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Happy Passover and Pass the Freedom, Please


It’s been an eventful couple of months, and I haven’t been aggressive about writing for the blog.

Passover was magical this year. Nezzie was a nightmare at the community first night Seder at our synagogue. Did we fulfill the halachic requirements? Yes. Was Nezzie tedious and embarrassing? Also yes.

The second night was even better. Acknowledging Amelia’s Sephardic background (or at least that’s our justification for kitniyot), we had Yemenite and other varieties of dishes. Leah slaved in the kitchen to make it all happen, and the food was great. We had a couple and their daughter—magnificent people—in from Ellsworth and two friends from shul. And we got through the entire Seder. My Hebrew is all right.

I needed the message of freedom this year. As has been the case since I became really active in politics in 2012, politics has driven my non-work time. In 2016, when we first moved here and I was still working for the Gary Johnson campaign, I met someone whose friendship I really have come to value. He also happens to now be at the fore of the local Republican committee effort.

He lobbied me hard to drop out of the Libertarian Party as their Maine 2nd Congressional District candidate and join as the 98th State Legislative District GOP candidate. After many conversations, I agreed. I really wanted to help grow the Libertarian Party, but getting on the ballot was looking nigh impossible in terms of obtaining the requisite signatures.

And I liked what our current state representative has done, being a fierce advocate for our small towns, both in the Legislature and personally.

So I agreed, and as it turned out, I was too late in my party change from Libertarian to Republican. Ineligible, we turned to a placeholder, who decided he should run instead.

Now he’s been beset by a local scandal, and though I reserve judgment, one facet does stand out from Bangor Daily News’ reporting. I’m deeply troubled by the account that after his cows got loose, he possibly tried to defray accountability by saying they belonged to his charity, of which he is President. I haven’t heard Jerry’s side of the story, so this account is just the state, but I’ve worked for and with veterans for a very long time in varying capacities (usually homelessness, recovery, and reentry), and this sets off personal alarm bells.

Jerry is well regarded in local veteran circles, and that speaks volumes.  I’ve seen firsthand the work he’s doing with veteran farmers, and his plans are ambitious and exciting.  I hope he gets his day in court and gets to vindicate himself and clear his name.  Animal abuse allegations are especially damaging, but allegations are not proof of guilt.

I have to be careful, as a small part of me still resents being gently pushed aside.  There’s no temptation to give Jerry anything but the benefit of the doubt. Still, as much as you try and partition ego away from these things, I have a strong reputation as an ethical person. Yes, I was a Democrat that had an ideological sea change in his life, but I’ve always been a centrist. You won’t find questionable conduct in any part of my background, quite the opposite.  Aside from the party transition, unlike candidates in the 98th and 97th (who is facing assault charges in Bangor and is a convicted felon, a homophobe, and an Islamophobe), I would not be operating under a cloud of questions of past or current problems.  I had issues with the IRS and the state of California a few years ago when I made some errors in taxes, but I rectified both.  I almost wonder if all candidates should be required to reveal tax and credit history along with voluntarily submission to criminal background checks as part of running for office.  You know your dirty laundry will be laid bare in this day and age.  It’s no surprise when it happens.

I was reluctant to jump aboard to begin with, moving from a party-building effort to a real likelihood of holding public office.  The small sense of wounded pride in stepping aside very much yields to a sense of freedom.  Our time is precious to all of us.  For me, I really strive for a balance of work and family and activities I really care about, specifically full participation in my Jewish community and working on the board of the Maine Multicultural Center.  Running for office is very intrusive on time, for very little personal reward.  It’s not something my family can participate in outside of photo opportunities.

So I’m taking this as the whisper of Hashem to find something more constructive to do with my time.  It’s freedom, and I’m grateful that there was someone willing to step up.  I can concentrate on things I’m truly passionate about.  I don’t have to choose between an outdoor excursion and a political fundraiser.

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For the child that doesn’t know how to ask, during the Seder, we say the following: “You shall tell your child on that day, `It is because of this that the L-rd did for me when I left Egypt.'”

I feel a freedom in life that I’ve never felt before.  I have ample time with my wife and children.  We have a life that we enjoy, one we’ve worked hard to build, here in Maine.  I have work that I love.  I am grateful to G-d for being alive and able to work towards great ends.  I’m grateful for health and well being.  I’m grateful that G-d rescued us from oppression, even if I have questions and concerns about the times G-d has been conspicuously silent on our groan and the groan of others.

But what I have today, what we all have if you reside in the free world, is the freedom to act.  We don’t have to wait for G-d to intercede with plagues and slaying firstborn sons, or parting a sea, or providing manna from the sky.  You don’t have to wait for a risen savior in the sweet hereafter.

I believe G-d modeled with Passover not just something we should be grateful for, but how we should respond to the groan of others.  If G-d is silent, it’s because we are silent.

I’ve been disheartened by the reactions to the survivors from Parkland.  Whether or not I agree with pro- or anti- 2nd Amendment people is immaterial; the Talmud famously says our children are our builders.

As a Jew, I’m sensitive to having a right to defend myself.  I’ve even had to defend myself on the merits of being Jewish.  However, for all the right we have to bear arms, it’s not really a codified right to defend ourselves.  We interpret it as such and marry it to our ownership of firearms, but for those who don’t bear arms, we often don’t respect their demand to defend themselves by redressing perceived wrongs with their government.

I don’t need to qualify whether I agree with them or not.  They perceive legislative remedies to the gun violence they are afraid of as their defense, and they have just as much legal right to pursue that as pro-2nd Amendment forces do maintaining the status quo.

The calumny of these students, the name-calling, the insulting approach on either side is so contrary to civil discourse that I just want to tune out.  If someone seriously believes in the “crisis actor” nonsense or like conspiracy theories, I generally will refuse to dialog with them ever again.

If you disagree with someone, it’s so much more helpful if you argue to persuade.  I’m not perfect.  There are times when someone is so odiously stupid or disingenuous that I will go for the rhetorical jugular.  But can we not free ourselves from assigning negative characteristics to people with whom we disagree?

This is a freedom I’d like to see embedded in our debate.  Stick to the objective merits of an argument.  If you aren’t willing to entertain qualitative criticism of your position, admit that you’re recalcitrant and stick to the periphery.  If you pose unserious arguments, ones that don’t stand up under factual review, what value are you even bringing yourself?  You’re certainly not building credibility for your own argument.

This goes for everything political.  Freedom means we have to work hard to overcome our inelegant dichotomies, to live side by side with each other and find the common threads that bind us together.  We’re ruining America with stiff-necks and disdain for those with whom we disagree.  It’s time to stop.  We’re all being “wicked sons,” and the anger is nibbling at our freedom more than the other side’s nefarious plans.

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If there was one physical aspect of this time of year that I would be free of, it’s the ubiquitous early spring mud.

It was our own dumb fault for buying a house with a quarter mile dirt and gravel driveway that turns into a pothole laden mess as soon as the snow melts.

There are only two aspects of rural Maine living that cause me to question the wisdom of moving here:  black flies and mud season.

This remains the most wonderful place I’ve ever lived on account of the people and the natural beauty.  I hope our friends from back in Pennsylvania can join us for visits over the summer.  Come up in winter or fall, too.  It’s simply amazing here.  This is the most freedom I’ve ever felt in my life, which will be enhanced when I leave the Guard in a few years.

I’m back to fantasizing about long hikes and paddling trips through the Maine wilderness.

This is freedom.

Brian

Writer, soldier, programmer, father, musician, Heeb, living in the woods of Down East Maine with three ladies and a dog.

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About Brian

Brian Kresge

Brian Kresge

Writer, soldier, programmer, father, musician, Heeb, living in the woods of Down East Maine with three ladies and a dog.

About Leah

Leah Kresge

Leah Kresge

Director of Education for Congregation Beth Israel in Bangor, Maine, special educator and former school board member, mother to Amelia and Nezzie.

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