Monday, November 30, 2020

Lincoln, Ablinken, and God

Together Again: Thanksgiving week turned out surprisingly happy. Surprisingly.

Yes, there was the ongoing, catastrophic Covid-19 pandemic and its crescendo of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. There was the wave of unemployment and "food insecurity" that plagued (you should not forgive the expression) the richest nation in the history of the world.

And there were the remembrances of deeply significant moments in our nation's history - but especially, of Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, delivered November 19, 1863. Although Lincoln was not speaking of our current constitutional predicament, he did wonder

whether our nation, or any nation conceived in Liberty
and dedicated to the proposition that all men
are created equal, can long endure. 

Biden Blinken
Secretary of State nominee Antony Blinken speaks after being introduced
by President-elect Joe Biden at the Queen Theatre in Wilmington, Del.,
on Tuesday.    Mark Makela/Getty Images

President-elect Joe Biden began his answer to that question last week, as reported by NPR's Rachel Treisman:

Biden's Secretary Of State Pick Has Both Diplomatic And Musical Chops

President-elect Joe Biden's pick for secretary of state, Antony Blinken, has worked with Biden for years and has a wealth of diplomatic experience under his belt.

He also has a self-described "wonk rock" band called ABlinken, with two original songs streaming on Spotify.

In between tweets about foreign policy, Blinken's Twitter feed is sprinkled with musical references, including this 2018 plug for his band.

Wonk rock is a fitting genre for someone with decades of foreign policy experience. Blinken began his career during the Clinton administration, and most recently served as deputy secretary of state and deputy national security adviser under then-President Barack Obama before moving into the private sector.

Jim Steinberg, who also served as a deputy secretary of state under Obama and has worked with Blinken for decades, described him as having "the experience and the knowledge" needed for the job. Steinberg told NPR's Mary Louise Kelly:

"He has the temperament. He's a great colleague and works well with others. And most important of all, he has the confidence of the president of the United States." 

Statue of Liberty

Way back in September 2016 - before the madness - Sesame Street's Grover was privileged to speak with the U.S. State Department's then Deputy Secretary Tony Blinken at the United Nations in New York City to talk about refugees. Or maybe it was the other way around.

And as for Tony Blinken's band Ablinken ... here is their 2018 song Patience -

And here is Ablinken's 2018 song Lip Service -

And here, for the true cognoscenti among us, is a lesser-known (because it is, for some odd reason, lesser-publicized) video of our Secretary of State nominee performing the traditional psalm Hoochie Coochie Man with the band C.O.W. (Coalition of the Willing), the DOD's party band, in 2017. 

Fun Fact: C.O.W. included (et al) renowned guitarist Jeff "Skunk" Baxter, who played with Steely Dan and The Doobie Brothers. Baxter later became a defense consultant. Which, Abq Jew supposes, is how he wound up in C.O.W.


God loves stories

So let's tell stories about God. Tony Blinken's got a good one, which he related last week at his nomination announcement. Again, from NPR's Rachel Treisman:

[Blinken] spoke of his own family members' journeys and contributions to America, including relatives who fled communism and pogroms in Eastern Europe and his father's U.S. Air Force service during World War II.

Blinken told the story of his late stepfather, Samuel Pisar, a Holocaust survivor who escaped from a death march in the Bavarian woods and was rescued by a Black G.I. 

He said that when Pisar realized the tank in front of him was American, he got down on his knees and said the only three English words he knew: 

"God bless America"

"That's who we are," Blinken said onstage. 

"That's what America represents to the world, however imperfectly."

When Inauguration Day (אי״ה) comes around in 


Abq Jew believes - as did Abraham Lincoln - that

this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom
 - and that government of the people, by the people,
for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Or, as we say in Yiddish -

Gevalt Yidden

Monday, November 23, 2020

Thanksgiving 2020

 Happy Thanksgiving: This Thanksgiving week, let's be happy.

Thanksgiving Turkey

And let's give thanks - to God, to the Fates, or to Fortune - for who we are, for where we stand, and, yes, for what we have.

And let us pray that hard times - poverty, war, destruction, disease, or random events that just seem to happen in the world - come again no more.

Here is the song Hard Times Come Again No More, written by Stephen Foster in 1854, performed by Kate & Anna McGarrigle and friends: Rufus Wainwright (son of Kate), Emmylou Harris, Mary Black, Karen Matheson, and Rod Paterson.

Let us pause in life's pleasures and count its many tears,
While we all sup sorrow with the poor;
There's a song that will linger forever in our ears;
Oh! Hard times come again no more.

'Tis the song, the sigh of the weary,
Hard times, hard times, come again no more
Many days you have lingered around my cabin door;
Oh! Hard times come again no more.


Happy Thanksgiving!
Or, as we say in Yiddish:
Only Simchas!

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Problems With Threes

Annals of Government: Well, it's now official. Abq Jew can now happily state - along with millions of happy voters - that the current Outgoing Incumbent (OI) president is a Lame Duck.

Lame Duck

Be it known that, while the Urban Dictionary defines "lame" as an "adjective used to describe someone who is boring, uncool, or just sucks in general," Wikipedia offers a more robust explanation of the term "lame duck."
The phrase "lame duck" was coined in the 18th century at the London Stock Exchange, to refer to a stockbroker who defaulted on his debts.  
The term was transferred to US(!) politicians in the 19th century. 

In the literal sense, the term refers to a duck which is unable to keep up with its flock, making it a target for predators.
Three Lame Ducks

There are many in the Senate and the House of Representatives (including, alas, several Democrats) who are also Lame Ducks. Yes, that makes (in a manner of speaking) Three Lame Ducks. Lined up. In a row. 

An Unholy Trinity, you (or Abq Jew) might say.

Tommy Tuberville

And then there's Tommy Tuberville, the Republican Senator-elect from Alabama, who defeated - in a landslide - the OI senator, Democrat Doug Jones.

Doug Jones is a former United States Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama. His most prominent cases were the successful prosecution of two Ku Klux Klan members for the 1963 Birmingham church bombing that killed four African-American girls and the indictment of domestic terrorist Eric Rudolph.

Tommy Tuberville (/ˈtʌbərvɪl/) is a retired football coach. He was the head football coach at the University of Mississippi, Auburn University, Texas Tech, and the University of Cincinnati. He is the only coach in Auburn football history to beat in-state rival Alabama six consecutive times.

One Two Three

Yes, Senator-elect Tuberville has problems with threes. As you may have heard (example here), he recently (post-election) misidentified the three branches of the US government as

the House; the Senate; and the Executive

He also claimed that he tells people his dad "fought 76 years ago in Europe to free Europe of socialism." He later clarified that he meant

Socialism and Communism

The correct answer here (Abq Jew is sure he doesn't have to tell you) is Fascism. As for the three branches of the US government  - our Holy Trinity, you (or Abq Jew might say) - Wikipedia tells us
Three Branches Government

The Constitution of the United States, originally comprising seven articles, delineates the national frame of government. 

Its first three articles embody the doctrine of the separation of powers, whereby the federal government is divided into three branches

the legislative, consisting of the bicameral Congress (Article I);

the executive, consisting of the president and subordinate officers (Article II); and

the judicial, consisting of the Supreme Court and other federal courts (Article III). 

Americans, we all know, can be kind, compassionate and caring. 


And so several Tweeters (referring to Twitter, the social media engine), including @NurseSheepie, asked the helpful question:

Three Branches

What are the three branches of government?
WRONG answers ONLY.

Boy, did @NurseSheepie and the others get WRONG answers. Including:

Me, Myself, and I

Offense, Defense, Special Teams

Rock Paper Scissors
Rock, Paper, Scissors

The Good Bad Ugly
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

The Three Stooges
Moe, Larry, and Curley

Huey Dewey Louis
Huey, Dewey, and Louis

Snap, Crackle, and Pop

Bed Bath Beyond
Bed Bath & Beyond

Larry, Darryl, and Darryl

Groucho, Chico, and Harpo

Patty, LaVerne, and Maxine

Shlemiel, Shlimazel, 
Hasenpfeffer Incorporated!

And, finally -

3 Branches

Which brings us to -


Saint Patrick's Day 2017 

Wherein Abq Jew seriously discussed (seriously) the shamrock, both as a symbol of Ireland and as a metaphor for the Christian Holy Trinity.

Problems with threes. Again. 

Whereupon Abq Jew asked:

How about us Jews? Don't we get a Holy Trinity, too?

Three Things

Yes, we do!

We Jews have our own set of Trinities! There are, in fact, lots of threes in Judaism -

  • Noah had three sons: Ham, Shem and Japheth
  • The Three Patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob
  • The prophet Balaam beat his donkey three times.
  • The prophet Jonah spent three days and nights in the belly of a large fish
  • Three divisions of the Written Torah: Torah (Five Book of Moses), Nevi'im (Prophets), Ketuvim (Writings)
  • Three divisions of the Jewish people: Kohen, Levite, Yisrael
  • Three daily prayers: Shacharit, Mincha, Maariv
  • Three Shabbat meals
  • Shabbat ends when three stars are visible in the night sky
  • Three Pilgrimage Festivals: Passover, Shavuot, Sukkot
  • Three matzos on the Passover Seder table
  • The Three Weeks, a period of mourning bridging the fast days of Seventeenth of Tammuz and Tisha B'Av
  • Three cardinal sins for which a Jew must die rather than transgress: idolatry, murder, sexual immorality
  • A Beth Din is composed of three members

Many more sets of threes appear in Pirkei Avot, a compilation of the ethical teachings and maxims of Mishnaic-period Rabbis.

The first verse of Pirkei Avot tells us

Moses received the Torah from Sinai and transmitted it to Joshua; Joshua to the elders; the elders to the prophets; and the prophets handed it down to the men of the Great Assembly. They said three things: 
Be deliberate in judgment, raise up many disciples, and make a fence around the Torah.

Plenty of the following verses also tell us "three things," But it is the second verse to which Abq Jew wishes to draw your attention.

Shimon the Righteous was one of the last survivors of the Great Assembly. He used to say: 
On three things the world is sustained: on the Torah, on worship, and on deeds of lovingkindness.

    Any one of these three things - Torah, worship, or lovingkindness - would not be enough. Indeed, any two of these things would not be enough. But these three things together enable us to build a sturdy structure for living in the world.

    And speaking (which we were; see above) of Unholy Trinities: 
    Tragically, here in New Mexico (and all over the USA) Covid-19 cases are up; Covid-19 hospitalizations are up; Covid-19 deaths are, alas, up. 

    Therefore, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham and Abq Jew say:

    New Mexico! Stay Home!

    NM Stay Home

    Even (Especially) for Thanksgiving!
    No Place Like Home

    Thursday, November 12, 2020

    You Want It Darker

    In the Time of Covid-19: Democracy and freedom won the 2020 US Presidential Election, even if that victory was not universal down the ballot. There is good reason for joy and optimism.

    And yet. The numbers of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths from the coronavirus pandemic continue to rise at an alarming rate. Across New Mexico. Across the US. Across the world.

    Sitting in his hotel room in New York one morning in November 2016 - shortly after the apocalyptic US election - Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks suddenly had a thought about a connection between the late (he had passed away the day before the US election) Leonard Cohen's song You Want It Darker, the (then) current state of the world, 

    The Akedah

    and last week's parsha of Vayera. In which we are told of The Binding of Isaac.

    And it came to pass that God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham.”

    “Here I am,” Abraham responded.

    God said, “Take, I beg of you, your only son whom you love, Isaac, and get yourself to the land of Moriah and offer him on one of the mountains.”

    So Abraham did as he was told, journeying with his wood for the offering and with his son and his servants to the place that God had told him. On the third day, Abraham and Isaac left the servants and took the wood for the offering, some fire and a knife. So they went, both of them, together.

    Isaac spoke to his father, Abraham, “My father!”

    Abraham said, “Here I am, my son.”

    We all know the story. We know how it ends. And every year (if not every day), we struggle with it. What does the story mean, and what can the story teach us about how to live our own lives?

    First, some background. About Leonard Cohen, Wikipedia tells us:

    Leonard Norman Cohen CC GOQ (September 21, 1934 – November 7, 2016) was a Canadian singer-songwriter, poet, and novelist. His work explored religion, politics, isolation, depression, sexuality, loss, death and romantic relationships.

    He was born in the Montreal suburb of Westmount, Quebec.

    His Lithuanian-born mother, Marsha ("Masha") Klonitsky (1905–1978), was the daughter of a Talmudic writer, Rabbi Solomon Klonitsky-Kline, and emigrated to Canada in 1927. His paternal grandfather, whose family had moved from Poland to Canada, was Lyon Cohen, the founding president of the Canadian Jewish Congress. 

    His parents gave him the Jewish name Eliezer, which means 'God is help'. 

    His father, Nathan Bernard Cohen (1891–1944), who owned a substantial clothing store, died when Cohen was nine years old. 

    The family observed Orthodox Judaism, and belonged to Congregation Shaar Hashomayim, to which Cohen retained connections for the rest of his life. 

    On the topic of being a kohen, Cohen told Richard Goldstein in 1967, "I had a very Messianic childhood. I was told I was a descendant of Aaron, the high priest."

    Wikipedia tells us about the song You Want It Darker.

    "You Want It Darker" is a single by Canadian poet and musician Leonard Cohen, released on September 21, 2016, Cohen's 82nd birthday. It is the title track from Cohen's album You Want It Darker

    The song earned the artist a Grammy Award for Best Rock Performance and features the vocals of Cantor Gideon Zelermeyer and Shaar Hashomayim Choir.

    Andy Greene of Rolling Stone wrote:

    Cohen’s sparse, spoken-word delivery is paired with Montreal’s Cantor Gideon Zelermyer and the Shaar Hashomayim Synagogue Choir with chilling effect. 

    “They’re lining up the prisoners and the guards are taking aim,” Cohen says. “I struggled with some demons/They were middle class and tame/I didn’t know I had permission to murder and to maim/You want it darker/I’m ready my lord.”

    And Malka Simkovich wrote movingly in Lehrhaus about Leonard Cohen's lifetime of wrestling with God:

    Cohen employed religious material in his music in order to explore issues of identity and mortality in a way that doesn’t, at first, lead the listener to realize that his lyrics are religious at all. 

    Yet "You Want it Darker" is founded on a religious tradition that galvanized three thousand years of accusations against God. 

    As Cohen accuses God of causing human suffering, we must remember that Cohen is getting in on an existential debate that he knows has been ongoing since the biblical period itself, when Abraham argued with God, accusing Him of ruthlessness towards the people of Sodom, and Moses railed against God when He threatens to destroy the Israelites, and David beseeched God to stop causing him personal pain.  

    Cohen, of course, is aware of this precedent, and sees himself as an extension of ancient voices who long ago asked questions that could not be answered.

    And, she added:

    In the end, however, Cohen recognizes that his mortality is something that he has no choice but to accept. God is still addressed “my Lord:” God exercises control over Cohen, and Cohen accepts that he is in the dark—in the dark about how the world works, and in the dark when it comes to his own mortality.

    Ms Simkovich concludes:

    Like many devotees of Cohen’s music, I feel a connection to him that, when I listen to his music, seems unique. 

    Of course, the feeling is not unique: all people in some way or another are coping with the reality that they are going to die, and if they are religious, they must also face the task of cultivating (or neglecting) a relationship with God that more often than not seems one-sided. 

    The irony of feeling so connected to Cohen because of his lyrics, lyrics that reflected his intense existential loneliness, makes his absence all the more painful for those who found comfort in his music.

    But wait. There's more. There's always more. First, with Leonard Cohen. And then, with Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, who beautifully connects "You Want It Darker" with The Binding of Isaac. 

    This is who we have lost. Leonard Cohen, four years ago. Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, just last week.

    May their memories
    be a blessing for all of us.

    Monday, November 9, 2020

    Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, 72

    Baruch Dayan Emet | Nishmato Eden: Could the announcement of our new President-elect and Vice President-elect have been more bittersweet? As we American Jews (by an outstanding 56% margin) shouted Mazel Tov as we made Kiddush, we learned of the death of Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

    Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

    For those who may not be familiar with Rabbi Lord Sacks' life and work, Wikipedia tells us:

    Jonathan Henry Sacks, Baron Sacks (Hebrew: יעקב צבי זקס‎; 8 March 1948 – 7 November 2020) was a British Orthodox rabbi, philosopher, theologian, author, and politician.

    He served as the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth from 1991 to 2013. As Chief Rabbi, Sacks formally carried the title of Av Beit Din (head) of the London Beth Din. At the time of his death, he was the Emeritus Chief Rabbi.

    After stepping down as Chief Rabbi, in addition to his international travelling and speaking engagements and prolific writing, Sacks served as the Ingeborg and Ira Rennert Global Distinguished Professor of Judaic Thought at New York University and as the Kressel and Ephrat Family University Professor of Jewish Thought at Yeshiva University. 

    He was also appointed as Professor of Law, Ethics, and the Bible at King's College London. He won the Templeton Prize (awarded for work affirming life's spiritual dimension) in 2016. He was also a Senior Fellow to the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights.

    And the JTA's Ben Harris, Cnaan Lipschitz, and Gabe Friedman write:

    Jonathan Sacks, former UK chief rabbi and Jewish ‘intellectual giant,’ dies at 72

    Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, the former chief rabbi of the United Kingdom whose extensive writings and frequent media appearances commanded a global following among Jews and non-Jews alike, has died.

    Sacks died Saturday morning at age 72, his Twitter account announced. He was in the midst of a third bout of cancer, which he had announced in October.

    Sacks was among the world’s leading exponents of Orthodox Judaism for a global audience. In his 22 years as chief rabbi, he emerged as the most visible Jewish leader in the United Kingdom and one of the European continent’s leading Jewish voices, offering Jewish wisdom to the masses through a regular segment he produced for the BBC. 

    He had a close relationship with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who called Sacks “an intellectual giant” and presented him with a lifetime achievement award in 2018.

    Sacks was also an immensely prolific author, addressing pressing social and political issues in a succession of well received books. His popular commentary on the prayer book, published by Koren, helped to dethrone the more traditionalist Artscroll Siddur as the preeminent prayer book in American Modern Orthodox synagogues.

    Abq Jew recently wrote (see Mourning Notorious R.B.G.) about Rabbi Lord Sacks, upon the passing of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg.

    What life experience, advice or piece of wisdom
    do you think is most important
    to pass on to the next generation?

    Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks offered:

    Wisdom is free, yet it is also the most expensive thing there is, for we tend to acquire it through failure or disappointment or grief. That is why we try to share our wisdom, so that others will not have to pay the price for it that we paid. Judaism has taught me far more about life than the space allows for here, but I do want to share with you three key lessons I have learned.

    First, use your time well. Life is short, too short to waste on television, computer games and unnecessary emails; too short to waste on idle gossip, or envying others for what they have; too short for anger and indignation; too short to waste on criticizing others. “Teach us to number our days,” says Psalm 90, “that we may get a heart of wisdom.”

    But any day on which you have done some good to someone has not been wasted.

    One final word, offered yesterday as a hesped (eulogy) by Gila Sacks, Rabbi Sacks' youngest daughter.

    May his memory be a blessing

    Tuesday, November 3, 2020

    Never Ever Give Up Hope

    Election Day 2020: It is early here in the Land of Enchantment. There isn't a lot of news to report, and most of what's reported - especially from Europe - is bad. But  - ICYMI - here is one outstanding example of why we should

    Never Ever Give Up Hope

    Metro Whale
    A photo taken in Spijkenisse, the Netherlands, on Monday shows a metro train that
    shot through a stop block at De Akkers metro station. (Robin Utrecht/AFP/Getty Images)

    Adam Taylor
    of The Washington Post tells us:

    Saved by the whale: Runaway train caught by fateful sculpture

    A fatefully placed whale sculpture in the Netherlands saved a careening train from certain devastation Monday, catching the lead runaway metro carriage on the graceful arc of its mammoth tail.

    The improbable incident unfolded at the De Akkers metro station in Spijkenisse just after midnight. Photos from the scene suggest that the train, part of the Rotterdam Metro network, had been unable to stop as it reached its terminus and overran the track.

    Rather than fall more than 30 feet to the ground, the train was brought to a stop by one of two whale tail sculptures at the end of the track. The driver of the train was able to escape. He visited a hospital as a precautionary measure, according to local media reports. 

    Dutch emergency services have told reporters there were no other passengers aboard.

    The artwork’s official name, “Saved by the Whale’s Tail,” now seems apt. Made out of plastic and installed in 2002, its designer seemed surprised it could hold a moving train.

    “It has been there for almost 20 years,” architect Maarten Struijs told NOS. “You actually expect the plastic to disintegrate a bit, but that apparently is not the case.” 

    Struijs told the Dutch broadcaster that the event was a “miracle” and that he was impressed by how artistic the train looked on his creation.

    Experts said it was unclear why the train had not been stopped by automatic buffers at the end of the track. “I don’t understand how this can happen,” Rob Goverde, professor of rail traffic engineering at TU Delft, told Algemeen Dagblad. 

    "Apparently something went wrong technically, possibly combined with human error.” 

    Cessna Valley Stream
    A Cessna plane came to a stop in front of a home in Valley Stream, NY. Theodore Parisienne

    All the way back in April 2019 BC, in those happy days Before Covid, Abq Jew wrote (see Passover: Last Days):

    Here's a wonderful photo from Michael Gold's article in The New York Times. Which reminds us all that salvation may arise, and that the Messiah may come, only at the last possible moment. Or as Kafka stated:

    The Messiah will come only when he is no longer necessary;
    he will come only on the day after his arrival;
    he will come, not on the last day, but on the very last.

    A Crashing Small Plane Was Snagged by Power Lines, Stopping a Foot From Disaster

    The aircraft first clipped the roof of a church, then several power lines, local officials said, before becoming entangled in the cables like a fly in a web, suspended a foot above the front lawn of a brick home. 

    When the Nassau County police arrived at the scene, they found the plane dangling from the utility cables, nose down, hovering as if freeze-framed a second before tragedy. 

    The pilot and two passengers, mostly unharmed, were sitting on a nearby curb. 

    Metro Whale Air
    An aerial photo of the scene taken on Monday. (Jeffrey Groeneweg/AFP/Getty Images)

    Yes, the Rotterdam Metro is certainly one of the greatest catches of all time. 

    The Catch

    Yes, right up there with The Catch made by the San Francisco 49ers' Dwight Clark (of blessed memory) on January 10, 1982 (Abq Jew was there, sorta).

    What Abq Jew is saying is

    Gevalt Yidden

    In any event, Abq Jew is sure you will be pleased to know that Ward Sutton has submitted a few initial designs for a monument to our nation's 45th president. In The New Yorker, of course. Here's one:

    Sutton Monument

    However, it is Abq Jew's firm belief that our nation's 45th president will be remembered somewhat differently. By David Ostow.

    Why No Floor 45

    Alexandra Petri