Tag Archives: politics

Shine into the Darkness, The Message we mean to send

“ I know you think you understand what you thought I said but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant”                              ― Alan Greenspan

Last week I went to the White House to meet with the Special Assistant to the President with the JCRC and Women’s Philanthropy Division of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. Respectfully but rather forcefully we advocated for our concerns over the issues of DACA, Gun Violence, BDS, Anti-Semitism, and SNAP. I know we did not change the administration’s opinion, but we gave voice inside the halls of power to our values. Sometimes we do not do speak constructively and what we think we are saying is not the message heard. There is an important example of this making its way around social media.

An anonymous rabbi is attributed as responding to a White House request for a Menorah with a rebuff saying that the current administration is antithetical to everything the holiday and menorah represent, so their menorah is not available.

I believe this message does not take the moral high ground, and instead sounds preachy and filled with a self-righteous arrogance that makes dialogue impossible. The story resonates only for those who already believe it.   But for everyone else, the message is negative, generating pushback and defiance, not a moment of teaching and potential rapprochement.

Those of us who believe that the current administration undermines important Jewish values need to speak truth to power but to do so respectful of the institution and with the hope of carrying the message to not merely protest, but to hopefully persuade.

We are obligated to reach out to those with whom we disagree. Through building relationships and dialogue we might give insights and change viewpoints. We also are empowered to champion our causes publicly and we vote. These are sacred and important parts of what makes this an extraordinary country.

The only way our light will illuminate is if we cast it into the dark.





Imperial, Imperious, Imperiled Presidency


As I reflect on the first month of the new President, it appears clear that the arc of the presidency is shifting. The Founding Fathers were deeply concerned about an Imperial President and created checks and balances to help prevent the Presidency from devolving into a Sovereign. However, a combination of the Legislative branch ceding power to the Executive and a desire for decisive quick action has undermined the traditional process of lawmaking and enforcement. Debates have long raged over the creep towards an Imperial President. These debates have become increasingly political, accusing our Presidents of becoming imperious in the use and abuse of power. Now we appear to have arrived at a new tipping point; the Presidency is imperiled.

Erratic behavior, divisive language, pronouncements without an apparent understanding of the complexities of issues have led to a situation where the President risks marginalizing himself and his office. The Congress is potentially poised to fill the void and assume a position of primacy, provided a strong leadership can restore healthy debate and a cohesive vision for the nation. This is no small feat, but Mr. Ryan, the Speaker of the House, and Mr. McConnell, the Majority Leader of the Senate, could reassert the power of the Legislative Branch of Government.

The President must put forth a unified strategic vision that goes beyond provincial nationalism. His design needs to embody our core values including liberty, equality, and the pursuit of happiness, domestic tranquility. The President’s leadership must also protect and include all Americans. These priorities must also reconcile with our place as the leader of the free world. If the President is unable or incapable of fulfilling these responsibilities, legitimate power will shift to those who are capable, lest our system risk irreversible damage and decline. A government of, by and for the people must preserve, protect and defend us from adversaries both foreign and domestic.

It is our obligation to our nation and ourselves to demand no less. Too much hangs in the balance.



Beyond UN 2334- A Message of Hope and Peace

The UN Resolution 2334 has us engaged in a fiery back and forth that is divisive for the world Jewish community, the relationship between the US and Israel, and most importantly deflecting from the important issue at hand; creating a real peace between Israel and the Palestinian people. Let us step back and reflect on the larger issue.

The Israelis and the Palestinians must figure out how to coexist and live side-by-side, respectful and tolerant of the other. Regardless of any UN Resolution, the ultimate responsibility for peace between these two people resides with them. Both sides must want peace enough. This includes each side acting in good faith, building foundations for peace within their respective Peoples and societies and doing things to promote good will instead of things that would be viewed as obstacles to peace. Until and unless both sides can come to the table and have the important and very difficult conversations that conclude in an agreement, peace is not possible.

Those of us on the outside can have our opinions, but only the Israeli and the Palestinian voices truly matter.   It is time for those voices to speak out and be heard.

May we hope and pray that in the coming year, 2017, both sides will find a way to reach out to the other, building bridges that ultimately result in both Peoples living peacefully together in the region.

Ken Yehi Ratzon

Constancy in the face of Change

safetypinThe election has many of us anxious, unsure of what will happen to us next, fearful that strides we have made will be stripped away.

The ground did shift underneath us all last week. But the tremble did not cause us to fall. I am no different from who I was last week in the matters that count. Last week I stood tall, aspiring to create a nation of dignity, equality, opportunity, safety and security for all our citizens. This week I stand perhaps taller and more firmly in those ideals and values. There is a greater sense of urgency in my posture today, but this is a good thing. Our movement forward has never been easy. The fight for human rights and inclusion, a nation freer from prejudice, hatred and fear have been an ongoing struggle. But our commitment remains, our resolve undiminished even if the challenge might be greater.

Today I wear a safety-pin on my lapel to let people who are fearful know that they are not alone. As an American, a Jew, and a Rabbi, I stand with them and I will continue to do my part as an advocate, and that we continue to stand side by side. We march forward dedicated to bringing America’s blessings to all.

Joining hands we move forward together toward a brighter future. We are the change we envision.


An Open Letter to Jared Kushner

An Open Letter to Jared Kushner

Mr. Jared Kushner


The Observer

1 Whitehall St.

New York, NY 10004

November 11, 2016

Dear Mr. Kushner:

Congratulations to you on the victory of your father-in-law becoming the President-Elect. The election was fair and the people have spoken. However, this election has left a deeply divided country, many of us fearful because of things Mr. Trump has said and the groups that allied with him. We must see the repudiation of racism and bigotry, and Donald Trump must extend the hand of peace and wholeness.

You have claimed that Donald Trump is not an Anti-Semite. However, his words of divisiveness preyed on the fearful and the hate mongers. Groups including the Alt-Right, White Supremacists, and the Ku Klux Klan have rallied to your father-in-law finding permission to boldly and blatantly express their despicable views. This cannot be abided.

You uniquely have the president-elect’s ear as a confidante and advisor. You must use your position to speak on behalf of those genuinely fearful of persecution and loss of civil rights under the protection of a Trump Administration. The values you hold as an American and a Jew are antithetical to hatred and bigotry. Your full-throated voice must be raised to help heal and bring our country together, re-assuring all our citizens they are safe, their civil rights intact and sure, that all of us enjoy the full protection of law and dignity.


Rabbi David Levin

I have looked into the face of the monster and I feel pretty good

 wethepeopleThe presidential political season is in full swing. I resist the temptation to shout, but anyone who grew up with Looney Tunes, Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd, knows exactly what I want to yell. And the smile this thought gives me is part of the overall good feeling I have about this season.*

 American Politics seems to be alive and well. The stakes have never been higher.  Deeply passionate feelings and hungry candidates are vying for votes. There is deep discontent in America and with good reason. Problems only seem exacerbated in the current climate of a paralyzed partisan Washington. Americans feel great pressure; threats abound from the outside world and within our borders. Divisiveness in the government has brought governance to a grinding halt. But the beacon of hope is that our system permits, even encourages debate- often raucous and vociferous debate and the capacity to make a change. The system, our system, is one of the few places where such a process is encouraged. In our recent history however, there has not been too little demand for accountability and change.

 On the eve of “Super Tuesday” it appears that the Democrats will likely nominate Hillary Clinton and the Republicans Donald Trump. This is after a series of knock down drag out fights to whittle the Republicans and Democrat fields down to the nominees. Town halls, debates, shouting matches and personal visits by the candidates have given the people a chance to speak in primary votes and caucuses.

 Interestingly, one of our worst fears has not come true. Many feared the Citizens United opinion would drive such lively debate out of the system. The money would overwhelm the speech of the common American. Refuting this most notably is the failure of Jeb Bush to win.   Ironically, it is the common American that has propelled a rich man to the Republican nomination.

 We the People have not had our final say. That occurs on November 8, 2016 as we go to the ballot box and exercise the sacred right/rite of voting. All of us need to exercise this privilege to decide who will serve as President of the United States. Those seeking power know the stakes are high and will use almost any means to get the necessary votes. It will be up to us the voters to decide which one of the starkly different candidates we will choose. The office of President then will be transferred peaceably to the one that we have selected. Only with our participation and then the on-going demand for accountability will the new President fulfill our will. It is time for all, particularly the frustrated and the often silent, to join the epic fight for our democracy. First each must cast a vote and then each must to continue to demand that our voices be heard in the halls of power.

 Trump or Clinton; A government Of, By, and For the People or a government for special interests, the choice still remains ours. And if we exercise our power, I will continue to feel pretty good.

* It’s Wabbit Season!

Conversations about Israel- it’s based in Love

In the sturm und drang that marks the conversations about Israel, those who are to the political Right accuse those who are to the political Left of center of undermining the Israeli government while they, the Right, support the government.

 This is a charge to which the Left of center must plead guilty. But realistically is it wrong?   The Left of center groups such as JStreet believe in a safe, secure, Jewish and Democratic Israel. In a part of the world that is decidedly none of those things, we believe that all four of these attributes can live here. But we have much to do in order to fully realize these ideals. Both internal and external issues pose real threats to these ideals. We point out the deficiencies because we do love Israel and we believe the State aspires to the best we can be only when we realize these four goals. So we are critical because of our commitment to an Israel whose soul and body are sound.

 Often people hear the criticism and do not hear the rest. The rest of it, the basis for all of it, is that love and commitment. Only when you truly care about something can you become invested and strive to help make it better. That message sometimes gets lost. But it is fundamental to everything we do. Israel is imperfect. we love it none-the-less and work to make her better. Leonard Cohen’s refrain from his song Anthem sums it up well:

 Ring the Bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack, a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in