Detour Around the Riot

I was in Berkeley to teach my regular Wednesday night Intro class. We had a nice class, then I had to figure out how to get home. A riot had erupted at a protest on the campus. The protest began because a controversial speaker had come to campus. The riot happened because some people are stupid.

The big mess blocked most of my usual routes. I had plenty of time to think about demonstrations as I made a wide detour around the violence.

I get it: Milo Yiannopoulos is a sleazy purveyor of hate speech. The student Republicans had to know he was an incendiary choice of a speaker. Other students protested his presence. That much is fine by me: hear what he has to say, then if his ideas are foul and unworthy of a great university, say so. As the kindergarten teachers say, use your words.

Whoever chose to “protest” with violence did no favors to free speech.

I hate to see us going down this path. Milo Yiannopoulos got exactly what he wanted from UC Berkeley last night: great visuals of a riot to splash across TV screens from Bangor to Santa Barbara.

What has this to do with Torah? I pondered that as I took the long way home at 9pm. My students and I had spent the evening learning Torah. I hope that in doing so, we were equipping ourselves to make better decisions, to meet challenges with wisdom and courage.


Women’s March, Oakland

Image: Family photo at the Oakland Women’s March. Linda, Marisa and I are center; Jim is the guy in the sunglasses taking the selfie. Photo by Jimbo Scott, all rights reserved.

The March would officially begin at 11. At 9:30, the the Jews of the SF East Bay began to gather at a tiny Chinatown park by the Lake Merritt BART station in Oakland, and at 10 we began singing. At 10:30, with wall-to-wall humanity surrounding us, we began a short Shabbat service. Rabbis David Cooper, Steven Chester, and I led prayers.

Jews rarely go out to do political things on the Sabbath. I am not sure how many Jews were there, but we were there in force (at least 200 from Temple Sinai, Oakland, plus Kehilla Congregation and Congregation Beth El Berkeley, and maybe more.)

Early on, I was anxious about safety: my own safety, on a tiny scooter in a big crowd, and the safety of everyone marching with Temple Sinai.

My scooter-eye view

Gradually my anxiety lifted, as people kept pouring out of the BART stations, from the buses, from everywhere. The small park in Chinatown where we’d been told to gather was a mass of humanity. Total strangers greeted each other like old friends. We were all so tired of being alone with our TVs and computers, so glad to find out that we were not really alone.

My mood and the mood of the crowd was warm, almost joyful. We were standing together after the last few weeks of transition to an Administration that alternately shocked and confused us.We held downtown Oakland in the embrace of an absolute gridlock of bodies. The age range ran from the seventies (at least) to infants in strollers. One very old lady smiled and waved down on us from a Chinatown apartment, showing us “V for victory” with her fingers.

Linda and I were together on scooters, and our son Jim and his wife Marisa joined us. I thought about all the times I’d gone to peaceful demonstrations of one kind or another holding tightly to his hand; now he and Marisa were watching over us two aging boomers: sweet role reversal. They were kind enough not to mention that they were looking after us.

Eventually the crowd began to move, slowly. No one was upset or angry; we were all happy to be together. The March was marching! By 3pm, police were suggesting detour routes to those who were getting tired. One cop said that he estimated the crowd at 100,000. There was no violence at all.

A gentle rain fell. I don’t know how many made it to City Hall for the rally, but many of us dispersed as gently as the rain. We’d made our point.

Some great signs today:

Cheerful marchers, serious messages. (Photo Ann Thomas Seitz)

“Paul Ryan Health Care Plan: Die already, and hurry up about it.”

“Not My President”

“This is NOT a DRILL”

“Sing for our Rights”

“It’s Not a Hot Flash, It’s Climate Change”

“Justice, Justice You Shall Pursue”

“Freedom and Justice for All.”

“Nurse Practitioners against Trump: Leave Pussy Grabbing to the Professionals”

All day I kept thinking about the Holly Near song, “We Are A Gentle Angry People:”





Hats, Slogans, Signs: Preparing for the Women’s March

Image: DREAM Act Protesters for President Obama’s Visit to Austin by Todd Dwyer (some rights reserved) Listening to protesters goes with the job, Mr. President.

No one who knows me well will be surprised to know that I’m going to be in the Women’s March in Oakland this Saturday. I and a lot of other women are going to go to the street to raise up our concerns about the expressed agenda of the new administration.

It sounds like there are going to be a bunch of us. 31,000 people have said they are going on Facebook; 45,000 more have registered as “interested.” From my synagogue alone, we have over 100 people registered. I’m going to be there on my scooter.

To those who say “give him a chance” I say, I’ve been working on that since November 10. What I heard during the campaign was a lot of hateful rhetoric about Mexicans, and immigrants, and Muslims, and African-Americans. What I have seen since the election has been a swift upsurge of violence against those groups, with the President-Elect saying hardly a peep about it, despite the fact that he tweets about many other things. For a man who prides himself on plain speaking, he is very coy about saying “Cut it out!” to people who do violence in his name.

So I am going to hit the streets with a few friends, and we will engage in a peaceful demonstration of our concerns. Peaceful, because I am a law-abiding person. Peaceful because what I want for this nation is peace.

Normally I would not participate in a political event on Shabbat, but this is no longer a normal situation.  Nothing about the past transition period was normal, and I have the impression that many of Mr. Trump’s supporters are happy that it was not a normal transition. This fills me with alarm. If I am wrong (I would love to be wrong) then at worst I am being foolish. I am willing to look foolish when I believe lives are at stake.

About hats: I’m not wearing any headgear named after a vulgarism for a body part. I have no judgement on someone else, it’s just not my thing. I am serious about what I’m doing.

About signs: I’ve been thinking all week about what to put on my sign. I finally settled on this:

לֹא תַעֲמֹד עַל-דַּם רֵעֶךָ

Do not stand by while your neighbor bleeds. – Leviticus 19:16

That seemed to me to be the verse that best applied to my concerns. I am worried for friends who have health insurance through the ACA but who have pre-existing conditions. I fear for disabled people. Right now there does seem to be a guarantee that the ACA is going away, but no equal guarantee that it will be replaced by something better.

I am worried for friends: African-Americans, Latinx, Muslims, and trans persons who have been targeted with hateful rhetoric and by outright violence. I know some young DREAMers who are terrified. They haven’t been “given a chance” – no, even before the new administration came in, the fans of that administration have been giving us what I fear is a preview of the Trump years. I don’t like seeing and hearing threats to my neighbors; I am horrified by accounts of violence against them.

And honestly, I’m worried for the Jews. In the past two weeks there have been two waves of bomb threats against 30 Jewish institutions in 17 states including two JCCs in my area. JCCs more often than not have daycare centers. We heard not a peep of concern from President-Elect Trump. (I know, his daughter is Jewish. This does not explain his silence.)

I am done waiting for Mr. Trump to have an awakening of conscience. I am planning to bring my concerns to his attention on the first full day that he sits in the Oval Office. Get used to it, Mr. President: listening to protestors is now part of your job.


Peering Through the Screen

Image: World Map, by Grand_Scient / Pixabay.

I have known for a while that I have readers in some pretty far-flung places. Recently I saw a report from tweepsmap, a company that tracks twitter activity, about the location of my Twitter followers. It matches up very consistently with the information I get from about the readers of this blog. No surprise there, since I advertise articles using my Twitter account, @CoffeeShopRabbi.

Much of the info was unsurprising. I have many readers in the larger Jewish centers of population like Southern California, New York City, and Israel. But I also have readers in some places that surprise (and rather delight) me.

I must say, I’m curious and I’d love to hear from more of you.

Apparently there’s a regular reader in Cuzco, Peru. Are you Jewish? What brought you to the blog? I visited Cuzco once and found the people there to be extraordinarily kind.

There are quite a few of you in Dallas and Houston, TX – that makes sense, there are significant Jewish communities there. But what about you in Victoria, TX? How did you find me? Is the blog useful to you? How could I be more useful?

Mexico City was a nice surprise – more than one reader there – but in Guadalajara, too? Cool! How can I be more helpful to you?

I was astonished to find out there’s a reader in Dhaka, Bangladesh.If you are willing to tell me more, I’d love to hear from you.

I was excited to see that there is a reader in Shanghai, China. A number of European Jews took shelter in Shanghai during the Holocaust, and I understand the Chinese were very kind to them.

There are a surprising number of readers living in the Arab world, and in other places where there are very few if any Jews. Again, I wonder what you get out of this blog?  If I can answer questions that you wonder about, I hope you will ask.

Some of you I know. I know the reader in Karlsruhe, Germany. I have corresponded with the reader in Lyon, France. One of the readers in Norwich, UK, is an old friend from

I’m writing this litany because I want to encourage all readers to leave a comment or two. I truly would love to hear from you. I’m curious about your questions and about what interests you. If you are Jewish and isolated, I hope that I cut through some of that isolation. If you aren’t Jewish, how is this blog useful or interesting? Do you have questions I could answer?

Thanks to all of you for reading. I am grateful to you for doing so, and especially grateful when you comment. Torah is not a solitary activity.

Shalom, chaverim! Greetings, friends!



10 Ideas for Navigating a Contentious Thanksgiving Table

Image: Two people arm-wrestling. Photo by RyanMcGuire/Pixabay.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving in the United States. My radio and online reading tell me that people are very worried about discussions at the table, especially about politics.

Here are some options for navigating contentious discussions:

  1. Keep in mind that these are the people who let you in the door when you are on the doorstep. You actually do want some connection to them, especially if you are feeling threatened by the world.
  2. If your family enjoys argument, by all means enjoy!
  3. If someone at the table finds argument terrifying, be gentle with them. Just accept that this is who they are, and offer them a hug, more pie, or the TV remote. Don’t be mad at them for not arguing; it just isn’t their game.
  4. If you are the person feeling threatened by arguments, remember: A person who seems angry may just be avoiding admitting (to themselves?) that they are afraid.
  5. If someone at the table is feeling an existential threat (“We could die!” “We could starve!” etc) focus on their feelings rather than their logic. Saying, “You are a silly goose because you think such-and-such” is actually quite cruel. They are scared.
  6. If someone at the table feels hope for the first time in a long time, respect their relief if only for the peace of the day.
  7.  Leave words like “bigot” or “idiot” out of the conversation. They never add value. The rabbis of Pirkei Avot tell us to “give everyone the benefit of the doubt.”
  8. If someone is being a bully, don’t engage with them. Instead, turn to the person on the receiving end of the bullying and change the subject to something more pleasant.
  9. If all else fails, say “It’s Thanksgiving and I want to enjoy your company, not fight.” On Shabbat, I have been known to say, “Not on Shabbes. Next topic!” when a subject seemed likely to bring out the worst around the table.
  10. It’s only one day.


Thanksgiving Interlude

Image: Gabi and Jojo are hungry. Photo is mine.

Sorry, folks, my back has been out again. Sitting at the computer aggravates it, so I am limited to my smartphone for posts.

Right now there are two poodles bouncing around on the bed, trying to convince me that it is dinner time. They haven’t adjusted to the change from daylight savings time. Weeks have passed but they are still quite sure all their meals are one hour late.

So life goes on. My back is messed up again (I fell off too many horses as a kid) and the dogs are hungry. Some things go right on no matter what’s in the news or how I feel about it.

Torah doesn’t change, either. It’s still my job and yours to be a mensch. That means looking for opportunities to do mitzvot. We should not stand by while someone else bleeds. We should give tzedakah according to our means. We should not attempt to use tzedakah to control the recipients or to benefit ourselves. We should be honest in business, and pay the people who work for us in full and on time.

Those are just a few mitzvot. Go and study – that’s a mitzvah, too.

I wish you a Thanksgiving holiday of peace and gratitude. May we all continue to recognize our blessings despite aches and pains and whatever gets in the way.

My Sukkah is Soggy :-(

Image: A rain-soaked pergola. Photo by Rabbi Ruth Adar.

My sukkah (soo-KAH or SOOK-uh) is soggy. Actually, the sukkah-stuff is still in the garage; what you see in the photo above is the very wet pergola that becomes my sukkah every year with a bit of presto-change-o.  A big storm is blowing through the Bay Area, with heavy rain and strong winds, and bits of it are going to blow through for a couple of days more.

On the one hand, frustrating: NOW is the time to set the sukkah up, and frankly, unless I want the walls and the rugs and so on to blow down the hill and over into the neighbors’ yards, it’s better to wait. On the other hand, my back is still out from Yom Kippur (too much sitting in synagogue) so maybe this is a gift in disguise. Anyway, I am a Californian, and it’s against the law here to complain about water that falls from the sky for free!