Just a brief reflection on First Days at school. I wrote this back in 2017, when my youngest began kindergarten. I posted it now, because after 406 with no in-person school, it’s taken me a month to process that her first day of the school year came and went without dire consequences.
This old essay begins like so:
Tuesday was my daughter’s first day of kindergarten. At 4:20, when her bus finally arrived, she didn’t get off.
The driver checked, first calling out from the front, then shushing all of the kids and calling out again, then finally going seat to seat down the length of the big yellow bus.
My daughter wasn’t there.
Don’t worry—this is an “all’s well that ends” situation…
It goes on from there. And, no, I have no clue why I chose to defame Mitch Albom in the title of this pieces. I never mention him in the entire essay. He must have just pissed me off that day. Dude does that.
… but just a reminder to my American readers: We already live in this reality. This country isn’t just full of guns; it’s full of ammunition. If you have access to even a single bullet, you are $10 and a trip to the hardware store from making a wonderfully lethal weapon: unserialized, untraceable, highly concealable, nearly foolproof. You won’t be doing any civil massacres with a hardware-store slam gun, but you can mostly definitely kill the guy standing in front of you with little effort.
The reason no one will shoot you today is because no one feels like shooting you today.
I’ve got no clue if your message is the command “KIKE: FREE PALESTINE 卐!” or the wish for a “KIKE-FREE PALESTINE 卐”, and that’s driving me nuts. Please, parents: Don’t just teach your children to hate Jews; teach them to use hyphens and colons properly!
Straight talk, though: If you’re vandalizing a synagogue in England—regardless of what words you paint—it really doesn’t have shit to do with Palestine or Israel or whatever. Likewise, if you are holding a protest outside a synagogue (as has been the case at the synagogue ~1 mile for my house for the last 16+ years), it has nothing to do with what’s written on the signs.
Similarly, the extremely high likelihood that right now you’re thinking “My Gosh! That is so clearly and obviously wrong, but you have to admit that Israelblah blah blah…” —that thought, it doesn’t have shit to do with Palestine, either.
The vandalism is anti-Jewish.
The protest outside a synagogue is anti-Jewish.
Expecting Jews in England or Michigan or—hell, anywhere OTHER THAN ISRAEL—to bear some special responsibility for Israeli domestic policy is anti-Jewish and, frankly, crazy. It’s literally the same as protesting outside a Black church because you’re upset about the ongoing lack of accountability or reconciliation from the Liberian Civil Wars, or protesting the Xinjiang internment camps by picketing outside of a Chinese restaurant.
The fact that any of what I’m saying maybe makes you uncomfortable, that’s for you to sort out.
But if you’re afraid I’m maybe implying you harbor anti-Jewish sentiment, here’s a test you can do in the privacy of your own head, and never tell anyone the outcome. Do you agree with the following statements:
I feel weird acknowledging the 3000+ rockets Hamas fired at Israeli civilians in the past month without also acknowledging the 20x difference in Israeli and Palestinian casualty rates.
When someone mentions the 58+ Palestinian children killed in this latest paroxysm of violence, I don’t even think for one second about the terror of ~3000 rockets coming at you in a single month.
If you answered YES to both, congratulations: You’re pretty much like every other person in the world. If you’ve ever wondered how something like the Holocaust happens, now you know.
Sorry to be a bummer, but real talk and then we’re done: Did you feel worse about the thousand rockets, or the 58+ Palestinian kids, or the fact that some Jew in Michigan called you out about it?
You probably feel attacked right now, so I want one last thing to be crystal clear: My answers to those two questions were “Yes”es, too. If your culture has a bias, you have that bias as well—even if, in your heart of hearts, you despise the bias. Even if that bias contributes to your own destruction. None of us get to stand outside our culture; there are no free passes in this game. It’s noble to want to fix Israel, or Liberia, or China—but sorta weird not to give a moment to healing yourself, too.
Incidentally, my source for the image above includes some interesting history (which I’ve touched on before) specific to the town where this happened:
This anti-semitic attack in Norwich makes me want to tell a story of the Jews of Norfolk. By way of background, the first synagogue in Norwich dates back to 1087. This is a story of both hatred and decency. Of English antisemitism. This is the story of William of Norwich. 1/8 https://t.co/oP6EoqJDkg
The difficulty remains as to why King Henry and his servant John of Lexington would have believed the accusations in the first place. … While the decision to act belonged to the King, Langmuir believes that he was weak and easily manipulated by Lexington. Langmuir says Henry III has been described as; “a suspicious person who flung charges of treason recklessly, [who] was credulous and poor in judgment, and often appeared like a petulant child. When to these qualities we add his addiction to touring the shrines of England, it becomes easier to understand why he acted as he did…” Langmuir therefore concludes that Lexington “incited the weakly credulous Henry III to give the ritual murder fantasy the blessing of royal authority”. Jacobs on the other hand sees the financial benefits that Henry received as a major factor, conscious or unconscious, in his decision to mass arrest and execute Jews. As noted above, he had mortgaged his income from the Jews to Richard of Cornwall, but was still entitled to the property of any Jew executed, adding that Henry, “like most weak princes, was cruel to the Jews”.
Note the profit motive, the crushing debt, the love of touring from big public event to big public event, the absolute credulity to believe what is convenient, the tendency to flit and flip-flop from outrage to outrage, and a reflex to accuse sinister cabals composed of largely powerless minorities of master-minding vast schemes against a blameless populace.
If all of this seems long ago and far away, then please note that QAnon, Pizzagate, and a goodly portion of current Trumpery-driven White Violence is just this same story repeated over and over and over again.
Maybe these pictures worried you. Maybe they frightened you. Maybe they embarrassed you—because, let’s be honest: it’s shameful to be bullied, to get the “Kick Me!” sign pasted to your back again and again, century after century.
Or maybe you didn’t feel much of anything. Maybe you’ve grown numb; one more slap in the face at the tail end of four years of unprovoked suckerpunches, it can all sort of blur together. I get that.
I don’t exactly have words for how it made me feel.
(I go to that skatepark a lot. It was hard not to take it personally.)
And I thought about the increase in anti-Jewish hate-crimes here in America over the past four years. I thought about the increasingly violent nature of those crimes.
I thought about the bomb threats. And the synagogue shootings. And the stabbings. And the rallies. And the men with guns in the capitol.
And so on.
And I felt hopeless. And I was afraid.
So I emailed the rabbi of Congregation Ahavas Israel (who maintain the cemetery in Grand Rapids that was desecrated on election’s eve). I wrote to voice our support and solidarity, and ask what they might need to restore the cemetery.
Rabbi David J.B. Krishef replied almost immediately:
“Hi Dave — the cemetery was cleaned by a small group of people who live around the corner and took it upon themselves to clean the stones without even letting us know what they were doing, and a few other people, including one from Ann Arbor, who drove in and decided to wash the paint off. We are grateful for all of the love and support and positive notes we’ve received.”
It dawned on me that this second half of the story is rarely reported, but often the case:
A lone jackass skulks around smearing his petty foulness in the dark; the whole community—not just Jews, but people from all over the community unwilling to let ugliness linger—return in the light to set things right.
That’s what happened in the cemetery in Grand Rapids. And when I went back and checked, I discovered it’s what happened at Temple Jacob in Hancock.
And that’s what happened here in Ann Arbor, too; I know, because I saw it: I went to the skatepark the day after it was tagged. The city had already power-washed away the paint. And unknown members of the community at large had come through with colored chalk and, evey place where there’d been a symbol of hate, replaced it with a message of welcoming and love:
What I saw in Ann Arbor was not the exception; it was the rule, even now, in this time of widely reported “unprecedented division and unrest.” And maybe it feels like we’re mired in a time of unprecedented division and unrest because we only report the first half of the story—the smeared paint, the thrown punch, the shots fired—and then move on to the next catastrophe, without checking back to see what comes after the paint and the screaming: a nation of folks ready to take it upon themselves to fix whatever any single angry loner chooses to break.
PATREON: If you’d like to support my brand of madness on a recurring basis, Patreon makes that easy. Even at the lowest tiers, supporters get access to previously unpublished fiction. That currently includes my novella And Lo She Dwelt in the Great Sadness—which will likely prove diverting to folks frustrated by our current political situation. New stories will be added in coming months.
This poem—penned by a UU minister—has been circulating among my Jewish congregation, and I’m inclined to endorse the advice: Take a page from the Jewish playbook, folks. We know a thing or two about surviving long (quasi-)confinement and social distance.
What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath—
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world
different than it is.
Sing. Pray. Touch only those
to whom you commit your life.
And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)
Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.
Promise this world your love—
for better or for worse,
in sickness and in health,
so long as we all shall live.
You’ll be invited to your wife’s Full Family Thanksgiving Feast in Michigan
Attending means driving to the hinterlands around the middle knuckles of the Mitten’s middle finger. Shortly before leaving you’ll learn that this Full Family Feast does not, in fact, exist. Instead you’ll be directed to a somewhat lesser Secondary Family Feast in a somewhat less remote part of the hinterlands, at your in-laws’ cottage in a town mostly known for holding an annual ice fishing carnival on a frozen lake.
You’ve witnessed this carnival. You’ve ridden the ferris wheel atop the ice with your wife and young son, a ferris wheel you were told was unique for its age and direction of spin. You learned this from the man operating it, the man who proclaimed that he’d bolted it together himself, a man with something very clearly wrong with one side of his skull.
These are things you do in Michigan. These are the decisions you make by just letting things keep going the way they go in Michigan. …
And goes on from there. You can read it all free online here: