People of the Book Barack Obama: Jew

When you read “Dreams from My Father,” the first thing to strike you is the freedom with which Obama’s family shaped its identity. Obama’s story is one of self-discovery. No Jew discovers himself, he’s told what he is from birth and discovers his place within his roots. The Dunhams, uprooted by the Great Depression, move from state to state in an era when relocating was torture. Ann Dunham, raised without roots, looks for roots in foreign husbands. Barack Sr. treats Ann like an imperial conquest in reverse; when better opportunities arise in Kenya, he abandons his American family without a second thought. The bi-racial, quadri-cultural Obama comes to the post-racial semi-oasis of Hawaii. Even if he wasn’t happy, he’s free to explore all his facets and grow into a great man. Until Obama’s a teenager, his family was barely lower-middle-class, yet he felt no need to ‘make it’ to a higher class. All this points to one thing: Barack Obama is the most goyish man in America.

Obama may be 55, but his grandparents are younger than mine. He came to us in 2008 like a time traveller from a future America when races and cultures synthesize. In 2017, Jews still ask themselves: where is the place for Jews in Obama’s America? The Obama of memoirs argues for a relativist country where cultural identities are not defined by White America, rather, everyone’s identity is accepted for what it is without society imposing any cultural standard from above.

But the idea that there’s no system to define your identity sounds ludicrous to Jews. Wherever the country, the “system” in Judaism never disappears, and our lives are binaurally defined by acceptance or rejection of our religion. Reject Judaism, and we spend our lives stopping our heads from screaming in guilt for its abandonment. Judaism doesn’t proselytize, but take universal morality from Judaism and it ceases to exist. Judaism without systemic standards is impossible, and not only mutually exclusive with the multicultural America of Obama’s dreams, but a reproach to it. Nevertheless, Obama’s writings and Obama’s policies seem created by different people.

The only Jew appearing in his memoir is his boss as a community organizer. Obama describes him as “smart… too sure of himself… no particular attachments… cynical… calculating… tactless… and ‘right.’” Given everything since, it’s difficult to imagine that this couldn’t describe his relationship with Jews in general — what must his private relationships with Axelrod, Plouffe, Summers or Rahm be like? Candidate Obama was a progressive clinging to misbegotten ideals, President Obama was a liberal who embraced realism. Even now, it’s not difficult to imagine something begrudging about his admiration of Jews, but it’s still admiration. His entire background is so unconnected to the Judaism that you have to wonder — is Jewish hostility to Obama from Israel policy, from racism, or bewilderment that a president can be so different from us yet so similar?

Jewish and black histories are similar as only two completely different experiences are: the difference between a culture of no hope, and a culture of hopes dashed. African-American history’s a culture kept alive in a single place for the purpose of being oppressed by it. Jewish history is a culture doomed to thrive everywhere, and again be mass murdered the moment before our security becomes permanent. Admiration between Jews and blacks will always have grudges within it — the grudge of two peoples thinking they suffered worst. Postcolonial ideas about creating identities without imposed systems sound like gibberish in Jewish brains. Jews have to meet the standards of Jewish identity before they can even worry about fitting into their countries of origin. But Obama, as he does to so many worldviews, synthesizes black with Jewish. His heart is goyish, but his brain bespeaks a yiddisher kop. At every point, when time to decide between ideals and results, he compromised ideals to bring them closer to reality.

Candidate Obama was as thoroughly a goy as President Obama’s a Jew. Jews can say that President Obama stabbed us in the back all they want, but when President Obama lifted the U.S.’s Veto to the U.N. Settlement condemnation, he long since gave Israel more money than any president in history. The Great Recession shrank America’s economy 4.6 percent, but Israel’s shrank 0.2 percent. Jews think Obama negotiated a bad deal to get rid of Iranian nuclear capability, but if the deal is bad, then Obama gave Israel all the tools they need to fight Iran — including the bunker busters and the Iron Dome that even George W. Bush kept from Israel. He never wavered in his support of an Israel that thrives. He’s more “Jewish” than most critics of his Israel policies, and much of what he knows about getting results is from Jews.

Evan Tucker is North Baltimore-based writer and composer. He is the violinist and lead singer of the Yiddish rock band Schmear Campaign and has a monthly podcast, “Tales from the Old New Land,” which is a Jewish version of A Prairie Home Companion. Listen at

Too Many Lines Being Drawn

One of us is Orthodox; the other Reform.

One of us is active in J Street and the other is a member of the Zionist Organization of America.

On matters relating to peace and security in Israel, our perspectives are vastly different.

What draws the two of us together is recognition that we are each deeply committed to the State of Israel, if in entirely different ways. We are also bound by a common concern over the shrillness of the Israel debate.

Also of deep concern is the readiness of too many in our community to demonize and assume the worst in those with whom we disagree.

These danger signs hit home for us over the past few weeks in a direct and personal way.

We are both members of Woodmont Country Club who were disappointed and alarmed by the stridency of opinion surrounding President Obama’s supposed interest in becoming a member of the club.

Despite having profound differences on the former president’s record on Israel, the two of us relished the idea of having the Obama family join the ranks of our club, and we encouraged the club leadership to consider the high personal standards Barack Obama exemplified in office, as well as his numerous endeavors on behalf of the Jewish community.

Most of the members with whom we broached the subject strongly agreed and felt it would be a great honor to welcome any former president. To our mutual chagrin, a vocal minority within the club turned this matter into a referendum on Israel.

We are both saddened and concerned, both for what it means for our club and what it says about our community. It’s troublesome and sadly ironic that a club created as a haven for Jews who couldn’t play golf elsewhere may have effectively turned away the nation’s first black president.

We also worry that admission to our social club has become politicized and a forum for members to advocate their individual views toward Israel, an increasingly fraught topic across the Jewish community.

At a time when Americans are splintered into self-reinforcing bubbles, our community is too often guilty of the same thing. And Israel seems to be the epicenter of these dangerous fault lines.

The Jewish community is multifaceted and diverse. Let’s find neutral space and common ground where we can. Let’s not allow politics to infuse our leisure activities and dominate our social interactions.

Adam August is a Potomac resident and Daniel Kohl is a Bethesda resident. Their views do not express the official view of Woodmont Country Club or its leadership.

Appreciating Jewish Connections

Mazel Tov! I am helping my daughter plan her wedding in Israel. She has lived in Israel since she went on a gap year and she is surrounded by many of her closest friends from Baltimore who, like her, made aliyah, served in the IDF, attended university and established their lives in the Jewish state. She is marrying a man who is not from Baltimore, but is an American Israeli who followed the same path. As a mother, I am so filled with joy and anticipation. As an educator, I can’t help but reflect on what brought us to this day.

As I was scrolling through Israeli wedding websites for inspiration, I came across an incredible story. In 1991, Mossad agents arrived in Ethiopia to facilitate the airlift of Ethiopian Jewish children to Israel. As the boy cried for his parents, a Mossad agent hugged and comforted him. That kindness sparked a lifelong friendship, and that little boy became the first Ethiopian rabbi ordained in Israel. And in an “only in Israel” story, Rabbi Shalom performed the wedding ceremony for the Mossad agent’s grown son.

What do you have to know to understand this story? You have to know that the Jewish people have longed for Israel no matter where we wandered — Egypt, Europe or Ethiopia. You have to know that Jews are part of a great nation and that when one of us celebrates, we all celebrate, and when one of us is sad, we are all sad. And when one Jew is suffering, no matter the distance, another Jew is scheming of saving him. You have to feel that G-d has given us a land so precious that we have children who are willing to die protecting it. You have to recognize that a tough Mossad agent, an Ethiopian immigrant, a groom and a Torah scholar are all serving Israel and the Jewish people — and there could in fact be one person who plays all of those roles at once!

Too few of our children know and feel these deep truths connected to Israel. Rather, they see news of riots and demonstrations, fires and rockets. They have not discussed Israel at the dinner table. Their parents are focusing on the challenges, climate and realities of our home in America to the exclusion of our homeland in Israel. And then these children might wait years only to join a Birthright trip and have to make sense of what they are experiencing when critical early learning periods have passed. And then it just may be too late to be an articulate advocate for our epic story.

I am proud that my daughter represents American Jews next to the Mossad agent, the Ethiopian immigrant and all of the other magnificent members of Israeli society. I am proud that she has grabbed on to this piece of her Jewish identity. I can’t wait to dance under the stars in a never-ending circle. As a Jewish people, our story continues. Celebrate with us!

Amian Frost Kelemer is the chief operating officer at the Louise D. and Morton J. Macks Center for Jewish Education.

Reaching Out at a Local Level

Marc B. Terrill This past week we celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day in honor of an extraordinary leader and impassioned advocate who galvanized change through his eloquent words and decisive actions, emboldening our nation to live up to our founding father’s ideals and principles.

As I reflected upon King’s teachings, there was one quote, in particular, that held my attention, particularly as we face an increase in hateful rhetoric that has toxic implications for our great nation. It is this quote — “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that” — that should drive how we, as a country, must move forward.

As Jews, who have been the victims of prejudice and hate throughout our long history, it is our duty to be at the center of this charge, to raise our voices to counteract divisiveness within our society.

It’s an awesome responsibility, one that takes dedication and commitment. Hate is so often grounded in misperceptions and inaccurate information. And yet, if we begin to understand our differences and recognize our commonalities, we can begin to alter these perceptions.

It begins in our own locale. At the grassroots level.  If we want to crush anti-Semitism, to wipe-out xenophobia, to prevent bigotry, we need to reach out to diverse populations. Let’s get to know our neighbors and have them get to know us.

It’s what The Associated and its agencies have been committed to for years. As an example, the Baltimore Jewish Council has hosted numerous interethnic and interreligious dialogues, and this year will be no different. Through its trialogue series, Jewish, Christian and Muslim men and women have learned about each other’s religion from respected clergy.

At the same time, CHAI: Comprehensive Housing Assistance, Inc., another agency, is doing incredible work, changing the way ethnic groups in its neighborhoods view one another. For the past two years, Jewish, Latino, African-American and Caribbean community members have come together talking about everything from cultural traditions to how race can sometimes tear communities apart. Participants tell us that these dialogues have resulted in neighbors, who previously didn’t talk to one another, making connections outside the room.

This year, I encourage you to reach out. Take a stance. Have a conversation with someone from a different background. Get to know them and have them get to know you. It’s the best way to stomp out prejudice and stop it from passing from one generation to the next.

Let us value divergent viewpoints. Let us move forward together and focus on meaningful communication that grows our communities and our nation, not tears it down.

Marc B. Terrill is president of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.

In Israel, Unity Is Most Effective Response

Unfortunately, we as a society have suffered from terror attacks all too often. One might think it would be natural for a society, who has suffered as many attacks as Israel has, to become desensitized to these atrocities. Israel, however, has not succumbed to such a fate. We fight back, day after day, by uniting to save lives and create a society of proper coexistence, rather than one of hate.

It is no secret that trauma can build hate. Hate can be a natural reaction to suffering a traumatic event at the hands of another person, especially if that person is of another race or nationality. But the mission of United Hatzalah is not only to treat the injured, but to build up communities as well. We achieve our goal by uniting people from many different backgrounds, religions and socioeconomic groupings, and point them all to one main goal: saving lives.

Our community-based responder program was developed based on the idea that people in the community, in any community, can join together and form a network of trained individuals committed to saving lives. With the proper training and medical equipment, “regular” everyday people can become heroes in their own communities.

Our heroes, those who leave their jobs, their families and personal lives to rush out at any given moment and save others, includes Jews, Arabs, Druze, Bedouin and Christians. They hail from different backgrounds, hold different beliefs and speak many different languages. Together, they increase the resiliency of their own communities in the face of tragedy.

We know that these attacks leave lasting marks on our society and on the people who suffered needlessly at the hands of a terrorist, and we know that not all injuries are physical. That is why United Hatzalah built a team of professionally trained volunteers whose job it is to stabilize those who suffer or witness trauma. This team treats shock victims, family members, eyewitnesses, bystanders and even our own EMS teams.

When a terrorist drives back and forth over their victims in order to cause more damage, and more harm, they are attempting to kill and injure our brothers, sisters, sons and daughters in an effort to shatter our resolve as a people. Our response should be to come together as a people and save as many lives as we can, to comfort one another and to build together. While they attempt to shatter, destroy and kill, we continue to treat, to save and to unify, and in that effort, we will be victorious.

Eli Beer is president and founder of United Hatzalah in Israel.

People of the Book ‘The Brothers Ashkenazi’: The Giant Machine of History

Why is there no truly great Holocaust Novel? We have great Holocaust books, but no writer has ever been capable of conveying its tragic enormity. The few survivors dwindle rapidly from Old Age, the one killer the Nazis could never beat; and its most articulate witnesses, even world-renowned writers like Primo Levi or Elie Wiesel, can only tell us what it’s like to survive it. It would seem that any writer with the horrific imagination to render the Shoah is a completely lost name.

The one writer whose name we still know that might have done it lived in New York when he prematurely passed in 1944, a year before any Jew knew what happened to their cousins. When we lost Yitzhak Bashevis Singer’s older brother, Yisroel Yehoshua Singer, the 20th century lost its best hope of a great Holocaust Novel.

How do we know this? Because he’d already written “The Brothers Ashkenazi,” a novel about Jews caught in the grip of WWI and the Russian Revolution. In the early ’30s when The Brothers Ashkenazi was written, no more consequential event to Jews could be imagined than the formation of the Soviet Union.

Both Yitzhak Bashevis and Yisroel Yehoshua dip their pen into the same alchemical fluid whose ingredients are a family secret, but while Yitzhak turned his pen inward toward the soul, Yisroel turned it outward toward the world. Yitzhak writes about sinners and ghosts, and God and the Devil. Yisroel writes about money and corruption, betrayal and hatred. If Yitzhak sounds like Dostoevsky and Poe if they were books in the Tanakh, then Yisroel sounds like Tolstoy and Balzac if they were edited by Kafka.

Excepting “War and Peace,” it is difficult to think of a novel that gives the same epic sense of the world as a giant machine that constantly expands and contracts, that whirls itself into events beyond the control of any person and then comes to rest at its own caprice, having crushed millions of lives in its gears. At the beginning of 2017, this tale of Lodz and Petrograd a century ago is all too vivid a warning of what may come.

But if “The Brothers Ashkenazi” has a message, then its message won’t be very popular to a Jewish public, because the message is that we don’t really deserve better. For more than half-century, Jews begrudged the more famous Singer because he told the truth about us. Who can possibly read Isaac Bashevis in Pikesville — all those stories about shtetl Jews who see their values as superior to goyim while indulging in acts as cruel and vain as those perpetrated by any other ethnicity, and not feel a twinge of recognition? At least Yitzhak Bashevis had nostalgia for shtetlach, Yisroel Yehoshua has all the heymisher warmth toward Jews of a cold shower.

Like so much in Bashevis, “The Brothers Ashkenazi” contains passages disturbing enough to be in “Game of Thrones.” Nevertheless, what stays with the reader is not the broken taboos but the cruelty of the characters. It shows that World War may have been inevitable because every member of a society was focused on his or her own advancement. In the process, characters betray fathers and wives, brothers and daughters, nieces and inlaws. Every character seeks to control their own destiny, only for destiny to control them.

The plot’s all too basic. It begins with the casual cruelties of a few middle-class Jews who refuse to help poor Jews in need. The middle class Jews become rich, and the rich Jews exploit poor Jews. The rich Jews then become indispensable to still richer goyim who need new ways to exploit poor Goyim, and the poor Jews become Communists who organize unions. World War I breaks out to the West, and the rich goyim confiscate the holdings of the rich Jews. The Russian Revolution breaks out to the East, and poor goyim riot against their well-meaning Jewish brethren and reduce their possessions to nothing. Everyone is an opportunist or a fanatic, no one is humble enough to stop hating their opponents. As tension mounts, the world divides into ideological extremes, and the only thing the extremists can agree on is how much they hate Jews.

It’s both a medieval morality tale, and an accurate rendering of how history happens. The less humility and generosity we have to those for whom contempt comes naturally, the more likely we pay for our contempt with cataclysm. We may be living “The Brothers Ashkenazi,” thinking that we can all control our lives, only for life to control us. We are not all separate bodies, but symptoms of a diseased body that can only cleanse itself by killing off millions of cells — a body for which Jews are always accused of being the parasite.

Evan Tucker is North Baltimore-based writer and composer. He is the violinist and lead singer of the Yiddish rock band Schmear Campaign and has a monthly podcast, “Tales from the Old New Land,” which is a Jewish version of A Prairie Home Companion. Listen at

Are We Good Enough for Great Leaders?

FTV_2 Simone,Vito

Let’s go back in time to consider what it must have been like for people to be so motivated that thoughtful, successful and diverse minds could be willing to risk everything for a better future. They must have confounded the pundits, politicians and the people of their day to the point where they were not given much of a chance. I speak of our forefathers who had vision and forethought and spoke for “We the people …” (of then and of today).

We have chosen leaders of today who have not necessarily been inspired by their predecessors. Our forefathers have set a standard for achieving greatness “… for the people, by the people …” that should make some present leaders ashamed of themselves for not aspiring to rise above the politics of the day and lead like the great leaders of American history have led us time and again. We had great leaders that risked themselves, their futures and their fortunes to establish America’s greatness and leadership around the world.

Our leaders are not just the politicians. We have leaders in so many realms of our society that it is about time we the people start to hold them accountable to step up and demand more of all our leaders — elected or otherwise. The bickering, posturing and positioning, while perhaps a fact of life in politics, must not confuse us or make us fearful,
because now is not a time for politics. It is a time for vision, inspiration and true leadership for our political, business and philosophical leaders to come together and do what is right for the American people and the American future.

As a zayde, I consider more deeply the need to make the world a better place for my children and grandchildren. I look for ways to learn in today’s world and help young people learn from the past. Teaching children and watching children learn is an awesome responsibility and a gift that brings amazing rewards.

We have forgotten that “we, the people” are the great leaders of our day and that we need to make sure everyone knows it. We are all human beings with many faults, bumps and bruises. Our leaders do not have to be perfect, but they do need to be good and effective leaders for our time. Can we hold our elected officials accountable for their words and actions? Are we good enough to demand that a George Washington or Ben Franklin or Abraham Lincoln or FDR emerge from our midst? We better be.

Vito Simone is a Pikesville resident and member of Moses Montefiore Anshe Emunah.

Election Results, Family Conflicts

Since starting my training in 1967, never has any world event, including the Vietnam War, appeared to have had such a disruptive psychological impact on family relationships. Approximately 50 percent of my patients have displayed anxiety and/or depression associated with the campaign and election. Many have been distraught either by their own deep-seated concerns over the results or the very negative impact the election has had on relationships with their spouses, children and/or grown siblings. Spousal conflict appears to be the most severe. Like a crack in a house foundation, the problem is often out of sight until a heavy rain causes further erosion and floods the interior. From my vantage point as a psychotherapist, this presidential election has flooded a lot of basements.

One of my patients decided to free himself of guilt by confessing that he voted for the candidate his spouse opposed. The impact was equivalent to the confession of an extramarital affair. His wife became furious and asked him to leave the home. She told him she now knew he was a misogynist. He tried to convince her that his vote was based upon what he thought would be best for the economy. She refused to accept this explanation and felt that he had betrayed her. Another patient who knew of her husband’s commitment to Donald Trump stated she would never be able to feel close to her husband again now that she had to see Trump’s face on the daily news for the next four years.

At first blush these vignettes sound funny, but the intensity of real disruption to family
cohesion fails to deliver a humorous punchline. All of us have unresolved emotional conflicts that make us vulnerable to be disrupted by external events. What appears to be unique about this campaign and election is the large number of emotionally laden issues to which we are all vulnerable. These include our attitudes toward minorities, sexual identity and orientation, bullying, immigrants, homophobia, misogyny, gay marriage, sexual abuse, female leadership, firearms, abortion and a myriad of other emotionally sensitive issues.

If someone in your family is upset about the election, take their upset seriously. Don’t assume they feel the same as you do. Many people tease their family members and think they are bantering in an “I’m just kidding” fashion not realizing they are being hurtful and destructive. If arguments continue, make an agreement to stop discussing political issues completely. If this fails as a strategy, seek professional help before permitting irreparable damage to your most valued relationships.

Marc B. Lipton was assistant commissioner of the Baltimore City Health Department from 1977 to 1984. He has been a licensed psychologist since 1971 and is in private practice in Towson.

UN Calls It ‘Palestinian Territory’; History Says It’s Not

The U.N. Security Council resolution condemning “Israel’s establishment of settlements in Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem” was one-sided and unfair. That’s obvious.

The resolution certainly won’t encourage the Palestinians to negotiate, since they see they can get what they want without negotiating. No doubt about that.

And the countries that voted for it are brazen hypocrites, since every one of them is
occupying territory to which they have much less claim than Israel has to Judea and Samaria, and Jerusalem.

But I think the most important point in this debate is being overlooked: The United Nations is condemning Israeli settlements in “Palestinian territory” — but the territory in question is not “Palestinian.”

The truth is that according to the Bible, the historical record and international law, Judea and Samaria and Jerusalem belong to the Jews, not the Palestinian Arabs.

The words “Palestine” and “West Bank” do not appear in the Torah or the New Testament. The Hebrew Bible calls the whole area the Land of Israel, and those specific regions Judea and Samaria. So does the Christian Bible. In fact, many of Christianity’s foundational events took place in the Old City section of Jerusalem, the Mount of Olives and Judea.

The terms “Palestine” and “West Bank” do not appear in the Koran, either. During the many centuries that the Muslims ruled the area (starting in the 7th century C.E.), they never created a state of Palestine. Muslims didn’t regard it as a separate territory, and the Muslim residents didn’t consider themselves Palestinians.

It was only in the 1960s that the Arabs in those areas began calling themselves Palestinians and started calling the area the West Bank. Those terms had no historical basis and were invented to advance the anti-Israel agenda. The fact that the United Nations and the Western news media adopted that language does not make it legitimate.

The only reason there are more Arabs than Jews in Judea and Samaria at the moment is because the British tolerated massive illegal Arab immigration to those areas in the 1930s and 1940s, and the Jordanians barred Jews from living there from 1949 to 1967. Those two acts of historical injustice do not make the Palestinian Arabs the rightful owners of those territories.

No matter what biased and hypocritical resolutions the United Nations adopts, Judea and Samaria and Jerusalem are Jewish territory, not Palestinian territory.

Stephen M. Flatow, a vice president of the Religious Zionists of America, is an attorney in New Jersey. He is the father of Alisa Flatow, who was murdered in an Iranian-sponsored Palestinian terrorist attack in 1995.

People of the Book?

Gut yor! I’m Evan Tucker.

Before we were Tuckers, we were Ticockis, and before that, we were Charlaps, meaning that my family is descended from King David. The direct founder of our lineage is Yakhya Ibn Yakhya, whose name is an acronym for Khiya, Rosh L’Galut Portugal/Poleen, which means somewhere along the way, I had an ancestor who was a medieval merchant who knew he could sell more goods by exaggerating his yichus.

My story is the story of Pikesville, the story of modern America, the story of modern Judaism — a dream 2,000 years in the making, an unmistakable disappointment in reality. After two millennia without land or prosperity, why now of all eras is every Jew screaming at each other like prosperity will disappear tomorrow?

I don’t need to tell you that many of Pikesville’s most promising kids have moved to more prosperous cities for better
education, jobs and spouses.

If you give anyone enough privilege, nobody but a goy would live among Jews. We’re difficult people at the best of times. At the worst of times? I don’t need to tell you.

In this era of misunderstanding, let’s look at Eycha — the Book of Lamentations, composed by Jeremiah, the Bible’s resident depressive, chanted on Tisha B’Av, a holiday so depressing that day schools tell kids it’s in the summer. If you’re liberal, you’ve been thinking Eycha for two months. If conservative, you’ve been thinking Eycha for eight years. Five chapters, 22 verses in the outer four — representing the 22 letters of Hebrew’s alphabet and 3-times-22 verses in Chapter Three. A perfect book, and a book asking aloud if God stopped caring.

No matter what our beliefs, everyone wonders if Hashem is wroth with America these days. Could it be that we, great among the nations, have become tributary? Whatever our transgressions, we are afflicted for the multitude of them. Our cities, whether by crime or police, are compassed with gall and travail. Seventeen intelligence agencies claim Russia builds against us. Half of America thinks we’re set in dark places; half thinks we’re emerging. Americans wonder if they have become the ridicule of all their country, and never before now has America seemed like an old country of broken bones.You may or not recognize the quotes in there, but if you don’t, read Eycha. You’ll recognize your thoughts in a great text before you even think them. They read us much more than we read them. No matter what our opinions, reading the best words, whether divine or secular, give us more clarity, more wisdom, more strength. Jews and America need more of all three.

In the excruciating Chapter 1, the destroyed Jerusalem becomes a weeping widow – “a menstruous woman… all that honored her despise her, because they have seen her nakedness… she hath seen that the heathen entered her sanctuary… her virgins are afflicted… her filthiness is in her skirts…”  Modern Social Justice Warriors will be tempted to think this writing an archetypal example of the patriarchy trivializing sexual assault by comparing it to the assault of a city. I’d advise them to be slower on the draw – The Bible cannot be The Bible unless all generations find all meanings in it. Remember, if one dares, the statistics (and just statistics because the accompanying stories will make you vomit) of mass rape in the Soviet occupation of Germany, or the Japanese of Manchuria, or the Pakistani of Bangladesh, to realize how easily rape becomes both tool and objective in war. In the 20th century, the widow of Eycha could be tens of millions of widows. For those the near-future terrifies, no literature could be more relevant.

But what bonds particularly me to Eycha is the doubts of Chapter 3. What in the New Testament or the Quran ever allow for such agonizing doubts in the goodness of God? “Surely against me he is turned, he turneth his hand against me all the day… He was unto me as a bear lying in wait… Out of the mouth of the most High proceedeth evil and good…”

We chant Eycha on Tisha B’Av, the day of the Hebrew calendar on which both Judean Temples were said to be destroyed. It is the book specifically written for time of historical catastrophe, a book which dares to ask God “Yes, we still believe in Your goodness, but if we interpreted the evidence as it seems, your goodness is anything but apparent.”

Evan Tucker is North Baltimore-based writer and composer. He is the violinist and lead singer of the Yiddish rock band Schmear Campaign and has a monthly podcast, “Tales from the Old New Land,” which is a Jewish version of A Prairie Home Companion. Listen at