Tuesday, June 30, 2009
As many of you know, I am on record as recommending a modified form of excommunication for Madoff. While some chose to pooh-pooh my initial proposal, I see last week's Rockower Award as validating the message that the Jewish community needs to act. But dawdling community leaders still fail to recognize the unprecedented nature of the crime, the enormity of the hurt and the growing cynicism felt by so many.
Madoff should know that even after he breathes his last, he will be denied burial in a Jewish cemetery and no rabbi will memorialize him.
The courts have done their work; community leaders now have to grasp the moment, come together, send a clear moral message and cut him off. Period.
MAY WOMEN SERVE AS MOHALOT?. Rabbi Golinkin always uses these questions as opportunties to demonstrate his vast knowledge of the historical development of Jewish law. For scholar and lay person alike, it is a fascinating journey into the breadth and depth of Jewish civilization. He is never wedded to old customs but is always seeking the response that works best for our times.
To "cut" to the chase, yes, they may.
Friday, June 26, 2009
But more significantly, in an age where those booming prophetic voices from the pulpit are so rare, the real prophets of our day are journalists. They are the ones best equipped to stand up to the powerful and persuade the public to change course. In Iran right now, it is the journalists who are the prime windows to the truth, they are the ones most feared by the authorities.
At this Jewish journalism convention, we've heard many prophecies of doom for the newspaper and the news making profession as a whole. One participant glibly asked that without newspapers, what will we wrap our fish in?
But there will always be a need for truth-seekers and while the technology will change, journalists will remain the prophets of our day. At this conference, in fact, non traditional media were well represented, including new and exciting efforts like Zeek and InterfaithFamily, and, in a big surprise, a little blog (this one) beat out the largest print publications for the single commentary Rockower award (see"On One Foot" Blog Wins Prestigious Journalism Prize).
I'm not the first to make the connection between journalism and the role of the ancient prophet. See this article on Jewish sources for journalistic ethics. The author writes,
"The free press justifies its existence in terms of moral imperatives..."
"Justice, justice shalt thou pursue" (Deut. 16:20) commanded G-d of the Israelites, and Isaiah was one of the most eloquent of prophets to fulfill his mandate as a voice for justice. Isaiah was commanded to "Cry aloud, spare not; Lift up your voice like a trumpet." (Isaiah 58:1) He did, and called on the Children of Israel to "Learn to do well -- seek justice, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow." (Isaiah 1:17) In modern terms, Isaiah asked that the rights of the most vulnerable parts of society be vigorously protected.
Abraham Joshua Heschel, the 20th Century thinker, said of the prophets: "In a sense, the calling of the prophet may be described as that of an advocate or champion, speaking for those who are too weak to plead their own cause. Indeed, the major activity of the prophets was interference, demonstrating about wrongs inflicted on other people, meddling in affairs which were seemingly neither their concern nor their responsibility." As a quality newspaper would do, "prophets remind us of the moral state of the people: Few are guilty, but all are responsible."
There is also an inherent distrust of government by the prophets. "Be careful with the government authorities as they do not come close to a person but for their own need." (Avot 2:3) Furthermore, the prophet Samuel pleaded with the people not to call for a king. And Isaiah lamented "O, my people, your leaders mislead you, And confuse the course of your paths." (3:12)
The prophets were also the first to bring the written word to the people. "Write the vision; Make it plain upon tablets," commands the prophet Habakkuk (2:2). After the Babylonian exile, the prophets introduced public readings of the Five Books of Moses in Jerusalem thus bringing the written word from the elite of society to the masses. Also institutionalized within Judaism is the ceremony of Hakel, where the king appears before the entire people to read from the Bible.
I knew it 25 years ago and I realized it again today. Being a journalist has made me a better rabbi - and being a rabbi has made me a better human being.
Parshat Korach from G-dcast.com
More Torah cartoons at www.g-dcast.com
Gabrielle also located a link recalling Michael Jackson's relationship with noted Rabbi Shmuley Boteach. See Rabbi Shmuley on the Gloved One, z''l.
The LA Jewish Journal has more on its blog, asking, was Jackson a Jew?
No, but Michael Jackson’s ex-wife, Debbie Rowe, considered herself Jewish. I’m not sure if she would be recognized by a beit din, but if so, that would make her kids with Jacko, Paris and Prince, Jewish.
Jackson, though not Jewish, once considered rockstar Rabbi Shmuley Boteach a close friend, though in recent years Jackson got in trouble for saying things like about Jews like “They suck…they’re like leeches. It’s a conspiracy. The Jews do it on purpose.“
Boteach, whose office has been getting overwhelmed with calls since news of Jackson’s collapse broke less than an hour ago, is in Iceland and couldn’t be reached on his cell. But here is an excerpt from a rare interview Boteach did with the SomethingJewish message board about his friendship with Jackson:
In the AJPA category, "Award for Excellence in a Single Commentary," I won for the blog entry, "An Open Letter to Malcolm Hoenlein ," calling on Jewish community leaders to initiate procedures leading to the excommunication of Bernard Madoff. The article appeared initially on this blog, but it was later distributed widely by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA), so the column was awarded in the category for newspapers, magazines and websites with circulation of over 15,000.
In the award winning article, I wrote, "Our own children are watching us. If the communal response to Madoff is concerted, unified and reasonable, this could be American Jewry’s finest hour. If not, it will be the continuation of our worst nightmare."
The AJPA receives over 800 submissions for the Rockower awards every year in 15 categories that include news reporting, investigative journalism, cartooning, feature writing, and commentary. The Rockowers are considered the highest honor in Jewish journalism.
The American Jewish Press Association was founded in 1944 as a voluntary not-for-profit professional association for the English-language Jewish Press in North America. Its membership currently consists of about 250 newspapers, magazines, individual journalists and affiliated organizations throughout the United States and Canada. AJPA member publications reach a combined readership of more than 2.5 million. The AJPA mission has remained constant over the years: to enhance the status of American Jewish journalism and to provide a forum for the exchange of ideas and cooperative activities among the American Jewish press. The Simon Rockower Awards for Excellence in Jewish Journalism are given out at the AJPA’s annual conference at the end of June. Known to some as the ‘Jewish Pulitzers,’ the awards were initiated in 1980 to promote quality Jewish journalism. www.ajpa.org
I am humbled to be recognized in this way, as I felt that my comments on Madoff resonated with so many - Jews and others - who felt frustrated at the paralysis reflected in the initial responses of Jewish leaders to this cataclysm. It was my own congregants who inspired me to be more vocal on this topic. I hope that this honor might inspire others to speak out.
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Little did I know until recently that part of the Sh’ma is found in my portion – and in fact, I just read it as my maftir! The third paragraph of the Sh’ma is found at the very end of my portion; this is the part that speaks about the tzitzit, the fringes found at the end of a tallit.
These tzitzit have many different meanings, but mostly, they are reminders of the 613 commandments.
But this paragraph doesn’t just remind us about all good things we’re supposed to do. It also teaches us how to do them.
Very often, people will do favors for others hoping to get a reward. People do it all the time. It’s an old custom when kids begin their formal Jewish studies, to dip Hebrew letters into honey so that the study of Torah will be sweet for them. We have a similar custom here at Beth El. When we contribute to a class discussion, our teacher gives us M and M’s. I know that I would contribute even without the M and M’s! But it’s nice to have them too.
Well, in the paragraph from our portion, the Torah tells us that we should wear the tzitizt, “Le’m’a’an tizzzkeru,” so that we will be reminded. In other words, so that we will remember that God rescued us from Egypt and then gave us these commandments. It is traditional to stretch out the “z” sound in Tizzzkeru, because if we mistakenly pronounce it “tisskeru,” with an “s” instead of a “z,” then it would mean “you shall be rewarded,” which implies that the only reason to follow the commandments would be to get a reward.
That’s something we should try to avoid. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “The reward of a thing well done is to have done it.”
I agree with that completely, and I’ve learned this recently in many ways. First, as part of my mitzvah project, I’ve been going to Greenwich Woods Nursing Home and visiting senior citizens there. I usually spend about two hours there, mostly helping them with their bowling, using a Wii video game. There’s one person there named Theresa, who always asks for me. I’ve developed a real bond with her. Last month, when I visited her, she offered to buy me a soda and I said, “No, that’s OK.” This was before I had even studied about the tzitzit, but I understood already that I was getting so much out of this, simply from seeing her be happy, that I did need any reward. That was reward enough.
Generally speaking, I like making people happy and often will cheer people up when they are in a bad mood. Sometimes when a young child is unhappy and makes a frown, I mimic their face, and most of the time it makes them laugh.
I’ve learned about how to do this kind of mitzvah from my dad. He often goes away to identify the remains of people who have died in tragedies like Hurricane Katrina or the nightclub fire near Providence. I know that one reason he did this was to set an example for me. But it wasn’t just an example of how to do a good deed – it was an example of why. There was no reward for all his efforts, except for the reward of knowing he had helped the families of the dead.
So it is true that I have learned the lesson taught by the paragraph regarding tzitzit in my portion. But I wouldn’t want to carry this thing too far. As I become a bar mitzvah today, I know that I am not leading these prayers because I’m hoping to be rewarded with lots of gifts. But you shouldn’t feel that you have to go through all the trouble of returning those gifts either! And keep in mind that I’ll be donating the money that we saved by making my bar mitzvah invitations myself to a number of medical charities: American Heart Association, Memorial Sloane Kettering Cancer Center, Tourette’s Foundation, and Cystic Fibrosis.
Friday, June 19, 2009
Re:Trader Joe's Boycott
Dear Colleagues, It has come to our attention that the anti-Israel groups under the umbrella of the "U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel" recently sent form letters to Trader Joe's headquarters demanding the company stop carrying Israeli products as these products "help fund an economy based on illegal occupation and apartheid."
The Anti-Defamation League Central Pacific office sent a letter to Trader Joe's and received a response from Jon Basalone, Trader Joe's Senior Vice President of Marketing. He wrote, "We have received a few letters [threatening a boycott] like this via our customer relations email. Our response is that we sell products, and do not use our products as political tools or to make any statements about any political causes. We have no intention of removing any products based on pressure from any group, no matter what they support or don't support. As always, we believe our customers are smart, and they are capable of making decisions about what they purchase."
Anti-Israel activists in Pittsburgh walked into a Trader Joe's and proceeded to pull Israeli goods and distribute misinformation materials to customers before being removed for trespassing. Additionally we have heard word about this from the JCRCs in Nashville and Silicon Valley. The anti-Israel groups have called for a national day of de-shelving Israeli products from Trader Joe's stores on Saturday, June 20, World Refugee Day. We are asking you to do the following:
1. Alert your community members and encourage them to shop at Trader Joe's stores and to specifically buy Israeli products, particularly before and during the weekend of June 20. It would be fantastic if all the Israeli products are gone before the boycotters arrive. Israeli products carried at Trader Joe's include: Dorot Crushed Garlic, Dorot Chopped Cilantro, Holyland Matzos, Pastures of Eden Feta Imported, Trader Joe's Israeli Couscous and Trader Joe's Harvest Grains Blend.
2. Tell managers at Trader Joe's stores that you really like the Israeli products they carry and hope they will carry more in the future.
3. Alert managers that June 20 has been declared as a day to de-shelve Israeli products and they should be aware of any people who may try to vandalize, shoplift, or deface the products in any way.
4. Write a letter of thanks to Trader Joe's national headquarters on their contact page here or by mail to: Don Bane, Chairman and CEO Doug Rauch, President Charles J. Pilliter, SVP Operations Trader Joe's Main Headquarters800 S. Shamrock Ave.Monrovia, CA 91016Below you will find sample text: It has recently come to my attention that anti-Israel groups called for a boycott of Israeli products in your stores. I want to thank you for not giving into this pressure and for carrying products from Israel that I and so many others enjoy across the country. I will continue to buy these goods and others from your stores.
It's easy enough to know a general rule. It's easy enough to know that sometimes there are exceptions. The tricky part is deciding what counts as an exception.
"Although it is almost always wrong to speak lashon hara [negative words; gossip], there is one time it is permitted to do so: when the person to whom we are speaking has a legitimate need to know something negative about another... For example, it is permitted to speak lashon hara... when someone consults with us on whether or not she should hire a certain person for a job... We are also permitted to speak lashon hara in a therapeutic setting, when speaking, for example, to a psychologist or psychiatrist... We are obligated to relate lashon hara to help an innocent victim who will suffer an injustice if the truth is not made known." (A Code of Jewish Ethics, Volume 1: You Shall Be Holy, p.366-7)
Imagine you have a friend (call her Abby) who casually (but not jokingly) makes a very bigoted remark to you about a certain ethnic group. You point out that this is offensive, and Abby shrugs and makes what seems to you to be a glib and unserious apology. A week later, you are speaking to another friend (call her Zelda), who mentions that she enjoys spending time with Abby. Zelda belongs to the very ethnic group which you heard Abby disparage.
Is this a case in which the person (Zelda) has a legitimate need to know negative gossip (what Abby said)? Or should you say nothing?
If you were Zelda, would you want to know what Abby said? If you were Abby, would you want to be given the benefit of the doubt, and the chance to form a friendship with Zelda without being stymied by having made one ill-considered remark?
What general guidelines should we set in order to determine what constitutes a legitimate need to know?
Join the conversation at http://www.facebook.com/topic.php?topic=9053&uid=56295256706
(Meanwhile, Siegel's work continues independently and can be seen at his website, http://www.dannysiegel.com/.)
This site is a MUST for all bar mitzvah families, and in fact for the rest of us too. The layout is vastly improved from the old Ziv site, but the mitzvah options remain equally inspiring. Read about Clara Hammer, the “Chicken Lady” of Jerusalem. Clara’s story is a legend that has been shared with many people throughout this country, especially religious and day school students who contribute tzedakah to her work.
Many years ago, while visiting her butcher, Mr. Hacker, Clara witnessed him handing over a bag of chicken bones and skin to a young girl. Commenting to him that the girl must own many cats, the butcher replied that the bag’s contents were actually for the family to use to prepare a Shabbat cholent. He went on to explain that the father and mother were not well and had not worked in a very long time. Though he had extended credit to them, he could no longer do so. Clara was appalled that anyone would have to eat such garbage and instructed Mr. Hacker to give the girl two chickens and a half kilo of chopped meat weekly so that they could have a proper
Shabbat. No one was to know the identity of the donor.
Clara has been performing the mitzvah of feeding hungry people for almost 30 years. (she was merely 69 when she actually started this particular mitzvah). She's 99 now!
And we at TBE can take particular pride in The Forgotten People Fund, involving our own mitzvah hero, Jan Gaines. Here's what the guide has to say about that:
The Forgotten People Fund is an all-volunteer group that works in Netanya, home to Israel’s largest Ethiopian population, most living in very poor conditions. FPF volunteers, led by our friends Aida Miller and Anne and David Silverman, establish personal relationships with many individuals and families and offer them friendship and also help with food, education costs, health education, clothing…the list is endless. They are a true lifesaver for so many in that city. When we visited Israel this past February we enjoyed a visit with Aida and Jan Gaines, one of the American volunteers who spend severalmonths inNetanya. It was inspiring to hear about the group’s many programs particularly the work they do with senior Ethiopians—lectures, a choir, an ulpan and a nutritious breakfast that is served three days a week. This past year the group celebrated its 10th Anniversary and also received an award for outstanding volunteer service from Netanya’smayor.We have always been proud of the work that we do with the FPF—they are all-volunteer and nearly 100% of the funds they raise are directed to helping families and individuals with their most basic needs. We can’t wait for the 20th anniversary celebration!
Read about these and many other mitzvah opportunties, as we at TBE begin the Year of the Mitzvah and our participation in JTS Chancellor Arnold Eisen's "Mitzvah Initiative," which you will soon be reading about.
Bethphage (meaning "House of Figs") was a place in ancient Israel, mentioned as the place from which Jesus sent the disciples to find a donkey and a colt with her upon which he would ride into Jerusalem. It is believed to have been located on the Mount of Olives, on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho (Gospel of Matthew 21:1; Gospel of Mark 11:1; Gospel of Luke 19:29), and very close to Bethany. It was the limit of a Sabbath-day's journey from Jerusalem, that is, 2,000 cubits.
It's interesting that this Bethpage is also not far from Jericho...by way of Levittown.
I could have used a donkey yesterday as I trudged toward the fifth green, with my son Ethan and with our friends Rob and Max Lesser joining us. By the time play was halted late in the morning, there were more water traps than greens. We got to see Tiger Woods double bogey, and the water was so deep that, had he wished to add yet another layer to his fascinating. polyglot multi-ethnic profile, I could have converted him in a flash. It was so wet and muddy, and the throngs so cordial and well-behaved, that I suspected they might change the name of the place to "Woods-stock." There was something comforting in seeing that the greatest golfer in the universe is actually human.
So here's the rub. The biblical Bethpage is in precisely the area that is of greatest controversy right now in the discussion about the "natural growth" of Israeli settlements. It so happens that the matter is discussed today in two articles:
Israel Seeks to Keep Jerusalem as Its Capital - Luis Ramirez
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in his recent speech, proclaimed Israel's intentions to keep Jerusalem as the united capital of the Jewish state. An Israeli development plan - known as E-1 - seeks to link Jerusalem to Maale Adumim, Israel's largest settlement in the West Bank. With its dry rocky hills, much of this swathe of land resembles a moonscape. Its terrain is barren and unfit for farming, yet its political and religious value is such that for years, Israel has been determined to develop it. Israel's aim is to protect the contiguity of Jerusalem. Author Nadav Shragai, a proponent of E-1, disputes the Palestinians' claims to the eastern part of Jerusalem as the capital of their future state. (VOA News)
See also Protecting the Contiguity of Israel: The E-1 Area and the Link Between Jerusalem and Maale Adumim - Nadav Shragai (ICA-Jerusalem Center)
Here's my idea. If the terrain is a moonscape, unfit for farming, why not turn it into a golf course?
It will solve the President's problem, since he is so concerned about preventing "natural growth" of Jewish settlements, because there is no "natural growth" of a golf course beyond 18 holes, )(even though people did notice that the course has gotten mysteriously longer since it last hosted the Open in 2002). It will satisfy the settlers, because a "par" (a bullock) was one of the animals brought to the Temple for sacrifice, so this golf course could in this way be seen as the first step toward the establishment of the Third Commonwealth.
And if it doesn't work out there, perhaps we might consider rebuilding the temple closer to the other Bethpage, in the Five Towns.
What does this plan offer the Palestinians? Not since the loss of the casino in Jericho has an investment chance like this come along. A golf tournament in this Bethpage would never get rained on. This would be a REAL Desert Classic, with spectacular sand traps and camels as caddies.
I think this has real possibilities.
At the very least, this thought kept me entertained while I sloshed my way through the Long Island swamps, on a very wet day at the Open.
I am in awe of the courage of the people of Iran.
They are giving the world hope. They are teaching a shocking lesson about truth. They embody freedom. And, perhaps hardest to grasp, for those of us who live in the Middle East, they are putting their very lives on the line not for the sake of some ferociously sectarian End of Days, but for the most profoundly radical notion of all - a better life. Every person who has taken to the streets to demand what their government promised them, free and fair elections, did so knowing that police or secret police could arrest them, act to cripple their careers, or outright gun them down.
Imagine saying these words just a week ago.
OK, now here's another switch. I'm beginning to see the hand of God in all this. Yes me. Mr. "Fundamentalists are Dangerous." I've always shied away from the apocalyptic visions that saw God's hand in current events, like theory that God protected Israelis from Scud missiles during the Gulf War. We've seen how the messianic euphoria that followed of the Six Day War led Israelis into delusions of chosenness as they went out to settle the territories.
But here, just in the nick of time, just as Iran's evil (yes, it is possible to use that term, where it applies) leaders were about to become drunk with nuclear power, their own people are doing what no Israeli jet could. They are draining the madness from the maddest place on earth. They are going straight from medieval to post modern. They are fundamentally changing the map of the middle eastern mind. And in doing so, they are changing the world.
All I can say to that, is "thank God."
I share the wariness that even the moderates in Iran could be as dangerous to Israel; and had the election been decided in favor of Mousavi last week, that would likely have been true. But to say that even these moderates developed the Iranian nuclear plan a decade ago is to ignore the forces of change that have been unleashed over the past weeks, and in particular this week (After all, Shimon Peres developed Israel's nuclear program and is now known for his dovish inclinations).
Something is happening here. We look back at 1948, 1967, Entebbe, yes, the Gulf War, the suicide bombings, all the horrors Israel has faced...and this Iranian threat seemed to be the most lethal of all.
We are far from the finish line. The dangers are great. I am the last to assume that I know God's ways. But how can one not see history tilting toward freedom and - at the very least - shake your head in amazement.
I too am praying for the Iranians.
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
I commend TBE congregant Artie Selkowitz for questioning in a letter to the editor today, Where's the coverage of good news? Also see TBE congregant Lynn Villency Cohen's letter. This is not to excuse any vandalism or inappropriate sexual behavior that may have gone on. These issues are long-term, not just for bar mitzvah parties, but for all teen activities. The things I hear about the way people "grind" at proms, for instance, are equally troubling, as is the general culture of "hooking up" that has become so prevalent. These might be fodder for a general article about the lack of modesty and respect for other human beings and property that are so noticeable in the behavior of some teens (and adults too).
But front page news? C'mon! I've been the first to critique excesses at these events (seeBar Mitzvahs Play Better Off Broadway (Jewish Week, 12/19/08) and Have We Gone Overboard? )but specifically to tie this type of misbehavior into Bar Mitzvah is equivalent to saying that because there was rioting in L.A. following the Lakers' championship the other day, the NBA somehow is evil and corrupt. I won't raise the banner of anti-Semitism, but why focus on a party that happens to occur after a particular religious event as opposed to any other teen party where similar (or worse) things might happen?
I'm not blind to the fact that our own students are capable of this kind of thing (though no TBE kids were mentioned in the article), but I've noticed a distinctly positive trend in the way families approach this event over recent years, and in particular this year. The over-the-top parties have fallen victim to the bad economy (even those who have the money see it as being in bad taste) in favor of more spiritual values. Our kids understand that as well. I've seen far less "bar" as the saying goes, and much more "mitzvah."
Here's what I said in my charge to last week's bat mitzvah, in fact (responding to her speech, which is below):
Amber, you are fearless! Let me tell you a story about courage and gymnastics…
You might just be the best Jewish female gymnast since Kerri Strug. Kerri helped the US team win gold at the Athens Olympics about one month after you were born.
It all came down to one jump. And who takes it? Kerri, the indomitable Jewish girl from Arizona. But her ankle is injured. Should she jump? Should she risk possible permanent injury for the sake of her team, her country?
When I first read the news story that Kerri was Jewish, I laughed until I cried. It described how the rabbi of Kerri's synagogue led the congregation in a special healing prayer for her following her epic/tragic leap. Her rabbi commented to the reporter, "As an American and as a Jew, I was proud." It turns out the Strugs had been members of the congregation since 1988.
It turns out the rabbi had never met Kerri Strug.The story concluded, "Strug's mother said her daughter did not attend the synagogue's religious school or become bat mitzvah there because she was too busy."
OK – so what is the true measure of courage? Right here! It’s being able to do all those flips on the balance beam and THEN chanting a mean haftarah.
No, not mean… there isn’t anything mean about you, Amber.
In an NBC soap-essay called "The Kerri Strug Story," the Strugs admitted that they often close their eyes when their daughter performs. They cannot bear to see what might happen, yet they've never tried to stop her, even when she once suffered a nearly catastrophic injury. They have placed their child in a position of maximal risk and closed their eyes to the responsibility.
Had Kerri become bat mitzvah, I believe her folks would have found it an eye-opening experience.On this pulpit, we see Olympian drama almost every week, as newly-crowned adolescents ascend spiritual peaks to do battle with their own limitations, the world's expectations and their swiftly developing sense of self; and they emerge not maimed but triumphant. It is a triumph that endures not for four years but for a lifetime. It is a personal best that doesn't place the victor on a winner's pedestal, but shoulder to shoulder with a hundred generations.
Not bad, huh.
You said in your booklet that if gymnastics were easy it would be called football. Yes, but if being a Jew were easy it would be called gymnastics! Have the courage to be a Jew – face each day like those people in Sderot. And we will all be there to cheer you on to the medal stand.
There are lots of things wrong with our culture Bar Mitzvahs are not among them.
TBE member and Advocate columnist Malerie Yolen Cohen, incensed over the Advocate lead story, gave me permission to include this e-mail that she wrote yesterday to the Advocate's op-ed editor.
I'm writing to you today not as a (former) columnist, but as a reader of the Stamford Advocate to protest the lead story in today's paper (Tues. June 16th).
Police: Bat mitzvah goes awry
I found this article to be objectionable on so many levels, primarily because it shouldn't have been published in the first place, especially on the front page just below the banner. Right off the bat, I can think of half a dozen reasons for this;
1. The story is three days old
2. No one was maimed or killed
3. The principal players were not from Stamford
4. The setting was not in Stamford
5. The piece was written National Enquirer sensationalist-style where allegations and hearsay serve as facts
6. If editors wanted to go with it, this story should have been a small item buried on page 4.
John, you know me and my writing. Over the years, I've celebrated the wonderful diversity in our community and general respect that religious groups here show to each other. So to see this piece, which clearly identifies a "Jewish coming of age" ceremony as impetus for debauchery and destruction, greatly concerns me especially in light of what happened at the Holocaust Museum last week. It just gives nut jobs with guns an excuse to go Jew hunting.
A much better lead story would have been the one on page 3 about the Avon Theater; a success story, a Stamford institution and an uplifting UNIFYING feature!
Thanks for reading,
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
In this week’s parsha, בהעלתך- B’nai Yisrael complained about the lack of food in the desert. They remembered fondly the fish and vegetables that they had back in Egypt. They were so afraid of not surviving that they were willing to go back to Egypt and be slaves again.
It’s natural to want to turn back when you are afraid, but it is important to be able to move on. The only way to move on is by learning how to overcome fear.
For me, fear comes in the form of a big science test or getting a shot. But if you ask a kid from Sderot what fear means, they’ll talk about not making it to school or a parent not making it home. Fear can be captured in the 15 seconds between the sound of the siren and the crash of the rocket.
For my mitzvah project I helped to organize a walk raising money to send children in Sderot to summer camps, far the fear of rockets. We raised about $5,000 – and we are still collecting, if you would like to donate.
A fear that I’ve had to overcome was in gymnastics. For those who don’t know me that well, I love gymnastics and have been competing since I was 8. Right now I’m ranked first on bars for my level and age group in the state. Even now, I still have to overcome fears when I do new skills and sometimes even old ones. So I had to overcome the fear of doing my first flyaway on bars (that’s when you let go and flip in the air), and I’m still afraid of it today – but I always get it right. On the balance beam, I used to find a back walkover scary when I’m on high beam, which is four feet high and four inches wide. But now that I’ve got the hang of it, I hardly ever fall. On floor exercises, there’s the round-off back-handspring back-tuck. I used to be scared of it, but now I can do it anywhere. In fact, my mom suggested that I do it as my entrance at the party. The rabbi even said it would be Ok to do it right here. But I said, “It’s OK.”
Believe it or not, the best training I’ve had at overcoming fear has been at a place my family visits a lot: Disney. When I was little I used to be afraid of all the roller coasters, but after I went on Rock and Roll roller coaster, followed by Tower of Terror and Mount Everest, now I can go on every ride in the park and not be scared.
Despite all the experiences I’ve had with fear, I can’t imagine how they must feel in Sderot. But that’s what makes me all the more determined to help kids there live a normal life. No child deserves to live in fear – anywhere. As a bat mitzvah, I will do my best to help make this kind of world possible.
Friday, June 12, 2009
One theme emerging in the Israeli press and elsewhere is that a win for the Iranian "reformers" would likely not change Iran's policies re. nukes and the support of terror. I'm no expert on these things, but it seems to me that when such powerful popular forces are unleashed, it would be hard for any leader to disregard the message being received. And Mousavi has clearly stated his opposition to Holocaust denial and the international isolation Iran has endured. Most of his message has been economic, but he's also been playing to a deep resentment of the international perception of Iran's radicalism. Whether Mousavi is just a wolf in sheep's clothing remains to be seen - and tested - if he wins. But given the choice between one who has expressed less dangerous views and one openly calling for the destruction of Israel, give me the sheep's clothing any day. The mere fact that he realizes that he's got to put on that clothing is a positive sign that he - and Iran - can be reached.
And after all, the clothes make the man.
Israel to Outline Conditions for Palestinian State - Eli LakeIsraeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will accept the notion of a Palestinian state under strict conditions, Israeli officials and Americans briefed on the Israeli leader's thinking said Thursday. Mr. Netanyahu will deliver a major speech Sunday setting Israeli parameters for recognizing Palestinian sovereignty. The officials said Mr. Netanyahu will emphasize Palestinian obligations under the Roadmap - a three-phase process for negotiations initiated by the George W. Bush administration, which so far has not been followed. The conditions he is expected to put forward include: Any Palestinian state must be demilitarized, without an air force, full-fledged army or heavy weapons. Palestinians may not sign treaties with powers hostile to Israel. A Palestinian state must allow Israeli civilian and military aircraft unfettered access to Palestinian airspace, allow Israel to retain control of the airwaves and to station Israeli troops on a future state's eastern and southern borders. (Washington Times)
Gazans Increasingly Frustrated with Hamas' Hard-Line Policies - Erin Cunningham Nearly six months after the fighting with Israel, Gazans are growing increasingly restless under Hamas rule. Many privately complain that Hamas' hard-line approach with both Israel and the rival Palestinian party, Fatah, has intensified their suffering. According to a poll conducted by the West Bank-based Bir Zeit University in May, just 23% of Palestinians in Gaza would vote for Hamas in a new parliamentary election, as opposed to to 37% for Fatah. "People who voted for Hamas did not know their real policies. And if they knew the consequences of these policies, they wouldn't have voted for them," says Abu Khaled, a Gaza City shop owner. (Christian Science Monitor)
Mousavi Win Wouldn't Stop Iran's Nuke Drive, Israel Warns - Yaakov KatzSenior Israeli defense officials stress that the outcome of the Iranian elections on Friday is unlikely to have any impact on Tehran's continued race toward nuclear power. If elected, Mir Hossein Mousavi, who helped lay the foundations of the country's atomic program when he was prime minister from 1981 to 1989, may succeed in "laundering" the program in a dialogue with the U.S., the officials fear. Some officials are concerned that Iran will be allowed to build and operate nuclear reactors like Japan - which has reactors but no weapons. This would put the Islamic republic a turn of the dial on the centrifuges and mere months away from an atomic bomb. (Jerusalem Post) See also All Iran Candidates Will Bolster Hamas, Hizbullah Ties - Zvi Bar'el (Ha'aretz)
Poll: 56% of Israelis Back Settlement ConstructionNearly six of every 10 Israelis think Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should resist U.S. demands to completely freeze construction in Jewish West Bank settlements, according to a new poll released Friday by the Maagar Mohot Polling Institute. 56% said Netanyahu should not consent to the American demand, as opposed to 37% who said he should. 50% said failure to comply would not provoke a crisis with the U.S., while 32% said they thought it would. Maagar Mohot also found in a separate poll that two-thirds of Israelis have little appetite for dismantling West Bank settlements. 36% oppose any evacuation as part of a final peace deal and 30% said only a small number should be dismantled. (AP/Ha'aretz) See also Poll: 69% of Israelis Oppose Dividing JerusalemAccording to a poll carried out on 10-11 June by the Maagar Mohot Polling Institute, 69% oppose, while 18% support, rescinding Israeli sovereignty over the Old City and other parts of Jerusalem. (IMRA)
What Would Come After a Settlement Freeze? - Mitchell BardShould Jewish communities be uprooted from the West Bank? If so, this endorses the Palestinian idea that Jews should not be allowed to live in the state of Palestine. Does President Obama want to endorse the idea that Jews can live anywhere in the world except in the country America helped create? Must Israel dismantle cities such as Ma'ale Adumim with a population comparable to Annapolis, Md.? Most Israelis believe the settlement blocs should be incorporated into Israel. The Israelis have fought three wars in the last nine years during which more than 1,000 of their people were killed. They continue to face terrorist threats and rocket bombardments. Does the Obama administration expect them to accept the possibility of a Palestinian state in the West Bank with the capability of launching rockets into Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, or targeting commercial jets at Ben-Gurion Airport? Finally, will pressuring Israel change the attitude of the Arabs to abandon six decades of hostility? Will the radical Islamists of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hizbullah suddenly accept a Jewish state in the Muslim heartland? (JTA)
OPINION / Netanyahu turned Palestinian statehood into bargaining chip
Had PM agreed to settlement freeze from outset, he'd have forced Obama to demand more concessions.
Rightist MK: PM's policy speech won't cause 'earthquake'
Netanyahu consults with Habayit Hayehudi, Shas, prominent authors ahead of upcoming address.
Needed: An Affirmation of Israel's Historical Right to Exist - Judea Pearl (Wall Street Journal)
Thursday, June 11, 2009
This Orthodox website, http://www.meahbrachos.com/ actually counts them out for you, by presenting charts which list all the blessings recited at a given service (blessings are liturgical phrases that begin, generally, with "Baruch ata Adonai," and then adding to that blessings typically recited at meals and for witnessing natural phenomena.
Take a look at the charts and try to figure out where you might find 100 blessings in your day - and how, by doing that, each day can become all the more meaningful for you, and each moment imbued with sanctity.
A little commercial... by coming to our morning minyan, you can knock off a good 25 or so of them without batting an eye. 7:30 on weekdays, 9 on Sundays. It's a regular bless fest!
And tonight I've gotten off to a good start. I'm starting my Friday with eight blessings already - one for each Red Sox win over the Yankees so far this season!
This Sunday, the religious community of lower Fairfield County will be staging a vigil opposing the death penalty and the governor's decision. It will take place at Latham Park in Stamford at 5:00 PM, and I am hoping to attend.
SO WHAT DOES JEWISH LAW SAY? (Ecxerpts from the Religious Action Center)
Biblical law mandates the death penalty for 36 offenses. These include a broad range of crimes from murder to kidnapping, adultery to incest, certain forms of rape, idolatrous worship and public incitement to apostasy, from disrespecting parents to desecrating the Sabbath.
Rabbinic interpretations effectively abolished the death penalty centuries ago. Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5 stresses the importance of presenting completely accurate testimony in capital cases, for any mistakes or falsehoods could result in the shedding of innocent blood. If any perjury were to cause an execution, "the blood of the accused and his unborn offspring stain the perjurer forever."
The passage goes on to liken wrongful executions to Cain killing Abel, concluding that - it is for this reason that God created only one human in the beginning, a token that he who destroys one life, it is as though he had destroyed all humankind; whereas he who preserves one life, it is as though he preserved all humanity."
Furthermore, the rabbis of the Talmud ruled that capital cases required a 23-judge court, while only three judges sat for non-capital cases (Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:1). Two or more eyewitnesses were required to testify to the defendant's guilt, bearing in mind that it was their hands that would, "be the first against him to put him to death" (Deuteronomy 17:6-7). In a capital case, a one-vote majority could acquit a defendant, but could not convict. Furthermore, if there was a mere one-vote majority or if any judge was undecided, additional judges were added in pairs until the majority ruled against conviction, or until one judge in favor of conviction was persuaded to err on the side of innocence (Mishnah Sanhedrin 5:5).
In practice, these guidelines made applying the death penalty nearly impossible.
In another passage, the rabbis show distaste for executions. "Said one: The Sanhedrin (Supreme Court) that puts to death one person in seven years is termed tyrannical. Rabbi Eleazar Ben Azariah says, ‘One person in seventy years.’ Rabbi Tarffon and Rabbi Akiba say, ‘If we had been in the Sanhedrin, no one would have ever been put to death.’ Rabban Simeon Ben Gamaliel says, ‘They would have thereby increased the shedders of blood in Israel (Mishnah Makkot 1:10).’"
While the last line indicates a belief that the death penalty, if carried out judiciously, can be a deterrent, prevailing Jewish thought in every movement has followed the previous opinions, which either oppose the death penalty outright, or allow for it only in the most extreme -- once in seventy years -- circumstances. Following this line of thinking, the major Jewish movements in the United States all have specific policy supporting either abolition of the death penalty, or a moratorium on its use.
In case of rain, the vigil will be held in the First Congregational Church, just across the street on Bedford St.
He'll be delivering the speech at Bar Ilan University at 1:00 PM on Sunday. You can watch the speech live on Bar-Ilan University's website: www.biu.ac.il/live and see BIU BESA Center analysis of the speech and US-Israel relations starting next week at www.afbiu.org.
I compared a verse in the portion to a song from the Broadway show: (Numbers 6:5):
All the days of his vow of Naziriteship there shall no razor come upon his head; until the days be fulfilled, in which he consecrateth himself unto the LORD, he shall be holy, he shall let the locks of the hair of his head grow long.
On the one hand, long hair means rebellion and on the other (the Nazerite), submission - but in each case there is a passion that goes beyond the routine, a religious fervor leading to the desire to stand out from the crowd, and a yearning for holiness - a drive to get back to the Garden. There could well have been lots of Nazerites at Woodstock. They would have felt pretty comfortable there, as long as no one passed them any wine.
You can find more about Jews and Hair in an article entitled: "Hair Apparent: A Guide to Jewish Hair." An excerpt, which makes reference to other aspects of last Shabbat's Torah and prophetic portions:
The Power of Hair: The Samson Syndrome
Mournful Hair: Let It All Grow
Beards and Side Curls: The Face of Hair
Three Years Old and never been trimmed!
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Singing. Davening. Swaying back and forth. Asking for a favor. Please, God -- let me get an "A" on this test....
Half slice-of-life and half anthropology, "How Jews Pray" checks out what we talk (and think) about when we pray, what it means when we do -- and whether anyone's on the receiving end.
Tuesday, June 9, 2009
And yet, despite all this innovation, Tablet is closely tethered to the past. We seek inspiration and owe gratitude to sources as diverse as the pioneering magazines and “big idea books” of the 1960s and 70s, the robust Yiddish (and Ladino!) dailies of the Lower East Side at the turn of the last century, and, of course, the tablets themselves—the first medium of Western civilization, whose message remains deeply relevant to our lives today.