SHIMON PERES

Shimon Peres was a fixture in Israeli politics.  His career spanned some 70 years, during which period he held, at one time or another, virtually every political office.  He served as Israel’s Prime Minister on two occasions, interim PM on two other occasions, its president and also in a host of lesser political offices.   In his youth, he was a protégé of the legendary David Ben Gurion, and he played an active part in Israel’s fight for independence.  He was the last link to the founding fathers of the country, and his life closely paralleled that of Israel, itself.

Symon Perski was born on August 2, 1923 in Wiszniew, Poland.  His father was a wealthy timber merchant; his mother was a librarian.  One of his cousins was Betty Joan Persky, whom we know as Lauren Bacall.  As a young boy he longed to be a shepherd or a poet, and he often displayed some talent in the latter area, but events conspired to alter those plans.

In 1934 Peres and his immediate family emigrated to Palestine, joining his father who had emigrated in 1932.  It turned out to be a prescient move, since all of the family members who remained in Poland perished in the Holocaust.

In the 1940s as a member of the Haganah, led by Ben Gurion, he became heavily involved in Israel’s fight for independence.  For the next 70 years  he was heavily involved in Israeli politics and served the country in a plethora of ways.

Like most politicians, Peres was cognizant of the existential threat Iran represented to Israel.  Taking Iranian president Ahmadinejad’s threat to “wipe Israel off the map” seriously, he compared him to Adolph Hitler, who had made similar threats in the 1930s.  In 2006 he was quoted as saying that “the President of Iran should remember that Iran can also be wiped off the map.”  Nevertheless, he preferred economic sanctions enforced by a coalition of nations, rather than military action.

Some of his major activities and accomplishments:

  1. In 1947 Ben Gurion, in anticipation of the prospective war with their Arab neighbors, tasked him with the critical responsibility of weapons procurement.
  2. In 1948 he was put in charge of the new nation’s navy.
  3. In 1954, as Director-General of the Ministry of Defense, he coordinated with Great Britain and France in planning the 1956 abortive takeover of the Suez Canal.
  4. He commenced his political career in 1959 when he was elected to the Knesset.  As mentioned above, over the next 50 years he was a fixture in the Israeli government and held, by either appointment or election, a wide variety of political offices.
  5. Perhaps, the crowning achievement of his career came in 1993 when, after extensive secret negotiations with the PLO’s leader, Yassir Arafat, Israel and the PLO signed what became known as the Oslo Peace Accords.  A second treaty was signed in 1995.  In addition, Peres negotiated the Israel-Jordan Peace treaty in 1994.  These achievements earned Peres the Nobel Peace Prize.

CONCLUSION

Peres continued to write his songs and poetry, sometimes even composing them during cabinet meetings.  Perhaps, he viewed them as a diversion, as a way to relieve the various stresses he was under.

Peres’ political views and philosophy underwent a significant metamorphosis during his life.  As a young man, as illustrated by his activities in the Haganah,  he was a “hawk” and was strongly influenced by the likes of Ben Gurion and Dayan.  Furthermore, in the 1970s he was a strong advocate of establishing settlements on the West Bank, which was considered, by many, to be an overly aggressive provocation.

However, later in life he became more of a “dove.”  He became a strong advocate of negotiation and economic cooperation (as evidenced by the abovementioned treaties he negotiated).  Moreover, he spoke out in favor of “territorial compromise” vis a vis the West Bank and Gaza.

On September 13 Peres suffered what his doctors called “a massive stroke.”  He died on September 28.  He will be sorely missed.  May he rest in peace.

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THE GREAT DEBATE

The Great Debate, the event that voters have anticipated for months and months, the event that was supposed to settle the outcome of this presidential election once and for all, has come and gone.  And, what did it really resolve?  In my opinion, not much.

Over the past two days,  I have listened to over a dozen commentators, analysts and spin doctors, on various tv channels, expound ad nauseam.  One network even provided the opinions of a focus group consisting of undecided voters.  As we know, the 15% or so undecided voters will really determine the outcome of the election, and both sides have been courting them relentlessly.  (For the record, this focus group gave a slight edge to Clinton.)

After all this, my conclusion is that who “won” the debate is largely in the eye of the beholder.  For the most part, people begin with their own political preferences or prejudices and tend to view the debate through their own prism.  Thus, if one is a Clinton supporter, she cleaned his clock.  Trump was boorish, bullying, vague, prejudiced, had no knowledge of the issues, and demonstrated, once and for all, that he is unfit to be president.

If one is a Trump supporter, he “won.”  He, an amateur politician, went toe to toe with a seasoned politician for 90 minutes, debating the issues, and held his own.  The moderator’s choice of questions and topics favored Clinton.  Holt spent too much time on the “birther” issue, which Trump had already conceded, and Trump’s taxes, and there were no questions on Benghazi, border security, Syrian refugees, and Clinton’s, emails, her foundation or her health.  Clinton repeated the same old tired policies we have heard for years and years, policies that sound good but don’t work.  Trump demonstrated that he will be the agent of change, and the country does need things to change, big time.  Like I said, eye of the beholder.

In my opinion, there was no “aha” moment, no gaffe that people will remember, such as Nixon’s glowering image and “5 o’clock” shadow, Reagan’s “there you go again Mr. President,” Benson’s admonishing Quayle that he is “no Jack Kennedy,” or Dukakis’ whiffing on a rape question.  I don’t believe there was anything said or done that will have a significant or lasting impact, much less swing the election.  If you feel differently, I would like to hear it.  So, it’s on to the next debate.

CONCLUSION

Remember, this was not a real debate where points are awarded and scores are recorded.  Winners and losers are not determined by factual accuracy or debate points.  It’s not about who “won” or “lost” the debate.  After all, this is an election, not an intercollegiate debate competition.  It’s all about the polls.

Did either candidate do or say anything to move the polls significantly?  History has demonstrated that the “winner” does not always benefit in the polls.  There have been many instances where candidates have “lost” the debate, and risen in the subsequent polls, and vice versa.

The post-debate polls will be published in the next few days.  They will determine who really won or lost.  Don’t expect a major shift.

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE KING (OF GOLF)

Before there was Tiger Woods, before there was Jack Nicklaus, there was Arnold Palmer.  From the mid 1950s through the 1960s AP was golf’s most popular star, and, arguably, one of the most popular athletes in any sport worldwide.  He is generally credited with transforming the sport of golf from a “boutique” sport enjoyed primarily by a small number of wealthy people at exclusive clubs to a mainstream sport enjoyed by middle and working class people.

Arnold Daniel Palmer was born in Latrobe, PA on September 10, 1929.  His father, Milfred (Deacon) Palmer, was employed as head pro and greenskeeper at Latrobe Country Club.  AP learned the game from him and honed his skills on that course.  He attended Wake Forest University but left after three years.  After a short stint as a paint salesman, he joined the Coast Guard.  However, he continued to work on his golf game.  In 1954 he won the US Amateur.  He turned pro the next year, and golf would never be the same.

In the 1950s televised sports was in its infancy.  Few events were televised and those that were, did not normally attract a wide audience.  Except, perhaps, for the US Open, few fans watched golf on tv at all.  AP came along at just the right time.  He was a natural for tv.  In addition to his outsized talent and his go-for-broke, come-from-behind playing style, he was handsome, rugged and telegenic.  Furthermore, in contrast to most golfers of the day, he came from a humble background, so the average, everyday fan could relate to him.  He quickly became golf’s first tv sports superstar.  In the 1960s AP, along with Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player became known as the sport’s “Big Three.”

On the course, fans would follow him from hole to hole, anticipating something exciting, imploring him to make one of his patented “charges.”  These fans became known as “Arnie’s Army.”  Many times he gave them what they wanted.   For example, in 1960 he came from seven strokes behind to win the US Open after driving the green on the opening hole, a 346 yard par 4.  He shot 65 and won by two strokes.  Moreover, even on those occasions when he did not win, he gave the crowd the excitement it craved.

Most golf historians credit him for making the PGA Tour what it is today in terms of popularity and money.  In AP’s day, the prizes were paltry by today’s standards.  In his entire Tour career, AP earned less than $2 million on the course, although he earned many times that off the course.  Today, even average Tour golfers routinely earn more in a month!   Additionally, when he turned 50 he joined the Seniors Tour.  At that time it was struggling, primarily for lack of name recognition and public interest.  His presence guaranteed its success.

In addition, he played a significant role in elevating the status of The (British) Open to “major” status.  In the early 1950s few American golfers deigned to play The Open.  The travel was arduous; the prizes were small; and the links style was unfamiliar and unappealing.  AP changed all of that.  In 1960, at the urging of his agent, he entered The Open in Scotland.  AP had already won the 1960 Masters and US Open.  His agent convinced him that if he could add the Open, matching the legendary Walter Hagan, Bobby Jones, Sam Snead and Ben Hogan, it would make him a worldwide sports star.  AP lost a thriller by one stroke, but he became a worldwide sports star nonetheless.  For all of the above reasons he earned the sobriquet “The King,” and deservedly so.

It is said that the most telling opinions are those of one’s peers.  The following are a few examples from fellow golfers, which will illustrate the esteem in which AP was held:

  1. Lee Trevino  – “I used hear cheers go up from the crowd around Palmer, and I never knew whether he’d made a birdie or [merely] hitched up his pants.”
  2. Sam Snead  – “Palmer went to bed at night with charisma, and the next morning he woke up with more.”
  3. Tiger Woods – “If it [weren’t] for Arnold golf wouldn’t be as popular as it is now.  If it [weren’t] for him and his excitement, his flair, the way he played, golf would not have had that type of excitement.  And that’s why he’s ‘The King.’ “
  4. Martin Kaymer – “He inspired millions of people.  That’s what we, as humans, should try to do.”
  5. Phil Mickelson – (Upon AP’s death.)  “There’s a hole in the game that can’t be filled.”

CONCLUSION

AP won 62 PGA tournaments during his stellar career, including seven “majors.”  He retired from tournament golf at the conclusion of the 2006 season.  AP died on September 25, 2016 at the age of 87.

Some further points of information:

  1.  AP enjoyed an extremely diverse and lucrative career off the course.  For example, he helped found the Golf Channel; he designed and built golf courses, including the first one in the People’s Republic of China; he owns the Bay Hill Club and Lodge, which is the venue for the PGA’s Arnold Palmer Invitational; and he was a long-time pitchman for various products on tv, most notably Pennzoil.
  2. He played on six Ryder Cup teams, all of which the US won.
  3. He overcame a fear of flying to become an avid pilot, holding a pilot’s license for some 50 years.
  4. AP was a personal friend of former President Dwight Eisenhower, an avid golfer.  They played together on many occasions, and Eisenhower was often a guest in his house.  A painting autographed by the former president hangs in his house.
  5. For many years he was an “honorary starter” for the Masters Tournament.
  6. In 1974 he became one of the 13 original inductees into the World Golf Hall of Fame.
  7. In 2000 Golf Digest ranked him as the sixth greatest golfer of all time.
  8. In 2004 he became the first golfer to be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  In addition, he was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 2009.
  9. He is one of the few celebrities to have had a drink named after him.  The “Arnold Palmer” is a non-alcoholic drink that is three parts iced tea and one part lemonade.  (According to popular lore, a woman overheard AP order the concoction at a bar and requested “that Palmer drink.”
  10. AP’s grandson, Sam Saunders, is also a professional golfer.

In my opinion, AP had as much an impact on his sport as any other athlete, except, perhaps, for Babe Ruth and Muhammed Ali.

Rest in peace Arnie.  You will be missed.

COMEDIC GENUISES

I love people that can make us laugh.  Among other things, they have the ability to make us forget our problems for a while.  I figure we could all use a break from all the problems and bad news in the world today.  This is the first of a series I will write about famous  comedians.

One of my favorite types of comedy is slapstick.   Everybody has his or her favorite comedians.  One of my favorites is The Marx Brothers.  Of particular interest is the derivation and meaning of their nicknames.  Read on.

The MB comedy group consisted of five brothers.  We all know them as Chico, Harpo, Groucho, Gummo and Zeppo.  Very few people know their real names – Leonard, Adolph, Julius Henry, Milton and Herbert Manfred, respectively.  Chico, Harpo and Groucho are generally considered to have been the core of the group.  Harpo and Chico retired in 1949; Groucho went on to a third career in television.  He is the best known of the brothers.

The MB were all born in NYC, sons of Jewish immigrants from Germany and France.  They came from an artistic family on their mother’s side.  Originally, their act was musical, not comedic.  Harpo became proficient at six musical instruments.  His best was the harp, from which he got his nickname.  Chico was an outstanding pianist; Groucho played the guitar and sang; and Zeppo was a vocalist.

Supposedly, their comedy act evolved due to happenstance.  One night in a small town in Texas their musical act was interrupted by a commotion outside the theatre.  Apparently, there was a runaway mule, and much of the audience rushed outside to see what the commotion was about.  (You can’t make this up!)  When order was restored , the audience returned and the act continued.  Groucho, annoyed at the interruption, made some funny and sarcastic comments about the audience.  Rather than being offended, they laughed, and the rest was history.  As the act evolved, Groucho added his trademark stooped walking and greasepaint mustache.  Harpo began tooting a taxi horn in lieu of speaking and donned a red wig.  Chico cultivated a fake Italian accent, while Zeppo, who the brothers considered to be the funniest, became the “straight man.”

The prime years for the MB were 1905 – 1949.  From the 1920s on, they were considered one of the country’s favorite comedy acts.  They starred first in Vaudeville and then in the movies.   They made over a dozen movies, although not all the brothers were in all the movies.  The American Film Institute has ranked two of them (Duck Soup and A Night at the Opera) in the top 12 comedy movies of all time.  In addition, the AFI included the MB on its list of the Top 25 American male screen legends of Classic Hollywood.

The origin of their nicknames is generally credited to a monologist named Art Fisher who supposed made up the names during a poker game with the brothers.  He just blurted them out one by one, and they “stuck.”  I already explained about Harpo.  Chico is short for “Chick-o,” as he was a ladies man, and “chicken” was a popular slang word for women.  Gummo is derived from the fact that he crept around the theatre like a  detective or “gumshoe.”  The derivation of Groucho’s name is less clear.  One version is simply that he was “grouchy.”  Another version is that he was named for a character of the same name in a comic strip.  Zeppo likely was named for a chimpanzee named Mr. Zippo.  Whatever, the nicknames stuck, and the brothers’ given names were no more.

CONCLUSION

The MB’s comedy has endured through the years.  Many television shows and movies have incorporated references to them. For example:

  1.  Animaniacs and Tiny Toons have featured their jokes and skits.
  2. Alan Alda’s character on M*A*S*H occasionally performed a Groucho imitation to cheer up patients.
  3. In one episode of All in the Family Rob Reiner and Sally Struthers imitated Groucho and Harpo.
  4. In Welcome Back Kotter the “sweat-hogs”  employed MB imitations.

Finally a few famous quotes from Groucho:

  1.  “I don’t care to belong to any club that would have me as a member.”
  2. “Last night, I shot an elephant in my pajamas.  How he got into my pajamas, I’ll never know.”
  3. “I never forget a face, but, in your case, I’ll be glad to make an exception.”

REPLACE HILLARY?

Just when you thought that this cycle’s presidential election couldn’t get more bizarre, it has.  You could not make this up.  Even Oliver Stone, the conspiracy king, would not make this movie.   The latest episode with Hillary’s health has brought up the intriguing and unprecedented question of the procedure of replacing her on the ticket.  According to Dan Fowler, former head of the DNC under President Clinton, the committee should at least be considering a contingency plan, and, perhaps, it is.

Who has the authority to do it?  What are the procedures?  Who would be her replacement?  What would be the impact on the election?  All good questions.  I had the same ones, so I followed the advice of the late Casey Stengel.  I looked it up.  Read on for the answers.

The purpose of this blog is not to debate the worthiness or health of the candidate, except that I wish she and her inner circle were more forthcoming about what, if anything, is wrong with her.  My main focus is on the answers to the above questions, of which all voters should be cognizant.  So, here we go:

  1. We would be in uncharted territory, as we have never had a presidential nominee die or withdraw before the election, nor a president-elect do so before taking the oath of office.  Therefore, most of us will learn as we go.
  2. The first, and most important, fact is that Hillary would have to relinquish the nomination voluntarily.  According to Elaine Kamarck, senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution, no person or committee has the authority to wrest it from her.
  3. Officially, Hillary would not be able to select her replacement.  According to Article 1, Section 3 of its bylaws, that authority and responsibility falls to the DNC.  The chairman would call a special meeting at which the majority present, in person or by proxy, would select the replacement.  Of course, the committee may choose to consult with Clinton, and probably, would do so.
  4. The DNC consists of 350 members, all political “insiders.”  Roughly 200 are chosen by the individual state party apparatuses; the remainder consists of various party leaders.  Thus, ironically, the nomination would be determined in the proverbial “smoke filled room” by a group of political elites, just what we have been trying to get away from.
  5. The nomination would not automatically fall to Bernie Sanders, as the second place vote-getter, nor to Tim Kaine, as the VP nominee, as some have speculated.   Theoretically, anyone could be selected, although the committee would likely choose someone whom they felt would have the best chance of defeating Trump.  In my opinion, that would be an experienced politician with a high profile who is well-liked, or at least not disliked.
  6. The only two Dems I can think of who fit that criteria are Joe Biden or John Kerry, although there may be others.
  7. If Kaine were to be selected, the committee would then choose another nominee to replace him as VP.
  8. Bernie Sanders would likely stake his claim, and his supporters would be most vociferous in their support.  The committee would likely take this into account, and, in the interest of party unity, if it were to bypass Sanders, it would be well advised to ensure that its choice would at least be acceptable to his supporters and him.
  9. Many of you may not realize that technically the voters do not choose the president and vice-president directly.  Rather, they vote for electors who are pledged to those candidates.  Furthermore, in some states those electors are not legally required to follow through and vote for the candidate to whom they are pledged.
  10. Confused yet?  There’s more.
  11. If a vacancy were to occur after the election but before the Electoral College meets to vote officially (generally, in December) the party can still select a replacement.
  12. If a nominee were to die or step down after the Electoral College has voted but before the new president has been sworn in the VP elect would become the president elect, but there is a further wrinkle.  If this were to occur before Congress has convened to “count” the electoral votes it could decide to invalidate some votes, or even refer the decision to the House of Representatives.
  13. Thus, the will of the people could be circumvented.  Far fetched, but possible.

CONCLUSION

This situation raises the question in my mind of what the DNC knew relative to Hillary’s health, and when did they know it.  For instance, were they and key political insiders and supporters cognizant of it during the nomination process?   There is speculation to the affirmative.

That is a discussion for another day.  In my opinion, the sooner this situation is resolved the better.  The DNC should get to the bottom of Hillary’s physical condition asap.  Moreover, her health status should be reported, in full, to the American people asap.  If she has to be replaced, so be it, and the sooner the better.  We do not want to become embroiled in any of the above scenarios.  Even worse, the last thing we want or need is to elect a person who has serious health issues that will hamper her ability to fulfill the duties of the office.

This situation is bad not just for Clinton and the Dems; it is bad for the American people as a whole.  I think we all want a “clean” election that is decided by the will of the people “fair and square.”

9/11 REMEMBRANCE

On September 11, 2001 at 8:46 a.m. ET, Americans’ safe and secure lives changed forever.  At that moment, the first hijackers’ plane crashed into the north tower of the WTC.  This was followed quickly by a second plane crashing into the south tower, and a third one crashing into the Pentagon.  Incredibly and inexplicably, by 10:28 both towers had collapsed.  Later in the day, a fourth plane crashed into a field in Shanksville, PA.  It is believed that this fourth plane was bound for a target in Washington, D.C., perhaps, the White House or the Capitol, and it would have succeeded but for the heroism of some of the passengers on board.

Sunday will mark the 15th anniversary of those horrific attacks.   The attacks resulted in just under 3,000 deaths.  Most of those were workers who were trapped in their offices and consumed by fire or smoke/chemical inhalation.  They could not escape because most of the stairwells were blocked. Compounding the tragedy was the fact that NYC’s 911 operators were not as well informed as they should have been.  Thus, they were advising callers from inside the towers not to descend the stairs on their own.   Some of them proceeded to the roof hoping to be rescued by helicopter.  Unfortunately, helicopters could not land on the roofs due to the heat and thick smoke.  Many of us who were watching on tv witnessed the awful sight of people jumping to their deaths (in some cases, actually holding hands with others for support) rather than awaiting their fates from the fire.

The horror of the attacks, themselves, was amplified by the fact that the victims were not soldiers but innocent civilians who were merely working at their jobs.  This was the deadliest attack on US soil ever.  By comparison, the shocking Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, which President FDR characterized as “a date that will live in infamy” resulted in “only” 2,400 deaths, and they were mostly military personnel.

In addition to the deaths there was significant damage to the economy of NYC and the US as a whole.  The entire Wall Street area, including the financial markets, was closed until September 17.  Air travel was disrupted.  Americans’ psyche was severely damaged.  The cleanup of the WTC area was not completed until May 2002.  All in all, it took 3.1 million hours to clean up 1.8 million tons of debris at a cost of $750 million.  Internationally,  countries were generally horrified and supportive, although some of the people in some Muslim countries, such as Iraq, were seen to be celebrating.

Fifteen of the hijackers were from Saudi Arabia, with the others having originated from Egypt, Lebanon and the UAE.  The terrorist group, Al Qaeda, led by Osama bin Laden, quickly claimed responsibility.  Bin Laden had declared a holy war on the US and had issued a fatwa calling for the killing of Americans.  Following 9/11, bin Laden became public enemy number 1.   Eventually, the US exacted revenge, hunting him down and killing him.

In addition, to the thousands of civilians, police officers, firemen and EMS workers that were killed in the attacks, themselves, thousands more volunteer workers and even people who lived or worked in the vicinity ended up contracting various illnesses from inhaling the various carcinogens in the air and dying subsequently, in some cases many years later.  In fact, horrifying as it may seem, some doctors have predicted that eventually these victims will exceed the 3,000 killed on 9/11.  Many of us know or know of someone who suffered this fate.  The shame of it is they went out of their way to volunteer their services and paid for it with their lives.

The primary illnesses are cancer, respiratory disorders, asthma, COPD and gastroesophageal reflux disorder.  In addition, health workers have noted a significant increase in anxiety, depression and PTSD.  As I said, many of the above have manifested themselves years later.  Even now, new cases are being presented.  The number of documented cancer cases, alone, has tripled in the past two years.  The physical, mental and emotional toll has been astounding.  An estimated 18,000 people have contracted illnesses from the toxic dust.  Moreover, there is speculation that 9/11 has caused health issues in babies whose mothers were pregnant at the time of the attacks, such as premature birth, respiratory problems, below average weight, and increased neo-natal requirements.

In the aftermath of the attacks,  Americans wanted to know how our intelligence agencies had failed to anticipate them.   Who had “dropped the ball?”  Amid many investigations and finger-pointing it became obvious that the major factor was failure to communicate and share intelligence and information.  For example:

  1. The CIA had intelligence reports that a terrorist attack was forthcoming, but it was expecting it to be in Israel, not the US.
  2. The CIA knew that two known terrorists had slipped into the US.
  3. The FBI had information of certain anomalies at some US flight schools.
  4. The Justice Department policies advocated very limited intelligence sharing, even with other agencies.
  5. The CIA and NSA were reluctant to reveal sources of information and their methods of attaining it.
  6. None of these agencies reported their information to each other or to the White House.
  7. In 2004 Attorney General John Ashcroft testified to the “9/11 Commission” that the “single greatest structural cause…. was the wall that segregated or separated criminal investigators and intelligence agents.”

CONCLUSION

Americans’ lives have changed considerably since 9/11.  Many  believe that not all of these changes are good or even necessary.  For instance:

  1. The US created the Department of Homeland Security to coordinate and oversee intelligence activities and security.  In addition, it passed the USA Patriot Act.  These agencies have improved our readiness and security but at the price of certain civil liberties.   There is, and should be, a balance between security and liberty, and depending on your political point of view the pendulum may have swung too far, or not enough, towards security.
  2. Enhanced security at airports and train and bus terminals has made travel more complicated, time-consuming, and nerve-wracking.  Some people have curtailed or ceased their travel entirely, particularly internationally.
  3. Parents are apprehensive, if not paranoid, about letting their children go outside to play or ride their bicycles in the neighborhood.  Also, they accompany their children to the school or school bus stop and pick them up at the end of the day.  The various terrorist attacks in schools in recent years have done little to assuage these fears and concerns.
  4. On the plus side, there has been a significant increase in patriotism and gratitude toward veterans.

In my opinion, parents should make a concerted effort to educate their children on the tragedy of 9/11, what happened, how it happened and what it means.  Roughly 21 million of the country’s 320 million population are under the age of 20 and, therefore, have little or no recollection or knowledge of this event.  The danger is that as time passes the populace will forget, and we should never allow that to happen.

On Sunday, I would urge each of you to take a moment during the day in remembrance of the 9/11 victims.

MODERN ANTI-SEMITISM

The contents of this blog may offend some of you.  I apologize in advance, but I strongly feel it needs to be said.

Many modern-day American Jews are unaware of the current depth and pervasiveness of anti-Semitism (“AS”) in the US.  They are complacent, because they feel that their rights are protected by anti-discrimination laws, such as Title VI.  They are too busy earning a living and raising a family to focus on AS.   I understand, but that does not diminish the clear and present danger it represents.

It is true that AS and other forms of discrimination are officially prohibited by various federal and state laws, but it is also true that attitudes and beliefs cannot be completely controlled by laws.  AS has not yet risen to the level of the 19th Century Russian pogroms or the organized terror of 1930s Nazi Germany, but, as I will demonstrate in this blog, AS is still present in the 21st Century, even in the US.  Often, it is more subtle, but, nevertheless, it permeates many areas of our culture.

First, I think it would be instructive to review a brief history of AS in order to put the current situation in context.  Although it has become a cliché, as students of history know, it does tend to repeat itself.  AS has been with us for all of recorded history, and even before that.  We are all very familiar with the struggles of Jews in ancient times and the Middle Ages.  However, some of us may not be cognizant of AS in the US.

AS attitudes and beliefs in the US predate the country, itself.  In 17th Century New Amsterdam Peter Stuyvesant, Director-General of the colony, who probably had never met a Jew in his life, publicly characterized Jews as “deceitful, very repugnant and hateful enemies and blasphemers of the name of Christ.”  At the time, there were only about a dozen or so Jews in the colony, but Stuyvesant still felt compelled to say what he said.

As late as 1790, one year before the adoption of the Bill of Rights (remember, one of its key provisions was and is freedom of religion), several states enforced restrictions against Jews holding political office, or even voting.  New Hampshire was the last state to eliminate those restrictions in 1877.  That said, AS was not a major social issue in the early days simply because there were so few Jews in the country.  It was not until the late 19th Century when thousands of Jews emigrated to the US to escape the overt religious persecution of Eastern European countries, such as Russia and Poland, that AS became a major social and cultural issue.  Between 1881 and 1920 approximately 3 million Jews emigrated to the US from Eastern Europe.

Over the years, as these Jews became influential and economically successful, AS, which had always there, bubbled to the surface.  There were many manifestations of this attitude.  Jews were restricted from certain universities, professions, clubs, restaurants and hotels.  For example, Harvard and other Ivy League schools initiated quotas designed primarily to limit the number of Jews attending.  Some of these quotas were “unofficial,” but real nonetheless.  Yale officially evaluated candidates based, in part, on their “character, solidity and physical characteristics” (whatever that meant).  It also instituted a “legacy” program, which had the effect of limiting the number of Jewish students since few of their parents had attended the school.  How many of you know of a doctor who had to attend medical abroad because he was restricted from admission to a US school?   Medical school is hard enough as it is.  Imagine attending it in a foreign language.

As I discussed in a previous blog these restrictions with respect to restaurants and hotels contributed to the popularity of the Borscht Belt.  Business leaders, such as Henry Ford, were overt in their AS.  Ford maintained that Jewish financiers were responsible for starting WWI and other wars in order to profit from them.   Furthermore, he restricted Jews from employment in his company.

Through the first half of the 20th Century and beyond, a majority of Americans “bought in” to all the stereotypes.  According to various public opinion polls Jews were perceived to be “greedy,” “dishonest,” and “too powerful.”

Sometimes, AS was not so subtle.  We all know the shameless story of the SS St. Louis.  In addition, there is growing evidence that our political leaders, particularly the Department of State, were cognizant of the horrors of the concentration camps well before they were “discovered” by our troops.  It is likely that US political leaders were held back by the wave of AS that was prevalent at the time.  Want more  examples?   An acquaintance of mine related how in the early 1960s one of her fellow college students asked her to pull back her hair so she “could see her horns.”  Another acquaintance was asked what she “kept in her refrigerator.”  Personally, I encountered various subtle forms of AS at college in the mid-1960s.  For example, the university enforced an “unofficial” quota of roughly 10% Jews per class; the school administration was none too friendly; many  professors were known to be AS in their attitudes and grading; and many fraternities accepted either no Jews or one token Jew per year.

All the foregoing brings us to the present day.  In recent years,  AS has evolved.  Now, it comes from all sides – the far right, the far left, and radical Islam.  Its practitioners have come out of the woodwork, emboldened by the complacency of school administrators, the media, the politicians, and, indeed, the complacency of the majority of Americans who are not anti semitic.  Often, it is disguised by anti-Israeli and pro-Palestinian comments and actions, but, to many Jews, it is one and the same.

In my opinion, a major hotbed of the new AS is the colleges.   In 2006 a study conducted by the US Commission on Civil Rights concluded that incidents of AS on college campuses are a “serious problem.”   According to Stephen Norwood, professor of history at the University of Oklahoma and author of books on the subject of AS on college campuses and the Third Reich, support of anti-Zionist opinions and actions has encouraged the development of AS on college campuses.  Additionally, radical Islamic groups, such as the Nation of Islam, have been engaging in revisionist historical interpretations that border on the absurd.  For example, they maintain that the Holocaust never occurred, that Jews were responsible for the  African slave trade and the unfair exploitation of African Americans, and that Jewish doctors deliberately injected AAs with the AIDS virus.  Incredibly, some people actually believe these outlandish accusations.

Lest you believe that the new AS is the work of fringe groups, consider the plethora of incidents on college campuses in just the last few years, for instance:

  1.  In February 2015 Trinity College and the Louis Brandeis Center for Human Rights published the disturbing results of their survey of some 1,200 Jewish students located at some 50 campuses nationwide.   They found that 54% of the respondents had either been subjected to or had witnessed AS on their college campus.
  2. The sources included other individual students, clubs, classrooms, and the student union.  Ariela Keysar, co-author of the report, opined that the perpetrators are not limited to a few politically active students.  They found AS to be widespread throughout college campuses.  It included all types of students – liberal, moderate, or conservative, as well as those who are politically active and inactive.  In some cases, such behavior was ignored or condoned by the school administration.  Furthermore, these results coincided with those of a similar study in the UK.
  3. There have been numerous incidents of harassment, violence, swastikas drawings, graffiti,  and spray paintings at dozens of college campuses.
  4. At UC Santa Barbara fliers with a huge Star of David were distributed claiming that “9/11 was an outside job.”
  5. Vassar Students for Justice in Palestine published a Nazi WWII propaganda poster portraying Jews as a monster seeking to destroy the world.  In a related incident a Jewish student at Temple University was attacked by another branch of the same group.
  6. Recent conflicts in the Middle East have resulted in movements on many college campuses advocating BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctioning) of Israel.  Milan Chatterjee, a law student at UCLA and former student body president, had to  leave the university in the middle of his final year because he felt unsafe due to excessive harassment by anti-Zionist students.  His “crime” was to speak out against BDS during his tenure as president.
  7. There have been hundreds of similar incidents both in the US and abroad, but you get the idea.

CONCLUSION

Lest you think that AS is limited to misguided, idealistic, impressionable college students, be advised that last year the Anti-Defamation League published the results of its most recent audit of AS incidents.  It reported in excess of 900 AS incidents in the US during 2014, which represented a 21% increase over the prior year.

I would venture to say that many of you have experienced or witnessed subtle, or maybe not so subtle, forms of AS in your professional or personal life.  If not, you are fortunate, because it is still all around us.  History tells us that in times of economic hardship, such as now, people seek to blame others for their problems or failures.  Jews have always made a convenient scapegoat.  Folks, this is not opinion.  It is fact.  If you doubt me, read up on the history of pre-WWII Germany, early 20th Century America or virtually any European country.

Finally, when politicians and others blame ‘Israel,” bankers,” and “Wall Street” for the world’s ills to whom do you think they are referring?

LABOR DAY

Tomorrow, September 5, is Labor Day (“LD”). As we all know, the holiday has always been celebrated on the first Monday of September. It is celebrated in various forms and at various dates in approximately 80 countries.

To most Americans LD merely symbolizes the unofficial end of summer and the impending beginning of the school year. They enjoy the day off from work. They spend the day with family and/or friends. They enjoy picnics, parades, vacations, shopping and barbecues. They lament, but grudgingly accept, holiday traffic and long lines at airports. Also, it is the reason why summer always seems to be so short. In our minds, we transfer the approximately three post-Labor Day weeks of the season to Autumn. But what is the meaning and purpose of LD? Why do we celebrate it? How did it come about? Good questions. Read on for the answers.

As the name implies, the purpose of LD is to celebrate the accomplishments of the American Labor movement. Whatever one’s political views and affiliations, I think it is important and appropriate to understand Labor’s contributions to the growth and development of the US. For one thing, cheap labor was an integral component of the Industrial Revolution. When all is said and one, someone had to build all the roads, railroads, and cars, and operate all the factories and steel mills. In addition, the labor movement of the late 1800s and early 1900s was largely responsible for the relatively high wages and extensive benefits that are enjoyed by today’s US labor force.

The history of LD began in the 1870s in Canada. Labor Unions were illegal in Canada, and 26 members of the Toronto Typographical Union had been imprisoned for striking for a nine-hour work day. That action led to demonstrations and rallies and raising the profile of labor unrest in both Canada and the US. Two of the most outspoken leaders were Peter McGuire, founder of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and an official of the AF of L, and Matthew Maguire, Secretary of the Central Labor Union in NY. Historical accounts differ, but one or both of these men are credited with being the first to propose a holiday to celebrate labor. In any event, the CLU planned and organized the first LD celebration in NYC on September 5, 1885. Approximately, 20,000 workers and their families participated. The concept spread. In 1887 Oregon became the first state to sanction the holiday.

The Pullman Labor Strike in 1893 provided the final impetus for a national labor holiday. The Pullman Company had been founded and was run by George Pullman. Pullman, IL, where the company operated, was a classic company town. All the workers lived there and paid rent to the company, which was automatically deducted from their paychecks. Workers’ housing was segregated according to their jobs; everyone shopped at the Company Store. Many viewed such an arrangement as a form of slavery, because workers were, in actuality, trapped due to their omnipresent debt to the Company. (Think of the song “Sixteen Tons.”) In 1893 the country was in the midst of a recession, and the company laid off hundreds of workers and reduced the wages of the others. Of course, living expenses remained constant. These actions led to a strike. President Cleveland declared the strike to be illegal and broke it with Federal troops. Some striking workers were killed in the ensuing violence. This incensed many Americans, and 1894 was an election year. So, Congress expeditiously passed a bill establishing LD as a national holiday, and the President promptly signed it into law. This entire process took only six days, so you can imagine the extent of the public outcry. Incidentally, this action failed to save President Cleveland’s political career; he was defeated anyway.

Eventually, the government settled on the first Monday in September as the official date. Many countries celebrate it on May 1 in conjunction with International Workers’ Day, but the Federal government did not want the association with that date for obvious reasons.

CONCLUSION

One of the supreme ironies of LD is that because it is such a big shopping day, many workers, especially retailers, are required to work. LD is considered to be one of the biggest retail sales days of the year. Some people use the day as a benchmark to change over their summer clothes to fall clothes. Fashion-minded people claim it the latest day when one should wear white clothes (although “winter white,” whatever that is, is still permissible.)

So now, as you celebrate the day in whatever fashion you choose, at least you will have some appreciation of the meaning of LD beyond a day off from work, the unofficial last day of summer and the beginning of the school year.

Have fun and enjoy.

BORSCHT BELT

The Borscht Belt.  For those of us of a certain age, just the name, itself, conjures up images and memories – summer vacation with the parents (fine when you were young, but, perhaps, not so much as you got older), escaping the brutal heat and humidity of the city in those pre-air conditioning days for the relatively cool, dry mountain air, endless food (quantity over quality), top quality entertainment, etc.  Those of you that were too young to have participated in those Catskill Resort vacations will have to learn about them from your parents or from period piece movies, such as Dirty Dancing.

The very name, Borscht Belt, was symbolic of the Eastern European Jews who vacationed there.  As some of you know, borscht is a soup popular among people primarily from Rumania and certain parts of Russia.  The Jews of those areas did not invent it, but they adopted it.  There are many different ways to make it – with beets, beef, cabbage, or rye.  Sometimes, sour cream is added.  In my opinion, I am not sure which is worse, its looks, its smell, or its taste.  Nevertheless, Jews of my grandmother’s generation loved it and expected it to be served to them even on vacation, along with other ethnic foods.  These Catskills hotels were happy to provide it; hence the nickname Borscht Belt.

I vacationed in the BB several times, but my first time will illustrate the pros and cons of such an experience.   In 1951, when I was six, I “graduated” from Kindergarten.  I remember actually receiving a certificate commemorating that momentous event and informing me that I was “hereby promoted to first grade.”  My parents rewarded me by  taking me on a special vacation to “The Mountains,” just the three of us.  (Maybe, they thought that would end up being the pinnacle of my educational achievement.)   It was my first vacation with my parents, and I was very excited.  Unfortunately, the positives ended there.  I remember three things from that trip:

  1.  I accidentally broke a window while having  a “catch” with my father.
  2.  I fell out of bed during the nght.
  3. The return trip on Sunday was absolutely horrendous, the proverbial “trip from hell.”  In those pre-NY Thruway days, everyone took Route 9A, which, of course, was a virtual parking lot on summer Sundays.  Furthermore, I remember it was HOT, and, of course, our car did not have any air conditioning.   Supposedly, I behaved like a typical bored six year old – whiney, pesky, and annoying.

That vacation was the first and last one with my parents until I was 18.  Thereafter, I spent my summers  in sleepaway camp.  So much for the BB.

The heyday of the BB was from the 1920s through 1970s.  In the early part of the 20th Century, beginning in the years before WWI, there was a steady influx of Jews emigrating into the US from eastern Europe for various reasons.  Many settled in NY.  By the 1920s these Jewish immigrants had established themselves sufficiently that were seeking places to vacation during the hot summer months.  For the most part, due to anti-Semitism they were not welcome at many of the traditional vacation spots in the US.  Also, these places did not cater to their needs.  For example, they were not kosher, and they did not serve many traditional Jewish foods.

Around this time Jews began to gravitate to the Catskill Mountains.   First, locals, many of whom were Jewish themselves, rented out spare rooms;  then, came boarding houses, bungalow colonies, and, later, resort hotels.  The Catskill area met all the desirable prerequisites: it was close to NYC geographically; the weather was relatively cool and dry;  it provided the opportunity to enjoy water sports and other leisure activities; the food was kosher; and Yiddish was spoken.  These Jews, like most people, preferred to associate with others who shared their own customs, and language.  According to the Catskills Institute by the 1950s in excess of one million people were flocking to the hundreds of resort hotels, bungalow colonies and summer camps in the area.

Probably, the most well-known of the hotels were the Concord, Grossingers, Kutchers, and the Nevele.  These hotels, and others like them, were the first to offer an all-inclusive, one price vacation, the “Club Meds” of their day, so to speak.  They provided much more than just a room.  There was food, and lots of it, entertainment, sports facilities, even baby sitting.   Jews felt comfortable there, and many returned year after year.

The entertainment was top shelf, comedians such as Lenny Bruce, Henny Youngman and Rodney Dangerfield, singers such as Dean Martin and Barbra Streisand, musicians such as Duke Ellington.   Performing in “The Mountains” became a rite of passage for any up-and-coming performer.   Often, they would perform three shows a night at three different venues.

Furthermore, vendors would make the rounds of the bungalow colonies to sell their goods.  For example, there was the “Knishman from Mountaindale,” who would offer roasted chickens, brisket, soup and, of course, knishes.  There was “Shimmy the Pickle King,” whose specialty was, you guessed it, pickles of every variety, and “Chow-Chow Cup,” which provided delicacies such as chicken chow mein, egg rolls, and,….. wait for it, …. Chinese hot dogs.  The wife could feed her entire family without leaving the premises.  Jews would feel right at home.

The Concord was the largest of the resort hotels with in excess of 1,500 guest rooms and a dining hall that could seat over 3,000.   It boasted an 18-hole golf course, nicknamed “the monster,” which was rated as one of the top 100 by Golf Digest.

Grossingers started as a single family house.  The owners would rent out rooms during the summer.  Over the years, it grew to a full service resort that serviced some 150,000 guests annually.  It encompassed 1,200 acres, with 0ver 30 buildings, its own airstrip and post office.  Moreover, it became the first resort in the world to utilize artificial snow for skiing.

Kutchers began as a farm house in 1907.  At its peak it had 400 guest rooms, condos, two summer camps and a golf course spread out over 1,500 acres.  It became a sports mecca.  It hosted a charity basketball event annually for the benefit of Maurice Stokes, a former NBA player whose career and life were cut short tragically by encephalitis.    Dozens of current and former NBA stars, such as Wilt Chamberlain (who had worked there as a bellhop while still in high school), Dolph Schayes, Willis Reed, Walt Frazier and Jack Twyman to name a few, would play in this game.  I saw a couple of the games.  It was a real treat, particularly since after the game the players would be accessible to fans.  Boxers, such as Muhammed Ali, Floyd Patterson and Leon Spinks trained there prior to championship bouts.

The Nevele, which opened in 1903 and closed in 2009, was another well-known full service resort.  The name is derived from “eleven” spelled backwards.  What is the significance of the number “eleven?”  There are multiple stories, but the one that seems most credible to me is that in the late 19th Century a group of eleven teachers discovered a famous waterfall on the property on which the hotel became situated.  Seems like a “stretch,” but I have not heard of a better reason.

CONCLUSION

They say “all good things must come to an end.”  Most of the resort hotels are long gone.  I believe their demise was primarily attributable to the following:

  1. They, and the Catskill area, itself, were severely damaged by the steep recession of the 1970s, and they never recovered.
  2. There was talk of establishing gambling casinos in the area, and the resorts would have been an ideal location for many reasons.  Unfortunately, it never panned out.
  3. Perhaps, the biggest reason, however, was simply the decline of general anti-Semitism in the US.  By the 1970s Jews were able to vacation elsewhere, and the newer generation was eager to seek alternatives, such as Florida, Arizona, Caribbean cruises, and Europe.

Now, the BB is merely a cherished memory for nostalgia buffs, part of the lore of a time that has passed.