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The Jewish Observer: On Syrian Refugees

Rabbi Jack Romberg writes about the decision we will make on whether to accept Syrian refugees:

I say it directly, without hesitation, with a slight bit of fear, which I am determined to overcome. Let the Syrian refugees come to America. Let them find the safety, the succor, that they cannot possibly receive in any other country. No, we cannot take them all, but we should at least follow the lead of Germany – which is ironic given the comparisons floating around between the plight of the Syrian refugees and the Jewish refugees of the late 1930’s.

I say this without condemnation of most of those who argue we should not let them in. I think I understand those feelings. They are expressed (by most I think) not out of hatred, but out of concern for the impact on our country. Rather than condemn the motives of those who think differently than I do, I would rather address their concerns directly, out of simple respect for my fellow Americans. And then I would hope that at least some might see a path to changing their minds.

Read the entire piece online at The Jewish Observer. Please do feel free to submit alternative perspectives, argued with respect and civility.



We could all learn something from the Scots today.

scottish flagFrom today’s Washington Post:

The announcement of results came just hours after nearly all (emphasis added) of Scotland turned out to vote on Thursday in a referendum marked by civility and passion… on the whole, the referendum debate was remarkable for the seriousness with which voters weighed such a stark choice, and the peaceful manner in which they expressed it on Thursday.



It’s about who we are

This op-ed written by Joe Nocera in Saturday’s New York Times speaks volumes about who America is now and who we were after WWII when a young Army combat engineer named Harold Burson covered the Nuremberg trials for the American Forces Network. Nocera writes of Burson’s coverage:

There was another aspect to Harold’s scripts, one I found quite endearing. They have an earnest, idealistic quality that reminds you just how full of hope America was after World War II. Though we had fought a brutal war, we were determined to act generously to the vanquished. That even applied to the Nazi brass who had committed reprehensible crimes against humanity. “G.I.’s have one stock question,” reads Burson’s very first script. “Why can’t we just take them out and shoot ’em? We know they’re guilty.” Read all »



Consider the lemon tree

Recently, as he promoted his “Restoring Courage” event in Jerusalem in August, Glenn Beck recalled the moving, meaningful and important movie Schindler’s List. His guests shared stories of courage in saving lives of Jews during WWII.

The safety and security of the Jewish people and the state of Israel is one near to American hearts for deeply human and compelling reasons, even if you sidestep the loaded topic of biblical history and prophecy that Beck is invoking.

Sandy Tolan’s The Lemon Tree tells part of the history of the Jewish people during the establishment of the State of Israel and the central conflict in the Middle East through the very personal history one home in Ramallah, built by an Arab family who was later forced by events to leave it.

It tells the story of a Bulgarian Jewish family who fled Europe after the war to Israel with nothing but the dream of returning to their ancient homeland after the horror they had endured. In the tumult of politics, people and their imperfection, Jewish families were allowed to claim homes that had been left by fleeing Palestinians.

It tells of the lemon tree planted in the backyard of this home by the Arab family who had to leave it.

The adult daughter of the Jewish immigrants who had claimed the home would consider two histories of the land many years later after having been visited by the son of the family who had built the home: "I had to acknowledge that this is my childhood home, my parents lived here until they died, my memories are all here, but that this house was built by another family, and their memories are here. I had to acknowledge absolutely all of it." The visit was the beginning of a difficult, challenging friendship between the two.

The son returned to be questioned by his family about his visit to the home they had not seen since being forced to leave:

Did the light still stream in through the south windows in the afternoon? Were the pillars on the gate still standing straight? Was the front gate still painted olive green? Was the paint chipping? If it still is, when you go back you can bring, a can of paint to make it new again; you can bring shears and cut the grass growing up along the stone lath. How is the lemon tree, does it look nice? Did you bring the fruit? Did you rub the leaves and smell them, did your fingers smell like fresh-cut lemons?

The tragedy of the Middle East is deep and wide. It has planted much hatred which has since gone to seed. The Jewish people and the Palestinian people know both the tragedy and the hatred. In time, the victim becomes the aggressor, and back again the victim in an endless spin of loss, heartache, blame, retribution, repeat.

We cannot afford to look at the situation from a comfortable vantage point – one that starts the story from the transgression that most favors “our side” and pretends that what came before doesn’t exist; ignoring facts along the way that don’t confirm our righteousness. This is not a comfortable story if you tell it truly. Telling comfortable stories only serve ultimately to accelerate tragedy.

In his presentation Beck warned, as he is prone to do, not to blur the line between good and evil. A world view that places all evil over there (whether “there” is across the street, across the aisle or across the Israeli West Bank barrier) while all goodness resides here is self-deceiving, self-serving, belies the teachings of faith and only serves to pour gasoline on what is already well beyond combustible.

And what connects us? The same thing that separates us. This land.

"Our enemy," the Jewish daughter said softly, "is the only partner we have."

This is usually true in epic, entrenched conflict… if you look closely enough to see the lemon tree.



Katz discusses diplomatic life in Portugal

Allan Katz was welcomed back to Tallahassee with open arms and lots of “your Excellency” jokes Monday night as he spoke about his work as United States Ambassador to Portugal, a job he took on in early 2010. The hour-and-a-half presentation was a fundraiser for The Village Square, an organization focused on building constructive dialogue and founded by Katz and Bill Law. “One of the things that makes the job so good is there are very few typical days,” said Katz, responding to a question by Read all »



2 weeks from tonight: Allan Katz, A Year in Lisbon

Get all the details HERE.



Ross Douthat: On airport security, we’re partisans first, ideologues second (we wonder when we become just Americans)

There’s a great article in today’s New York Times about the inconsistency of the argument on the new TSA airport body scanners given the ultra partisan environment today. The article certainly supports the notion advanced by our next Village Square Dinner at the Square guest Bill Bishop that we have been sorting ourselves out into “tribes” for decades now and that the pull of group think within those likeminded groups (and the lack of trust between “tribes”) is very very strong. Noticing that partisans have taken quite opposite and ideologically inconsistent positions under different presidencies (whether it’s your party’s or not) Ross Douthat writesRead all »



President Obama speaks to President Bush to mark the end of combat operations in Iraq; hopefully the conversation went better than the polarized commentary since

Obama in his presidential address Tuesday night:

“This afternoon I spoke to former President George W. Bush. It’s well known that he and I disagreed about the war from its outset. Yet no one can doubt President Bush’s support for our troops or his love of country and commitment to our security. As I said, there were patriots who supported this war and patriots who opposed it. All of us are united in appreciation for our servicemen and servicewomen and our hopes for Iraq’s future.”

“The greatness of our democracy is grounded in our ability to move beyond our differences, to learn from our experience as we confront the many challenges ahead.”

And as night follows day… Commentary from the left since the address were angry Obama would give Bush anything given what they see as the catastrophic nature of the decision to invade Iraq and the falsehoods that led to it. And from the right they accused him of having no class because he didn’t outright credit Bush for the surge (on Limbaugh the guest host said it was a “small speech by a small man”).

In this environment, it’s hard to know how anyone can lead us.