A Muslim Uber Driver Defends The Jews

It was late and the DC streets were twisty. We sat huddled in the back, scared, because you never quite know if you're safe in the cab.

The driver got lost in the middle of the ride and for a few moments I was more than scared, I was terrified.

We sat there holding our iPhones in our hands, silently tracking where the car was as versus the route, trying not to let the driver see. In between I checked the dashboard GPS. It seemed like we were OK.

"Confusing streets, right?" This is me attempting to make sure we're not getting lost on purpose. "It's so much easier to navigate New York."

My fellow passenger caught on. "Yeah, I hate how confusing DC is."

The driver chimed in. "I hate DC! These streets are just impossible."

In fact it is true, if you try to get around these side street in the city without having walked it on foot, good luck to you. And especially at night.

"Where are you from?" I asked the driver.

"Wisconsin, originally Afghanistan. Now I am in Virginia."

I don't know why I did this next thing, but I did.

"I am not a big fan of Virginia," I said. "I'm a Jew."

At this the driver turned around. "Come again? What was that?"

"I'm a Jew," I clarified, "and Virginia is very Christian. I'm not sure they like Jews over there."

My fellow passenger mouthed silently, "What the hell are you doing?"

And I mouthed back, "It's fine," although truthfully I didn't really know if it was fine. I had opened my mouth spontaneously, going only by my gut instinct.

She was looking at her iPhone frantically, as was I. I did not know where the hell we were. I had a 60-65% comfort level at that point, which is not high.

So we tried to pretend that the comfort level was actually 90%, because sometimes when you get nervous you actually can create the very problem that you fear.

"Oh, that's not true," said the driver. "There are lots of Muslims in Virginia."

I wasn't quite sure how the presence of many Muslims was intended to make me as a Jew feel better.

"There are all types of people there."

"That's very interesting," I said. "I did not know that."

In fact I did know that, but I didn't really want to get into the shifting demographics of Virginia State. Mostly I was keeping an eye on the map.

"I believe that we are all from the same God," said the driver. "A lot of Muslims don't like Jews, and even my family doesn't say anything when they start to put the Jews down. But I always defend them."

That would be us.

"Well, thank you," I said and at that my fellow passenger laughed, startled.

"I don't believe in keeping silent about things that matter."

At this I was absolutely amazed.

The driver went on to talk about how the Palestinian conflict never seemed to end, how it seemed crazy that they couldn't make peace over there, and how his home country of Afghanistan had been wracked by war for decades.

He said that he had left Afghanistan in the late 1970s, after the Soviet invasion, which the United States helped the Afghans to resist.

"Was there ever a time of peace in Afghanistan?"

"No, no. As soon as we got the land, the leaders started fighting among themselves, and they never stopped until the Taliban took over."

By now we were on the main road, although the route we took was really nutty. It is hard for me to fathom how complicated a simple short trip can get.

But the driver seemed like he was just doing his job.

"I believe what it says in Isaiah," I said at some point, "that in the Messianic times all the people who believe in God will worship Him together. It will be a New Age."

The driver did not seem to find this idea all that interesting. And there were a few minutes remaining within which to fill the silence.

"So who did you vote for in the election, if I may ask?" It seemed like a safe enough topic now.

"Not Hillary," said the driver. "I cannot stand that Hillary Clinton. She is awful."

My fellow passenger and I looked at each other and laughed. This seems to be the common refrain: "I can't stand Hillary," and then "Trump."

"So you voted for Trump then," I said.

"Yes, Donald Trump. I like that he says exactly what he thinks - he doesn't hold anything back."


"Did you hear him on that news interview the other day?"

"The one where he said we're a bunch of killers?"

"Yes," said the driver. "I loved that! He said Putin is a killer, and we're not so innocent either."

"I think it's very carefully calculated," I said to the driver. "He doesn't just make it up off the top of his head."

Silence then. "Maybe."

We had arrived at our destination.

"Do you know why I'm a Republican?" said the driver. "I get all these people in here, and they talk to me about 'I hate Trump this,' and 'I hate Trump that,' but do you know why?

"Tell us."

"Because the immigrants come in, and they work hard, and then they still take the government money. The Democrats always give out the goodies, but the Republicans don't let them get away with that stuff."

I was so relieved and grateful that the ride was over, we were safe and the trip was uneventful.

"Thank you very much," we said, almost in unison.

"You're most welcome," said the driver. "I guess I have trouble with directions, because I am used to driving in my hometown."

"Afghanistan?" I asked.

"No, my hometown in Wisconsin."


All opinions my own.

"Building Bridges" Between Civil Servants & The Incoming Trump Administration


The following are my notes on "Building Trust with New Leadership," an event cosponsored by the Partnership for Public Service and the Federal Communicators Network that focused on helping civil servants work effectively with the new Administration. The event is availabl free for viewing on Vimeo

As always, in attending such events and sharing information and opinions on social media, I am independent, meaning that I do not represent my agency or the federal government as a whole. These notes are public domain and may be freely reproduced and distributed. 


Executive Coach Michelle Woodward

Theme 1: Teamwork

Based On "The Five Behaviors Of A Cohesive Team" [TM] by Wiley Workplace Solutions & Patrick Lencioni

  • Results: 
    • "If you can do trust-based conflict, then we can get to commitment to the same goal. Then we can hold each other accountable without people being attacked. Once you have all that, that's when you get to results."
  • Disagreement:  
    • Myers-Briggs personality type influences how we approach one another: Thinkers need justice, feelers need harmony. 
    • Aim to "build bridges, not burn bridges." 
    • "Appreciate the opportunity to learn where the other person is coming from." 
    • "Appreciate the opportunity to learn what you could have done better
  • Trust: 
    • "Stick to the issue at hand."
    • "Offer and accept apologies without hesitation." 
    • "Own an apology." 
    • "Be genuine." 
    • "Be consistent." 
    • "Be present in this moment not the last Administration." 
    • "Accept questions." 
    • "Give others the benefit of the doubt." 
  • Office Gossip/Office Politics:
    • "Sometimes gossip is 'important information' but 'if I wouldn't say it to you, I wouldn't say it about you'" - differentiate between information and words that are "hurtful or mean"; mean words don't build trust.
    • "You can either get enmeshed in that or step back from it."
    • Keep your ears open but don't get engaged in all that hoopla."
    • If there's a meeting that you should have been in - "give the benefit of the doubt" - "small corrections" - say "Hey X, that meeting is in my programmatic area, I believe I should be included in those meetings" and "9 times out of 10, X will say 'Thank you.'"
  • Coping:
    • First understand reality - "good to know" - then try to change reality (paraphrase); "when you see this is the lay of the land, step back, say 'good to know, they're showing me exactly who they are, who can be my ally'?"
  • Understanding Others:
    • “Find out - what motivates people? 
      • "Quality time" 
      • "Words of affirmation" 
      • "Take something off their plate" 
      • "Gift" (comment from DB: obviously “gift” here means something small and thoughtful, e.g. the speaker mentioned chocolate chip cookies; not an illegal or unethical one.)

Theme 2: Self-Management 

Based On The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz

"This is really on you - these four agreements are agreements you make with yourself that can help you." Paraphrased:
  • Keep your word; don’t use words to say back things about yourself or gossip.
  • Remember that others act because of their own perceptions and motivations, not because of you – it’s not personal.
  • Don’t assume anything – ask first, communicate so that you can avoid unnecessary “misunderstandings, sadness and drama.”
  • For your purposes, doing your best is the equivalent of excellence; there is no abstract high mark you always have to meet (because that is humanly impossible).

Theme 3: Managing Stress

  • "Units of energy" - if you're spending 60% spun up about office politics or office gossip, can't get things done. Keep a time log.
  • Breathe - breathe in the feeling you want (e.g. happiness) and out the feeling you don't want (e.g. sadness)

Audience Q&A

  • Fear of the New Administration:
    • Question: “I work for an agency that was in love with the last administration and is very scared and worried about the new one. How to handle?” 
    • Answer: “Stages of grief. You may be orbiting anger for a while, but hopefully you get to acceptance. I wouldn't rush anybody through the stages, because it's a profound change. Also don't make assumptions about who these people are or worry about what could possibly happen. Focus on right now, what's the reality, what do we know so far? If you want to be active, think about how can you effectively talk to allies about supporting the work of the office?
  • Opposition/Disagreement (Related To Above Question; Coping With Negative Emotions/Reactions To Or Disagreements With The New Administration)
    • "Be an activist within the rules of your organization. Overall think about how can I greet these people, see them for who they are, build trust, because wouldn't it be awesome if you could turn them around into allies.” 
    • "All of us need to understand what is our breaking point. What is the point at which we're not going to provide tax returns of enemies. I would recommend each of us search our own heart, and our own values and say - (what are the things about which) I can't compromise." 
    • "I do think you can be people of conscience and do your work well."
  • Battling Perceptions:
    • Question: “How do you counter the (perception that all feds are obstructionist because of the) "alt' or the "resistance,” e.g. the Twitter accounts that have been stood up, this is not like anything else we’ve seen in the past. 
    • Answer: “You don't want to be ‘tarnished’ that you’re ‘subverting or obstructing,’ say ‘don’t tar me with the same brush.’” But “we are in uncharted waters, this is unusual.”
  • Chain of Command:
    • Question: What do you do when “political appointees came in and asked for ideas” (but) “other people in the office are going to say you should've come to me first; how do you handle not violating the trust of your own people in your organization by expressing your ideas to them?” (e.g. the chain of command). 
    • Answer: “My thought would be, rather than going around your direct supervisor, saying to your supervisor can we go in together." Separate comment from the audience: “Not always does your leadership want these ideas to go forward.” Presenter comment: “It always comes back to you. Dn't gossip."
  • Getting "Shot Down":
    • Question: “What do you do when your good idea is automatically shot down?”
    • Answer: “Find out what motivates them (fear, or need information) and respond directly to that.” “Say - "I've got your back" (not going to do anything to hurt you).” Audience answer: “Focus on what problem you're solving rather than how you're feeling about it.”
  • Hitting A "Brick Wall":
    • Question: What if you’re not getting anywhere? 
    • Answer: "If you feel like you're hitting a brick wall, go back to trust" and "If they're just a closed person, just say 'good to know.'"
  • Dealing With People Who Just Want To Win:
    • Question: What if "all they care about is 'victory?'" 
    • Answer: “Again, (say to yourself) ‘good to know’ then ‘what do I want’; also ask ‘How am I getting engaged here’ or ‘affected’ (by what’s going on) - you may need to ‘call a break’; if you have trust you can say, ‘is this about winning or about finding the solution?’”
  • Exclusion: 
    • Question: “Please talk to ‘practices of exclusion’ that can ‘mess with trust’ and ‘dissemination of information’ - where ‘other groups of people know information before other groups know it.’
    • Answer (from fellow audience member): “(You have) so many opportunities to advocate internally" - "they (leadership) don't know that information they share to senior management does not cascade down."

Audience Comments

  • Conscience: 
    • “Marion Wright Edelman once said, ‘Be a flea on the big guy.’ Whenever there's a need to say the truth, do it."
  • Trust: 
    • “Last administration the "trifecta of evil went behind closed doors and started this culture of fear" saying they were ‘evaluating projects’ - nobody wanted to reveal anything." 
    • "They were ‘egotistical micromanagers who ‘all had a different perception of what the agency should be doing or where we were going’ and ‘used the workforce against each other’ for ‘four years.’" 
    • "(Then) ‘new leadership, completely empowering’ and there was ‘hesitancy about being able to trust’ because ‘in the past the light at the end of the tunnel was an oncoming train.’ ‘Just wanted to point it out because this trust issue is really really critical." 
    • "Sometimes we're beating our heads against really a solid wall. (But on a) positive note - it will change. People will cycle out, it will change."
  • Buy-In: 
    • "Convince them it was their idea and then give them credit" (semi-humorous)
  • Service: 
    • "Use a debrief from prior Administration - what was helpful to them?" (Generally they want "more involvement" from the civil service)

All opinions my own. These notes are public domain and may be freely reproduced and distributed.

How I Became An Activist

I had gone to the White House for a meeting and on the way remarked to my boss that my father raised us to stay away from rallies. When I was young I wanted to protest for the Soviet Jews, to free them but he was afraid that the FBI would take my picture and I would be put into a database of enemies of the state.

He told me I had a right to be an activist.

Now you have to understand that my Zayde, a"h, was there when the Sharmash Massacre took place in 1944 in Hungary and the "paramilitary" looted, tortured and executed Jews. He did what he could, including serving on the committee to ensure those massacred received a decent burial.

My Zayde, an unassuming man, had been a military officer. During the war he protected the Jews as best he could, by hiding them in horse-manure-riddled hay to prevent them from freezing to death.

My Bubbie, a"h was in Auschwitz.

So we knew very well that the State could turn very ugly very fast and as a survival tool we learned, first of all not to talk about the Holocaust (or else we could not go on) and second not to make any trouble if we could avoid it.

I didn't say all of this to my boss, but some of it.

I didn't go in to the details about how, in my heart, I always wanted to be a social activist.

In my youth I read the Jewish Press and the columns there by Rabbi Meir Kahane, z"l, who was assassinated in 1990 by El Sayyid Nosair, may his name be erased from the history books. Despite the fact that he was guilty, Nosair was acquitted; he then went on to conspire with other terrorists. The result was the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.

Clearly Rabbi Kahane was not a saint. My own view is that, like many geniuses, he was brilliant and a little crazy, which explains statements like "there's no coexisting with cancer," referring to Israel and the Arabs. And the Jewish Defense League, which started out with noble aims, eventually descended into violence and terrorism. In Israel, the Kach party he founded was eventually banned from parliamentary elections for being "racist and undemocratic."

But as the Palestinians themselves will tell you, "strangely enough, this racist right wing Jew conveys more respect to Palestinians and Arabs than his ‘humanist’ opponents who actually dismiss Arab and Palestinian nationalist aspirations."

Rabbi Kahane never pretended that Palestinians and Arabs should have equal rights in Israel. His approach to the issue of coexistence was simple, clear and based in Jewish law. It's articulated well in Wikipedia:
"Kahane proposed enforcing Jewish law, as codified by Maimonides, under which non-Jews wishing to dwell in Israel would have three options: remain as "resident strangers" with all rights but national ones, leave Israel and receive compensation for their property, or for those who refused either option, be forcibly removed without compensation."
Taking the halachic (Jewish legal) approach neatly addresses the Western secular democratic pretense, the hypocrisy, of arguing that non-Jews theoretically are equal citizens in the Jewish state when in fact the Israeli national interest lies fundamentally in keeping them out of power.

Yet for being an unabashed defender of the right of the Jewish people to exist, in safety -- everywhere and anywhere -- for being an unabashed defender of keeping the Jewish state Jewish, Kahane was branded a racist.

Eventually, he was assassinated by the very kind of terrorist he tried to warn us about.

For 90% of my life I avoided becoming a social activist, because I didn't want to "get in trouble," "cause trouble," "make trouble," or "become labeled as trouble."

But around 2009, two things happened that began to change me.

  • As a civil servant in the Obama administration, and particularly witnessing the events pertaining to the "Fast & Furious" scandal unfold, it became clear that something very wrong was happening and that the mainstream media and some in Congress were being enlisted in covering it up. It was the efforts of brave reporter Sharyl Attkisson and blogger David Codrea (blog now defunct) -- both of them harassed for their integrity -- that blew the scandal wide open. I read a lot, saw a lot, but kept my mouth shut for fear of losing my job.
  • Within the Jewish community, I became aware that sexual abuse of children by rabbis was not just an occasional problem but rather a rampant disease. Reading the book Sexual Abuse, Shonda and and Concealment in Orthodox Jewish Communities, the blog Failed Messiah and watching the birth of Jewish Community Watch, I saw the same pattern of brave activists being shouted down and shut down by the mainstream community, and victims dismissed in favor of those in power.
In 2015 I attended my first public protest ever, to support Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu against all the critics of his speech to Congress against the Iran deal. As it later turned out, President Obama's speechwriter architected a fraudulent story about the plan that was used to sell it to the world.

The pattern keeps repeating itself. People who say uncomfortable things are shushed by the politically correct -- who refuse to even name the source of terrorism. Who, in the case of Jewish rabbinic sex abusers, refused to acknowledge the simple fact that it is the Orthodox themselves who facilitated serial pedophilia against their own community, by shoving the problem under the rug.

Social activism woke up the Jewish community, and it is still waking up.

And social activism woke up the American Nation, which also is still coming to consciousness.

Thank you to the boss who encouraged me to exercise my freedom of speech and assembly, and to become a social activist.


All opinions my own.

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