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Perfection

It is Elul, the month leading up to Rosh Hashanah, and I like to share some ideas that come up in my sermon preparations that don’t make it to the “big time” but are worthy nonetheless. This one is short, and hopefully sweet.

In Anchorage, Alaska, there is a diner with a rhyming family name: Kriner’s Diner. They have good food, strong coffee, and an endearing greasy spoon ambiance. They also have t-shirts. The t-shirts are emblazoned with the family name on front — Kriner’s Diner — and have a powerful message on the back. It reads, “Kriner’s Diner. Not trying to please everyone, just a solid 75%.”

What if we make that our motto for the new year 5779? It is common sense. Anyone who provides services to the community cannot make everyone happy… but a solid 75% sounds pretty doggone good. I think right now about our shuls and our clergy. They can’t be exactly what each member wants, whether it be more or less Hebrew in the service, more or less air conditioning in the sanctuary, more or fewer pastoral visits. And the same is true for many organizations that serve the community.

Even more important, we can’t make ourselves 100% happy. We can’t do everything we have to do in a perfect way. We often ask too much of ourselves. Same with our family members, especially the children. Same with Israel. Expectations of perfection almost guarantee feelings of frustration or incompetence about ourselves and disappointment even alienation when it comes to others.

I think Jewish people excel at overly high expectations. I am not sure why. Maybe closer to 75% perfect is enough? Something to ponder as the holidays near.         Bill Rudolph

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Bikes and Mormons

We are back from the last of our summer travels and settling down into what passes for “normal life” these days. While abroad, we took to saying we are from New York, saying D.C. got us into a Trump discussion too often.

We were lucky to spend three ten day periods this summer in three very nice ways: first in Israel with a group mostly from my little VA shul ( I wrote about that earlier), second at the beach, and third in the Netherlands and Belgium with our son and his wife. The first was very spiritual, the second totally relaxing, the third the sweetest.

Let me focus on the sweet. Marc and I do an organized bike ride almost every summer. The last on was in Maine, very hilly. Our wives urged us to find a ride that would allow them to travel parallel to us and spend each night with us, and we found it, which is partly why it was so sweet. The other part of the sweetness was the biking. It is so flat in that region, mostly below sea level in fact. On a 50 mile ride, the total elevation was usually about 15 feet, not kidding. Is that the reason why there are more bikes than people in the Netherlands (formerly Holland)? There are, and it takes a lot of getting used to when you see everyone going everywhere on their (crummy to avoid theft) bikes. No helmets, not so good. Bike lanes almost everywhere, which is good – except crossing a street involves twice as many judgements as our roads do, and we all felt lucky that we didn’t get run over before we realized what is going on.

We were the 4 Jews in the group of 24. Because of who I am, religion comes up. The most interesting discussions were with three Mormon couples who travel together a lot. We think of Mormons and there are red flags, especially around diversity. But there is more to it. Theirs is a close knit community back home in Salt Lake City. Families have Sunday dinner together, which isn’t happening in mainstream Christianity much anymore. They don’t do alcohol or coffee or tea or cigarettes; since beer flows day and night where we were, they clearly outdid us on the martyrdom scale. Their wards (what we could call congregations) are lay run; one of the best bikers in the group also plays the organ for services. Another helps each year to replace the 250,000 bulbs from the Netherlands that grace the Temple Square. Much of the Square sits on a large parking lot so there is no drainage and the bulbs would rot if not replaced. Who knew? They have all been to Israel and love it; their tours were more like ours than the ones other Christians in the group told us about which focus on the Galilee and include Bethlehem and Jordan and not much Jewish. Our new Mormon friends were abhorred by the effort to posthumously convert Holocaust victims to Mormonism. So there – travel does open us to new experiences and perspectives for sure.

Early on, when Gail and I would stay in a B & B, we would want to quit our jobs and buy one. So it was with the Netherlands. It’s captivating and beautiful (and flat), the people are sort of friendly, the weather isn’t awful, there are lots of flowers even in the summer, lots of bikes, good fish, great cheese, politics that are complicated but seem benign, and a train ride away is much of Western Europe. We aren’t moving, but hope to go back for an extended period sometime soon. We feel lucky to have had this taste of a different world. Anyone out there have a similar experience this summer? Do share please.

Best regards. Less than a month till Rosh Hashanah, in case anyone besides rabbis and cantors is counting. Bill Rudolph

The Nation State Law

If one were to study the history of my blogging, it seems like the summers are always punctuated by events in Israel, and the events are usually of the crisis variety.

This time around my plan to take time off from blogging is interrupted not by the actions on the Gaza and Syrian borders but by Knesset passage on July 19th of Israel’s 13th Basic Law (there is no constitution so these are important), the so-called Nation State law. In brief, this law codifies Israel’s status as the “national home of the Jewish people,” declares Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, sets the Hebrew calendar as the state’s official calendar, defines Hebrew as the formal language of the state and Arabic as a language with special status, promotes Jewish settlement as a national value, and affirms the state’s commitment to connect with and preserve the heritage of the Jewish people among Jews in the Diaspora.

The sense is that the bill is meant to be a corrective to current laws and principles which emphasize the democratic nature of the state more than its Jewish character. It is not clear that anything significant will change because of it, but its emphasis and the absence of the phrase from the Declaration of Independence guaranteeing “full equality for all its citizens” has created enormous tension.

The bill has actually been lurking in the background for a long time. It has been revised numerous times, and only passed by a slim margin. It has provoked heated debate among political leadership, Israeli activists, civil society and the community at large, over whether Israel requires a Basic Law that affirms its character as a Jewish state, and what the consequences are for Israel’s democratic character and for its Arab citizens—who comprise the vast majority of Israel’s non- Jewish population (21% of the total.) Its passage has sent shockwaves through Israel’s Arab society, and has been met with polarized response from within Israel and abroad, including widespread condemnation from critics alongside expressions of praise and support.

My blog posts are too concise to present the merits and demerits of this law. Let me refer you to two pieces that go into the needed detail. First, on the more critical side, is a backgrounder from the Inter-Agency Task Force on Israeli Arab Issues, the umbrella for groups like our local task force that I co-chair. http://iataskforce.org/sites/default/files/resource/resource-1624.pdf. The second is a more recent piece by Mitchell Bard of the American Israeli Cooperative Enterprise, famous for its Myths and Facts about the Israeli Arab conflict, which is about as good a defense of the law as seems possible. There is not exactly a link so it is pasted on below.

This, like almost everything about Israel, is complicated. You know I tend to err on the side of defending Israel and its decisions/actions. In this case, it is more difficult. It is hard to see the need for this law, which doesn’t really change anything but has terrible optics and has succeeded in angering so many people. Not just people who are angry at whatever Israel does, but people like Mohammad Darawshe of Givat Haviva, who works tirelessly to build a shared society among Israeli Jews and Arabs. On a recent conference call, he noted that Israeli Arabs have now been officially declared to be second class citizens, and personally feels that “Israel has disowned 21% of its population.” It was painful to hear that. Several Druze officers in the IDF have resigned from the army in response. Already one MK from the Arab list has left the Knesset. Israeli intellectuals like Yuval Noah Harari are refusing to speak in government sponsored forums in the States because of this law.

This is a tough time, tougher than it needs to be. Maybe all the Arab List MK’s should resign, which would collapse this government – which seems tone deaf to greater realities – and this Prime Minister whose core principle seems to be remaining in office – and maybe bring about change. This is radical thinking for me, but the current path is not a good one, for Israel and also for its supporters abroad who face an increasingly uphill battle.

Write back as you wish. Best, Bill Rudolph
From Mitchell Bard:
MYTH:
The Nation State Law proves Israel is undemocratic and discriminates against Arabs.
FACT
On July 19, 2018, Israel adopted a new Basic Law: Israel – The Nation State of the Jewish People. The law provoked controversy inside and outside of Israel. After the vote, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said:
This is a defining moment in the annals of Zionism and in the history of the State of Israel. Today, 122 years after [Theodor] Herzl shared his vision, we have established into law the basic principles of our existence. “Israel” is the nation-state of the Jewish people. A nation state that respects the individual rights of all its citizens and, in the Middle East, only Israel respects these rights. This is our state, the state of the Jews. In recent years there have been some who have attempted to cast doubt on this, and so to undercut the foundations of our existence and our rights. Today we etched in the stone of law: This is our state, this is our language, this is our anthem, and this is our flag (extracted from multiple news sources with slightly different translations).
As Netanyahu said, this law codifies Israel’s status as the “national home of the Jewish people.” The law also declares Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, sets the Hebrew calendar as the state’s official calendar and confirms Shabbat and Jewish holidays as official days of rest while allowing non-Jews to determine their own rest days and holidays. It recognizes the current national flag as the official one, the menorah as the state’s symbol and Hatikvah as the national anthem. It also states that Israel will endeavor to ensure the safety of all Jews and “preserve the cultural, historical and religious legacy of the Jewish people among the Jewish diaspora.”
Some critics have suggested, the law should have included the word “equality.” For example, Amir Fuchs, Head of the Defending Democratic Values Program at the Israel Democracy Institute, said “it is difficult to understand why the authors of this bill insist not to include this important value” (Amir Fuchs, “The Nation State Bill Bias,” Israel Democracy Institute, July 10, 2018). Supporters of the law counter the existing Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty defines Israel’s democratic character, but the new law was needed because Israel’s Jewish character was not embedded in constitutional law. Moreover, Professor Gerald Steinberg of Bar-Ilan University notes that this law is only one part of a broad and detailed democratic map. “Does every U.S. law or constitutional amendment include the word democratic? ”(personal communication).
The law also enshrines the Zionist idea upon which the nation was founded, namely that Israel is a country established to fulfill the Jewish people’s “right to national self-determination.” Legal scholar Eugene Kontorovich notes that seven European states have similar “nationhood” constitutional provisions (Eugene Kontorovich, “Get Over It—Israel Is the Jewish State,” Wall Street Journal, July 20, 2018). Furthermore, no nation grants a right to self-determination to a minority within its borders; otherwise the Basques in Spain and Kurds in Turkey or Iraq would have their own states. This clause is also a response to Israel’s detractors, such as advocates of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, who assert this right belongs to the Palestinians and not the Jewish people.
Much of the criticism of the law focused on the establishment of Hebrew as Israel’s sole official language. Formerly Arabic was also an official state language (as was English). Any alteration of a long-established status quo is jarring; however, the recognition of Hebrew is consistent with the policies of other countries which give official status only to the majority language. The previous recognition of Arabic was a remnant of the British Mandatory period and does not reflect today’s reality in which 80% of Israelis, including most Arabs, speak Hebrew. The law specifically states that it “does not change the status given to the Arabic language before the basic law was created” in any other way. Hence, Arabic speakers are no more discriminated against than minorities in more than 100 countries that have a single national language. Incidentally, the de facto official language of the Palestinian Authority is Arabic.
Another clause that sparked controversy states that Israel will “encourage and promote” Jewish settlement around the country. The language was deliberately altered so as not to suggest this would lead to the creation of Jewish-only towns, however, some critics, feared it would be interpreted as if that was the intention. Indeed, Israel’s enemies interpreted it that way, arguing the law promotes segregation.
David Hazony, executive director of the Israel Innovation Fund, noted that some critics have interpreted this clause as promoting Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria. While that may be the political goal of some of its supporters, Hazony said the “word being translated as ‘settlement’ is hityashvut, which to any Israeli ear refers more to the Galilee and the Negev and the history of building new Jewish communities a century ago across the country than it does to the West Bank” (David Hazony, “Everything You’ve Heard About Israel’s Nation State Bill Is Wrong,” Forward, July 23, 2018).
Kontorovich adds that this clause is consistent with the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine, which sought to “encourage . . . close settlement by Jews.” More important, he says it does not “prescribe or authorize any particular policies” unlike, for example, the state constitution of Hawaii, which Kontorovich notes “authorizes land policies to promote homesteading by ethnic Hawaiians, and provides preferential land policies for them.” Kontorovich adds that Israel’s Supreme Court has ruled that Arabs have a right to create residential communities in Israel that exclude Jews but Jews do not have the same right to exclude Arabs.
One indication of the double standard applied to Israel is that no international uproar followed Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ declaration that not “a single Israeli” would be permitted to live in a Palestinian state (Noah Browning, “Abbas wants ‘not a single Israeli’ in future Palestinian state,” Reuters, July 29, 2013).).
The law did provoke negative reactions around the world and angered many non-Jews in Israel. This does not make it either undemocratic or discriminatory. Kontorovich explained:
In reality, Israel’s Basic Law would not be out of place among the liberal democratic constitutions of Europe — which include similar provisions that have not aroused controversy. The law does not infringe on the individual rights of any Israeli citizen, including Arabs; nor does it create individual privileges. The illiberalism here lies with the law’s critics, who would deny the Jewish state the freedom to legislate like a normal country.
In the case of the Nation State Law, members of Knesset voted by a 62-55 majority to approve the legislation. This is democracy in action. Still, like Americans, Israelis can challenge laws in court, and three Knesset members have already done so, one sign of the health of Israel’s democracy (Jonathan Lis and Noa Landau, “Israeli Minister Admits Nation-state Law Marginalizes ‘Druze Brothers,’” Haaretz, July 25, 2018). Another indication is the ability of Israelis to vote for new representatives who could revoke or alter the law if they can convince a majority of all Knesset members a change is warranted.
Even a critic of the law, IDI President Yohanan Plesner admitted the practical impact of the bill was currently merely “symbolic and educational.” He said it “won’t have immediate concrete implications.” IDI vice president Yuval Shani added, “It is not a game changer and has very little problematic implications….It won’t change how the country is run” (Gil Hoffman, “Israel Democracy Institute: Jewish Nation-State Law ‘not a game changer,’” Jerusalem Post, July 30, 2018).

Israel

I am just back from touring Israel with a nice group, mostly from my Warrenton shul, and am stimulated enough to post this despite my recent announcement that I am taking time off from blogging this summer.

Israel never ceases to provide stimulation and inspiration, and frustration, and worry. Each of our days had each of those. In 70 short years, Israel has built a thriving and exciting nation despite enormous challenges. Most of my group were first timers to Israel, which meant they couldn’t appreciate how far it has come over the decades. My first visit was in 1964, when you brought your own toilet paper and the drive up to Jerusalem went at a snail’s pace. Now there are first world amenities, great highways that seem to sprout up every few days, commuter trains, skyscrapers. But then you look south to Gaza or north to the Golan or east to Iran, and wonder if there could possibly be a more dangerous neighborhood in the world.

Israelis have a far greater tolerance for chaos and danger than we do. I think if we were there we would stay in the house all the time. Tel Aviv is hopping even at midnight, hours after Bethesda has reached its usual sleep state. Tourism is thriving, bli ayin hara. There is not a hotel room to be had. The airport is packed, even at 4AM when our return flight took off. On the other hand, the Prime Minister is the subject of four criminal investigations, his wife is already indicted, but there are not so many great alternatives. Like here, some worry that democracy is being taken apart. What is going on in Syria, and Lebanon, and Gaza, can keep you up at night, and BDS seems never to take a break. Yet every day we experienced the kind of exhilarating moments that only our ancient homeland can provide. So you can see, there is never a dull moment for Israelis, and for people like me.

I have two mantra’s that help me put the many serious challenges in perspective. One, from one of our peace negotiators: “Israel will survive but its neighbors will never let it enjoy that survival very much.” Two, from a speaker during my last shul trip: “I see Israel as like an ark, necessarily a well-armed ark, floating above the waters of war and chaos in the region; some day the waters will recede and the ark will be able to safely land and Israel will enjoy a new day.” These are not the most optimistic forecasts, but they may be realistic. I pray that part b of the first will prove false, and that the ark will find nice dry land in the not too distant future.

I am expecting to be back in Israel two more times in the next eight months, for some learning but first some biking. Israel is a serious part of my Jewish identity. Its successes and failures and challenges resonate with me deeply, maybe too deeply. That’s been true since my first visit, that summer on a kibbutz in 1964. I never forget how lucky it is to have been born at this time. As my old boss Richard Joel said to a group of young Jews, our great grandparents and those before them came from different places, had different ways of making a living, and probably wouldn’t have agreed on much, except that they each hoped to one day touch the stones of the Kotel – and they knew they never would. We who can should do so as often as possible, and in between the touches, do all we can to support Israel in its struggle to be a nation like other nations but with a heart.

Best, Bill Rudolph

Why?

This is part two on anti-semitism, not my favorite topic but not to be ignored. Last time it was about whether FDR was or wasn’t an anti-semite as represented by his failure to do much for European Jewry facing the Holocaust. This time it’s more general, and longer. We look around and can’t figure out why Israel can do nothing right in the eyes of most of the world and is about the only country which needs to justify its existence everyday. We read about anti-semitic attacks on Jews in Europe and the return of demagogues in the Philippines, Italy, Hungary, Poland, France, Germany (and the U.S.) We are left worrying when the co-leader of the Alternative for Germany, it’s third largest political party, says that “Hitler and the Nazis are just a speck of bird shit in over 1,000 years of successful German history.” And England’s Labour Party is no Hadassah chapter.

Israelis are accustomed to this I guess. Barbara Sofer, who works for Hadassah in Israel, just wrote about recent time spent in Venice. A wandering trio of musicians ask her and her husband where they are from. Sofer answers after her “usual two second delay.” “Do people from other countries think before they answer this question?” she asks. “We Israelis always make a quick judgment about safety. It’s like my husband deciding between showing his kippah or covering it with a baseball cap when we go out.” We American Jews have been blessed with little or no need to cover our kippot. But the rhetoric of the alt-right and the viciousness of our President and what that has unleashed by them/him, and events like Charlottesville and the Women’s March, and seeing what is happening around the globe, make many of us more and more concerned.

Reuven Brenner wrote a piece in the WSJ in early May about anti-semitism, which he has been studying for almost a half century. Why so much and why doesn’t it ever disappear? His thesis: for accidental reasons, Jews have constantly found themselves opposing dominant ideologies of the times, and that both helps us survive and gets us in trouble. Examples abound. We bet at the beginning on a religion drawing on a sacred book while the rest of the world was mostly illiterate; with no strong traditions and easily modified memories, others could follow the Greeks and the Romans and early Christianity while we refused. Later, when we were dispersed around the world, we didn’t disappear or assimilate like other small tribes. As with literacy, lack of geographic concentration had advantages and disadvantages. The greater their number, the greater the chances of political, rebellious and military clout. But smaller groups have to rely on stronger solidarity and individual effort, the education for both of which becomes part of their deeply ingrained culture.

Which brings us to the Jews’ disproportionate scientific, commercial and financial successes. The culture of self-reliance has been a necessity. There is no alternative for a people too small to achieve much through politics or military might. Laws drawing on the misinterpreted biblical text—condemnation of “usury” among them—initially harmed Jews but later contributed to their success. They found themselves in banking and finance when the rest of the population was excluded from those professions—which turned out to be the currents of the future. Jump to the present, says Brenner, with academics and politicians of the left, singling out Jews and Israel for ancient accusations and new ones. The attitude has a certain logic: Jews’ success through ages and countries despite severe discrimination is an eyesore to the ideology of blaming others for one’s lack of achievement.

Which brings us to Europe’s stand toward Israel. If Jews stood against the currents of the times through centuries, Israel does the same today. Europe is trying to unite its tribes under a secular, supranational union—and having considerable difficulty. Standing as a counterexample to the European delusion is Israel—a nation state, in which religion plays a significant part, which is successful despite war, terror and the stress of absorbing millions of immigrants. Once again, the Jews stand against faddish currents and are resented for it.

So, traditions and values and going against the grain have kept us alive as a people, but have also produced a lot of bad reaction. I am not sure what we are supposed to do differently, besides disappear, which to my horror is a track that some Jews are pursuing, wittingly or unwittingly, as we speak.

Let us hope for some miracle that will turn all this around. In the meantime, I am beginning a fair amount of R&R and won’t be doing much blogging. I hope you have some good summer plans as well. Best, Bill Rudolph

FDR – Friend of the Jews?

Shalom. Doing a two parter on the worrisome rise of anti-semitism abroad and the more subtle ways we are feeling it here in America. Part one is very specific and follows my completion of Robert Dallek’s lengthy “Franklin D. Roosevelt: A Political Life.” Dallek is no Ron Chernow – I could put this one down for days without missing it – but still a worthy historian with a most worthy subject.

FDR was definitely one of the great American presidents, a shoo-in for Mt. Rushmore had construction not ended in 1941. One of the three greatest most would say. He brought us out of the Great Depression, his New Deal reforms were a giant step in humanizing the American industrial system and ensuring a minimal standard of living for all Americans, and he saved the free world by dragging us into WWII which would likely have been lost to Hitler without U.S. involvement. Reread that last statement. Remember that isolationism ruled our land after WWI, and it took all of Roosevelt’s political skills (and Pearl Harbor) to convince the American people that we couldn’t sit idly by as fascism and Nazism threatened the world. He also had to deal with Stalin, and with his own declining health.

What about FDR and the Jews? He wasn’t an anti-semite by my standards, but if he didn’t do anywhere near enough to try to save the six million who were being gassed and incinerated on his watch, just what was he?

Dallek writes this part of the story in a mostly forgiving way. Roosevelt wanted to help, Eleanor even more, but there were too many obstacles: Breckinridge Long who determined who got visas, the Congress with which he had too many other battles to fight, the German American population that was fully 30% of the U.S. population and didn’t love Jews, the uncertainty about bombing the tracks to Auschwitz (which the Germans might have circumvented so great seemed their desire to kill Jews.) The book has much detail on this. FDR insisted that military victory would be the only way rescue could take place. Unfortunately, millions died before the victory was achieved.

Telling is Dallek’s Epilogue. “Seventy-two years after Franklin Roosevelt passed away in the thirteenth year of his presidency, his reputation as a great president is secure… The amazing story of a man so severely handicapped by polio who overcame his disability to take on the arduous tasks of running for president four times and mobilizing the country to struggle through the Depression and war is a saga that has become the stuff of legend.” But, adds Dallek, “it was inevitable that a president who won four elections would become the subject of retrospective criticism.” Three areas of criticism persist: his failure to support antilynching laws for fear of losing southern support for the New Deal, his interment of 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry, and his timid response to the Holocaust. Says Dallek, “No issue in Roosevelt’s legacy remains as contested as his response to the Holocaust…” That is true to this day. Those who argue that FDR did “everything possible” are contradicted by Eleanor’s assertion that nobody did all they could have. Did Arthur Schlesinger have it right: “Silence. Denial. Complicity?”

So, do we Jews think less of FDR? Was he a great president regardless? Things to ponder. Best, Bill Rudolph

Philip Roth

 

A lot has been said about Philip Roth since his death at age 85 last week. Let me share a few thoughts about the man and his relationship to the Jewish community.

Early in his career, Roth drew outrage with his sometimes stinging depictions of Jewish life, as well as his graphic portrayal in his breakout 1969 novel “Portnoy’s Complaint” of the protagonist’s sexual desires. Although his early “Goodbye, Columbus” won the National Book Award, older Jewish leaders objected to its portrayal of a conflict between a stuck-up, well-to-do Jewish family in New Jersey and a young working-class Jewish man from Newark. A short story in the collection — “Defender of the Faith” — was about a Jewish army officer’s conflict with Jewish soldiers trying to avoid combat duty. Jewish leaders’ outrage at Roth peaked a decade later with “Portnoy’s Complaint” and its exploration of lustful Jewish paranoia. Some worried that his work would endanger American Jews, providing fodder for anti-Semites. “What is being done to silence this man?” an American rabbi asked in a 1963 letter to the ADL. In one notorious incident, Roth was shaken by a hostile reception he received at a 1962 literary symposium at New York’s Yeshiva University. Recalling being shouted at by hostile students after the event, Roth vowed to “never write about Jews again” — a promise, of course, that he did not keep.

“There is a certain amount of poetic justice, an aesthetically satisfying irony, in Philip Roth’s beginning his career with a brouhaha at Yeshiva University and ending it with an honorary doctorate from the Jewish Theological Seminary — an honor perhaps more significant than the Nobel Prize that eludes him,” Michael Kramer, associate professor of literature at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University, wrote in 2014. “Would Roth himself have imagined such a plot? His endings tend to the tragic.”

Indeed, in addition to winning nearly every literary award for writers in English, over time Roth was also embraced by the Jewish community. Three of his books were honored with the American Jewish Book Award, and in 1998 he won the Jewish Book Council’s Lifetime Literary Achievement Award. And, in 2014, JTS awarded Roth an honorary doctorate at its commencement ceremony. “From enfant terrible to elder statesman. Time heals all wounds,” Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles remarked. At the time, the seminary’s chancellor, Arnold Eisen, himself a sociologist, called Roth the “greatest sociologist on American Jewish life, without doubt.”

Two thoughts, maybe even contradictory, from my perspective. Roth’s relationship to his Jewishness is not simple and might give one pause. He often demurred when it was suggested that he be defined as an American Jewish writer. In one essay he wrote, “I did not want to, did not intend to, and was not able to speak for American Jews; I surely did not deny, and no one questioned the fact, that I spoke to them, and I hope to others as well.” And now we see that Roth is not being buried in a Jewish cemetery, rather in the cemetery at Bard College. So, was he “all in” with his people? Maybe not, and maybe his critique of American Jewish life would have been different if it came from a place of love and connection.

One the other hand, anti semitism didn’t grow because of Roth’s writings. And, as Eisen put it, “We are a community that treasures someone who holds up such a penetrating and insightful mirror to who we are and reveals the dilemmas and contradictions and aspirations of the community. We are grateful for the mirror even if not everything you see in it is easy.” On this count, we need to have thicker skins.

Ponder all this and have a good rest of the week. Bill Rudolph