Steve Jobs and Rabbi Gerber

This Yom Kippur, just a few hours before we pause for the Yizkor service and remember our loved ones who are no longer with us — I’m thinking of my father, of course — but also two men who impacted my life profoundly.

Rabbi Israel Gerber passed away on Tuesday at the age of 92. Steve Jobs passed away on Wednesday at the age of 56.

Of course I did not know Steve Jobs.

And while I spent many, many hours with Rabbi Gerber, he sometimes couldn’t remember my name.

Both men caused a reaction. Jobs created “think different” as an message for his company and received the usual amount of criticism and scorn for it. Rabbi Gerber took a lot of heat also. He dared to fight city hall on many occasions on behalf of Jews in the New South — including the right to park on the street on High Holidays without getting a ticket, just as church goers were allowed to do on the same street — Providence Road — each Sunday morning.

In 1982, about a month after I started my career as a teacher, I bought an Apple II Plus computer. It had no shift key. No upper case lettering on the monitor.

At South Rowan High School, where I worked, there was only one other computer in the school, and that was in the computer programming class.

I started bringing my Apple II Plus to and from school with me each day. I taught remedial English, and the kids were fascinated. I had exactly one piece of software for that computer: Apple Writer, a word processor. And I had a little book on BASIC programming, so we could type a few lines and watch a word scroll down the screen really fast.

Word got out that I possessed this special, pioneer knowledge — the ability to flick the power switch on a computer — and I became part of the conversation to create technology facilitators in the school system and became a member of that original group.

When the Mac was introduced, I got one by winning a computer lesson plan writing contest.

I participated in many, many Apple vs. IBM battles, at the school and school system level. Apple prevailed, and for twenty four years, I taught kids to use whatever Steve Jobs invented.

I love Apple products and still am a complete idiot on a PC.

My mother also was one who liked to think different, and while all the other Jewish children were trained for their Bar Mitzvahs by Ben Shapiro, she had the idea that I be trained by a real rabbi. She took me to Charlotte each week for lessons with Rabbi Gerber. I think I was the only one from Salisbury who got this special attention. Most kids from Salisbury continued to work with Ben. My younger brother, who was also special enough to go to Charlotte, was assigned to Cantor Brown (the one who normally did Bar Mitzvah training there).

But for some reason I got Rabbi Gerber himself, and he wanted me to learn the torah portion so that I could read each line, from the torah, and translate it line by line — as he did himself.

The problem was, I never liked anybody telling me what to do, so I stubbornly resisted doing the work and learning the material.

One day, as I sat in the rabbi’s office and demonstrated my profound lack of facility with the torah portion, the rabbi became furious with me for not having made any progress since the week before.

“I couldn’t practice,” I said, “because I was in a tennis tournament.”

He suggested I stop the tennis for awhile, until I mastered the material.

It was summer, and I couldn’t do that — so I started to cry.

He also did not like my speech, so he wrote one for me that he wanted me to consider. I gave that the thumbs down.

Leaving the parking lot that day, my mother was furious with me for embarrassing her, and she gave me a lecture that was oft repeated and never forgotten. It had to do with the value of studying and what happens to people who don’t.

And then, while fussing at me, she had a wreck in the parking lot and totaled the family car.

A few years later, Alicia and I had a visit with Rabbi Gerber at his home. I asked him to marry us. He interviewed Alicia, asking her a series of questions (“If the Nazis took over The United States, would you go to the concentration camps with Sammy or let him go without you?”). Alicia, age 21, gave the wrong answer and Rabbi Gerber told me I was breaking my word that I had given at my Bar Mitzvah.

We found Rabbi Kaplan (also a free thinker), and he married us.

At the time, Alicia worked at my father’s store, and Rabbi Gerber dropped by and gave her books to read about converting to Judaism. She read the books but did not convert.

After he retired from Temple Beth El in Charlotte, Rabbi Gerber was a once-a-month rabbi in Salisbury for many years. He lost his job when a guy in the congregation broke his foot and complained that the rabbi never asked how he was feeling.

Steve Jobs and Rabbi Gerber — two men who profoundly impacted the course of my life by what they stood for.

It's the social networking, stupid.

Before the election, the Republicans talked “jobs jobs jobs.”

No word on jobs, since the election.

gridlock

Now they’re talking “health care repeal, health care repeal, health care repeal.”

I guess they want to stop it before it starts — afraid that millions of people might prefer having a doctor instead of going to the ER for every little thing.

They’re also talking about tax cuts.

And deficit reduction.

Tax cuts and deficit reduction just don’t go together.  Clinton erased the deficit and created a surplus by raising taxes AND cutting the budget.

Of course they do want spending cuts (although they won’t say what spending they want to cut).

A couple more thoughts:

The economy will improve in 2011.

Why do the new members of Congress talk like they’ve got all the power? Why do they talk like they can get things done without compromise? According to Mr. Basinger, my ninth grade civics teacher, a bill cannot become a law unless it’s passed by both houses of Congress and signed by the President.

Can Obama get things done without compromise?  That is, can the President do things without passing legislation?

Yes — a hell of a lot.  And he will.

The Republicans didn’t get the mandate they think they got.  Why not?

It’s the social networking, stupid.

With online networking, messages can spread very quickly.

YouTube has only been around five years.

Facebook has been open to the public less than five years.

The past election was a seismic shift in the American political spectrum.

Two years after the previous seismic shift.

And we’ll probably have another one in 2012.  And another after that.

The days of ten and twenty and thirty year political cycles is over.

Things go fast now.

I think many of the members of Congress think they’re still operating under the old media system, where money, gridlock, and time is a valid strategy.

Money will become less important.  Gridlock will get them voted out.  They don’t have as much time as they think.

Obama seems to understand this.

The last Congress got a lot done.

It might be wise for the newbies in Congress to realize that political lives these days are short — and get some work done with the time they’ve got.

Just my opinion.

upside down rhetoric on government

At election time, here in Rowan County, North Carolina, I’m almost always on the losing side. But I can’t remember, in my lifetime, a more frustrating set of arguments.

It occurs to me that the political rhetoric coming from the right is completely upside down.

The things government can do, they want government not to do.

The things government cannot do, they expect government to do.

The government can do a lot to provide health care to all people.  It’s a proven fact.  Many governments have done it very successfully — including ours.

Yet, the rhetoric coming from the right is for government to stay out of health care and leave it entirely to the private sector.

The government can do a lot to educate people (children and adults).  This is a proven fact.  Many countries have done this very successfully, including our own.

But some on the right even want government to step away from education.

Government can provide a safety net for those who are unable to work. This is a matter of common decency in a civilized society.  Yet, cutting aid to the poor and disabled is a loud battle cry from the right.

Energy.  European countries have cut consumption by passing policies that conserve energy.

Yet, Reagan eliminated Carter’s tax credits for solar energy.  In 2000, Bush mocked Gore for suggesting we produce hybrid cars.  And the opposition to energy conservation goes on and on…

Government is even pretty good at running prisons. Yet, there are movements to privatize this.

The government cannot control oil spills.

The government can control unnecessary war.

But the biggest matzah ball of all is employment.

This is mostly a private sector problem.  The government can only do a few things that affect employment around the edges.

And yet, the campaign rhetoric from the right is “jobs jobs jobs.”

If we take them seriously, which is not easy, they actually want government not to do anything around the edges, but still create the jobs.

Government cannot create tens of millions of jobs.

It can help with the long-term, allocating funds to research and infrastructure, which can lead to millions of jobs in the future — and has done so with much success in the past.

But Republicans criticize this kind of spending.

The Republicans campaign on wanting government to do what it cannot do, and not to do what it can.

If something’s not working right and needs improvement — they seem to cite that as justification to cut it altogether.

If you think about it, it’s really frustrating!  Which is why it’s best not to think about it.

That said, the Democrats still have a lot better record on jobs and budget deficits than Republicans.

Republicans have gone on strike

Is there a deficit?  Most certainly.

Is there job shortage?  Absolutely.

Are workers on strike?  Oddly enough, yes.

I thought the Republicans in Congress wanted to quit talking about health care and focus on jobs.

That’s all we heard for months.

Then why did 29 of them vote not to allow debate on a jobs bill?

upside down

And why did six of them not vote?

And this was for a bill that everybody says is only a fraction of what’s needed.

And this was for a bill that includes mostly tax cuts.

Call it strategy.

I call it a deficit.  Not a budget deficit, but a deficit of ideas, cooperation, good will, and work.

Republicans are not known for being fans of collective bargaining — but it appears they’ve gone on strike.