Monday, October 15, 2018

Jews and Chainsaws

Goodbye Sears Roebuck & Co: As if the news from ... well, everywhere isn't bad enough, last night (!) Sears - yes, Sears - filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Abq Jew has been thinking about Chapter 11, too. Oh - we read Chapter 11 (of Genesis) last Shabbos in shul. You may recall - it's about the Tower of Babylon.

And how The Holy One, Blessed Be He broke the construction union that was building the tower and scattered its leaders 'over the face of the whole earth.'

But Abq Jew and The Jewish Magazine also recall happier ... and funnier times with Chapter 11. If you don't - here is the

Oldest Biblical Joke Ever Told

A man has been in business for many, many years and the business is going down the drain. He is seriously contemplating suicide and he doesn't know what to do.

He goes to the Rabbi to seek his advice. He tells the Rabbi about all of his problems in the business and asks the Rabbi what he should do.

The Rabbi says "Take a beach chair and a bible and put them in your car and drive down to the edge of the ocean. Go to the water's edge. Take the beach chair out of the car, sit on it and take the bible out and open it up. The wind will rifle the pages for a while and eventually the bible will stay open at a particular page. Read the bible and it will tell you what to do."

The man does as he is told. He places a beach chair and a bible in his car and drives down to the beach. He sits on the chair at the water's edge and opens the bible. The wind rifles the pages of the bible and then stops at a particular page. He looks down at the bible and sees what he has to do.

Three months later the man and his family come back to see the Rabbi. The man is wearing a $1,000 Italian suit, The wife is all decked out with a full-length mink coat and the child is dressed in beautiful silk.

The man hands the Rabbi a thick envelope full of money and tells him that he wants to donate this money to the synagogue in order to thank the Rabbi for his wonderful advice. The Rabbi is delighted. He recognizes the man and asks him what advice in the bible brought this good fortune to him.

The man replies:

"Chapter 11."

Which brings us to chainsaws. And to riding mowers. A large selection of both of which Sears always carried - along with everything, everything else.

Also last night - Abq Jew came across a tweet from David Corn, in which he retweeted an article from NewsChannel3 in Memphis. Which Abq Jew quotes in its entirety.
Man run over by lawn mower while trying to kill son with chainsaw 
BRISTOL, Tenn. – A man who police say was run over with a lawn mower while trying to kill his son with a chain saw has had to have his leg amputated. 
The Bristol Herald Courier reports that a warrant for 76-year-old Douglas Ferguson couldn’t be served until Tuesday because of the severity of his injuries. 
According to a Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office release, officers called to a home June 28 found Ferguson bleeding from his leg and head. A preliminary investigation indicated he had tried to attack his son with a running chain saw while he son mowed the yard. 
Detectives say the father and son had an ongoing feud. 
Ferguson is charged with attempted second-degree murder and violating probation. It’s unclear whether he has a lawyer to comment on his behalf.
A word (or two) about David Corn.
David Corn (born February 20, 1959) is an American political journalist, author, and the chief of the Washington bureau for Mother Jones.  
He has been Washington editor for The Nation and appeared regularly on FOX News, MSNBC, National Public Radio, and opposite James Pinkerton or other media personalities.  
Corn was raised in a Jewish family in White Plains, New York. He attended Brown University where he majored in history and worked for The Brown Daily Herald.   
After his junior year, he interned at The Nation where he accepted a job as editorial assistant instead of returning to finish his degree. He earned his remaining credits at Columbia University and received a B.A. from Brown University in 1982. He joined Mother Jones in 2007.
Anyway, David Corn's tweet / comment on the above story was

What family hasn't been here?

Which brings us to next week's Torah reading - Parshat Lech Licha (Get Up and Go). Or, as we often call it -

Chapter 12
The Etz Hayim Torah and Commentary tells us:
The first 75 years of Abraham's life are passed over in total silence. He still bears the name Abram when God's call comes. 
The patriarch's immediate response thrusts him onto the scene of history with astounding suddenness and marks the beginning of his life.
In other words - the story of Abraham and his descendants is the origin myth of the Jewish people. Yes, since the God of Israel is the God of the World, let's tell the story of creation - and throw in the story of the flood.

But it's the story of Abraham and his mishpocha that we really care about.
Which brings us to one of Abq Jew's favorite books - Rabbi Burton L Visotzky's (see 2012's America's Top Rabbis) The Genesis of Ethics.
Which is subtitled: How the Tormented Family of Genesis Leads Us to Moral Development
As Burton Visotzky says, the Book of Genesis seems to be, at least on first reading, "an ugly little soap opera about a dysfunctional family . . . a story about rape, incest, murder, deception, brute force, sex, and blood lust. But these stories reveal much about human dilemmas and ethical problems that mirror our own lives. 
By delving into the lives of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, and Esau and holding up these characters of Scripture to the light of critical inquiry, Burton Visotzky reveals much that is fresh and useful about ethics and morality. 

Wait a minute! Abq Jew hears you cry.

These are our patriarchs and matriarchs!

Yes they are. And they are not - as if such a thing could exist - perfect human beings. Yet they are our mishpocha. And we can learn from what they did right, and we can learn from what they did wrong.

And we can debate endlessly about which is which.

So let's go back and talk about Sears.
Sears, Roebuck and Company, colloquially known as Sears, is an American chain of department stores founded by Richard Warren Sears and Alvah Curtis Roebuck in 1892, reincorporated (a formality for a history-making consumer sector initial public offering) by Richard Sears and new partner Julius Rosenwald in 1906. 
Formerly based at the Sears Tower in Chicago and currently headquartered in Hoffman Estates, Illinois, the operation began as a mail ordering catalog company and began opening retail locations in 1925. 
The first location was in Evansville, Indiana. In 2005, the company was bought by the management of the American big box chain Kmart, which formed Sears Holdings upon completion of the merger. 
In terms of domestic revenue, Sears was the largest retailer in the United States until October 1989, when Walmart surpassed it. 
As of 2017, Sears is the 23rd largest retailer in the United States. 
After several years of declining sales, its parent company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on October 15, 2018.

And let us end this crazy blog post with an altogether too-brief appreciation of Julius Rosenwald.
Julius Rosenwald (August 12, 1862 – January 6, 1932) was an American businessman and philanthropist. 
He was born in 1862 to the clothier Samuel Rosenwald and his wife Augusta Hammerslough, a Jewish immigrant couple from Germany. He was born and raised just a few blocks from the Abraham Lincoln residence in Springfield, Illinois, during Lincoln's Presidency of the United States. 
By his sixteenth year, Rosenwald was apprenticed by his parents to his uncles in New York City to learn the clothing trades. While in New York, he befriended Henry Goldman and Henry Morgenthau, Sr. With his younger brother Morris, Rosenwald started a clothing manufacturing company. They were ruined by a recession in 1885. 
Rosenwald had heard about other clothiers who had begun to manufacture clothing according to standardized sizes from data collected during the American Civil War. He decided to try the system but to move his manufacturing facility closer to the rural population that he anticipated would be his market. He and his brother moved to Chicago, Illinois. 
In 1890, Rosenwald married Augusta Nusbaum, a daughter of a competing clothier. 
The rest, as they say is history.
Rosenwald became a member of the city's leading Jewish Reform congregation, Chicago Sinai congregation, soon after moving to Chicago. Its rabbi, Emil G. Hirsch, made a big impact on Rosenwald's philanthropy. 
Rosenwald donated generously to several Jewish community projects in Chicago and served as vice president of Chicago Sinai for many years. 
Booker T. Washington encouraged Rosenwald to address the poor state of African-American education in the US, which suffered from inadequate buildings and books. Rosenwald provided funds to build six small schools in rural Alabama, which were constructed and opened in 1913 and 1914, and overseen by Tuskegee.
The collaboration between Booker T. Washington and Julius Rosenwald was the subject of the 2015 documentary Rosenwald, subtitled A Remarkable Story of a Jewish Partnership with African American Communities by writer, producer and director Aviva Kempner, which won Best Documentary Jury Award at the Teaneck International Film Festival and the Lipscomb University Prize of the Ecumenical Jury, Nashville Film Festival. 
He established his Rosenwald Fund in 1917 for "the well-being of mankind".  
Unlike other endowed foundations, which were designed to fund themselves in perpetuity, the Rosenwald Fund was intended to use all of its funds for philanthropic purposes. As a result, the fund was completely spent by 1948.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

It's Noah Time Again!

Send Out the Dove!  This Shabbat we will again read Parshat Noah, the one portion of the Holy Torah that has us New MexiJews lamenting the tragic loss of Earth's entire dinosaur population, who (quite literally) missed the boat.

Abq Jew exhorts everyone, especially those in Hurricane Michael's path, to be safe and stay secure. Shelter at home; shelter in the shelter; or shelter at Uncle Stan's place. But shelter. And remember that time when

Noah of Arc and his wife, Joan,
build a boat to survive a great flood.

But Abq Jew digresses. 

Yes, it was six (6) years ago (!) (see Noah! Send Out The Dove!) that Abq Jew first brought you Matti Caspi and Chocolat, Menta, Mastik singing their '70s hit.

And here it is again, and only because a) it is Parshat Noah; and b) this performance reminds Abq Jew of days ... and years ... gone by. Nostalgia.

Parshat Noach. A time to

Send out the dove.

Watch for the plaid in the rainbow.

Stegosauruses had beautiful singing voices, and they knew
all the words to The Seekers' greatest hits.

And remember the stegosaurus.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Israel's Next UN Ambassador

Welcome, Nikki Halevy: As Abq Jew is sure you have by now been made aware, Nikki Haley, the US Ambassador to the United Nations, announced (SURPRISE!) her resignation today.

And boy does she look happy!

Ms Haley's Jewish background has long been known, as Wikipedia reports:
Nimroda "Nikki" Haley (née Randhawitz, born January 20, 1972) is an American politician who is currently the 29th United States Ambassador to the United Nations. 
When Haley was five years old, her parents attempted to enter her in the "Miss Bloomberg" contest. The contest traditionally crowned a Jewish queen and a shiksa queen. Since the judges decided Haley did not fit either category, they disqualified her. 
Haley has two brothers, Matti, a retired member of the Israel Defense Forces, and Haran, a web designer. She has one sister, Sima, a radio host and Technion - Israel Institute of Technology alumna.

Ms Haley's advocacy for and - dare we say it? - outright support of Israel at the United Nations are also well known.

Today, Nikki Haley has gone above and beyond the Jewish community's already-high expectations. The Jerusalem Post reports that Nikki has

Formally converted to Judaism in accordance with
Orthodox standards; restored the 'v' to her name to honor her family tradition; departed on aliyah to the Land of Israel; and accepted a position as Israel's next UN Ambassador.

Todah rabbah, Danny Danon! It's been fun!

And in case you were wondering -

There was always something about South Carolina's
State Flag that made Nikki a bit nervous.

Mazel Tov Nikki Halevy!

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Start All Over Again

In The Beginning - Swing Time: The Fall Holidays are celebrated, over, and done. Now we Jews turn our attention to the New Year of 5779. Abq Jew would like to remind you that starting this very Shabbat - Shabbat Bereshit - we once again have the opportunity to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and start all over again.


Which immediately brought to what is left, after all these years, of Abq Jew's mind, the song Pick Yourself Up. Sung and danced to by the Jewish performers Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in the 1936 Cecil B DeMille Biblical epic Swing Time.

About which said song Wikipedia tells us:
"Pick Yourself Up" is a popular song composed in 1936 by Jerome Kern, with lyrics by Dorothy Fields. It has a verse and chorus, as well as a third section, though the third section is often omitted in recordings.  
The song was written for the film Swing Time (1936), where it was introduced by Fred Astaire [Frederick Austerlitz] and Ginger Rogers [Virginia Katherine McMath].
Rogers plays a dance instructor whom Astaire follows into her studio; he pretends to have "two left feet" in order to get her to dance with him. Astaire sings the verse to her and she responds with the chorus.  
After an interlude, they dance to the tune. (Author John Mueller has written their dance "is one of the very greatest of Astaire's playful duets: boundlessly joyous, endlessly re-seeable.")
And about which said film Wikipedia tells us:
Swing Time is a 1936 American RKO musical comedy film set mainly in New York City, and starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.
It features Helen Broderick, Victor Moore, Betty Furness, Eric Blore and Georges Metaxa, with music by Jerome Kern and lyrics by Dorothy Fields. The film was directed by George Stevens
Noted dance critic Arlene Croce considers Swing Time Astaire and Rogers' best dance musical, a view shared by John Mueller and Hannah Hyam.
Wait a minute!
Abq Jew hears you cry.

Fred and Ginger weren't Jewish.
Were they?

Well, Abq Jew must tell you, no. They weren't. But let's take a look at some of the other people associated with Swing Time. It's got plenty of yichus.

Jerome Kern 

Jerome David Kern (January 27, 1885 – November 11, 1945) was an American composer of musical theatre and popular music.

One of the most important American theatre composers of the early 20th century, he wrote more than 700 songs, used in over 100 stage works, including such classics as "Ol' Man River", "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man", "A Fine Romance", "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes", "The Song Is You", "All the Things You Are", "The Way You Look Tonight", "Long Ago (and Far Away)" and "Who?".

Kern was born in New York City, on Sutton Place, in what was then the city's brewery district. His parents were Henry Kern (1842–1908), a Jewish German immigrant, and Fannie Kern née Kakeles (1852–1907), who was an American Jew of Bohemian parentage.

At the time of Kern's birth, his father ran a stable; later he became a successful merchant. Kern grew up on East 56th Street in Manhattan, where he attended public schools. He showed an early aptitude for music and was taught to play the piano and organ by his mother, an accomplished player and teacher.

Dorothy Fields

Dorothy Fields (July 15, 1904 – March 28, 1974) was an American librettist and lyricist. She wrote over 400 songs for Broadway musicals and films.

Her best-known pieces include "The Way You Look Tonight", "A Fine Romance", "On the Sunny Side of the Street", "Don't Blame Me", "Pick Yourself Up", "I'm in the Mood for Love" and "You Couldn't Be Cuter".

Fields was born in Allenhurst, New Jersey, and grew up in New York City. Her family was deeply involved in show business.

Her father, Lew Fields, was a Jewish immigrant from Poland who partnered with Joe Weber to become one of the most popular comedy duos near the end of the nineteenth century. They were known as the Weber and Fields vaudeville act.

Her mother was Rose Harris. She had two older brothers, Joseph and Herbert, who also became successful on Broadway.

Lew Fields and Joe Weber

Lew Fields (January 1867 – July 20, 1941), born as Moses Schoenfeld, was an American actor, comedian, vaudeville star, theatre manager, and producer.

Lew Fields was half of the great comic duo Weber and Fields, the other half being Joe Weber (11 August 1867 – 10 May 1942), born Joseph Morris Weber.

Fields and Weber started performing in museums, circuses and variety houses in New York City.

The young men had a "Dutch act" in which both portrayed German immigrants. Such "dialect acts" (German dialects, Irish dialects, Jewish/Yiddish dialects, Blackface and Black/African American vernacular English) were extremely common at the time, the comedy coming from the actors' mangling of the English language and dropping of malapropisms as they undertook life in America.

In the case of Weber and Fields (or "Mike and Meyer" as their characters were known) and many of the other acts of this genre, this often involved stereotyping by dress and behavior, as well as comedic and often sympathetic portrayals of the characters' attempts to fit into American society.

"Crafty schemes" of "making it big" in America, as well as the attempts of mere survival of immigrant poverty in America, were written into the script of these acts. A typical "Mike and Meyer" routine involved Mike, the short and clever one, unsuccessfully trying to coach Meyer, the tall and simple one, in a scheme to get them a free lunch at a working-class saloon.

Neil Simon

Marvin Neil Simon (July 4, 1927 – August 26, 2018) was an American playwright, screenwriter and author.

He wrote more than 30 plays and nearly the same number of movie screenplays, mostly adaptations of his plays. He received more combined Oscar and Tony nominations than any other writer.

Neil Simon was born on July 4, 1927, in The Bronx, New York, to Jewish parents. His father, Irving Simon, was a garment salesman, and his mother, Mamie (Levy) Simon, was mostly a homemaker.

Simon had one older brother by eight years, television writer and comedy teacher Danny Simon. He grew up in Washington Heights, Manhattan, during the period of the Great Depression.

Wait a minute! How did we get to Neil Simon,
when we were talking about Swing Time!

Well, it turns out that Neil Simon (some say) based his play The Sunshine Boys on ... wait for it ... the vaudeville duo Weber & Fields (see above).

Others say no; Neil Simon based his play The Sunshine Boys on the vaudeville duo Smith and Dale.

Smith and Dale

Smith and Dale were a famous American vaudeville comedy duo. The two performed together for more than seventy years.

Joe Smith (born Joseph Seltzer on February 16, 1884 - February 22, 1981) and Charlie Dale (born Charles Marks on September 6, 1885 - November 16, 1971) grew up in the Jewish ghettos of New York City.

Seltzer and Marks met as teenagers in 1898 and formed a partnership. They named their act "Smith and Dale" because a local printer gave them a good deal on business cards reading "Smith and Dale" (intended for a vaudeville team that had dissolved). Joe Seltzer became Joe Smith, and Charlie Marks became Charlie Dale.

So let's talk about Swing Time's director.

George Stevens

George Cooper Stevens (December 18, 1904 – March 8, 1975) was an American film director, producer, screenwriter and cinematographer.

Among his most notable films are A Place in the Sun (1951; winner of six Academy Awards including Best Director), Shane (1953; Oscar nominated), Giant (1956; Oscar for Best Director), and The Diary of Anne Frank (1959; nominated for Best Director).

During World War II, Stevens joined the U.S. Army Signal Corps and headed a film unit
from 1943 to 1946, under General Eisenhower. 

His unit shot footage documenting D-Day — including the only Allied European Front color film of the war — the liberation of Paris and the meeting of American and Soviet forces at the Elbe River, as well as horrific scenes from the Duben labor camp and the Dachau concentration camp

Stevens also helped prepare the Duben and Dachau footage and other material for presentation
during the Nuremberg Trials. In 2008, his footage was entered into the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as an "essential visual record" of World War II.

Not Jewish, as far as Abq Jew can tell.
Still, plenty of yichus.

Which brings us to the entertainment portion of this blog post.

First, the song.

Then, the dance.


On January 20 2009, the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama,
in his inauguration speech, quoted the lyrics in the song Pick Yourself Up, saying

Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off,
and begin again the work of remaking America.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Shemini Atzeret: Stay A Little Longer!

And Play Some Bluegrass! The Holiday of Sukkot is almost behind us. Today we celebrate Hoshana Rabba (see The Great Hosanna), which is technically the seventh day of the Festival of Booths.

And tomorrow is the Holiday of Shemini Atzeret, the Eighth Day of Assembly. In the Land of Israel, it's also Simchat Torah; here in חו״ל (the Diaspora), Simchat Torah follows Shemini Atzeret.

We all know what Simchat Torah means. But what about Shemini Atzeret?

As it turns out - חז״ל (Our Sages, of blessed memory) also had a problem with Shemini Atzeret.
  • In some ways, Shemini Atzeret is the Eighth, Concluding Day of Sukkot. Why else would 'Eighth' be its very name? But Pesach also has concluding days - known simply as Pesach 7 (and in the Diaspora) Pesach 8.
  • And in other ways, Shemini Atzeret is its very own holiday. For example: we are not required to eat / dwell in the Sukkah on Shemini Atzeret. We are allowed to (of course) - but we don't have to. And we already wrecked our Lulav and Etrog on Hoshana Rabba. As Chabad tells us:
The day after the seventh day of Sukkot ...  is a mysterious Jewish holiday. In some respects, Shemini Atzeret is considered as part of Sukkot, but in other respects it is a distinct holiday unto itself. 
The enigmatic nature of the day is perhaps most overt in the way the Torah introduces it. 
After Sukkot, during which all nations, Jews and non-Jews, celebrated and brought sacrificial offerings to the Temple, G‑d makes a special request of the Jewish people (Leviticus 23:36):
On the eighth day [from the start of Sukkot], it shall be an atzeret to you . . .
The commentator Rashi elaborates that the term atzeret, literally “holding back,” is one of affection, as a father would say to his children who are departing him: 
Your departure is difficult for me. Please stay with me for just one more day!
After all the other nations have gone home, G‑d asks the Jewish people to “hold back” for one more day of celebration—Shemini Atzeret.

Which of course brings to what is left, after all these years, of Abq Jew's mind - the Bob Willis-Tommy Duncan Western swing song Stay A Little Longer.

Here performed by the award-winning bluegrass band The Grascals (formerly Dolly Parton's back-up band and opening act).

Featuring (on banjo, of course) Kristin Scott Benson, this year's winner of the Steve Martin (yes, that Steve Martin) Prize of Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass.

“My family and I are overwhelmed with gratefulness! Getting to know my banjo heroes, many of whom are on the board, is prize enough, but Steve Martin’s graciousness is a huge blessing. We don’t know how to adequately say thank you for something like this!”
Kristin Scott Benson, 2018 Steve Martin Prize
for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass Recipient

Hag Sameach, New Mexico!
Good Yontif, Albuquerque!

and next week ... 5 days of work!

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Still Livin' In A Booth

The Season of Our Joy: Remember The Fountainheads? Abq Jew knows, because he has been told: It wouldn't be Rosh HaShanah without their performance of Dip Your Apple in The Honey.

With advice from Rebbetzin Rivka Leah Zelwig, you have undoubtedly completed Building Your Sukkah. All it takes is unionized construction labor, unrestricted financial resources for materials, a rented storage locker (or a three car garage), a degree in Exterior Design, hours of fervent prayer, and a mechona. Or a kit.

So - kick back and relax for three minutes and six seconds before you have to start cooking for Sukkot, aka the Festival of Booths!

Yes. That’s right. ANOTHER Jewish holiday. Sunday evening (TONIGHT) begins the Festival of Sukkot - the Season of Our Joy.

United With Israel reminds us:
Sukkot is one of the three Torah festivals on which Jews everywhere were required to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.  
It is a seven day holiday with the first day being observed as a holy day, similar to the Sabbath, upon which no work is permitted. Outside of Israel the first two days are observed as holy days.
The remaining days of the holiday are referred to as “Chol Hamoed.” The Chol Hamoed days are not outright holy days but they are treated with more sanctity than regular weekdays complete with elaborate meals and nicer clothing.  
Originally, Sukkot was more of an agricultural festival, as the Torah itself calls it: The Feast of Ingathering… when you gather in your labors from out of the field. (Exodus 23:16; Leviticus 23:40-43; Deuteronomy 16:13). It was a thanksgiving festival to God for the year’s harvest. 
Today, it is observed more as a holiday of rest and reflection for the miracles that God did for the Jewish people when He led them in the desert for 40 years.
 To help us celebrate - here are The Fountainheads with Livin' In A Booth:

No etrogim were harmed in the filming of this video.
Lemons are a different story.

Hag Sameach, Albuquerque!
Good Yontif, New Mexico!

Monday, September 17, 2018

Take a Knee on Yom Kippur

Police Accountability - The Rod and the Whip: Engagement; Jewish Literacy; and Jewish Identity are at the heart of every ELI Talk.

As we approach Yom Kippur - when all Jews 'take a knee' - Abq Jew presents one ELI Talk that he found especially meaningful during these Days of Awe.

First, an introduction. This ELI Talk deals with the shooting of Laquan McDonald. To refresh our memories -
The shooting of Laquan McDonald took place on October 20, 2014, in Chicago, Illinois. McDonald was fatally shot by Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke from approximately ten feet away.  
McDonald had been behaving erratically while walking down the street, and was holding a folding knife with a three-inch blade. He did not obey police commands to drop the knife. After the shooting a police union representative told reporters that Van Dyke had acted in self-defense as McDonald lunged at him and his partner.  
Initial police reports described the incident similarly and ruled the shooting justified. However, when a police dash-cam video of the shooting was released thirteen months later, on November 24, 2015, it showed McDonald walking away from the police when he was shot. The knife he was carrying was found to be closed.  
That same day Officer Van Dyke was charged with first-degree murder and initially held without bail at the Cook County Jail. He was released on bail on November 30. The city reached a settlement with McDonald's family.
Mitch Smith of The New York Times today reported:
Officer Van Dyke’s long-awaited trial is underway, with opening arguments possible on Monday, and Chicagoans are watching intently. Here are some of the reasons this case is so significant:
  • Laquan McDonald was shot 16 times.
  • The video was kept secret for 13 months.
  • No Chicago police officer has been convicted of murder in nearly 50 years.
  • Only one black person was chosen for the jury.
  • Chicagoans are worried about the aftermath of an acquittal.
And most significantly:
  • This case has changed Chicago.
Mr Smith explains:
Laquan’s death overturned this city’s leadership, causing or contributing to the downfalls of a Chicago police superintendent, the prosecutor who waited more than a year to bring charges and, now, the mayor. 
Mr. Emanuel, once one of the country’s most powerful big-city mayors, announced a day before jury selection in the Van Dyke case that he would not seek a third term as mayor. His staff has said that the decision had nothing to do with the trial; still, Laquan’s death left its mark on the mayor’s nearly eight years in office. 
The case against Officer Van Dyke has led to policy changes here. All patrol officers have been equipped with Tasers and body cameras, rules for when officers can shoot have been tightened and, on Thursday, city officials agreed to a court-enforced consent decree that would require an overhaul of the Police Department. 
Trust in the Chicago police remains elusive, though, and new police shootings continue to lead to protests. Activists say that even if Officer Van Dyke is convicted of murder, which could lead to a life sentence in prison, systemic problems remain unsolved. 
“I don’t think the buck stops with one officer going to jail,” said William Calloway, who has helped organize protests outside the courthouse, “not when you have hundreds of police shootings through the years.”

And then there is Albuquerque.

And our own Albuquerque Police Department. To refresh our memories -
In November 2012, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) launched an investigation into APD’s policies and practices to determine whether APD engages in a pattern or practice of use of excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment and the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, 42 U.S.C. § 14141 (“Section 14141”). 
As part of its investigation, the Department of Justice consulted with police practices experts and conducted a comprehensive assessment of officers’ use of force and APD policies and operations. The investigation included tours of APD facilities and area commands; interviews with Albuquerque officials, APD command staff, supervisors, and police officers; a review of numerous documents; and meetings with the Albuquerque Police Officers Association, residents, community groups, and other stakeholders. 
At the conclusion of its investigation, the DoJ issued a scathing report that uncovered a "culture of acceptance of the use of excessive force", frequently not justified by the circumstances, causing significant harm or injury by APD officers to people who posed no threat. The DOJ recommended a nearly complete overhaul of the department's use-of-force policies. Among several systematic problems at APD were an aggressive culture that undervalued civilian safety and discounted the importance of crisis intervention. 
As result of the report the city and the DOJ negotiated a court-enforceable agreement, which included among its 106 pages provisions to dismantle the Repeat Offender Project and rein in the SWAT team, which had operated outside the command structure for years. 
An April 2016 Fault Lines investigation found that change was only scratching the surface and that the corrupt and violent culture of the police department continued unabated.

In the months since Mayor Tim Keller took office, things have begun to change - Abq Jew believes, for the better.

Any institutional change is slow; nevertheless, see the Progress and Status Summary of the USDOJ Settlement Agreement Entered Into by the United States of America and the City of Albuquerque Regarding the Albuquerque Police Department; Eighth Report; February 1, 2018 – July 31, 2018. Which states:
In December 2017, APD and the City of Albuquerque had major changes in administration and began directing efforts to address the CASA [Court Approved Settlement Agreement]. 
Throughout the reporting period, APD continued to make major changes within the Police Department to include the creation of an Implementation Unit (renamed the Compliance Division) to focus on the CASA and the long-term sustainability for Department-wide improvement, as well as reorganization and movement throughout Command Staff positions.

But APD's road trip to repentance is a long one.

Now let's get back to ELI Talks.
At the heart of every ELI talk is Jewish religious engagement (E), Jewish literacy (L), and Jewish identity (I) with Israel and peoplehood at the core. 
Our work is driven by the values of ahavat yisrael (love of fellow Jews and the land of Israel), chidush (innovation within tradition), and machloket l’shem shamayim (argument for the sake of Heaven). 
Our online presence provides a platform for ideas and sources to be shared, and a home for wide-ranging voices to converse skillfully and compassionately with one another.
ELI talks are not meant to be relics on a digital shelf, rather, they are conversation catalysts intended to be turned, questioned, and contradicted, in prayer spaces and offices, around boardroom tables, and in the intimacy of our own homes. 
Our speakers span the depth and breadth of the Jewish experience, but they aren’t individual and independent voices: they are all connected to each other and to our collective tradition.
If we want a vibrant Jewish future, we need inspired Jewish ideas.
Aryeh Bernstein is a fifth-generation Chicago South Sider with extensive experience in Torah education and organizing progressive Jewish communities. 
His primary employment is with Avodah, as Director of its Justice Fellowship and Yo'etz Ruach of its Service Corps in Chicago. He is also Educational Consultant for the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, where he organizes on police accountability, Founding Director of the Hyde Park Teen Beit Midrash, Staff Educator for Farm Forward's Jewish Initiative for Animals, and Coordinator and Teacher of Mishkan Chicago's Social Justice Beit Midrash. 
He was previously Mechon Hadar's Director of Recruitment and Alumni Affairs and an Editor-Translator for Koren Publishers' English edition of the Steinsaltz Talmud. He has taught at Drisha, the TAKUM social justice beit midrash, and campuses, communities, and organizations around Israel and the U.S., especially Camp Ramah in Wisconsin, where he co-founded and co-directed the Beit Midrash Program and Northwoods Kollel. Aryeh is a Senior Editor of
In this ELI Talk, Aryeh Bernstein explores what the Torah has to say about accountability for law enforcement, how the existing police contract is antithetical to it, and why it's so vital according to our tradition that we get this right.

Albuquerque! Get this right!