Wednesday, September 21st, 2016...11:29 am

Editorial: Simcha in London

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There is one more Bat Mitzva notice for this edition of the newspaper:

Ariel Specktor, daughter of Jonathan Specktor and Alessia Kosagowsky and sister of Oliver, was called to the Torah as a Bat Mitzva on Saturday, Sept. 10 at Maidenhead Synagogue, in Maidenhead, United Kingdom. Ariel is the granddaughter of Franca Kosagowsky, of Rome, Italy, and the late Nicola Kosagowsky, and the late Anna and Harold Specktor.

Proud uncle, me, and proud aunt, Maj-Britt Syse, traveled from Minneapolis for the family simcha. Also on hand were Ariel’s aunt, Stacy Finkelstein, from Plymouth, and her great-aunt, Lorrie Stelzer, from Los Angeles, an intrepid traveler.

Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament (Photo: Mordecai Specktor)

Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament (Photo: Mordecai Specktor)

Ariel was an exemplary Bat Mitzva. (I really enjoy listening to her speak, with a mellifluous British accent.) She read from the Torah parsha Shoftim, which contains, among other things, a sort of environmental message in the commandment against destroying fruit trees in warfare: “When in your war against a city you have to besiege it a long time in order to capture it, you must not destroy its trees, wielding the ax against them. You may eat of them, but you must not cut them down.”

(I’ve often wondered how the Jewish settlers in the wild West Bank can square their destruction of Palestinian olive trees with their ostensible observance of the mitzvot, especially this commandment.)

During Saturday morning services, the environmental message was expanded upon by the Reform shul’s rabbi, Jonathan Romain, who is widely known for his writing in British newspapers (The Times, Guardian and The Jewish Chronicle), and as the author of many books. In 2004, Romain received the MBE (Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire), for his pioneering work in helping mixed-faith couples, a theme in his book Till Faith Us Do Part, according to his bio on the synagogue’s website.

Perhaps a few AJW readers know my brother, Jonathan, a Mendota Heights native who has been living abroad for many years, in Italy, the UK and Ireland. And some readers likely know Natalie Shlomo (née Nancy Volk), a St. Paul native who now lives near Jerusalem. Natalie, who currently is teaching statistics at the University of Manchester, also attended Ariel’s Bat Mitzva and the festivities.

Leaving the country for several days in the run-up to this big holiday edition of the paper presented some challenges. I did manage to conduct a bit of newspaper business on the Icelandair flight home — it’s a brave new wired-up world we’re living in. (As noted on Page 15, if I missed any of our advertising clients, vis-à-vis a Rosh Hashana ad, there’s still an opportunity to extend Jewish New Year greetings in the Oct. 7 edition, which will be in homes before Yom Kippur.)

And I should mention that a feature of international travel these days is meeting strangers who freely inquire about how politics in the U.S. has gone haywire, in reference to the presidential candidacy of Donald Trump. Actually, the British press coverage of Trump seems to run second to the continuing examination of the Brexit vote, the UK referendum that approved the country’s withdrawal from the European Union. American and British right-wing populism converge in the puzzling phenomena of Trump and the Brexiteers.

“What do you think of Trump?” asked the Scottish fellow in the café at Gatwick airport. Laurance, my brother’s journalist friend from Paris, had several dozen questions about the Trumposaurus, and we discussed the disturbing possibility of a Trump presidency at some length.

Our friendly cab driver, on the long haul from Maidenhead to Gatwick (75 minutes and 80 dollars), was eager to discuss Trump and related issues. A young Muslim from Pakistan, he was concerned about Trump’s anti-Muslim bigotry, and the prospects for his young children in a country that voted for Brexit, an expression of anxiety about the migration crisis that has shaken the European continent.

In response to the questions about the Big Bloviator blighting our politics, I said that Trump probably would lose the election; but the damage has been done: the GOP’s presidential nominee has spewed his racist and bigoted comments, giving license to a swathe of the citizenry to vent their benighted views in a similarly intemperate way. Trump has degraded our political culture, which was not in great shape to begin with.

The problem for this country is that after a Trump defeat on Nov. 8, his disgruntled (white) backers will still be with us. In an interesting analysis of Trump’s rise, Kai Wright recently wrote in The Nation (Sept. 26/Oct. 3) that Nate Silver, of FiveThirtyEight.com, put the median household income of The Donald’s supporters at $72,000 — about $20,000 above the national average. They are not the disadvantaged and discarded remnant, as some pundits have it.

Rather, Wright posits that “race seems to be the defining factor in how Americans think about their nation and its greatness, or lack thereof, in 2016. In several black communities, poverty has shot up to levels not seen since the beginning of Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty. And yet black Americans are consistently and significantly more optimistic about the direction of the country than their white peers. This irony, of course, is likely due to the fact that a black man is president for the first time in our history. Black people have taken to heart Obama’s message: Yes, we can.”

Perhaps some of our rabbis will denounce Trump’s hate mongering from their pulpits during the High Holy Days. We can hope. In any case, Jews again will have some heavy themes to consider during the long hours in shul.

The editors and staff of the American Jewish World wish all of our readers health, peace and joy in the new year. L’Shana Tova!

— Mordecai Specktor / editor [at] ajwnews [dot] com

(American Jewish World, 9.23.16)

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