Tuesday, August 31, 2004

This can't be good for her dress.....

Here comes the bride... Posted by Hello

Via the Town Crier -- the latest wedding craziness from OnlySimchas. Prize (or at least an acknowledgement...) for the best caption.

I assume Schach's included

Going away over Succot? Jewish inmate in prison? You might want to invest in a pop-up Succa.

Why is Arun Gandhi encouraging violence, where none is necessary?

Gandhi's grandson Arun is on a solidarity mission to the PA, and naturally is attracting a lot of press attention by calling for the Palestinians to resist Israeli occupation by non-violent means.
What exactly does he mean by this? He explained yesterday:
"A massive peaceful march of Palestinians to the locations of their ancestors’ homes in Israel would shock the world into taking notice if Israel ended up killing a couple hundred marchers," he told an audience in Ramallah. “Maybe the Israeli army would shoot and kill several. They may kill 100. They may kill 200 men, women and children. And that would shock the world. The world will get up and say, ‘What is going on?’... “That is the kind of electrifying action that needs to be taken.”
In other words, Arun Gandhi is encouraging Palestinians to become Shahids. Probably not what most of us associate with the words, 'non violent'; but that hasn't stopped half the world jumping on the Arun Gandhi bandwagon.
If I were looking out for the Palestinians' best interests, however, I'd think a thousand times before paying as much as lip-service to Arun's rhetoric. It's not dissimilar, after all, to the advice his grandfather gave to the Jews in Palestine during the Mandate, about how to react to Arab pogroms:
...if only they would “discard the help of the British bayonet” for their defense, and instead “offer themselves [to the Arabs] to be shot or thrown into the Dead Sea without raising a little finger,” the Jews would win a favorable “world opinion” regarding their “religious aspiration.”
We all know how well that would have worked out.
And it's not dissimilar, either, to the advice Gandhi gave to the Jews of Germany before WWII (summarized from the same excellent article in the NRO):
Were he a German Jew, Gandhi pronounced, he would challenge the Germans to shoot or imprison him rather than “submit to discriminating treatment.” Such “voluntary” suffering, practiced by all the Jews of Germany, would bring them, he promised, immeasurable “inner strength and joy.” Indeed, “if the Jewish mind could be prepared” for such suffering, even a massacre of all German Jews “could be turned into a day of thanksgiving and joy,” since “to the God-fearing, death has no terror”....
Through their strength of suffering, he promised, “the German Jews will score a lasting victory over the German Gentiles in the sense that they will have converted [them] to an appreciation of human dignity.”
We all know how well that worked out, too.
The fact is, Arun Gandhi's message will bring more violence, not less, to the region. Whereas the Arabs and the Nazis were committed to destroying the Jews either way, Arun seems to be suggesting the Palestinians actually goad the Israelis into violence that they would not otherwise commit. If Arun Gandhi really wanted to help the Palestinians in a 'non-violent' way, he would not be urging them to physically sacrifice themselves where no sacrifice is necessary.
What he could have done is ask the Palestinians to lay down their weapons, prepare to make some real concessions, and return to the negotiation table. That way, we could avoid bloodshed altogether; which might not be what Arun means by 'non-violence,' but which sounds like a much better option for all parties involved.

Monday, August 30, 2004

You must remember this...

JTA is reporting that "Austrians are forgetting the second world war."
According to a new study,
10 percent of Austrians do not know who Hitler was –– an increase of five percent over 1985; only 76 percent recognize the name of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin; 69 percent know who British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was; and 64 percent recognize the name of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini.... About half of those asked were able to identify Anne Frank. Nearly 30 percent could not define “concentration camp,” “persecution of the Jews,” “Auschwitz,” “Holocaust,” “Stalingrad” and “Hiroshima.” Of those between ages 16 and 29, the numbers were lower.
I assume we're supposed to be outraged by the low levels of knowledge. But frankly, the major surprise here is that so many people knew so much. It's a minor miracle that 50 percent of Austrians know who Anne Frank was. I'm willing to bet that there are plenty of Brits out there who don't know much about Churchill or the Blitz, either; and the situation is no better in the US. I distinctly remember Jay Leno asking random people on an LA street what year the Second World War started, and getting everything from '1776' and '1861' to blank stares in reply.
The fact is, it's 60 years after the war, and a certain amount of memory erosion is natural. We're living in an age when history is no longer an integral part of school curricula. Jews happen to be a people with a very strong tradition of 'remembering' (albeit selectively); others aren't.
Naturally, we would prefer Austrians and indeed all members of the Axis to know enough about history that they are not condemned to repeat it. Sadly, it's unrealistic to expect that awareness of the Second World War will be at the same level it was 30-40 years ago.

No mi-stake, haven't forgotten anything...

20,000 people from as far away as Brazil and Italy flocked this weekend to the Spanish town of Ribadavia to participate in the Istoria Festival, a pageant going back to medieval times which celebrates, in particular, the customs of the town's old Jewish community.

Dancing, an archery contest and a staged Jewish-style wedding in the town square were only some of the attractions on offer, while some younger visitors had the chance to act as human chess pieces on a giant board....
Knights in armour, monks, jugglers, clowns and liquor sellers were among those jostling for position in an enthusiastic parade which preceded a call to join a traditional medieval dance. (Seperate, I hope -- MS)
Organisers said some 50 foodstalls had been set up offering tortillas and assorted pies, delicacies such as grilled kid and local Istoria wine, 6,100 bottles of red and 4,100 of white being made available.

Jugglers, clowns, wine and pies... it really was a golden age for Spanish Jewry. Remind me again why we left???

Sunday, August 29, 2004

Can you lockdown a Succah?

ME points out that demanding Kosher food in jail is old news; the trend nowadays is to ask for a Succah.
A Kansas inmate recently sued when his then-prison chaplain refused his request for a Succah, saying that "placing a napkin over [the inmate's] head would fulfill the biblical injunction to dwell in a sukkah during the weeklong holiday. "
It wasn't clear how so.
The inmate -- who was convicted in 1987 of aggravated battery and in 1992 of aggravated battery and kidnapping -- was awarded $1 in nominal damages and $1,000 in punitive damages last month.

Bible-thumping Bush

President Bush told a kid yesterday that his favorite book was... wait for it... the Bible.
Are you as shocked as I am?

u r l8 4 mincha

Is this finally a way to get secular Israelis more interested in religion?
Apparently, the cellphone is becoming an important religious tool. Catholics can receive a daily SMS from the Pope ("Gr8! Still here!"); Muslims are buying phones which can indicate the direction of Mecca; and Indian customers can send prayers by SMS to a Bombay temple where they are offered to the Hindu god Ganesh. In fact, the cellphone is becoming so popular as a religious tool that the Catholic Church in the Philippines had to forbid confession and absolution via text messaging.
All of this, of-course, is for profit; sounds like a godsend for the cellphone companies....


Do you find that clicking on a bunch of blogs to find out who's posted something new is taking up more and more of your time?
Here's a suggestion. I recently noticed that a couple of my visitors were reaching Bloghead through a beta website called kinja.com. You enter the addresses of all the blogs you want to track, and Kinja sticks the first lines of their new updates on one webpage for you, most recent first. That way, you know as soon as one of your favorite blogs has updated; you only have to click on the entries which interest you; and you save time because you're not trawling the Internet for hours hoping for new content.
I've been doing it for a week and in some ways, reading blogs has become more fun -- you're reading one big mega-blog which, if you follow enough websites, has something new on it every few minutes. Check it out.... (And no, they're not paying me for this.)

Goodbye, AIPAC?

It’s a little too early to comment properly on the Israeli ‘mole’ story because the facts are still way, way too hazy. However, based on facts known to-date, two quick points:

  • AIPAC knowingly taking a document which should not be in circulation from an employee of the Pentagon and passing it on, does not equal Israel running a spy or a mole
  • If this is indeed what happened, the major story here is not Israel but AIPAC. Under such a scenario, the organization will have lost its power and credibility as a lobby in one fell swoop. It's hard to believe -- although not impossible to believe -- that such a politically astute organization would have knowingly cut its own throat.

'Limmud' lessons

Ask your average British Jew what the most exciting development has been in their community in the last decade, and you'll almost certainly hear, "Limmud."
'Limmud' is an annual conference of Jewish learning, which began 20-odd years ago but only really took off in the mid-90s. Sessions are an eclectic mix of everything from Tanach and Jewish philosophy to Jewish literature, Jewish history, Jewish film and Jewish Yoga. It attracts Jewish speakers from all denominations from around the world, and last year, around 2000 participants. Many credit 'Limmud' with injecting British Jewry with a new energy, a new spirit of dialogue, and with attracting hundreds of Jews who otherwise are hardly affiliated.
'Limmud' is so successful it recently expanded to Jerusalem, and later this year, will go to Toronto and NY. This weekend, there's a mini-Limmud conference taking place in Britain -- one of the many offshoot events which have developed over the past few years.
What's really remarkable about 'Limmud,' however, is what it reveals about the skewed internal dynamics of the British community, and specifically, about the relations between the different Jewish streams. To this day, the Av Beth Din of the London Beth Din forbids rabbis under his auspices from attending Limmud, because participating in an event where reform and conservative leaders speak may confer legitimacy upon them. Unfortunately, his ban encompasses almost every mainstream Orthodox rabbi in the country, as they are all directly answerable to him. The Chief Rabbi has not taken a public position.

A FEW 'rebellious' Orthodox British rabbis do attend Limmud; they don't get into trouble but people do know who they are and do remember them for it. (There are plenty of well-known Orthodox speakers from overseas.) In the meanwhile, a number of Orthodox organizations have sponsored an Orthodox 'rival' to 'Limmud' called 'Encounter' -- a more 'kosher,' or truth be told, 'pareve' alternative, under Rabbinic supervision.
Clearly, this shows a fundamental difference between the way the US and the British Jewish communities are organized. In the US, individual Orthodox rabbis make their own decisions; in the UK, everything is centralized. Still, as a North-American (? -- kind of) in London, I must say I am shocked that there aren't more Orthodox rabbis in Britain willing to take a more courageous position -- and shocked that there aren't more Orthodox constituents urging them to do so.

Religious discrimination at the NYT?

The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has found evidence that a Jewish employee of the New York Times' Edison printing plant was religiously discriminated against.
Alpert, 53, of Marlboro, who is Jewish, alleges that he works in a religiously hostile work environment. The 27-year employee says a he has been a victim of a co-worker who "spits on the floor as he sees me" and religious slurs and threats, which he says were condoned by supervisors, according to the complaint. ..
The commission also found cause supporting Alpert's allegations that co-workers referred to him using religious epithets, often in the presence of managers, who did nothing to stop it.
The case could become larger because the EEOC also found evidence that other minority men at the plant were discriminated against.
The Times denied the allegations; the EEOC is now trying to broker a settlement between Alpert and the paper.

Friday, August 27, 2004

'Summer camp for freaks'

Blogger's new Blog of Note is by the author of 'This Is Burning Man,' a book about the annual Burning Man festival which will roll round again in three days time.
According to the official website , "Burning Man is an annual experiment in temporary community dedicated to radical self-expression and radical self-reliance... You're not the weirdest kid in the classroom -- there's always somebody there who’s thought up something you never even considered."
Booklist describes it as: "the annual festival for aging Aquarians and seekers of all New Agey stripes that involves the erection in the Nevada desert of a giant statue alongside a temporary city of alternative lifestyle enthusiasts.... Then the giant statue gets torched, and everybody returns to presumably more humdrum everyday pursuits."
Why am I bringing this up? Because there's an annual Jewish contingent at this crazy-fest -- they call themselves, 'Congregation B'Nai Hamidbar.' Events you can participate in include:

Midnight Shamanic Journey
Join Reb Menachem for a midnight journey of meditation, music, and visionquesting. Trained in the deserts of the Southwest, trafficker with angels, Menachem will be your guide through the vaults of heaven that lie within our own consciousness. Please arrive on time so that we can create sacred space, and bring any objects (instruments, talismans, etc.) which will help you on your inner journey.
12 midnight Thursday night

Matchmaker, Matchmaker
"The way he sees, and the way she looks, it's a perfect match!" "Look, this nice transsexual boy came by the camp a little earlier, he'd be perfect for you. Now tell me, any meshugenahs in your family?" Oy, so many lonely people: come by the Black Rock JCC for your interview to find your basherte (soulmate), or at least your playasherte.
1-3pm, Weds and Thurs

Havdalah Before the Burn
Blessed is the One who creates the light of Fire! Join the Black Rock JCC near the 3:00 portopotties for Havdalah before the burn.

Oooh, Havdalah by the portopotties. Sounds wild. In any case, I heard that last year, there were naked women walking into Friday night davening. Anyone who goes this year, be sure to drop us a line...

'It's not about Israel'

Excellent column by Saul Singer in today's Jerusalem Post on the intention of many American Jews to vote for Kerry this November because they support him on domestic issues -- although they recognize that Bush is 'better for Israel.'
Their mistake, says Singer, is to weigh up domestic policy vs. Israel. The real choice, he says, is between domestic policy and foreign policy as a whole:
For the sake of argument, I'm prepared to accept that regarding economic, tax, and social policy Bush is, in American Jewish eyes, akin to Attila the Hun. Not living in America, who am I tell someone who is appalled at what the president is doing to their country, not to be concerned?
But as a citizen of the world, not just of America and Israel, I feel a right to say this: This is not about Israel, but where America is going on a global scale. As strange as it may sound, I don't want American Jews to vote on Israel, but on their own security and who they prefer for the de facto leader of this planet....
Here's a simple test. Ask yourself whether tacit in your vote is the assumption that there will be no more 9/11s over the next four years. If you think that is true, then perhaps it is right for you to vote based on domestic policy. But if you think there could well be another 9/11-scale attack in the near future, then you should be voting on who will do a better job steering the world in a different direction.
Of-course, Singer seems to assume that voters would automatically conclude the man for that job is Bush. Not sure they would. However, point about foreign vs. domestic policy well taken.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Kosher demonstration?

Rabbi Jeremy Rosen's weekly email Dvar Torah begins this week with the following anecdote:
Last week in Belgium the papers were full of the story of three young Chassidim from America who were arrested for using fake credit cards to pay for luxury car rentals and five-star hotel rooms. When the news of the arrests leaked out, a group of Chassidim demonstrated outside the local police station against ‘police brutality.’ Apparently the police were refusing them kosher food because, according to the young men’s credit card records, they had been feasting at several well know non-kosher establishments in town and didn’t seem that much committed to kosher food.
Jeremy's point is that Hassidim are essentially like all other Jews -- some good, some bad, 'with their fair share of saints and sinners,' and you can't tell anything about anyone's standards of observance by their dress or their affiliation.
But what do you think? Did the police act correctly or not?

UPDATE: In the meanwhile, A federal magistrate rules three Oklahoma inmates have a right to eat kosher food paid for by the state Department of Corrections.

An arresting development

The Brits are working hard on their anti-terror measures. Today they had a major coup, with the arrest of arch-terrorist Abu Hamza.
I'm sure it was a brilliantly planned, daring operation. He is now in custody at the top-security Belmarsh prison
.... where he's been held for the last 3 months, pending extradition to the US. Well done, guys.

Two outta three ain't bad

The 'Axis of Evil' tour, which features three "Arab-American comedians", is making a minor splash at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Team members are Egyptian Muslim Ahmed Ahmed (‘I only attract white women who want to piss off their parents’), Palestinian Mormon Aron Kader (‘I have to get to the airport a month and a half early,’) and Syrian Jew / Syrian Israeli Josh Nasser (no punch-line provided).
Come again with that last one???????

The real meaning of sacrilege

Other people have written in great detail about all the extremely grave questions raised by the Forward’s article on the Rabbinical Council of America’s investigation into allegations of sexual harassment by Rabbi Mordechai Tendler, so I’m not going to repeat them here.
However, what stands out in my mind from the entire Forward article is the following sentence: “several alleged victims have refused to air their claims publicly, for fear of committing sacrilege by shaming a prominent rabbi.”
If this truly is the reason some of the victims are holding back, surely this goes to the root of the matter. It’s one thing for victims to refuse to come forward because they are afraid for their own privacy or reputation, or because they are afraid of the repercussions on their own lives if they go up against a powerful figure. But to refuse to come forward – and help stop harassment of others in the future – out of concern for their harasser’s reputation??? To protect him and help cover up because he holds the title ‘Rabbi’?????
It is this exact attitude – the instinctive veneration of religious authority figures -- that Tendler, if he is guilty, and other Rabbis and authority figures who harass women, rely on in order to get away with their repulsive behaviour. And unfortunately, this is unwittingly complicated by current trends in the community that seem to be elevating the status of rabbis more and more, so that even non-hassidic rabbis seem to be taking on auras.


OnlySimchas features the "Simcha of GOLD MEDAL: Gal Friedman (Israel's First Ever) (Athens, Greece)." A random selection of comments:

"OMG!!THATS SO COOL!!israel won a gold medal?...oh yeah, but i was supposed to know that so yeah, i'll just pretend i do...sorry, i didn't really watch the olympics because i didn't really have the patience {i know!!its really bad!!!!sorry!!} but i'm so happy that israel won a gold.GO GAL!!{I have a friend named gal, not the same gal, BUT COOL NAME!!} omg!!"......

"Hi, My name is alex and I would like to offer you a shiduch. my sister is really pretty and she loves windsurfing. I think you guys would make a great couple and bring a lot of nachas to the ganse am israel".......

"Dearest Gal mazal tov, hopefully you will build a BAyis Ne'eman Beyisroel with Alex's sister, and enjoy the true naches of a yiddishe meaningful life in eretz yisroel. umine!"

(Via Baynonim)

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Israel to use stink-bombs to disperse Palestinian demonstrations, instead of rubber bullets

Boy, is it tempting to turn this into a joke. So many bad puns spring to mind! Will the Palestinians turn their noses up at this attempt to reduce casualties? Will the world press kick up a stink?
But saving lives is no laughing matter, and it looks like Israel is finally getting some well-overdue credit for trying to fight the Intifada as humanely as circumstances allow. Looking at this long-term, reducing casualties has another advantage. It will deprive the Palestinians of one of their major weapons: the high ratio of Palestinian deaths and injuries vs. Israeli deaths and injuries, which is often cited as 'proof' the Palestinians are the underdog and that Israelis are the aggressors in this conflict.
Incidentally, just how sophisticated the Palestinians' propaganda machine actually is can be seen from their response to this new tactic:
"Palestinians said such a weapon could be particularly unpleasant for devout Muslims since they cannot pray with clothes that smell and would have to throw them away."
Turning this into a religious issue and thus reinforcing the image of Israel as 'racist' is brilliant. Stinks for Israel, though. Oy.

Is Israel about to win another (pseudo) Gold?

When is an Israeli medal not an Israeli medal? When the athlete who wins it is a dual national, and plays for the Americans instead.
Well, the truth is that Kayaker Rami Zur hasn't won anything yet; but according to the Washington Post, he's " the American canoe-kayak flatwater team's best hope for its first medal since 1992."
Israel and the United States "are the two countries that I most love. I don't really care what anyone else thinks," Zur said. "The situation with the U.S. and what's going on around the world -- it's kind of similar to the feeling I had when I lived in Israel."
Zur was born in America and raised in Israel, and now lives in Chula Vista, Calif. He moved to the United States because the cost of living is less and the training opportunities a bit better, he said.
In true Israeli style, if he wins anything, I'm sure we'll take the credit and be very proud of him nonetheless.

It's official: Israelis aren't losers

Everyone's talking about Israel's Olympic Gold medal -- but no one has noticed Israel's other Olympic achievement. According to this website, which is logging every athlete who comes last in an event, Israel is one of very few countries yet to produce a real loser!

(Topping the list of countries coming last is China with 6, Poland and Greece with 5 each, and Kyrgyzstan, Bulgaria, Switzerland, France, Australia and the US with 4. Two of the PA's 4 athletes, by the way, also came in last. But for them, at least, I guess it really is the taking part that counts).

The challenge of Russian immigration to North America is not over

Now that Russian-Jewish immigration to the US has dropped to just 200 a year, Mark Handelman, president and CEO of the New York Association for New Americans, the agency that has resettled more than 250,000 Jewish refugees from the former Soviet Union in New York City, has resigned.
NYANA has tried to compensate for the decline of its Refugee Resettlement Program... by branching out into areas like mental health and substance abuse services for immigrants of many nationalities, and helping to train immigrants in entrepreneurship.
These programs have been successful, Handelman said, but “they are small compared to what we had been doing with refugee resettlement.”
After 25 years on the job, it's only natural that Handelman would wish to move on. His resignation is still symptomatic of the fact, however, that the Jewish community as a whole still largely sees bringing the refugess to the US/Canada, and perhaps finding them jobs, as the end of the process -- while in fact it is just the beginning.
A couple of years ago I interviewed Russian Jews living in Toronto. There are by some estimates 70,000 of them -- a rather large chunk of the local Jewish population -- and yet, almost none of them have anything at all to do with the organized Jewish community; they are only just beginning to create Jewish communities of their own, after 25 years in the city. This of-course is mostly to do with the fact they had little or no experience of Jewish community life back home, and usually no religious life either. The Federation is only just beginning to work out how to reach out to them in a systematic and suitable way, but doesn't have many resources for this, and what they do is for many, too little, too late.
I understand the situation is much the same in many other large cities across the US. I hope that their Jewish communities wake up to the fact there are hundreds of thousands of Jews from the FSU whom we struggled mightily to get here -- but have virtually neglected since.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Not quite the end of faith

Has anyone read "The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason" by Sam Harris? It seems to be reviewed, seriously, everywhere.
His tired thesis is that religion is the root of much evil (and especially of 'cruelty,'), should be eliminated, and that reason is the solution. Can you get any more simplistic -- any more high-schoolish?

The thesis, of-course, is easily disproved. Just as many people have been killed in wars which have no religious cause as in wars which do; any biblical passages leading to violence can be countered by another biblical passage forbidding violence; Harris seems to completely disregard the process of Biblical interpretation, and oral traditions which mitigate many violent passages and which are essential to any discussion of religion etc. etc. etc. While he wasn't specifically answering Harris, British Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks also wrote a piece in last week's London Times (can't find the link) explaining that the phrase 'religious fundamentalist,' as it is used today, is misleading, because true religious fundamentals are good, not bad.

Another approach comes from Dennis Prager -- who argues that secularism hasn't necessarily led to morals. Answering Harris's point that the push for religious tolerance has 'blinded' us to the real perils of Islamic terror, Prager points out that some of the most vigorous -- and vocal -- critics of the crimes committed by Islamists today are other religious people, who have the moral confidence to stand up to them, and not secularists / 'rational' academics, who are paralysed by political correctness.

The interesting point, however, is not the pros or cons of this argument, but the fact that such a simplistic and old argument seems to be taken seriously and has generated so much debate in the mainstream media. It seems that since 9/11, people are (again) seeing the world in very black-and-white terms; there is no middle ground, people are either good or evil. Clearly, this book and the debate it has generated are a sad symptom of wartime thinking.

Monday, August 23, 2004

'The most needed institution in the Jewish world'

Two interesting facts about philanthropist Michael Steinhardt, one of the founders and funders of birthright, emerge from this article:
a. He has a "mini Jurassic-park" in his back yard, complete with "zebras and antelope, camels and kangaroos, hundreds of rare waterfowl and big birds that strut and honk after visitors."
b. His next ambition is to open a series of secular Jewish day schools.
They would focus on Jewish history and culture — for instance, teaching the Torah as history — while leaving worship for homework.
Steinhardt, in his typical sweeping way, calls secular day schools the most-needed institution in the Jewish world.
"Such an institution would be a great first step in bringing back the socio-economic elite of the Jewish community," he said.
With all due respect to Michael Steinhardt -- and a lot of respect is due -- the question is: far from being 'the most-needed institution in the Jewish world,' would there be much demand for secular day-schools at all? My guess is not. Because while there are thousands upon thousands of secular Jews out there, I don't think that many of them are actually ideologically committed to secularism. And the reasons people don't send their children to Jewish day schools have far more to do with cost, fear of being isolated from other cultures, and simply lack of affiliation and interest than with fear of a little religion.

The curse of Moses Montefiore?

London's Jewish Chronicle reports that a library in Ramsgate housing a portrait of Sir Moses Montefiore and, it is thought, letters and other items of his, went up in flames last week. Arson is suspected. Particularly sad seeing as his original touring carriage, which was on display by the Jerusalem Windmill in Mishkenot Sha'ananim, was also destroyed through fire in the 1970s or 80s; the current carriage on display is a replica.

Only simchas

Today: Danny and I "celebrate" our six-month wedding anniversary -- as he writes in his brand-new blog.
Tomorrow: I turn a year older. Which, I guess, is always better than the alternative...


Ha'aretz is full of righteous indignation over its shocking discovery that... JDate's advertising banners do not feature real people! Ok, so granted, they didn't have to use porn stars, but c'mon, they're marketing a product, and of course they're going to go for models.
Ha'aretz's main gripe is that
The use of porn models' pictures in JDate's banners is not in keeping with the declarations appearing on JDate's international site... The site claims its purpose is "to help to find real people for real relationships" and "to help strengthen the Jewish community and insure [sic] Jewish traditions are carried on for many generations to come."
It's hard to believe Ha'aretz takes this at face value and does not realize that JDate's only real purpose is to make money for its owners. In fact, it sounds to me that by writing up this story as an enormous, serious expose rather than as a funny vignette or a tale of a misguided marketing move, Ha'aretz is deliberately blowing a story out of proportion in order to sell papers. Kinda similar to the way JDate is deliberately misrepresenting its members in order to sell memberships.

UPDATE: Harry doesn't see what the fuss is about either.

The end of the affair?

Madonna may be disillusioned with Kabbalah. And the leaders of the Kabbalah Center only have themselves to blame, for using her shamelessly to promote themselves, and bore the rest of us to death in the process.

Friday, August 20, 2004

Off for the weekend

Lots to write, but rushing off to the quaint little village of Burford for the weekend. Staying in a 14th century house -- I can only hope there's 21st century plumbing! Back Sun night / Monday morning.
Shabbat Shalom!

PS. In the meanwhile, check out The Jerusalem Post's interesting series of articles on Israel's 'New Haredim.' One comment: Shame the article never really makes the obvious, and necessary comparison to American Haredi society.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Cohanim and Yugosleviim

According to the Forward, a new genetic study shows that up to half of Ashkenazi Leviim are almost certainly descended from a joint male ancestor -- who was Slavic. Ie., non-Jewish or a convert, meaning that they could not have been descended directly through the male line from the tribe of Levi.
The authors of the study conclude that most probably,
"some ancestors who contributed genes in the formative years of the Ashkenazi community either were faking their status as Levites or simply mistakenly believed they were Levites when they were not.
"This misidentified Levite would have had to either have been a convert himself, or to have inherited his genes from a convert or even from a non-Jewish father...
"It is... possible that a woman who was married to a Levite but had a son out wedlock, either because of a rape or an affair, still might have raised her son as if he were a Levite."
According to the study, Sephardi Leviim, by contrast, have the same genetic lineage as Cohanim.

Homosexuality is a religious, not moral sin, says Shmuely Boteach

Shmuley Boteach comes out in favor of civil unions for gay people -- providing they are truly gay, and not bisexual.
"I find it absurd that it is religious conservatives who are the main obstacles to gay civil unions," he writes in today's Jerusalem Post. "At all levels, society should be encouraging fidelity, commitment, and faithfulness in relationships and seek to curb the rampant culture of casual, commitment-free sex that has so reduced love and romance to fantasy and fiction."
The interesting point, however, is his contention that homosexuality is
"a religious rather than a moral sin. The Bible clearly distinguishes between sins against God (religious) versus sins against man (moral), and neatly divides the Ten Commandments into two tablets reflecting that division. Sins such as not worshiping idols and honoring the Sabbath are on the first tablet, while sins such as refraining from theft and murder are on the second. Adultery is both a religious and a moral sin because it involves breaking the holy covenant of marriage, as well as deceiving one's spouse.
"In this sense, McGreevey's having cheated on his wife is a far more serious moral sin than having cheated with a man. Homosexuality, by contrast, which involves consensual sex and no deception, is only a religious sin and not a moral one. Therefore, those who label homosexuality as "immoral" would likewise have to argue that those who don't go to church are immoral, when in fact they are simply not religious. "

Pinkas appointment frozen...

According to JTA.
Up to now, everyone's been concentrating on Pinkas's motives -- which may have been complex. This raises the question, to me, of what exactly AJCongress were thinking.
“Recognizing the work he would be doing was going to be for the Jewish people and for Israel, there was no indication of difficulty in obtaining the necessary Israeli clearances,” AJCongress stated in a new release on Wednesday.
How naive is that? Aren't these organizations supposed to be a little more politically savvy?
I guess they were just too caught up in the idea of bringing Pinkas on board.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Designer gowns

Three out of 10 Muslim women were skipping appointments at the Maine Medical Center in Portland, because they did not want to wear the revealing, immodest hospital gowns. So -- the hospital redesigned them to give extra coverage.
This is wonderful news, long overdue, and I hope that the new gowns -- which are clearly acceptable to healthcare workers -- are adopted elsewhere, quickly.
My question is why it had to take a minority group, in this case Muslims, to bring this about. The fact is, the gowns were revealing, immodest, embarrasing and at times humiliating for everyone -- not just religious Muslims, not just religious people from other faiths, but for everyone, religious and secular. And there is no way that doctors and hospitals everywhere don't know this.
The fact is that if your grievance has the words, 'cultural concern' attached, it is much more likely to be taken seriously than an identical or similar grievance which doesn't. Just one more indication, I think, that Western society is beginning to respect cultural rights over human rights.

Well, it's not an Olympic record, but....

A Federation group made it into the Guinness Book of Records last night, for the largest number of Shofars blown in unison (387). No word on how many people were inspired to do Tshuva as a result.

Golan Cipel: International Man of Mystery

The NYT profiles Cipel, and beyond a few gossipy tid-bits (his sister is married to comedian Yair Nitzani) basically concludes they don't have a clue who he is or what motivates him (as the NYT puts it: "the picture of Mr. Cipel... is murky.").
In the meanwhile, the NY Daily News claims that a college professor from Northern Jersey -- male -- is saying he was 'romantically involved' with him.
"There have been at least three people coming forward, and this person seems the most credible," a source familiar with the inquiry said.
The questions seem to be boiling down to: is he gay or not? Is he the blackmailing type, or not?
You know what I think? This might be a reverse case of Jerusalem Syndrome. Just like certain people arrive in the Holy City and are driven slightly insane by its power, there's a chance that Golan Cipel arrived in the Land of Opportunity, got swept up in a seductive, liberal culture, was seduced, possibly literally, by powerful people, and, alone and out of his depth, was driven to do things he might never consider doing under normal circumstances. I don't know exactly what those things are -- that, at the moment, still is a mystery -- but I do think that trying to find black-and-white answers to those key questions above might be the wrong way to approach this part of the story.

'A strapping young man'

A touching post by Brian Blum, on laying Tefillin with his son.

Shell shock?

Finally, someone asks the real question I've had about the McGreevey 'Affair': What on earth was Mrs. McGreevey doing / thinking, standing behind her husband at the press conference to show her support as he announced that he was gay????
It would have been bad enough if her husband, New Jersey Gov. James E. McGreevey, had announced that he had an affair with another woman. The TV audience still would be scratching its collective head wondering why the missus was standing by her man. But when the announcement is that he is "gay" — not even bisexual — and the wife finds herself outed as the wife on the outs, it becomes an even bigger mystery as to why she is dutifully standing by her spouse.
Who will probably not be her spouse for long.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Shalom u'lehitraot

Alas, my time as a Guest Blogger has come to an end. Miriam tells me that my time is up! Thanks to Miriam for offering her 'hospitality'; and thanks to all of those who read and even commented on my blogs. As they (used to?) say at the end of the Hanna Barbera cartoons -- "That's all, folks!"

Problems for Pinkas

It will be interesting to see whether Alon Pinkas ever takes up his new position as CEO of AJCongress. Civil Service Commissioner Shmuel Hollander is threatening to institute criminal proceedings against him "for violating the Civil Service Law, which restricts employment following retirement."
And Pinkas responds by promising that "he would not begin his new career without studying the civil service regulations."
Erm, shouldn't he have done that before he accepted a new job -- and sent out a national press release on the subject?

All archaeology, all the time

Archaeologists at Qumran, funded by fundamentalist Christian organizations, vow to prove that residents of the site indeed wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls -- contrary to recent assertions. They intend to send animal bones recently "found under the homes" for genetic testing, to prove that the leather on which the scrolls were written came from those animals.
Numerous problems with this, the most obvious being, even if they could prove this connection, it would merely show the scrolls were copied at Qumran, not that they were composed there.

UPDATE: More on this from The Jerusalem Post, which states, "The seven bone deposits of mules eaten and buried inside cleaning pots and storage jars by the Qumran community in the 1st century BCE will undergo DNA testing this week." Can anyone explain this? As far as I know, mules are: a. not eaten (by anyone -- and they are certainly not kosher) and b. not used for making parchment.

New Jewish growth area - perhaps a place to find cheap housing?

A report - which in part reads like a communique from the former FSU - details Jewish revival in Birobizhjan.

Commitment, Jewish identity, and other problematic concepts

Some of the comments on my postings about schools, education etc (and, though I haven't checked, probably some of my own blogs) use the word "commitment". It is bracketed in my mind with the similar concept of the 1970's and 1980's --"Jewish identity". But what do they mean ? In theory or in practice? People living far away from organised Jewish life can be obsessed with being Jewish; sometimes, surprisingly, people whose lives seem to be very intensively Jewish can show that they have little loyalty to the values they profess. Are these simply buzz-words, used to avoid definitions and thinking rather than constituting them? Any other nominations? (eg 'Jewish values').

Monday, August 16, 2004

At least someone's interested in archaeology

The London Times announces the discovery of a cave near Ein Kerem with a large mikveh, broken pottery and what seems to be a Byzantine drawing of John the Baptist. Is this "‘the’ cave of the early years of John’s life, the place where he sought his first solitude in the ‘wilderness’ and the place where he practised his baptisms"? Thousands of pilgrims expected within the week.

Sunday, August 15, 2004

Shuls and schools

The future of day schools and synagogues is closely connected. For 80-90% of parents who send their kids to day school, I believe that the school has replaced the synagogue as the major institution of Jewish family contact. This has consequences for both, and will change the role of both. More and more, when families need pastoral help, they turn to the school rather than to their rabbi. This is logical -- a student may see a teacher for several hours per week, and shake hands with their rabbi once a year. But should schools embrace this new role, and all that it entails? Avoid it? What are the staffing and programme implications? Conversely, synagogues seem less and less relevant to many families, with rare exceptions seeming to offer them little -- especially families who are "different" in any way.

Reb Yudel asks the good questions

Reb Yudel , commenting again on the question of evaluating the success of schools (which was itself a blog on a previous comment of his!) asks whether the Montreal survey of Jewish day schools "correlated to parental commitment". [Short answer -- no.] But what does ‘parental commitment’ mean, nowadays?

Bear in mind when thinking about these issues:

--- Thirty or forty years ago, it is true to say that only a small minority of highly committed parents sent their children to full-time day schools. One of the huge achievements of Jewish ed. has been to draw into the system tens of thousands of families who would never have dreamed of Day School as an option. (J Day School population has tripled or more, from about 60k to 200k in 25 yrs). That is excellent -- you cannot complain for thirty years that parents don't send their children to day school, but then object when they do .... but the corollary is that widening the catchment of the schools alters them considerably.

--- the question of parental commitment has become MUCH more complicated. What does it mean???? I am frequently asked whether "today's parents" send their children to day school "for the right reasons". I don't know what the right reasons are, and I suspect that many parents cannot quite define why they are sending their children either. Parents and students are of new generations. Over the years I have seen many parents who claim loudly that "Jewish school is the only choice" -- and pull their kids out at the end of Grade 9 (do they have unrealistic expectations?); and many others who register their kids at the last minute, for whom sending their kids to Day School never entered their imagination, but who turn out to be students and families who gain huge amounts from the day school experience.

Bottom line – I cannot measure parental ‘commitment’, but I have a deep respect for the commitment of every parent who chooses a Jewish school, with its financial and other commitments, when there are many alternatives available. In other words -- how the students leave is of far greater concern that how (and why) they enter.


Went to an engagement party tonight which was completely separate. Peering through the mechitza together with the kallah (20), I asked her to point out the chussan. To my amusement, she actually answered, "He's over there, in the black hat."
For the record: The only men in the room without black hats were my husband Danny -- and the men who'd taken them off. I didn't detect any sarcasm.

Friday, August 13, 2004

Bouncing Sheks

Hillel Halkin makes an interesting observation about life in Israel:
It's a funny thing. Many of us who came to this country did so because, apart from an intense feeling of Jewishness, we felt that we wanted to lead lives that were less materialistic, more driven by ideals, than those we would have led in the Diaspora. And in important ways, we have succeeded in doing that. Yet in other ways, we have ended up leading lives that are far more bound to material concerns, for the simple reason that we are forced to think about money - or rather, about not having enough of it - all the time. Since settling in Israel, there hasn't been a day - well, anyway, a week - in which I haven't worried about our finances. There's nothing spiritually uplifting about this. In fact, it's spiritually debilitating.
Well, I'll second that. And it's a big mistake to obscure this (potential) reality for new Olim ('Don't worry about money, no one has any'; 'The money always turns up from somewhere'; 'you're not going there for the money anyway.')

Security experts Inc.

Luke & Co. over at Protocols are having a field day over the McGreevey / Cipel affair. Cipel appears to be one of a very large tribe of Israelis presenting themselves all over N America as "Security / Terrorism" experts, often on the basis of non-existent qualifications and experience. All Jewish institutions have been approached by these outfits, who hope that the tag "ex-Israeli Army" will dazzle gullible clients. It is a great help to be able to speak Ivrit when meeting these characters (Cipel, from the photos, seems unusual since he has no shaved head and is not wearing sunglasses), and an even greater advantage to have some nowledge of Tzahal. One expert, under my persistent questioning a couple of years ago, finally admitted his key role in Tzahal ..... as a cook!

(Miriam -- no need to call -- this is my last post for today! Shabbat shalom.)

I conquer (I think) a 'yetzer hora'

I have been grappling over the last few weeks with a 'taaveh' (rough trans: an unsavoury appetite or desire) - should I buy a new car? The object of my desire is/was the new Volvo V50 - small, compact, stylish ........ I went so far as to test drive it. But driving along one morning this week, I went through a mental checklist -- does my present vehicle still have four wheels/ (Yes). Is it mechanically reliable? (Yes). Is it comfortable? (Yes). Does it fulfil every transport need of my sedate life? (Yes). [The crunch question:] Do I really need a V6, 2.4i engine to go up and down Bathurst Street between home and school (90% of my mileage)? (No.) I stick with the Honda (Civic, 1998, 70,000km).

Yesterday I happened to meet the very good salesman who has been cultivating my lasciviousness ("Mr X" - a colleague who has the parking space next to me in school "of course, he has a Volvo" was his opening comment when I first wandered in to the showroom). I recounted the checklist to him. "Aah,"" he said, disappointed, "You're thinking rationally." I immediately felt better. I hope I hold out until Rosh Hashanah.

POSTSCRIPT: Writing this, posting it and then checking that the link works ... has aroused the appetite again .... isn't it a beautiful car???? Watch for updates on the yetzer hora.

UPDATE (Tuesday 17 August): Alas, the yetzer hara won. I take delivery on Thursday.

Remembering the Munich Olympics

Now is the time to take a moment to remember the horrific story of the 1972 Munich Olympics, and the terrrorist attack on the Israeli team, Hy"d. Like everyone else, I recall clearly going to bed at night having heard the announcement that all the hostages had been saved, and waking the following morning to hear exactly the opposite. (At the time I was a Hillel Director in London.) The German authoroities bungled the entire incident from beginning to end; the actions of the Olympic Committee were, and are, worse -- fitting well into the local Munich tradition; and the entire international sports community did its best to look the other way. The "Games" (it is even a disgrace to dignify the modern Olympics with the title) were interrupted for one day. At the 'mourning ceremony' (or whatever), not a single word of Hebrew was uttered - not a prayer, not a speech. The late Rav Jakobovits z'tzl (link goes to an interesting biographical article on his contribution to medical ethics) maintained strongly that Israel should never have participated in any Olympics. Hope and pray that the coming weeks pass without incident.

See this article in Haaretz today about the team going to Athens -- the article manages not to mention Munich .........

AND EVEN MORE INCREDIBLY ... neither does this one! Any Jewish / Israeli souls awake at Haaretz????

Accountability, evaluation, management - more

In answer to Reb Yudel (see comment on last blog): There are different levels of accountabilty and evaluation. The basic level is the ongoing accountability of the operations of any school or institution - is it being managed and run responsibly, safely and professionally, and with a dash of flair and inspiration? That covers the questions (in a school) of a planned curriculum, of proper teacher supervision, and in any programme of safety, fiscal responsibility, and short-term evaluation. I agree with Reb Yudel -- there is no excuse for sending any teacher into any class without sufficient and appropriate preparation and backing. (Which, realistically, in the Jewish school system, can vary. The future of Jewish Ed is, IMHO, "professionalize, professionalize, professionalize", but that's another megillah .)

But I think that the Jewish Life Foundation folks are looking at another level entirely of evaluation: trying to assess the impact of (apparently, fairly short-term) programmes on the "neshamah" of the participants, and then attempting to moderate the flow of grants and resources according to the results. I'm in favour - but only cautiously. The nearest analogy (maybe, better, parallel) comes from a book that I just finished reading -- "Another Life", by Michael Korda, the sort-of Hungarian, sort of Jewish, sort of American publisher. It's an entertaining read (altough see the readers reviews on Amazon.com!), and it relates his 'insider's story" of his career in publishing (mainly at Simon and Schuster). A main theme of the latter half of the book is the transformation of publishing in the 1980's and 90's into business -- from the 'gentlemen's occupation' to merged, mega-publishing houses that were part of conglomerates. I can't put my finger on the exact passage, but at some point he points out that as soon as the publishers (and the authors) began to be run by accountants, who lost sight of the human/literary factor, the industry changed radically -- because the core business had not changed, and the skills and instincts of editors and publishers were still the essential determining factors in ensuring quality.

I am wary of the "accountants" taking over Jewish ed., and deciding that because birthright is so successful (which it is, and I am a great supporter and admirer of its founders), ALL resources should go to informal education and Israel programmes.

An example - again, from my own school - very relevant to both the short and the long-term is our Shabbaton programme. A few years back, we decided that our classroom programmme needed to be complemented with an experiential component (short-term evaluation). With the very important support of the AviChai Foundation, we launched a programme of Shabbatonim. Four five years now, we have taken (on average) seven hundred students a year away on Shabbatonim. We have a programme of supervision, of programme evaluation etc etc, and, indeed, submit an annual report to AviChai. It appears to be very successful, and to all of our knowledge has had a profound effect on school life, school 'ruach'. But how do I know whether in fact it is affecting the pattern of Shabbat observance among our students - now or in twenty years time????? What can I do, other than survey our grads - and that will only tell me how effective the Shabbaton was twenty years ago! And how can I compare the effect of an emotionally-charged Shabbaton with the effect of 110 hours' course in Grade 12 of 'Jewish ethics', or with the importance of a great Ivrit or Rabbinics or Tanakh or Jewish History teacher in Grade 9? And how can I compare the effect of either with an unplanned, unnoticed five minute conversation in the lunchroom between a teacher and a student, which for the student may be an 'orienting experience' (Emile Fackenheim, z'l), after which his/her life may never be the same??

Or: A few days ago I met a CHAT grad (from before my time) who is doing a PhD in psychology, "developing a therapeutic model on the principles of Chovot Halevovot". He came to CHAT from a non-jewish school. "I owe it all", he said, "to Gary Levine teaching me Vayikra in Grade 12". The aforementioned Levine (now one of our Campus Principals), cannot remember teaching this student. How would this have been 'scientifically' evaluated at the time? Would the student have recognised then the impact the course was to have on his future life? Would the teacher have been able to say (assuming he was overcoming his modesty!) "I believe I have inspired this class" ......

anyway, it's a blog - you get the point (I hope!)

Thursday, August 12, 2004

How do you measure (Jewish) organisational success?

The latest issue of Contact -- the periodical of Michael Steinhardt's Jewish Life Network - is on the theme of "measurement and accountability in the Jewish World'. The articles discuss the principles and practice of assessing effectiveness/success in different sorts of Jewish organisations and of assessing the success of Jewish programming initiatives. It is a fascinating subject, and some of the authors (not least the tough-talking Mr. Steinhardt himself!) point out that these ideas are alien to many Jewish groups, who prefer to report "anecdotally" and who resist external assessments.

Data is important; but measuring intangibles is extremely difficult, not least because the same person may see the same experience radically differently as time passes. Education is definitely a case in point. I believe that you cannot assess the effectiveness of a Jewish education until a student is in their thirties, at least ....

Coming to America

Alon Pinkas has been brought in to revive the fortunes of the American Jewish Congress -- and I am struggling to know what to make of it.
Is this:
a. A disgrace, in that it appears to be a violation of the cardinal rule that a diplomat returns to the country which he represents when his term is up? Particularly relevant for a country like Israel, which encourages Diaspora Jews to make Aliya, and looks silly when its own ambassadors won't go home.
b. A triumph, in that it shows just how out of his way Pinkas must have gone to forge ties with the Jewish community? Particularly relevant when many, if not most of Israel's Ambassadors never really come to understand, let alone appreciate the Diaspora communities in the cities in which they are based.
c. A slap in the face by a charismatic, successful Consul General to a charmless, mediocre Foreign Minister who dissed him?
d. Proof that $350,000 for sitting in Manhattan is more tempting than $50,000 for sitting in the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem (although it does have very nice new offices)?
Personally, I'm leaning towards e., all of the above, with a slight bias towards b., a triumph. Putting myself for a moment into my father's shoes, however, I will be interested to see how this affects the hundreds of shlichim across North America who wouldn't mind another year or two (or ten) in Chutz La'aretz but are told they must go home at the end of their term. Let's just hope they don't notice that the rules have changed.

Jewish spam, spam, spam

Reb Yudel recived a disturbing piece of spam yesterday. Modelled on the infamous Nigerian man trying to 'deposit' $50 million in your bank account, this one claimed to be coming from a member of the Volcker Commission, charged with finding Swiss Bank Accounts belonging to victims of the Nazis which have been dormant since the War. "Mr. George Graham" says:
A dormant account of ORDNER ADELE with a credit balance of 50,000,000 US dollar plus accumulated interest was discovered by me. The beneficiary was murdered during the holocaust era, leaving no WILL and no possible records for trace of heirs... Due to the sensitive nature of my job, I need a foreigner to HELP claim the funds.
Of-course he also needs your bank account details. Sick.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004


Does a Beth Din infringe on someone's rights to freely practice their religion when they excommunicate someone?
That is the question at the heart of a lawsuit currently being played out in Johannesburg, where a man has gone to the High Court to stop the local Beth Din from excommunicating him because he refused to pay the maintenance they ordered after his divorce.
His legal team has now told the Johannesburg High Court that this must be unconstitutional as it infringes on their client's right to religion and right to practise religion.
"It will destroy his dignity as a human being," Advocate Frank Snyckers said.
I'd be interested to know why exactly this man, who cannot be named to protect his children, refused to pay the maintenance. Because on the face of things, it's a little disturbing that 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. The case continues...

He's baaaack

Steven I. Weiss launches a trial version of a new blog about religions, called... Canonist.

Scandalous accusations rock the sedate world of Biblical Archaeology

Washington DC Jewish lawyer, scholar manque and irrepressible gadfly Hershel Shanks publishes two 'must read' journals in the area of scholarship -- the 'Biblical Archaology Review' and the "Bible Review'. The BAR has been in the forefront of the debate (some might say: Has created the debate!) over the two sensational archaological finds of the last few years -- the 'James ossuary' and the 'Jehoash inscription'.
Reading the BAR (especially) over the last year or so has been like following a thriller. The latest issue contains a string of stunning accusations -- that the forger of the Jesus ossuary, an Egyptian jeweler working in Israel, confessed to his girlfriend while drunk; that 'one third' of the inscriptions in the Israel Museum are faked (including the inscription on the ivory pomegranate, regarded as the only artifact surviving from the Bet Hamikdash).

I am always struck when reading these two great magazines at the almost total absence of Orthodox Jewish scholars from the field. Why aren't we interested in archaeology???

CAT not CHAT news in Toronto

A cat features rather prominently in the latest edition of the Canadian Jewish News. More fodder for Luke about the inanity of Jewish journalism?

Ain't gonna work on Saturday

Badatz has started giving hechshers to... real estate companies. First up: an Israeli firm with a branch in Canada.
As far as Shabbat is concerned, Rabbi Klein clarified that the Badatz review found that there are Jewish employees in the Canadian office who do not take off Saturdays. Badatz, therefore, made its granting of the kashrut certificate conditional on the Jewish employees stopping to work on Saturdays and permitted non-Jewish employees to continue working.
I'd like to know how this works in Canadian law. Is it religious discrimination to tell a Jewish employee they are no longer allowed to take a Saturday shift, or come in on a Saturday if they want to, while other employees can?

Harrassment and similar issues in Jewish Day Schools

I was asked to comment on this sensitive and difficult issue. To be comprehensive would need a long essay (and, if I ever complete my project to write 'The Principal's Guide to the Jewish Day School" -- 20,000 words so far, but I haven't looked at it for a time -- it will get it; but not, I am afraid, here!)

But some general comments:

1. No Jewish institution, as no non-Jewish institution, is free of the issues and problems of our society, whatever they are. (I believe this has always been true.)
2. There is far greater awareness today of issues of sexual harrassment and all other types of harrassment, bullying etc. than there ever was, and, fortunately, a greater willingness to tackle the problems. To do so effectively requires several, simultaneous pieces to be in place. To the extent that they are, any single institution (school, shul, office, old-age home etc) will be able to do fairly and effectively. If they aren't, problems are unlikely to be solved. In any case, because issues of this type (in my experience) are inevitably a symptom of far wider emotional networks of disturbance, dealing with them will be a stressful issue for everyone involved, in whatever capacity.
3. Among the 'pieces that have to be in place' (in schools, at least) are, in brief:

-- clear written policies regarding expectations of behaviour, consequences, and process (corollary: this goes with a well-run, professional school)
-- a trustworthy, and trusted, means of voicing concerns
-- a supportive (and, frequently, courageous) faculty, Administration and Board -- and community.

Additionally, a good school will take care in taking references on prospective employees, and be alert to the small, but significant signs and 'messages' that indicate trouble.

4. As everyone knows, some organisations have had to confront painful realities in these areas. (see, for example, the extensive Guidelines that NCSY now issues to its staff and volunteers.)

5. A related issue, very relevant to Jewish schools, is the issue of boundaries where staff are encouraged to be heavily involved spiritually and therefore emotionally with their students. This is particularly, although not exclusively, true for obvious reasons in the Jewish Studies area. See entry #15 ("Permitted means in Kiruv work") on the this link, where I have written on the issue of the 'charismatic teacher'.

Finally -- quick answers to the original enquirer:
1) Experience in dealing with these issues -- yes, on a number of occasions over many years?
2) Prevalence of the problem -- I don't know how to measure 'prevalence'. It exists.
3) Our expectations, policies and procedures are clearly indicated in our 'School Handbook" (not on line for another week or so 4) All our employees require Criminal Record clearance (as per Ontario Provincial legislation), and my guess is that because we are smaller we check other references more carefully than the public school system (becasue they deal with far larger numbers). 5) I'm afraid I can't comment on other schools, or on why whichever Toronto publication didn't publish Chezi z'l's articles. 6) I think that greater awareness has led to greater willingness to face issues, which means that they can be dealt with.

I hope this is helpful.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

The most important Jew in the Lotus

Everyone knows the old joke about the Jewish mother who travels to the Far East to seek an audience with a guru. Passing through the outer doors of his monastery, she is told that she can see him but can only utter five words. She approaches the guru, puts down her bag and says, “So Sheldon, come home already.”
Well, this guy is the real thing. Born Jeffrey Miller, a Jew, he is today the most important American Buddhist, and is better known to millions as the Lama Surya Das. Except to his mother: she calls him the "Deli Lama." And yet, people still respect him. Amazing.

Ha'im le'daber b'Ivrit??

I was due to have lunch today with our Co-Ordinator of Ivrit (at Toronto's new, fabulous-food dairy restaurant, Shemen Zait), but unfortunately we had to postpone. So, instead of lunch -- blog!

Ivrit is a major issue in Diaspora Jewish day schools. From all over the world, we hear of schools either reducing their teaching of Ivrit, or in some cases almost abandoning it. On the one hand ... on the other.... CHAT is firmly committed to Ivrit, both as a language and wherever possible as a language of instruction. Some 50% of all Jewish Studies teaching in CHAT is purely in Ivrit. It is a compulsory subject for all students throughout the school, at different levels of skill and knowledge. As a result, for example, when CHAT students go to Israel programmes, many of them (if not most) can go into Ivrit programmes. Keeping up our standard - to which we are committed - is, however, tough, for a number of reasons, and there is a constant murmur urging us to lower our demands. We maintain our levels by intensive staffing, including a requirement that (with few exceptions) our local JS staff must be Ivrit speakers, and also by the fact that we have a large staff of shlichim* (this coming year -- 15, about a quarter of total Judaic Studies faculty). We believe that whatever the difficulties (see following), the advantages of teaching texts in the original is so huge, and the importance of Ivrit so great, that it is worth it.

The difficulties include (but are not limited to!): -- shortage of teachers, especially teachers trained to teach Ivrit as a second language -- the general decline in second-language teaching throughout the Anglophone world (IMHO, due to the decline in teaching grammar in any language, including English) --- in part, ideological opposition to Ivrit in sections of the Orthodox community -- lack of systematic Hebrew reading instruction at an early age.

So --- how important should Ivrit be in the Jewish education system? How much of an educated Jew can you be without it? What are your experiences as graduates, parents, teachers etc?

*whatever experiences may be elsewhere, the shlichim at CHAT are a highly positive, effective and integral part of our team.

What about Shabbat and Yomtov??

Plans announced for 24/7 Jewish TV.

'Paris is for lovers'

Does Mrs. Arafat have a new boyfriend? And is he an enemy of Arafat to boot?
According to the Jerusalem Post,
"malicious sources insist that Suha has, whisper it not, acquired a paramour: The First Lady of Palestine, the sources report, has lately been seen at some of the fanciest Parisian restaurants in the company of wealthy Lebanese businessman, Pierre Rizk.
Like Suha, Rizk is a Christian. But unlike Suha, he acquired a distinguished record of contacts with Israeli intelligence officials during the 1982 Lebanon War when he himself was head of intelligence for the Lebanese Forces, a Christian militia that fought bloody battles with the Palestinians and was, irony of ironies, closely aligned with Israel....
Suha was not available for comment this week."
Things, alas, are not quite as the Post presents them: a quick Google search shows Rizk has long been one of Arafat's own business partners. I'm not sure whether this makes things better or worse for Arafat, but no matter. Considering Suha is married to possibly the least attractive man on earth, the only real question is: what took her so long?

Bernard Levin passed away - non-Jewish Jew, gadfly, brilliant journalist

UK newspapers are full of Obits of the late Bernard Levin (see Google News for Obits - otherwise regular Google for some quotes etc.) Bernard Levin was an English equivalent (in a way) of the NY Jewish intellectuals, and an example of what the late Isaac Deutscher famously termed 'non-Jewish Jews'. The Jewish community totally failed to engage him, although he was "haunted" by the Shoah. He wrote a column in the London 'Times" (I'd give you a link, but it is only accessible online by subscription!) three times a week for 25 years - a remarkable achievement, covering every subject under the sun in elegant (some said over-elegant) English prose! The Jewish community, as is its wont, especially in the UK, was highly suspicious of such a free spirit. I will be interested to see what form his funeral service takes (sounds gruesome!) A tragic footnote is that this brilliant man apparently died at 75 from Alzheimer's, into which he had been descending for almost a decade.

The cost of Jewish education - I get attacked

Bound to come up, so let's start this now. On one of the the excellent listservs of Bar Ilan's Lookstein Institute, Mifgashim, (the other one is Lookjed ) a mother writes an anguished plea that she cannot afford to send her son to Jewish High School in Toronto. 90% certain she is talking about CHAT. After a little confusion, I post a response (see #3 in the issue). What can we do about the rising cost of being Jewish (of which Day School tuition is a huge component)? It is simply getting beyond the means of the average family. It is a difficult spiral - as the standards of Jewish schools rise (thereby attracting more students into the system), the costs of operation go beyond what non-govermental funding can support. My concern is the rising 'social cost' of being Jewish -- synagogues (especially Orthodox) seem to be clustering more and more in the most expensive suburbs. There are real pressures to "keep up with the Cohens" - in dress, in simchas, in 'hiddurim' etc etc. When i was a child, each shul had three sets of arba minim - one for the Rabbi, one for the Shaliach Tzibbur, and one that was passed around the shul. Now everyone, and their sons (save that for another day, please!) have to have a set. A couple of years ago, Emanuel Feldman wrote in 'Tradition' (can't find a link) about a non-Jewish colleague whose daughter had a quiet wedding on a Saturday afternoon, accompanied by a classical ensemble, followed by tea and sandwiches for (if I remember) about thirty guests. A young, frum mother told me recently that she and her friends had all determined to "stop' at three, rather than four children, because they wanted to be able to put them through Day School. If that is a pattern, it means an immediate 25% population drop straight away ..... What is the answer??

Widening access to Jewish schools

As soon as School begins again, one of my major projects for this year is to get our idea of a Vocational Training Unit off the ground. The Jewish community thinks that all of its children will be successful professionals, sailing through Graduate School to a well-paid academically-grounded life. Yet we disenfranchise a huge constituency of perfectly wonderful children who are simply unsuited to the double-curriculum, highly academic Jewish school curriculum. (A former colleague of mine in Montreal termed these kids 'JDSD' - Jewish Day School Disabled'). So, in our new building north of Toronto (hopefully - opening September 2006) we will have a non-academic vocational training option, for students who will directly enter the workplace after High School. So far we have some proposals, a good committee, and some space on the plans. But what skills should we teach? Any suggestions?? They have to be 'sociologically appropriate' -- ie we could teach food services, but it wouldn't be useful to teach, say, log-rolling or forestry (this is Canada, remember), as there aren't many forests in the Jewish areas of town. This will be a 'first', I believe, in any mainstream Jewish school. There are similar schemes in NY and Baltimore (at Yeshivot), and a slightly different one in Florida. Will Jewish parents send their kids to such a course??

Thanks, daughter

Well, first I felt really flattered that my darling daughter had invited me to 'guest blog'; then I read why ("It's a slow summer and the silly season.."). OK, I got over it, and then encountered her mounting hysteria that I'd hijack her site a la Luke Ford and Protocols. Alas, my life as a middle-aged Head of School is not as, er , exotic as his.

But I do deal on daily basis with 1,400 students (G9-G12) and their parents, 175 teachers (and another 30 or more support staff), our Board, an CAN$18m budget, the local Federation and other community organisations, etc etc etc. Miriam wants me to write about 'education'. But I run a school - I'm not sure that I know anything about 'education"......... Anyway, during this week (unless my daughter, in a Freudian fit, cancels me earlier) I will open a window onto the life and times of ... well, her father! Please blog in -- if the 'hits' evaporate she'll never forgive me (and, my luck is to start the day after the hits reached an almost all-time high.) [My wife, in the background: "yes, but you haven't written about anything yet." See following .....

Monday, August 09, 2004

What Auschwitz means

Drudge is highlighting a story about a group of Jewish students who were attacked by 3 French men for draping an Israeli flag around their shoulders -- in Auschwitz.
The general impression left by those who spoke to the JPost is that for these men to behave in such an insensitive and disrespectful way must mean that the reason they were in Auschwitz in the first place was to gloat about the Jews' fate.
Said one of the students:
"These people's total disregard for the feelings of the people who come here, especially the Jews who come here to mourn, is horrible. But, I suppose some people don't come to mourn; some people come for completely different reason, which we cannot completely comprehend."
Laurence Weinbaum, Director of Research at the World Jewish Congress and resident scholar for the group, said: "In some way, I felt that these men were satisfied to visit Auschwitz."
I don't really know, but I wonder whether the psychology behind these men's visit and actions was slightly different. I have a feeling that for them, Auschwitz -- and the entire second world war -- is associated less with Jews and more with the evils of Nazism, with its military power and expansionist aims. Indeed, Europeans continue to abhor these, as you can see in their ambivalence towards foreign military intervention.
These mens' actions, therefore, are probably less evidence of sympathy with the Jew-killers than of the way it has become completely accepted, in certain European circles, that Israel is the new Nazi state. Even in the context of a concentration camp.

[NOTE: For a brilliant analysis of the surprising lessons Europeans have drawn from the Second World War and the Holocaust, see this article by Mark Steyn , written a week after the Madrid bombings. He says:
When an American Jew stands at the gates of a former concentration camp and sees the inscription "Never again", he assumes it's a commitment never again to tolerate genocide. Alain Finkielkraut, a French thinker, says that those two words to a European mean this: never again the f├╝hrers and duces who enabled such genocide. "Never again power politics. Never again nationalism. Never again Auschwitz" - a slightly different set of priorities. And over the years a revulsion against any kind of "power politics" has come to trump whatever revulsion post-Auschwitz Europe might feel about mass murder.]


It's a slow summer and the silly season, and so I thought we'd experiment a little with a guest-blogger -- seeing as that's how I got my start blogging, on Protocols.
And the first (and currently, only) guest is... Luke Ford!
No, just kidding. It's my very own father, Paul Shaviv (55), principal of Toronto's Community Hebrew Academy (CHAT), which is, grade-for-grade (9-12), the largest Jewish high school in North America. It is also one of only 30-odd community schools on the continent.
His mandate is to blog about important issues of Jewish education -- although he is threatening to blog about 'whatever takes his fancy' (Don't forget, Abba, I can remove you from the contributor list). Feel free to ask him some topical q's to get him started -- he will make his first post tomorrow.

Well, whaddayaknow...

A discussion with my mother reveals that I am distantly related to Rav Elyashiv! My cousin married his great-nephew in March -- although apparently Rav Elyashiv did not turn up to the wedding, because they were recording it on video. (I had just got married the week before and somehow missed all the apparently numerous references to this at the time).
So I'll have no more criticism of him on this site, thank you very much! I always he knew he was infallible.

At long last, a breakthrough in the Arab-Israeli conflict?

The British are on to something (or is that, on something?) that could be adapted to the Middle East. Heck, we've tried everything else.

Saturday, August 07, 2004


A new book of responsa by Rav Elyashiv includes a statement that cancer -- which he refers to as 'the incurable disease' -- comes as a "punishment" because people (in general) have "distanced themselves from religion" and because there has been an increase in disrespect to Torah and its scholars (See Maariv / NRG for the more detailed Hebrew original).
I do not need to elaborate on the hideousness and insensitivity of such a statement. So what does Rav Elyashiv's camp have to say in terms of damage control? Can he reassure cancer sufferers that he did not mean this at all? That his words were taken wildly out of context?
Someone in Rav Elyashiv's home offered Ma'ariv the following statement: "This is Torah from Moshe from Sinai, we don't have to react to this."
Of-course, both Ma'ariv and JPost's websites are full of statements from people declaring that Rav Elyashiv should not be criticised because he is such a great Rabbi, we don't really understand what he means etc. On a similar note, the private publisher of the volume told The Jerusalem Post that the quotations were correct, and added: "The quote is a small part of a lengthy responsa in a book meant only for specialized Torah scholars and not for the media."
a. I've said it before, last week, on another matter, and I'll say it again: for a leading rabbi to be so ignorant and unaware of the harm and hurt his words could cause is completely unacceptable. For him not to react to the aftermath is even worse.
b. I am sick and tired of the reponse that "his words were not for public consumption." Does it really make any difference who he says these things to? The implication, of course, is that his original audience understands the words for what they really meant, whilst the media distorts and the greater public misunderstands. I challenge anyone to provide a 'reasonable' interpretation of Rav Elyashiv's statement.
In addition, in today's world, rabbis have to assume that anything they say in any public forum can become widely disseminated.
c. Enough of the response, "who are we to criticise such a great rabbi." Frankly, it is such attitudes which encourage them to make such irresponsible statements in the first place, since they know they are not really accountable.
d. Last but not least, if Rav Elyashiv really thinks that cancer is a punishment for turning away from religion -- who are statements like this one going to bring 'back'?

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Just send them straight to Goa

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that the Israeli Army is about to start treating soldiers with post traumatic stress disorder by giving them... pot.
According to the report, "The mental health department of the Medical Corps is set to to begin tests in the next few days on volunteers..."
I'm sure they'll have a really difficult time finding people.
And more: "There was no immediate comment on the report from the Israeli military."
I wonder why!

Plus ca change...

The NYT is running some excerpts from documents from the mid 19th century, which were recently found in a safe in a Brooklyn Synagogue. The documents include the minutes of the synagogue founders' first 'Board' meetings. Sounds like a good time was had by all:
"This was argued for a long time and caused a great disorder in consequence whereof several members withdrew from the meeting....
"The Pr[esident] Then proferred a complaint against the Shames for creating a disturbance in the Synagoge, and also disobedience.....
"A motion has been made and seconded that the resignation of Mr. J. Folkart [as a member of staff in the synagogue's Sunday School] be accepted, he having ['regressed' crossed out] ['broken' crossed out] violated the most important law, having transgressed Yom Kippur Day."
Aaaah, synagogue politics. Nothing like it.

Memo to Dr. Ruth

Please think again about my suggestion you join JDate. If Congressman Steve Rothman (D-N.J.) can do it...

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Ashkenazim out, Sephardim in

Judging by the responses to this post, people seem to be much more interested in chulent than in the Ashkenazi-Sephardi dynamic in Israel. Understandably! Still, I heard an interesting observation tonight from Leah Lublin of Jerusalem Wanderings , whom I was interviewing for my upcoming article on Jewish women bloggers. Leah lives in Ma'aleh Adumim, a well-to-do suburb just outside Jerusalem, with many Anglos and according to Leah, a Sephardi majority. Leah said: "My kids are hanging out with a Sephardi crowd, a Sephardi peer group -- and they are embarrased to be Ashkenazi. They're embarrased at the food we eat and I have to keep on telling them not to be ashamed of it."
It's not surprising considering their peer group, however, in the context of the last 55+ years of Israeli history, it's certainly a turnaround.

(Incidentally, Leah gave me permission to post this on the blog.)

Blog-crushes, revisited

I'd like to revisit the popular issue of blogcrushes -- and in particular, whether someone's personality is properly reflected through their blog, which, for those of you who read the original posts, was at the heart of the matter (no pun intended). Because at the end of The Shaigetz's last post, he makes the following comment:
I am off for my annual holiday. As my wife has no idea I write this blog, although I know she is an avid reader, I can hardly justify needing an Internet connection in the place I will be. So I will sign out now for three weeks and ponder what I just wrote.
Unlike this one, for example, The Shaigetz's blog is personal, very personal, in style, in subject matter, in the (numerous) identifying details he reveals. He's writing about his life, his society, his innermost thoughts.
I'll tell you something: if I was writing that kind of blog, and my husband regularly read it but did not realize it was me, I would be extremely, extremely worried.

Has she tried JDate?

Dr. Ruth is looking for a husband.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Important issue in the Jewish world today

Ma'ariv / NRG exposes the sudden popularity of 'Jewish' (by which they mean, Ashkenazi) food in Israel today -- gefilte fish, kishke and all. What caught my eye, though, was one of the comments at the bottom, which explained, apropos nothing in particular, that the word 'chulent' derives from the French, 'chaud lent' -- 'hot slow.'
I am embarrased to admit that despite enjoying (too?) many a chulent, I never really wondered where the word came from. Can anyone confirm this explanation? Any other explanations out there?

(Incidentally, I was also interested in a throwaway line in the article, which came to explain the timing of the Jewish food revival: "It may be the same trend the publicists are making so much of, regarding the change in the way Ashkenazim see themselves as a community" -- in Israel, that is. I can only assume this means that after decades of total domination, Ashkenazi culture is no longer the automatic default, and so Ashkenazim are having to reinforce this part of their identity. Does anyone have any examples?)

My brother and the Channukah Bush: a story

The Jerusalem Post is running a feature on a Jerusalem-based centre which is a 'cover' for Jews for Jesus and which is targeting teens. The police are doing little about it -- Police Spokesman Shmulik Ben-Rubi feebly asserts, "as far as we know, they are not trying to convert kids" -- and an anti-Missionary spokesman ends off the article wondering, "The case is very clear. Why aren't they being properly investigated or prosecuted? It's a very good question."
The answer, I'm afraid, is obvious. It's not that the authorities don't care; they simply do not understand what they are dealing with. Because Israelis have had little exposure to Christianity and to Christians, they lack essential context. They do not understand who or what Jews for Jesus actually are -- and certainly not the threat they pose.
Here's a concrete example. A good 20 years ago, when my parents first went on Aliya, my younger brother attended a religious kindergarten in Jerusalem. One day, around December time, he came back with a drawing he'd made. It featured a channukiah -- and beside it, a tree, which bore a suspicious resemblence to a Christmas tree.
When my parents asked him what the tree was, he replied that he didn't really know -- he'd copied it off the girl sitting next to him (I'll leave the ethics of the situation for another post). My parents followed up, and discovered that the girl was the daughter of open Jews for Jesus, who had moved to the neighborhood with the express purpose of converting people -- and who had already hosted several of the kindergarten's children in their home.
When they rushed off to tell the kindergarten teacher -- expecting her to be horrified -- they discovered, to their own horror, that she already knew.
"I knew they were in favor of Jesus, but they're Jews, right?"
So what's the solution to such naivete? Short of radically changing Israel's demographics, one part is for Israelis to learn a little bit more about other religions. If you don't understand that most Christian denominations believe you must convert others in order to be saved, how can you possibly recognize the danger when you face it?
A larger part of the solution, dare I say, is for Israeli Jews to learn a little bit more about their own religion. If you don't understand some basic concepts about the Messiah in Judaism, and about Mitzvot, for example, your chances of being taken in by what your friendly Christian missionary is telling you are, unfortunately, greatly increased.

(Via Jewschool)

Short memories

Mecca-Cola, which features a picture of the Dome of the Rock on its front and which donates 10% of its profits to "the children of Palestine," has just arrived in Israel, although it will be sold only in Arab townships. Says Ha'aretz, in a rather puzzling statement: "A new front was opened yesterday in the Arab-Israeli conflict: a political cola."
Have they forgotten that cola has always been political in the Middle East? Coca Cola conspicuously avoided the Israeli market until the mid 1960s, when they were faced with the prospect of a boycott by American Jews back home. They then opened a Tel Aviv bottling plant and were boycotted in Arab countries until the early 1990s. Pepsi, on the other hand, observed the Arab boycott and refused to do business in Israel until 1992. I still remember my first (and to date, practically only) taste of Pepsi in Israel.
So, I don't think you can say Mecca-Cola drinkers represent a 'new front.' Although perhaps they give new meaning to the term, "pop-ular uprising"...

Well, this throws a different light on that whole Zionist conspiracy theory

Britain's Daily Telegraph, the country's best-selling broadsheet, has an amazing scoop (so far picked up only by its sister-paper in the States, the Chicago Sun-Times -- and the Culcutta Telegraph): Paul Wolfowitz's real inspiration in going to war with Iraq was not, it seems, Ariel Sharon and the Likud, but... his Arab girlfriend. The lady in question is Shaha Ali Riza, a senior World Bank official who was born in Tunis, grew up in Saudi Arabia and holds an international relations masters degree from St Anthony's College, Oxford.
As the Telegraph says:
"It would amaze the detractors who depict Mr Wolfowitz as part of a narrow-minded Jewish lobby that one of the most important people in his life is, in fact, an Arab woman whose job is to promote gender equality in the Middle East and North Africa. It will doubtless also surprise many of his supporters."
Something, I suspect, of a typical British understatement!