No PR firm could have rocketed the new Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar onto the national scene as quickly as her comments on Israel, Jews, and pay-offs. Congress’ debate on how to censure her use of centuries old stereotypes ended with a general denouncement of hate groups, but she remained front and center. I saw Congress’ official response to Omar’s words as a wishy-washy, no-brainer attempt to avoid a statement regarding Israelis and Palestinians. They should be able to do more than echo the Month Python joke, “Run Away! Run Away!”
“I can’t be that old!” I muttered when I saw the latest cover of my Harvard alumni magazine. It commemorated the year 1969, fifty years ago, with the phrase “Time of Turmoil”. The article explains how “The images of that time remain vivid for those who lived through it…” They’re more than vivid for me. The campus turned into Protest Alley and tear gas rose up from the streets. There were Civil Rights marches and demonstrations and students demanding African-American studies. There was a blossoming Women’s Liberation Movement as the women’s college Radcliffe merged with Harvard. Today’s activists use similar strategies of marches, signs, and slogans, but with an internet megaphone.
(originally published in The Chattanooga Times Free Press)
The day of the Bigger the Better came to an epic crash when Amazon pulled out of a deal to build its new headquarters in Queens, a borough outside of New York City. The huge investment was going to result in 25,000 new jobs and millions, if not billions, in new tax revenue to support schools, housing, and infrastructure. But the $3 billion dollars in tax breaks was controversial and local objections meant that Amazon activated its ‘Run Away’ mode.
Like anyone who’s spent years working in Manhattan, I know that New Yorkers’ protests can be loud, insistent, and downright aggressive. That’s why Frank Sinatra sang about New York, “If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.” Was Amazon unprepared or just annoyed by the New York normal? Its abrupt exit shocked New Yorkers and prompted NYC Mayor Bill De Blasio to say, “Amazon couldn’t handle the heat” and the debacle was an “abuse of corporate power.” The incident prompted political diatribes, tweets, and cartoons galore, but little understanding of the key issues at stake.
The recent kerfuffle involving Chinese graduate students speaking in their native language during a break at Duke University underscores our growing hostility towards internationals. The head of a master’s program urged the students to speak and practice English 100%. Even if it’s just private conversations in Chinese, she worried that they’d be overheard and discriminated against for not speaking English. As the controversy exploded, she stepped down as program head while Duke reassured its international students that they were valued.
International students make up 14% of Duke’s class of 2021 and are a substantial revenue source for the university’s revenue, like many of our higher education institutions. It’s not surprising that Duke respects these students’ contribution to their ongoing existence. The university chose not to buy into the current fear and loathing of anything foreign that generates suspicion, dislike, and even violence. There is little to be gained in allowing the negative trends to overcome common sense and the common good.
The partial shutdown that President Trump and two branches of government agreed to lift temporarily left thousands of families with no income, with many forced to work without a paycheck, relying on reimbursement in the vague future. Their unemployment and indentured servitude has put a spotlight on their need for the basics of survival. The idea of these families going hungry has affected all of us and the impact is growing. It’s impressive that people are helping them with donations, restaurants are serving free meals, and food pantries are gearing up for waves of new clients. Let’s hope that the generosity and humanity currently on display remains alive and well after the resolution of the shutdown.
(Originally published in The Chattanooga Times Free Press)
Of the top stories summing up 2018 and predictions for 2019, few mentioned the escalating rate of suicide. Adjusted for age, the annual U.S. suicide rate increased 24% between 1999 and 2014, the highest rate recorded in 28 years. Yet, despite about 129 suicides per day across the country, the topic remains in the shadows.
You may think that Tennessee is an exception, but we have twice as many suicides than homicides. With a suicide rate well above the national average, suicide is the tenth cause of death in our state. Tennessee averages one suicide every eight hours. And the situation continually worsens. The Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network reports that suicide deaths have steadily increased over the last 35 years since they’ve been monitoring suicide.
We struggle to resist the temptation minute to minute this time of year. It begins with Halloween candy and proceeds to Thanksgiving dinner, exploding with holiday eating extravaganzas with the year’s tastiest foods. By the New Year, the scale shows our over-indulgence. It’s no coincidence that 12% of gym members join in January.
Maybe this year we’ll wake up to the fact that 30 million Americans suffer from the obesity-related disease of diabetes. Did you know that the ten states with the highest rates of type 2 diabetes are here in the South?
Editor’s note: this article on anti-Semitism was originally published as an op-ed in The Chattanooga Times Free Press.
Russian President Putin got my attention when he suggested that Jews with Russian citizenship might have interfered in the 2016 US presidential election. “Maybe they’re not even Russians,” said Putin. “Maybe they’re Ukrainians, Tatars, Jews, just with Russian citizenship – even that needs to be checked.” Putin reminded me why my great grandparents made the harrowing journey from Russia and the Ukraine to the United States. My ancestors weren’t the only ones. Between 1881 and 1924, over 2.5 million East European Jews sought to escape the relentless persecution and ghettoization. The slice of history was captured in the movie Fiddler on the Roof, but while Hollywood entertained, it didn’t fully show the history of anti-Semitism in Russia and Eastern Europe, or its ongoing ripple effect.
Thanksgiving isn’t just food, family, football, and Black Friday. Not that there’s anything wrong with stuffing yourselves and your loved ones and then heading for the couch and TV or the shopping mall. All are fine American traditions celebrating the abundance in our lives, topped off with delicious left overs. But they seem more removed than ever from the holiday’s intended purpose.
That purpose was demonstrated at the Interfaith Thanksgiving Service held at Pilgrim Congregational Church. We sat in the pews listening to the harmonies of a choir made up of talented congregants from faith groups across the city. The graceful music surrounded and filled us as religious leaders representing Baha’i, Catholic, Humanist, Jewish, Muslim, and Protestant communities offered prayers and poems of gratitude and compassion.
(originally published in The Chattanooga Times Free Press)
When I heard that Holocaust Survivor Eva Schloss was speaking in Chattanooga, I seriously considered staying home. I know Holocaust stories all too well from my work in Holocaust education, the hand-typed memoirs of survivors sent to me, and my father’s World War II letters. Dad was a US military intelligence officer assigned to interrogate Nazi prisoners of war. His letters described their education into fascism and its authoritarian ultranationalism, dehumanizing minorities and suppressing opposition.