Immigration: A New (and Not-so-new) Crisis

Immigration Spring 2007

Immigration has become one of the hot controversies in America. The flow of illegal immigrants across the Mexican border has triggered an intense backlash of protest and resentment. Some protestors are demanding deportation and a wall of separation. Others are insisting on more intense surveillance. Still others want immigrants to commit them­selves to speaking English.

Immigrants have been a controversial issue ever since the beginning of the United States of America. They were obviously useful, fill­ing up the Western lands with white settlers and providing cheap labor for burgeoning industry. But they also were a problem. The self-image of America was tied up with being a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant nation. Hordes of Catholics and Jews, Eastern Europeans and Southern Europeans, threatened the cultural and ethnic unity of the American people. In the middle of the nineteenth century a power­ful new political party (the American Party) emerged on the political scene to demand an end to immigration.

The issue of “foreigners” was aggravated by the presence in America of a large “unassimilable” population of African slaves. Even for millions of Americans who were opposed to slavery, the thought of a future America filled with free blacks was not an attractive vision. Many abolitionists preferred the “re­turn” of blacks to their African homeland, feeling that African-American race and culture posed a danger to a homogeneous nation. To these white Americans diversity had its limits if the nation was to continue a nation. Lincoln, early in his political career, advocated this “return” program.

The victory of the North in the Civil War subverted the power of the nativists. The Yan­kees were committed to the industrialization of America. This transformation was possible only with the availability of vast reservoirs of cheap labor. Whatever ethnic reservations the Yankee elite had about foreigners, no anxiety could effectively resist the prospect of becoming rich. America opened its doors to millions of immigrants seeking a better life. The only restriction was that immigrants had to be white. Europeans were welcomed, but Asians were discouraged – and sometimes barred from entering.

America was irreversibly changed by the massive entry of new immigrants after 1865. The first wave of Irish and Germans was fol­lowed by the second wave of Italians, Slavs, and Ashkenazic Jews. Catholics became the majority in dozens of American cities. Eth­nic ghettos transformed the urban landscape and replaced the old with a new diversity. A shrinking rural America remained the heart­land of Anglo-Saxon culture. But it was van­ishing in many places and losing political power. Public schools softened the blow of change. They turned white immigrants into English-speaking imitations of the original Anglo-Saxon American. But the imitation was never quite the same as the original.

Again the nativists rallied. After the First World War, in 1924, they closed the doors to immigration. Only a small number of north­western Europeans were allowed to enter. This xenophobia was accompanied by the absurd episode of Prohibition, a silly attempt to preserve Anglo-Saxon virtue with an attack on the “alcoholic” culture of Catholics and other immigrants. Prohibition failed. And so did the nativist campaign to keep America white and Anglo-Saxon.

The relentless demand for new cheap labor prevailed over the racism of the nativ­ists. With the end of the Depression and with the coming of the new prosperity of postwar America, immigration revived. The Cold War cut off the access to the remaining pools of poor people in Eastern Europe. Two new groups arrived on the immigration scene to replace white recruits. Asians and Hispanics constituted the majority of the new arrivals. And all this racial change was preceded by a massive internal immigration, the transfer of millions of African-Americans from the rural South to the cities of the North.

While Asians tended to enter the middle class through their educational achievement and entrepreneurial skills, Hispanics became the new menial labor of America. From cherry pickers to construction workers, they filled the vacuum left by traditional white workers climbing into the middle class. Although the label Hispanic designates their language, it fails to designate their race. Hispanics are not Spanish. They are mestizo descendants of Amerindians (Mexicans). They are mulatto offspring of Latin American blacks (Puerto Ricans). They are an assault on the white self- image of old America.

Latin American poverty and rising expec­tation triggered a mass exodus of Mexicans, Guatemalans, Salvadorians, Nicaraguans, Colombians, Ecuadorians, Brazilians, and Do­minicans from their homelands. “Gringoland” was the place of economic opportunity. Be­cause U.S. immigration laws were unfriendly to unskilled labor, millions of Hispanics chose to cross the American border illegally. Today ten million people in the United States are illegal Hispanic immigrants.[1] While they perform useful work, they also impose heavy burdens on public education and public wel­fare. Their persistence in retaining Spanish threatens the English-speaking self-image of other Americans. And their non-white racial characteristics threaten the vision of America as a predominantly white nation. We all know that if ten million Swedes were “swimming” across the Rio Grande illegally, the nativists would not be up in arms.

Driving out ten million illegal Hispanics is not politically possible. Big business and small business need their cheap labor. And legal Hispanics are a large minority with formidable voting power, especially in states like Texas and California. The Republican Party, the historic home of nativist sentiment, is hope­lessly divided on this issue. The economic conservatives want to legalize the illegals and to provide for the entry of thousands of guest workers. The social conservatives want to drive out the illegals and to preserve the his­torical culture and racial character of America, no matter what the economic consequences. President George W. Bush has sided with the economic conservatives. But his Religious Right allies oppose him on this issue.

What is going to happen? Will the contro­versy irreparably harm the Republican Party? Will Hispanics be deported? Will a wall of ex­clusion be built along the Mexican border?

Realism provides the answers. The Ameri­can economy needs cheap menial labor. The Hispanics remain the only available labor pool to service this need. A Republican determina­tion to hold back the Hispanic tide will drive the Hispanics completely into the Democratic camp. The prevailing birth rates indicate that within fifty years the majority of Americans will not be white. While English will remain the world language, English in America will increasingly share space with Spanish. (In a global world, bilingualism is an asset, not a catastrophe.) America, like all the other countries in the developed world, is becoming a multicultural state. Anglo-Saxon America is fading away. Asians and Hispanics are on the rise.

Realism dictates that we make it easy for Hispanics to enter the United States. We need menial workers as well as well-educated immi­grants. The present illegals should be legalized. Future illegals should be punished. The flow of temporary and permanent Hispanic residents needs an open door, not a closed one.


Celebrating 350 Years of Jewish Life in North America

Celebrating 350 years in America: Summer 2005

This is an important year for Jews in America. Three hundred and fifty years ago, in 1654, a small, bedraggled band of Jews sailed into the harbor of Dutch New Amsterdam and sought refuge. They were the leftovers of a major exodus of Portuguese Marranos from Dutch Brazil after Brazil was retaken by the Portuguese. Most of the refugees returned to Holland. Some of the refugees disembarked in Curacao. A few chose North America as their destination. The Dutch governor of New Amsterdam, Peter Stuyvesant, resisted the entry of the Jews. But the corporate leaders of the Dutch West India Company, including wealthy Portuguese Jews, overruled Stuyvesant’s prejudice. The first self-proclaimed Jews had arrived in North America.

North America was no ordinary desti­nation for the Jews. It was not like arriving in Iraq, Germany, or Poland. America was to become the leading nation of the ur­ban industrial revolution, the dynamo of capitalism and the money economy. Not since the invention of agriculture ten thou­sand years before had a revolution of this magnitude taken place in human develop­ment. The assault of science and technology transformed Western civilization and ulti­mately the world. Although the weary Por­tuguese Jewish refugees who arrived in New Amsterdam had no idea of what would fol­low, they had landed in the place that would change the Jews more powerfully than any other country in which they had sojourned. That change was so powerful that Jews in America today cannot even comprehend what Jewish life and Jewish belief were like three hundred years ago.

America turned into such an attractive destination for Jews that it ultimately became home to the largest Jewish community in the world. The immigration came in waves. First came the trickle of Portuguese Marranos, who settled in the coastal cities of New York, Philadelphia, Newport, and Charleston. Then came the bigger wave of German Jews, who laid the foundations of American Jewish life and institutions. After the Germans came the overwhelming numbers of Yiddish-speak­ing Eastern European Jews, who created a powerful Jewish presence in the major cities of North America. In the twentieth century refugees from Nazi and Soviet terror arrived. Even a substantial number of Israelis have established a Zionist diaspora in the United States and Canada.

The roots of American culture lie in many places. One is the incredible potential wealth of the continent we live on. Another is the Anglo-Saxon world from which the reality of a liberal democracy first emerged. Still another is radical Calvinism, which despised aristocracy and glorified human equality. Above all, the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century, which coincided with the American Revolution, championed the powerful no­tions of science and progress. This country, like England, was an ideal place for the urban industrial revolution to begin. Prosperity and freedom were the consequences. Toleration and the separation of religion from govern­ment became the law of the land. The social reality of America was radically different from any previous environment in which Jews had found themselves. Secular education and public schools were available to everyone. No pedigreed upper class prevented social climb­ing. In one generation, money and education could lift immigrants from poverty to success. New secular professions, from accountant to psychiatrist, offered niches of influence and status. Technology and leisure lifestyles opened the worlds of the media and mass entertainment. In America, all the Jewish com­mercial skills that the peasants and warriors of Europe had despised were the very skills that every American citizen needed in order to succeed in a free-enterprise economy. No social environment had ever been as friendly to the Jews as that of America.

But the influence of America on Jewish life lies in something more powerful. Not only did American secular education un­dermine the traditional beliefs of the past, but it also transformed the value system that Jews historically had embraced. Most of the immigrants had come from families and communities that were authoritarian, male chauvinist, and archly collectivist, a milieu where reverence for the past and pes­simism about the future prevailed. America presented a radically new alternative. There was the celebration of dignity and personal freedom, the radical assertion that I have the right to choose my work, my residence, my politics, my religion – and even my marriage partner. There was empowerment, the chal­lenging claim that my role in life was not to be passively humble but to find my own strength and to forge my own destiny. There was the right to happiness, a provocative alternative to accepting suffering with faith. There was a strong shift of focus from the afterlife to the wonderful options for happiness in the secu­lar choices of a dynamic economy.

American Jews embraced these new val­ues with enthusiasm even though they were dramatically opposed to the Jewish values of the past – so much so that many Jews today believe that these values are contained in the Torah; so much so that most contemporary Jews cannot imagine an ethical world without them. If the revolution at Sinai had been a real event, it could not have been more powerful than the American experience in transforming the Jewish people.

Now, these new values can be problematic. A free, individualistic world breeds stress, self-absorption, loneliness, anonymity, and weak nuclear families. Marxism, hippieism, and religious fundamentalism have emerged as challenging alternatives. But, for the vast ma­jority of the people in the Western world, this value system, with all its problems, remains the most attractive. Even modern Israel is more American than it is traditionally Jewish.

It is appropriate this year that we take the time to celebrate the 350th anniversary of the Jewish arrival in America and to reflect on the revolution that America has provoked in Jewish life. Humanistic Judaism is the child of America.

Political Antisemitism

TJH May_June 1996, vo. XXX11, number 10.

“Political Antisemitism” 

Holocaust Day has a special significance in this election year. Political antisemitism is abroad in the Republican Party.  

Modern anti-Semitism is different from traditional anti-Judaism. Traditional hostility to the Jews is primarily directed to the religion of the Jews. Economic and racial themes are secondary. Modern antisemitism is primarily directed to the “race” and economic role of the Jews. Religious ideas are secondary. Neither Hitler nor Coughlin was interested in Judaism. They were obsessed by Jews. 

Capitalism is the most popular of available economic systems. It is responsible for wealth, technological development and rising standards of living. But it also produces decaying families, violent cities and unemployment. Relentless competition produces both winners and losers. For the winners the system is the best of all possible worlds. For the losers the system appears uncaring and heartless. It takes only a little paranoia to turn that accusation into antisemitism. The world of money becomes the world of the Jews and the world of money is the evil oppressor of the innocent patriot. 

Hitler did not invent modern antisemitism. The change, uncertainty, expectations and trauma of capitalism did. The very system that fostered the prosperity and the liberation of the Jews also spawned their most vicious enemy.  

Antisemitism will not go away so long as economic anxiety remains. It is a chronic disease of an urban, anonymous, detribalized, and money-centered world. When the economy is strong it is tolerable. When the economy goes bad it becomes intolerable. Right now technology, automation and thinking machines are wreaking havoc with the lives and employment of millions of workers and middle-class people. Most young people are pessimistic not optimistic about their economic future. Industrial workers, blacks and Hispanics, are feeling abandoned and resentful. Jews become the personification of all the forces they fear and do not control.  

Modern anti-Semitism comes in two forms. The mild form is social antisemitism. This hostility excludes Jews from social intercourse with non-Jews, especially the power elite. While social antisemitism is morally deplorable, it is easily handled. Jews simply create and perpetuate the familiar institutions which enable them to socialize with each other.  

The virulent form is political antisemitism. This antagonism seeks to seize political power and to use that power to deprive Jews of their status, property and lives. Political antisemitism is what the deadly virus of European Jew-hatred was all about. From Dreyfus to the Holocaust it was driven by a vision of the “Jewish Peril” that justified expulsion and extermination. Often political antisemitism starts off with mild rebukes and develops, through economic turmoil, to broad programs of oppression.  

Political antisemitism features political leaders, politicians eager to use hostility to Jews as a vehicle to power.  

Many European leaders chose this path. In America, there was very little political antisemitism until the First World War. 

In the Twenties Henry Ford publicized the vicious Protocols of the Elders of Zion. In the Depression Thirties, Charles Coughlin preached a message of hate for capitalism, communism and Jews. The Second World War and economic prosperity terminated this threat. 

But, of course, the troubled Nineties has revived it. Pat Buchanan has arrived on the Republican stage to denounce Wall Street, the brokers of the money world, foreign exploiters, corporate greed and the inordinate power of Israel and the Jews over American life.  

Of course, his voice is a minority voice. Of course he will not be the Republican nominee. But it is also true that the Republican leadership has not openly repudiated him for his public hostility to Jewish influence. His position is very much the same as that of Louis Farrakhan in the Black world. He disparages the Jews. He courts racist supporters. And he knows that he is immune to expulsion. He has too many powerful devotees. Pleasing the Jews is less important than hanging on to any potential voter.  

I do not imagine that the economic future of America will allow the triumph of either fascism or political antisemitism. I do not believe that either Dole or the mainstream leaders of the Republican party or anything but embarrassed by the public rantings of Pat Buchanan. But I will not support a political party whose leadership refuses to condemn this voice of hatred.  

(Just as I will not condone the authority of Black leadership that fears to confront Farrakhan.) 

The poor, the oppressed and economic “losers” of the world deserve our sympathy and help. But they are not necessarily the moral voices of humanity. If sufficiently provoked, they will embrace ideologies that will produce political repression. America and the world of economic change are vulnerable to self-destructive voices. Right now, Buchanan, despite Dole’s victory, is a dangerous voice of the evil.  

Jewish votes should not support any political party that does not condemned the purveyors of antisemitism in its midst 

The Rabbi Writes – The Religious Right

The Jewish Humanist, October 1994, Vol. XXXI, Number 3 

A doctor performing abortions is killed in Florida. A full-page advertisement in the Sunday New York Times accuses Bill Clinton of arranging the murder of his good friend and assistant Vincent Foster. Irangate villain Oliver North wins the Republican primary for the United States Senate seat from Virginia and proposes to restore Christian values in America.      

Together with thousands of other events these three provocations are evidence of the continuing presence and power of the Religious Right. Emerging in 1980 during the first Reagan campaign, as a major political force, the Religious Right is still alive and well and determined to win the victory that has so far eluded them. Their leaders are by now familiar – Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Donald Wildman, Paul Wyrich. The Moral Majority may have yielded to the Christian Coalition. But the agenda remains the same. 

The agenda is very clear and very frightening. It is the use of government power to impose a Christian fundamentalist moral code of behavior on all the American people. Before 1980 the fundamentalists shunned national politics. Now they are the masters of it. Although they represent only 15-20% of the American public they act as though they are the voice of America and of American values. 

The Religious Right has its roots in the traditional conservative movement. Traditional conservatives are different from economic conservatives. Economic conservatives liked to be called liberals in the nineteenth century. They opposed the government control of private life and championed the right of individuals to personal and economic freedom. When they first emerged they were on the Left. Only the movement of many classical liberals to egalitarian and socialist ideas turned them into “conservatives.” Economic conservatives do not want to use the government. They want to avoid the government. 

Traditional conservatives are the real conservatives. They come out of the agricultural world that preceded capitalism. Their role model for the organization of society is the authoritarian family. The government is like a good father, guiding and protecting his children. Good fathers make demands, impose discipline and control behavior. Religion features an authoritarian God who behaves in the same way and who is a reflection of what good fathers and good governments do. The primary role of society is reproduction. Therefore abortion and homosexuality are forbidden. And the basic role of women is to have babies and to serve their husbands. 

Although capitalism and personal freedom have been around for a long time in America, there are many Americans who still belong to or yearn to return to this old conservative world. Their numbers have increased in recent years because American life has been traumatized by family decline, lifestyle change, economic uncertainty and crime. Traditional conservatives have placed the responsibility for these changes on the doorstep of unbridled freedom and its ally secular humanism. 

If the Religious Right were to achieve political power in America, they would put prayers, Bible readings and Bible theology into the public schools. They would use tax money to pay for private religious education. They would censor books and newspapers. They would outlaw abortion and homosexuality. They would pass laws to encourage women to bear children and to stay at home. 

For many years traditional conservatives were too divided to be effective. White fundamentalists hated Black fundamentalists. Charismatics hated fundamentalists. Protestants hated Catholics. All of them hated Jews. Many conservative Protestants were in favor of the separation of religion and government because they did not want state money going to Catholic parochial schools. But all of that has changed. The civil rights movement has ironically brought White and Black fundamentalists together. Communism and abortion have sealed the union between conservative Protestants and conservative Catholics. And the growing number of Jewish fundamentalists has bizarrely recruited Jewish allies for a Christian America. What was divided is now united against their shared enemy – a free society. 

The strategy of the Religious Right is to take over the Republican Party. Since they are a distinct minority, they cannot win power unless they hang onto the coattails of a major political institution. Unfortunately, they have been very successful in their campaign. Hundreds of Republican precincts have fallen under their control. Hundreds of their devotees have been nominated as Republican candidates. The 1992 Republican Convention was dominated by their agenda and by their ideology. Most Republican leaders are afraid of them and seek their approval and support. 

The consequence is the vicious assault on Bill Clinton. Clinton has many faults. But he is not a sex maniac and murderer. But hundreds of thousands of Americans now believe that he is. They do not read the liberal press. They listen to the tapes circulated by Robertson and Falwell which give credibility to these accusations. 

The campaign by the Religious Right ought to frighten us into action. We, as humanists, are, in their eyes, the ultimate enemy. But, in offering resistance, we need to keep in mind certain basic realities. 

The first basic reality is that most Republicans are economic conservatives, not traditional conservatives. The only way to fight the Religious Right is to mobilize the Republican (sic) who also hate them. Economic freedom goes together with personal freedom and with the separation of religion from government. Rational Republicans know that. 

The second basic reality is that morality is a stronger argument than a peevish defense of personal choice. The Religious Right derives its power from its presentation of itself as the defender of ethics and morality. If, indeed, their point of view is the moral one, they have the moral authority to impose their will on us. The way to fight the Religious Right is to take the moral monopoly away from the (sic). Abortion freedom is not merely personal choice. It is the moral choice in an overcrowded world as Society of wanted babies is the only society that is morally sustainable. Abortion freedom is not merely personal choice.It is the moral choice. In an overcrowded world a society of wanted babies is the only society that is morally sustainable. Abortion freedom is not simply an individual right. It is, above all, a social and ethical necessity.  

The Religious Right will be a chronic and continuous political force in American life. We have to be on the alert to resist them. When we offer our resistance, we must remember that many people who call themselves conservatives are our national allies – and that the defense of individual freedom is also the defense of social morality.  

The Rabbi Writes – George Bush

The Jewish Humanist, January 1989 Vol. XXVI Number 6

George Bush will be our next president. What does it all mean? 

Or, more precisely, what messages did the election give to the American people onto the president -elect himself? 

The election campaign was a “dirty” campaign. The real issues were ignored while Willie Horton and the Pledge of Allegiance dominated the headlines. And undertones of racism were apparent in the consistent attempt to identify the Democrats with Jesse Jackson and the blacks.  

Bush did not win the election because of his personal charisma or extraordinary skills. Nor did he win because of the peculiar ineptness of Michael Dukakis. His victory was due to the public belief that the Reagan years meant prosperity and that he was the chosen successor to carry on the Reagan formula for economic success. The mantle of the ever-popular Reagan was his greatest asset. It is highly doubtful that any Democrat would have been successful in persuading American voters to “change horses in midstream.” 

But Bush was assisted by other factors than Reagan. His campaign managers, especially Jim Baker, were brilliant. They recognized that the issues of crime and patriotism were more important to the American public than the real issues of deficits and trade and imbalance and programmed their candidate to play them for all that they were worth. And the never articulated identification of the Republicans is the party of the whites was no mean boost. 

Bush confronts many serious problems as he assumed the presidency. Not only does he face the fact that the growing national deficit threatens the economy with imminent ruin. He also has to deal with the domestic issues of drugs, environmental pollution, healthcare and educational subsidies – as well as the foreign policy issues of disarmament, Central America and the Middle East. During the campaign he never provided any real indication of how he would deal with these problems.  

His diverse constituency presents another headache. He has to maintain a balancing act among the diverse groups that supported him. Satisfying economic conservatives, social conservatives, anti-communist and libertarians simultaneously is no mean feat. 

So what is the message of the election? 

The election confirmed the fact that the presidency has become Republican preserve. It has become increasingly more difficult for Democrats to win the presidential race. From Roosevelt to Johnson the White House was chiefly Democratic territory. But Nixon reversed that political tradition. Now the Democrats are the underdogs who always have to try harder. The South, which was once a secure base of the Democratic party, has now become a Republican preserve. In fact the Democrats no longer have any secure presidential base except in the dispersed black (sic) population. America is now condemned to divided government-a Republican president with a Democratic Congress. 

The election revealed that the country is not ready for an ethnic president. The Republicans, true to their Anglo-Saxon tradition, pick two impeccable WASPs to represent their position. In the South and in the West these American credentials are still significant. 

The election proved that the Democrats are “liberals” even when they do not want to be. No matter how hard Dukakis tried to avoid the label, he finally had to own up to it – even though it was humiliatingly too late. The message to the Democrats, at least in the presidential race, is to own up to their liberal traditions and to make them attractive. Trying to pose as conservatives with better management skills does not work, even if it is true. 

The election manifested the changing nature of the presidency. As a media phenomenon, the president has to be designed and trained. He is less and less an autonomous leader with a mind of his own. He has become the invention of campaign advisers and media consultants who write his speeches, create his slogans and determine what opportunistic twist his ideology should take. Bush is the prisoner of his staff and will continue to be after his inauguration. Undoubtedly, Jim Baker will share the presidency. 

The election has some very special and important messages for Bush. 

It reminds him that most of his constituency-including his yuppie supporters-voted for his economic program and not for the social program of the religious right. The power of the fundamentalist crazies was not as great in this election as it was eight years ago. 

It tells him that the choice of Quayle hurt him. His victory would have been more overwhelming had he not committed the blunder of choosing the Indiana lightweight. The best service he can perform for the American public is to keep Quayle either unemployed or busy with trivial ceremony duties – and, above all, refuse to die. 

It warns him that his victory was hardly a mandate. Congress remains solidly Democratic. Both domestic and foreign policies, if they are to work and not to be trapped in stalemate, need to be bi-partisan. If his old moderate and conciliatory skills return – and his recent staff and cabinet appointments seem to indicate that – important bridges of cooperation can be built. 

Above all, the election reminds him that peace is very popular. Gorbachev rescued Reagan from the disaster of Irangate by handing him the gift of detente and disarmament. Republican popularity is now tied to an appropriate response to Gorbachev and the peace initiative. Only the hard-core anti-communists still want to hear Cold War rhetoric. 

In fact, Bush, like Reagan, enjoys the good fortune of mazzel. He has been elected to the presidency at a time when the old big power confrontations are beginning to disappear and when peace is breaking out all over. If he takes advantage of his good luck, he may end up presiding over one of the most significant presidencies of this century. He will never thank Gorbachev for his mazzel. But he ought to.  

The Rabbi Writes: Michigan Public Schools

The Jewish Humanist, February 1994, Vol. XXX, Number 7

The public school system in Michigan is in a crisis condition. The property tax for education has been dismissed. Public confidence is declining. The morale of teachers and students is at an all time low. Religious groups are clamoring for the replacement of state education with the voucher system. And a controversial referendum to provide alternative funding through a higher sales tax is imminent. 

The crisis stands in sharp contrast to the public schools of my childhood. In the first sixty years of this century the American state educational system was hailed as one of the finest examples of American democracy. Even free enterprise enthusiasts liked the public schools, even though it meant government control of education. While some proponents were fanatic Protestants who hated Catholics and the Catholic parochial school system most proponents were happy parents who believed that the state school system was delivering exactly what they wanted. 

The old public school system was very good at turning farmer children into urban labor and European immigrants into American citizens. It was also very good at producing a literate work force that could undertake unskilled and semi-skilled jobs. It was blessed with low paid spinster teachers, a young population eager for child education, a reverent relationship between parents and administrators, and low expectations. The social setting was one where two parent families and non-working mothers were the norm. Television was either non-existent or new and children read newspapers or wrote letters. 

The crisis in the public schools exists because the old social setting no longer exists. There are virtually no farmer children to turn into an urban work force. European children have been replaced by African, Asian and Hispanic children. Jobs for unskilled labor have vanished together with the easy affluence that little education at one time could bring you. Low-paid spinster teachers have yielded to self-esteeming professionals who want decent compensation and tenure at the same time. The population is aging, filled with old people who have no personal vested interest in funding child education. The relationship between administrators, teachers and parents is adversarial, aggravated by the emergence of aggressive teacher unions and indifferent politicians. Stable two parent families are shrinking into a minority-all of this change adding new burdens and responsibilities to an overburdened and non (sic) traumatized school system. The analytic skills that come from reading and writing have found a substitute in screen watching. And a more affluent bourgeois America has much higher expectations of its schools and its teachers. 

The consequence is a declining faith in the value of the public school system and an increasing unwillingness to find it. 

Something dramatic needs to be done. Either the public school system will be reformed and funded. Or it will yield to a chaotic system of private schools paid for by state vouchers. 

I am no friend of Governor Engler. But I applaud his willingness to confront the issue. The public school system will not be improved by defending the status quo and identifying all the enemies of public education who are members of his entourage. The complaints are legitimate. The crisis is real. 

I believe that right now, there is no alternative to public schools having the major responsibility for youth education. If we were starting from scratch, I might choose another alternative. But you do not tear down a system that basically works and replace it with an untested private system that will still rely on state money. 

So what do we need to do to reform the system effectively? We need to take bold action. Timid reforms will not work. 

We need to reform the school curriculum so that it trains students for the jobs of the future. Self-esteem does not flow from talking about it or praising one’s ethnic background. It comes from competence and employment. There is no substitute in today’s world for a basic knowledge of the language of science and technology. 

We need to find the teachers who can do this job, pay them adequately and rescue them from overcentralized (sic) and intrusive bureaucracies. Teachers should be rewarded for merit. The tenure system, which exists mainly in the public sector, ought to be discarded. 

We need to charter experimental schools, which are responsible to public authority-but which allow creative educators to test new procedures of education without having to conform to standard policies. 

We need to allow parental choice within a school district-and within the ability of a local school to accommodate demand. Schools that parents do not want should be closed or changed. 

We need to allow public schools the options of turning their operation over to private educational corporations. This experiment in Minnesota has proved quite successful. This transfer must only be made to entrepreneurs with a clear secular agenda. 

We need to establish performance standards for children in each area of learning. There is no substitute for testing. The fear that testing will produce uniformity and rote learning is out weighed (sic) by the disadvantage of chaotic expectations and school certificates that are a sham. 

We need to find funding for the system that provides equal support for the rich and the poor. The local property tax is no longer a feasible funding route. The income tax is a better route but will not be accepted by the general public. The sales tax is regressive-but there is a chance that it will be approved. Therefore, I support the referendum initiative. Hating Engler is not a sufficient reason to oppose. Helping children is more important. 

In some ironic way, Michigan has become a ‘pioneer’ for educational reform. We have to do something dramatic right away. 

The Rabbi Writes: Rosh Hashanah

The Jewish Humanist, September 1977, Vol. 15, Number 1

Rosh Hashanah 

A time for annual Jewish reflection. 

A time to look back on the year that was and ask the question: 

So what is the condition of the Jews? 

The condition of the Jews is not always easy to assess. But pleases the orthodox may not please the atheist. But the conservative calls progress that liberal may label reaction! 

But there are some current problems which all would agree were (sic) troublesome. 

The problem of Israel. The strong posture of the Begin government may be initially appealing. But it remains pure bravado unless Begin can find the Jews to occupy the territories he wishes to annex. In an ironic sense Begin and the old Arafat agree that Israel (or Palestine, if you wish) should remain undivided. For the Arabs the Begin state will in the long run be an Arab State. A bigger Jewish state, without Jewish immigration is the first step to an Arab Palestine. 

The problem of Russia. Russian anti-Semitism continues. In a recent issue of the magazine Moskva, Anatoly Scharansky asserted that Jewish bankers are not yet in power everywhere… it remains the most important task of the Zionist brain center to capture the key positions in the economic, administrative and idelogical machine of the countries of the diaspora… It is natural that such monstrous teachings could not fail to arouse vigilance, dislike and even hostility on the part of people with even a minimum of sense. The so-called Jewish world conspiracy becomes a convenient diversion on the part of the authorities to explain the inadequacies of the Soviet system and to justify anti-semitism. If three million Jews were not trapped within the boundaries of the Soviet Union, the statement would be ludicrous. 

The problem of Argentina. One of the largest Jewish communities in the world (numbering 500,000) is suffering the evils of an incompetent military dictatorship. Terrorism, inflation and unofficial antisemitism are on undermining the security of our Argentine Jewry. A competent dictatorship would at least (sic), have arranged for economic stability! Since the situation is not bad enough for emigration, ambivalence reigns. 

The problem of South Africa. It is only a matter of time before black (sic) nationalism sweeps away the Rhodesian regime and creates civil turmoil in South Africa. Given the power of the Africaner (sic) army it is unlikely that the whites will be driven into the sea in the near future. But South African whites, including 120,000 Jews will be living in the midst of riots and terrorist provocation. No matter how liberal Jews may choose to be, they are condemned to being white. The present emigration of Jewish professionals is the trickle before the flood.  

The problem of Quebec. Montreal had, until recently, the largest and most vital Jewish community in Canada. It’s English-speaking establishment including the Jews is unfrightened (sic) of the future. French Canadian nationalism, like most nationalism (sic) is economically irrational. But it is politically relentless. Toronto is also beginning to experience the exodus of Jews from Quebec. As recent history has demonstrated neither nationalism nor socialism have served Jewish interests well.  

But enough problems.  

What positive things exist? 

Two assets come to mind . 

1.The Arabs are incapable of uniting against Israel. Their hostility for each other in some cases seems to be greater than the hostility to Israel. During the past year Arabs fought Arabs in both Lebanon and Libya. A new public ally has emerged for Israel. The Maronite Christian Arabs of Lebanon prefer Jews to their fellow Arabs. 

2. The largest Jewish community In the world (some six million) have managed, for some reason or other, to end up in the most powerful nation in the world. America is today the industrial, intellectual and artistic center of our planet. Either the Soviet Union or Western Europe have the cultural vitality of the United States. Jewish power is a function of the Jewish presence in America. Leadership in the arts and sciences is disproportionately Jewish. While many Jews are embarrassed by our conspicuous presence (and think that we should never mention it in a public magazine), others like me are justifiably pleased and believe that our enemies should be reminded repeatedly of what they already know.  

This is reason enough for Jews to say Happy New Year.  

The Rabbi Writes: Abortion

The Jewish Humanist, September 1989, Vol. XXVI, Number 2

Human rights in America received a serious blow from the Supreme Court on July 3 when five justices upheld a Missouri law restricting abortion freedom.  Ever since January, when the Court announced that it would consider the controversial case, Webster v. Reproductive Health Services, the pros and cons of the abortion world have been waiting with bated breath to hear the decision.  Liberals were somewhat prepared for an unsatisfactory outcome.  They knew that the Reagan appointments of O’Connor, Scalia and Kennedy would have conservative consequences.  But they were hoping against hope. 

Rehnquist, speaking for the majority, stated that there was presently no necessity to overthrow Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision of 1973 that defined abortion choice as a constitutional right.  But he saw no constitutional reason why appropriate restrictions could not be placed on the exercise of this freedom, especially since the state had a vested interest in the preservation of individual life.  He found no difficulty with the state of Missouri’s decision to prevent abortion in public hospitals and clinics.  It was under no obligation to assist people in the exercise of their rights.  Nor was the required 20 week check on the viability of the fetus an illegal intrusion.  The independence of the fetus was a medical decision which could not be replaced by arbitrary court standards. 

Scalia joined the Court majority but dissented from the Rehnquist opinion.  He regretted that the Court had not been told enough to repudiate what was constitutionally wrong.  He believed that dismantling Roe v. Wade piece by piece was an act of judicial cowardice. 

On the other hand, Blackmun, the author of the 1973 majority statement, said that he heard the death knell of abortion freedom in the Rehnquist opinion and feared further assaults on the constitutional rights of American citizens. 

Following the decision anti-abortionists in virtually all the state legislatures framed new laws to place public restrictions on personal choice and to deny all forms of state aid and state support for women seeking abortion.  Liberal forces, angry and defiant, mobilized to resist this new legislative onslaught.  But, having lost the battle of the courts, they were not quite sure what new strategy to adopt.  They had invested so much energy in the motion that judges were ultimately the best defenders of abortion freedom.  The Rehnquist opinion dramatized certain realities for both conservative and liberal. 

1.  Ronald Reagan has won his battle to change the character of the Supreme Court.  The liberal Warren Court that drove conservatives to campaigns for impeachment no longer exists.  The liberals are now an old and somewhat feeble minority, desperately clinging to office out of fear of who would replace them.  The conservatives are young and vigorous.  And their public supporters, who at one time denounced the Court as a Communist cabal and sought to restrict its power, are now full of praise for the authority of the Court. 

2.  The Constitution, like the Bible, is not a document with an independent meaning all its own.  It ultimately means what its official interpreters make it mean.  They do not discover their opinions in the Constitution.  They impose their opinions on the Constitution, whether those judicial interpreters are liberals or conservatives.  The Constitution is a set of ‘kosherizing’ words.  But what these words mean is up to the judges.  And the judges, in the end, respond to changing political realities and to changing public opinion.   

3.  American public opinion has been deeply influenced by the persistent campaigns of the anti-abortionists.  In fact, the propaganda of the “pro-life” people has been far more effective than the educational campaigns of the “pro-choice’ advocates.  Anti-abortionists have been successful in seizing the moral high ground and in sowing doubts among ambivalent voters.  The Court, to some degree, is a reflection of the new public opinion. 

4.  Relying on the courts for ultimate protection is a misguided strategy in a democratic society.  Judges, in the end, are agents of political agenda and political parties.  In the higher courts they are political appointees, reflecting the political struggles of their time and deeply responsive to constituencies that favor their appointment.  Liberal courts can easily turn into conservative courts and vice-versa.  In the end, the defense of human rights must be won at the polls and not in the courts. 

Herein lies the challenge for all of us who believe in abortion freedom.  We have to convince the masses of the justice of our cause-not the judges. 

Ironically, many liberals who claim to be egalitarian have very elitist political convictions.  They do not trust the masses and are very pessimistic about the possibility of reversing conservative public opinion.  They are much more comfortable turning to small judicial bodies to impose their enlightened opinions on people who appear to be less enlightened.  They do not really trust the democratic process.  The reality is that, over the past decade, social conservatives have been far more successful in mobilizing the masses than liberals. 

Therefore, the traumatizing Rehnquist opinion is both a challenge and an opportunity for us.  We can no longer rely on the courts for our victories. We have to turn to the polls.  We will have to lobby legislators.  We will have to convince voters.  We will have to mobilize workers.  We will have to appeal to the ears and minds of the American people. 

This may sound like more work than we are prepared to do.  But there is no alternative.  In the end, the security of our freedoms cannot rely on the fickle loyalty of the courts.  It must depend on the support of the people and of public opinion. 

The judicial “setback” of the Webster decision may be the beginning of the revitalization of the feminist movement and of liberal political forces that need the challenge of an important political battle.  And we will not have won our fight until we convince a clear majority of the American voters that reproductive rights are human rights. 

The Rabbi Writes: Bush or Clinton

The Jewish Humanist, October 1992, Vol. XXIX, Number 3

Bush or Clinton? 

Ever since the frightening Republican convention the choice has been very clear to me.  The economic agenda which won the victory for Ronald Reagan in 1980, has been abandoned.  The social agenda of the radical right, with its hatred of feminists, atheists, homsexuals and Jews, has taken its place at the center of the Republican stage.   “Family values” is the front cliche for all this hatred and meanness. 

The social agenda of Pat Buchanan and Pat Robertson will win the hearts of a large vocal minority of the American people.  But it is not high on the priority list of most Americans.  Most Americans are worried about the economy and about their jobs.  Most Americans belong to the vulnerable and battered middle class who are experiencing a fall in their standard of living and who are losing hope in the economic future of America.  Most Americans now belong to “unconventional” families where women are forced to work outside their homes and where the traditional support systems are no longer available, even through prayer.   

The setting of this election is a terrifying economic recession.  This recession does not appear to be a short-run relapse like the recessions of the past.  It is a symptom of a major structural fault in our economy as it encounters new technology and international competition.  People are frightened and apprehensive.  They need to be assured about their jobs and their homes.  They need hope.  That was the genius of Reagan.  He always conveyed hope. 

This election has been both tedious and exciting.  The endless primaries were tedious.  The arrival and departure of Perot was exciting.  Perot was a major threat to both Bush and Clinton.  He seemed to have the power to galvanize the moderates among both the Republicans and the Democrats around a single candidate.  The moderates are the American Center, the largest potential political bloc in this nation.  The moderates are the people who are wary of the social agenda of the Right and the welfare agenda of the Left.  The moderates are the American middle class whose support is essential for a presidential victory.  If Perot had brought them together into a third party, he would have radically altered the character of American politics.  But he turned out to be an enormous disappointment, a billionaire eccentric with megalomaniac manners and with a skin too thin for ordinary politics. 

Of course, political campaigns are no cup of tea.  If an age where television images dominate and privacy is impossible, running for public office is akin to running naked in the streets with all your warts and pimples exposed.  There is no question anymore that is outrageous.  There is no personal detail that the public does not have the right to know.  Democracy and equality have removed any possibility of remaining a mysterious aristocrat.  Sleeze is the gossip of the masses turned into a political weapon.  You have to be a monk, starting in the womb, in order to plan a successful political career.  Or you have to be bland enough to have avoided doing anything interesting. 

The Republican concession to feminism is to have two wives offer their endorsement of their husbands.  Women blame the “kosherizers” of the social agenda.  Mean spirited Marilyn Quayle and her limited husband are two of the best reasons to vote for Clinton.  What if something should happen to Bush and these two darlings of the religious right should take over the White House? The thought is terrifying. 

Now the Clinton alternative is not all roses.  Clinton is an attractive, bright man with enormous political savvy.  He is smart enough to know that victory goes to the candidate who captures the Center.  Roosevelt sailed to victory with the Left and the Center.  Reagan made a winning team out of the Right and the Center.  Clinton has to do what Roosevelt did.  And he has a recession to help him get to the White House. 

Clinton’s stand on the social agenda is clear and morally correct.  He is in favor of privacy and personal choice.  He supports the protection of those who deviate from the traditional norm. 

His economic program is more vague.  He wants to tax the rich and relieve the burdens of the middle class.  He wants to use the government to mobilize the economy and to create jobs.  He wants to save money by reducing military spending.  He wants to replace welfare with workfare. 

All of these goals are commendable.  But they do not really address the central overwhelming problem, the crushing burden of debt which eats up more and more of the national income.  With an aging population the greatest burdens of our society are the middle class entitlements for health and retirement that expand relentlessly.  Continuing that process will not be easy, especially with the promise of unusual health care.  The test of his success, if he is elected, will be to stimulate the economy sufficiently to meet the challenge of these burdens. 

In the end, I support Clinton because I will not support a candidate who has sold his soul to the radical right and its reactionary social agenda.  I do not know whether Clinton will be better for the Jews than Bush.  After all, the reason the Shamir government fell and the peace initiative of Rabin could begin was, ironically, the relentless pressure brought by Jim Baker to resist the demands of the Israeli Right.  But the Israel agenda is not the major issue that we American Jews must confront in this election.  We need a president who will not be the prisoner of the crazy Right or the crazy Left.  We need a president who is willing to live with social changes that cannot be reversed and confront the fundamental economic issues that frighten the American public.  We need someone who will project sanity, caring, intelligence and hope.   

Given the options, Bill Clinton is our best choice. 

The Rabbi Writes: The Religious Right

The Jewish Humanist, October 1996, Vol. XXXIII, Number 3

The Religious Right 

Today in America there is a powerful mobilized voter constituency which is called the Religious Right.  Their most aggressive political organization is the Christian Coalition.  And their new and most visible leader is Ralph Reed.  In San Diego they took over the Republican Party platform. 

The Religious Right has its roots in the agricultural past, which is the foundation of traditional conservatism.  Before capitalism and urbanization most people were peasants and farmers, living in small villages.  The fundamental social unit was the extended family.  In that world bearing children was the easiest way to provide a cheap and obedient labor force.  Women obeyed their husbands.  Children obeyed and revered their parents.  Female significance lay in the raising of offspring.  Since the struggle for survival was harsh, pain and suffering were accepted as part of normal living.  The answer to suffering lay in religion which promised happiness after death. 

The ruling class of this milieu consisted of warriors and clergy.  Soldiers and priests were the familiar authority figures.  Honor and morality were identified with their virtues.  Money, commerce, and merchants were viewed with hostility.  They were too unfamiliar and thiswordly (sic) to be fully acceptable.  The source of ethical living lay in farms and small towns.  Reverence for the land and God was the pillar of the social order. 

When the industrial and capitalist revolutions came, the social upheavals produced an opposition to the tight control of family, church, and military government. These people were called “liberals” because they wanted to substitute personal freedom for social control.  The traditional people who wanted to preserve the old order were appropriately called “conservatives.”  In time the problems of capitalism produced an even more radical opposition.  These radicals sometimes chose to call themselves “socialists.” 

The liberals of the nineteenth century fought the social conservatives.  They wanted freedom from tradition, family control, and government.  They proposed the alternative of the autonomous individual and individual rights.  Every person had the right to choose his work, his residence, his religion, and his lifestyle.  Free speech, free assembly, and free enterprise supported these rights.  The “classic liberal” was no conservative.  What he was proposing was a radical departure from tradition.  Today, when free enterprise appears “traditional,” many defenders of laissez-faire capitalism call themselves “conservative.”  It is very important to make a distinction between “economic conservatives” who champion individual freedom and the genuine conservatives who champion social control. 

Social conservatism thrives on patriotism.  After all, the clan, the tribe, and the ethnic nation are simply extensions of the traditional family.  Loyalty to them has deep roots in the old world of agriculture.  Modern capitalism, like the big mixed cities it produces, tends to be international.  The consumer culture knows no boundaries.  In its mind choice should be as broad as possible.  Ironically, capitalism fostered nationalism because it needed the resources of a strong state and because it sponsored literacy in native languages.  But extreme nationalism is inimical to the spirit of free enterprise. 

Pat Buchanan is a powerful example of the conflict between chauvinism and free enterprise.  His strident opposition to free trade in the name of American patriotism rests ultimately on the parochial value of a tribal system.  Strangers are to be feared and excluded.  No foreign goods and no immigrants are the slogans of the Traditional Right. 

Buchanan’s constituency is not the upper classes.  It is the working class and the lower middle class who “tune in” to his message.  These people are only one, two, or three generations away from the farm.  They confront uncertain employment, disintegrating families, and violent cities.  The standard of living to which they had grown accustomed is “up for grabs.”  Capitalism and urban life are not as kind to them as they are to the professional classes.  Scapegoats for their misery are attractive.  Populist leaders like Huey Long, Charles Coughlin, George Wallace, and Pat Buchanan know how to cultivate the paranoia of ruthless enemies. 

Social conservatism feeds on peasant and farmer nostalgia for small towns, tight families, group conformity, patriotic sacrifice, ancestral religion, and dangerous outsiders.  The dilemma of traditionalists is that the world they want is a function of an agricultural society of scarcity.  In order to return to it, they would have to forgo the lifestyle of the consumer culture.  For most of them, that is a price they are not prepared to pay. 

The Religious Right is a response to the discomforts, dislocations, violence, and uncertainty of modern urban culture.  In the  Muslim world it attacks capitalism, the consumer culture, and the freedom which stems from both of them.  In America such a strategy is not feasible.  Conservative anxieties avoid the basic economic anxieties: (with the exception of Buchanan) and focus on the lifestyle that a free consumer culture of choice cllows.  Abortion, hoosexuality, pornography, and feminism become the enemies.  All of them are seen as the manifestations of a sinister secularism.  Only  a return to the old religion and the values it sponsored will push back this secular tide. 

The part of America with the closest time connection to rural life and with the highest percentage of native Anglosaxons is the center of the Religious Right.  The South is the natural home of this political movement.  The money and “troops” of the fundamentalists come from all over America but are essentially Southern.  Churches of Southern origin are the mobilizers of the “faithful.” 

The aim of the Religious Right is political power.  While they cannot bring back the old values without blowing up the present economic system, they can create repression, turn patriotism into dangerous chauvinism, and undermine the integrity of our scientific institutions.  To say the least, they are dangerous. 

Ralph Reed and the Christian Coalition are determined to control the machinery of the Republican Party.  Historically, the Republicans were the party that promoted industrialization, urbanization, and immigration There were much closer to classical liberals than they were to social conservatives.  Their Eastern establishment sponsored both liberal religion and planned parenthood.  Moreover, they were overwhelmingly Northern.  It is ironic that the “last cry” of Southern rural America has now become a controlling force in this Yankee reaction.  The base of both the Religious Right and the Republicans is now the South. 

School prayer will not bring back the old values, nor will it reverse the surge of the new individualism.  Social discipline and social responsibility demand a new values strategy for realists.  What is especially annoying about the Religious Right is their ideological bankruptcy.  They want to “have their cake and eat it.”  They want the comforts of urban capitalism together with all the asceticism of the old farm. 

Only the Republicans can give the Religious Right the power they want.  We must make sure that they do not.