Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Jewish Vote

Anyone who thinks that there is a unified "Jewish Vote" has never attended a family dinner in a Jewish household. The far reaching disucssions, I mean arguments, range from "it's cold in here" "no it's not" to "the Phillies stink" "they're going to win the Series."
I'm reminded of the Alan Dershowitz story. A Jewish man was rescued from a deserted island after years of solitude. He had built two large structures. The rescuer asked about the buildings. The rescued man pointed to one and said "this is the synagogue that I attend." Then he pointed to the other equally large structure and said, "and that one, that one is the one I would never set foot in."
To get back to the so-called Jewish Vote. There are Republicans and Democrats, Conservatives and Liberals, Communists and Socialists, and Independents. To give examples from our family. Uncle George branded Medicare as socialized medicine and vowed that Medicare would ruin the country and bankrupt the doctors. Aunt Betty loved Medicare. She couldn't wait to be admitted to the hospital because she loved hospital food. She opted for hospitalization even when out-patient treatment was available and maybe even preferable.
Uncle Sol was the Republican committee man when he was drafted into the SeaBees - an overweight, out of shape, 37-year old lawyer. The democratically controlled draft board denied him an exemption and he was a staunch Republican then and forever. The rest of the family kept their political inclinations to themselves, except for one family that was branded as "pinkos" with no proof. We never were permitted to visit them. Perhaps out of fear of "contagion."
Back to the family dinner. There was always at least one person who just could not show up on time. To the sounds of "the dinenr is getting cold" that emanated from the kitchen, the debate raged. Should we wait or start? Usually, the starting won but, the meal never officially began until Uncle Joe showed up and knocked over his glass of red wine.
After dinner, or before, the arguments over what to watch on TV were decided by the woman of the house who said "enough" and pulled out the plug. Then the discussions became emotional, intellectual, and heated, but the participants never came to blows.
Uncle Rob voted for Henry Wallace and Wendel Wilkie. Everybody tried to avoid political talks with him because he was sure that the world would have been a better place if his candidates had won. The family attributed his political views to his sweet tooth. There were never too many desserts or too much candy around for Uncle Rob.
Nobody ever questioned the voting habits of other family members. Whoever volunteered his preferences usually faced ridicule or arguments - some even meaningful but the only unified vote in our Jewish family household was that we all loved each other and the country, no matter what lever we pulled on election day.

Friday, September 16, 2011

9/11 ten years later

I remember the day very well. I was babysitting for our 3 year old grandson. Our six year old granddaughter was at school. And our other five grandchildren had not been born. We were watching Sesame Street and Edgar was at the dentist.
I answered the phone, and my daughter asked if I had been able to contact her sister who lived in New York. "No. I haven't tried. But I don't expect any problems."
I could tell, over the phone, that she paled and then she said, "You don't know do you?" "Know what?" "Aren't you watching TV?" "Yes, Sesame Street." "Oh well, you better change the channel." And that is when I saw the unbelievable, the unimaginable, the unthinkable.
My grandson had turned his head away for a moment, and I was able to switch back to Sesame Street before he saw the devastation.
I called my daughter in New York and, thankfully, got right through to her. One of the New York newspapers called her to go to a nearby hospital and interview whoever she could and report back. The hospital was loaded with workers, gurneys, bandages, and blood. But there were no patients.
For weeks after 9/11, the photos of missing people, smiling faces, beautiful clothes, screamed out to her from fences, telephone poles, even fire hydrants. The "missing" posters eventually lost their ability to make her cry. But, even months later, when she was walking along a street and made eye contact with a total stranger, they would look at each other and both would burst into tears.
That trauma is over. And now she's wondering about the report that the Pentagon/CIA had been making arrangements to have two pilots fly suicide, kamikaze missions into Flight 93 - one into the tail and one into the cockpit. They had not figured out how the pilots could safely eject and accomplish their mission when they received word that the brave passengers on United Flight 93 had taken care of the plane.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

My mother's tea party - a rhyme

I had a little tea party,
this afternoon at three.
'Twas very small, three guests in all,
I, myself, and me.

I ate up the sandwiches
and drank up all the tea.
'Twas also I who ate the pie
and passed the cake to me.

My daughters seemed to enjoy it. My son listened attentively, and then returned to doing whatever he was doing at the time.

I'm reminded ot this rhyme because of the nonsense that is being uttered by today's Tea Party membeers. It sounds to me, like they want to return to the "good old days" of black smoke air pollution, poisoned water that results in river fish kill, gas guzzling 8-10 miles per gallon cars, and unregulated snake oil medicines that enriched the crooks who promoted them.

As for labor unions, child labor, health care, social security, and pensions - when my grandfather, my mother's father, was 14 years old, he fainted in the sweatshop factory where he worked. After he woke up, they fired him. No severance pay, no health benefits, and, like what happened to John Henry in the song, "John Henry was a steel driving man," his pay was docked for the time he lay unconscious on the floor.

When he returned home, his step-mother told him, "no pay, no stay," and she threw this 14 year old boy out of the house.

Fortunately, his resilience and brilliance led him to be a cabin boy on a ship. He worked there for several years, saved his money, went back to New York, where he met my grandmother.

In one of the many epidemics of the time, he succumbedc to typhoid fever. The tretment, without health care, consisted of relocation to the country. His family -wife and four children (including my mother) moved to Mountaindale where he recovered. Still no health insurance. Then, they moved to Ellenville where he opened an umbrella handle manufacturing company.

My grandfather, on my father's side, died from "acute indigestion" when my father was six years old. No medical insurance, no widow's benefits, no children's benefits - and my father had seven siblings.

Times were tough. My father was very, very smart. Every acadmic achievement prize that came with money, meant food for the family. Nine of them lived in a small row house in Philadelphia. My grandmother rented out rooms to strangers, hosted philanthropic get togethers, and always found a little extra to give to charity.

Are those the "good old days" that the Tea Party members yearn for? The days when the Robber Barons did whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted. The days when Union organizers were vilified.

I'm sure there were exceptions to the "public be damned" philosophy of those days. But these benign despots were few and far between. Milton Hershey kept his workers happy and satisfied, mostly, by building a community of houses with schools, hospitals, and a clean environment. As did John B. Stetson, of Philadelphia (near Front and Lehigh). It's still fun to go to Hershey, PA and inhale the intoxicating chocolate aroma. But, and there is a but, it was his town, his rules, his company, and a person worked there as long as the boss was happy. Eventually, the workers revolted and the happiness ended with a bitter strike.

Back to today's Tea Party. My interpretation of them is "I've got mine. It's just too bad if you want yours too, because, unless you curry favor with the right people, no matter what they ask, you are not going to get it."