A New Day

In 2009, I went to President Obama’s first inauguration. It is lovely memory which I have been reflecting on this week. There is also a poignancy to thinking about that day since my brother was alive and well then but has been gone for over 7 years now.

I watched all of the inaugural festivities on Wednesday and thought they were perfect and beautiful. Obama’s first inauguration represented a new beginning and so does Biden’s. Four year of our worst president ever who also happened to be a fascist has erased what a bad president George W. Bush was.

Let us take the hope Biden’s presidency has inspired and turn it into action to defeat COVID, systemic racism and economic inequality. Here is my post from January 22, 2009, exactly 12 years ago.

Change Has Come

I went to Washington for the Inauguration. It was amazing. My husband and I were there from Saturday until yesterday. Saturday evening we went to a Fairfax County Democratic Ball which was very interesting. It is great that Virginia went Democratic for the first time since 1964.

Sunday we went to see a Lincoln exhibit at the National Museum of American History and also saw Julia Child’s kitchen. She had two copies of Joy of Cooking which I guess means that book was as indispensable to her as to the rest of America. We also met the director of the museum. He gave us directions.

Then we walked toward the Washington Monument to try to attend the We are One concert. We hooked up with a lovely young woman named Rima and her sister. Rima is a Washington native so she was very helpful and extraordinarily nice. The whole time in Washington everyone was very nice. We wound up being pretty close to the stage at the Lincoln Memorial, and I did see with my own eyes, not on the JumboTron, the bottom half of Obama walk to the podium so I guess that we can count that as my Obama sighting.

The concert was very exciting. Garth Brooks was the best. When Pete Seeger and Bruce Springsteen sang “This Land is Your Land” everyone was singing. One person near me was pledging allegiance. The concert built as it went along and Obama’s speech was very good. Beyonce closed the concert which was very entertaining.

On Monday we walked completely around the Tidal Basin and saw both the Jefferson Memorial and the Roosevelt Memorial. The Martin Luther King Junior Memorial will also be on the Tidal Basin which is where the Cherry Blossoms are in the spring. The scenery was beautiful. (I will put up pictures in the next few days.) Since it was Martin Luther King Day and President Obama said it should be a day of service, we went and picketed in front of a Hilton Hotel with the workers from the hotel. Apparently they have been working without a contract for a year and a half. All of the candidates for governor of Virginia were there including Terry McAuliffe, Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager. He was the biggest celebrity we saw on our trip. He was passing out cookies.

Tuesday morning we go up at 3:15 in the morning and made our way to a subway stop parking garage in Northern Virginia. Even that early there was a line and many, many people on the Metro. We went to my sister-in-law’s office which is relatively close to the Capital. We ate some breakfast and had some coffee then set out to get to the Mall to see the swearing-in. There were more people on the street then I have ever seen and it was only 6:30 in the morning.  My brother had two tickets but very nicely gave them away to stay with us and his children, who are eighteen and fifteen. We were trying to get to 7th and Independence which was the start of the non-ticketed standing area on the Mall. At one point a truck needed to get by and everyone had to squeeze together. Near 7th a guard told us that we should go on to 12th or 14th. We wound up getting on to the Mall at 12th – there was no security- and watched the whole on a JumboTron between 9th and 12th.

I feel so fortunate that we actually got onto the Mall and saw the whole thing live. It was very cold and we stood there from 7 a.m. until 1p.m. They showed the concert again as a warm-up and then the ceremony started at 10 a.m. The crowd was enormous  and very friendly. There were millions of flags and every time there was anything to cheer about everyone waved them at the same time. It was so moving to see the flags and to feel so good about my country. To be in Washington for a positive reason and share that with so many people was truly a blessing. When Obama spoke and stood up for the Constitution and civil liberties it was thrilling. Reverend Lowery’s benediction was stunning and it was a great feeling to say Amen with everyone else. Only my feet got cold and I put hand warmers in my shoes. Attending the swearing in feels like I got a  gift. Yes We Can! Yes We Did! Yes We Will!

2021 Goals and Resolutions

As I mentioned last week, my main goal for 2020 was to finish my book and I did not achieve that. Completion of the book remains my main goal for  2021. I have been working on the sixth chapter since the fall. When I finish that, I will have four left. I am really going to try to complete it this year.

My goals for 2020 did not include anything about losing weight but i did lose 20 pounds  last year. I know many people gained the COVID 15, but I am glad I went in the other direction. At the beginning of 2020 I tried intermittent fasting which I did for a while. The big change came in June when I joined Noom. Noom is a form of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)  and uses artificial intelligence (AI) in its work with clients.

Although I did not count my calories every day, as the program suggests you do, I did watch my calories and weigh myself everyday.  The other part of Noom is reading articles, answering quizzes and interacting with both a group coach and an individual coach. I am not sure if either of these are real people. They may be bots. I have gained insights about my behavior, eating and otherwise, from Noom.

My resolution for 2021 is to lose the remaining three pounds I have to  lose to get to my original weight goal and to not gain the weight back. I have lost weight before but I have always gained it back. I hope that the lessons I have learned from Noom stay with me even when I am no longer paying for the program.

I plan to continue to tweet every day and post on this site every week. Between politics, the pandemic, beer, and other topics, I am fairly confident I will have plenty to say. Today will be the last Wednesday that I post a blog. I am going to return to Friday as the day I post.  I am hoping this will create a better writing schedule.

See you January 22nd.

Bye Bye 2020

As everyone knows, 2020 was a unique and often terrible year. Like most people, I was glad to see it go. I am very grateful that my family has been safe and not had Covid.

Looking back, my  main goal for 2020 was to finish my book. I didn’t achieve that but I did finish my fifth chapter. I am currently working on the sixth. For most of the year, I attended one of Nerissa Nields writing groups. The group was very helpful with finishing the  fifth chapter.

The best part of the year was my younger son’s wedding. I am so glad that I was able to attend the ceremony despite COVID. Many of my other plans were upended by the pandemic. I did not skate for  five months, we didn’t go to JazzFest in New Orleans,  and I last saw my older son in August at the wedding.

I haven’t really been anywhere since last February.  This could be one of the reasons that I blogged more frequently this year. There were 53 weeks in 2020 and I posted 51 times. I tweeted 594 times which is the same pace as last year.

Beside my writing, my other goal for 2020 was defeating Donald Trump. Along with thousands of other people, I achieved that. Defeating fascism feels really good.

It seems likely that both Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphel Warnock will become Senators. This will give Democrats  a slim margin. I have great hope that people will soon receive $2000 relief checks, unemployment benefits will be extended and there will be an effective and efficient distribution system for the COVID-19 vaccine.

As I am about to post this, insurrectionists have stormed and breached the U.S. Capitol. I will try to write about these events in another post. Let’s pray for a better year with our country being safe, strong and free.

Happy New Year!

 

 

 

Human Rights Shabbat D’Var Torah – Part 3.

This is the final part of the talk I gave, December 12th,  at the Jewish Community of Amherst in honor of Human Rights Shabbat.

The law (Civil Rights Act, 1965) restored the rights the 14th and 15th  Amendments had originally granted to the newly freed slaves. The 1965 Voting Rights Act prohibited literacy tests and required federal oversight of voter registration in areas where less than 50 percent of the non-white population had not registered to vote. The law greatly increased black voting in Southern States. In Mississippi, participation went from 6 percent in 1964 to 59 percent in 1969. The Voting Rights Act provided both the federal courts and the federal government a variety of resources to ensure that there would be no discrimination in voting access.

A 2013 Supreme Court decision in Shelby County vs. Holder ruled section 4b of the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional. This section contained a formula to determine which states required federal preclearance before making changes to their voting laws. This ruling led many southern states that had previously required the preclearance to change their voting laws, making them more restrictive. Several states engaged in mass purging of voter rolls, increased identification requirements and reduced the number of polling places. In the last election cycle, we saw many pictures of mostly black and brown people waiting on long lines to vote. One observer has called long voting lines the new poll tax.

As many of you may know there are currently two runoff Senate races in Georgia. The primary and runoff system in that state is itself the product of racist desires to keep black s from voting as a bloc and therefore gaining electoral power.  From 1917 to 1963, George had a county unit system for primaries. This system privileged, in a similar way to the electoral college, rural areas where most black did not live.

In 1963, the Supreme Court ruled this system unconstitutional. A Georgia Congressmen, Denmark Groover, a committed segregationist, stated that he supported the creation of runoff system for elections because it “would again provide protection which … was removed with the death of the county unit system.”

Groover believed the runoff would “prevent the Negro bloc vote from controlling the elections.” Georgia recently announced it was reducing the number of polling places for early voting for the election on Jan. 5. Georgia has never elected an African American Governor, lieutenant governor, senator, or Secretary of State. The first African American Attorney General was elected in 1998. Of course, if the Democrats win, a black man, and a Jew will both become Georgia Senators.  (I know that sounds like the beginning of a joke) Reverend Raphael Warnock would be the first African-American Democratic Senator from the South.

When I read the Joseph story, I wondered why it is in the Torah?  What purpose does his story serve? Joseph’s story gets us to Exodus and places the Israelites in Egypt where the legacy of his accomplishments has disappeared. The sense of fragility that the story conveys has greatly increased among American Jews in the past four years. Although, as an aggregate, wildly successful, American Jews have wondered if that success could be taken away. Could the rise of white nationalism lead to more anti-Semitism and an increase in hate crimes? The short answer is yes.

One of the goals of both the Tikkun Olam Committee and the Tzedek Initiative is to join learning and study with action. The action I am proposing in connection with Human Rights Shabbat is for the JCA to give its support to Fair Fight, one of Stacy Abrams’ voting rights organizations. According to their website, Fair Fight promotes “fair elections in Georgia and around the country, encourages voter participation in elections, and educates voters about elections and their voting rights. Fair Fight brings awareness to the public on election reform, advocates for election reform at all levels, and engages in other voter education programs and communications.”

I recently made calls with Fair Fight. They strictly enforce their non-partisan status and neither of the candidates are mentioned in the call script. We can support them through donations and by helping in their efforts to expand voting access in Georgia and across the county.

************************************************

There are  six days left before the Jan 5th election in Georgia. if you have time, please try to make some calls to get out the vote.

Next week, I will provide a review of 2020. Happy New Year!

 

Human Rights Shabbat D’Var Torah – Part2

This is the second part of the talk I gave on Dec. 12 for Human Rights Shabbat. Lunch and Learn is a weekly group at the synagogue where I lead discussions, based on texts, centered around relationships between African Americans and Jews. We focus on ways for us, as Jewish Americans, to become more actively  and consciously anti-Racist.

In Lunch and Learn, we often discuss the gradual process by which Ashkenazi Jewish immigrants and their descendants became white. In the area of citizenship and voting, the process was more immediate. Once any immigrant naturalized, they could vote. Before 1920, this meant fathers and sons. After passage of the 19th Amendment naturalized female immigrants could vote, making them more fully citizens. An untold story of the suffragist fight for the franchise was the role of black women. Their involvement in expanding American freedom continues to this day. In 2020, the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, I believe black women saved our democracy.

Southern whites, in enacting Jim Crow, to replace slavery as a means of enforcing racial separation and hierarchy, used a variety of methods to prevent African Americans from voting. Southern legislators placed the poll tax at a high enough rate that it was effectively out of reach for all poor people, black and white. The rigidly hierarchical nature of post-Civil War Southern society meant most blacks and many poor whites did not own property which was another Jim Crow requirement for voting. Southern states also had literacy requirements which were difficult for poorly educated blacks and many poor whites to pass.  Again, naturalized Jews, living in mostly Northern urban areas faced none of these hurdles when going to vote.

Many of the current requirements in various states around voting which we probably take for granted and assume they have always existed include voter registration which often ends as early as a month before election day and identification requirements. Most of these were enacted in the Progressive Era of the late 19th and early 20th century by both white Jim Crow Southerners and white northern reformers to limit voting access for blacks, immigrants including Jews and Italians and poor whites.

In 1948, when the UN adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, President Truman, a Democrat, proposed a suite of legislation that would have made a significant dent in the Jim Crow edifice. He advocated the creation of a permanent Fair Employment Practices Commission, an anti-lynching law, anti-poll tax legislation and the prohibition of discrimination in inter-state transportation facilities.

Today’s parsha ends with Joseph in jail. He has been falsely accused of attempting to sleep with his master’s wife. In the Jim Crow South black men were routinely accused of trespassing with white women and were frequently lynched for this supposed crime. Lynching was the underpinning of a system of ongoing and daily intimidation by whites of black people. This continuous intimidation served as another barrier to voting.

Truman’s Civil Rights program went nowhere because southern senators and congressmen, overwhelmingly Democratic, vehemently opposed it. Progress towards dismantling Jim Crow would have to wait for almost 20 more years. One of the first cracks in Jim Crow disenfranchisement of African Americans came, in 1964 when the 24th Amendment, prohibiting poll taxes in federal election was ratified.

On August 6, 1965, President Lyndon Johnson, with Martin Luther King, Jr. by his side, signed the Voting Rights Act. This deeply significant piece of legislation was enacted after the longest filibuster in American history. People, marching from Selma to Montgomery endured great violence and sometime death to help secure passage of the Act. Demonstrations in other places, such as St. Augustine, Florida also convinced the nation that it was time to make the Jim Crow system of segregation illegal.

Next week, I will post the final  part of the D’Var. Happy Holidays!

Human Rights Shabbat D’Var Torah – Part 1

This is the first of three parts of the talk I gave on Saturday at the Jewish Community of Amherst.

Shabbat Shalom,

Today is Human Rights Shabbat. Every year, Tru’ah, which used to be called Rabbis for Human Rights invites congregations to celebrate the 1948 UN signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This year Tru’ah is focusing on Article 21 which states, unfortunately in patriarchal language, :

(1) Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.

(2) Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country.

(3) The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.

In 1948, when these very inspiring words were adopted, African Americans living in Jim Crow South did not have access to any of these rights.  In 1920, almost 2,000 blacks lived in Charlottesville, Virginia. Only 30 voted in the 1920 presidential election.

Today’s parsha begins the Joseph story. In preparing for this D’Var, I read the whole tale which spans four Shabbats. Looking at the arc of the story, it can be read as Joseph’s journey from Slave to Citizen. Co-incidentally, that is the title of a book by Frank Tannenbaum which Branch Rickey read when he was contemplating choosing Jackie Robinson to break the color line in professional baseball.

More broadly, Joseph’s life was also the story of a foreigner and his descendants achieving great success in a foreign land. This immigrant story, read on its own as a novella, is resonant with the success of Jews in America. Joseph was able to move from having been bought and sold to becoming the chief economic advisor to the Pharaoh. The number of Jews in President-elect Biden’s cabinet reminds us of Joseph’s success.

For Joseph, slavery was not a permanent status or mark. For African Americans, brought in chains to this land, beginning in 1619, slavery was a permanent condition. The Civil War ended this inhumane institution and the brief equalitarian period of Reconstruction brought constitutional amendments which enshrined citizenship for all people and voting rights for all men, black and white.

The 13th amendment abolished slavery and the 14th and 15th established birthright citizenship and granted black men the right to vote. The 15th Amendment was ratified in 1870; at that time Federal troop still occupied wide swaths of the former Confederate States. Once federal troops were withdrawn, following the 1876 election, jurisdiction over voting returned to the individual states. By the late 19th century, most Southern blacks had effectively lost their voting rights. Since citizenship and voting, in a democracy, are inextricably linked, the disenfranchisement of blacks was complete.

Next week I will post the second of the three parts of this talk.

Coming Attractions

This Saturday, December 12th, I will be giving the D’Var Torah at my synagogue, the Jewish Community of Amherst. I am giving the talk in honor of Human Rights Shabbat.  December 10th is Human Rights Day. Every year, the United Nations commemorates the day in 1948 when the UN adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The UN, in its description of Human Rights Day describes this years  observance as “an opportunity to reaffirm the importance of human rights in re-building the world we want, the need for global solidarity as well as our interconnectedness and shared humanity.”

The town of Amherst, Massachusetts celebrates Human Rights Day every year. This year they will be having a socially distanced ceremony. You can read the proclamation here.

I encourage everyone to read  the full Declaration. My talk concerns Article 21 and voting rights. I will post, at least part of, the talk next week.

Stay tuned. Happy Hanukkah

 

Bills

I am writing this post while I am in the midst of trying to reconcile my checkbook and then pay my bills. I usually try to do the reconciliation when the statements arrive so I don’t have to do both tasks, which are very tedious, at the same time. This month, I didn’t manage to do that.

The fact that I even reconcile my checkbook makes me a bit of a dinosaur. If you google about check reconciling, you get mixed answers. Anecdotally, I know that young people, like my sons, don’t balance their checkbook. Most young people write only a few checks; they often don’t even carry money.

We don’t write that many checks but we do use our ATM card a lot.  ATM purchases and automatic withdrawals make up most of our bank statement. I probably still balance my checkbook every month because my mother taught me how to do it years ago and it is a habit.

Paying the bills is actually easy because I pay them online. What takes time is sorting through all the snail mail to weed out what I have to pay each month. Most of the mail is repeat requests for donations. I schedule my charitable giving throughout the year so I usually only donate to each organization once. That doesn’t stop them from sending me monthly or even more frequent reminders. It is such a waste of paper.

The other part of bill paying that takes time is recording the amounts in Quicken. Credit card bills often have several purchases which have to be coded into different categories. That can take a lot of time. I originally got Quicken to be able to track how much we were spending each month. I also use it to balance the checkbook; using it is another habit.

Reading what I have just written makes me realize that it might be time to examine these habits and see if I need to continue them. Surely there is an easier, less time consuming way to track my expenses.

I also realize that I am extremely fortunate that I have enough money to cover my needs and live comfortably. I know that this is a very difficult time for many people who are facing evictions and lack of employment. I so hope that Congress will pass an interim COVID relief package before President Biden is inaugurated in January.

 

Subscription Bomb

 

On Thursday I got an email from Venmo that someone had changed the primary email associated with my account. Before I could focus on what I had to do, my Gmail inbox was suddenly populated with almost four hundred emails. They were mostly emails confirming I had joined or subscribed to something. Of course, I hadn’t.

This was very overwhelming, and I didn’t know what to do first. Venmo wanted me to change my password so I tried that. It didn’t work; I think because it no longer recognized my email address. I sent emails to Venmo support, receiving a response that they would get back to me in twenty-four hours.

I tried to call Venmo, but you can’t reach customer support by phone. I also found out that Venmo will not cancel any payment. You must deal with your financial institution. On Thursday I called my bank to make sure that no payment had gone out to Venmo. On Friday, because I couldn’t reset my password, I went to my bank and put a stop on Venmo.

On Saturday I was finally able to access my Venmo account and I saw that on Thursday there was an unauthorized payment to Buydig.com for over one thousand dollars. I rechecked that the payment hadn’t gone through and then I cancelled my Venmo account. I emailed Venmo informing them of this and asked them to remove the payment. I got no response.

On Monday, the bank called and said that Venmo had tried to put the payment through, but it was blocked. I will never use Venmo again. They were completely useless and have terrible security.

While I was dealing with Venmo, I deleted the four hundred emails. I then found out from a friend that what had happened is called a subscription bombing. The point is to distract you while they try to access your financial information and sites. The article I read said that you could keep getting emails for months or years.

I am still getting about 6-8 emails a day from the subscription bomb. I first tried to put a filter on everything that was in my spam folder. That did nothing. Now for each email, if I can unsubscribe, I do. Then I make an individual filter, directly deleting it. Then I mark it as spam. It is very tedious. If any of you know of any other way for me to deal with this, please let me know.  Happy Thanksgiving.

 

Shelton Brothers

Earlier this month, the big news in craft brewing was the closing of beer importers, Shelton Bros. The company existed for twenty-four years and were early importers of craft beers. They introduced America to different beer styles, such as sour beer. The company’s bank pushed them into liquidation; a victim of COVID-19 and the recession. You can read more about the closing of Shelton Bros. here.

I found this news interesting  because of a personal  connection to the firm. One of the Shelton brothers is Will. He is the dad of Zach and Max who are among my son Alan’s best friends. I have  known Will for over twenty years.

For a while he owned a brewery in Western Massachusetts, High and Mighty, which made great beer. I gave a book talk about Brewing Battles at the Jones Library and we served Will’s beer.  The brewery only lasted a few years and then Will moved to California. There, for a while,  he worked with Pete Slosberg from Pete’s Wicked Ale.  He then started a new brewery, Concrete Jungle. Will is now back in Massachusetts.

The demise of Shelton Bros. reflect changes in the brewing industry. The country has over 7,000 breweries. Many of them are very local and supply farm to table restaurants. American brewers now make many of the unusual and exotic styles that Shelton Bros imported, making them less competitive. You can read more about Shelton Bros, in an article from 2017 by Andy Crouch.