Removal

A “removal” used to mean moving a dead body from a home or hospital to a funeral home in preparation for burial or cremation. In President Trump’s America, however, the term has come to refer to deportation from the United States.  Still, when I think of “expedited removals,” the image that comes to mind is one of a black hearse screeching up to the curb and guys in dark suits with bad haircuts running up to the front door with a gurney.  Somehow, boarding passes for Guatemala and El Salvador never quite make it into that picture.  Nor do handcuffs, heavily-armed guards and midnight knocks on the door by la migra.

Perhaps substitution of the word “removal” for “deportation” is appropriate, as President Trump appears to be treating undocumented immigrants as dead tissue that must be excised to save the American body.  Like Kevin O’Leary on TV’s Shark Tank, it’s as if our president is telling our immigrants “you’re dead to me.”  He somehow wishes to purify us by eliminating from our midst those who risked their lives in a bid to escape to the land of the free.  And I venture to say that I’m not the only one who finds recent events disrespectful to those who didn’t survive the journey, who never made it to freedom.

The Bible speaks of the “uncleanness of death” (tu’med met in the Hebrew) that comes upon those who touch a corpse until such time as they sprinkle the water of purification upon themselves.  Num.  19:13. Does our president really believe that ridding ourselves of those who arrived here in desperation, “yearning to breathe free,” in the words of Emma Lazarus immortalized at the base of the Statue of Liberty, will serve as some sort of purification?  Is this particular brand of xenophobia some sort of Marseillaise under which we are fighting against an impure blood polluting our furrows?  The whole concept leaves me rather aghast.  I only hope that our president has a relationship with God and that he is reminded of the injunction of Leviticus 19:34, “But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.” (KJV)  Indeed, we were all immigrants once.

The immigration follies have been going on in one form or another for well over a century.  My grandfather, who arrived on our shores in 1923, held a passport from a nation in which he was not born, in which he never resided, and which, in fact, did not even exist.  This legal fiction allowed him to satisfy the quota for that year and that, apparently, was enough to get him through Ellis Island, where his sponsor picked him up.  Then, as now, laying it all on the line for a new life involved dancing into a gray area between what was legal and was humanly right.

Grandpa was a Polish Jew, which, in those days, essentially rendered him a stateless person.  Poland did not recognize the citizenship of Jews, although that did not stop its government from drafting Grandpa into its army.  And so, the “nationality” field on his passport reads “Israeli.”  My mother still has it, packed away in a box in the back of a closet. The fact that the modern nation of Israel did not come into existence for another quarter of a century did not seem to bother anyone at the time.

My grandfather, a tailor by trade, became a furrier in Manhattan’s garment district and began a long life as a resident of New York City.  When I was little, he lived three floors below us in our rent-controlled Bronx walk-up, and later, after my grandmother died, about a block away with his new wife.  He learned English, studied for the citizenship test, and became a naturalized American long before I was born.

Many years later, in his old age, he finally visited Israel, where he prayed at the Wailing Wall and relaxed on the beach at Netanya.  Having died in the year that Reagan took office, I have to wonder what he would think of the shenanigans of late.  I have no idea how Grandpa felt about Reagan, but I am hard pressed to imagine him voting for a Republican.  On a windy day this past May, during my first visit to New York in more than 20 years, I visited his gravesite in Queens.  I took photos for my mother, who wanted reassurance that her parents’ graves were being cared for.  I recalled childhood days of utter boredom, at this very spot, waiting endlessly for my mother to finish her visit, knowing nothing of her grief that years failed to erase.

My mother grew up in a one-bedroom apartment where she had the pleasure of sharing a pull-out bed in the living room with her older sister.  The girls were expected to speak English at home, and English was the only language that my grandparents used with their kids.  When it came to conversations with each other, however, my grandparents lapsed into a medley of eastern European languages. Mom recalls how, through the bedroom door at night, she and her sister could hear the murmured cadences of Russian, Yiddish, Polish, German. And she remembers how, even in their English conversations, they often spoke of something mysterious called “the HIAS” (pronounced “high ass”).

The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society provided food, clothing and shelter to Jews newly arrived on our shores after having escaped Russian pogroms and, later, genocide at the hands of the Nazis during the Holocaust.  They had a dormitory on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and a setup on Ellis Island, where they often lent indigent immigrants the $25 landing fee.  In looking up the history of the HIAS online, I was shocked to learn that they’re still in existence, fighting against the anti-immigration policies of our current administration.

It’s reassuring to know that there are still organizations out there speaking for those who have essentially been rendered voiceless and left for dead.  As for my grandpa, if he were alive today, I believe he’d be donating his time and money to support the HIAS and others who work to make an American life possible for those who find themselves in the same difficulties that he once faced.

 

 

 

Within the Realm of Possibility

When I was a kid, my father often told me that anything is possible.

“Anything?” I’d say, incredulously.  To myself, I thought:  Even fairies and ghosts and Mickey Mouse and Cinderella and all that make-believe stuff?

“Anything,” he assured me.  “Perhaps not probable, but certainly possible.”

Well, it appears that my dad’s beliefs have been vindicated.  After all, the Cubs and Donald Trump each won their respective contests, the former by breaking the curse of the billy goat and the latter by breaking through the big blue wall.

I feel like a part of history in that I was here, in 2016, to watch it all happen.  I had a conversation with a bellhop at the Marriott Hotel lobby in Riverside, down in southern California, in which I bemoaned the fact that the Cubs were down three and that it would all be over that evening.  He told me that he still had faith, and I thought he was crazy.  Then I sat in the twelfth floor lounge with my wife and watched the Cubbies pull it off against the Indians.  And a few nights later, I sat in our tiny kitchen/living room and watched them win the World Series.  A couple of weeks after that, I again sat at our table, glued to the map displayed on CNN, open-mouthed, as Trump turned Florida and North Carolina red.

With such astonishing events occurring right before our eyes, I find it rather unfortunate that the world has responded by going crazy.  There are the demonstrations, the school walkouts, the cries of “not my president.”  I’m surprised that there weren’t riots in our major cities over Cleveland grabbing defeat from the jaws of victory.

Sadly, my own family has not been spared this insanity.  I am told that, the day after the election, my nephew was “shaking with rage” and had to stay out of work.  His sister, I was informed, was so upset that she had to take extra Xanax and stay in bed.  Supposedly, she and her boyfriend plan to relocate to his native England.

Then there is the matter of my wife’s aunt.  She had been very ill with cancer, and passed on a week ago.  We attended her funeral yesterday.  She had been relatively active until her body simply gave out just a few days before she died.  When she could barely respond anymore, a family member asked if she had deteriorated so rapidly because Trump had won the election.  She nodded her head in affirmation.

The family asked my wife and me to write her aunt’s eulogy, which we did.  I felt deeply honored.  My wife said she wouldn’t be able to get through the first sentence, so I delivered it at the memorial service.  Honestly, I didn’t know how I would get through it either.  I carried an extra handkerchief with me, not knowing whether I would be able to remain stoic or would just break down.  With the help of God, I managed it, once again proving to myself that things that seem outside our abilities can suddenly become possible when circumstances warrant.  In my opinion, Hemingway was being overdramatic when he referred to this phenomenon as “grace under pressure.”  I like to think that being flexible, malleable, adaptable is just part of the human condition.  That’s why it appears so odd to me that some of us can’t seem to wrap our minds around the fact that things may not always go the way we expect them to.  Some of us rebel against any evidence that contradicts what we “know.”

The Chicago Tribune may brashly declare “Dewey Defeats Truman” in 1948 and The New York Times may rashly declare, the day before the 2016 election, that Trump has only a 16% chance of becoming president.  Journalists point out that it’s easy to jump the gun when you’re on deadline, that our quest for knowledge and understanding may lead to buying into polls that don’t necessarily reflect reality.  But, as my dad said, anything is possible.  Those of us who root for the underdogs, who refuse to accept the inevitable, who bravely believe in the power to change, know that we have a secret weapon with which to beat the odds.

Hope.

 

 

Bernie and Donald

Bernie SandersDonald Trump

Photo credits:  Sanders, Wall Street Journal; Trump, NBC

A couple of weekends ago, while out to lunch with some of the family, my teenaged niece mused that she really ought to pay more attention to politics.  My guess is that she’s hearing a lot about the upcoming U.S. presidential election.  It would be hard not to, even though it is still a year away.  I smiled and nodded, unwilling to admit my own ignorance on the subject.

I suppose ignorance is a relative thing.  It’s not as if I can’t name the front-running Republicans and Democrats, but I’d have a hard time telling you what their positions are on the issues.  My education in this area is decidedly hit or miss, primarily limited to what I read in the Washington Post on my phone during my lunch breaks at work.  And I know that I don’t retain much of it.

Politics seems such a strange subject in America.  For example, it is said that religion and politics are the two subjects that should never be discussed in polite company (didn’t sex used to be part of that list?).  The point, I think, is that political disagreements can drive wedges between neighbors, friends, business associates.  While many don’t care a whit about politics, others have very strong opinions and feel compelled to argue the correctness of their positions.  Discouraging conversation on the issue, however, would indicate that most of us are so closedminded that we are unwilling to listen to the merits of other positions and decide for ourselves.  I am not so sure that I believe this.

Perhaps it is my legal training that has made me perfectly amenable to entertaining contradictory ideas on a subject.  As I’m fond of saying, there are usually more than two sides to every story.

In light of the above, it should come as no surprise that I am admirer of both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, presidential candidates who are arguably positioned at least six standard deviations apart on the political spectrum.  I see good and bad in everything.

I can’t ever recall having voted for a Republican for president in my decades of going to the polls.  However, they say there’s a first time for everything, and, for me, 2016 might be just that.  If, as expected, Hillary Rodham Clinton sews up the Democratic nomination, I expect to support Mr. Trump should he emerge as his party’s standard bearer.

The usual arguments against Clinton seem to have struck a chord with me.  Between her handling of Benghazi, the despicable email scandal and my repulsion with political dynasties that make us look like a Third World country, I simply can’t stomach the thought of a Clinton presidency.  The choice of Clinton disappoints me not only because I have heretofore been a diehard supporter of the Democrats, but also because I think it would be wonderful to have a woman as chief executive.  I have long admired Margaret Thatcher, Angela Merkel and Vigdis Finnbogadóttir (former president of Iceland), and I think the time has come for the United States to break the male stranglehold on this particular club.  But not with Hillary Clinton, dear God.  Carly Fiorina?  I’m listening.

I fully plan to vote for Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary even though I am quite aware that I will not have the opportunity to vote for him in the general election.  Many who, like me, “feel the Bern,” insist that it is still quite early and that anything can happen in the twelve months between now and the election.  I believe they are deluded.  While I pray that they are right, I believe that a Sanders nomination would require nothing short of a miracle.  I doubt that he can even win the Feb. 1 Iowa caucus, despite the fact that he’s campaigning so hard there that he’s about ready to be declared an honorary Hawkeye.

Much has been made of Sanders’ self-characterization as a democratic socialist.  For some, “the S word” is anathema that they continue to incorrectly associate with communism.  While I find the term to be unfortunate, I believe that labels are best applied to bottles, not people.

I believe that Bernie Sanders has his head in the right place.  I believe that he truly loves America and its people.  His support of environmental causes, income redistribution, and access to college education and health care for all place us squarely on the same page.  I’m not exactly a cockeyed optimist, however.  I realize that, were Sanders president, he would have a hell of a time with Congress and the Supreme Court.  Then again, isn’t that what the Founding Fathers had in mind when they engineered the separation of powers between the branches of the federal government?

Which brings me to The Donald.  I have doubts as to whether he can secure the Republican nomination, but at least he seems to have a chance, something that Sanders lacks with the Democrats.  However, if he succeeds in the primaries and ends up running against Clinton, I will support him.  Like so many others, I like the fact that Trump does not mince words.  He seems to say what he believes, without regard to the fact that many may react disapprovingly.  I don’t agree with all of his ideas, but he strikes me as authentic.  Perhaps this is a product of his money and privilege.  And yet, I cannot overlook his success in business.  I admire the way that, in a recent debate, he deflected criticisms of his multiple business bankruptcies by retorting that there is no reason for him not to take advantage of the protections offered by the laws of the land.  That, of course, is how a successful business is run:  You make the most of the resources at your disposal.  I think we can do worse than to run the country like a business.  As I said, Carly, I’m listening.

As widely disparate as their approaches are, I believe that both Sanders and Trump are committed to creating maximum opportunity for the greatest number of people.  Sanders wants all of us to have access to health care and a college degree.  Trump says he wants all of us to have the opportunity to become rich like he is.  In some respects, they are taking different roads to get to the same destination.

So if the campaigns of Jeb and Marco, Ben and Carly, John and Chris implode in the coming months, I’ll be voting for Mr. Trump.

Unless, of course, Bernie Sanders pulls off the Vermont Miracle.

Tomorrow:  So I’m a vegan.  How do I explain this to my niece?

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