Friday, January 28, 2011

Time to Stop Abusing the Holocaust

You've likely heard about the Wall Street Journal ad signed by 400 rabbis calling for the sanctioning of Glen Beck by Fox for his misuse of Holocaust terminology. See additional coverage of the story here.

The ad has elicited the expected vigorous response, including this from Commentary. But despite the partisan fury, everyone now seems to now agree that misuse of Holocaust metaphors should be out of bounds, across the board, not merely by one side of the political spectrum. I agree, which is why I signed the ad condemning Beck and also pointed out the misuse of the Shoah by a Democrat in last week's Shabbat-O-Gram (at the bottom).

Israelis also routinely abuse the memory of the Shoah by applying its supposed lessons too flippantly to the actions of political enemies. In some cases those lessons do need to be applied and remembered. But all too often those memories are stoked for demagogic and manipulative purposes. Beck's attack on Soros went even further, a personal accusation of being an accessory to genocide. And, according to the Atlantic's writer Jeffrey Goldberg, Beck does seem to have a Jewish Problem. I don't know Beck personally, but I do know that he is a neighbor, living in this area. I'd be delighted to welcome him here to TBE anytime.

It's time to let the lessons of the Holocaust speak for themselves, rather than cheapening them for expedient political ends.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

An Oasis of Calm in an Unstable Neighborhood

Who would have thunk that the calmest place to be in the Middle East these days would be, of all places, the Wild West Bank? But that's what's being said from all corners: by the center-left (see the NY Times op-ed by Jeffrey Goldberg and Hussein Ibish, Good News From the Middle East (Really) and Gary Rosenblatt's interview with Naftali Bennett, a leader of the settler movement, Do West Bank Realities Defy Perceptions?

From all sides, we are hearing of the remarkable transformation of the West Bank (a term even Bibi Netanyahu has now begun using) to a place of greater security, freedom of movement and economic prosperity. It is to the credit of both Israelis and Palestinians that this has happened. The Al Jazeera 2008 negotiation documents released this week point to a Palestinian leadership that is ready to make significant concessions for a final agreement, although they have yet to prepare their population for that. We already know of Israel's willingness to do the same, which was reaffirmed with the publication of Ehud Olmert's new book. The Makovsky maps are one think tanker's idea of what could work as a land swap keeping 80% of the settlers in Israel. Good ideas abound. But it seems that on both sides that internal politics combined with old fears and good old fashioned inertia are keeping them from serious negotiations. The US has not been especially helpful in sending such mixed signals and in having what appears to be an incoherent policy.

We all know that the last place this can ever be resolved is the UN, so the current one-sided security council resolution condemning settlements is a dead end.

While the West Bank simmers, the Arab world is at a perilous turning point. Egypt is at the boiling point and Lebanon is officially radicalizing. I've included some background articles on the situation below. Meanwhile, some of the urgent concern over Iran's nuclear abilities has waned - for the moment. While it is tempting to allow the dust to settle before moving ahead in negotiations, I hope that Israel and the West Bank Palestinians would seize the moment to concretize the economic and security gains into political stabilization, before this moment passes, lest both sides be guilty of the of Abba Eban line, of never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

Meanwhile, our guest speaker this Friday night, Ronit Heyd of Shatil, will not be talking about the settlements or the security situation at all, but rather about tensions within Israel proper, between religious and secular, men and women, Jew and Israeli Arab, Orthodox and non Orthodox, and how we can all help to build a society there that reflects the best of Jewish values. We are on of select few congregations in the NY area hosting the New Israel Fund's Conversations on Israeli Democracy this weekend, and the only one north of 100th St and Broadway. Join us.

see: Day 3 of Egypt turmoil / Eyes on the streets of Cairo

Upheaval On The Borders

source material from

Al Jazeera's Agenda: An Analysis of the Palestine Papers

U.S. Diplomats Urge Regimes to Embrace Change to Block Islamist Radicals - Jay Solomon and Bill Spindle (Wall Street Journal) The Obama administration intensified diplomatic pressure on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to initiate wide-ranging political overhauls. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other senior officials have decided not to seek wholesale political change in Cairo and other Arab capitals, but instead to prod their allies into embracing reform movements that, so far, appear to be largely secular and grass-roots in nature. See also A Manifesto for Change in Egypt - Mohamed ElBaradei (Daily Beast)

Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

The Palestine Papers: Al-Jazeera Has an Agenda - Pinhas Inbari
Al-Jazeera, the powerful Qatari satellite television station, has been publishing documents leaked to it from the PLO Negotiations Support Unit. The release of the documents has caused great damage to the reputation of the PA and the PLO negotiating team. The PA's success in gathering support for statehood recognition was turning Hamas rule in Gaza into a liability. Once Ramallah is recognized as representing a state, the international community might turn against the separate entity in Gaza and seek to end the problem. For years al-Jazeera has sought to advance the interests of the Muslim Brotherhood against the Arab regimes. Now, after al-Jazeera has brainwashed Arab minds with charges of PLO treason, no declaration of statehood can be expected. (Institute for Contemporary Affairs-Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)

UN Resolution for Palestinians Is Counterproductive - Bernard Gwertzman interviews Elliott Abrams
Q: Any ideas on what the U.S. should do now in the Middle East?
Abrams: The administration has to figure out a way to get [Palestinian] President Mahmoud Abbas back to the table. It may be that the thing to do is not so much to hammer him as it is to talk to others in the Arab world to see if they would give him the political cover to return to negotiations.
Q: The Palestinians seem eager to bring a resolution to the Security Council on the Palestinian state. That would put the U.S. in a difficult position.
Abrams: Palestinians have two resolutions. One we're looking at now would call for a settlement construction freeze by the Israelis. The second resolution, which would come later, would endorse Palestinian statehood. The administration's trying very hard to persuade the Palestinians not to push that first resolution now, because it hasn't vetoed any resolution in two years, and I think it wanted to try to go through four years without a veto. So there's a lot of pressure on the Palestinians to pull back or rewrite the resolution in a way the administration can escape the veto.
Q: It's ironic, because Obama supports the idea of a freeze.
Abrams: That's exactly the kind of argument the administration is making to the Palestinians: You're going to corner us into a veto that we don't want [and] you don't want, and none of us is going to be helped by this. (Council on Foreign Relations)

What Palestinians Are Saying Online - Jonathan Schanzer
A recent nine-week study by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) of online Palestinian political sentiments found that Palestinian Internet users often derided diplomatic initiatives, and their discussion of the peace process was overwhelmingly negative. The study revealed several troubling trends among Palestinian social media users - notably the prevalence of Islamism, fissures between factions, and the inability of liberal reformers to be heard - that cast doubt on both the prospects for peace and the likelihood that a democratic Palestinian state will emerge. Most Palestinian activists do not reveal their names online. Indeed, few Palestinians maintain personal Facebook or Twitter accounts, presumably to ensure that their posts cannot be attributed to them. Rather, the majority engage in political debate on impersonal discussion boards, writing under pseudonyms. These web forums typically provide space for like-minded people to express their views. For example, some are pro-Hamas, whereas others are pro-Fatah. Most are dominated by sympathizers of the owner faction. In a sense, the tribalism and factionalism that traditionally dominate Palestinian society can be observed in similar groupings online. Groups allow individuals to break with their thinking, but only to a point. (Middle East Quarterly)

Israelis Warily Eyeing Egypt - Isabel Kershner (New York Times)
Israel has a special stake in Egypt's stability. The two countries share a long border and signed a historic peace treaty in 1979, a cornerstone of the regional balance that has endured more than 30 years.
Israeli officials and analysts said they believed that Mubarak's government was strong enough to withstand the protests, at least as long as it had the backing of the Egyptian Army.
But with Mubarak, who came to power in 1981, now an ailing octogenarian, Israelis were in any case looking ahead to a transition of some sort in Egypt.
Oded Eran, director of the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University and a former Israeli ambassador to Jordan, said that almost any government in Egypt would want to maintain the peace treaty with Israel, even at a low profile, because so much is hinged on it, including Egypt's relations with, and aid from, the U.S.

Arab Unrest Shows Israel-Palestinian Conflict Not the Core of Regional Instability - Joel GreenbergHizbullah's rise to political dominance in Lebanon is not interpreted in Israel as a harbinger of renewed hostilities. "We don't see Hizbullah or other elements creating a provocation along the Israeli-Lebanese border," said Moshe Ya'alon, a vice prime minister and minister of strategic affairs, who spoke to foreign journalists Thursday. Hizbullah, as a military arm of Iran held in reserve for a possible confrontation with the West or Israel, is restrained from squandering its arsenal of missiles in a conflict that would not directly serve Iran's interests, he said. To Israeli officials, the unrest across the region, with Israel on the sidelines, proves an assertion that has been a point of contention with the Obama administration. "For us it is very clear," Ya'alon said, "the core of this instability in the Middle East is not the Israeli-Palestinian conflict." (Washington Post)

Egyptian Protesters Feel World Has Passed Them By - Griff Witte
Every one of the tens of thousands of Egyptians who joined the unexpectedly massive demonstrations that have rattled Egyptian authorities and continue to threaten the 30-year rule of the once invincible President Hosni Mubarak had personal reasons for doing so. But for many it came down to a pervasive sense that the world has passed Egypt by, that money and power have become hopelessly entrenched in the hands of the few and that if the country is ever going to change, it has to do it now. "The elections are fraudulent. The people in power monopolize all the resources. There are no jobs. There's no health care. And I can't afford good schools for my children," said protester Abdel Zaher Dandarwi, 53, a lawyer. The protests have no clear leader, but with demonstrators driven by deep resentments and long-suppressed rage, police have been unable to squelch the nascent movement. The protesters in Egypt have been largely middle class - lawyers, doctors, university students and professors. They have something to lose if this nation of 80 million descends into anarchy, but they also say they may not have much left if Egypt does not shift course. (Washington Post) See also Egypt Will Never Be the Same - Kareem Amer (Wall Street Journal)

Obama Administration Could Still Get It Right on Egypt - Jackson Diehl
The Obama administration's embrace of Mubarak, even as the octogenarian strongman refused to allow the emergence of a moderate, middle-class-based, pro-democracy opposition, has helped bring the U.S.' most important Arab ally to the brink of revolution. The Obama administration assumed that the damage done to relations by George W. Bush's "freedom agenda" was a mistake that needed to be repaired. In fact, Bush's pushing for political liberalization was widely viewed, in Egypt and in the region, as the saving grace of an otherwise bad administration. On Tuesday, when - disastrously - Secretary of State Clinton called Mubarak's government "stable" and claimed it was responding to "the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people," hours later, riot police attacked the thousands of demonstrators who had gathered in Cairo's Tahrir Square. Rightly or wrongly, Egyptian opposition activists now say, Clinton and the U.S. are being blamed in popular opinion for that crackdown. Egyptian opposition leader Saad Eddin Ibrahim told me Thursday that Mubarak should step down and be replaced by a transitional government, headed by opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei and including representatives of all pro-democracy forces. That government could then spend six months to a year rewriting the constitution, allowing political parties to freely organize and preparing for genuinely democratic elections. Given time to establish themselves, secular forces backed by Egypt's growing middle class are likely to rise to the top in those elections - not the Islamists that Mubarak portrays as the only alternative. U.S. support for a peaceful transition from Mubarak's government to a new democracy could be decisive. (Washington Post) See also U.S. Diplomats Opposed Any Alternative to Hosni Mubarak - Editorial (Wall Street Journal) See also Mubarak Is Put on Notice - Editorial (New York Times)

What Are the Protests in Egypt Really About? - Lee Smith
For all the excitement surrounding the demonstrations, it’s worth remembering that the nominally docile Egyptian masses take to the streets with some regularity. More to the point, it is an unfortunate fact of modern Egyptian history that its people are often susceptible to ideological politics. For instance, Nasser led the country to disaster and yet, compared to Sadat the peacemaker or Mubarak the stolid pharaoh who has kept the country stable, if static, it is Nasser who owns the affections of the Egyptian masses. (Weekly Standard)

Arab Paper: Israel Is Now Dependent on Egyptian Protesters - Abd Al-Bari Atwan
The fire of protest has begun to lick at the edges of the moderate Arab regimes, one after the other, in a way that threatens these dictatorships, known for aligning themselves with America's foreign policy. Three countries are facing profound change that could topple their regimes, namely, Egypt, Yemen, and Lebanon. Each meets a strategic need of the U.S.: Egypt provides security for Israel, leads the Arab plans for normalization with Israel, and combats all forms of political and Islamic extremism that oppose its regime. Yemen is considered to be the cornerstone of America's war on al-Qaeda. Lebanon is considered to be the spearhead of the resistance camp and of Iran's geopolitical and military aspirations. The state of stability and well-being that Israel has enjoyed for the past 30 years is now dependent upon the Egyptian protesters. Israel is surrounded: a "democratic" intifada armed with 40,000 missiles and with a martyrdom-seeking leadership [i.e., Hizbullah], a popular revolution with a 7,000-year history [i.e., the protesters in Egypt], a Palestinian Authority that has lost its authority, and a Jordanian government that is on the brink of collapse. (Al-Quds Al-Arabi-UK-MEMRI)

"We're Living on a Volcano," Israeli Security Experts Warn - Yaakov Lappin
Israeli security experts are casting an uneasy eye at the civil unrest spreading through the region as Yemen joined the list of Arab states experiencing unprecedented demonstrations, and Egypt braced for more civil unrest. "We need to understand that we are living on a volcano," said Maj.-Gen. (res.) Ya'acov Amidror, former head of the IDF's Research and Assessment Directorate. "We are on thick ice, but even that melts eventually." Maj.-Gen. (res.) Giora Eiland, a former national security adviser, and a senior research fellow at Tel Aviv University's Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), said, "There's a reasonable chance that if a revolution takes place in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood would rise to power. That would be bad not just for Israel but for all democracies." The true struggle in Egypt was not between "Mubarak and pro-democracy elements, but between Mubarak and the Muslim Brotherhood," Eiland said. Shlomo Brom, director of the program on Israel-Palestinian relations at the INSS, said, "We can't forget that in Iran, at the end of the 1970s, the uprising against the shah was led by [pro-democracy] youths who took to the streets – but this was taken over by Islamists in the end." (Jerusalem Post)

What the Palestine Papers Reveal about the Peace Process - Frida Ghitis
Al Jazeera has portrayed the leaked Palestine Papers as evidence that Palestinian leaders betrayed their people by making huge concessions to Israel. But what the documents and the reaction to them really show is something quite different. As anyone who has followed the peace process closely knows, there is little that is really new in the files. Practically every detail painted as a shocking concession has been part of the agreed baseline of a peace deal. In fact, most of the "shocking" concessions had already been signed on to by Palestinian negotiators as far back as 2000. Israelis have been vigorously discussing the details of exactly what compromises they should make for peace, while Palestinian leaders have publicly trumpeted maximalist positions to their own people, making it taboo to accept compromise. In the long run, the Palestine Papers controversy will serve the useful purpose of letting Palestinians know about the compromises required for peace. (World Politics Review)

One Doesn't Boycott the Only Free Society in the Mideast - Bernard-Henri Levy
In the matter of the BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) campaign, we are faced here with a skillfully orchestrated but calumnious, bellicose, anti-democratic and, in a word, despicable campaign. One boycotts totalitarian regimes, not democracies. One can boycott Sudan, guilty of the extermination of part of the population of Darfur. One can boycott China, guilty of massive violations of human rights in Tibet and elsewhere. One can and should boycott Iran, a country whose leaders have become deaf to the language of common sense and compromise. One can even imagine, as we once did with regard to the fascist generals' Argentina or Brezhnev's USSR, boycotting those Arab regimes whose citizens' freedom of expression is forbidden, and punished, if necessary, with blood. One does not boycott the only society in the Middle East where Arabs read a free press, demonstrate when they wish to do so, send representatives to parliament, and enjoy their rights as citizens. I submit the declarations of Omar Barghouti, one of the founders of the Palestinian BDS campaign, affirming that his goal is not two states but two Palestines. And those of Ali Abunimah, co-founder of Electronic Intifada and also opposed to the two-state solution, who does not hesitate to compare Israel to Nazi Germany. And the declarations of the leaders of Sabeel, that group of Palestinian Christians firmly implanted in North America, who, anxious to lend the idea of "responsible investment" a "theological" basis, do not hesitate to subtly but surely reactivate the stereotype of the Christ-killing Jew. Presenting the promoters of this discourse of hatred as victims speaks volumes of the current state of confusion - intellectual and moral - of a Western world one would have hoped had been cured of its worst criminal past. (Ha'aretz)

The West Bank's Airspace - The Forgotten Factor of Israeli Security - Dore Gold
In the WikiLeaks documents, Maj.-Gen. Ido Nechushtan, as head of the IDF Planning Branch, explained in 2007 to U.S. Gen. Jim Jones that Israel's security requirements in the event a Palestinian state comes into existence would include "control" of the West Bank's airspace. Indeed, Israeli security experts insist that no matter where borders are ultimately drawn, Israel must control the airspace over the entire West Bank in any future peace arrangement. The reasons are simple. Israel, together with the West Bank, is only 70 km. wide. Modern combat aircraft, like the Russian MiG-29 or the Su-24, can cross that distance from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean in less than 4 minutes. The minimal time Israel needs to scramble Israeli fighters in order to intercept incoming enemy aircraft is about 3 minutes. But if Israel no longer controlled the West Bank's airspace and it had to defend Israel from the air along the Green Line, it would only have 2 minutes or less to respond to an air threat. In short, in that narrow space, Israel could not be defended from an air attack. Would Jordan allow hostile aircraft into its airspace that could pose a threat to Israel? In 1989, pro-Western King Hussein allowed Saddam Hussein's aircraft to enter Jordanian airspace so that they could fly right up to the Jordan River and photograph potential targets inside of Israel. Today there are many regional air forces in the Middle East who would seek to do the same. (Yisrael Hayom-Hebrew, 28Jan11)

Arab Demand for East Jerusalem Is an Obstacle to Peace - Efraim Inbar
The Arab-backed Palestinian demand to partition Jerusalem is a major obstacle to peace. In contrast to Muslims and Christians, Jews have prayed for thousands of years toward Jerusalem. The Temple Mount is the holiest Jewish site. Israelis are bewildered by the campaign of the Palestinian Authority to negate the historic existence of the First and Second Temples. Jerusalem has not been the capital of any Muslim or Arab political entity since the Arab invasion of Palestine in the seventh century. In contrast, it has been the capital of three sovereign Jewish states. Therefore, the demand to make Jerusalem the capital of a Palestinian state that never existed before is disconnected from the political history of the city and seems to constitute mainly a denial of Jewish roots in the city and on the Temple Mount. Jerusalem also holds strategic importance in controlling the only highway from the Mediterranean coast to the Jordan Valley along which military forces can move with little interference from Arab population concentrations. Jerusalem is the linchpin for erecting a security zone along the Jordan Rift. If Israel wants to maintain a defensible border in the east, it needs to secure the east-west axis from the coast to the Jordan Valley via an undivided Jerusalem and Maale Adumim. Polls show that over two-thirds of Israelis reject the division of Jerusalem. The writer is professor of political studies and director of the Begin-Sadat (BESA) Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University. ( Holocaust Remembrance Day

What Have We Learned from the Holocaust? - Yuli Edelstein
Israeli Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein addressed a special event in Brussels on Tuesday marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day: In the spring of 1939 George the VI, King of England, instructed his private secretary to write to British Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax, having learned that "a number of Jewish refugees from different countries were surreptitiously getting into Palestine." The king was "glad to learn that steps are being taken to prevent these people leaving their country of origin." Halifax's office telegraphed Britain's ambassador in Berlin asking him to encourage the German government "to check the unauthorized emigration" of Jews. Today the apologists for the king explain that he was not an anti-Semite. To prevent Jewish immigration to Palestine was an official government policy, they say, to pacify Arab Muslim resistance to the Zionist movement. Indeed, this policy, as we know now, was a resounding success. Millions of Jews didn't escape their "countries of origin," except with the smoke of the crematorium chimneys. What have we learned? Jews should be united, Jews should be independent, and Jews should be armed and ready to fight. The State of Israel stands today as a guarantee that no kings, no ministers, no policies will doom the Jews again, that there always will be a gate that is open and a beacon that shines friendly. That is what "Never again" means. It means lesson learned. Jews, it is often said, are the canary in the coal mine of civilization. Anytime, anywhere, if you let the poison of anti-Semitism spread, the inevitable explosion will soon come. In its decision to recognize International Holocaust Memorial Day, the community of nations had recognized that the remembrance of the victims of the largest genocide in history is necessary so its lessons will be learned and applied globally. (IMRA) See also International Holocaust Remembrance Day: Universal Lessons - Irwin Cotler (Jerusalem Post) See also A New Holocaust? - Manfred Gerstenfeld (Ynet News)Observations:

Mubarak Will Have to Pay a Significant Price - Zvi Mazel (Jerusalem Post)
The mass demonstrations in Egypt were born in Tunisia. That display of people power unleashed years of pent-up resentment against the Mubarak regime. Even in Syria, the mighty Assad is worried now. His civil servants got an unexpected raise, and Facebook was shut down. In Jordan, protests have been taking place for weeks.
Egypt has not known such violent and determined mass demonstrations since the bread riots of 1977. But the economic situation is far worse today. An estimated 40% of the population earns less than $2 a day. And in today's world of satellite television, Internet and social networks, the people are far more aware of their plight.
Tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of young protesters, with no leaders in sight, demonstrated in 15 cities in the last few days. They stood their ground and even used force against the police and the security forces. They called for the removal of the president and his family. And for the first time in history, portraits of the leader displayed in the streets were torn down. Until now, no one could criticize Mubarak. If this has changed, then everything has changed.
The Mubarak regime is based on a huge ruling party present in every village and every city, and on a disciplined army and security forces whose allegiance is not in doubt. They will do their utmost - which is considerable - to stop the protests.
But Mubarak will have to pay a price: He may need to take economic measures to alleviate some of the poverty, perhaps put an end to the emergency laws and organize credible, free democratic presidential elections. If he manages to weather this crisis, he and his regime will emerge weakened.The writer is a former ambassador to Egypt and a Fellow of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

TBE's Marge Shameer featured in Advocate

TBE's Marge Shameer was featured in a story in the Advocate yesterday. Click here to see it.

Rabbinic Driving Manual

Ever wonder what are the Torah's rules for the road? Here's a Parsha Packet for Mishpatim, "The Rabbinic Driving Manual." As you'll see, it's not a long leap from donkeys to Hummers.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Letter from Netanya: A Dispatch from TBE Congregant Jan Gaines

Dear Josh, I'm finally feeling more settled and thinking about what to say this week. All of TBE activities leave me partially envious. We do poorly by contrast. But the contentment and "rightness" I feel more than justifies this final move.

Dear TBE Friends,

While you have further cold and white, we are having warmth and drought. A seven year drought in fact. The whole area is parched; not just Israel. Lack of rain affects the Palestinians and the Jordanians as well. Nowhere do we need more inter-national cooperation than for this.

So each day of gorgeous sun and warm weather makes me wake up with an "Oh shucks" feeling again.

And on top of that, today's news about the "Palestine Papers" gave me a double "Oh Shucks" or stronger. This leakage to Al Jazeera is a disaster for the little that is left of the so called peace process and only serves to strengthen Hamas at the expense of the PA. We are in for some very tough times ahead. Given Hezbollah's inevitable take over of Lebanon, along with the growing "de factor" recognition from more and more countries of a Palestinian state on the pre-Six Day War boundaries, we are more and more threatened both internally and externally.

But you would never know it from everyday life here. People are pleased and optimistic with the extraordinary discoveries of natural gas off Israel's coast. The partnership of Israeli Delek Co. with Houston's Noble Energy has drilled two fabulous sites containing enough natural gas for the next two decades. And the excess after Israel's needs are met, could make Israel an exporter energy exporter.
The two sites are aptly named Tamar and Leviathan. Tamar is estimated to yield 240 billion cubic metres and Leviathan 453 billion cum. of gas. I can't grasp the meaning of that except to say that the article I read in the JPost Magazine this weekend (you should be able to access it on line) that today Israel uses only 5 billion cubic metres.

People and the media are also talking about the latest political maneuver in the coalition which is Barak's pullout from the Labor Party, taking 5 other members with him, and forming yet another new party. Ho-hum!! Labor party voters just shrug and say Labor will come back. Likud voters think this finishes the once all powerful Labor party. And there is still a feeling that we don't have the kind of leadership we need right now, even tho Netanyahu could be re-elected easily if he ran now.

But Bibi is looking for stability. And I honestly believe he is trying hard to get some kind of a treaty with the PLO. Without giving away too much. And without setting off another intifada or provoking Hizbollah.

Sadly, I don't think he's going to have any success in moving the whole process off square one. We are really stuck now in a holding pattern- - unable to get ready for the next big blow.

A lot of people are very unhappy with the Israeli education system. It used to be superb but tenure for bad teachers and too big class sizes have pulled it down. I see the tenure problem in the small elementary school where I tutor each week. There is only one good English teacher out of three and two of the three have tenure. And none of them are native English speakers. This is an all Ethiopian government religious school ( but nothing like the Haredi schools) where the mostly non-Orthodox teachers really struggle to make some progress but are hampered by too many kids in class and the typical rambunctiousness of the kids. ( That wildness you see in all the schools. )

And what about the Army? I've read reports and heard about the spoiled rich kids of Tel Aviv finding excuses to avoid Army service. But my granddaughter's boyfriend is from a rich TA family and he is now in one of the two most elite and toughest units of the Army. And the grandchildren of everyone I know are serving without complaint and with pride. Not being able to serve, as is the case with one of these grandchildren, (for health reasons) is a terrible blow to him right now and even in his future. So the Army is holding its own and is ready for whatever comes.

One thing I know for sure. The famous Israeli pushy hospitality is still at work. I was in the check out line of a super market the other day, holding a few items in my hand. The lady in front of me motioned that I should go ahead of her. That done, she told me her name and asked me where I lived, had I made Aliyah, etc. My granddaughter was with me also. Then this Rachel took an old piece of paper and wrote her name and telephone numbers and handed them to me.l Her last name is famous in Netanya as one of the builders of the city, especially the seashore area where I live. So when I said "Wow" in surprise, that made her all the more determined I should call her. She insisted I promise to call her and reminded me all the way to the exit. She expected to hear from me!!

I will call her- - - to be a speaker at one of our Sisterhood or Hadassah meetings. She was born in Poland, which means she too, like almost every Israeli, has a Story! And in spite of her well known family, she is reaching out to someone she never saw before to offer friendship.

That's Israel. That's our stubborn, pushy, loud, nosy, noisy Israeli sisters. I love 'em and I'll never want to leave 'em.

Best Regards, Jan Gaines

Friday, January 21, 2011

Welcome to Our Three Guest Rabbis

This weekend we'll be privileged to welcome three special guest rabbis to TBE. Here is some background on them:

RABBI JILL JACOBS - join us as our scholar in residence; she is one of the leading young rabbis on the American Jewish scene. Author of the "There Shall be No Needy: Pursuing Social Justice through Jewish Law and Tradition" and the forthcoming "Where Justice Dwells: A Hands-On Guide to Doing Social Justice in Your Jewish Community" (Jewish Lights 2011). On Friday night, she'll be speaking on "Taking Judaism Public," on Shabbat morning, Are Our Paychecks Jewish? and after lunch, "When the Water Runs Out: Sharing Precious Resources in a Globalized World." Click here for more details and to see a video of Rabbi Jacobs.

RABBI BARB MOSKOW - We welcome back Barb this weekend. When Barb left our congregation for Phoenix several years back, this year's seventh graders were in kindergarten - they've never had the chance to experience her trademark Shabbatons and fun Round Robin activities. Now all our kids will. On Shabbat morning, Barb will lead the service for our seventh grade shul-in (parents are welcome to join them) and next Sunday, she'll be running Tu B'Shevat activities for our Hebrew School. Barb is currently rabbi of Congregation Merkaz Ha'Iyr in Phoenix.

RABBI MICHELLE DARDASHTI - a recent graduate of the JTS Rabbinical School and the Davidson School of Education, specializes in family education and social action. She will be participating in our family services this Shabbat morning, first for grades 2-6 and later a Tot Shabbat-style service for young families. She'll also deliver a brief d'var Torah during Friday night's service. Rabbi Dardashti currently holds the prestigious Marshall Meyer fellowship at Congregation B'nai Jeshurun in New. One of the many projects she's been involved with is Storahtelling, a cutting edge Torah troupe that has gotten rave reviews here at TBE. You can read more about her background here.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Health Care and Gun Control: Some Source Material from the Rabbinical Assembly

Health Care and Gun Control are in the news this week, the former because Congress voted on Wed. to repeal the plan passed last year and the latter in the aftermath of the Tucson shootings.

In the interest of generating light rather than heat, I present here all the pertinent statements that have come from the Rabbinical Assembly on these topics, without editorial comment. The purpose is not to join a debate, but to explore what Judaism has to teach us. No doubt there are contrasting and nuanced views, but this material can help you to understand the basics. As the sages used to say, "Tze U'lemad," "Go and learn."

Health Care

The Rabbinical Assembly has articulated its position over the past several decades for accessible and affordable health care for Americans.

In 1998, the Committee for Jewish Law amd Standards passed a teshvua (responsum) entitled, "Responsibilities for the Provisions of Health Care," by Elliot Dorff and Aaron Mackler, outlining our halakhic responsibilities for health care in our community.

In 2008, the RA passed a resolution affirming support for affordable and accessible health care.

Last spring, the US Congress passed the "Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act". Yesterday, the US House of Representatives, voted to enact H.R. 2, entitled, "Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act", a measure to repeal the health care law.

Majority Leader, Sen. Harry Reid, said there are no plans to introduce this into the Senate and repeal would require a vote of both Houses. President Obama also indicated that he will veto any such measure if passed. As a member of the Faithful Healthcare Reform Coalition, the RA has signed onto this letter which also articulates the vision statement of the Coalition. The RA stands for accessible and affordable health care for all Americans.

Gun Control

As a member of Faiths United To Prevent Gun Violence coalition, a diverse coalition of national faith organizations united to confront America's gun violence epidemic and to rally support for policies that reduce death and injury from gunfire, the R.A. supports the bill that Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY) introduced into the House earlier this week to ban high capacity ammunition like the one used in the Tucson shootings. In 1995, the Rabbinical Assembly went on record in support of gun control by passing a resolutiuon and reaffirmed its support with the Coalition this past fall. You can read an extensive selection of material from the Reform Movement's Religious Action Center on this topic here.

The Ten Commandments and World Religions

No one ever claimed that "our" Ten Commandments are unique, but if you search online you'll find lots of different versions. In the packet found here, I compare and contrast the "Big Ten" as they are expressed by major world religions. Did you know, for instance, that for Hindus, the "tenfold law" as they call it, includes self control, forgiveness, wisdom and abstention from anger? Buddhists include not killing, stealing and coveting wives, but also refraining from "divisive, harsh and senseless speech." Imagine planting two tablets containing
that on a courtroom lawn!

I also explore some of the commandments individually. For the Sikhs it is a sin to argue with your parent. An African proverb states, "If a parent takes care of you up to the time you cut your teeth, you need to take care of them when they lose theirs."

You can see how vociferously Islam condemns the murder of innocents and that Confucianism states, "No crime is greater than having too many desires."

Check out our Big Ten against theirs... here.

Moses and Jethro: Models of Leadership

It's bad enough for this Patriots fan that this week's portion begins with JET - but Jethro, Moses' father in law, teaches Moses quite a bit about leadership. Click here for a parsha packet I put together a couple of years ago on the topic, complete with some traditional commentaries and contemporary models of leadership. You'll also find a checklist on how to be an effective leader of dogs.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

TBE Bar/Bat Mitzvah Commentary: Ethan Finkelstein on Beshallach

Hello everyone, thank you for coming to share this great day with me and my family. It is also very special to share this day with Zoë – we will have the memories of this day and our preparing for it to talk about for the rest of our lives.

Today, Zoë and I are reading the parsha, Beshallach. I really like Beshallach. It is a great portion to have because it is about a very important part of Jewish history. If the Jews had not escaped from Egypt, then either I would never have been born or I would be a slave in Egypt.

In the portion, after crossing the Red Sea, the song of victory is sung. According to the Midrash, the angels and the Israelites started to celebrate the defeat of the Egyptians, but God stopped them, saying, “My creations are drowning and you are singing before me?”

But Jewish tradition asks to go even one step beyond not celebrating the defeat of our enemy. Tractate Avot, which is in the Talmud, says “Ayze hu gibor? Ha’oseh soneh hu ohavo.” This means: “Who is a true hero? The one who turns an enemy into a friend.”

Martin Luther King Jr. whose life and legacy we remember and celebrate this weekend, had a similar philosophy. He said, “Love is the only force capable of transforming enemy into friend. How can we turn people into friends? Through love and kindness especially to those who are different from us or less fortunate. They don’t have to be enemies, just different.”

I think turning enemies into friends is very important, because it could help bring peace around the world and make the world a much better and safer place. For example, in the Middle East, there is so much hatred among countries. If they become friends all the effort and resources now used toward war and terrorism could perhaps be used to get oil and other energy more efficiently. That could change the world. It could happen - for example, the Egyptians enslaved the Jews a long time ago and now, Egypt and Israel have a peace treaty. Do you think Moshe would have imagined that was possible?

Dr. King’s philosophy can also be applied in day-to-day life. I am a big Steelers fan (Go Steelers!) and I have a teacher who is a big Ravens fan. Whenever the Ravens beat them, he walks up to me and starts to gloat. Whenever the Steelers win, I go up to him and gloat. I am also a big Yankees fan and whenever the Yankees beat the Red Sox, I gloat with some Red Sox fans, (the Rabbi, for instance). Even while enjoying the victory, just like the Israelites at the Red Sea, I realize that it is more important not to put down anybody, but to simply appreciate our differences.

It is also important to not fear those who appear different, or whose situation in life is different. For the last few years on Christmas Eve, my family and I have served food at Pacific House, a homeless shelter here in Stamford. They are having a very difficult time in life and some might look a little scary on the outside. But it is great to serve food to them, talk to them, and see the smiles on their faces and learn they really aren’t different, and there is no need to fear them. They aren’t enemies.

This philosophy also applies on the baseball field. I love baseball and it is a very fun sport to play. I have also learned a lot playing baseball. I have learned the importance of teamwork and sportsmanship and also that you can be friends with those on the opposing teams.

This ties into my mitzvah project: I am collecting and donating new and gently used baseball equipment to a group called, “Pitch in for Baseball.” Pitch in for Baseball delivers baseball equipment to underserved communities around the globe. Hopefully those who get to use the equipment will learn these same lessons and perhaps create bonds between communities as they play baseball that can help turn some enemies into friends.

So that’s something important I’ve learned from my portion. Now we’ll hear from someone who needs no introduction, but I do want to congratulate her on becoming a Bat Mitzvah today.


TBE Bar/Bat Mitzvah Commentary: Zoë Finkelstein on Beshallach (Shabbat Shira)

Hello, and thank you so much for coming and sharing this special day with me and my family. A special Mazal Tov to Ethan. It’s been very special to share today with you.

This Shabbat is Shabbat Shira, the Shabbat of Song. It is called the Shabbat of Song because in our Torah portion and Haftarah, we have two of the top ten songs in Jewish history: the Song of the Sea, when the Israelites cross the Red Sea, and the Song of Deborah (both sung by women, by the way).

I am glad that we have this portion for a few reasons. One is just the fact that it is part of the Passover story, and Passover is a big holiday in my family. Every year my family comes over and Dad leads the Seder. He was born during the first Seder, so it’s his Jewish Birthday. I always have a great time, especially with my cousins, which is why it’s one of my favorite holidays. I especially love it when we all search for the afikomen, which my cousin Evan usually hides.
Another reason why I am so glad we have this portion is because of all the music.

I love music a lot and I have for as long as I can remember. I love it because it is a way for people to express themselves, it brings people together, it inspires a lot of things, it can be relaxing as well as electrifying, and it has the ability to make any situation so much more fun.
I love listening to it, but I also love singing, both for choral groups in school and at home on my own. I love playing songs on the piano, reading off of sheet music, or just playing around, improvising and experimenting, seeing how different combinations of notes sound together. I just started teaching myself to play guitar, which I have also quickly come to love.

I love all kinds of music, and my tastes are very eclectic; at least that’s what my dad says. I like almost every style: hip hop, alternative, pop, rock…almost everything but Miley Cyrus, and my favorite songs and bands, they're almost uncountable.

I’ve been looking closer at the lyrics of some of the songs that I like, and the more I look into it, the more I see that many songs have Jewish themes or lessons, even songs that don’t appear to be “Jewish” on the surface.

Take “Livin’ on a Prayer,” by Bon Jovi, for instance.

We’re half way there, livin' on a prayer
Take my hand, we'll make it I swear, livin on a prayer.

It means that if you trust, you can get where you want to go. Like in the portion we read today, the Jews trusted in God and in Moses, and were able to cross the Red Sea.

Or a more recent song, like “Grenade,” by Bruno Mars – here are some of the lyrics:

I’d catch a grenade for you,
throw my hand on a blade for you,
I’d jump in front of a train for you,
you know I’d do anything for you.

This song is all about being totally and completely dedicated, willing to give everything, even a life, for what we believe in. Jews have suffered so much over the centuries, just because they were Jewish. Still, Jews have not given up and stayed Jewish, risking their lives but never giving up.

And how about the song “Beautiful,” by Christina Aguilera?

You are beautiful no matter what they say,
Words can't bring you down,
You are beautiful in every single way,
words can't bring you down,
Don't you bring me down today.

This song teaches us how important it is to be confident, believe in yourself, and not let things get to you, no matter what nasty stuff people say. We, as Jews, have survived over a long period of time because, even when people threatened us, or made us feel unwelcome, we believed in Judaism and stayed Jewish.

Or “Miracle,” by Paramore

I'm not going cause I've been waiting for a miracle
And I'm not leaving I won't let you,
Let you give up on a miracle
Cause it might save you.

It means to never give up on what you believe in, and to try to make sure no one else does either. Going back to the Passover story, right after the Jews cross the Red Sea, they start to complain. Moses believes G-d has many miracles in store, and tried to get the complaining Jews to believe the same.

I think that almost every song has a meaningful moral, if you go down deep enough. In learning this, I realized that, yes, music inspires things, but the music itself is inspired by so many amazing things.

My mitzvah project was to collect toiletries, sheets, towels, and blankets for the Pacific House homeless shelter, as well as St. Luke’s homeless shelter, both here in Stamford. I’ve helped out at Pacific House by serving dinner on Christmas Eve with my family for the past few years and the men are in a very difficult situation, so I decided to help by collecting the items on their “wish list.” Many of these items are basic necessities such as shampoo, soap, conditioner, tooth brushes, and tooth paste.

When it was near Christmas Eve, I wrapped up enough toiletries for both shelters, listening to holiday music on the radio to get into the mood. Listening to the music made me want to be festive and have red and green bags, and snowflakes on the boxes, just for them.

On Christmas Eve the men were happy and laughing, with the Christmas music playing along in the background. We handed out the toiletries that night. The men are so nice, and they deserve so much more than they have, and seeing their faces as the toiletries were placed into their hands made me so glad I chose this project to do. I was so inspired by these men, that I wrote a song about them.

That is an example of how music is created through inspiration, and how music can be inspiring, too. Looking back on what I’ve said, I realize that what I love the most about music is how much it inspires and how much inspires it. Everything is music and music is everything.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Rev. Kate Heichler on Civility - from Stamford Advocate

The following is an op-ed piece that appeared in Monday's Stamford Advocate. It is a piece that Rev. Kate Heichler, an Episcopal colleague and InterFaith Council president, wrote. Well worth the read!


Each month at the InterFaith Council’s “Learning and Latte,” people of diverse traditions gather to discuss religion, culture, politics – and often current events. Last Tuesday our thoughts naturally turned to the horrific shooting in Tucson. Though that was not a religious attack, it echoed the increasingly vitriolic, even violent quality of what passes for civic discourse in our country. And so we came soon to the Civility Issue. We wondered what we could do, as people of faith, to foster a more respectful, peaceful, civil quality of conversation. This weekend, when we celebrate the life and ministry of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is a particularly apt time to ask this question.

Some may ask, can religion be a force for non-violence, when religious affiliations, passions and wars are the stated causes of so many armed conflicts? Many of the world’s largest religious systems have bloody histories, and much of the violence in our world today is fueled by religiously-motivated hatred, bigotry, vengeance and fear. But religious thought has also been a crucial source of pacifist and non-violent approaches to conflict resolution. The teachings of Christ about sacrificial love inspired the Hindu Mahatma Gandhi to develop his philosophy of non-violent resistance. He in turn inspired the Baptist Martin Luther King, Jr., in his battle for civil rights.

In our own day, Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi is a visible symbol of peaceful resistance to brutal oppression. Despite her father’s assassination, she steadfastly refuses to seek retribution, devoting herself to bringing about justice by democratic means. She draws on non-violent teachings in her own Theravada Buddhism, as well as the examples of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu have also met bitter injustice with transformative non-violence, and they continue to work behind the scenes in many world conflicts ( These are people whose nonviolent actions – and non-actions – have continued to ripple around the world and across time.

These days, our world seems to be undergoing a retreat from moderation and a movement toward extremism. We see it in our political systems, and even more murderously in other parts of the world. Sufism, highly popular as the most moderate of Islamic sects, faces violence by hardliners in Pakistan, Iran and elsewhere. The recent bombing of a Coptic church in Cairo prompted Egyptians to fear that growing religious extremism between Muslims and Christians threatens to undermine their stability. This year will mark the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, when religious extremism inflicted the greatest wound upon us as Americans.

We can choose to meet such extremism in kind, ratcheting up the rhetoric and the violence, as many are doing. Or we can redirect our energy into transformative action that builds on values we all claim to profess. Religious people especially need to visibly “align our values with our actions,” as President Obama said in his speech last Wednesday. The Jewish Council for Public Affairs has issued a “Statement on Civility.” Jim Wallis, the progressive evangelical (yes, it’s possible…) leader of the Sojourners community, has invited Christian leaders to sign a “Pledge for Peace and Civility.” Stamford’s Rabbi Joshua Hammerman suggests perhaps we establish some metrics and issue “Civility Ratings” to political figures.

Civility is actually quite a low standard, as is tolerance – we “tolerate” Brussels sprouts (my bias…). A higher calling is mutual understanding, which can lead to respect and even reverence. I invite my religious colleagues in Southwestern Connecticut to take the lead in setting such a tone locally. I call on our political leaders, educators and journalists to do the same, as well as all who are engaged in public discourse, whether in letters to the editor, in town-hall meetings, or in private conversation.

People of religious conviction have a great role to play in calling us from the margins into the center. We can take the lead in blurring the lines between “blue” and “red,” “liberal” and “reactionary.” We can stop demonizing those with whom we disagree, and model a humility that knows when to speak out, and when to stay quiet, even in the face of untruth and distortion. We can refuse to label anyone as a “them,” and look rather at the real person standing before us.

Martin Luther King, Jr., in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, said, “Nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time: the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to oppression and violence. Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.”

A person regarded with love often becomes more lovable. People of faith, who proclaim the love of God, need above all to demonstrate and embody love. Love is not a flimsy thing of flowers and chocolate. The Hebrew scriptures say that love is stronger than death. As any parent or partner will tell you, love is difficult, risky, and powerful.

On this anniversary of the birth of Martin Luther King, Jr., who embodied the sacrificial love that gives itself away for the life of the Other, I call us beyond civility, to love; love that has the courage to see the “other” as innately precious,bearing dignity as a fellow child of God. King modeled this kind of dangerous love. We can too.

Learn more about the InterFaith Council of Southwestern Connecticut at “Learning and Latte” takes place the second Tuesday of each month at Cosi Restaurant, 1209 High Ridge Road at Merritt Parkway Exit 35 in Stamford.

The Rev. Kate Heichler is president of the InterFaith Council of Southwestern Connecticut, and pastor of the Church of Christ the Healer in Stamford.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Big Picture: A Cuddly Response to the Delegitimizers

While we may question much of what the Israeli government is doing, this video is a helpful reminder of the big picture, a needed response to the delegitimizers, as we continue to fight what Netanyhu has called the Soft War. And I've never seen such cuddly propagandists in my life!

Friday, January 14, 2011

From the Sidelines to the Front Lines: The year in Israel- Diaspora Relations (Jewish Week)

From The Sidelines To The Front Lines: The Year in Israel-Diaspora Relations.
Rabbi Joshua Hammerman
Special To The Jewish Week
Friday, January 14, 2011

2010 marked a turning point in the relationship between diaspora Jewry and Israel. Although philanthropy and tourism remain essential components of that relationship, diaspora Jews signaled that unquestioning support could no longer be taken for granted and demanded, as never before, a voice in shaping the values of the Jewish state.

That new assertiveness stems in part from the increasingly active role Jews were being asked to play in defending Israel against what Prime Minister Netanyahu has called Israel’s “Soft War,” a worldwide campaign of delegitimization against the Jewish state. The front lines of this confrontation lie far from the Lebanese or Gazan borders, but on college campuses and op-ed pages, shelves of Trader Joes, Seattle’s buses, containers of Sabra hummus and the “like” icons of Facebook. While many diaspora Jews are willing to be good soldiers in the Soft War, they’ve come to demand that Israel provide what some feel is needed most to complete their vital PR assignment: a Jewish state not stained by corruption, blemished by bigotry or hijacked by the religious right.

Despite growing evidence of Iran’s nuclear ambitions, there was plenty of good news to go around this past year, with the strong Israeli economy and improved security attracting record tourism — over three million visitors in all — and Birthright Israel, more popular than ever for young adults, began its second decade by approaching the 300,000 mark. But as visitors sipped lattes at Tel Aviv’s bustling cafés, conversations kept returning to the year’s three obsessions: flotilla, Beinart and Rotem.

The response to the Gaza flotilla raid of May 31, where nine activists were killed, unleashed a worldwide media onslaught that set Israel’s defenders on their heels. They regrouped, buoyed by videos showing defenseless Israeli soldiers under armed attack. Still, much of the positive PR resulting from Israel’s remarkable humanitarian efforts following the Haiti earthquake dissolved in Israel’s perceived insensitivity to the humanitarian needs of Gazan civilians, and this posed a new challenge for the weary infantry of the Soft War.

Israelis were united in defending the actions of their soldiers, believing that the world, including, many felt, the American president, was out to get them. With Israeli support for Obama plummeting to the single digits, a fissure opened between Israelis and American Jews, who, despite a Republican resurgence at home, continued to support the President solidly. This tension was amplified during tense interactions between the administration and Prime Minister Netanyahu, including two ill-timed announcements on West Bank housing construction that emerged during key meetings with Vice President Biden.

Then Netanyahu was heckled during his November speech before 4,000 at the Jewish Federations’ General Assembly. Unnerved by this shocking reception — harassing a prime minister is a red line rarely if ever crossed at the G.A. — Netanyahu accused the protesters of joining the ranks of those who believe “Israel is guilty until proven guilty.

“The greatest success of our detractors is when Jews start believing that themselves,” he added, choosing to attack rather than reach out to his critics. “We’ve seen that today.”

In June, noted intellectual Peter Beinart raised a storm by accusing the American Jewish establishment of sacrificing its liberal values in favor of support for Israel at any price. A long-time supporter of Israel, Beinart spoke about a generational divide. The sense that the world is against us doesn’t resonate with younger American Jews, he said. Indeed, young American Jews in focus groups repeatedly used the word “they” rather than “us” in reference to Israel. In a poll, only 50 percent of young Jews said they would consider Israel’s destruction a personal tragedy. Other surveys gave conflicting results, but Beinart’s critique struck a chord, particularly in the Israeli press.

In mid-July, the Jerusalem Post featured an interview with political guru Frank Luntz, who was in Israel to advise government officials on how to improve their PR skills in talking to Americans. “Americans want to hear empathy,” he advised. “They want to know that you feel the pain of the people in Gaza.”

Luntz spoke of a focus group he did with Harvard and MIT students, Jews and non-Jews. “Within 10 minutes,” he said, “ the non-Jews started with “the war crimes of Israel,” with “the Jewish lobby,” with “the Jews have a lot more power and influence…” The Jewish students responded with silent acquiescence. When Luntz later confronted them, two of the women in the group started to cry.
“The guys are like, ‘Oh, my God, I didn’t speak up, I can’t believe I let this happen.’ And they’re all looking at each other with horrible embarrassment and guilt like you wouldn’t believe.”

Such is life on the front lines of the Soft War.

The summer also gave us the Rotem bill, which was designed to help hundreds of thousands of Russian immigrants to Israel convert to Judaism, but which threatened to disenfranchise diaspora Jewry by placing the authority to determine Jewish status entirely in the hands of the Chief Rabbinate. Mayday calls went out to diaspora leaders; the response was immediate and decisive. Unlike prior “Who is Jew” controversies, this one involved the liberal streams recruiting allies like Natan Sharansky of the Jewish Agency and Jerry Silverman of the Jewish Federations of North America. Then, when members of Congress began to chime in, Prime Minister Netanyahu recognized that it was time to derail Rotem, at least temporarily. Another red line had been crossed — mainstream, “establishment” Jews lobbying Congress against Israel, on a question of religious freedom.

Simultaneously, Israelis too seem to have decided that, with regard to the chief rabbinate, enough is enough. There has been a convergence on the issue of conversion, though in Israel the prime concern has been acceptance of Israel Defense Forces conversions. Public sentiment appears to be shifting toward a decentralization of religious authority. Even a small step toward a de-clawed Chief Rabbinate would mark a sea change in the Jewish state’s relationship with Jews around the world.

Accompanying conversion-related controversies, an epidemic of human rights outrages intensified the alienation of American Jews looking to support a Jewish state that shares their values. These include: the arrest of a woman for carrying a Torah near the Western Wall, the segregation of women on buses and streets, ethnic segregation at a yeshiva in Immanuel, the proposed loyalty oath, right wing Jews marching defiantly through an Israeli Arab town (Umm Al-Fahm), halachic rulings sanctioning the killing of gentiles, incitement toward minorities and foreign workers, and the letter signed by 49 rabbis supporting a ruling by a rabbi in Safed banning the sale or rental of property to non Jews. Added to this was the frenetic burst of construction in outlying settlements at year’s end, further compromising chances for a two-state solution.

The response to the Safed letter was a counter letter signed by more than 1,200 North American rabbis (full disclosure — I’m No. 67), saying:
“We struggle to maintain a strong, loving relationship between Jews outside of Israel and the Jewish state. Every day, that challenge grows more difficult. Many of our congregants love Israel and want nothing more than the safety and security of the Jewish homeland, but for a growing number of Jews in America this relationship to Israel cannot be assumed.”

Although couched in the reasoned, persuasive language of the Soft War, this letter was pure shock and awe, an unprecedented shot across the bow to Israeli leaders by rabbis from all denominations. As 2011 begins, it remains to be seen whether Netanyahu will continue to see this growing chorus of influential diaspora critics as a fifth column playing into the hands of the enemy, or will be chastened enough to shore up his legions on the front lines of the Soft War.

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman is spiritual leader of Temple Beth-El in Stamford, Conn., and a regular columnist for The Jewish Week. His “Standing on One Foot: A rabbi’s journal” column appears monthly.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Gabrielle Giffords' Jewishness (Hammerman on Ethics: Jewish Week)

Q - I am a traditional Jew who subscribes to the traditional definition of Jewish identity (you are Jewish if your mother is Jewish or if you've converted). By this definition, Gabrielle Giffords is not Jewish. But by other definitions, including her own, she is. Given all she has done and what she has gone through, and given the strong possibility that her assailant attacked her in part because of her self-declared Jewish identity, what is the proper ethical response to all this?

Rep. Giffords should be embraced by all Jews as one of our own. And I say this as a rabbi who has long disagreed with the Reform Movement's 1983 decision to accept a patrilineal definition of Jewish identity. See my Jewish Week posting: Gabrielle Giffords' Jewishness

Debbie Friedman Tributes

Here is a video of the funeral of Debbie Friedman, z'l, who passed away earlier this week. The begining consists of her music and the actual speaking begins several minutes in.

Abraham Joshua Heschel - Dr. King's Partner in Peace

As we recall Martin Luther King this weekend, we also recall his partnership with the great Jewish leader of that time, Abraham Joshua Heschel.
Click here for a number of transcripts of Heschel's speeches and other primary sources on his life.
See below some extensive excerpts from the final interview TV Heschel gave, which aired in 1973 shortly following his death, along with a feature about that interview.

In this last collection of clips, see at the end, advice Heschel gave to youth:

I would say to young people a number of things, and I have only one minute. I would say let them remember that there is a meaning beyond absurdity. Let them be sure that every little deed counts, that every word has power, and that we can do, everyone, our share to redeem the world, in spite of all absurdities, and all the frustrations, and all the disappointment. And above all, remember that the meaning of life is to build life as if it were a work of art. You're not a machine. When you're young, start working on this great work of art called your own existence.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Strenger than Fiction-Israel News - Haaretz Israeli News source.

Israel's Right Have Eyes but Do Not See - Haaretz

Future historians will debate how Israel’s leadership could have been so blind. They will wonder how it was possible that Israel - for 43 years - didn’t realize what David Ben-Gurion saw a few weeks after the Six-Day War: that the occupation of the West Bank was a catastrophe for Israel.

They will wonder even more what the government of Benjamin Netanyahu had in mind when he allowed the destruction of the Shepherd Hotel, the eviction of Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan; they will wonder what was happening to the 18th Knesset, in which parliamentarians were competing with each other with their anti-democratic legislation.

They will be struck by the total blindness of these parliamentarians and ministers to Israel’s place in the world, and their total lack of vision for what kind of state Israel would be in the future. All they seem to care about is to establish their patriotism through ‘Judaizing’ Jerusalem and other areas; to grab another building from Palestinians; to show how “Jewish” they are by proposing anti-Arab legislation and by attacking NGOs that try to protect Israel the liberal democracy.

The frenzy of the ‘Judaization’ of Jerusalem has now crossed the tipping point where the international community is no longer willing to just stand by. A while ago 26 former EU leaders, many of whom during their careers had been staunch friends of Israel, asked for sanctions against Israel. This has now been followed by a call of EU consuls to recognize East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital; to place observers at each venue where Israel wants to destroy Palestinian buildings.

The ominous signs that Israel will soon be under great international pressure are mounting, and proposals for specific steps of boycott and sanctions are taking shape. One is to deny Israelis who live in the West Bank entry to the EU, and to forbid the sale of any Israeli products from the West Bank.
The present government will react to these steps with Netanyahu’s usual lament that Israel’s existence is delegitimized; that there is no connection between Israel’s actions and criticism from abroad. Avigdor Lieberman will say that Israel needs to show the international community that it has backbone, and that it doesn’t cave in under pressure.

Nothing; absolutely nothing seems to penetrate the minds of Israel’s right-wing politicians. Talking to them, I mostly hear genuine surprise at Israel’s isolation. They live in a deep bunker where the simplest of truths doesn’t penetrate their minds: for the world, a Palestinian state along the 1967 lines with East Jerusalem as its capital is a non-negotiable demand.

Mind-boggling as it may be, they really don’t understand that Israel’s actions in East Jerusalem and the continued building in the settlements has categorized Israel as the peace-refusenik. Even our most highly educated prime minister and defense minister, the seemingly worldly Netanyahu and Barak, have lost complete touch with the universe outside the Knesset. Netanyahu’s lamentations that it’s the Palestinians’ fault, and Barak’s assertion that during his tenure as prime minister Israel built more than now just show that their horizons are now exclusively defined by their desire to hold on to this coalition of shame for a few months longer.
I wish I knew of a way to stop the madness, but prospects for the immediate future are bleak. Human nature is deeply averse to accepting guilt and responsibility. Right-wing politicians in power refuse to look in the mirror and understand that their actions are bringing this disaster on Israel. They will need an internal scapegoat for whom they blame for Israel being under such heavy attack now.

We are therefore likely to witness an increase in attacks on NGOs, academics, men and women of letters, and citizens who have for years tried to avert disaster, and to divert Israel from the course of becoming an illiberal ethnocracy. The Knesset will step up its attempts to shut up criticism, and to claim that the critics of Israel are responsible for the sanctions, despite all the evidence to the contrary. They will do everything to avoid facing the simple truth: their actions, and not Israel’s liberal critics, are putting Israel into its unprecedented international isolation.

While I cannot predict how and when exactly it will be, the day will come when Israel will awake from the nationalist and racist nightmare into which it has fallen. Until Israel’s electorate wakes up and understands that a sane government needs to be elected, it is up to Israel’s civil society to keep alive the vision of what Israel can become.

Legal scholars like Ruti Gavison, writers like David Grossman, philosophers like Avishai Margalit and political historians like Zeev Sternhell, along with institutions like the Israel Democracy Institute, its academia, its theaters, its musicians and its filmmakers are keeping the moral and political vision alive, on which the Israel of tomorrow can build its foundations. The day will come in which the moral clarity and political wisdom of those who kept their minds and hearts intact will determine Israel’s future.
A final word to the majority of Jews around the world, whose worldviews are overwhelmingly liberal, and to the many non-Jewish friends of Israel who are disappointed by its actions: This is a difficult time to be a friend of Israel, and we have never been as much in need of friends as now, to help us through this time until Israel regains a viable moral and political vision for the future.

We need to remember that countries make mistakes. The McCarthyist wave that swept the U.S. darkened the horizon for a few years, but in the end, the American love for freedom overcame this terrible episode. At heart, Israel is a society that believes in life, freedom and creativity. Seeing Israel’s potential beyond the mistakes of its politicians keeps alive the knowledge that Israel will become the flourishing, creative, just and liberal democracy we want it to be.

Civility Metrics: What Can Be Done About Toxic Political Climate

In the wake of Tucson, James Besser of The Jewish Week interviewed me for his article Jewish Leaders Seem Absent About Toxic Political Climate. He was spot on in his analysis.

We don't know whether that climate of vitriol and hate had anything to do with this massacre. We also know that extremism comes in all colors and political leanings (although Besser elsewhere makes a solid case that all incitement is not created equal - see "Political incitement on the airwaves: Not a balanced equation").

The Jewish Council on Public Affairs recently issued a Statement on Civility, an admirable first step. Other faith groups are responding as well. A Christian group led by Pastor Jim Wallace has created a Civility Covenant, signed originally by over a hundred Christian clergy of diverse denominations.

We had a nice discussion about this topic last night at our "Learning and Latte" monthly interfaith conversation, which had Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Hindu representation. We discovered much common ground on the need to address this issue actively and to go beyond petitions and pretty covenants. The huge turnout at John Stewart's recent Rally to Restore Sanity(and /or fear) is another indicator that people are ready for more substantive action.

Just as several Jewish groups have recently established new certification standards for ethical behavior in the production of food (including the Conservative movement's brand new and highly commendable Magen Tzedek symbol), it’s clear that we also need measurable and verifiable certification standards for civility. This would extend to politicians and the media. Jewish groups routinely call for more civility, but these calls fall on deaf ears because they are seen as agenda driven (e.g. when the Reform Movement's Religious Action Center issues a statement, it is seen, however worthy, as being biased toward a liberal perspective). So we need to meet that with something more objective – a watchdog group monitoring the use of inflammatory language on all sides and calling people out on it.

Rabbis can take the lead on this. Judaism calls on us to “Seek peace and pursue it.” We’re not very good at the “pursue it” part. Theoretically, ethical behavior in the public square is something the religious streams can agree on and unite to combat. Resolutions and petitions are a beginning. But the situation has become so acute that we need much more – outright condemnations accompanied by a scarlet letter of shame for those who incite.

Remember the quaint old days when we argued over violence on TV and the need for a "V-Chip" to filter out excessive violence and sex? When it comes to anger, violence and incivility, we've gone way beyond restricting what's accessible on TV at this point. Hate is so easily available everywhere: online of course, with a national addiction to violent video games and cyberbullying, and also on line, at the bank, at the gas station and at the supermarket (or as we from Massachusetts say, in line). Anger is everywhere.

It's time to quantify civility. Much as we give politicians numerical ratings on their votes on other issues, we should give them objective ratings on hate. So just as the NRA will give someone a score on gun control legislation and AIPAC will let us know how they are voting on Israel, let's score everyone on civility - and not just politicians, but media folk too. A formula can be created, much as Sabermetrics does to rate baseball and football players and teams (my personal favorite is Football Outsiders - created by Aaron Schatz, a Boston bred, Brown educated rabbi's son, who tells us this week on a Jewish podcast which team Jews should root for - the Patriots, of course).

The metrics might include how often the person uses certain code words in speeches, terms that tend to incite and anger, expressions like, say, "blood libel,"( which along with Holocaust terminology, is used all too often and by Jews and Gentiles of all viewpoints) or inaccuracies, like calling someone a terrorist when the person has never advocated murdering innocent civilians. I'd say it would count as a negative if military terminology is used regarding political opponents, expressions like "wipe him out" or "put him in the cross hairs." I'm sure some objective standard could be created and out of that a rating for all to see. For some it will be a Good Housekeeping seal and for others a scarlet letter. Some will be praised for their insight, others will be shunned when they incite.

We need a seal to assure that our political discourse is strictly Kosher.

In Besser's article I refer to the Jewish community's vigorous (and necessary) need to gain wide consensus in the defense of Israel. But that legitimate concern for a big tent has had its costs. At the AIPAC Policy Conference, which I recommend to all, perhaps the highlight of the event is the roll call of political leaders who are considered Israel supporters. It is impressive. But wouldn't it be great if AIPAC, in addition to listing their scores on Israel, would give us access as well to the politician's civility rating. This isn't just about AIPAC of course, but all interest groups - and especially faith based ones, the ones who supposedly answer to a higher authority on moral behavior.

It has proven time and again that to "go negative" in politics is not only advantageous, it is the only way. It worked last November, more than ever. even as the public was disgusted by it. Only a concrete and strong response will disincentivize politicians and media personalities from continuing to incite anger and hate. Petitions will not do it. Strong statements will not do it.

A scarlet letter might. The response needs to be overwhelming. There needs to be a blanket intolerance of intolerance. We've changed the culture before. If we could make smoking and littering uncool, maybe we can make slander uncool as well.

Imagine, at your next political fundraiser:

"We introduce Senator X, who scored an impressive 98 from the Oil Lobby and an amazing 84 from PETA. But, oh, I'm sorry to say he got only a grade of 38 on civility...."

Civility metrics could be a game changer.