Thursday, January 28, 2016

Behind the Veil Is A Human Being

My daughter, three granddaughters, and I were getting ready to leave the walking track at Weber Park when she walked past. Because she was covered completely from head to toe and wore a black veil covering everything except her eyes, my granddaughters stared at her curiously. Living in an observant Jewish neighborhood, they had never seen anyone dressed that way. Observing their stares, the woman turned around and removed her veil. Behind it was a beautiful young woman. Smiling, she said to my granddaughters, “I wear this because it is part of my religion not to show my face to men.”

“Your face is very pretty,” said my youngest granddaughter.

She went on to explain that she could show her face to her husband, father, brothers, sons, and her grandfathers. Otherwise, her face must be covered in the presence of men as protection for her.

My daughter explained that Orthodox Jews have the same rules and concepts although their rules only apply to hair not to the face.

“It’s interesting how people can come from different places and end up at the same idea,” I said.

While I don’t subscribe to any religious beliefs that lead to women being restricted, her removing her veil and letting us see her face made her particular beliefs much less threatening. Indeed, the moment when she removed her veil for us was a special one for all of us; and thus, one veil at a time, some animosity was stripped away. 

Thursday, January 21, 2016

"A House Divided Against Itself Cannot Stand."

These immortal words of President Lincoln are still true today in our polarized environment. Ever since the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum opened in 2004, we had been talking about taking a trip to Springfield, Illinois to visit it.

When we received an offer from Travel Zoo (, it seemed like the right time to make the trip. Travel Zoo offered a package for $89 that included a room in the Statehouse Inn Hotel, admission for two to the museum, breakfast, a $10 off voucher for dinner at Arlington’s, a restaurant a three minute walk away, and complementary drinks at the bar in the hotel.

Travel Zoo’s deal was definitely a good one. Even without it, however, The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum and Library is worth a trip especially if you live in the Chicago area. From the north side of Chicago, it’s a three and a half hour car trip. Also, Amtrak goes to Springfield from Union Station in Chicago. The station in Springfield is a short walk from the Statehouse Inn.

For those who have never been to Springfield there are several interesting historic sites to see there including Lincoln’s home and historic area, his old law offices, the old Capitol Building, and the original train depot. In addition, the State of Illinois Museum is worth seeing.
The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum contains some wonderfully interactive exhibits as well as exhibits illustrating many periods of Lincoln’s life. The Museum and Library also houses many original document and artifacts. 
replica of Lincoln family in the lobby of the museum


As we came in, we were directed to a short film “The Ghost in the White House” that explained on a very accessible level how historians combed through documents and various artifacts to get a better idea of historical events. The use of holograms and some theatrics made this topic come alive. Other exhibits traced the progression of slavery as an issue and Lincoln’s own evolution throughout his career and during the Civil War leading to his issuing The Emancipation Proclamation.

            Another exhibit done by the journalist Tom Russert “The Campaign of 1860” juxtaposes modern 21st century campaign techniques on the Presidential campaign of 1860. This exhibit gives us all a lot to think about. If Lincoln ran for President in 2016, would he stand any chance of winning? The Republican Party probably wouldn’t consider him Conservative enough. TV and other media might not consider him attractive and telegenic enough to be worth getting much coverage. As a poor boy who was largely self-educated, he would have lacked the elite alumni connections one obtains from attending a prestigious university. He wouldn’t have had enough of his own money to finance a campaign and may have been too humble to raise huge donations. Fortunately, the United States of America and the world are blessed that Lincoln was President during the 1860’s. I hate to think how history would have unfolded without him in the White House during that pivotal time in our history. 

Thursday, January 14, 2016

How Pres. Obama's State of the Union Address Sends Me Time Traveling

The State of Our Union is polarized. Are we at the breaking point? Have we become ungovernable? In President Obama’s eighth and, unfortunately last, State of the Union Address, he expressed this as his largest regret as president. “It’s one of the few regrets of my presidency that the rancor and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse instead of better,” he said.

President Obama went on to suggest several ways that the electoral process needed to be changed to ensure that our current state of polarity be reigned in. I can think of several other steps that need to be taken that he didn’t discuss especially abolishing the Electoral College but that could be the subject of a whole posting of its own. In the meantime, polarized we are. In his parting State of the Union address, President Obama looking to the future, warned us of the consequences of all our animosities to one another. He counseled us to have rational debates, to listen to each other without vehemence, and to make sure that every citizen has the opportunity to have a voice in our political process imploring us all to participate as citizens. We would all do well to heed his words as we go forward.

Pres. Obama’s message was exquisitely stated and brought me back to an earlier time when things in America were simpler and people got along with each other with more civility. Although that is how that time period is perceived in America’s collective consciousness, the 1950’s and 1960’s were not really that peaceful an era. In fact, it was the height of the Cold War, McCarthyism, and the House Un-American Activities Committee.

I wish that I could forget the air-raid drills we had periodically in my elementary school and high school.  I wish that I could forget crouching under my desk in my classroom with my hands behind my head as if this would save me and my classmates in the event of a thermonuclear attack. Most of all, I wish that I could forget the nightmares that I had about surviving one of them. When I’d wake my parents after one of my nightmares, they’d tell me it wouldn’t happen. I’d ask them if that was the case why they had to demonstrate and attend meetings of Sane (the Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy). I still remember their campaign buttons. “There’s still time, Brother.” In high school, I enjoyed telling friends that my parents were in Sane, but I was still having the nightmares.

In a moment of national unity, President Eisenhower addressed the American public farewell on January 17, 1961. Although I was only 13 years old, I remember watching Pres. Eisenhower deliver that speech. “Beware of the military-industrial complex.” As a military man, he was especially versed in what the military was and leaving office, he had that advice to Americans looking toward the future. If only we’d heeded his advice, we’d be in better shape today. I hope that there’s still time, Brother, to listen to him now.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Viewing Racism At the Art Institute

Untitled by Robert Gober
Untitled by Robert Gober   a closeup                        
The good news is that Chicago is no longer the most segregated large city in America. According to the January 4th Chicago Tribune, it is now only the 3rd most segregated large city -behind Milwaukee and New York.

Progress is being made here albeit at a snail's pace.

Since the Art Institute in Chicago was expanded, they've had room for even more works of art and so the collection shown is even more impressive than it was. It's worth a visit even more than before. While their Impressionist collection is outstanding, sometimes it's good to branch out and see something else.

We saw the above painting which is located in the contemporary wing of the museum and is called "Untitled." It was painted by Robert Gober born in 1954. He says that "...the painful imagery was meant as a reminder of fact - the ugly and unforgettable reality of United States history." It's a new concept - racism and lynchings as wallpaper as white America sleeps comfortably for the most part ignoring it. His painting is saying that racism in America is like wallpaper- ubiquitous and therefore, something we are numb to and tend to ignore.

The year 2015 was a ghastly one for police over-reaction against African-Americans. This was true not only in Chicago, but also in many other American cities. Since the police are part of American society, we have probably all been guilty of the same types of over-reactions. Unfortunately, the police have guns and the opportunity for their over-reactions to be deadly. While the police especially need to be trained to be aware of their racist feelings so that they can know how to stop acting on those feelings in the line of duty, most of white America would do well to have that training. We have to stop over-reacting. I hope that 2016 is a year in which we begin to address the racism that is embedded in our society as we take an honest look at our own reactions.

A good place to start is at the Art Institute. Go to the contemporary wing to see "Untitled" by Robert Gober. A picture is worth a thousand words and a good place to start this journey.