Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Chag Sameach

Aaah, the joys of the Diaspora... after 3 1/2 years in Israel I'm trying to get used to the 3 day Yom Tov again. So -- back on Sunday! In the meanwhile, have a good Yom Tov.
Miriam

Just in time for Yom Tov

With the help of NASA technology, researchers have finally managed to read, authenticate and date two silver amulets from ancient Israel, one of which contains the Birkat Cohanim and the other of which contains the inscription, "May h[e]/sh[e] be blessed by YHWH, the warrior/helper, and the rebuker of Evil."
These amulets, which were discovered in 1979, date back to the first Temple period c. 600 BC, just before the Babylonian exile. According to the researchers, they show "the earliest known citations of texts also found in the Hebrew Bible and... provide us with the earliest examples of confessional statements concerning Yahweh."
Ha'aretz says this is proof "that the Five Books of Moses were in existence during the First Temple period"; this interpretation is explicitely disputed in the original NYT article by Dr. Wayne Pitard, professor of the Hebrew Bible and ancient Near Eastern religions at the University of Illinois, who says the inscriptions "did not necessarily mean that the Book of Numbers already existed at that time. Possibly it did, he added, but if not, at least some elements of the book were current before the Babylonian exile."
Either way, however, it is extremely exciting to see what light new technology can shed on old discoveries. I'll be thinking of the original owner of that amulet when I listen to Birkat Cohanim in shul over the Chag!

I'm a liar. So date me.

Beliefnet is launching a new dating service called Soulmatch, which aims to shidduch off couples "on the same ethical wavelength."
Among the questions you're asked:

  • "The last time I lied and was sure it was the right thing to do..."
  • "If you could retire one of the 'seven deadly sins' to make room for a new one, which would you lose and what would you add?"
  • "What do you consider the most spiritual experiences?"
  • "Imagine this: a tornado is minutes away from your home. You get your pets and loved ones to safety and have just enough time to run back and grab 3 things. Everything else will be destroyed. What would you save?"

It would be easy to poke fun, but I actually think this is the right approach. Those who answer these more personal, quirky questions honestly can come up with some surprising stuff. Gary, for example admits that his deadliest sins are envy and gluttony, and that he lied to get credit; Elizami lies to stop her parents from arguing; and Toymaker once drove back five miles to help out a group of four who were stranded at the side of the highway late at night. Katherine once saved someone's life by going into a crashed car, but needs you to agree with her on gun control and the death penalty; looking hasn't done anything for a stranger, and in a tornado would rescue his stereo and video game.
Personally (if I were single...) I'd award extra points to people willing to be honest about their worst faults online. But the truth is, any question which isn't 'My idea of a perfect date' will make a nice change for those on the Internet dating circuit. JDate, take note.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Yusuf or Youssouf, he still supports Hamas

The Cat Stevens deportation may or may not have been the result of a typo; but there is no question that he does support at least one terror organization.
The Canadian National Post is reporting today that it has obtained a video of Mr. Islam speaking as guest of honor at a 1998 Toronto fundraising dinner hosted by the Jerusalem Fund, an organization that the Canadian government has identified as a local "front" for Hamas.
The video shows Cat describing Israel as a "so-called new society" created by a "so-called religion" and urges the audience to donate to the Jerusalem Fund for Human Services to "lessen the suffering of our brothers and sisters in Palestine and the Holy Land."'
In 2000, after being denied entry to Israel for allegedly donating thousands of dollars to Hamas, Cat said in a a statement, “I want to make sure that people are aware that I’ve never ever knowingly supported any terrorist groups – past, present or future.” The key word, of course, is knowingly; but it's hard to believe that he accepted an invitation to speak for the Jerusalem Fund without knowing exactly who they were.

Succot trivia

Many Jewish / Israeli coins over the last two millenium have commemorated the festival, including the modern 5 agorot coin. Some of these coins, from the time of the Bar Kochba revolt, clearly show the 4 minim. What's interesting is that in coins #79, 94, 109, 123 (the same coin from different years) you can see a lulav, an etrog -- and just one hadass and arava, which is consistent with Rabbi Akiva's position in the Gemara.

What a pious country

According to Ma'ariv's breaking news, Israelis are still busy preparing for Yom Kippur. Perhaps they mean of 2005?

Monday, September 27, 2004

Yasser Arafat, British hero

Nobel Peace Prize winner Yasser Arafat is going to use his links with terrorists -- erm, I mean charm and charisma -- to try and get Briton Ken Bigley released. Bigley is currently being held hostage in Iraq and is facing execution .

Shul politics revealed

Ever wondered what it's like to be the wife of a community rabbi? The Renegade Rebbetzin -- who was not in the mood for Yom Kippur, watches lots of tv, has the hots for Russell Crowe and wants to duel the wife of the shul president -- is spilling the beans in her new blog.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Gmar Chatima Tova

Wishing everyone well over the fast.
I'm off to Toronto early Sunday morning, and so blogging will resume on Monday...
Miriam

Careful what you eat to break the fast...

The Health and Agriculture ministries' branches in Ashkelon yesterday seized 80,000 cans of dog food that had been disguised as foie gras, as if fit for human consumption. Ugh.

Educated Europeans

An Israeli woman applied for a job at Gisela Graham Limited., a London company which designs Christmas decorations. Earlier this month, she received the following rejection letter:
Thank you for your CV, but in you're not we're looking for. The ideal person for us will be first an foremost an illustrator, as our advertisement specified - working with a pen and brush - with an interest in modelmaking, whereas your own forte is interior design and CAD...
Speaking personally however may I suggest that for European consumption you would be wise to omit details of your national service, which you describe with such evident and ingenuous pride?
The natural reaction of most educated Europeans to the information you provide is likely to be "so it was she who guided those guinships to targetted assasinations and the murder of women and children with indiscriminate bombing and strafing of refugee camps (refugee camps!!!! 50 years after your compatriots drove them from their homes - and you have done nothing for them ever since.)!". Most educated Europeans - and as a matter of fact a large proprtion of educated Americans too - now view 'Israel' as a brutal undemocratic (where are the votes for the indigenous inhabitants whom you have helotised?) colonial state, run by criminals who defy all international law and natural justice. And a sizeable proportion doubts the 'right' of Israel to exist.
This has nothing to do with anti-semitism. nor is it racism - that is the kind of disgusting attitude which one might say is inherent in the idea of the state of Israel, and one might say among a large section of believing Jews elsewhere, who regard the rest of us as inferior and unclean - and not chosen by God. What could be more racist than that? And what happens to those of your race who dare to speak out against the wickedness that your fanatacsim inevitably leads to? they are murdered or have acid thrown in their faces like Yael Dayan

just to put you in the picture

Piers Croke
Gisela Graham Limited.
The Israeli woman, who I have been in touch with, says she received an apology from the firm a few days later, followed by an email from Mr. Croke. Conflicting sources claim he has since been demoted, reprimanded, or fired. According to the London Jewish Chronicle , the author claimed the remarks were out of character and caused by family stress.
Perhaps; but the scary thing, of course, is that he was telling the truth. This is how many (I hope not 'most') Europeans see Israel today, you just don't usually hear it so explicitely and so hatefully from the man in the street. Speaking personally however may I suggest, Mr. Croke, that you would be wise not to attribute such opinions to your European education, which you describe with such evident and ingenuous pride?
The natural reaction of most decent people to the information you provide is likely to be that this has everything to do with anti-Semitism and racism and is absolutely vile. Just to put you in the picture, Mr. Croke.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

An impossible dilemma

Today, my thoughts are with Kenneth Bigley, the British hostage in Iraq who may be executed this evening, and his family. It’s impossible to even begin to imagine the fear and pain any of them are going through at the moment -- their public appeals, and the video of Bigley pleading for his life, are heart-wrenching.
Unfortunately, the chances that Bigley will come out of this alive are slim. Blair has refused to release two female scientists, who worked under Saddam and were known as ‘Dr. Germ’ and ‘Mrs. Anthrax’ for their experiments, as the terrorists are demanding. It goes without saying that he is correct in refusing to negotiate with terrorists -- and that nevertheless, the terrorists, and not Blair, are responsible for Bigley's fate, although some have argued otherwise.
Had a similar situation occured in Israel, I know the country would have been full of vigils, prayer groups etc. for the hostage. Just 6-7 months out of Israel, I half expected his name to be on everybody's lips. But this is a much larger country. Bigley's plight wasn't even the top headline in all the papers today; I've heard no one mention his name. So please, spare a moment to think of Kenneth Bigley and his family tonight. And a prayer as well.

The Holidays as observed by Crypto-Jewish women

A reader has forwarded me a fascinating article by Prof. Renee Levine Melammed, the Assistant Dean of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies, about how Crypto-Jewish women managed to observe some Chaggim in Spain of the 15th century. I'm busy finding out whether it's published online anywhere, but in the meanwhile, here are some excerpts:

Rosh Hashana, so central to the life of the modern Jew, was extremely difficult for the judaizer to observe in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. One could not blow a shofar without attracting attention, and the truth is that relatively few books were in the possession of the judaizers, especially after 1492.... As a result, there are very few references to Rosh Hashana in Inquisition trials.
On the other hand, Yom Kippur, coming on the tenth day of this High Holiday season, did not fall by the wayside. The psychological need to repent played a significant role here as did the hope that this single day of observance would serve to cancel out the rest of the days of the year when it was impossible to observe properly. One bold woman, Blanca Rodriguez of Guadalajara, even spent the entire day of the Ayuno Mayor ("Great Fast") with Jews. In 1487 Beatriz Gonzalez was accused in her trial of participating in numerous activities related to Yom Kippur; these included bathing, cutting her nails, wearing clean clothes, going barefoot, asking for forgiveness of others, "and some nights before the Great Fast, she went to the synagogue to pray, that which only the most devoted of Jews do."
Thus she attended the synagogue service during the pre-Yom Kippur period when the Selihot prayers or prayers of forgiveness are recited in the wee hours of the night. It is interesting to note that the Jews in the synagogue did not object to the presence of a baptized Christian, albeit of Jewish heritage...
[Succot:] In the early years, a few conversos went out into the fields to build booths, but such bold actions soon desisted. On the other hand, while Jews were still present on Spanish soil, some crypto-Jews took advantage of this opportunity and, for example, visited Jewish sukkah booths.
Elvira Martiez of Toledo confessed in 1509 that she went to a booth by herself "not on account of the ceremony but rather in order to see the said booth and when I was there, they distributed refreshment and I believe that they gave me toasted chickpeas." Beatriz Gonzalez was accused of making booths at home and confessed to occasionally visiting the booths of Jews and eating fruit in them; she was not alone in this act, for other women also frequented their Jewish neighbors' booths where they were offered refreshments. During the festival of Sukkot, there seems to have been quite a bit of interaction between members of the two communities, who were often related to one another and living side by side. According to the prosecutor at her trial, Elvira Lopez "lent Jews clothing for the booths, essentially in order to honor and celebrate the Festival of the Booths of the Jews." In her confession, the defendant admitted that she had lent cloth to the Jews for making or adorning the
sukkah. Similarly, in 1504, Juana Rodriguez "remembered well how she had lent a rug and a bordered sheet to a Jew so that he could make his booth, all of which I did in honor of, and in keeping with the law of the Jews, thinking that I would be saved by it."

UPDATE: Can't find this article on the web. However, by a strange coincidence, I see that the author is profiled this week in The Jerusalem Post's regular column on immigrant.

Respek!

Ever wonder how Ali G keeps on getting guests to appear on his show, despite the exposure he's had? Slate has the lowdown, including an example of a letter sent to one of his guests and links to the websites of the fictitious companies that these letters claim produce his show.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Rite on?

Thought-provoking article in Slate about new companies offering 'secular lifecycle rituals' to "those who have abandoned traditional religion... along with those who feel abandoned by religion." These rituals can be drawn from native American, Wiccan, Celtic or other traditions, or else draw on the participants' own history and cultural background.
The author, Michael Kress, makes the interesting point that these rituals must speak to individuals personally, whereas 'In the past, people didn't need ritual to speak to them personally; if it was part of their religion, it was inherently meaningful...'
He continues:

It's not as if traditional religions are immune from our culture's emphasis on the individual. That emphasis itself is an outgrowth of Protestantism. And today, in this country, the most up-and-coming faiths are those that tap into this individual-centric worldview.
Well, unfortunately no one would call Judaism 'up and coming' -- but still, we're catching on. One example that springs immediately to mind is the Simchat Bat ceremony. Couples around the world are busy creating rituals left right and center which are personally meaningful to them -- eg. particular readings from Jewish sources, or even particular readings from non-Jewish sources that they happen to like. Somehow, it is all still considered part of a 'Jewish ritual.'
I was recently part of a discussion where a number of people expressed how much they preferred Simchat Bats nowadays to Brits, because they find them so much more personal and 'meaningful.' I wonder whether that is a sign of things to come?

Bnei for the men, Braq for the women

Rabbi Nissim Karelitz, the head of the central rabbinic court in Bnei Brak, is asking righteous women to kindly leave shul before the service is over for reasons of 'modesty.'
I hope they remember to walk home on the right side of the street...

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

I went to Buchenwald and all I got was this lousy t-shirt

The management of Buchenwald has decided to sell souvenirs of the concentration camp beginning next year. The project organizers insist their motivation is not money -- they get enough funds to maintain the site from state and federal grants -- but to help 'the younger generation' connect to the period and take something away with them which is 'loaded with the emotions of the place.'
The souvenirs are being developed by art students at Bauhaus University. You can buy stationery embedded with tiny pebbles and twigs from the site, for example, and a potted beech (Buchenwald means beech). I can already see shopping lists, telephone messages and thank-you notes being written on the paper, and someone lovingly tending their beech tree, forgetting entirely where it came from and what some art student once dreamed it symbolized.
"Other students used Germany's postwar constitution as inspiration, copying quotations from the paragraphs dealing with human rights onto small plaques or wristbands." More to the point, but gimmicky.
Just about the only really good idea is a pamphlet about the life story of one of the camp's victims. This is actually important; personalizing the experience can be very powerful.
The problem is, none of the rest actually are 'loaded with the emotions of the place.' And so while I don't oppose 'souvenirs' (terrible word in this context) in principle -- I can imagine that some people would like to take home a reminder of the horrors or the lessons of the camp, other than a DVD or book -- I don't think they've hit on the right formula yet.

B'Sha'ah Tovah

Another J-blog baby on the way.

Rather them than me

This week is Clean Up Week in Israel. Inspiration for the event came when an Australian billionaire, Richard Pratt, took a stroll along Tel Aviv beach and was disgusted by the amount of rubbish he saw (just the kind of publicity we need). Pratt is pouring A$100,000 into the initiative, and more than 50,000 kids from every sector are expected to participate.
Great timing. Garbage collection is being cancelled today throughout the country for the foreseeable future, thanks to the Histadrut general strike. These kids have their work cut out for them, I can tell you now. Yuck.

Oh G-d, not another one

If you're sick of Madonna and Judaism, prepare for Val Kilmer and Judaism. No, nothing to do with Kabbalah, but Val is playing Moses in a theatre production of The Ten Commandments, and in preparation for his role, has been "observing the Jewish Sabbath" (whatever he thinks that means), having a Shabbat dinner on Friday nights, and "become very interested in Judaism." According to the NY Daily News, a rep for Kilmer "declined to comment" on whether he was considering converting.
Somehow, I don't think Batman's going to make quite the same splash as Esther; still, welcome to the pseudo-fold.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Driving us to distraction

Driving in Israel is a notoriously dangerous business, which most people blame on Israeli lack of respect for rules, or Israeli hot-headedness. A new study, however, shows a strong correlation between the number of car accidents in Israel -- and terror attacks:
On the day of a terror attack and the following day there is no marked change in road deaths compared to an average day, on which 1.3 people are killed in road accidents...
[T]hree days following an attack there is a rise of some 35 percent in the number of people killed in road accidents compared to an average day.... Three days after particularly deadly terror attacks, in which 10 or more people are killed, there is a dramatic jump of almost 70 percent in road accident deaths.
The researchers speculate that the rise is either due to people letting out pent-up aggression in a delayed reaction, or to people mimicking violence, which is apparently a recognized societal phenomenon after public violent events. Another possiblity they don't mention is simple post-traumatic stress and lack of concentration as a result. Either way, this is an unusually concrete way of showing the psychological effects terror has on a society and a reminder that there are thousands of indirect victims of terror who are never really accounted for. Does anyone know whether car accidents in Israel, in general, have risen significantly since September 2000?

Cherem, the update

A Johannesburg court has upheld a Beit Din's right to put someone in Cherem (excommunication) and ruled that this is not a violation of their freedom of religion.
The unnamed man, as you will recall, went to the High Court to stop the local Beit Din from excommunicating him because he refused to pay the maintenance they ordered after his divorce, saying it would "destroy, defame and obliterate [him] as an Orthodox Jew." It's still unclear, as I wrote last month, why a man who refuses to support his own children thinks that not davening with a minyan is what will 'destroy his dignity as a human being' (as his lawyer put it).

The 614th Mitzvah

The NYT is running a long feature on Lubavitch in Westchester with no new information whatsoever -- other than the following:
"'We're looking for people to be more involved in Jewish tradition,' the rabbi explained, 'but everybody does that in his or her own way. Our goal is to inspire people to do more acts of goodness and kindness, but we're not specifying how they do that.'
Such acts, called mitzvahs, are said to convey blessings on those who perform them. One way Jews can perform them is to contribute either money or professional services to Chabad Lubavitch of Westchester..."
Funny, I don't remember that particular Mitzvah appearing anywhere in the Bible. I'll have to update my list.

The Koufax test

Los Angeles Dodgers first baseman Shawn Green refuses to say yet whether he'll skip two baseball games scheduled for Yom Kippur because he doesn't want the media to make a big deal out of his decision. Keeping everyone in suspense is, of course, the best way to drum up media interest.
Green missed a game on Yom Kippur of 2001.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

The Frenchman to watch

The Jerusalem Post profiles France's Jewish Finance Minister, Nicolas Sarkozy. He is France's most popular politician, probably the next French president -- and a radical breath of fresh air in French politics:
His style is the complete opposite of Chirac's, who has been heading the Right for 30 years. Chirac is a seeker of consensus; Sarkozy prefers decisive action... Chirac is convinced that the French are hostile to any reform whatsoever... Sarkozy, by contrast, believes that the country is impatiently awaiting reforms that will address its weaknesses...
In international politics, Chirac advocates a French alliance with the Arab world, as a counterweight to the United States. Sarkozy, while favoring a more proactive policy for the Muslims of France - he was the first French politician to support affirmative action - does not share the president's anti-American stance in international politics. Quite the contrary: his April trip was a show of approval for American society.
Rest of this important profile here.

Canadians, renew your National Post subscriptions

It's not every day I get to thank a Palestinian propaganda machine for a great story. However, the Palestinian Information Center is carrying a report that Reuters is going to complain to CanWest, the company that owns Canada's National Post and is still the front-runner to buy The Jerusalem Post, because it's been 'inappropriately' inserting the words 'terror' and 'terrorism' into wire stories about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Iraq war, 'thereby changing their meaning.'
CBC News reports:
In one Reuters story, the original copy reads: "… the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, which has been involved in a four-year-old revolt against Israeli occupation in Gaza and the West Bank."
In the National Post version, printed Tuesday, it became: "… the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a terrorist group that has been involved in a four-year-old campaign of violence against Israel."
The global managing editor for Reuters, David Schlesinger, called the changes unacceptable. He said that CanWest crossed a line from editing for style, to editing the substance and slant of news from the Middle East.
"If they want to put their own judgment into it, they're free to do that, but then they shouldn't say that it's by a Reuters reporter," said Schlesinger.
Because G-d forbid anyone should think Reuters actually dares call a spade a spade. The truth is, of course, that editors mess with wire copy the whole time, adding, deleting, cutting and pasting, and yes, changing terminology. If Reuters objects that strongly to this particular edit, perhaps CanWest should start using another wire service; seeing as CanWest is Canada's largest newspaper chain, it will be interesting to see how far Reuters is willing to dig in its heels.

UPDATE: MOTNews notes that in the New York Times report on this subject, Schlesinger says that "changes like those made at CanWest could lead to "confusion" about what Reuters is reporting and possibly endanger its reporters in volatile areas or situations." In other words, he is acknowledging that Reuters' policy of avoiding the word 'terrorist' stems partially from a perceived threat to its reporters -- and not from considerations of truth and honest reporting.

So who's exaggerating?

A slight discrepancy between accounts of Madonna's visit to the Kotel.
Here's Ma'ariv:
Last night, hundreds of ultra-Orhotox [sic] Jews prevented her from visiting the Western Wall in Jerusalem.
While approaching the area, her convoy was surrounded by hundreds of Orthodox men who chanted “Shabbis” (Sabbath in Yiddish). Police did not take any chances and refused to allow her passage.
In the Ma'ariv's Hebrew version, the Haredim were "screaming insults at her, mainly 'Shabbes.'"
Here's Reuters:
Pop star Madonna, on a spiritual pilgrimage to the Holy Land, glimpsed Judaism's sacred Western Wall from afar in the dead of night to avoid being mobbed by waiting photographers.
Looking upset and trying to shoo away photographers with a wave of her hands, Madonna stayed in her car outside the shrine's compound in Jerusalem's Old City in the early hours of Sunday before driving away under heavy security minutes later.
The majority of accounts -- such as the BBC -- back up Reuters, while adding that "At the site she received a mixed welcome from young worshippers, with some chanting: 'She has no right to be here.'" This is hardly hundreds of Haredim converging on her car and screaming at her, as the Ma'ariv stories would have you believe.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Shana Tova!

I'd just like to wish all my readers a happy, sweet, entirely wonderful new year.
I'll be back online (and back to my normal posting schedule...) on Sunday.

Jew of the Year -- final

First, some late nominations:
  • Matt Drudge (for leading online revolution, going mainstream andcrashing print medial hegemony on information)
  • Vicki Polin of the Awareness, Rabbi Yosef Blau and Rabbi Mark Dratch (for combatting sexual abuse in the Jewish community)
  • Michael Howard, voted this year as leader of the British Conservative Party (for reviving the flailing party's fortunes and lining himself up as a possible future Prime Minister)
  • Nicolas Sarkozy, the French Finance Minister (for unbridled popularity and brilliant political maneuvering which will almost certainly result in him being the next French president)

The rest of the list of nominees is here.

And now, the winners.....

I'll say it straight out: my Jew of the Year is not being recognized for an accomplishment, or for his positive contribution to Jewish life or to world events. Indeed, he's not anyone most of us would particularly like to emulate, in some obvious respects. However, I am recognizing Nick Berg, who went to the Middle East to help the Iraqi people, for being the most striking symbol this year of what America and its allies have tried to accomplish in Iraq; of the rise of anti-Semitism around the world, and of Islamic fundamentalism's role in this; and of the general threat posed by Islamic fundamentalists to the world today. The video of the decapitation of this increasingly traditional Jew shocked the world and made many realize the true nature of the opposition in Iraq. May he rest in peace.

Runner-Up:

  • The antedote to Nick Berg? Gal Friedman, winner of Israel's first Olympic gold medal raised the morale of an entire nation, and boosted Jewish pride. As Herb Keinon put it in The Jerusalem Post:
    "At a time when Jews in France are afraid to walk out their doors displaying any sign of their Jewishness, when the Foreign Ministry tells Israelis going abroad not to wear T-shirts with Hebrew writing, there was something deeply moving about watching Fridman proudly wrap himself in an Israeli flag... the Israeli flag was raised at the Olympics in victory, not lowered to half mast in mourning."
    And... his name means 'wave.'

  • Honorable Mentions:

  • Rabbi Yehoshua Fass,and indeed the entire Nefesh B'Nefesh organization, for single-handedly disproving conventional wisdom that American Jews are not interested in Aliya. They brought thousands of Olim to the Jewish State in one year, and gained worldwide attention for their efforts. Terrific.
  • Rabbi Philip Berg managed to make 'Kabbalah' a household word, and made Judaism, or a version of it, look cool (to some). Although many Jews strongly disapprove, and think the Kabbalah Center is a pseudo-Kabbalistic cult, there is no denying that he had a strong impact on Judaism's public image this year.

  • Thanks to all the readers who sent in nominations!

    Tuesday, September 14, 2004

    Media bias and post-modernism

    Following one of my postings on the BBC, Danny Hershtal argued on Bnai Akiva's Blog that the deeper issue regarding media objectivity today is that papers and tv stations have dropped all pretense of having any.
    He gets some backup today from a column in the Wall Street Journal, which argues that newspapers were openly partisan until the late nineteenth century when they started claiming independence of political parties in order to expand their readership. (I assume here he means in their actual reportage; most papers never gave up on their openly partisan editorial lines.) The columnist, Alan Murray, speculates that the return to partisanship today is not caused by more powerful owners, but is consumer-driven: "Consumers have more choices than ever before. It's those consumers who are choosing news sources that support their own biases."
    This still doesn't answer the question of why the news outlets started admitting their bias and dropped the 'objective' ideal. I would posit, instead, that it's simply a sign of our post-modern culture, which discounts the notion of absolute 'truth' and which celebrates relativism. (And yes, I realize the irony, that each one of these outlets claims to be telling the 'truth'.) From there to a range of news sources openly admitting their bias is a short step.

    Stay away from Madonna!

    The London Times reports that a 25-year-old fashion student who was a member of the London’s Kabbalah centre is currently on trial for stabbing her boyfriend 58 times and her grandmother 130 times.
    "As she stabbed the telephone salesman 58 times, witnesses described an 'evil grin on her face' and she was heard to say 'this is done through God'... A few months before last October’s double murder, Davis told her doctor she was being “controlled” and people from the Kabbalah centre were walking around her flat...
    [Her lawyer] Mr Evans added: “At the beginning of 2003, Miss Davis became a regular worshipper at the Kabbalah Centre. In April 2003, Miss Davis’s general practitioner notes that Miss Davis had been involved in prayer at church [ie. the Kabbalah Centre -- MS] (and) she reported feeling controlled by the church."
    A horrible reminder that cults prey on the weak and the vulnerable -- and that while the Kabbalah Centre has a Madonna, a Britney and a couple of other famous people on its roster, it is really no different.

    Monday, September 13, 2004

    Busy drowning in honey cake ingredients, chicken pieces and recipe books. Please bear with me if my posting is sporadic this week....

    UPDATE, three chickens later: We have a last-minute guest for the entire Chag. He's a vegetarian. Sigh...

    Sunday, September 12, 2004

    The Ultimately Disturbing Mission to Israel

    A reader has sent me a link to this website, advertising what it calls 'The Ultimate Mission to Israel,' which will take place this November (apparently it has been advertised on Ha'aretz as well; I haven't seen it). On the program:

    • Briefings by officers in the IDF Intelligence and Operations branches, including senior commanders of the Shin Bet security service and the Mossad.
    • An exhibition by the IDF undercover soldiers who carry out targeted killings of Palestinian terrorists and deep penetration raids in Arab territory.
    • Observe the trial of Hamas terrorists in an IDF military court
    • Discussions with Israel's Arab agents who infiltrate the terrorist groups and provide real-time intelligence.

    This isn't solidarity; it's voyeurism and titillation. Why do the IDF and the Mossad (!) allow such meetings to take place????

    The odd one out

    This week's In Jerusalem contains an interesting article about a former staff photographer at Yediot, who made a career switch and became a private investigator for the Haredi and modern-Orthodox sector. He relates how he caught a synagogue's gabbaim stealing the cash the shul had raised for charity; how a young woman with bruises, whose family suspected she was being abused by her husband, was actually beaten up by the Modesty Patrol who discovered she was renting videos; and how Yeshivot are increasingly resorting to video surveillance to monitor conduct in their institutions.
    The bit that really got me, however, was the picture of the (secular) detective 'undercover.' This is how he dresses 'when he is called in by a concerned party and must meet with other members of the community whom he is trying to help, but who might not trust him if he came in secular garb':


     Posted by Hello

    Has it occured to him they may not trust him if came in a really obvious fake beard, either?

    Friday, September 10, 2004

    Wanted: PA for PA Chair


    Sept. 8, 2004 (AP) Posted by Hello

    This is Arafat at his desk on Wednesday. A LITTLE BEHIND ON THE PAPERWORK, DON'T YA THINK???????

    (Via LGF)

    Thursday, September 09, 2004

    'Terror' and the press

    In a previous thread, MOChassid mentioned a recent Daniel Pipes article that has been doing the rounds, in which he criticises the world press for "shying away" from using the word 'terrorist' in the reports about Beslan. He cites 20 examples of different news outlets using euphamisms, and links to them.
    Because of bitter, Israel-related experience, many of us may have accepted Pipes' claims at face value. I know I certainly did. However, one of the Crooked Timber contributors has followed up Pipes' 20 media references one by one, and shown that the words 'terrorist' or 'terrorism' are in fact used in most of them, together with other objectionable words such as 'assailants,' 'attackers,' 'bombers,' 'commandos,' 'fighters' etc.
    Readers on Crooked Timber have held a lengthy debate about whether Pipes' criticism of the press still holds true, and whether the word 'terrorist' really must be used to the exclusion of all others, even if that means repeating the same word 20 times in as many lines. Either way, this is a good reminder that just because an argument is true 100 times does not mean it is true 101 times.

    Blurring denominational boundaries

    Elf seems to agree with the gist of my prediction for American Jewry in the next decade: that it will be influenced by the conflict with radical Islam, and that the result might be less intermarriage, and a push to conform religiously (as I put it) / a shift toward a more conservative, ethnocentric, nationalist approach to religion (as she put it, with a little more sophistication!).
    I like the way she frames her vision, however, within the context of an American Jewish community today which is more religiously diverse than ever before. She concludes: "The terms "Orthodox," "Conservative," and "Reform," which defined American Judaism for so long, are well on their way to becoming entirely meaningless. We will have to continue to find new ways of articulating who we are and what we believe."
    Zackary Sholem Berger wrote an interesting article a few months ago in the London Jewish Quarterly arguing that this process is already underway, and that denominational boundaries are already blurring. For many NY Jews, he says,

    "flexibility and experimentation in matters doctrinal, halachic, and cultural are precisely at those junctures where organizations and institutions have planted red flags. They walk across the minefield not even looking at the danger signs. So Maimonides’ thirteen principles, the authorship of the Torah, and the binding nature of mitzvot are topics freely discussed by Orthodox and non-Orthodox scholars at a number of forums. Recognition of intermarried couples and of homosexual relationships, a danger zone for the Conservative movement, is approached more and more often, albeit quite gingerly and only in lay organizations. And the Reform leadership, seemingly heedless of a disconnect with the membership such as is bedeviling the Conservatives, is inching ever closer to an appreciation, if not a binding understanding of halachah."

    So what are we going to end up with? 'Secular,' 'traditional' and 'Ultra-Orthodox'? What new kinds of distinctions are we going to make / can be made within that 'traditional' spectrum?

    UPDATE: A reader emailed me this Azure article, arguing roughly along the lines above. Denominational boundaries are crumbling!

    What about onlysimchas?

    The Detroit Jewish News has decided to publish the engagement, union, anniversary and birth announcements of same-sex couples.
    Only a matter of time til every other Jewish publication -- and by that I mean not only newspapers but school, shul and organizational newsletters -- that publishes a 'hatch, match, dispatch' column either follows suit or is challenged in court. Will be interesting to see how they deal with this.

    Wednesday, September 08, 2004

    'Jew of the Year' update

    Well, we’ve received nominations from several readers – including one email nominating 9 candidates! To stimulate other people’s thoughts on this, I thought it would be useful to provide a list of people nominated so far, with a short explanation of who they are / what they were nominated for:

    • Pini Gershon (coaching the Euroleague Basketball Champions, Maccabi Tel Aviv)
    • Gal Friedman, Windsurfer (Winning Israel's first ever Olympic gold medal)
    • Israeli Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu (“Set an incredibly lofty set of economic goals and accomplished almost all of them.... held fast to his conservative policies and fought back against constant strikes”)
    • Benzi Lieberman, head of the Yesha Council (“worked to fend off all of the disengagement plans. His plans reversed the Likud referendum.... showed that the Right-Wing in Israel does in fact have a heart that beats in time with a large portion of the nation”)
    • Canadian Justice Minister Irwin Cotler (MP with the highest margin of victory in Canadian Elections)
    • ‘The first woman to burn her sheitel’ (“shows respect for halacha”)
    • Rabbi Yehoshua Fass of Nefesh B'Nefesh (brought thousands of Olim to Israel)
    • Simon Wiesanthal (retired this year; lifetime achievement)
    • Nick Berg (Symbol of the rise of terror and anti-Semitism this year)
    • Rabbi Philip Berg (brought 'Kabbalah' to the world)
    • Luke Ford (dominating the Jewish blogosphere)
    • John Kerry (nice try)
    • The Jewish neo-cons as a group (helping shape America’s war on terror)
    • The IDF (‘winning the Intifada’)
    • Charles Bronfman and Michael Steinhardt ('continuing to put their money where their mouth is through birthright')
    • ‘No one seems to have done anything outstanding this year’

    Please send your nominations to me by email; winners, runners-up etc. to be announced Erev Rosh Hashanah.

    What's next? Romulans for Judaism?

    Klingons-for-Christ.com

    (Via Yarnivore)

    Imposing secularism -- not much better than imposing religion

    Bill Cork notes that more than 100 Muslim girls have defied the new law banning head scarves in French classrooms, and are currently negotiating with school officials trying to convince them to remove their head coverings.
    What amazes me, however, is that according to several reports, there were only 1,000-1,250 girls wearing the head scarf to school in the first place. Could this really be, in a country with a Muslim population of 5 million?

    Tuesday, September 07, 2004

    Hold on, I thought he was "overweight"??

    Iran has given judo world champion Arash Miresmaeili a $125,000 reward, saying he sacrificed a gold medal at the Athens Olympics by refusing to fight an Israeli.

    Jew of the Year

    Well, it's comin' up to the New Year, and since I still think like a journalist, it's time for.... Jew of the Year. Nominations with explanation to my email please. Winner of the prestigious Bloghead competition to be announced on Erev Rosh Hashana, together with runners-up and honorable mentions.
    May the best Jew win!

    Is all Islamic terror connected?

    An Israeli father whose son was one of the victims of 9/11 is asking the Israeli government to recognize him as a victim of terror. The parents' interest, they insist, is not money, but a desire for recognition; the chance to erect an official memorial to which the families of other terror victims can be invited.
    The government has refused, and the courts have backed them up:
    According to Israeli law, the State recognizes a person as a victim of
    terrorism only if the attack was perpetrated by a hostile group whose aim was to attack the State of Israel, whether directly or indirectly.
    The State and the Shefi family had no argument over the fact that the attack was perpetrated by a group that was hostile to Israel. The State, however, contented that the attack was not aimed against Israel.
    If you look at the broader picture, this argument is clearly wrong. Following the Beslan attack, many columnists have argued for the connection between Islamic terror organizations, across the world. As Zev Chafetz explains:
    America's enemy is not "terrorism." It is international Islamist imperialism.
    Chechnya, Israel, Indian [sic] The jihadists' dream is a return to empire Kashmir, the Balkans, parts of Spain — these are all lands claimed by Islam for reasons of history or theology. The Philippines, Nigeria, Thailand and a dozen other far-flung places are new fronts in the same expansionist war.
    It is simpleminded to imagine the jihadists intend to conquer America or, in this generation, any other Western power. Their goal is to establish (they would say reestablish) a sphere of dominance — financed by oil, armed with nuclear weapons, governed under the laws of Islam — that includes as much of Ottoman Europe as possible, most of Africa and a good part of Asia. America has to be fought because it stands against this goal — a goal that unites Shiites and Sunnis, Wahhabis and Baathists, Nasserites and fundamentalists.
    I am certainly convinced that Israel fits into the pattern; the Palestinians want nothing less than the destruction of the Jewish State because it interferes with this vision. The same goes for al Qaida in its war against the US. An attack against one, therefore, is an attack against the other.
    I am not, however, certain how Chechnya fits into this pattern. Clearly, Islamic terrorists from outside the region are fermenting events out of 'imperialist' motives. But do the Chechen terrorists themselves share this ambition? Is the Chechnian terrorism "a specifically Russian phenomenon, inseparable from the subtext of a nationalist rebellion in Chechnya"? Or is all Islamic terror by definition 'imperialist' and connected? I'd like to hear your views.

    UPDATE: The always-excellent Michael Gove writes in the London Times:
    To believe that current Chechen terrorism is simply a fight for national self-determination, which can be ended by granting proper autonomy, is to ignore blindly the nature of what happened in Beslan. The people responsible for the atrocity are no more likely to settle for national independence than the Nazis were ever going to accept the Sudetenland as the last of their territorial demands. The indiscrimate means used by the Nazis and the Beslan terrorists are so incommensurate with their professed political ends as to place them in a realm apart from those groups with which any democracy can negotiate. In both cases, the world has to deal with people whose national aspirations form only one part of a totalitarian ideology which finds its fullest satisfaction in slaughter.
    When Russia did grant Chechnya greater autonomy in the 1990s, it was only to find that territory become a launchpad for fundamentalist groups intent on exporting slaughter well beyond their borders. In the circumstances, the Russians could no more accept the requirement to respect self-determination than you or I could accept the need to respect property rights when our neighbour’s house has become a crack den.

    Monday, September 06, 2004

    The slur on Islam...

    The hottest video in Baghdad at the moment is apparently a recording of the beheading of an Egyptian accused by other Muslims of 'planting electronic devices in houses that guided bombs dropped from U.S. warplanes.'
    "The video shows a terrified Mohammed Abdel Aal kneeling in front of masked militants with AK-47 assault rifles," Reuters reports. "One of the militants pulls out a knife, knocks down Abdel Aal, then severs his head and places it on his body over a pool of blood."
    Some Baghdad residents think this video is a fake, an Israeli conspiracy: "A Muslim could not do something so barbaric. This was the work of Israeli intelligence trying to give Muslims a bad image in the world," said video shop owner Abu Safwat. "Besides, Islam does not permit beheadings from the side of the neck like in the video. It must be done from the back of the neck."
    Phew -- glad we cleared that one up. For a moment there, Islam's reputation was in danger...

    Animals

    Best line on the Franklin 'spy' affair so far comes from a Ma'ariv op-ed arguing the entire scandal was about nothing more than domestic US politics and inter-agency rivalries: "There is no mole, just a bunch of snakes and weasels."

    Sunday, September 05, 2004

    The BBC outdoes itself

    I wouldn't have been surprised to hear the BBC was calling the Beslam terrorists, 'militants.' But this time, the Beeb has managed to come up with an even softer term: 'hostage-takers.'
    See:

    • here ("The North Ossetian regional government has confirmed 335 deaths in the siege, not including at least 30 hostage-takers reported to have been killed in the fighting"....."Earlier, Russian officials reported they were holding three of the actual hostage-takers, but later reports suggested none of the gang had been taken alive")
    • here ("Analysis: The hostage-takers")
    • here ("He threw all the blame for the tragedy on the hostage-takers")
    • and apparently, their world-service broadcasts.

    'Hostage-takers.' You'd never guess they were responsible for hundreds of deaths.

    JPost editor-in-chief to leave?

    Allison is reporting rumors that Jerusalem Post editor Bret Stephens is returning to the Wall Street Journal and that he'll be replaced by Jerusalem Report editor David Horovitz. I'm looking into it, although:

    • There have been rumors like this before, which have proven unfounded
    • The timing would be strange; after 2 difficult years at the Post under David Radler and Tom Rose, you would have thought Bret would stick around to see whether he gets new, benevolent publishers
    • David Horovitz would be a superb replacement -- although he has hated the JPost ever since he left it to help found the Jerusalem Report in the beginning of the 1990s. Although they were partially owned by the same people and housed in the same building, relations between the two publications have been so bad in recent years that the door to the Jerusalem Report was kept locked and Jerusalem Post staff were, let's just say, unwelcome.

    UPDATE: I don't think the rumors are unfounded. One friend at the JPost writes to me cryptically, 'all will be revealed shortly.' Another says, "It seems there is a whiff of a rumour about Bret going around at the paper but having said that the Post employees are the last people to find out anything." I hope they're only referring to internal events at the paper. More to follow.

    UPDATE II: It is definitely true and will be formally announced to the staff today at a special meeting, 5 pm Israel time. Apparently, Bret received an offer he couldn't refuse from the WSJ. Stay tuned.

    UPDATE III: It's official: The Post tells its readers. Bret's going to join the WSJ editorial board in NY. Horovitz says: "I hope to build on the achievements of Bret's tenure, and the strengths of the staff he has assembled, in order to bolster the paper's position as the prime source of information, analysis and debate for Israel and its supporters. I also wish it to be a forum for tolerant and constructive discussion of how best to guarantee the well-being of Israel and the Jewish people." Is that a hint its editorial line is about to change?

    Friday, September 03, 2004

    Onlysimchas Watch


    Overdressed or underdressed? I'm not sure. Posted by Hello

    Actually, other bloggers are doing all the watching and I'm just collating.
    This one comes via Baynonim (now added to my blogroll), who offers the following commentary:
    Aside from the kittel and candles, which, of course are present, this groom is wearing an overcoat, the overcoat is half on, and his shoelaces are untied.
    I confess. My first reaction was: Look at the clown! Who let him out of the dressing room with his clothing half-on?
    But L, my native guide, tells me that some grooms approach the chuppah partially undressed to suggest that they are incomplete people until they are married...
    L did not have an explanation for the overcoat, and he delivered one of his perfected Withering Looks of Disdain when I suggested that the overcoat custom might have begun when some wedding host forgot to pay his heating bill. L did concede that a half-dressed bride would jazz up the proceedings, but he did not know, if brides perform the same ritual.
    I think it is only a matter of time.
    Personally I think he's overdressed rather than under-dressed. Otherwise, perfect.

    Praying on a high

    El Al has issued a booklet explaining why religious passengers should pray in their seats rather than congregate in a minyan in the aisles or at the back, potentially disturbing other passengers.
    "There is no sin involved in the action of sitting," said the "Handbook for Observant El Al passengers". The "rules", by prominent rabbis, are written in both Hebrew and English.
    "It is important to avoid praying in large gatherings and it is preferable to pray in small groups in one's seat, on the condition that there is no exposure of nakedness in that area," one rabbi wrote, referring to immodestly dressed passengers.
    Apparently El Al did a terrific job of getting people to pray in their seats last Sunday -- when a London-bound flight lost an engine and the pilot had to make an emergency landing in Ben Gurion. Great start.

    Tales of Aliya

    My brother Aron's brother-in-law is featured this week in The Jerusalem Post's ongoing series on new olim. Ari seems to be approaching aliya the way it should be approached -- with a big dose of humor:
    Without realizing it, Abramowitz applied to an Ethiopian absorption program. They accepted him sight unseen, also unaware that he was not Ethiopian. "It's a long story... They never made me feel like the white sheep."
    As planned from the outset, Abramowitz joined the Mahal army program for foreign volunteers after five months in the absorption program. It was the beginning of a life-altering year in the 13th battalion of the Golani brigade.
    "My lack of language at the time made it difficult to adjust at first. After arriving late to the first unit assessment meeting, I apologized for being ugly, "mecho'ar," rather than late, "me'uchar".......
    After a year served primarily in Lebanon and Hebron, Abramowitz opted to remain in Israel, applying to Bar-Ilan University in logistics and computers.
    "Due once again to language constraints, and the strange aversion of Israeli universities to textbooks, I realized after a full year of study that I had yet to understand what 'logistics' meant."
    I would have thought a name like 'Abramowitz' was a dead give-away Ari wasn't Ethiopian. Still, reminds me of the time my father joined the army after we made Aliya in 1982. Because he was already in his 30s, he had to do a shortened basic training with a bunch of other immigrants.
    The first thing the commanders did was separate some of the Ethiopians, who for some reason had a separate basic training. After all the Adissus, Kabedes, Radas and Zalelews had been called out of the lineup, the commander calls on one 'Pablo Shushkebibo.' No one moves. 'Polbo Shashkebib!" Still no one responds. "Bolpo Shishkebab!" Nothing. All the soldiers are staring blithely into space. At this point, the commander calls over the Ethiopian translater and asks him in Hebrew, 'Who's this idiot who doesn't know his own name? His id number is XXXXXXXX.'
    With a start, my father realizes that's him, 'Paul Shaviv.' Turns out, his name got garbled in the computer and they thought he was supposed to join the Ethiopian group.
    'Mah, ata lo Etiopi?'
    So, I guess it's something of a family tradition......

    An uneccesary farce

    Reports abound that Rabin murderer Yigal Amir and mother-of-four Larisa Trimbobler got married secretly two weeks ago. According to Ha'aretz, they married over the phone after obtaining halachic permission. Ma'ariv, which broke the story, claims he empowered his father to act as his emissary in this matter and take his place in the ceremony.
    Yigal Amir is a despicable human being, who deserves to rot in jail for the rest of his life. It is painful for a nation still traumatized by what he did to watch him experience any joy. Such a wretched murderer certainly does not deserve any.
    That being said, I do think that making him go through a farce in order to get married is completely uneccesary. His punishment is his prison sentence; I do not recall the judge's verdict saying anything about whether he can or cannot marry. Indeed, by Israeli law, all prisoners can marry.
    I fully understand why the nation may like to make Amir the exception, and punish him further by denying him love, if that is what he's marrying for, and possibly children. Unfortunately, like it or not, this is not within their power, and the authorities should know better than to try. Just let him get on with it, and don't subject us to the details.

    Why is no one helping these women???????

    An unusual angle to the Aguna problem: an Israeli widow, whose husband died of cancer five years ago and left her childless, is unable to remarry because her brother-in-law refuses to perform the ceremony of halitza unless she pays up money her deceased husband owed him. The rabbinical courts, of course, have gone out of their way to make things more difficult for her.

    Thursday, September 02, 2004

    'Modesty' -- when it suits

    Elf points out an interesting dichotomy in the Orthodox world: A frum woman delivering a bracha to the entire Republican convention -- wonderful! A frum woman reading out a Ketuba to a couple of hundred guests at a wedding -- Never! Immodest! Tfu!

    The art of spying

    The Forward is using the Larry Franklin 'mole' story as a hook to resurrect that old urban myth about the Israeli "art students" spying on the US. Apparently, they've now arrived in Canada.
    In the most recent case, government authorities in Canada have insisted that all the evidence collected indicates the young, self-described "art students" — all of them Israelis in the country on visitor's visas — were involved in something far more prosaic than espionage: the importation of tragically bad, dirt-cheap paintings from the Far East that were then sold at wildly inflated prices door-to-door in some of the more upscale neighborhoods in western Canada. In some cases, the paintings sold for more than 100 times their value, prompting authorities in Calgary to issue a warning to the public to be wary of art fraud, said Detective Frank Cattoni of the Calgary Police Department. The alert made no mention of espionage.
    The Forward ends by quoting a security expert who speculates that perhaps the Mossad had used the group to plant one or two genuine spies. But he adds:
    Even if there were some kernel of truth to the original spying allegations, it is unlikely, Berlet said, that such an operation would have survived the media storm it encountered when details of the DEA report surfaced in the United States. It's even more unlikely, he says, that such an operation would be resurrected immediately afterward in Canada or anywhere else.
    "It strains credulity that once you have an operation blown, you'd simply recycle it," Berlet said. "That's almost unheard of; that's not done. You're placing your agents at too high a risk."
    I'm still waiting for someone to produce one of these students -- I couldn't see one media report where the reporter had actually ever spoken to one of these kids, supposedly freely roaming North American streets. 'Til that happens, this is just an urban myth.

    UPDATE: A reader from Jerusalem emails me:
    "I have, in fact, met some of the Israeli art students. When I was in Phoenix waiting for my aliya go through (in January of 2001), a group of them went around my parents’ neighborhood, which was an extremely strange thing to do since NO ONE goes knocking door-to-door in Phoenix. Two women came to the door and my parents invited them in and they were rather fartumlt that someone would leave all of the splendor that is America for Israel. (It was really odd to say, “Oh, you’re Israeli art students? I’m in the middle of making aliya… .”) So, I can thus attest to the fact that they do, in fact, exist.
    "Unfortunately... the art they were peddling was really a bit too hideous to buy. Based on the conversation we had, my sense was that the students were using their "art" as an excuse to take a trip to the states and were using the sales to fund the trip."

    Wednesday, September 01, 2004

    Honey, I'm home....

    Even though I'm not supposed to be!
    Apparently, the Israeli Secret Servicemen guarding Ariel Sharon managed to drive all the way to the Knesset yesterday, before they realized they'd forgotten the Prime Minister at his official residence.
    Some Secret Service; he's hardly the invisible man....

    Black days at the Jerusalem Post

    As Allison has pointed out, members of the Jerusalem Post 'Diaspora' – which of-course includes me – are 'reeling' over a new Hollinger report, showing that Conrad Black and David Radler’s corruption went further than anyone ever imagined.
    Over the past few years, they stole over $400 million of Hollinger money. Black charged his wife’s handbags ($2463), birthday parties ($42,870), jogging clothes ($140), opera tickets ($2785), and stereo equipment ($828) to the company. The Jerusalem Post was part of David Radler’s patch, and he used the Jerusalem Post's Charitable Funds to get a trauma unit named after himself, and to fulfil a personal pledge to donate $25,000 to Haifa University.
    It was also revealed that Radler’s daughter, whom the company was forced to hire as its New York Correspondent, was earning $62,000 a year and received a moving allowance of $16,000 – unlike the Washington correspondent, who did not have a rich father, and who received a big fat nothing.
    Now, these are pretty astounding figures by any account – and most of the reports have focused on what this meant for the Hollinger shareholders, who were deprived of their rightful earnings, and to the Hollinger companies, which, with the exception of the Daily Telegraph, mysteriously never had any money for anything.
    An angle which, to my knowledge, hasn’t been covered is how Black and Radler’s actions impacted their employees’ personal lives. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the saddest part of the story.
    Salaries at the JPost tended to vary wildly, according to when you were hired and who hired you, and some people were very well paid. Still, while Melissa Radler was earning $62,000 in New York, a good Jerusalem Post reporter was (and still is) extremely lucky to be earning NIS 8,000 a month, which works out to approx. $21,000 a year before tax. Most earned far less.
    If you were single like I was, that was hard to get by on, but it was possible. If you were married with children, on the other hand….
    About a year and a half ago, everyone was told their salaries were going to be cut – because the company was going through ‘tough times’ (read: Barbara Amiel wanted more handbags). Immediately and ever since, a main topic of conversation became how stressed and sleepless everyone was because of the enormous financial hit they’d taken to already stretched resources. For at least one person I know at the Post, this meant stopping heating their house some days in the winter. Other people, adults with families who had been living in Israel for 20 years, had to start asking their parents in the States to cover their rent. I will also never forget a senior employee telling David Radler, on one of his infrequent visits to the building, that she was terrified every time she got on a bus because of the security situation.
    “Why don’t you take taxis or get a car?” he asked.
    “I can’t afford it,” she answered.
    Radler basically shrugged in response, and at the time, we commented about how this was simply beyond the comprehension of such a rich man. Now I wonder whether the shrug covered a flicker of guilt? Probably not.
    These, of course, were the lucky ones. Other employees got fired because the paper ‘did not have any money.’ Freelance reporters, some of whom were regulars and others who had never worked with the Post and were simply na├»ve, had payments delayed by months on end. Others were never paid at all.
    You might argue that full-time employees did not have to stay at the Post, but most people stuck with their jobs because they felt that in the recent economic climate, they were lucky to have a job at all. Others were dying to get out of there but were trapped by their age or by the lack of journalistic options out there (unless you wanted to go freelance, which not everyone could).
    The point is, however, that Black and Radler sucked many of their employees dry, financially and mentally – completely needlessly, out of sheer insatiable greed, in the worst possible faith. It makes me sick to my stomach to realize that all that suffering was not because the company was 'in trouble,' as we were told -- but was because we were being robbed.
    I wonder, had they not been rumbled, would the thefts ever have stopped? Again, probably not.
    Personally, I hope that Black and Radler get put away for a long, long time. My sources tell me that since their departure, conditions are already much improved at the Post. For the sake of its generally decent and hard-working employees, I hope that the paper gets an honest new owner, and that its Black days shall brighten soon.

    Moses and the burning bush? Not so special after all...

    An article on the laws of probability in Scientific American suggests that "In the course of any normal person's life, miracles happen at a rate of roughly one per month."
    Physicist Freeman Dyson of the Institute for Advanced Study Dyson explains that "during the time that we are awake and actively engaged in living our lives, roughly for eight hours each day, we see and hear things happening at a rate of about one per second. So the total number of events that happen to us is about thirty thousand per day, or about a million per month. With few exceptions, these events are not miracles because they are insignificant. The chance of a miracle is about one per million events. Therefore we should expect about one miracle to happen, on the average, every month."
    Not sure how he determined that 'the chance of a miracle is about one per million events.' Still, good news on the first of the month....