Randy's Corner Deli Library

31 March 2009

View from a booth: This is why the State of California celebrates the life of Cesar Chavez. He helped Mexican migrant workers upon whom this country depends for so many things win the right to freedom from a state of near-involuntary servitude. Kol HaKovod (Congratulations) and Yasher Koach (Way to go! Keep it up!) from a grateful Jew.

Randy Shiner

In celebration of Chávez

Youths honor legacy of civil rights leader by planting trees

2:00 a.m. March 31, 2009

Priscilla Pulido, (from left) Tiffany Boyle (Urban Corp team leader), Karina Pulido and Monica Sanchez helped loosen the roots of a Hong Kong orchid tree that they planted Saturday at 21st and J streets. The trees were planted to mark César Chávez's birthday, which is celebrated today. The leader emphasized community service. - Nelvin C. Cepeda / Union-Tribune

Ten-year-old Melanie Gonzalez was among the dozens of children who helped plant 125 trees in Logan Heights over the weekend.

Along the way they practiced the values they learned in school about their hero, César Chávez, whose birthday is celebrated today.

“Respect for the trees, teamwork, helping others,” said Melanie, a member of the César Chávez Service Club at the elementary school of the same name in San Diego.

“And sacrifice,” the fifth-grader added. “I had to wake up early. I had to be here on a Saturday.”

Nearly 10 years after California became the first state to honor César Chávez with a holiday, a new generation of students is learning about the late farm labor leader and his emphasis on service.

They're doing it with help from the state's expanded curriculum about Chávez's life, work and values, and the dozens of Chávez service clubs that have formed after the state declared the holiday in 2000.

Family and friends of the late Latino civil rights leader oversee many of the clubs, which emphasize leadership through service.

“When the holiday came, we told ourselves, this is what we have to do. We have to teach the legacy,” said Linda LeGerrette, who along with her husband, Carlos, worked with Chávez in the 1960s and 1970s and now helps run 11 Chávez clubs in San Diego.

They meet regularly during the school year and are particularly active near the holiday when schools are encouraged to lead students in community service projects and discussions about Chávez.

At Burbank Elementary School in San Diego, which hosted the tree-planting project Saturday, Chávez's values are part of the school's character education, Principal Diana Grijalva said.

At Sunset View Elementary School in Point Loma, club members recently raised money for a recreational center.

The César E. Chávez Foundation, which oversees 60 Chávez clubs across the state, also trains teachers on ways to teach about his legacy.

Lucia Acevedo, a youth outreach worker at Taft Middle School in San Diego, recently put her training into action. Several of her students in classes spoke about Chávez's life and work. Today they'll speak at a campus event about nonviolence and acceptance of all people, which Chávez valued.

The 10 core values of Chávez, as they're known, are staples of the Chávez curriculum. They are: teach someone; sacrifice for others; help someone; determination; nonviolence; accepting of all people; respect for life and the environment; be proud; knowledge is power; and be creative.

Club organizers stressed the importance of sacrifice when they were recruiting students to plant trees in Logan Heights.

Melanie Gonzalez heard them loud and clear.

She normally goes to the park with her father Saturday morning but asked if they could go the next day. She had something important to do.

30 March 2009

One On One: Rehab for an 'all-consuming peace addiction'

View from a booth: Gordis thinks that Israel will be at war forever and "win". To my way of thinking, a war that never ends can never be won. Regardless of that, he does have some valuable things to say, not that they are all correct. Then again, he had the balls to make aliyah; I did not. So who am I to criticize?

Randy Shiner

One On One: Rehab for an 'all-consuming peace addiction'

Mar. 25, 2009
Ruthie Blum Leibowitz , THE JERUSALEM POST

"The one thing we don't talk about here is what type of country we are creating," says Shalem Center senior vice president and senior fellow Daniel Gordis, with conviction.

Indeed, asserts Gordis - the author of Saving Israel: How the Jewish People Can Win a War that May Never End, his latest of seven books on Jewish thought and life in Israel - "So focused have we been with resolving the conflict with the Palestinians that we have neglected to pay proper heed to issues no less critical for our survival."

They may even be more so, says Gordis, former director of the Mandel Foundation's Leadership Institute in Jerusalem, who joined Shalem in 2007 to help establish the country's first liberal arts college.

Gordis, 49, made aliya from Los Angeles in 1998 with his wife and three children. A rabbi, he says he prefers being referred to as "traditional," rather than "Orthodox" ("I shy away from those labels"). And he firmly believes that it is not only possible to make room for "passionate discourse" about the nature of Israeli society and statehood, but imperative. Otherwise, he warns, Israel will be little more than a "Hebrew-speaking version" of America or Europe, whose citizens cannot articulate what it is they are doing here, or where they are headed. If that happens, he adds, "our enemies will have won."

"The goal of the book," he explains, "is not to prescribe precisely what we ought to do, but rather to initiate a conversation - to raise the question of the issues we would debating if we were not constantly fretting over peace."

What he suggests, then, is to "put peace aside."

"When the Palestinians give us quiet," he says, "we'll have quiet. When they don't, we'll defend ourselves. And though we can't ever give up yearning for peace, we mustn't allow our yearning for it to paralyze us. Nor can we put our lives on hold."

In your article, "When Mistakes Are Worth Making" [July 2008, on his blog, called "Dispatches from an Anxious State" - www.danielgordis.org], you defended the prisoner exchange for abducted - and murdered - soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, as well as the disengagement from Gaza, on the grounds that, though perhaps not strategically wise, they were good for Israel's soul. On the other hand, in your book, you describe the difference between the positive atmosphere in this country following the Six Day War and the very different one of today. How do these two views not contradict one another?

I felt that the prisoner exchange highlighted something incredibly powerful and positive about the Israeli soul. And though many in the security establishment felt that it was not strategically wise, because it made us vulnerable to the sort of blackmail we're being subjected to now with Gilad Schalit, I thought it was an extraordinary testimony to the ability of the Israeli soul to somehow trump strategy, and to reembrace our ongoing commitment to each and every one of the young men who defend this country, bringing them home no matter what, and giving peace to their families.

I'm not saying that it was smart, or even that it was the choice that should have been made. That's why I called it a "mistake worth making."

As far as disengagement is concerned, in retrospect, there's no question that it was a mistake, in terms of Israel's security and defense. But I hesitate to call it an out-and-out mistake - without in any way minimizing the horrible human cost to the families who were uprooted - because I think we learned something we could only have learned by doing it. What no one can reasonably deny now is that the Right was right.

As someone who used to be left of center, I always believed that the Palestinians wanted the same things we did - that they sought two states for two peoples; that they wanted a country just like we did; that they wished for their children and grandchildren to flourish, just like we did. Disengagement proved to me beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was wrong - tragically wrong, but wrong nonetheless. Because what they had was an opportunity to begin to build some sort of autonomy. And it became clear that this is not what they had, or have, in mind. They are much more intent on destroying us than they are on building themselves. They're much more committed to our not having a future than to their having one.

Surely someone like you knows the Bible and the history of the Jewish people. Why did it take certain very current events in this country to teach you about something that seems to be a recurring theme since biblical times? What caused you to have faith in an idea that, given all that has occurred previously, would have been hard to trust?

First of all, I'm an American, who came to Israel at the age of 40. I was raised - in a suburban, Jewish, democratic, liberal, optimistic family - to believe that, at the end of the day, all conflicts are resolvable, and that all people basically want the same things for themselves and their children.

Secondly, the Jewish experience is not monolithic. So, though the biblical account certainly contains its share of resentment and hatred of the Jews, it also dares to dream of a different day.

Third, the American-Jewish experience has shown that you can leave a country where you were hated, and come to a new place where you will be embraced. Had my grandfather wanted to go to Columbia University, he might well not have been admitted because of his Jewishness. When my father wanted to go to Columbia, he got in, but there were unspoken limits on the number of Jews accepted. By the time I went to Columbia, it was 35 percent-40% Jewish. So, yes, there is the biblical experience - and warning. But there's also one's personal experience. And my personal experience gave me hope that, just as resistance to Jews had dissipated in America, the same might happen here. It hasn't.

Contemporary Israeli history seems to have the opposite shift. You write about the euphoria after the Six Day War, and about the gradual decline in that sense of victory and safety. So, from the country that conducted the Entebbe raid in 1976, Israel in 2009 is a state that exchanges terrorists for kidnapped IDF soldiers.

Here, too, there are competing vectors. Take Egypt and Jordan, for example.

Though peace with neither is perfect, nobody would have imagined in August 1967 that we would be where we are today with those countries. No one would have believed he'd be able to hop on a plane to Cairo, or in a car to Amman. Who would have imagined in 1968 that Egypt would one day be the mediator between Israel and a terrorist organization - Hamas, in this instance?

What some of us underestimated, however, was the degree of residual hatred in the fundamentalist Islamic world, not only for the State of Israel, but for what the State of Israel does for Jewish healing and flourishing. We've learned - to our sadness and to their detriment - that the Arabs don't want to make a deal with us right now. On one level, what my book addresses is how we can and should free ourselves from our peace addiction. It is an addiction that has become so all-consuming that even the Labor Party - which used to be focused on socioeconomic issues - ran on a security platform in these last elections.

In fact, all the major parties are so focused on what to do with the Palestinians that there is no room for a conversation about what we, as Israelis, want to build here. We're so focused on waiting for them to give us quiet, legitimacy and recognition that we have stopped asking ourselves very fundamental questions about what we're trying to accomplish with Jewish sovereignty. The problem with this is that we end up - to use a phrase in the Talmud - "kereah mikan umikan," bald from both ends. On one side, we don't have peace, and on the other, we also don't work on building the kind of society we dream of.

In Saving Israel, what I'm trying to say is: When an indigenous democratic movement emerges in Palestinian society - whether that is in five years, 50 or beyond that - it will know where to find us. It knows that the olive branch has been extended by Israel every time there's been even a glimmer - and sometimes less than that - of a reason to extend one. What I suggest is that we begin to ask ourselves questions that have nothing to do with our enemies, and everything to do with ourselves.

For example, what kind of democracy do we want to build here? Some American immigrants and many foreign observers assume that it should be a Hebrew-speaking version of the United States. But this is problematic. The American founding fathers could not, in their wildest dreams, have imagined that an African-American would be president one day, and it's a great triumph of American democracy that he was elected, regardless of what one thinks of his policies. And if, 100 years from now, the demographics in the US will have changed dramatically, to the extent that the country - and therefore Congress - is mostly Asian, that, too, would be a triumph of American democracy.

But what if Israel, over the course of the next century, were to become mostly non-Jewish - maybe Arab - and the Knesset reflected that? Would that be a triumph of Israeli democracy?

I argue that, on the contrary, it would constitute a failure, because the State of Israel was not created to be, as Abraham Lincoln said, "of the people, by the people, for the people."

It was created to be "of the Jews, by the Jews and for the Jews."

It was established specifically for the purpose of Jewish flourishing, revival and healing, after the horrors of the 20th century.

But how does that jibe with the desire to be a democratic state? [Israel Beiteinu leader Avigdor] Lieberman is raising that crucial question, with a little less subtlety and nuance than I would have liked, but raising it nevertheless. And it's one we will not be able to talk about until we liberate ourselves from our peace addiction.

Another example: When we talk about the religious versus secular issue, we say that each group should educate its children as it sees fit. But should this really be the case? Is it actually the secular community's own business how little their children know about Jewish tradition? We're appalled that Israeli kids are ranking low in math, but when they don't know anything about Judaism, we say, well, that's their personal choice. But this is actually a strategic issue for Israel, because if kids - and then soldiers and young adults, and then young adults raising their own children - cannot articulate anything about what is grand and magnificent and profound about Jewish tradition, it becomes almost impossible to defend the idea of a Jewish state. Educational failure will inevitably result in the fall of the state.

If, at some point in the future, there is genuine peace in the region and an absence of anti-Semitism in the world, why does it matter whether Israeli children don't know or care why they are here? At that point, what difference does it make whether there is a Jewish state or not?

Because the Jewish state is not only a shelter from anti-Semitism. The Jewish state is about something infinitely more profound. Because it is the only place in which the Jews are the majority, it is the place where we can, and must, build something unique - a kind of Jewish life that is categorically different from what exists in other countries. Let's take the US, where Jewish life thrives the most. There, the Jews don't do anything in their own language. They don't write books or music or plays in their own language. Can you imagine French culture not in French, or a Verdi opera not in Italian, or a Dostoevsky if there had been no Russian? In other words, our greatness can be seen in an A.B. Yehoshua or a David Grossman taking the Bible and weaving its vocabulary, narratives and subtle poetry into contemporary Israeli literature. That's part of what Israel's about.

And Israel is also about determining what to do when refugees from Darfur come through the Egyptian border. And about this, two things have to get said. One is from the Mishna and the other from the Torah. The Mishna says you have to take care of your own poor first. The Torah says you cannot oppress the stranger, because you were a stranger in the land of Egypt. This battle between the Mishna and the Torah is the dialogue that ought to be conducted in the Jewish state, and can be conducted only here. Other examples of what can be unique here abound.

You talk about these things as though Israel doesn't yet have or engage in them. But don't we have the very literature you mention, and don't we have continual Mishna-Torah-like debates about everything, including the refugees from Darfur?

Of course, I'm the last person in the world who would say the country has failed. We ought to be extraordinarily proud of Israel's accomplishments. But there is also cause for concern. The quality of education is not what it used to be. The levels of Jewish illiteracy are much greater now than they were even 10 to 20 years ago. The curriculum in the secular school system is not what it was. The level of post-Zionism as reflected in certain philosophy and political science departments of Israel's better universities is much more pronounced than it was. So, there's A.B. Yehoshua and there's David Grossman, but who will come after them? The point is that we have to preserve what we've accomplished, make sure it continues to flourish and certainly not let it recede.

Is this a top-down or a bottom-up process? In other words, is it an issue of having an education minister who will determine how many hours per week pupils spend on Jewish studies, or would it be best accomplished through the free market, with private initiatives and competition, to entice parents to want more for their children?

At the end of the day, only bottom-up will work, though obviously there has to be some government vision and involvement. But, just as we can't impose peace on the Palestinians - they have to be ready for it - we can't impose a conception of the "educated Israeli" on the public. We need to offer a vision of a different sort of intellectual life, and afford them opportunities to prepare to embrace it.

At the Shalem Center, we are in the process of trying to establish Israel's first liberal arts college, which is a bottom-up model. Our idea is to attract the very best of the country's students - who are interested in studying the finest of Western, Jewish and Zionist traditions - and having them become the kind of leaders who can foster change as journalists, educators, professors, politicians, writers and more. The goal is to offer people a different educational model that will teach them to think differently, and in so doing, will entice them into conducting the intellectually rigorous and culturally exciting conversations that should be at the core of this society, and would be, if only we educated people differently and were also able to sidestep our present peace addiction.

Using the approaching Pessah holiday as a metaphor - and given what you are saying about peace addiction - would you say that the Jewish people may not have fully left the land of Egypt?

We've left the land of Egypt in the sense that we're the masters of our own destiny and the determinants of the nature of the society in which we live.

But we've allowed ourselves to be enslaved in a certain way, as well. We've allowed ourselves to be enslaved by an unrelenting concern with what the world thinks of us. And we've allowed ourselves to be handcuffed by this abiding yearning for peace.

But is Israel really at liberty to do what it wants without international approval?

I believe we're much more at liberty to do what we want than we allow ourselves to think - though we do need to do a better job of hasbara [public diplomacy], and engage in much more effective efforts to explain our actions to heads of state and communities abroad.

Why is it so important for Israel to explain itself to the outside world? Haven't you been asserting that it needs to start examining what kind of country it wants to be internally

Well, yes, but we have to be realistic, as well. We don't want to be embargoed by NATO or have foreign troops stationed on our soil. So we have to pay some attention to what the outside world thinks of us. It's a delicate balancing act, whereby we explain ourselves to the world, but don't become totally dependent on the world's approval, and so fearful of the world's opprobrium that we're left clamoring for their seal of legitimacy.

You attribute Israelis' neglecting of crucial societal questions to an excessive preoccupation with war and peace. Couldn't an argument be made from the exact opposite direction - according to which Israelis are too busy watching Big Brother and Survivor to care either about diplomacy or about Jewish culture?

It is true that what many Israelis desire is an Israel that is a Hebrew-speaking version of a European country. And, in some respects, they've achieved it. The desire for normalcy is understandable. The Jews have grown weary of being exceptional. Being exceptional, Jewish history has shown, often carries a painful price. But - going back to what the Bible has to teach us - it is our mission to be exceptional. This is not about being "better" than others in some unsophisticated way, but about having a particular role to play in the world, a unique voice that needs to be heard. I would love to see Israeli society begin to engage in a huge, passionate argument about what that mission is. Because in the absence of a sense of purpose on our part, our enemies win.

Is it not possible that it is precisely our enemies who provide us with a sense of purpose? After all, in the absence of war and in the presence of freedom, Jews assimilate.

That's a possibility, of course. One could make the argument that this is what the American-Jewish experience has proved. But what's the response to this? To hope for war and and to pray that we have enemies? I don't think so. The Jews have survived for so long by being strategic and thoughtful and nuanced about how to respond to the challenges of whatever era we are living in. Today's challenge ought not be an exception.

Speaking of this era's challenges, as a traditional Jew do you not understand the fear of a slippery slope where religious pluralism is concerned - an issue that has come strongly to the fore in the forming of the current coalition?

Of course I understand the fear of the slippery slope. Ideally, we want a country and a society in which people recognized as Jews are recognized as Jews across the board, so that they can marry each other legally, or get divorced and remarry. The question is: What is the cost of that dream? If the cost is a central rabbinate controlled by a small number of people who are largely out of touch with society, it's too high.

The rabbinic institutions in this country are designed to protect against the slippery slope you mention, but they have become so insular and protective of their own territory that they do not allow Judaism to compete in the marketplace of ideas. As a result, nontraditional Jews in this country all too often see traditional Judaism as monolithic, backward and unconcerned with the pressing issues of our age. In the places in the world where Judaism is making a comeback, it is doing so because it has to make an intellectual and spiritual case for what it has to offer. It has shown, in America and elsewhere, that it has something profound to offer in the face of the meaninglessness and purposelessness that often characterizes modernity or post-modernity. I say, let 1,000 voices ring out. The slippery slope is a danger, but what we've allowed to fester here is infinitely more problematic.

How and when will you be able to determine whether Israel has succeeded at implementing your ideas?

In 1959 - 50 years ago - Arthur Hertzberg published The Zionist Idea: A Historical Analysis and Reader. It's an anthology of brilliant Zionist thinking that takes up many hundreds of pages. But who's engaging in that sort of thought and debate today, in Israel or anywhere else? The challenge for us today is to ensure that when, a generation from now, somebody comes along to write "The Zionist Idea, Volume II," it is no less weighty, and no less profound, than its predecessor.

On Campus: The Pro-Palestinians' Real Agenda

March 24, 2009 6:45 AM | Khaled Abu Toameh
On Campus: The Pro-Palestinians' Real Agenda

During a recent visit to several university campuses in the U.S., I discovered that there is more sympathy for Hamas there than there is in Ramallah.

Listening to some students and professors on these campuses, for a moment I thought I was sitting opposite a Hamas spokesman or a would-be-suicide bomber.

I was told, for instance, that Israel has no right to exist, that Israel’s “apartheid system” is worse than the one that existed in South Africa and that Operation Cast Lead was launched only because Hamas was beginning to show signs that it was interested in making peace and not because of the rockets that the Islamic movement was launching at Israeli communities.

I was also told that top Fatah operative Marwan Barghouti, who is serving five life terms in prison for masterminding terror attacks against Israeli civilians, was thrown behind bars simply because he was trying to promote peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

Furthermore, I was told that all the talk about financial corruption in the Palestinian Authority was “Zionist propaganda” and that Yasser Arafat had done wonderful things for his people, including the establishment of schools, hospitals and universities.

The good news is that these remarks were made only by a minority of people on the campuses who describe themselves as “pro-Palestinian,” although the overwhelming majority of them are not Palestinians or even Arabs or Muslims.

The bad news is that these groups of hard-line activists/thugs are trying to intimidate anyone who dares to say something that they don’t like to hear.

When the self-designated “pro-Palestinian” lobbyists are unable to challenge the facts presented by a speaker, they resort to verbal abuse.

On one campus, for example, I was condemned as an “idiot” because I said that a majority of Palestinians voted for Hamas in the January 2006 election because they were fed up with financial corruption in the Palestinian Authority.

On another campus, I was dubbed as a “mouthpiece for the Zionists” because I said that Israel has a free media. There was another campus where someone told me that I was a ‘liar” because I said that Barghouti was sentenced to five life terms because of his role in terrorism.

And then there was the campus (in Chicago) where I was “greeted” with swastikas that were painted over posters promoting my talk. The perpetrators, of course, never showed up at my event because they would not be able to challenge someone who has been working in the field for nearly 30 years.

What struck me more than anything else was the fact that many of the people I met on the campuses supported Hamas and believed that it had the right to “resist the occupation” even if that meant blowing up children and women on a bus in downtown Jerusalem.

I never imagined that I would need police protection while speaking at a university in the U.S. I have been on many Palestinian campuses in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and I cannot recall one case where I felt intimidated or where someone shouted abuse at me.

Ironically, many of the Arabs and Muslims I met on the campuses were much more understanding and even welcomed my “even-handed analysis” of the Israeli-Arab conflict. After all, the views I voiced were not much different than those made by the leaderships both in Israel and the Palestinian Authority. These views include support for the two-state solution and the idea of coexistence between Jews and Arabs in this part of the world.

The so-called pro-Palestinian “junta” on the campuses has nothing to offer other than hatred and de-legitimization of Israel. If these folks really cared about the Palestinians, they would be campaigning for good government and for the promotion of values of democracy and freedom in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Their hatred for Israel and what it stands for has blinded them to a point where they no longer care about the real interests of the Palestinians, namely the need to end the anarchy and lawlessness, and to dismantle all the armed gangs that are responsible for the death of hundreds of innocent Palestinians over the past few years.

The majority of these activists openly admit that they have never visited Israel or the Palestinian territories. They don’t know -and don’t want to know - that Jews and Arabs here are still doing business together and studying together and meeting with each other on a daily basis because they are destined to live together in this part of the world. They don’t want to hear that despite all the problems life continues and that ordinary Arab and Jewish parents who wake up in the morning just want to send their children to school and go to work before returning home safely and happily.

What is happening on the U.S. campuses is not about supporting the Palestinians as much as it is about promoting hatred for the Jewish state. It is not really about ending the “occupation” as much as it is about ending the existence of Israel.

Many of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas officials I talk to in the context of my work as a journalist sound much more pragmatic than most of the anti-Israel, “pro-Palestinian” folks on the campuses.

Over the past 15 years, much has been written and said about the fact that Palestinian school textbooks don’t promote peace and coexistence and that the Palestinian media often publishes anti-Israel material.

While this may be true, there is no ignoring the fact that the anti-Israel campaign on U.S. campuses is not less dangerous. What is happening on these campuses is not in the frame of freedom of speech. Instead, it is the freedom to disseminate hatred and violence. As such, we should not be surprised if the next generation of jihadists comes not from the Gaza Strip or the mountains and mosques of Pakistan and Afghanistan, but from university campuses across the U.S.

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29 March 2009

"The Boy In the Striped Pajamas" - Trailer

Female Orthodox Rabbis? Well, Sort Of

Female Orthodox Rabbis? Well, Sort Of

by Tamar Fox, January 28, 2008

Not following in Sally Priesand's footsteps: Orthodox women are being ordained, but only as rabbi-educators Last week the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem announced a new ordination program that would ordain Orthodox women as rabbis. Huzzah! Or not. Hartman isn’t willing to say that it’s accrediting these women to be pulpit rabbis. Instead, the title of rabbi means that “the male and female students will be ordained by some of the institute’s rabbis, and will then be prepared to assume the role of “rabbi-educators” - not pulpit rabbis in North American community day schools.”

The difference between a “rabbi-educator” and a pulpit rabbi isn’t a potato potahto thing. Jewess sums it up: “But [rabbi-educator], as treated by the Hartman Institute program, is more akin to Doctor for a Ph.D. than for an M.D. Just as one wouldn’t trust one’s English professor to take out one’s tonsils, one isn’t meant to trust these rabbi-educators with decisions about Jewish law.”It’s generally acknowledged that we need as many good Jewish educators as we can get our hands on, and in that case, one has to ask who cares if they’re “rabbi-educators” or rabbis or just smart people? But giving an Orthodox woman the title rabbi and then telling her she can’t make decisions about Jewish law—even though she just got a degree for her knowledge of Jewish law--is a sneaky way of not getting too political.

As this Slate article reminds us, there are already Orthodox women rabbis, and Orthodox women leading Orthodox congregations. They just don’t get a lot of respect, and have to put up with a lot of flack from the Orthodox right. So basically, the Hartman institute is not breaking any new ground. When YU starts ordaining women I’ll kick up my heels and do a little dance (behind a mechitza, of course). In the meantime, a greater number of good Jewish educators (rabbis or not) is worth a l’chaim or two.

Tamar Fox has an MFA from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, but she still doesn't like sweet tea. Born and raised in Chicago, she's also lived in Iowa City, Dublin, Oxford, and Jerusalem. When she's not rocking out at honky tonks she teachesMore...

Making a Case for Yoetzet Halacha

Making a Case for Yoetzet Halacha

by Heshy Fried, March 27, 2009


While spending shabbos in Washington Heights several weeks ago, the residents were in the process of trying to find a new Rabbi for the shul. On Friday night the shul organized an Oneg Shabbat question and answer session with the prospective Rabbi, it wasn't interesting until the topic of women's participation in communal and synagogue life came up. The silence and snickers and small conversations between the questions could be felt by everyone. The prospective Rabbi was not really for the hiring a Yoetzet Halacha, and I myself had no idea what that was.

A Yoetzet Halacha is a full time women's halachic advisor, someone to advise women in questions and issues that they would otherwise feel uncomfortable discussing with a male Rabbi. Upon learning what exactly a Yoetzet Halacha was, I immediately wondered why this prospective rabbi would appear flustered or even against the option of helping women talk about their issues in a more comfortable environment. There isn't much literature on the subject; I did find one article and a response letter both in the Five Towns Jewish Times.

The initial article, titled Rave Reviews for Manhattan Yoatzot Halacha Program, is basically explaining which congregations in the New York had hired these women's halachic advisors and how the Rabbis were thrilled to have them along. I should note that according to Nishmat (which is one of the only programs I could find that certifies Yoetzet Halachot) it is quite hard to get certified and according to some friends that attended their other women's study programs they are very "frum."

The response letter, titled We Do Not Need Yoatzot Halacha, was a different story. Written by Rabbi Yaakov Feitman, it is an angry argument against such a wonderful program which he says was "conceived out of concern and kindness" which he believes is "an insidious incursion into our time-honored mesorah." Which is always and in this case as well, followed by some sort of claim that anything that allows women to leave the kitchen for the study hall to be evil and breaking down our morals.

Feitman goes on to make what I could only call a fool of himself with the following paragraph:

"Here is an irony to the "creation" (their word) of a yoetzet at this stage of Jewish history. In ancient times, women were in fact very private people, rarely venturing forth into any kind of public venue. Many halachos, in areas such as tzedakah, inheritance, and business law took this fact into consideration. Yet, women were comfortable asking a she'eilah of their rav or sending their husbands. Today, when women are full members of every area of commerce and society, when they travel the world and are elected to the highest positions in government, it seems a bit incongruous to belatedly claim discomfort with a man. A rav is as much a professional as a physician or attorney, and conducts himself with discretion and consideration. One cannot help but detect an influence of modern feminism and societal pressure rather than a true problem in the comfort level of 21st-century Jewish women."

My first reaction was that Rabbi Feitman is full of shit. He fails to note that many women new to orthodoxy may not feel comfortable talking about such personal issues as Taharat Mishpacha (family purity) with a man she hardly knows. Besides, talking to a Rabbi whom you may see every week can make things a bit awkward. Just because women feel comfortable with society doesn't mean they talk about sexual issues with everyone they meet. Who is Feitman fooling?

I would like to ask Rabbi Feitman if he ever thought about the women who may now ask questions that they never felt comfortable asking before, allowing them to observe the laws on a better level. I would also like to now, how the ultraorthodox community can tell women to be so modest their whole lives and once they get married to just feel comfortable talking about these detailed issues with a stranger?

Tails of Manhattan

Shouts & Murmurs

Tails of Manhattan

by Woody Allen March 30, 2009

Two weeks ago, Abe Moscowitz dropped dead of a heart attack and was reincarnated as a lobster. Trapped off the coast of Maine, he was shipped to Manhattan and dumped into a tank at a posh Upper East Side seafood restaurant. In the tank there were several other lobsters, one of whom recognized him. “Abe, is that you?” the creature asked, his antennae perking up.

“Who’s that? Who’s talking to me?” Moscowitz said, still dazed by the mystical slam-bang postmortem that had transmogrified him into a crustacean.

“It’s me, Moe Silverman,” the other lobster said.

“O.M.G.!” Moscowitz piped, recognizing the voice of an old gin-rummy colleague. “What’s going on?”

“We’re reborn,” Moe explained. “As a couple of two-pounders.”

“Lobsters? This is how I wind up after leading a just life? In a tank on Third Avenue?”

“The Lord works in strange ways,” Moe Silverman explained. “Take Phil Pinchuck. The man keeled over with an aneurysm, he’s now a hamster. All day, running at the stupid wheel. For years he was a Yale professor. My point is he’s gotten to like the wheel. He pedals and pedals, running nowhere, but he smiles.”

Moscowitz did not like his new condition at all. Why should a decent citizen like himself, a dentist, a mensch who deserved to relive life as a soaring eagle or ensconced in the lap of some sexy socialite getting his fur stroked, come back ignominiously as an entrée on a menu? It was his cruel fate to be delicious, to turn up as Today’s Special, along with a baked potato and dessert. This led to a discussion by the two lobsters of the mysteries of existence, of religion, and how capricious the universe was, when someone like Sol Drazin, a schlemiel they knew from the catering business, came back after a fatal stroke as a stud horse impregnating cute little thoroughbred fillies for high fees. Feeling sorry for himself and angry, Moscowitz swam about, unable to buy into Silverman’s Buddha-like resignation over the prospect of being served thermidor.

At that moment, who walked into the restaurant and sits down at a nearby table but Bernie Madoff. If Moscowitz had been bitter and agitated before, now he gasped as his tail started churning the water like an Evinrude.

“I don’t believe this,” he said, pressing his little black peepers to the glass walls. “That goniff who should be doing time, chopping rocks, making license plates, somehow slipped out of his apartment confinement and he’s treating himself to a shore dinner.”

“Clock the ice on his immortal beloved,” Moe observed, scanning Mrs. M.’s rings and bracelets.

Moscowitz fought back his acid reflux, a condition that had followed him from his former life. “He’s the reason I’m here,” he said, riled to a fever pitch.

“Tell me about it,” Moe Silverman said. “I played golf with the man in Florida, which incidentally he’ll move the ball with his foot if you’re not watching.”

“Each month I got a statement from him,” Moscowitz ranted. “I knew such numbers looked too good to be kosher, and when I joked to him how it sounded like a Ponzi scheme he choked on his kugel. I had to do the Heimlich maneuver. Finally, after all that high living, it comes out he was a fraud and my net worth was bupkes. P.S., I had a myocardial infarction that registered at the oceanography lab in Tokyo.”

“With me he played it coy,” Silverman said, instinctively frisking his carapace for a Xanax. “He told me at first he had no room for another investor. The more he put me off, the more I wanted in. I had him to dinner, and because he liked Rosalee’s blintzes he promised me the next opening would be mine. The day I found out he could handle my account I was so thrilled I cut my wife’s head out of our wedding photo and put his in. When I learned I was broke, I committed suicide by jumping off the roof of our golf club in Palm Beach. I had to wait half an hour to jump, I was twelfth in line.”

At this moment, the captain escorted Madoff to the lobster tank, where the unctuous sharpie analyzed the assorted saltwater candidates for potential succulence and pointed to Moscowitz and Silverman. An obliging smile played on the captain’s face as he summoned a waiter to extract the pair from the tank.

“This is the last straw!” Moscowitz cried, bracing himself for the consummate outrage. “To swindle me out of my life’s savings and then to nosh me in butter sauce! What kind of universe is this?”

Moscowitz and Silverman, their ire reaching cosmic dimensions, rocked the tank to and fro until it toppled off its table, smashing its glass walls and flooding the hexagonal-tile floor. Heads turned as the alarmed captain looked on in stunned disbelief. Bent on vengeance, the two lobsters scuttled swiftly after Madoff. They reached his table in an instant, and Silverman went for his ankle. Moscowitz, summoning the strength of a madman, leaped from the floor and with one giant pincer took firm hold of Madoff’s nose. Screaming with pain, the gray-haired con artist hopped from the chair as Silverman strangled his instep with both claws. Patrons could not believe their eyes as they recognized Madoff, and began to cheer the lobsters.

“This is for the widows and charities!” yelled Moscowitz. “Thanks to you, Hatikvah Hospital is now a skating rink!”

Madoff, unable to free himself from the two Atlantic denizens, bolted from the restaurant and fled yelping into traffic. When Moscowitz tightened his viselike grip on his septum and Silverman tore through his shoe, they persuaded the oily scammer to plead guilty and apologize for his monumental hustle.

By the end of the day, Madoff was in Lenox Hill Hospital, awash in welts and abrasions. The two renegade main courses, their rage slaked, had just enough strength left to flop away into the cold, deep waters of Sheepshead Bay, where, if I’m not mistaken, Moscowitz lives to this day with Yetta Belkin, whom he recognized from shopping at Fairway. In life she had always resembled a flounder, and after her fatal plane crash she came back as one.

26 March 2009

All That Parisian Jazz, at the Museum and Beyond

All That Parisian Jazz, at the Museum and Beyond

The Jazz CenturyEd Alcock for The New York Times Lorna Simpson’s video installation “Easy to Remember” (2001), at the Musée du Quai Branly’s “The Jazz Century” exhibit.

Paris | The three-year-old Musée du Quai Branly is dedicated to the display of the indigenous art of the Americas, Africa, Asia and Oceania, and it has defined that mission broadly — very broadly.

On March 17 the museum opened an exhibition on an art form widely considered to be indigenous to America: jazz. Called “The Jazz Century,” it is a chronological tour through the world of jazz and how it has affected painting, photography, film, literature, even album covers, sheet music and comic books, from the early 20th century to the present.

The highlights of the show, which runs until June 28, include pages from Henri Matisse’s folio “Jazz” and Jackson Pollock’s 1947 painting “Watery Paths.” Works by Pablo Picasso, Man Ray, Thomas Hart Benton, Stuart Davis, Keith Haring, Jeff Wall and others are on display.

There is happy black-and-white film footage of Fred Astaire tap-dancing in “Swing Time.” There is also the dark side: a clip of Louis Malle’s 1958 film “Ascenseur Pour l’ Échafaud” (“Elevator to the Scaffold”) with its chilling soundtrack composed by Miles Davis. And with their racial stereotypes and caricatures, some of the early illustrations and cartoons on display are considered racist today, but Daniel Soutif, the philosopher and art critic who served as the show’s curator, felt it would be misleading to exclude them.

Mr. Soutif calls the exhibition an ideal starting point for discovering jazz in Paris; indeed, the museum is hosting a series of concerts, concerts and films tied to the exhibit (37, quai Branly; 33-1-56-61-70-00; www.quaibranly.fr).

For live performances, Mr. Soutif said he would send jazz lovers to one of Paris’ more durable spots: Le Duc des Lombards in the First Arrondissement (42, rue des Lombards; 33-1-42-33-22-88; www.ducdeslombards.com). Its doors open at 7 p.m.; it also serves respectable food for dinner.

SunsideEd Alcock for The New York Times The Paolo Fresu “Devil” Quartet, performing at the cozy, brick-walled Le Sunside in Paris.

To “promote, celebrate and democratize” all jazz forms, Le Duc des Lombards has formed an association with two nearby clubs, Le Sunset/Le Sunside at No. 60 (33-1-40-26-46-60 and 33-1-40-26-21-25; www.sunset-sunside.com) and Le Baiser Salé at No. 58 (33-1-42-33-37-71; www.lebaisersale.com) They organize special “soirées de jazz” in which admission to all three clubs costs 20 euros, about $28 at $1.39 to the euro.

Sunset, a basement venue focusing on electric jazz, has surprisingly good sound, despite its white-tiled walls; Sunside on the ground floor, which is largely devoted to acoustic jazz, feels cozier. Upstairs from the bar and terrace at Le Baiser Salé is a comfortable space that features varied musical styles, from afro jazz to fusion.

Mr. Soutif also likes New Morning (7-9, rue des Petites Écuries; 33-1-45-23-51-41; www.newmorning.com) a jazz and world-music club that was Chet Baker’s favorite Paris jazz venue, and the last place he played before he died.

The big and beautifully restored Salle Pleyel concert hall at 252, rue du Faubourg St.-Honoré (33-1-42-56-13-13; www.sallepleyel.fr), has perhaps the best acoustics in town. This is where the pianist Keith Jarrett plays when he comes to town.

Fans interested in jazz-themed French film posters should head to the Galerie Ciné-Images at 68, rue de Babylone in the Seventh Arrondissement (33-1-47-05-60-25; www.cine-images.com). Collectors of jazz LPs like to congregate at Paris Jazz Corner (5-7, rue de Navarre; 33-1-43-36-78-92; parisjazzcorner.com). Mr. Soutif calls it “the best vinyl shop in the world.”

For free and easy jazz listening anywhere around town, tune into TSF Jazz (89.9 FM), Paris’s supreme jazz radio station.

Then there is the serendipity of Paris jazz: You might be walking across the Pont d’Arcole between the Hôtel de Ville and Notre-Dame late one night. If you’re lucky, an itinerant duo — a trumpet player and a saxophonist — will be playing there for you.

Jeanette Coombs contributed reporting.

25 March 2009

Historian John Hope Franklin Dies

Historian John Hope Franklin Dies

Listen Now [2 min 45 sec] add to playlist

All Things Considered, March 25, 2009 · Presidential Medal of Freedom winner and historian John Hope Franklin, whose work defined the field of African-American history, died from congestive heart failure Wednesday at Duke University hospital. He was 94.

Franklin played a key role in pivotal civil rights events of the 20th century. He was the author of the seminal 1947 book, From Slavery to Freedom: A History of Negro Americans.

Franklin was the first African-American to chair a history department at a majority white institution and the first to preside over major historical associations — all the while enduring the racism of his day.

John Hope Franklin Puts a 'Mirror to America'

Historian John Hope Franklin lives in Durham, N.C. Credit: Tina Tennessen, NPR.
Tina Tennessen, NPR

Historian John Hope Franklin lives in Durham, N.C., near the John Hope Franklin Center for Interdisciplinary and International Studies at Duke University. Named in Franklin's honor, it opened in 2000.

More from the Interview

In addition to chronicling American history, Franklin has also witnessed it. Here are some more of his memories and thoughts.

All Things Considered, October 30, 2005 · Historian John Hope Franklin has spent much of his life — 90 years, so far — investigating the legacy of slavery in America.

He has been more than a chronicler of the African American experience. Franklin was, in fact, an important player in the Civil Rights movement, helping Thurgood Marshall and his team craft their landmark Brown v. Board of Education case against school segregation.

Debbie Elliott talks with Franklin about his new memoir, Mirror to America.

Tina Tennessen produced this story.

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16 March 2009

Is anti-Zionism hate?

Is anti-Zionism hate?

Yes. It is more dangerous than anti-Semitism, threatening lives and peace in the Middle East.
By Judea Pearl
March 15, 2009
In January, at a symposium at UCLA (choreographed by the Center for Near East Studies), four longtime Israel bashers were invited to analyze the human rights conditions in Gaza, and used the stage to attack the legitimacy of Zionism and its vision of a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians.

They criminalized Israel's existence, distorted its motives and maligned its character, its birth, even its conception. At one point, the excited audience reportedly chanted "Zionism is Nazism" and worse.

Jewish leaders condemned this hate-fest as a dangerous invitation to anti-Semitic hysteria, and pointed to the chilling effect it had on UCLA students and faculty on a campus known for its open and civil atmosphere. The organizers, some of them Jewish, took refuge in "academic freedom" and the argument that anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism.

I fully support this mantra, not because it exonerates anti-Zionists from charges of anti-Semitism but because the distinction helps us focus attention on the discriminatory, immoral and more dangerous character of anti-Zionism.

Anti-Zionism rejects the very notion that Jews are a nation -- a collective bonded by a common history -- and, accordingly, denies Jews the right to self-determination in their historical birthplace. It seeks the dismantling of the Jewish nation-state: Israel.

Anti-Zionism earns its discriminatory character by denying the Jewish people what it grants to other historically bonded collectives (e.g. French, Spanish, Palestinians), namely, the right to nationhood, self-determination and legitimate coexistence with other indigenous claimants.

Anti-Semitism rejects Jews as equal members of the human race; anti-Zionism rejects Israel as an equal member in the family of nations.

Are Jews a nation? Some philosophers would argue Jews are a nation first and religion second. Indeed, the narrative of Exodus and the vision of the impending journey to the land of Canaan were etched in the minds of the Jewish people before they received the Torah at Mt. Sinai. But, philosophy aside, the unshaken conviction in their eventual repatriation to the birthplace of their history has been the engine behind Jewish endurance and hopes throughout their turbulent journey that started with the Roman expulsion in AD 70.

More important, shared history, not religion, is today the primary uniting force behind the secular, multiethnic society of Israel. The majority of its members do not practice religious laws and do not believe in divine supervision or the afterlife. The same applies to American Jewry, which is likewise largely secular. Identification with a common historical ethos, culminating in the reestablishment of the state of Israel, is the central bond of Jewish collectivity in America.

There are of course Jews who are non-Zionists and even anti-Zionists. The ultra-Orthodox cult of Neturei Karta and the leftist cult of Noam Chomsky are notable examples. The former rejects any earthly attempt to interfere with God's messianic plan, while the latter abhors all forms of nationalism, especially successful ones.

There are also Jews who find it difficult to defend their identity against the growing viciousness of anti-Israel propaganda, and eventually hide, disown or denounce their historical roots in favor of social acceptance and other expediencies.

But these are marginal minorities at best; the vital tissues of Jewish identity today feed on Jewish history and its natural derivatives -- the state of Israel, its struggle for survival, its cultural and scientific achievements and its relentless drive for peace.

Given this understanding of Jewish nationhood, anti-Zionism is in many ways more dangerous than anti-Semitism.

First, anti-Zionism targets the most vulnerable part of the Jewish people, namely, the Jewish population of Israel, whose physical safety and personal dignity depend crucially on maintaining Israel's sovereignty. Put bluntly, the anti-Zionist plan to do away with Israel condemns 5 1/2 million human beings, mostly refugees or children of refugees, to eternal defenselessness in a region where genocidal designs are not uncommon.

Secondly, modern society has developed antibodies against anti-Semitism but not against anti-Zionism. Today, anti-Semitic stereotypes evoke revulsion in most people of conscience, while anti-Zionist rhetoric has become a mark of academic sophistication and social acceptance in certain extreme yet vocal circles of U.S. academia and media elite. Anti-Zionism disguises itself in the cloak of political debate, exempt from sensitivities and rules of civility that govern inter-religious discourse, to attack the most cherished symbol of Jewish identity.

Finally, anti-Zionist rhetoric is a stab in the back to the Israeli peace camp, which overwhelmingly stands for a two-state solution. It also gives credence to enemies of coexistence who claim that the eventual elimination of Israel is the hidden agenda of every Palestinian.

It is anti-Zionism, then, not anti-Semitism that poses a more dangerous threat to lives, historical justice and the prospects of peace in the Middle East.

Judea Pearl is a professor at UCLA and the president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation.

What does Gilad Schalit have to do with you?

What does Gilad Schalit have to do with you?

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"Israeli or Jew?" I enquire of the soldiers sitting in front of me. "Which label better characterizes you?" The overwhelmingly majority say the first - every one of the hundreds of times I have asked this question as a reserve soldier under the command of the IDF's chief education officer.

Captured IDF soldier Gilad...

Captured IDF soldier Gilad Schalit.
Photo: Courtesy

"And to the extent that you feel the latter also applies to you, what are the three most important things one need do to be a good Jew?" Here, too, the response is remarkably consistent: live in Israel, speak Hebrew, serve in the army. "Oh," I respond innocently enough, "like the Druse." "Yeah, sort of, no, not exactly..." they stutter in rejoinder.

"Another question," I continue. "A few years from now you're on a Hebrew University scholarship committee. You have one grant yet to allocate. There are two remaining candidates. The first is a young woman from Cleveland, a teacher in a Jewish day school who writes in her application that she believes it's important to spend some time in Jerusalem if she's to convey to her students the meaning of the centrality of Israel in Jewish life. The second is a young Druse. He's just completed his army service, and wants to make a career of teaching in his village, raising another generation of citizens loyal to Israel. Who gets the scholarship?"

The answer, again, is all but unanimous. "The Druse," they say, explaining that he's fulfilled his obligation to the state, that what we need most are loyal citizens prepared to go into the army, that Hebrew University is an Israeli institution..."

"Hold on," I interrupt. "Hebrew University's fund-raisers are always touting it as being the university of the Jewish people, and the scholarship money was probably collected from donors abroad." I don't succeed in convincing them.

"Okay," I acquiesce. "The Druse gets the scholarship. But the Jewish woman manages to get financial help from elsewhere and ends up here, too. Toward the end of her year of studies, she comes to you and says she has a problem. She had every intention of going back to the States, but things have become more complicated. During the term she fell in love with a fellow student who has now asked her to stay here and marry him. What should she do?"

"Stay, of course," they tell me.

"Oh, I forgot to mention one thing," I interject. "The person she fell in love with? He's the Druse you gave the scholarship to."

Silence. "What's the problem?" I ask.

"She's Jewish," responds one of the soldiers. "It's not right for her to marry someone who isn't. She should forget about him and go back to America." The others nod their agreement.

"Hold on," I challenge them. "You just told me that the main thing is to have loyal citizens here in Israel, and that the most important expressions of being a good Jew are living here, speaking Hebrew and serving in the army. No one said anything about marrying someone Jewish."

"But this is different," they object, and start arguing with me. As the session continues, I ask them about changing the flag of Israel and the national anthem so that all of Israel's citizens might feel comfortable with them. They reject the proposal out of hand. I suggest that we make Sunday rather than Shabbat our day of rest, so as to be in line with the rest of the world. That is totally unacceptable as well. Finally, I ask them if they feel they are serving in the army of the State of Israel or that of the Jewish people. By this time they have become a bit more wary of my questions and more cautious in responding, but still the clear majority say that the job of the IDF is protecting the people living here.

"And how many of you would volunteer for a dangerous military mission to rescue Jews in distress somewhere else in the world?" They all raise their hands, and I rest my case.

KOL YISRAEL areivim zeh b'zeh. All Jews are responsible for one another, and the sense of mutual accountability transcends national boundaries. Back in July, popular musician Aviv Gefen wrote in a song to Gilad Schalit, "your heart beats incessantly in our heart... you are, in the end, the child of us all." He is also the soldier of us all, and the efforts of Zionist federations and Jewish organizations around the world over the past 30 months make it clear that the "all" in Gefen's lyrics has been internalized by Jews everywhere. The hundreds of rallies, marches and letter-writing campaigns initiated by Jews of the Diaspora to expedite the return of one of our captives give expression to the fundamental value entrenched in our tradition that we must go to every length to redeem hostages. But they haven't done the job.

Now, as the prospect of Gilad spending his 1,000th day in captivity looms, the Schalit family has moved into a tent pitched opposite Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's home to press him to do everything possible to effect Gilad's return before he leaves office. They are being visited by an endless stream of people. You can visit them as well, in a virtual tent that has been set up alongside their own, letting Gilad's parents know they are not alone. Your moral support may be registered through the Facebook group BringHomeGiladSchalit, or at www.doingzionism.org.

What does Gilad Schalit have to do with you? Nothing more than a willingness to put his life on the line not only for the State of Israel, but for the well-being of Jews everywhere. When he gets back home, he should know that that readiness was appreciated.

The writer is a member of the executives of the Jewish Agency and the World Zionist Organization, where he represents MERCAZ Olami, the Zionist arm of the worldwide Conservative/Masorti Movement.