Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Judaism's Ups and Downs

I knew that being Jewish had its ups and downs, but the "ups" are about to become very painful if a new rabbinical ban on Sabbath elevators is allowed to stand. This Ha'aretz article points out that the ban has elicited much criticism from within the ultra Orthodox world. If the ban holds, it will create havoc among those living in high rises in Jerusalem and Manhattan. Jerusalem hotels could conceivably lose their kashrut certification for having such elevators. Being a stiff necked people wasn't supposed to also involve stiff backs. But on the bright side, Israel might well rival Kenya as the preeminent world marathon power by the 2012 London Olympics.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Yom Kippur Sermons 5770, and Follow Up Comments

You can find the complete text of my Yom Kippur sermons by clicking here. Rosh Hashanah sermons texts can be found here and Rosh Hashanah audio here.

Kol Nidre Sermon: "Mitzvah, Money and Madoff" Stream



Yom Kippur Day: "Mitzvah and Mindfulness: God's Tweets" Stream



Regarding the Kol Nidre sermon, I received an e-mail from a congregant yesterday expressing concern about my comments regarding Hadassah. Since undoubtedly there are others out there sharing that concern, it would be worthwhile to reprint here what I replied to that congregant:

Thanks for your input and I can see how my comments regarding Hadassah might have been construed as being harsh. I tried to make clear my love and admiration for the work Hadassah does, which only compounded my disappointment in how they’ve handled this entire matter (the affair between their former CFO and Bernard Madoff) – a disappointment that I’ve heard from a number of Hadassah members. In setting Hadassah as an example for many other organizations, I do see how it could be perceived that I was singling it out unfairly, and apologize if that impression came through more forcefully than was intended.

I stand behind the facts of what I said, though, and think I tried to make it clear they were not directed toward any particular members of Hadassah, (which would include my mother in law and Mara, who are life members), but to the organization’s leadership.

Let’s hope this will be a better year for Hadassah and for all Jewish organizations.

Again, thanks for your comments.


More generally: I consider that Kol Nidre sermon to be one of the most important I've ever given and am pleased at the many positive comments I've received, both in person and in writing. Some people have been struggling with these issues for years. Here's an excerpt from an e-mail received yesterday (slightly edited for clarity), from a congregant who, as he put it, was speaking from the heart:

I was so touched with your speech regarding the today's Jews... especially here in America, that are ruining the name of Judaism, the way they are conducting themselves in the eyes of all the nations. My long lasting hopes have been to see someone standing up and admitting it, which your speech did very professionally, and I am so happy that you have.

The reason I was so surprised was that for over 20 years I have been thinking about all the points you had made and was so frustrated all along, that I could not bring any awareness on the surface. I have been debating the topic with many people in Israel regarding this issues, all these years but have never been successful in having any American Jews to listen to me, not even once. But I feel at peace with myself now that I know there is this rabbi in Stamford Ct. who thinks the same as I have for many years. I thank you for setting my feelings straight so that I do not have to fight my inner soul any longer.

My ultimate hope is to see more voices on this topic all across the country in order to awaken the awareness in most people where our prioroties need to be. After all, all of your efforts as one voice will or can be an uphill battle and lead to more frustration.

We as a Jew, must live a careful life in every society we live in, to go through life under the radar.... Thank you for listening to me, and for all of your efforts to set our nation on the right path.

TBE Bar/Bat Mitzvah Commentary: Matthew Katz on Nitzavim Vayelech

A few week’s ago, I had the chance to see a game at the new Yankee Stadium. It was amazing and reminded me of how it felt the first time I saw the old stadium, back when I was about 6. Everything was perfect. The manicured grass was a perfect shade of green. The infield dirt was raked perfectly, not a pebble in sight, smooth and nice. I was amazed seeing the huge monitors in the outfield. I loved the smell of the peanuts – the entire atmosphere was indescribable.

How green it is, how perfect the field looks, how peaceful. It was like a scene out of “Field of Dreams.” A baseball field can be the next closest thing to heaven.

Amazing though it may seem, that exact same vision is described by the prophet Isaiah in my Haftorah. He could have been talking about how I felt when I went through the turnstiles at Yankee Stadium when he said, “Pass through, pass through the gates! Clear the road for all the people; build up the highway, remove the rocks…”

Of course, Isaiah never saw Yankee Stadium. He was actually a Red Sox fan. (The rabbi told me to say that). Look at the bible, where in Isaiah, Chapter 1, verse 18, he states, “If they are as red as crimson, they shall be wool.” He was either talking about the sins of Israel, or about his pick for the AL Pennant.

But in our verse, Isaiah describes how the land of Israel will not longer be desolate and forsaken – how beautiful it will look. And from all the pictures I’ve seen, it certainly does.


One way to highlight the beauty of a place is to build baseball fields. In “Field of Dreams,” Kevin
Costner says ‘If you build it they will come,” The founder of Zionism, Theodore Herzl, said almost the exact same thing about a century ago, long before the State of Israel was born: “If you will it, it is no dream.”


My dream is to combine both of those dreams and to make the land of Israel even more beautiful by helping to build baseball fields there.

It’s called “project Baseball,” and it’s being organized the Jewish National Fund, which has helped build the land in so many ways. I’ve raised over $2,000 so far to build new diamonds cities and towns all over Israel.


So you might be asking, why and I doing this?

In my portion, Nitzavim, Moses begins his speech, saying, “Atem Nitzavim hayom,” “You who are standing here today.” But the word used for “standing” also means to “take a stand.” Moses is telling us how important it is to stand up for what’s important to you. That’s exactly what I’m doing. Baseball and Israel are both important to me.

So, now you may be asking. what can baseball bring to Israel, and what about baseball do I love so much that I want to help build fields over there?

Here are four explanations.

o First, baseball teaches the importance of INTER-DEPENDENCE, something I’ve learned all about at camp, in school and on the field. You can be the greatest pitcher ever, (I’m not, but I’m pretty good), but if the shortstop can’t field, it won’t matter. Israelis also know how important it is to work together as a team. I learned that especially from my soldier Eran, who stayed with us about five years ago. Just about every Israeli goes into the army, and that’s where they really learn about the importance of teamwork.


o Secondly, baseball teaches sportsmanship. Many of us will remember that story about the girls softball team, when Western Oregon’s Sara Tucholsky suffered a knee injury when she hit a home run and the players on the opposing team carried her around the bases.

o Third, baseball teaches how important it is to have a level playing field, both in and outside the stadium. In Israel, the new baseball league is a place where all people can come together and get along:, rich and poor, Jews and Arabs, secular and religious, all playing a game that they all have to learn at the same time. If people can learn a sport together, it will help them to live together in peace.

o Finally, a baseball game is a great place to relax and appreciate nature. Much less intense than other sports, like soccer, basketball -- or politics (unless the Yankees and Red Sox happen to be playing).

So now you can see why I’ve chosen to honor baseball as I become a Bar Mitzvah today.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

God Texts the Ten Commandments

GOD TEXTS THE TEN COMMANDMENTS.
BY JAMIE QUATRO

1. no1 b4 me. srsly.
2. dnt wrshp pix/idols
3. no omg’s
4. no wrk on w/end (sat 4 now; sun l8r)
5. pos ok – ur m&d r cool
6. dnt kill ppl
7. :-X only w/ m8
8. dnt steal
9. dnt lie re: bf
10. dnt ogle ur bf’s m8. or ox. or dnkey. myob.
M, pls rite on tabs & giv 2 ppl.
ttyl, JHWH.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Hoffman Lecture: Will Israel Survive?"

Last night's Harold Hoffman Memorial Lecture, featuring Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal, could not have been more timely. Coming on the heels of the UN appearances of world leaders, and with today's news of secret Iranian nuclear facilities, an audience of about 500 needed to understand better just what Israel is confronting and how (and whether) she can overcome these significant challenges. I invite you to listen to the lecture and the Q & A that followed (unfortunately, the last few minutes were cut off):

The Lecture: Stream



Q & A: Stream



MP3 files of the lecture can be downloaded from our website, http://www.tbe.org/.

Netanyahu at the UN

Here are the main points and links to the entire text and video of Prime Minister Netanyahu's stirring speech at the UN yesterday.

Israel to the UN: The Jewish People Are Not Foreign Conquerors in the Land of Israel (Prime Minister's Office)


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the UN General Assembly on Thursday:

Nearly 62 years ago, the United Nations recognized the right of the Jews, an ancient people 3,500-years-old, to a state of their own in their ancestral homeland. Yesterday, the man [Ahmadinejad] who calls the Holocaust a lie spoke from this podium. To those who refused to come here and to those who left this room in protest, I commend you. You stood up for moral clarity and you brought honor to your countries.

The Iranian regime is fueled by an extreme fundamentalism that burst onto the world scene three decades ago. The struggle against this fanaticism pits civilization against barbarism, the 21st century against the 9th century, those who sanctify life against those who glorify death. If the most primitive fanaticism can acquire the most deadly weapons, the march of history could be reversed. The greatest threat facing the world today is the marriage between religious fanaticism and the weapons of mass destruction, and the most urgent challenge facing this body is to prevent the tyrants of Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

A recent UN report on Gaza falsely equated the terrorists with those they targeted. For eight long years, Hamas fired from Gaza thousands of missiles, mortars and rockets on nearby Israeli cities while not a single UN resolution was passed condemning those criminal attacks. In 2005, hoping to advance peace, Israel unilaterally withdrew from every inch of Gaza. We didn't get peace. Instead we got an Iranian-backed terror base fifty miles from Tel Aviv. Life in Israeli towns and cities next to Gaza became a nightmare.

All of Israel wants peace. If the Palestinians truly want peace, I and my government, and the people of Israel, will make peace. But we want a genuine peace, a defensible peace, a permanent peace. In 1947, this body voted to establish two states for two peoples - a Jewish state and an Arab state. The Jews accepted that resolution. The Arabs rejected it. We ask the Palestinians to finally do what they have refused to do for 62 years: Say yes to a Jewish state. The Jewish people are not foreign conquerors in the Land of Israel. This is the land of our forefathers.

We recognize that the Palestinians also live there and want a home of their own. We want to live side by side with them, two free peoples living in peace, prosperity and dignity. But we don't want another Gaza, another Iranian-backed terror base, abutting Jerusalem and perched on the hills a few kilometers from Tel Aviv. The Palestinians should have all the powers to govern themselves except those handful of powers that could endanger Israel.

Video: View Netanyahu's UN Speech (YouTube)

What’s So Bad About Gossip? A Yom Kippur Primer

I think we all know instinctively how dangerous gossip can be, but as we approach Yom Kippur, during which we recite confessional prayers mentioning this sin again and again, it’s a good time to brush up on what Jewish law has to say. Here is an excellent summary, from Rabbi David Golinkin, the Masorti movement’s chief interpreter of Jewish law (halakha). It’s occasionally technical, but this is one to read (before services, if possible) and save in our files.

Also, to see a nice introduction to the prayers and services of Yom Kippur, click here.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Hu's On First? The Rally and the Reality

Hu's on First?

No, Chinese President Hu Jintao was not at the rally this afternoon at the UN, on the corner of First and 47th. I just couldn't resist using the line. (read the JTA report on the rally here)

Hu might have been out of place, but so was a group of protesters called the Cameroon Alliance for Democracy Movement that walked by. At times I felt out of place too. I thought what I was attending was a rally to show support for a nation facing an existential threat with zero hour approaching quickly. I was wrong. That must have been the other rally. This one was a festive yeshiva mixer.

Lots of people were there, though no more than I saw last year, making me wonder whether we have gotten Ahmadinijad fatigue. Have people been lulled by everyone's inaction, into a deadly silence?

Noticeably lacking among the hordes of texting and giggling day school and yeshiva students were Persians - even Jewish Persians. Maybe we should have held it in Great Neck.

This rally was billed as one defending the human rights of the Iranian people. Defending Israel the world from Iranian nukes seemed like an afterthought. Whoever thought up the brilliant idea of joining forces on this perhaps forgot to notify the Iranian protesters, who attended another rally yesterday. Undoubtedly, they decided that the last thing they needed to do to help their cause back home was to link it to the pleas of Israel's supporters. This gathering was almost exclusively Jewish.

Not that there's anything wrong with that. It was a mitzvah to be there, pure and simple. Sometimes showing up is all that matters. But back in the old days, protesting meant more than bringing your body to a place to increase the count. There was a passion behind it. Not much passion here, except among the students finding friends they hadn't seen since the last NCSY mixer. The speeches droned and were uninspiring, which was OK because no one was listening.

The slogans supported the Iranian people. Israel was an afterthought, but it didn't matter. The local media were chasing terrorists in a courthouse in Brooklyn. The President was headed to Pittsburgh. No one cared.

Maybe some miracle will occur between now and next year, so that this annual exercise in futility will not have to happen again. Or maybe the UN will be nice enough not to schedule this during the High Holidays! The other alternative, a rally that truly brings out passionate Jews by the tens of thousands, would require an event to occur that I don't want to imagine. What would draw us out in such numbers should never happen.

Come to think of it, boring rallies aren't so bad.

The latest headlines on Iran remind us about the gulf separating rally from reality. With news today of a secret nuclear facility, one can only hope that the world's eyes are finally awakening to the threat, even as the clock approaches midnight.

US, European powers: Iran must open secret plant to inspectors‎ - JTA

Obama: Iran Must Open Secret Nuclear Facility : NPR

The Clocks Are Ticking on Iran - Doyle McManus
On Oct. 1, the U.S. and other great powers will restart talks with Iran, a new round in a long and so far fruitless effort to stop Tehran's march toward nuclear weapons. How will the U.S. and its allies make this round different? First, by insisting on action, not words. Iran will have to slow its work on nuclear technology in some tangible way. "The measure of [the negotiating process] is that it affects their nuclear clock," a top U.S. official told me. Second, the negotiators will set a deadline for Iranian action: the end of the year, with no wiggle room. "The end of the year means the end of the year," the official stressed. That remorseless nuclear clock is very much on the administration's mind. U.S. officials say they believe Iran could achieve "breakout capabili ty" - the ability to quickly build a nuclear weapon - in one to three years. There's also an Israeli clock. When Iranian leaders say they'd like to remove Israel from the map, Israelis - a sensitive people when it comes to their existence - take it literally. The October talks are designed to enable the Western powers to start a clock of their own: action from Iran or else "crippling sanctions," in Secretary of State Clinton's words. (Los Angeles Times)

G-dcast for Ha-azinu

Tune in and watch this week's incredible, funky, soulful and groooovy G-dcast, Parshat Ha'azinu!

On the last day of Moses's life, he clears his throat and lets it rip. This episode celebrates his final song, interpreted for you by musician Anthony Rogers-Wright. Haazinu means "Give Ear!" and we hope you will.









Parshat Ha'azinu from G-dcast.com

More Torah cartoons at www.g-dcast.com

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Goldstone Myths and Facts

JTA reports that the Obama administration will not allow the Goldstone report recommendations on Israel's conduct in the Gaza war to reach the International Criminal Court.


A top White House official told Jewish organizational leaders in an off-the-record phone call Wednesday that the U.S. strategy was to "quickly" bring the report -- commissioned by the U.N. Human Rights Council and carried out by former South African Judge Richard Goldstone -- to its "natural conclusion" within the Human Rights Council and not to allow it to go further, Jewish participants in the call told JTA.
See this Myths and Facts online exclusive detailing the fallacies of this report. Here are highlights:

The three-person panel, led by Judge Richard Goldstone, based virtually all of its 575-page report on unverified accounts by Palestinians and NGOs. The Goldstone Commission fixated on Israel’s incursion into Gaza while failing to adequately address the provocation – three years of Hamas rocket bombardment of Israeli towns and villages – that led to the Israeli operation. The Israeli government did not cooperate with the Commission because of its one-sided mandate that presumed Israel was guilty of war crimes.311

During the Commission’s five-month investigation, a handful of Israelis were allowed a few hours to testify about Hamas terror attacks. Photos taken while an Israeli described their ordeal show Richard Goldstone taking a nap.312

While ignoring journalistic accounts of the activities of Hamas, the Commission relied on critical reports of Israeli actions by groups such as Human Rights Watch (HRW), which had already been disputed. HRW, in particular, has been discredited by revelations that it has tried to raise money from Saudi Arabia by touting its history of anti-Israel reportage and that its “senior military expert,” Marc Garlasco, is a collector of Nazi memorabilia.313

When interviewing Gazans, the Commission was chaperoned by
Hamas officials.313a Hence, it was not surprising that investigators made little effort to investigate Hamas activities before or during Operation Cast Lead. It was equally unremarkable for the commission to then report that it found no evidence that Hamas fired rockets from civilian homes, that terrorists hid among the civilian population, fired mortars, anti-tank missiles and machine guns into Palestinian villages when IDF forces were in proximity, or that they seized and booby-trapped Palestinian civilian houses to ambush IDF soldiers. In fact, the report refers to Hamas “police” as civilians, absolving them of terrorist rocket attacks against Israeli civilians and their illegal actions in Gaza during the conflict.314 This directly contradicts the ample photos, video and reports by journalists that depict Hamas militants participating in all of these illegal activities.315

Hamas viewed the Commission’s investigation as an opportunity to score propaganda points against Israel and it is therefore not surprising that members interviewed by the commission would fabricate stories to support accusations against Israel. For example, Hamas official Mouteeh al-Silawi stated that he was giving a sermon in a mosque filled with Palestinian civilians seeking refuge. Al-Silawi claimed that no Hamas militants were inside the mosque or in its vicinity, and that the IDF attacked civilians inside the mosque. Palestinian sources, however, identified all of the casualties at the mosque and they turned out to all be Hamas operatives.316

The Goldstone Report is rife with inaccuracies, mischaracterizations and falsehoods, which do nothing to better the lives of Palestinians living under the rule of
Hamas in Gaza or deter Hamas from targeting Israeli civilians. The report makes no mention of Hamas’ illegal activities in Gaza, such as using human shields and utilizing mosques, hospitals and schools as bases of operation, and downplays the firing of rockets at Israeli civilians. By not holding Hamas accountable for targeting Israeli civilians, the report essentially legitimizes terrorism and criminalizes self-defense.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Rosh Hashanah Sermons

My Rosh Hashanah sermons are now up online. The text for both days can be found here. You can hear audio of the first day here



and the second day here

Friday, September 18, 2009

The True Face of Israel/ Crying "Wolf" in Sheep's Clothing"



In the face of the this Goldstone report, which smacks of a medieval blood libel, we have this. I thank Beth Boyer for forwarding this photo of a cousin, Shir, an 18 year old going off to the army. This is her last photo as a civilian. Beth reports, "Shir is a brilliant dancer and sweet soul, and as I look at all these young girls going off to the army, I can only be reminded of the sacrifice Israelis make for all our security--keeping Israel safe for all Jews."


The UN report, in alluding to possible crimes against humanity, is itself a crime against humanity, because it cheapens and makes a mockery of authentic accusations of such crimes. It is cry of "wolf" in sheep's clothing. Even for those who often question Israel's tactics (as I do), this is an abomination. And coming on the very day when the IAEA has stated that Iran can now build a nuclear bomb, it is even more dangerous.


I've collected a number of editorial comments and observations (see the posting below) which you can read, along with Rosh Hashanah Messages from Obama, Netanyahu and Peres.

Signature Mitzvot of the Beth El B.O.T.

SIGNATURE MITZVOT OF THE TBE BOARD OF TRUSTEES

With theme of Mitzvah being a prime focus of our activities this year, I asked the Board of Trustees to share some of their “signature mitzvot.” The results are below. If you would like to see a full list of the 613 Mitzvot, click here.

When you are asked in the world to come, “What was your work?” and you answer, “I fed the hungry,” you will be told, “This is the gate of the Lord, enter into it, you who have fed the hungry…The same goes for those who raised orphans, performed acts of tzedakah, clothed the naked and embraced acts of loving-kindness (Midrash Psalms 118:17).

What is your “work?” What is your signature mitzvah? What do you want to be the first thing mentioned in your eulogy (aside from “loving parent, spouse, friend, etc.”)?


I have spent more than 40 years committed to involvement in Jewish and Secular community service. My parents and grandparents were my role models.

A decent human being who really cared for his fellow man through acts of kindness.

Opening the Temple and facilitating morning minyan so people can say Kaddish. Overseeing Beth El Cemetery.

Pillar of personal support for anybody needing an ear, a shoulder, encouragement, focus and/or ideas about a better way and a better life.


That I was a good person. That I was a good mother. That I loved my friends and family above all else.


A wonder and supportive friend and confidant.


Help when help is needed.


My wife and I have a pool party each year inviting widows who do not get out much. In addition we invite them for breakfast. You cannot believe the wonderful feeling these people have being included and not forgotten.


VP membership for Stamford Chapter Hadassah. Greeter for High Holy Days. JFS Ambassador from Temple Beth El. JFS yearly dinner committee and auction. Hadassah calendar committee. Hostess 2nd Passover seder for everyone. Shalom Stamford Beth El representative.


My signature mitzvah was tutoring a young, physically and mentally challenged woman to become a Bat Mitzvah at Temple Beth El. Thank you, Rabbi Hammerman, for giving me this opportunity.


I have volunteered in my community within my children’s schools and Temple Beth El, all the way to international work for Israel and Hadassah Hospital outreach programs. What I have found as my greatest reward is seeing all ages, each generation, finding a way to come along and help.

Volunteer reading tutor for first graders in the Stamford public schools.

Rosh Hashanah Messages from Obama, Netanyahu and Peres

Click here to see President Obama's Rosh Hashanah message

Click here to read the Rosh Hashanah message of Prime Minister Netanyahu

President Shimon Peres' message is below:

Hopefully, the coming New Year will be marked by the realization of our aspirations: attaining peace, increasing security, promoting economic growth, safeguarding the future of the Jewish people and strengthening the ties between Israel and our Jewish brothers in the Diaspora.

The opportunity to attain peace is beckoning, and must be seized, even at the cost of painful concessions. The Arab world's intractable position to say "No" to negotiations, "No" to recognition of Israel and "No" to peace, has today been replaced by the three-fold "Yes" to the Saudi Initiative. The international community is keen to support endeavors to move the peace process forward, and I am confident that, with concerted efforts, the vision of a comprehensive peace can be realized. This will create stability, tranquility, security and prosperity for our children and their children after them.

Nuclear arms in the possession of extremist fundamentalist hands pose a danger to the whole of humanity and not only to Israel. A broad and consolidated stand by the international community against Iran is called for. I pray that this terrible threat be removed from all of humanity and that the world may enjoy a new era of peace and security.

Israel's economy is showing the first sparks of recovery from the global economic crisis. The macro-economic signs are promising, and these indications are reflected in a growing scope of investments, the hi-tech industry is reviving and start-up companies are again sprouting. This is the time to seize the opportunity. This is the time to invest in Israel in fields such as alternative energy, water production, homeland security infrastructures, educational and learning-related tools, and in the stem-cell industry. This constitutes the future and it is in our hands.

It is vital to build with our brethren in the Diaspora ties based on solid foundations of partnership and education. Indeed, the role of Jewish education in the Diaspora cannot be overestimated. It serves as the very building-blocks of the bridges that connect the Jewish communities abroad and Israel. It serves as the terms of engagement between the young generation of Jewish youth and our nation and as the stepping stones to a greater awareness of the significance of Israel-Diaspora relations. It will serve to preserve our rich heritage and traditions.

The spirit of partnership must be enhanced in every area of Israel-Diaspora relations. We face dramatic challenges, which again underscore the necessity to stand united in moments of trial, responsible one for the other, as dictated by our Prophets. Indeed, a threat to the well-being of Jewish communities in the world equates a threat to Israel itself, and the fate of Diaspora Jewry is at the very core of Israel's heart.

Dear Friends, as we embark on this New Year, I want to convey my heartfelt good wishes to all of the Jewish people in the Diaspora, in the hope that it will be a year of joy and good tidings to all.

And let us pray for the safe return home of the hostages and missing soldiers.

Shana Tova U'Metukah, Shimon Peres

Ambassador Michael Oren's Message

Michael Oren, Israeli Ambassador to the U.S., has written this Rosh Hashanah message to American Jews:

September 17, 2009

Dear Rabbis, community leaders and friends:

This month, Jews throughout the world will celebrate the New Year of 5770. Both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur instruct us to reflect on our previous year and prepare for the year to come.

This past year, Israel has made significant accomplishments. Our scientists are unlocking the secrets of the human body to discover new cures for diseases. Israeli art, film, and literature received prestigious recognition from internationally renowned institutions. The Israeli economy was one of the first countries to emerge from the economic recession.

In spite of a year of many achievements in a variety of fields, these are challenging times for the State of Israel and the Jewish people. The direst threat to Israel—indeed to the Middle East and the world—is a nuclear armed Iran.

Iran's support for terrorism, its commitment to Israel's destruction, and its determination to produce nuclear weapons represents the most pressing issue of our time. Iran has repeatedly demonstrated its refusal to accept norms of democracy and civility. Iranian security forces killed dozens of their fellow citizens in the aftermath of the recent elections and Iranian judges routinely sentence juvenile offenders to death. Last month, President Ahmadinejad appointed an internationally-wanted terrorist, the mastermind of the murderous attack on the Jewish Center in Buenos Aires in 1994, as his defense minister. The president has publicly called for a world without Zionism and America.

While uniting against the Iranian threat, Israel also seeks American and international support in moving toward a permanent, sustainable peace. Israel will continue to reach out to Palestinian leaders without preconditions in the hope of realizing this dream in our lifetime.

We are facing a critical juncture in our history. The Jewish community must confront this unprecedented threat before it is too late. I urge you as leaders of the Jewish community to impress this situation on your congregations. It is imperative to act now, at the start of a new year, and to join our voices in doing what absolutely necessary to stop the Iranian nuclear threat.

L’Shana Tova U’Metuka,

Michael Oren
Israeli Ambassador to the United States

A Rosh Hashanah Message

“As clay in the hands of the potter…so are we in Your hand.”

This 12th century poetic composition and healing prayer, based on Jeremiah 18:3-6 and included in the Yom Kippur liturgy, perfectly encapsulates how so many feel right now, whatever our theological inclinations. I was also thinking of this verse in the context of this week’s passing of the actor Patrick Swayze, and one of the scenes for which he was best known, where his ghostly essence stands behind his loved one at a potter’s wheel.

The relationship between an artist and her work of art is one of great intimacy, nurturing and healing, as we strive, through that relationship, to overcome natural flaws and aim toward perfection. Our divine potential is reached only when the raw material of life is somehow molded, through love, through touch. The material is malleable. We haven’t hardened yet, but we all seek that love to guide us, to mold us, so that we’ll become the people we so want to be.

At times as vulnerable as these, we’re all looking to be held. Most often, we experience that loving touch of God through the hand of another human being. We are so limited, and the future seems so uncertain. Only that love can help us to overcome our mortality and our frailties. Only that love can heal us.

We are in Your hand this week as the new year begins. “Your” hand – means everyone who extends a hand, everyone who reaches out one to the other (with or without Purell). “Your hand,” means filling bags of food for Person to Person, since the need is greater than ever. It means standing up against Iranian oppression at the UN next week. And it means praying all together here, or wherever you will happen to be.

To our college students and others who will not be here, you are in our hearts. To all those who will be with us, we’ll be the richer for it. At times as uncertain as these, all hands need to be on deck.

And that includes Your hands - God’s hands.

L’shanah tova u’metukah.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Responses to the Goldstone Report

Here are some links to articles, collected by Daily Alert responding to the now infamous Goldstone Report, which severely criticized Israel over its actions in Gaza.


President Peres: Goldstone Report Makes a Mockery of History - Roni Sofer
Israeli President Shimon Peres responded to the UN Goldstone Report saying that it "makes a mockery of history" and that "it does not distinguish between the aggressor and the defender." "War is crime and the attacker is the criminal. The defender has no choice. The Hamas terror organization is the one who started the war and also carried out other awful crimes. Hamas has used terrorism for years against Israeli children....The report gives de facto legitimacy to terrorist initiatives and ignores the obligation and right of every country to defend itself." (Ynet News) See also Justice in Gaza - Richard Goldstone (New York Times)

UN Investigation of Israel Discredits Itself and Undercuts Human Rights - Alan M. Dershowitz
The report commissioned by the notorious UN Human Rights Council is so filled with lies, distortions and blood libels that it could have been drafted by Hamas extremists. In effect, it actually was. Members were accompanied on their investigations in Gaza by Hamas activists who showed them only what they wanted them to see. The group was eager to find or manufacture "evidence" to support what the Human Rights Council itself had directed them to find, namely that Israel committed "grave violations of human rights in the occupied Palestinian Territory, particularly due to the recent Israeli military attacks against the occupied Gaza Strip." This conclusion was reached before any investigation. The lowest blow and the worst canard is the claim that the Israeli judicial system "has major structural flaws that make the system inconsistent with international standards." This is a direct attack on the Israeli Supreme Court by a lawyer who knows full well that there is no country in the world that has a judicial system that demands more accountability than the Israeli system does. There is no judicial system in the world that takes more seriously its responsibility to bring its military into compliance with international law. The report is not intended to establish general principles of international law, applicable to all nations. It is directed at one nation and one nation only: the Jew among nations - Israel. (Hudson Institute New York)

IDF Judge-Advocate General: Israel Right Not to Cooperate with Goldstone - Yaakov Katz
The distorted and one-sided UN report proves that Israel had been right not to cooperate with the Goldstone mission, IDF Judge-Advocate General Brig.-Gen. Avichai Mandelblit said Wednesday. "From an initial review of the report it is clear that it is biased, astonishingly extreme, lacks any basis in reality and is a sharp deviation from the mandate given to the mission." Mandelblit spoke of a new "legal front" that the IDF was facing and warned of attempts by numerous NGOs - and possibly European countries which support them - to deter Israel from launching future military operations by threatening its officers with legal action. Prof. Asa Kasher, author of the IDF's code of ethics, noted that "this report was commi ssioned by the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva that unfairly deals mostly with Israel. These are anti-Israel politics that contain a level of anti-Semitism in them." Kasher noted how the report opened with a detailed description of the Israeli blockade on Gaza. "It is as if this is how it all started," he said. "They did not bother to ask why there was a siege, which was done out of self-defense." (Jerusalem Post)

UN Smears Israeli Self-Defense as "War Crimes" - Gerald M. SteinbergThe tendentious and extremely biased report succeeded in angering Israelis from across the political spectrum. The report condemned every Israeli response to the 8,000 rockets fired by Hamas, but its recommendations did not include any steps to end this aggression. And while Israel is accused of committing acts of terror, the report never acknowledges that Hamas committed acts of terror, even though it is legally banned as a terrorist organization by the U.S and EU. The Goldstone report will increase Israeli cynicism regarding the viability of international institutions and guarantees of Israeli security and fair treatment. (Wall Street Journal Europe)

The Moral Inversion of the Goldstone Report - Melanie Phillips
The Goldstone report does worse than establish a moral equivalence between the instigators of genocidal violence and those who were attempting to defend themselves against it. It presents Israel, the victims of such aggression, as war criminals and the Palestinians, the actual instigators of terror, as its victims. This is not moral equivalence but moral inversion. Even worse, Goldstone presents the Palestinian aggressors as victims of Israel, requiring Israel to make reparation to those from whose houses and streets it was attacked. No reparations to Israel are required from any Palestinians, even though Goldstone accepts that Hamas committed war crimes and crimes against humanity by firing thousands of missiles at its civilians. This disreputable piece of work will embolden and empower Hamas and Palestinian terrorism, provide the jihadis of the UN and their accomplices with the means further to persecute Israel and endorse its genocidal attackers, and incite the Arab and Muslim world still further to aggression and to war. (Spectator-UK)

The Goldstone Report: 575 Pages of NGO "Cut and Paste
"The 575-page Goldstone report is primarily based on NGO statements, publications, and submissions, in numerous cases simply copying false and unsubstantiated allegations. (NGO Monitor)

UN Must Hold U.S. to Same Standard as Israel - Ari Shavit (Ha'aretz)

Two weeks ago American airplanes fired on two oil tankers in northern Afghanistan at the request of a German military officer, killing some 70 people. The U.S. and Germany are responsible for the attack, together with NATO members Britain, France, Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium and Norway. If the international community is committed to international law and universal ethics, it should investigate the assault.

If the U.S., Germany and NATO refuse to cooperate with investigators, the UN should consider transferring the case to the International Court of Justice in The Hague. It may be necessary to put the U.S. president and the German chancellor on trial for committing a severe war crime that did not distinguish between civilians and combatants. Absurd? Yes.

The U.S. has killed thousands of innocent civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan and in the last few months encouraged Pakistan to make an extremely brutal military move in its Swat Valley. The U.S. was not required to account for it because everyone understands that this is the price of the terrible war on terror.

Only Israel is required to uphold a moral standard no superpower or Middle Eastern state is required to uphold.

See also Will U.S. Now Let Goldstone into Afghanistan? - Amir Oren (Ha'aretz)

Prime Minister Netanyahu Responds to the Goldstone Report
In an interview Thursday on Israel TV Channel 2, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the Goldstone Commission "was a kangaroo court, the result of which was known in advance. Look at the mandate which this commission operated under, a mandate which - by the way - most Western countries opposed and had reservations about. From this mandate, they say in advance that Israel carried out war crimes and now they are filling in the blanks." "The occupation of Gaza? We left Gaza down to the last centimeter.... There were those who said, "Good, this will bring peace." Others said, "Maybe this will not bring peace but the international community will give us full legitimacy as soon as there is the first missile." Then there was the first missile, and the second and the thousandth. There were thousands of missiles and finally Israel responded, as is its right, against the terrorists who hide inside civilian populations and fire at civilian populations. And now the same international public that applauded when we left there, points an accusing finger and accuses us and not Hamas of being war criminals." (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

Goldstone Report: A Challenge to Democracies Fighting Terror
The report published by the Goldstone Commission presents a major challenge to democracies forced to act against terrorist groups. It fails to consider the mode of operation of terrorist organizations which deliberately endanger civilians and make urban areas their battlefield of choice. It makes no reference to the recruitment and exploitation of children and the smuggling of weapons, and ignores clear evidence of the abuse of mosques, ambulances, hospitals and residences. At the same time it places unrealistic and unworkable demands on any state seeking to protect its civilians from terrorist attacks. Its simplistic and impractical approach to the complex challenge of confronting terrorism effectivel y creates a presumption of guilt for state forces confronting terrorists in all contexts. (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

Goldstone Has Made Things More Difficult for Mitchell - Herb Keinon
U.S. Mideast envoy George Mitchell is trying to put together a package that would make everyone happy enough to agree to sit down and talk. Mitchell wants a settlement moratorium, but he also wants to see steps from the PA and the Arab world. And then along comes South African Judge Richard Goldstone and his UN Human Rights Council-commissioned report and throws a tremendous wrench into the works. If Mitchell thought it was rough getting the Arab world to make normalization gestures before Goldstone issued his report alleging Israeli war crimes in Gaza, one can only imagine how difficult it will be now. And the report does not exactly give Israel confidence that if it withdraws from further territory, the world will recognize its righ t to self-defense. When Israel withdrew from Gaza to the last Jew, there were those who said that if one missile fell on Israel, the country would have all the legitimacy in the world to take military action to defend its citizens. But as Goldstone made painfully clear, that hasn't exactly turned out to be the case - something that will undoubtedly give the country's leaders pause before making further concessions. (Jerusalem Post)

The Goldstone Report's Agenda - Dan Kosky
Richard Goldstone's long-awaited report has confirmed suspicions that his investigation is guided by an agenda to isolate Israel. Panel member Christine Chinkin had branded Israel's Gaza operation a "war crime" before the inquiry had even begun. Hand-picked "witnesses" testified before the UN mission. Most notable was the appearance via video of Shawan Jabarin, director general of al-Haq, a Ramallah-based NGO which spearheads lawsuits against Israeli officials in courts across the world. While Jabarin is "among the senior activists of the Popular Front terrorist organization," Al-Haq's allegations are cited at least 30 times in the report. The report is replete with dubious statistics and sources. Quoted casualty figures list senior Hamas military figures such as N izar Rayan and Said Siam as civilians. Rather than advise how to better stop groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad who deliberately target civilians, Goldstone opts for straightforward denunciation of Israel. (Guardian-UK)

IDF Officers Point to Mistakes in Accusations - Yaakov Katz
One claim made by Goldstone is that Israeli forces "did not use their best efforts to permit humanitarian organizations access to the wounded and medical relief, as required by customary international law." Israel has argued the opposite, citing numerous examples when IDF soldiers risked their own lives to assist Palestinians in need of medical care. While the fighting was going on, the IDF allowed hundreds of trucks loaded with food staples and medicine into Gaza. Israel ceased military operations for several hours each day to allow humanitarian corridors to be opened, even though Hamas took advantage of the lulls. (Jerusalem Post)

HERE IS A LETTER RECEIVED FROM AIPAC ON THE SAME SUBJECT:

Earlier this week the United National Human Rights Council issued the "Goldstone Report," which accuses Israel of committing war crimes during its defensive operation this winter against Hamas terrorists in the Gaza Strip.

It is vitally important that your congregants, as well as the community at large, fully understand how deeply flawed this report is and speak out against this biased investigation. We must remind the world that Israel took extraordinary precautions in its efforts to minimize Palestinian civilian causalities while trying to protect its own civilian population from thousands of rockets fired from the Gaza Strip.

In an effort to provide you with pertinent information about the Goldstone Report, listed below are some talking points to use when discussing the accusations. The points below are also available in a Word document by clicking
here.

In addition, the press statement AIPAC released commenting on the report can be viewed in PDF format by clicking
here.

Thank you for your efforts in educating your community.
Shanah Tovah,

Mark Waldman
National Director of Synagogue Initiative

Beyond Apples and Honey - Rosh Hashanah at Home

A congregant asked me for some ideas as to how to make the Rosh Hashanah meal more meaningful. It's true that the meal tends to get short shrift on this holiday, at least in comparison to Passover, Sukkot, Thanksgiving and other more home-based celebrations. it tends to be overshadowed by what takes place in the synagogue, which is considered the center of the action on the Days of Awe.

But the meals are important too, especially in that families get together so infrequently these days, especially in a Jewish context. It's natural (I hope) that the rabbi's sermons are going to be part of the conversation. If no one talks about them, I haven't done my job. We even talk about them at my table (though sometimes it's in the mode of "Dad, why did you have to say that???). I also am hoping people will take me up on my request that they seriously consider visiting Israel this coming year, maybe taking a look at our TBE Israel Adventure 2010 Itinerary.

There are blessings and customs regarding the meal, of course, including Candle Lighting,
Evening Kiddush, Shehecheyanu and the ever popular Blessing for Apples and Honey. If you are looking for an exotic twist, how about apples and pomegranates, and other Sephardic traditions described in this informative essay?

Speaking of informative, if you are looking to add to your family's experience, this Rosh Hashanah Seder is helpful. It was put together by Noam Zion, known for his creative Passover Haggadah, "A Different Night." And also see this article by Jill Jacobs that includes some other food related customs (like eating "pun" foods). Rosh Hashanah is a time for introducing lots if different foods - including foods as diverse as spinach, dates and the head of anything (since it is the head of the year). But I must warn you: If you're serving the head of a sheep (a custom in some places), count me out. I'd prefer a head of lettuce.

Aside from food, newness can be expressed by wearing new clothes or doing something new - taking on a new mitzvah, for instance.

More then food, or even the discussion of sermons, the most important part of any Rosh Hashanah gathering might just be the chance to go around the table and have everyone discuss their hopes for the coming year. Some questions could be asked, such as, "If I could write my own Book of Life, what kind of book would it be?" Take this quiz to see if you are a self help, spirituality or how-to book. You could also prep for the Spiritual Olympics with some teshuvah exercises.

And then, after the meal, forego that nap. The Jerusalem Talmud states that "If one sleeps at the year's beginning (Rosh Hashanah), his good fortune likewise sleeps."

Elul Project #4 - Crimson Red Pomegranates

Thanks to Ronnie Fein for sending along this poignant recollection (and also for making my mouth water with her feature on hummus in today's Stamford Advocate).

My family was not observant and when I was growing up I often felt at odds with some of my Jewish friends whose families went to synagogue and got dressed up for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. And yet the holidays were always meaningful because it was one of the times that my Great Uncle Max, whom we called "Feta" paid us an especially long visit. Feta was married to my grandma's sister.

He was a kind, soft-spoken, humble man and we all adored him, especially my mother. I guess in a way he took the place of my mother's father, who had died when she was eight. When Ted Kennedy died recently and people spoke about how he stood in as a father figure for so many, I thought of my great uncle, who did the same.

Feta always made us laugh and told my mother all the family gossip. He also always brought us treats from the Lower East Side. Pickles. Knishes. Rye bread. And, most wonderful to us kids, Root Beer lollypops with twisted, pretzel-like cardboard handles.

At High Holiday time he brought a special treat: large, fleshy, crimson red pomegranates. My brothers and I would peel away the thick skin, bite off chunks of the glossy seeds and swish them around in our mouths, downing the tangy juice and then seeing who could spit out the seeds the farthest.

Every autumn when September comes and I see pomegranates in the market I know that the High Holidays are about to begin. In our family we get dressed up and attend synagogue. It feels good to be part of a larger Jewish community. Is a time to celebrate life and for me, also a time to reflect and remember my great uncle.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

'If You Stream It, They Will Come" (Jewish Week)

This article asks a fascinating contemporary question: Does the growing trend of streaming services online offer the same experience as attending services in the flesh? No. But that doesn't mean one is necessarily better than the other. The experiences are decidedly different, and in some ways complementary. Online offerings can engender quiet self reflection and spiritual intimacy (especailly for those ill or in remote locations), while being there in the flesh creates bonds of community (assuming that is, that you are going to a "home" synagogue and sitting among those with whom you feel a shared commitment, destiny, history and loyalty - which is decidedly different from attending anonymously one of the many commitment-free alternatives out there). The synagogue that thrives in this new age will be the one that can combine the best of both, synthesizing online and in-the-flesh spirituality.

http://www.thejewishweek.com/viewArticle/c37_a16768/News/National.html

by Steve Lipman
Staff Writer

Lisa Gilbert, a native of Cincinnati who now lives in Manhattan, listened to the rabbi’s sermon and the choir’s singing at her family’s Cincinnati congregation on the High Holy Days last year. From her New York apartment. Online.

Gilbert, a 30-year-old research analyst, watched the live streaming Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur services of Congregation Beth Adam, on the humanistic synagogue’s Web site, because she had attended several congregations after moving here and did not feel welcome or comfortable at any one of them.“I felt very disconnected,” says Gilbert, who considers herself “humanistic or Reform” and felt a connection watching on the Internet. “My family was physically there. The [Beth Adam] services are more relatable to me. I felt I was getting the experience of the holiday.”

This year, she’ll attend Beth Adam again, virtually.

Lisa Sharp, with no roots in Cincinnati, will also watch the Beth Adam services over the next Ten Days of Repentance.

A 44-year-old digital marketing specialist from Rockland County, she discovered the synagogue’s Web site (ourjewishcommunity.org) via Twitter this summer, started logging on regularly to Shabbat services, and considers Beth Adam her congregation.“I was never a shul-goer,” even on the High Holy Days, she says. “I’ve never felt a part of a congregation.”

But this week she will sit down in front of her laptop with her twin 8-year-old daughters. “It makes me feel more connected to Judaism than I otherwise might feel. For those people who wouldn’t feel comfortable in a synagogue, it’s a way to make Judaism relevant.”

In the last few years, only a few congregations carried their worship services online. An estimated several hundred individuals — Jews and interested non-Jews — were able to experience the High Holy Days at their computers, weekly or on holidays, live or delayed, freely available to anyone with passwords or synagogue memberships. But a virtual Jewish community of far-flung Jews united in cyberspace was still a dream.

This Rosh HaShanah, Internet experts say, the dream is becoming a reality. “Today, the technology is there,” says Rabbi Judith Schindler of Temple Beth El in Charlotte, a “shulcasting” pioneer. Temple Emanu-El in Birmingham, Ala., recently upgraded its Webcasting capabilities. “Now we broadcast everything,” says Rabbi Jonathan Miller.

The number of congregations live-streaming their High Holy Days services has risen significantly from 2008 to 2009. While no one keeps official figures of how many congregations — including Los Angeles’ Nashuva on JewishTVNetwork.com — are Webcasting or how many people are watching, interviews with experts and online research indicates that at least a few dozen synagogues in the U.S. are part of this year’s emerging trend. And tech-savvy organizations like OurJewishCommunity.org and CyberJudaism.org are launching new outreach efforts centered on the holiday season.

Worship services on the Internet, while having a natural appeal for the infirm, the homebound and the isolated, as well as college students away at school, may find a natural constituency among young, computer-adept Jews who are not affiliated with the Jewish community or who, like Gilbert, are away from home and have not found a new congregation. Shifting demographics are likely to help fuel the trend, as more and more young people seek jobs far from where they grew up.

“This year is a tipping point,” says Lisa Colton, president of Darim OnLine (darimonline.org), a “social media boot camp” based in Charlottesville, Va., that offers training and consultation for the Jewish community. (This fall Darim OnLine will sponsor, with the funding of UJA-Federation, two boot camps, one on Long Island and one in northern New Jersey.)

Next year, says Rabbi Yitzi Miller, founder and executive director of cyberjudaism.org, the number of Jews choosing Webcast High Holy Days services over in-person services “will be tens of thousands.” Cyberjudaism.org serves as a resource center that offers worship services and classes, serves as an online Judaica store, and coordinates meetings and other events in the Jewish community.

The growth of Webcast worship services is a portal to a cyber Jewish community, one likely to challenge the practices of extant Jewish institutions, especially brick-and-mortar synagogues, forcing congregations to reexamine how they do business. Within a decade, experts say, a non-Orthodox synagogue that doesn’t stream its services will be as rare as one now without a Web site, and “production values” will be a part of the lexicon of the people coordinating worship services.

Services “will have to be choreographed differently,” says Rabbi Hayim Herring, executive director of STAR-Synagogues: Transformation and Renewal, a leadership development organization. “You have to think differently because you have an audience.”

This, of course, is not a concern for most Orthodox or observant Conservative Jews, who would not use electricity on Shabbat or holy days. Some would find halachic objections to making a minyan or answering “amen” to prayers conveyed electronically, or would consider the sound of a shofar via the Internet insubstantial.

But the majority of American Jewry — most of the congregations offering worship services online are Reform — is catching a glimpse of its 21st-century community.

“The synagogue of the future is a synagogue without walls,” says Rabbi Joshua Hammerman, spiritual leader of Temple Beth El in Stamford, Conn., and author of “thelordismyshepherd.com: Seeking God in Cyberspace” (Simcha Press, 2000).

Virtual worship services won’t necessarily attract every member of the Jewish community, Rabbi Hammerman says. “There are High Holy Days Jews online too.”

He calls virtual Judaism an inevitability — an inevitability to which the Jewish community can adapt. “If you stream it, they will come.”

In Cincinnati, OurJewishCommunity.org, which bills itself as “the world’s first progressive online synagogue,” is the new face of the virtual Jewish community. An offshoot of Congregation Beth Adam, it was founded last year by Rabbi Laura Baum, a Hebrew Union College ordainee, to create a Web-only community. Unlike the shulcasts offered by other congregations, those of humanist-oriented Beth Adam are not aimed primarily at its own membership. “We’re casting our web much more widely,” Rabbi Baum says.

This year Rabbi Baum’s Web site will offer live streaming of the temple’s “nontheistic” services, and a recorded Memorial Service that features photographs of deceased family members.

The growing presence of online worship services “has the potential to enhance personal spirituality — you sit in front of a large screen and think you’ve been at a service — and the risk of attenuating community, as we have defined it,” Rabbi Herring says. In other words, people finding their theological needs met on the Internet may not feel the need to attend, or join, a synagogue.

Is the trend good or bad for the Jews?

Bad, says Rabbi Jeremy Rosen, who is Orthodox and has blogged for 10 years. “One of the weaknesses of the Internet is that it tends to weaken your interaction with the community.”

Rabbi Joel Roth, professor of Talmud and Jewish law at the Jewish Theological Seminary agrees. “There are so many potential pitfalls” of a letter-of-the-law and spirit-of-the-law nature.

Good, says Colton. “This is a net gain.” Instead of making it easier for affiliated Jews to drop out of synagogue life, virtual Jewish communities will attract the unaffiliated, allowing them to get a taste of a congregation before showing up in person. “It’s a way of expanding the community,” says Rabbi Michael Friedman of Manhattan’s Central Synagogue.

Good, says Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, president of CLAL-The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership. “The more opportunities there are for people to connect, the better it always is.”

Sitting in a physical synagogue next to flesh-and-blood people is the best way to enhance one’s spiritual experience and foster a Jewish community, all the experts agree, even the high-tech mavens. But it’s not an option for some people.“Sinai is not something that happened by computer,” says Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism.

“The online activities are by their nature a shadow of the real community,” says Andre Oboler, social media expert and CEO of Zionism On The Web. “For those cut off from the community, it is perhaps the start of a connection, but only the start.”

In Glasgow, Scotland, Anna Wood, a research scientist diagnosed last year with a recurrence of chronic fatigue syndrome, will watch the Web casts this year from Central Synagogue, wearing a silk tallit and white crocheted kipa, a machzor in her hands. In Thornhill, Ontario, Rhonda Greenberg, a retiree who does not belong to a synagogue because tickets have become too expensive will log on to the services from Temple Beth El in Charlotte, N.C., and send a donation to the congregation. In Fresno, Cal., Dr. Jeffrey Rosenfeld, a neurologist who moved last year from Charlotte, will attend services at Temple Beth Israel and watch a taped Web cast of that morning’s services at Temple Beth El, his family’s congregation in Charlotte. “This is a way to reach back and connect,” he says.

In Manhattan, Lisa Gilbert says an appealing worship online might lead her to attend in person — if the congregation were in her neighborhood. “If I saw something I could physically attend, I would want to physically be there,” she says. “It’s nice to have that option. I wish it was available when I was in college.”

Saturday, September 12, 2009

No Kissing the Rabbi!

The Jerusalem Post has really put a damper on my Rosh Hashanah - actually, they've made it LESS damp. The Israeli Health Authorities have determined that in order to contain swine flu, kissing sacred things like mezuzahs and rabbis is not a good idea.

See the the article, "Health Ministry: Resist the Urge to Kiss Your Rabbi"

I hope that warning doesn't apply to the rebbitzin as well!

Friday, September 11, 2009

9/11 and Iran

As we commemorate today the anniversary of 9/11, we must remember the lessons of that tragic day. We need to remain vigilant and proactive in the face of real dangers, while also understadning that the strain of hatred that attacked us that day was not representative of Islam as a whole.

Iran is not Al Queda, but the hatred is the same. The boasts are the same. And the potential for destruction is even greater. Here are today's foreboding headlines about Iran, culled from the Daily Alert:

U.S.: Iran Nuclear Proposals "Not Really Responsive"
Iran's latest proposals to the UN are "not really responsive" to international concerns about its nuclear program, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Thursday. He said Tehran's latest proposals continue to insist that its nuclear file is "closed," and "That is certainly not the case." Iran has failed to clear up questions about the goals of its nuclear program with the International Atomic Energy Agency, Crowley said, and it has defied a Security Council demand that it halt its production of enriched uranium. (CNN) See also Iran Not Prepared to Discuss Halting Uranium Enrichment - Thomas ErdbrinkIran is not prepared to discuss halting its uranium enrichment program in response to Western demands but is proposing instead a worldwide control system aimed at eliminating nuclear weapons, President Ahmadinejad's top political aide Mojtaba Samareh Hashemi said Thursday. In a set of proposals on Wednesday, Iran also offered to cooperate on solving problems in Afghanistan and fighting terrorism and to collaborate on oil and gas projects. (Washington Post) See also Text: Iran's Nuclear Program Proposal (Pro Publica)

Russia Rejects New Iran Sanctions - Marc Champion and Jay SolomonRussia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made it clear Thursday that Moscow will not back tougher sanctions such as a ban on petroleum sales to Iran, and said the world would have enough time to respond if Tehran ever did try to enrich uranium to weapons grade. "Iran is a partner that has never harmed Russia in any way," Lavrov said. Russia had agreed only to sanctions in the past aimed at pressing Iran to engage with inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency. Tough sanctions aimed at pushing Iran to agree to demands to shut its nuclear program were a different matter. Lavrov said, "I do not think those sanctions will be approved by the United Nations Security Council," where Russia wields a veto. (Wall Street Journal)

Kremlin Confirms Netanyahu's Trip to Russia - Andrew OsbornRussia's Kommersant on Thursday, citing a senior Kremlin source, confirmed that Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, made a secret visit to Moscow last Monday to discuss Russian arms shipments to Iran and Syria. The revelation appeared to support maritime and military experts who have claimed the missing Arctic Sea cargo ship was carrying S-300 anti-aircraft missiles for Iran, that the Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency, found out, and that the Kremlin was given time and space to stop the delivery and cover it up in order to save face. (Telegraph-UK)

See also Diplomacy Can't Stop Arms Sales - Benny AvniThe story of the Arctic Sea teaches an important lesson about stopping the sale of weapons to rogue nations like Iran. International agreements aren't enough to stop such arms deliveries in a world of shadowy arms dealers, greedy former generals and rogue regimes. It requires the use of all available means - including some clandestine acts. "Israel regularly follows and intercepts attempts to smuggle arms to Iran and other countries in the region," an Israeli intelligence source told me, adding, "In most cases you won't even hear about it." (New York Post)

Time to Get Serious about Helping Iran's Opposition - John P. Hannah
The chances that diplomacy will convince this Iranian regime to change course and truly abandon its nuclear ambitions seem next to nil. Yet a mass protest movement has risen (and persisted) that has rocked the Iranian regime to its core and is genuinely threatening its collapse. That movement's survival, strengthening, and eventual success has become the most viable option available for satisfactorily resolving the Iranian nuclear crisis short of war. The administration's entire strategy with respect to Iran has been premised on getting the current regime into talks and negotiating some sort of deal. Working with its allies, the U.S. needs to make clear now that the Islamic Republic will not get away cost-free if it moves against the opposition's top le aders. The writer, a senior fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, was national security advisor to Vice President Dick Cheney from 2005-2009. (Weekly Standard)

Any U.S. Distancing from Israel Strengthens Islamists - David Makovsky (New York Jewish Week) In the post-9/11 world, there are numerous cases of converging interests between Israel and Arab regimes, shaped by a perception of common enemies. After the 2007 Israeli bombing of the Syrian reactor, the Arab regimes remained silent, with none condemning the action, indicating their displeasure with Syria's growing ties to Iran. Arab states led by Saudi Arabia were horrified that Hizbullah went to war with Israel in 2006 without the vote of the Lebanese government in a unilateral decision, facilitated by Iranian weapons. The Arabs wanted Hizbullah to be defeated, not to emerge stronger from the conflict. With Iran's support for Hamas, combined with Iran's emerging nuclear program, Arab leaders see an Iran that appears to be on the march. At the start of the Gaza conflict last December, Egyptian and Saudi foreign ministers publicly blamed Hamas as being responsible for the crisis. Egypt still refuses to open its border to Gaza on a regular basis.

The Arab states fear that if Tehran gained a bomb, it could lead to the provision of nuclear materials to non-state actors by Iran. They also recognize that a nuclear Iran could engage in much greater coercion of its neighbors.

If the U.S. distanced itself from Israel, this would be the greatest windfall imaginable to the strongest Islamist elements, whether al-Qaeda or Iran, who would see it as a validation. It would lend a sense of momentum or inevitability to their cause, and countries throughout the region would view future U.S. actions through this lens. Therefore, a strong U.S.-Israel relationship remains key and a cornerstone for Mideast peace.

The writer is the Ziegler Distinguished Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.