all is coming to an end, and the other also afraid that all they value is being lost. Perhaps it is better to say each feels afraid that all they value is being lost, taken from them by the actions and attitudes of the other one.


I know which one I am, and if you read this blog at all you will know that, too. To put it somewhat crudely, I am more frightened by those who want to bar all Muslims from entering the United States than I am by the terrorists who  slip through whatever security arrangements our government erects.

Rabbi Jonathan Cohen says he believes there are two kinds of people, optimists and pessimists. He says it all breaks down to this basic division.

In that schema, I am an optimist.

As I write that, I want to add some qualifiers–“reasonable” or “realistic” or “sensible”–but that is because I am sensitive to what others will think, and because I can hear the voices of others who matter to me asserting that things are in a pretty bad state and that a good outcome is not assured. I hear them, but believe it is important to stand where my soul calls me. So no qualifiers.


At the same time, I yearn to be  rooted in my soul place without saying harsh things, without raging in ways that make dialogue impossible, without storming from the room when those whose souls root them in pessimism utter their truths. We are in this together–even though sometimes it feels to me that the “this” is at least two very different things.

In our national life, I see many of our leaders acting from what are sometimes called masculinist assumptions, what I call the “bomb first, talk later” syndrome. Yes, I know that can be viewed as incendiary language, but it is the response of many in the face of what feels to them to be real and present danger.

donald Trump 3

In my life generally, and more and more, I try to follow the Ghandian principle that peace begins with me, within me. That means, I believe, that it is my responsibility to find ways to communicate with others, perhaps especially with those with whom I disagree most clearly and fundamentally.

This is a spiritual quest for me, but it also is what I am coming to believe is my patriotic and human duty–to promote the peaceful resolution of conflicts large and small. So my question right now is this: how can I engage Donald Trump and others who are such a radical remove from me and my concerns and views?

I welcome your thoughts.





Who Is A Yank? 

Jonathan and I saw an excellent production of the play, Yank!, at Richmond Triangle Players. It’s one of those bittersweet love stories about two people–in this case two men, Stu and Mitch, in Uncle Sam’s World War II Army–who fall in love against many odds, and then almost make it to happy-ever-after bliss.

RTP Yank!But they don’t quite make it–and I don’t want to give away the entire story, so all I will say is that one is braver, and clearer, than the other.

Of course, we are talking about an era in which, despite the need for soldiers to fight Nazism and its ally in the East, Japan, the U.S. military regularly gave dishonorable discharges to service members who were identified as homosexual. So the struggle of Stu and Mitch to survive in love takes place against the backdrop of powerful institutional homophobia. [Note: this is a work of dramatic fiction, but it is based on painstaking research and reviewing diaries and published stories of many gay and lesbian service members from World War II).

This leads me to something else significant this week, namely comments by U.S. Congressman Dave Brat from the 7th District of Virginia. The freshman representative has been clear in his opposition to “path to citizenship” for any undocumented immigrants, including it seems any idea of treating the children of these immigrants with dignity and acceptance of the reality that for many this is the only country they have ever known.

Rep. Dave Brat
Rep. Dave Brat

He says he is angry at colleagues who suggest that undocumented immigrants who want to enlist in the military are showing their patriotism. Here is what he said just last week, on the radio:

I wanted to stand up and shout, I mean, ISIS is willing to serve in our military as well. . . . Part of the reason Rome fell is because they started hiring barbarians, otherwise known as Germans at the time, to be troops in their own army. What’s going on is the decline of western civilization at the highest level.

Once again, people are being told they are not worthy of serving our nation, and this time, as earlier in the case of homosexuals, immigrants–even those who want to defend our country–are seen as dangers to our national security.

In fairness to the Mr. Brat, he clarified his remarks, at least about the ISIS connection, by saying, “Take the “because they want to [serve]”  logic further: ISIS terrorists want to serve, too. Should we let them? Of course not.”

That might work in a high school debating class, but Brat ignores the bitter taste the comment leaves in the hearts and minds of the immigrants. Linking ISIS and “barbarians” to immigrants who came here seeking better lives–not to destroy the country but to share in its bounty, and to build it–and their children who have only really ever lived in one country, namely the United States–feels like an expression of contempt.

That is what Stu and Mitch had to battle in earlier days in our military, and what many others fought against in the witch hunts days of the McCarthy era. Contempt for being human beings with sexual and affectional feelings that others judged . . .  well  . . . contemptible.

Union colored troopsIt’s what slaves and freed Africans had to endure when they wanted to join Union Army units to fight the Confederacy. Few believed they could fight, but of course they were smart and brave, just like white counterparts (and eventually, they were allowed to fight, thanks to Union generals Benjamin Butler and Ulysses S. Grant, even though in segregated units). It’s what Native Americans faced in Virginia when they wanted to enlist to fight Nazis in World War II. Thanks to the Racial Purity Act of 1924, “Indians” (as they were known then) could enlist but not as “Indians”–because according to this heinous law, there were only two races in Virginia, white and black. Many of them, wanting to defend their country, went to other states to enlist, so they could be patriotic and also true to themselves.

Mr. Brat should know this history, but I doubt he does. Or if he does, he chooses to forget it. Perhaps he is more concerned with Rome.

Oh yes, if you want to know about one of these “dangers to national security,” check out this excellent column by Bart Hinkle in the Richmond Times Dispatch, “Brat Jumps the Shark on Immigration,”  http://www.richmond.com/opinion/our-opinion/article_379737a9-2a5b-5d81-b40d-5ce0df06ab19.html.  He will show you how scary one of these dangers, a man by the name of Cesar Vargas, really is.

Then, you’ll be really grateful to Mr. Brat for sounding the alarm.

Jerusalem Journal: No. 2 — What Does It Mean to Be a Citizen?

What does it mean to be a citizen?

That is a question that was raised for me during our visit to Jerusalem, when I made an acquaintance with a 50-year-old cab driver, a native of Jerusalem, a man whose father and grandfather, and even earlier generations, were born in that holy place.

Jerusalem cabThis man, Muhammed Siam, was as gentle a man as I would ever hope to meet. He took me and Jonathan to a mall so I could buy a connector for my camera, and then I arranged for him to take me a couple of days later to Kfar Shaul Mental Health Center on the outskirts of Jerusalem (more about that in a future Journal entry).

It was on that second trip that I learned he was not a citizen of Israel. Indeed, he carries a Jordanian passport, even though he has lived his entire 50+ years in Jerusalem.

I am a citizen of the United States, by virtue of being born here–in Ann Arbor, Michigan on October 10, 1946. I have never lived in any other country. I have resided in Milford and in Ann Arbor (during college) in Michigan, and in the states of Massachusetts, Maine, New York, and now Virginia. And if I moved to France or Mexico or Israel, or even neighboring Maryland, I could retain my U.S. citizenship.

The reality for my friend Muhammed, and another man also named Muhammed, a tour guide I got to know while he guided us to Masada and the Dead Sea and showed us other things on the way to and from these destinations, is that the place of their birth is less important than their religion and politics and perhaps most of all their identity as Palestinians. I started to write “their nationality as Palestinians,” but realized that this is not so clear.

East Jerusalem neighborhoods
East Jerusalem neighborhoods: pink=Arab, blue=Israeli

Can we say someone has a nationality when there is no nation? Recently, the leadership of the Palestinian Authority unsuccessfully sought recognition for their “country” from the United Nations. Does this mean there is no nation? No Palestine? Legally, it is so.

Morally, it is not so, at least to me. Clearly, the intent of the 1948 UN Declaration was that there would be two nations, side by side, Israel and Palestine. That has not happened. Initially, that seems to be because the Palestinians, and their Arab allies, were unwilling to share what had for millenia been their land, their home. They thought they could defeat the upstart Jews who had settled there and even expel them.

The reverse was true. The Jewish Agency forces defeated the Arabs/Palestinians and forced many Palestinians to leave (I will get in trouble with some Israelis and allies for saying this, but it is nonetheless true–maybe a few Palestinians left willingly, but most of the hundreds of thousands did not). This is an ordinary outcome of war. People are  displaced.

But for my two Muhammed friends it is not so simple. They are residents of East Jerusalem, an area that Jordan ruled following the 1948 war, until 1967. So they became Jordanian citizens. But in 1967, Israel defeated Jordan and Syria (and Egypt in a war that was initially focused on Israel attacking and defeating Egypt in the Sinai and Gaza). When the six days ended, Israel had control of East Jerusalem and the West Bank. 300,000 Palestinians fled those two areas, but many also stayed.

Hence, the situation of my two friends.

Jodranian passport coverThey carry identity cards as residents of Jerusalem, but they are not citizens of Israel. This would be somewhat analogous to foreign nationals who obtain Permanent Residency status in the United States.

But it is not the same, because Muhammed the cab driver cannot leave Israel to visit his grandchildren in Jordan (his daughter married a Jordanian) unless he is willing not to return to his home in Jerusalem. A permanent resident of the United States is allowed to leave and return, within certain time restraints.

Muhammed told me that Israel does allow people like him to apply for citizenship, but that most, including him, refuse because to do so is to recognize Israel’s authority to determine whether or not they are actually citizens of the land into which they were born. He also says that Israel makes it very difficult and time-consuming for those who do apply.

So, he remains a legal visitor in his native land–without the freedom to come and go.

I have been sitting with this ever since he told me on October 25. I understand Israeli concerns–if they allowed all the Palestinians to be citizens, and thus to vote, they would most likely no longer have a Jewish homeland–but I also understand the feelings of Muhammed–an alien in his home.

I am not sure I could remain as patient as him, in a similar situation in the United States.