I believe in God. Specifically, I believe in the God who appeared to Moses in the form of the burning bush. Moses asks: “Who are you?” God says: “I am who I am.”
As a mystic, not much more can be said about God with this exception. God is not a He nor a She. God is genderless. Given my contrarian nature, I have taken to refer to God as She in no small part because doing so upsets some people. E.g.:
One of my heroes is Edward R. Murrow. The great North-Carolina-born journalist instituted a series of radio programs ( which on NPR continue to this day) on what prominent people believe.
I am not prominent, but I am old (71j and am so dyed-in-the-wool Jewish that what I believe is equivalent at least in my own mind to what Judaism is or ought to be.
I can readily trace the conceit of my own rectitude to my mother who was an impressive woman and educator. Despite a lifetime of self-doubt, Mother never doubted that to be a proper Jew one must do what she insisted upon.
For me, my belief in God is the least import aspect of being Jewish. I would argue it is irrelevant to what truly matters; namely, “If I am for myself alone, what good am I.”
One consequence of my going to Israel to fight in the Six Day War ( where I arrived at Lodd Airport on Day Four) was that despite the Israeli government’s understandable 1967 assertion (that the impending War was the 1948 War of Independence all over again) was my surprise upon being asked by the military official in charge of the airport,” Why are you here? “ My response (after kissing the tarmac and saying the requisite bracha):
“Whatever you want.”
Had it been 1948, I would have been handed a Stenn gun and sent to the Syrian front where the IDF troops scaling the Golan Heights suffered the worst deaths of the War.
Instead, being untrained naive and young, I was sent to a dairy farm in the South where I was badly needed to shovel the manure that had been built up while the farmer I had partially replaced was off in the Sinai reinventing tank warfare.
My Israeli experience as a migrant agricultural worker resulted in my becoming an agricultural policy expert ( of sorts):
Most recently, my “expertise” has resulted in my efforts to affirm Eli Weisel’s insistance that being a Jew ( surrounded as I had been in the 1950s by tattooed survivors of the Holocaust) requires us as Jews to end genocide of whatever form; specifically in Yemen, the Mayanmar region of what used to be Burma, Venezuela ( most especially on the Western border in Colombia) the Sudan, and ….
Here is the book I am most eager to complete and publish:
DEVELOPING A BLUEPRINT FOR FEEDING THE 20 MILLION PEOPLE IN THE WORLD WHO ARE STARVING TO DEATH
Here is a relatively recent expression of what I regard as my primary life’s work:
Fortunately or unfortunately my rotten health ( which is to blame for my not being in shul yesterday) has required me to pay attention to a pressing reality(intervening in what I regard as my primary work).
For the past two years, I have been suffering from one of the many consequences of radiation treatment that cured me of two of the three cancers I have survived and which resulted in my losing the ability to walk and stand 25 years ago.
The radiation has badly damaged my GI tract which has resulted in an inability to swallow, required that I relearn how to eat, and which most recently is manifesting itself in a severe cough. Last week, I was seen by the Digestive Diseases clinic at UPMC and with any luck I will receive surgery in June to put me on the road to recovery.
In February, by impulse or necessity, I moved to Williamsport after over 15 years in State College. Here I am receiving medical treatment unavailable in State College. And here, as a result of Larissa Simon’s efforts, that of Ohev Shalom and you, I have been rescued. Details available.
How I am able to write and write and write despite the failures of my body surprise me. The image that comes to mind is that my mind is in fifth gear; my body in second.
Clearly, it is time to stop this seemingly endless e-mail but I must first mention the following Yiddishkite issues of importance to me:
1. The revival of the Hebrew language. Eliezer ben Yehuda and Bialik, Bialik, Bialik.
2. The understanding that the killing of Jews in Pittsburgh and Southern California makes clear that, as Jabotinsky expressed it, in the Diaspora even the rocks are anti-Semitic.
3. The shameful way in which the elderly and disabled are treated in our society.
4. My reverence for the late Rabbi Heschel, Professor of Mysticism and Theology at the Jewish Theological Seminary who marched with Dr. King as did I.
1. Finally, out of the politics of despair and retrenchment, a new leader has emerged from the Democratic party unafraid to express the values in which I believe. In this, Bill de Blasio’s inaugural address, he states:
“Fiorello La Guardia— the man I consider to be the greatest Mayor this city has ever known — put it best. He said: I, too, admire the ‘rugged individual,’ but no ‘rugged individual’ can survive in the midst of collective starvation.”
2. What follows these editorial notes are excerpts from the speech I find especially relevant as well as the full text of de Blasio’s prepared remarks.
3. I am especially grateful to de Blasio for signaling out for distinction Harry Belafonte who de Blasio said, “we are honored to have with us here today.”Harry Belafonte was an early supporter of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during the years when support mattered. In my 66 years, I believe that Dr. King was the greatest leader in my lifetime. King’s non-violent approach toward racial inequality prevented a bloody civil war. See: https://joelsolkoff.com/dr-martin-luther-king-i-have-a-dream-speech-on-august-28-1963/. After King’s assassination, Harry Belafonte supported King’s family and worked tirelessly to keep Dr. King’s dream alive.
4. No matter where I live, I will always think of myself as a New Yorker. I was born in the City. My mother taught Hebrew in the City and received her doctorate in Hebrew Letters from the Jewish Theological Seminary. My grandmother Celia Pell’s apartment in Brooklyn was my home throughout my youth. Celia was an apparel worker, for decades sewing bras and girdles by day–doing what she described as “uplifting work.” She spent her nights playing Beethoven and Mozart on her piano for hours on end. My sister Sarah Schmerler, a distinguished art critic lives in the City as well as her author husband Robert Simonson and my nephew Asher, who will be bar mitzvahed in September.
5. I am a graduate of Columbia College and will be celebrating my 45th Reunion–a reunion filled with memories of the demonstrations of 1968 which all too slowly led to the end of the evil War in Vietnam.
6. Last year, I was diagnosed with kidney cancer where my physician here in State College, PA sent me to New York’s Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. The brilliant surgeon Dr. Paul Russo successfully removed my cancerous tumor and saved my right kidney. The day before my first appointment with Dr. Russo, at the suggestion of my friend Kathy Forer, I visited The Renzo Piano Morgan Museum and Library–providing dramatic comfort to the cancer experience. The comfort continued during surgery and recuperation as I wrote and made videos about the Morgan and the brilliant architecture of Renzo Piano published by my editor Adrian Welch at http://www.e-architect.co.uk/editors/joel-solkoff.
7. I hope that Mayor de Blasio’s efforts to shatter the barriers between the wealthy and poor will result in government and private foundation grants to remove the expensive admission fees to the superb Morgan collection as well as the Frick, the Whitney, and other museums in the City. Mayor de Blasio’s efforts to make hospital emergency rooms accessible to the poor should lead in turn to an understanding that access to art should come without an admission fee because art’s therapeutic value has far too long been neglected.
Excerpts from Mayor de Blasio’s Inaugural Address
–We see what binds all New Yorkers together: an understanding that big dreams are not a luxury reserved for a privileged few, but the animating force behind every community, in every borough.
–The spark that ignites our unwavering resolve to do everything possible to ensure that every girl and boy, no matter what language they speak, what subway line they ride, what neighborhood they call home — that every child has the chance to succeed.
–We are called to put an end to economic and social inequalities that threaten to unravel the city we love. And so today, we commit to a new progressive direction in New York.
–Nearly a century ago, it was Al Smith who waged war on unsafe working conditions and child labor.
[Note: It was Al Smith who said, “The only cure for the ills of democracy is more democracy.”]
–It was Franklin Roosevelt and Frances Perkins who led the charge for the basic bargain of unemployment insurance and the minimum wage.
[Note: Francis Perkins said, “What was the New Deal anyhow? Was it a political plot? Was it just a name for a period in history? Was it a revolution? To all of these questions I answer ‘No.’ It was something quite different… It was, I think, basically an attitude. An attitude that found voice in expressions like ‘the people are what matter to government,’ and ‘a government should aim to give all the people under its jurisdiction the best possible life.'”]
–It was Fiorello La Guardia who enacted the New Deal on the city level, battled the excesses of Wall Street, and championed a progressive income tax.
–When I said we would take dead aim at the Tale of Two Cities, I meant it. And we will do it. I will honor the faith and trust you have placed in me. And we will give life to the hope of so many in our city. We will succeed as One City. We know this won’t be easy; It will require all that we can muster. And it won’t be accomplished only by me; It will be accomplished by all of us — those of us here today, and millions of everyday New Yorkers in every corner of our city.
Full remarks as prepared: Mayor de Blasio’s Inaugural Address
Thank you, President Clinton, for your kind words. It was an honor to serve in your administration, and we’re all honored by your presence. I have to note that, over 20 years ago, when a conservative philosophy seemed dominant, you broke through – and told us to still believe in a place called Hope.
Thank you, Secretary Clinton. I was inspired by the time I spent on your first campaign. Your groundbreaking commitment to nurturing our children and families manifested itself in a phrase that is now a part of our American culture – and something we believe in deeply in this city. It Takes A Village.
Thank you, Reverend Fred Lucas Jr., Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, Monsignor Robert Romano, and Imam Askia Muhammad for your words of prayer.
Thank you, Governor Cuomo. Working with you at HUD, I saw how big ideas can overcome big obstacles. And it will be my honor to serve shoulder-to-shoulder with you again.
Thank you, Mayor Bloomberg. To say the least, you led our city through some extremely difficult times. And for that, we are all grateful. Your passion on issues such as environmental protection and public health has built a noble legacy. We pledge today to continue the great progress you made in these critically important areas.
Thank you, Mayor Dinkins, for starting us on the road to a safer city, and for always uplifting our youth – and I must say personally, for giving me my start in New York City government. You also had the wisdom to hire a strong and beautiful young woman who walked up to me one day in City Hall and changed my life forever.
Chirlane, you are my soulmate — and my best friend. My partner in all I do. My love for you grows with each passing year. Chiara and Dante, I cannot put into words the joy and the pride that you bring your mother and me. You are the best thing that’s ever happened to us, and we love you very much.
And finally, thank you to my brothers Steve and Don, and all my family assembled today — from all around this country, and from Italy. You have always guided and sustained me.
Thank you, my fellow New Yorkers ‑- my brothers and sisters — for joining Chirlane, Chiara, Dante, and me on this chilly winter day.
De parte de Chirlane, Chiara, Dante y yo, les extiendo las gracias a ustedes, mis hermanas y hermanos niuyorquinos, por acompañarnos en este dia tan especial.
Like it is for so many of you, my family is my rock. Their wisdom, their compassion, and their sense of humor make each day a gift to cherish.
But, what makes today so special isn’t just my family, but our larger New York family. We see what binds all New Yorkers together: an understanding that big dreams are not a luxury reserved for a privileged few, but the animating force behind every community, in every borough.
The spark that ignites our unwavering resolve to do everything possible to ensure that every girl and boy, no matter what language they speak, what subway line they ride, what neighborhood they call home — that every child has the chance to succeed.
We recognize a city government’s first duties: to keep our neighborhoods safe; to keep our streets clean; to ensure that those who live here – and those who visit – can get where they need to go in all five boroughs. But we know that our mission reaches deeper. We are called to put an end to economic and social inequalities that threaten to unravel the city we love. And so today, we commit to a new progressive direction in New York. And that same progressive impulse has written our city’s history. It’s in our DNA.
Nearly a century ago, it was Al Smith who waged war on unsafe working conditions and child labor. It was Franklin Roosevelt and Frances Perkins who led the charge for the basic bargain of unemployment insurance and the minimum wage. It was Fiorello La Guardia who enacted the New Deal on the city level, battled the excesses of Wall Street, and championed a progressive income tax.
From Jacob Riis to Eleanor Roosevelt to Harry Belafonte — who we are honored to have with us here today — it was New Yorkers who challenged the status quo, who blazed a trail of progressive reform and political action, who took on the elite, who stood up to say that social and economic justice will start here and will start now.
It’s that tradition that inspires the work we now begin. A movement that sees the inequality crisis we face today, and resolves that it will not define our future. Now I know there are those who think that what I said during the campaign was just rhetoric, just “political talk” in the interest of getting elected. There are some who think now, as we turn to governing – well, things will continue pretty much like they always have.
So let me be clear. When I said we would take dead aim at the Tale of Two Cities, I meant it. And we will do it. I will honor the faith and trust you have placed in me. And we will give life to the hope of so many in our city. We will succeed as One City. We know this won’t be easy; It will require all that we can muster. And it won’t be accomplished only by me; It will be accomplished by all of us — those of us here today, and millions of everyday New Yorkers in every corner of our city.
You must continue to make your voices heard. You must be at the center of this debate. And our work begins now. We will expand the Paid Sick Leave law — because no one should be forced to lose a day’s pay, or even a week’s pay, simply because illness strikes. And by this time next year, fully 300,000 additional New Yorkers will be protected by that law. We won’t wait.
We’ll do it now. We will require big developers to build more affordable housing. We’ll fight to stem the tide of hospital closures. And we’ll expand community health centers into neighborhoods in need, so that New Yorkers see our city not as the exclusive domain of the One Percent, but a place where everyday people can afford to live, work, and raise a family. We won’t wait. We’ll do it now.
We will reform a broken stop-and-frisk policy, both to protect the dignity and rights of young men of color, and to give our brave police officers the partnership they need to continue their success in driving down crime. We won’t wait. We’ll do it now.
We will ask the very wealthy to pay a little more in taxes so that we can offer full-day universal pre-K and after-school programs for every middle school student. And when we say “a little more,” we can rightly emphasize the “little.”
Those earning between $500,000 and one million dollars a year, for instance, would see their taxes increase by an average of $973 a year. That’s less than three bucks a day – about the cost of a small soy latte at your local Starbucks.
Think about it. A 5-year tax on the wealthiest among us – with every dollar dedicated to pre-K and after-school. Asking those at the top to help our kids get on the right path and stay there. That’s our mission. And on that, we will not wait. We will do it now.
Of course, I know that our progressive vision isn’t universally shared. Some on the far right continue to preach the virtue of trickle-down economics. They believe that the way to move forward is to give more to the most fortunate, and that somehow the benefits will work their way down to everyone else. They sell their approach as the path of “rugged individualism.”
But Fiorello La Guardia — the man I consider to be the greatest Mayor this city has ever known — put it best. He said: “I, too, admire the ‘rugged individual,’ but no ‘rugged individual’ can survive in the midst of collective starvation.”
So please remember: we do not ask more of the wealthy to punish success. We do it to create more success stories. And we do it to honor a basic truth: that a strong economy is dependent on a thriving school system. We do it to give every kid a chance to get their education off on the right foot, from the earliest age, which study after study has shown leads to greater economic success, healthier lives, and a better chance of breaking the cycle of poverty.
We do it to give peace of mind to working parents, who suffer the anxiety of not knowing whether their child is safe and supervised during those critical hours after the school day ends, but before the workday is done. And we do it because we know that we must invest in our city, in the future inventors and CEOs and teachers and scientists, so that our generation – like every generation before us – can leave this city even stronger than we found it.
Our city is no stranger to big struggles — and no stranger to overcoming them.
New York has faced fiscal collapse, a crime epidemic, terrorist attacks, and natural disasters. But now, in our time, we face a different crisis – an inequality crisis. It’s not often the stuff of banner headlines in our daily newspapers. It’s a quiet crisis, but one no less pernicious than those that have come before.
Its urgency is read on the faces of our neighbors and their children, as families struggle to make it against increasingly long odds. To tackle a challenge this daunting, we need a dramatic new approach — rebuilding our communities from the bottom-up, from the neighborhoods up. And just like before, the world will watch as we succeed. All along the way, we will remember what makes New York, New York.
A city that fights injustice and inequality — not just because it honors our values, but because it strengthens our people. A city of five boroughs — all created equal. Black, white, Latino, Asian, gay, straight, old, young, rich, middle class, and poor. A city that remembers our responsibility to each other — our common cause — is to leave no New Yorker behind.
That’s the city that you and I believe in. It’s the city to which my grandparents were welcomed from the hills of Southern Italy, the city in which I was born, where I met the love of my life, where Chiara and Dante were raised.
It’s a place that celebrates a very simple notion: that no matter what your story is – this is your city. Our strength is derived from you. Working together, we will make this One City. And that mission — our march toward a fairer, more just, more progressive place, our march to keep the promise of New York alive for the next generation. It begins today.
Thank you, and God bless the people of New York City!