Sunday, October 31, 2004

Money makes Arafat's world go round

Like Harry, I'm officially sick of Arafat stories, and so unless he kicks the bucket, I promise hope not to post any more -- after this one.
The London Times has a rather realistic report on Arafat's attempts, even as he thought he was dying, to hold onto his $1b. 'treasure chest.' In the process, the report reveals some juicy details about the last few days in his compound.
For example, if you can believe it, the Times claims that some of Arafat's aides urged him to get treated in Israel.
“'We told him in Tel Aviv he’d get better treatment than anywhere else,' said Ahmad Tibi, a confidant. 'But he said he’d rather die than be hospitalised in Israel.'"
Funny, that was almost what happened.
Arafat's personal doctor, who is a Jordanian, tried to get him treated in Jordan -- but the Hashemites refused, apparently because the "royal court feared reprisals from the local Palestinian population if he died while under its protection."
Then they asked Egypt -- which, surprise surprise, also refused. And that's how, in case you were wondering, he ended up with the French. As the Times says, so much for Arab solidarity.
Regarding the money, the Times says that just before he got onto the helicopter,
Ahmed Qureia, the prime minister, and Mahmoud Abbas, his predecessor, told the 75-year-old Arafat that they needed funds to keep the Palestinian territories running in his absence. Instead of producing his chequebook, however, Arafat, in light blue pyjamas and a woollen cap, replied: “I’m still alive, thank God, so don’t worry.”
Unfortunately, no one else actually knows where the money is. Says one of his aides: "In case of the sudden death of the president there is a strong possibility we’ll be unable to locate the accounts.... We need to make an arrangement with him. So far we’ve achieved nothing.”
Neither has Suha. Here's what 'a source close to the leader' has to say about the Palestinian First Lady:
“Somebody must have told her he was dying,” sniffed [the source]. “She never bothered to come when he was sick before... She wanted to know the details of the bank accounts; she wants to make sure that the financial future of Zahwa, their daughter, is safe,” said the source, adding that Arafat had refused to divulge any details of the accounts.
With Ha'aretz reporting that he's lost some of his mental capacities, I just hope he remembers them.

Shabbos, the congregation stayed home -- to surf the I'net

Leah's post on her Shabbat Meal, and her mention of Abraham's guests, generated an interesting comment by reader 'Elizabeth':
So interesting you mentioned the 3 who came to visit Abraham...we tuned in last night to our favorite teacher of spiritual on live via internet on Friday evening (Shabbat) and Saturday when they have services. This was the main part of his sermon. So many things we learned that are so new to us! This is only the 2nd time they had live hookup to their services. And there were 2/3rds more people via internet than were in attendance on site! Hasn't the internet opened up the world though? We had one of our couple friends in to listen as well, since their computer won't allow that much usage I guess.
Broadcasting religious services online is not entirely new; there have been entire virtual chapels. What is interesting is the ratio of people in the synagogue to people watching online. I wonder whether the rabbis will start / have started adjusting their services in any way to cater to those who are, after all, the bulk of their audience -- those at home?

Saturday, October 30, 2004

BBC reporter admits: When Arafat left for Paris, 'I started to cry'

This piece, which left me gob-smacked, is just about all you have to know about the BBC's coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, so I'm going to quote a big chunk of it. Writes reporter Barbara Plett:
To be honest, the coverage of Yasser Arafat's illness and departure from Palestine was a real grind. I churned out one report after the other, without any sense of drama.
Foreign journalists seemed much more excited about Mr Arafat's fate than anyone in Ramallah.
We hovered around the gate to his compound, swarming around the Palestinian officials who drove by, poking our microphones through their dark, half-open windows.
But where were the people, I wondered, the mass demonstrations of solidarity, the frantic expressions of concern?
Was this another story we Western journalists were getting wrong, bombarding the world with news of what we think is an historic event, while the locals get on with their lives?
Yet when the helicopter carrying the frail old man rose above his ruined compound, I started to cry... without warning........
Her identification with Arafat, she explains, stems probably from 'the siege.'
I remember well when the Israelis re-conquered the West Bank more than two years ago, how they drove their tanks and bulldozers into Mr Arafat's headquarters, trapping him in a few rooms, and throwing a military curtain around Ramallah.
I remember how Palestinians admired his refusal to flee under fire. They told me: "Our leader is sharing our pain, we are all under the same siege."
And so was I.
Maybe that gives me some connection to the man whose presidential compound became a prison.
I know what it is like to stare at the same four walls and find them staring back; to watch tanks swing their turrets outside my window; to scan rooftops for snipers during brief hours of freedom between curfews.
I could understand why Palestinians responded to Mr Arafat then the way they did.
Ultimately, she concludes:
Throughout his years of revolution, peace, and uprising, the Palestinian leader has been an enduring national symbol.
But as he boarded the helicopter with faltering steps, he also stood for something else: for a people exhausted by war, bereft of hope, abandoned by their brothers, and fearful of the future.
Perhaps that is why so few Palestinians saw him off. In him, still, they see themselves.
Of-course, it's only Plett and the other foreign journalists who were so 'excited about his fate' who 'see themselves' in Arafat. The Palestinians see a weak man who has let them down, betrayed them and who is responsible for much of their misery.
If you wonder why there were no Palestinian demonstrations of solidarity, refer to Occam's Razor -- the simplest solution is probably the best solution. They're just not that into him any more. Of-course, Plett already knows that -- she jumps such intellectual summersaults in her piece that I find it hard to believe that she is not trying to convince herself above all. But then, why should she let the facts get in the way of a good story?

(Via Imshin -- thanks.)

Friday, October 29, 2004

European pacifism

Earlier this week, I wrote about a toy manufacturer from Ohio, who seemed to have forgotten what the second world war was fought over.
Apparently, he's not the only one. The Queen of England is about to make a state visit to Germany -- and Bild, Germany's best-selling newspaper, has just launched a campaign to get her to apologize for British wartime bombing. According to the London Times,
The Queen’s visit, which begins on Tuesday... is rapidly becoming entangled with emotional questions about German victimhood: Germany, it seems, wants its wartime suffering to be acknowledged....
The question “Will the Queen apologise?” was plastered over the front page of Bild, which has a readership of more than nine million. A photograph of British aircraft dropping bombs and a rather grim-looking Queen drove home the message. So far no German editorials or politicians have called for an outright apology. Bild’s tactic, a newspaper insider says, is “to generate a big readership response so that it can present itself as the voice of an aggrieved nation just before the Queen arrives”.
The real grievance, apparently, is that Germans are sick and tired of what they see as Britain's 'morbid fascination with the war,' which they think is stopping the Brits appreciating modern Germany.
Unfortunately, the Germans have their own reasons for wanting to erase memory of the Second World War. And it seems to me that their paranoia ('everyone thinks we're nazis'), their own obsession with the war, and perhaps watching too much Fawlty Towers is completely distorting their view of Britain. I don't think people here have an unrealistic, war-centered view of Germany at all.
That being said, if they did, would they be unjustified? Do Germans realize what the Second World War did to this country -- millions of deaths, hundreds of thousands of families evacuated and seperated, a capital city bombed and devestated, a country bankrupted, rationing that ended after Russia's! Things like that have a habit of lingering in national memory.
There's simply one word for asking the Queen to 'apologize' for bombing Germany, as a pretext or anything else, and that's 'chutzpah.' Germany brought its 'wartime suffering' entirely on itself. They were aggressors, who wanted to take away our freedom. Not only were the allies justified in bombing German cities, they had every imperative -- military and moral -- to do so. To ask the Queen to apologise for fighting evil, and to imply that the two sides were in any way equally responsible for the atrocities of the War or in any way equally aggrieved is to show that they have never internalized their own culpability.
More importantly, and more relevant to today, is that the attitude shows just how far European (and specifically German) pacifism has spread -- even to history. No violence, no fighting is acceptable in today's politically correct European climate, even in face of a terrible enemy, even in self-defense. Which, again, does not bode well at a time when our freedoms are under renewed threat.

Is he getting shaky?

Mark Steyn, one of the most entertaining writers around (whether you agree with him or not), says that if Bush goes, he goes:
Having failed to read correctly the mood of my own backyard, I could hardly continue to pass myself off as a plausible interpreter of the great geopolitical forces at play. Obviously that doesn’t bother a lot of chaps in this line of work — Sir Simon Jenkins, Robert ‘Mister Robert’ Fisk, etc., — and no doubt I could breeze through the next four years doing ketchup riffs on Teresa Heinz Kerry, but I feel a period of sober reflection far from the scene would be appropriate. My faith in the persuasive powers of journalism would be shattered; maybe it would be time to try something else — organising coups in Africa, like the alleged Sir Mark Thatcher is alleged to have allegedly done; maybe abseiling down the walls of the Presidential palace and garroting the guards personally.
Please people, save Mark Steyn! Vote Bush*!!!!!

*Disclaimer: THIS IS A JOKE. Would never try to interfere in an American election, etc. etc. etc.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Is this little girl Arafat's daughter?

Zahwa? Posted by Hello

All this talk of Suha rushing to Ramallah to visit Arafat (worried about her stipend? Whatever, btw, happened to that rumored boyfriend?) made me more than a little curious about Zahwa, their common daughter. Now 10 years old, I've never seen a picture of her, or heard a word about her. What would a daughter of Arafat look like?
The answer is this -- the only image which is definitely identified as Zahwa on the web. It's a little hard to see her face, though. From what I can see, however, she does look rather like the girl held by Suha in the picture above -- and they're wearing the same color scheme. Not to mention, there is a certain eerie resemblance to Daddy.
I guess we'll find out when she visits him in hospital.

"France will always be on your side," Mr. Arafat

A couple of days ago, the London Times ran an interesting article about how senior French ministers were finally giving in and learning English, because they began to realize that they were being ignored in international meetings and ignored by global television networks.
I suggest that Foreign Minister Michel Barnier jump to the front of the linguistic lesson line. Barnier, who just earlier this month visited Israel, is quoted by some Chinese wire agency as sending the following message to PA Chairman Arafat:
"France, as I told you in Ramallah on June 30, will be always on your side to back your effort in favor of a just and negotiated peace... It is with concern and sympathy that I keep informed of the development of your health... I wish to express my most sincere wishes for your recovery, hoping that you can return rapidly to your place to lead the Palestinian Authority," he said.
Mr. Barnier, you meant to say, 'by your side' -- right?????

Mayer Schiller -- episode 2

My posting mentioning Mayer Schiller generated a number of responses, on and off blog, which indicated that there is a well, somewhat controversial side to his views and activities, and a suggestion that he is not someone 'to get excited about'. The search engines show that he has been involved in some radical right-wing causes, movements and publications, categorized by one correspondent as 'white supremacist'. He also put in an appearance at an Orange-order linked assembly in Belfast, Ireland, which must have been an interesting occasion. Caveat emptor.

UPDATE: Phew .... my genteel comments are nothing compared to the flood of info on Protocols !

The origin of 'Chol Hamoed'

Reb Yudel brings the following fascinating piece of etymology for the phrase 'Chol Hamoed,' from the h-Judaica Jewish languages mailing list:
The root is H (Het)-l-l (cf. Hullin, Hillul), and not connected to Hol "sand".
Etymology: "to break (the sacred; cf Eng. "to break the Sabbath"), to untie, to allow (the sacred, the forbidden; cf. Arabic Halal "permitted, kosher" = Hebrew muttar "untied" vs. 'asur 'tied').
Hol ha-Mo'ed is then "the break, the hole between the Holidays"; yom Hol = "the day that work, etc., are allowed, or the hole, the gap, the break, between one Shabbat and another; cf. also Hebrew Halil - "hole-y instrument, flute'; Halal = "murdered body (punctured by arrows, etc.); Hallon = "a hole for wind, window".
One may add that since l and r often interchange (cf. miracle: milagro; margaret: margalit), also Hebrew Hor (Hrr) = "hole" is a variant.

Yona Sabar, Professor of Hebrew and Aramaic
Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures
UCLA, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1511

The dark, ignored side of our community

This is horrible. A kind, poor old rabbi, 75, who used to help people who were less independent than him, took in a tenant to help pay the rent after his wife died earlier this year. For the past few months, he had been complaining that the tenant, one Howard Goldstein, had stopped paying rent, smoked too much and was a bit 'mad,' but couldn't find a way to get rid of him. Two days ago, the police found the rabbi's body decomposing in his apt. Goldstein had apparently bludgeoned him to death with a baseball bat five days earlier, after the rabbi, Rahamim Sultan, had demanded he pay up his share of the rent.
Beyond the tragedy, the story has a rather bizarre angle. When they came to arrest him, Goldstein, who usually wears a black suit and black hat, was
dressed in a gray blouse with a plunging neckline, dark slacks and pink high-heeled shoes, a police source said. His face was made up with bright red lipstick and blue eye shadow that clashed with his long beard, the source said.
"It's the craziest thing I've ever seen: a cross-dressing Hasidic killer," said the source. "He had a full face of makeup on - with a beard."
Adds the NY Post: "Inside Goldstein's locked bedroom, cops found walls plastered with pornographic pictures and portraits of Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, the Lubavitch sect leader."
Sultan, incidentally, didn't have enough money for a funeral. The center where he used to eat paid for it.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

One week, two exits?

Arafat on Sunday. Not looking good. Posted by Hello

Ha'aretz is reporting that PA Chairman Yasser Arafat is in critical condition and that doctors are fighting to save his life. Rumors of his imminent demise may be premature -- this cat has 9 lives and then some -- but, a la BBC, I'm preparing an obit just in case.

Are the Jews going to get blamed for this too???

Drudge is reporting, in an exclusive, that ABC is currently holding a video of a 'purported al Qaida terrorist' threatening a new, enormous attack on American soil, which will dwarf 9/11.
"The streets will run with blood," [the man on the video says, adding that] "America will mourn in silence" because they will be unable to count the number of the dead. Further claims: America has brought this on itself for electing George Bush who has made war on Islam by destroying the Taliban and making war on Al Qaeda.
Apparently the CIA is busy analyzing the tape.
The twist here is supposed to be that the man on the tape, whose face cannot be seen, is an American. Says Drudge, "US intelligence officials believe the man on tape may be Adam Gadhan... a California native who was highlighted by the FBI in May as an individual most likely to be involved in or have knowledge of the next al Qaeda attacks."
Here's another twist: As I mentioned back in June, Adam, also known as 'Adam Pearlman,' is the grandson of a prominent Jewish doctor from Orange County. Fascinating story here.

Can you define Mayer Schiller? Fortunately, not. Memoirs of a rare Orthodox free spirit.

Menachem Butler, blogger and indefatigable publicist for the YUdaica section of the YU 'Commentator', posts some links to the latest issue. Most fascinating - and beutifully written - is the article by Mayer Schiller, one of the more interesting and individual characters on the landscape, about his long relationship with YU. On the other hand, the article by Rabbi Yosef Blau on 'Orthodoxy in the 21st Century' struck me as extremely pedestrian - as did the reported proceedings of the symposium at Yale where the speech was made.

UPDATE: Typing in 'Mayer Schiller' to (have you dicovered this new post-Google search engine yet?) gives a number of interesting links, including this biographical sketch from the Young Israel speakers bureau. The author of the article takes exactly the same line as I did in pointing out the difficulty of fitting this 'Skver peg into a round hole...'!!

So what color was Rabbi Akiva?

Everyone knows that each generation likes to depict its religious leaders in its own image; hence, the people of Israel crossing the Red Sea in big black hats -- and, lehavdil, the pictures of Mary and Jesus looking like 16th century Europeans.
Now, the New Nation newspaper has named Jesus as the top black icon.
Not so fast, say the experts.
[T]he earliest depictions of Jews, which date from the 3rd Century, are - as far as can be determined - dark-skinned.
"We do seem to have a relatively dark skinned Jesus. In contemporary parlance I think the safest thing is to talk about Jesus as 'a man of colour'." This probably means olive-coloured, [New Testament scholar Dr Mark Goodacre, of the University of Birmingham] says.
Professor Vincent Wimbush, of California's Claremont Graduate University, who is an expert on ethnic interpretations of the Bible, says the matter of the historical colour of Jesus seems to him a "flat, dead-end issue".
"He's of Mediterranean stock, and it's quite clear what that means. We see people like that in the world today, and that should end the matter."
Of-course this makes perfect sense, and I'm sure intellectually we all know that we're from 'Mediterranean stock.' But when we picture them, how many of us really think of all the high priests, Bar Kokhba, the rabbis of the Mishna, etc. etc. etc., as 'olive skinned' (and that doesn't mean, 'with a good tan')? I bet not many.

The IDF declares war...

on soldier bloggers, who have been posting pictures of their bases and stories about their operations to their sites and exposing sensitive information. An additional danger: according to the army, chat rooms where former soldiers meet to talk about old times are one of the main forums in which army secrets are, inadvertantly, leaked.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

If Iraqis thought Bush was the devil, wait 'til they hear this

Britain is in an uproar: Chris Cranmer, a devil-worshipping non-commissioned officer in the Royal Navy, has become the first registered Satanist in the British Armed Forces. This allows him to perform Satanic rituals aboard and permits him to have a funeral carried out by the Church of Satan should he be killed in action.
According to the Telegraph,
The Church of Satan was founded in San Francisco in 1966 by its high priest, Anton Szandor LaVey, author of The Satanic Bible. Adherents live by the Nine Satanic Statements, which include "Satan represents vengeance, instead of turning the other cheek", "Satan represents all of the so-called sins, as they lead to physical, mental or emotional gratification", and "Satan represents indulgence, instead of abstinence"... Satanists are encouraged to perform rituals in worship of the Devil, to fulfil their sexual desires and to change situations or events in accordance with their will. Ritual trappings can include a black robe, an altar, the symbol of Baphomet (Satan), candles, a bell, a sword, a gong and a model phallus.
That should certainly liven things up on his ship.
Chris -- who, according to his mum, is a 'sweetie' -- told The Telegraph that 'he realised he was a Satanist nine years ago when he "stumbled across The Satanic Bible. I then read more and came to realise I'd always been a Satanist, just simply never knew."'
I do have a question or two about what kind of society officially recognises this non-religion, and whether any interfaith dialogue is planned for the ship. But instead, I'll leave you with my favorite quote from Chris: "Freedom to practise my religion irrespective of location was one of the most important factors. I didn't want to feel I couldn't get out my Satanic Bible and relax in bed. I didn't want to bite my tongue any more when dealing with idiots."
Get out his Satanic Bible and relax in bed???? What kind of Satanist is that???
The devil knows.

New J blog

Visit this guy. He's good.

(Via Baynonim)

A lame apologia from Concordia

Frederick Lowy, President and Vice-Chancellor of Concordia University in Montreal, himself Jewish, explains his position over Ehud Barak's right to speak on campus. He may feel differently when his Moslem students demand his removal. Not a single one of the 'precautions' he describes have even been suggested for anyone except Israeli speakers. Professor Gil Troy of McGill suggested that the correct defence of free speech would have been for every faculty member of Concordia, headed by the President, to have accompanied Barak to the podium.

Just history

It's Blame Canada Ohio week on Bloghead. For our final installment, Canadian Press is reporting that dolls depicting members of the 'Totenkopf Division,' a Nazi SS combat division originally created to guard Dachau, are now available in Canadian stores. The dolls, complete with "military fatigues and the trademark death's head insignia on the cap, comes with a Walther pistol, gas mask and grenades." They're part of a WWII series which also includes a bunch of US soldiers, as well as "several Waffen SS figures... The Waffen SS sniper comes with a recruitment poster."
This, however, is not the scary bit. The scary bit is what Chris Borman, chairman of the Ohio-based company producing the dolls has to say on the subject.
"Everyone knows the Germans were Nazis in World War Two," he tells CP. "We picked them because they've got the coolest gear. It makes for a cool figure.... There's really no harm in it... We won the war. We already know the outcome. That division was involved in some terrible things but wasn't everyone during World War Two? It's just history."
I can understand that people today no longer know the details of the second world war -- but not to know, or not to acknowledge what the war was about, and not to understand how it shaped life today is just too much. His comments are symptomatic, I think, of a large chunk of people in the Western World who do not recognize that their freedom was ever at risk and had to be fought for, and therefore do not appreciate it sufficiently. All of which does not bode well at a time when our freedoms are under threat again.

UPDATE: Virgin Megastores apologizes for stocking the dolls.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Negating the ego

According to the Daily Mail, Madonna recently hosted a dinner for Kabbalah devotees to launch Michael Berg's new book. The theme of the evening was 'making sure you give as well as receive.'
Well, Madonna certainly gave that night -- gave a piece of her mind, that is. Apparently at one point she astonished everyone by standing up and screaming at her guests, "Turn those f***ing mobile phones off!"
Now there's a girl who's internalized the Kabbalah Center's spiritual messages.
"Organisers were later banned from talking about the party," the paper reports.

Life in multicultural Canada

A Vancouver Islamic preacher assures us that "It is not our belief that Jews are sub-human", while the President of the Canadian Islamic Congress (on the other side of the country) scrambles to do damage control on his remarks on a TV talk show that any Israeli over the age of 18 is a legitimate target for assassination by suicide bombers. [In fairness -- the National Post also carries a report and photo, which for some reason I can't find online, of local Moslems in Vancouver protesting the extreme antisemitism of the preacher.]

Tom Friedman -- please take note to whom you are comparing us. And these gentleman are the civilised Canadian representatives of the Islamic community.

Mix-and-match religion

One of the things which the Diaspora Jewish community is yet to fully comprehend is the strange hybrid religion which is being practiced by millions of intermarried couples and their offspring. There are probably thousands of halachically Jewish kids out there, possibly attending Sunday school or day schools, who also go to church on occasion with a grandparent or father, and see it as completely natural; Jewish kids who are preparing for their bar-mitzvahs, but who have been told by their non-Jewish fathers all about Jesus Christ, and don't understand the contradition; and non-Jewish kids who have been baptised and go to church every week, who believe their Jewish fathers when they tell them that the Messiah hasn't come yet.
In that spirit, prepare for the interfaith festival of... Chrismukkah. An enterprising intermarried couple has institutionalised what is happening anyway in hundreds of thousands of households. And while they insist that "Chrismukkah is a cultural holiday, NOT a blending of religions," it is hard to see how children growing up with such a mish-mash will understand it as anything but; indeed, hundreds of children of intermarriage interviewed for this book have confirmed that that's exactly how they see it.
It's important to realize that when we talk about the development of the Jewish community, the future doesn't hold a smaller core Jewish community with a large number of unaffiliated people who know nothing about Judaism. It holds a smaller core Jewish community with some unaffiliated people and a much larger number of 'Judeo-Christians,' who are practicing a hybrid religion which is unrecognizable to members of either original religion. It is only a matter of time before they outnumber Jews practicing Judaism -- and this is a completely different challenge for the mainstream Jewish community.

PS. Fascinating link on the Chrismukkah website --

Sunday, October 24, 2004

'The Jewish Hezbollah'

Thomas Friedman, a man who should know better, calls the Israeli far right 'the Jewish Hezbollah' in his latest NYT column. To send a letter to the editor, click here.

UPDATE: Here's one letter on the subject.

Life after death

I had no idea that Daniel Pearl's widow Mariane was 'romantically linked' to CNN executive vice president and chief news executive Eason Jordan (who seems to still be married to someone else). She tells the Daily Telegraph:
"Danny and I were young as a couple. We never fought, maybe never had enough time together to get to that stage... All my memories are excellent and I remain totally faithful to the values and decisions we shared, the way we lived. But I am too young to be alone."

More fantasists

The leader of the opposition in Zimbabwe, Morgan Tsvangirai, was acquitted of treason and of plotting to assassinate despot Robert Mugabe this week, after a two year battle.
And who was the star witness in his trial? One Ari Ben-Menashe, an Israeli-Canadian 'political consultant' who by all accounts is a fantasist, conman and a liar. In the past he has falsely claimed to be a Mossad agent and a political advisor to the Israel PM, has stood trial (and been acquitted) in the United States of illegally selling Israeli planes to Iran and has been involved in numerous other shady affairs. In this instance, while he was being paid by Mugabe in his capacity as head of a Montreal-based political consultancy firm, he tricked Tsvangirai into talking about 'eliminating' Mugabe whilst he was secretly being videoed. Tsvangirai says that Ben Menashe suggested it to him first, and that he meant eliminate politically, not physically. In any case, the tape is grainy and barely audible, and has clearly been edited heavily; reports the BBC, "after each question or answer, the film suddenly jumps and the figures switch their seating positions... The Media Monitoring Project of Zimbabwe has analysed the video tape and says that a version broadcast relentlessly on Zimbabwe television has a video timer on the screen, which also demonstrates 'that the video had been cut and rearranged in a manner that appeared to suit the assassination conspiracy theory'."
Ben Menashe apparently lied so clearly in court, and behaved so erratically that it persuaded the judges he was a completely unreliable witness. For Mugabe, who heads what is one of the most ruthless, thuggish and despicable regimes in the world today to have lost such an obviously political case against his arch-rival can only mean that the charges were beyond laughable (or that the result, for whatever reason, suited him).
Unfortunately, Tsvangirai's troubles aren't over -- he is still facing another set of treason charges for having tried to organize protests last year. I have a feeling, as well, that we haven't heard the last of Ari Ben Menashe.

After water - air may be ossur!

I find myself in the unaccustomed position of quoting the Jewish Press. But an interesting article by David Berger discusses a psak halachah "formulated by Rav Dovid Feinstein shlita and signed by Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv shlita and Rav Pinchas Sheinberg shlita" which confirms that in NY one should not drink tap water. In exceptionally respectful language, he suggests that this is an absurdity. [It is, IMHO, another example of the tendency to use halachah and other mechanisms of control to restrict more and more the ability of ordinary people to observe Judaism, restricting it to a smaller and smaller elite.]
But what about air? There are all sorts of organisms (and even the occasional insect) in air. Jains - an India-based religion with a reported 4m adherents worldwide - have a principle of faith called 'Ahimsa:non violence in all parts of a person -- mental, verbal and physical....... Committing an act of violence against a human, animal, or even vegetable generates negative karma which in turn adversely affects one's next life." Very observant Jains wear a mask over their mouth and nose the whole time in order to avoid inadvertantly swallowing or harming an airborne entity. Perhaps we should now think of doing the same. Orders for shaatnez-free masks should be sent via the blog. Cash only, please.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Goodbye, Hesder?

I am absolutely disgusted by the rabbis who are encouraging their followers to disobey orders regarding the evacuation of the Gaza Strip. As many commentators have noted, however important they think their political cause is, they are risking destroying two things which are even more important: the basic ability of the IDF to function, and the democratic fabric of the country. Ironically, they fail to appreciate that by encouraging soldiers to disobey orders with which they disagree politically, they are conferring legitimacy on the 'refuseniks,' who, on the opposite end of the political spectrum, have declined to serve in the West Bank because they don't think Israel should be there.
If I were a senior figure in the army or a politician, here's what I'd be thinking: "More than 35 years ago, we agreed to set up a hesder system so that the religious nationalist sector in Israel could combine its army service with religious study. The hesder framework was supposed to reinforce the sector's commitment to the army, by making it easier for them to serve, and create a true partnership.
"In the past months, many of the yeshivot have become enemies of the army, which utterly depends on the obedience of its soldiers. Hesder rabbis are encouraging their students to disobey orders; we don't know whether students are more loyal, in this context, to their rabbis or to their commanders. It is a matter of utmost urgency that the Hesder framework be dismantled immediately."
I certainly hope it doesn't come to that. Hesder has long been the pride and joy of the national religious community, for good reason. But that is the extremely real risk which the rabbis are running simply by raising the possiblity of mass disobedience.

Friday, October 22, 2004

Bronfman redux

Edgar Bronfman has issued a semi-apology for his comments two weeks ago in the London Jewish Chronicle regarding intermarriage. Since the letter for some reason is not available online, here's what he wrote:
Your paper was correct in chastising me for using the Nazi example in discussing Jewish attitudes towards intermarriage. I was trying to say that efforts to keep the Jewish bloodline clean and intact reminded me of the racial theories of the Nazi party. It was like using a 2x4 to swat a flea, and apologise to your readers for such a tasteless comparison.
I congratulate you on taking seriously my main point; that if we don't take a different look at intermarriage but keep our heads in the sand about it, we will continue to diminish as people. This would have two very tragic effects: one would be the loss of political clout, especially in America, where such clout is, in my opinion, fundamental to the security of the state of Israel. And it would diminish our ability to do what Torah commands us to do -- be a Light unto the Nations and to engage in Tikkun Olam.
Please accept both my apology and my praise.
The point is, I think, that no one really objects to reaching out to intermarried couples after they have married out. It's something completely different, however, to advocate abandoning the fight to stop people intermarrying in the first place.

The no-excuses truth to understanding Clark County, Ohio

Ian Katz, editor of the Guardian supplement which initiated the letter-writing campaign urging Americans to vote Kerry, is taken back by the ferocity of the backlash and says he "couldn't fail to be a little shocked by the volume and pitch of the invective directed our way."
"Surely," he asks, "a letter from a concerned Brit would be received more like a plea from an old friend"?
Mr. Katz, take the hint: they're just not that into you!

Some recommendation

I love this. Dilbert at House of Hock finds the following haskama (Rabbinical letter of approval) at the beginning of a sefer (book) he bought*:
I wanted to bring the Haskama of [a certain gadol], that I received on [a different sefer that I wrote]. I did not get his haskama on this book, because by the time I finished it, he had gone to Gan Eden. However, if he was alive, I certainly would have asked him for his Haskama on this book, and it is very likely he would have given it to me, as he wrote and hinted at in his previous Haskama "and I bless him that he should succeed in this book, and will merit to write more important books." Therefore, I would ask that it would be in the eyes of the reader, as if I recieved a haskama from [this gadol], also on this book.
Apparently it's quite common to bring haskamot from previous books; but from beyond the grave??

*He removed certain details "so as not to embarrass anyone."

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Letting the side down

For a long time now, my gut instinct has been to dislike Teresa Heinz Kerry. It was a visceral reaction, and though I thought about it long and hard, I really couldn't work out why. In fact, the more I read about her -- in the New Yorker and the Atlantic Monthly -- the more I felt that here was a woman I really should like. By all accounts, she is strong, intelligent, gutsy, kind, generous, unconventional, independent and interesting -- exactly the kind of woman I would usually admire. Many of the same terms apply to Hillary Clinton, and I certainly liked her.
A few weeks ago, it hit me. For too long, the real problem had been obscured (to me at least) by reporters who insisted on explaining her behaviour as 'outspoken' or 'blunt,' (on the Left), 'loony' (on the right) or 'arrogant' (both).
But the fact is, this woman who tells reporters to 'shove it,' who 'fidgets, glowers or interrupts' while her husband is rallying for votes, and who attacks Laura Bush for 'never' holding a 'real' job simply has no manners. She is rude. I also get the feeling -- and I think this is the root of the problem for many people -- that she thinks she can afford to be rude and that the rules don't apply to her because she's so rich.
I'm not really interested in the political implications of this; I don't believe a spouse has any bearing whatsoever on the candidate (and not being an American, would keep my nose out of it anyway).
For me -- this is a feminist crisis. I so want to like Teresa. Although I know this is not rational, by disliking a woman with such iconic feminist attributes so intensely, I feel like I'm somehow letting the side down.

Jewish trivia

The London Times points out that the origin of the phrase 'Abracadabra' is the Aramaic 'Ebra KeDabra' -- I will create as I speak. I would add that the magical phrase, at least where I come from, is sometimes rendered as 'Abra Cadabra Kazoo' -- which must come from the Aramaic, 'I will create as I speak, one like this.'
Just in case you were sick of stories on anti-Semitism....

"Overrepresented minority" - is this the next platform for the delegitimization of Jews on campuses? (Remember: you read it here first!)

A curious phrase seems to feature in two otherwise unconnected reports on Campus targeting of Jews -- the idea that Jews are an "overrepresented minority".
The disgusting Duke University editorial uses it, and then it occurs again in the report about a film made at Columbia (See Miriam's posting just below this one) which discusses the victimization and prejudice againstJewish students by Colunbia faculty.

"Jews are shockingly overrepresented ...." (Duke)
"Because Jews are seen as this overrepresented ethnic group ..." (Columbia)

Remember the phrase - I think it's going to become very familiar to us. And remember (unfortunately) that you saw it on Bloghd first!
In the meantime, the Duke University student paper tries to evade the idea that in another editorial they approved violence ...... and in the Canadian Jewish News, Norma Joseph, Jewish feminist scholar and professor at Concordia, discusses "the latest fiasco" --
"Is the lesson learned: No lecture by any Israeli political figure on campus, ever?I’m sure that’s not the the administration’s intent, but I fear it’s the lesson learned. I am equally sure that what’s at stake is not a particular Jewish or Israeli argument. The substantive issue is the incorruptibility of an education."

The crisis on our campuses -- the faculty

From yesterday's NY Sun:
At a history class, a professor mockingly tells a female Jewish student she cannot possibly have ancestral ties to Israel because her eyes are green.
During a lecture, a professor of Arab politics refuses to answer a question from an Israeli student and military veteran but instead asks the student, "How many Palestinians have you killed?"
At a student meeting on the topic of divestment from Israel, a Jewish student is singled out as responsible for death of Palestinian Arabs.
Those scenes are described by current and former students interviewed for an underground documentary that is causing a frisson of concern to ripple through the Morningside Heights campus of Columbia University, where the incidents took place.
The film, about anti-Israel sentiment at the school, has not yet been released to the public, but it has been screened for a number of top officials of Columbia, and talk of its impact is spreading rapidly on a campus where some students have complained of anti-Israel bias among faculty members.
"The movie is shocking," one Columbia senior, Ariel Beery, said.
"It is shocking to see blatant use of racial stereotypes by professors and intimidation tactics by professors in order to push a distinct ideological line on the curriculum," Mr. Beery, who was interviewed for the film, said.
More here

(Hat tip: Daniel the Bold, our campus correspondent)

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

The secret of his success

Amnon Yitzhak Posted by Hello

An article in NRG, based on someone's doctoral thesis, tries to get to the bottom of Amnon Yitzhak's reputation as one of the leading, if not the leading 'baal tshuva rabbis' in Israel.
The article and readers' comments basically summarize all the usual explanations: the fact that he's so funny; his charisma; that his entire operation, from the way he runs his shows to the technology he uses, is so slick; that he gives people a framework of meaning and is a source of authority; that people recognize 'the truth' when they hear it; that most of the people who come to see him are spiritually-inclined anyway, and he confirms that their way of life is right.
I've actually been to one of Amnon Yitzhak's shows, and have an additional two explanations (there is some truth to all of them).
1. Like many successful sephardi politicians in Israel today, he sends a strong anti-establishment, anti-Ashkenazi, and in his case, anti-Zionist message. He's telling people that their troubles are not their fault -- a message that has always worked.
2. Most of the people who stood up and asked him questions struck me as incredibly needy. It's not just that, as the article basically points out, they were all in the midst of some real crisis such as a death or illness in the family, infertility, poverty etc. When they were talking to him, from their tone of voice, they seemed really desperate for someone to both take charge, and show them some love. Yitzhak encouraged them to pour their hearts out to him, which often involved revealing some incriminating or embarrasing details to an entire hall of people. He made them even more vulnerable in public, and was, to them, the father confessor you become attached to because they know your deepest, darkest secrets. The way he addressed them in response was kind, but also business-like -- getting straight to the point. He was part shrink, part father figure showing tough love, and I'm sure it was the same mixture which appealed to the rest of his audience as well. In short, the secret of his success is not religion, logic, humor or slick videos, but paternalism.

(Incidentally, I'd like to see some real backup to the oft-repeated claim that Amnon Yitzhak is Israel's best 'machzir BeTshuva.' Yes, there are some people who turn from secular to religious lifestyles because of him; but are those who claim that he's so successful including all the instances of people putting on a kippa at one of his shows or vowing to take on an hour of learning each day? While this looks impressive on stage, who knows how many of these people keep that kippa on 6 months down the line, or take on any additional religious roles as a result.)

"Real Americans aren't interested in your pansy-ass, tea-sipping opinions"

Last week, Guardian readers launched a letter-writing campaign to the voters of Clark County, Ohio, to ask them to vote Kerry. A selection of responses shows the Americans aren't exactly appreciating their efforts.

Duke U president says some protesters were 'virulent', but the antisemite didn't mean it ...

I can't understand why the N American Jewish community is not in uproar about the Duke University student paper (see Miriam's blog below about antisemitism). Anyway, the President of the University has now issued a letter, which says that

" ....The column was headed “The Jews,” as if Jews were susceptible to group definition, and though its author probably did not mean to, it revived stereotypical images that have played a long-running role in the history of anti-Semitism."

Didn't mean to???? !!!!!! Other than heading his column with a swastika to really show his views, it seems to me that the editor couldn't have been clearer. Anyway, at the time of posting no-one has yet posted an online response or comment on the President's letter -- so, bloghead readers -- here you can go.....

UPDATE: The site does not appear to be displaying submitted comments on the President's letter.

Updated Update: Now what appears to be a carefully selected range of views is on display. The whole affair is a disgrace. But I fear it is only the beginning.

Israeli tabloid flaunts its ignorance

Ma'ariv has discovered something shocking about the BBC:
"The British Broadcasting Corporation has been secretly preparing a program on the life of Ariel Sharon, which is to be broadcast after his death…
The network began collecting material about six months ago, after the disengagement plan came into the world and the threats of assassination resurfaced....
A film crew arrived in Israel several weeks ago, and interviewed a large number of people including Uri Avneri, Jibril Rajoub and Maj. Gen. Avraham Adan.
The movie reviews Sharon’s life from his teenage years till the present day. The filming lasted for about two weeks and is currently in the editing stages in London."
It adds with fascination: "The BBC is known to make films about world leaders ahead of their expected passing, and broadcast them on the day the leader dies."
Yes, they're called obituaries, and since they're a professional news organization they like to be prepared ahead of time. Apparently both these concepts are unknown to Ma'ariv. The only suprising thing here is that the BBC didn't have an obit for Sharon already (something which I find hard to believe -- I'm sure they were just updating an older version). When I was an intern at the BBC when I was 16, I actually wandered one day into the room where they keep their obits. It's enormous and covers everyone you can possibly think of. (I also had a look at their selection of sound-effects for the evening news. They had one tape labeled 'shouting Israelis'). So, Ma'ariv, this is hardly news, hardly proof that the BBC is hoping for Sharon's death (as some of the comments seem to take it) and hardly proof of how real they think the threats against his life are. What are you going to come up with next? "Yediot prepares weather report, secretly interviews weatherman"????

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Since our subject this week is anti-Semitism....

If you thought the letter from Gisela Graham was bad, wait 'til you read the editorial in Duke University's student daily yesterday. It's a comment on the opposition to the rabidly anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist Palestine Solidarity Movement conference held there this weekend. The 'Holocaust Industry,' the powerful Jewish establishment, Jews betraying their tradition of 'Tikkun Olam,' Jews obscuring the suffering of others, Jewish money, Jewish privilege, Jewish domination of our universities, Jews trying to stifle free speech -- this guy manages to drag up just about every anti-Semitic cliche in the book. Horrible stuff.
Thankfully, if you scroll down to the comments section in the editorial, you will see that those dastardly Jews, many of them graduates from top universities in which they are over-represented, have banded together to exercise their inordinate power and "stifle" "free speech" -- otherwise known as racism -- yet again. You go, guys!

(Hat tip: Daniel the Bold)

UPDATE: Israellycool offers an excellent rebuttal.

A woman scorned

Yet another anti-Semitic scare turns out to be something quite different -- this time, the vengeful actions of a mentally unstable woman whose ex-husband remarried a Jewish woman many years younger than her.
This doesn't mean, however, that these attacks are not connected to the trend of increased global anti-Semitism. In a climate where Jews are being physically and verbally attacked by others, they make natural targets for people with mental health problems and thuggish tendencies as well. And people who might never have considered taking their anger against individual Jews out in such a way, or even have framed their anger in such terms, feel it is permissable.

I find this hard to imagine

John Kerry tells a Jewish audience in Florida:
"I've had the privilege of flying a jet in Israel, learning firsthand how tight that security is, how close the borders are, how tiny and fragile it is..... I've climbed to the top of Masada and I've stood on the top of Masada and yelled out as the Air Force recruits and others used to from the side of that cliff, the words `Am Yisrael Chai!'"
Why would he do that? That's weird...

This could be the reason why we need shul security in Canada -

Today's Canadian news carries this story :
"The deportation of a Palestinian terrorist who attacked a Boeing 707 with guns and grenades before moving to Ontario has been delayed yet again after the immigration department admitted it made an "error in procedure" in the case."
The attack was in Athens in 1968. One person was killed. Mahmoud Mohammed, now in his sixties, was arrested and sentenced to 18 yrs. in jail, In 1970, his terrorist pals hijacked a Greek airliner, threatened to kill everyone on board, and thus secured his release.
Canada has been trying to deport him for 16 years!
Another story on the radio, not yet in the press, states that late yesterday seven individuals were arrested on an incoming Air Canada flight, because the crew were convinced they were terrorists. They all held French Canadian passports; couldn't speak French, and it was immediately determined that their passports were forged. But, under Canada's super-accomodating (translate: unbelievable) immigration law, they claimed refugee status and were immediately released ..... (Next week they'll probably get work guarding shuls.)

UPDATE: See last comment in brackets - if you think I was joking, see this report, also from today, about a man convicted of five murders as a Mafia hit-man found working under a false name as a security guard in a posh Montreal private school. Not a good day for security in Canada.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Shul security -- keeping up appearances

Avrom raises the issue of security guards in the synagogue, and asks whether they are really needed because of security concerns or whether they are there just to satisfy our paranoia. He concludes that the chances of anything happening in a city like Toronto (where he lives) are remote and suggests that they stop searching regular worshippers' bags.
Perhaps because I've lived in Israel, I have no objection whatsoever to being searched on my way into shul; in today's day and age I think there is a legitimate security concern, the guards have to do what they have to do, and better safe than sorry. If anything, G-d forbid, did happen in a large synagogue, the entire community would be demanding to know why there was no security when there was such an 'obvious' threat.
I do, however, agree with Avrom that the guards stationed in front of shuls are mostly ineffective. My objection is not that they're there, but that they usually don't do a good enough job -- that they are just doing enough to give the community a false sense of security. As Avrom says, many of them don't really know what they're doing. They don't always cover all entrances. In England, shul guards are explicitely forbidden from carrying a weapon (only the police in the UK can carry guns). What's the use? On Erev Rosh Hashana I was actually scanned with a metal detector on my way into the building. What could they have done had someone actually been carrying a bomb? The false sense of security and the charade make me just as nervous.
I'm not sure what the answer is -- I'm not sure you can ever be fully protected. I do know, however, that it's time the community stopped playing games; either hire real professionals and go all-out, or admit you can't protect us.

PS. In some shuls in England, security guards often have an additional use. One famous story concerns a security guard who asked a woman entering the shul the routine question, "Madam, are you carrying a mobile phone?"
"I didn't know I was supposed to bring one!" she answered (seriously).

Sliding doors

Lionel Blue, Britain's most famous gay rabbi (some would say Britain's most famous rabbi, period), has an astonishing revelation in his memoirs, published this week: he was once close to marrying a woman -- and the fact that he didn't go through with it is the "biggest regret" of his life. From the London Times:
His undergraduate relationship with [Joanna] Hughes was physical but unconsummated, as was quite normal in the early 1950s, a period when comparatively few students were having sex. After Oxford they met up from time to time and discussed marriage.
“We talked about it. I know she was beginning to love me, too. She had a tremendous capacity for love but there was the difficulty of religion. She was Christian and did not want to convert,” he said.
Eventually Hughes met another man and married. But the relationship with Blue was rekindled in the 1960s when her marriage was annulled. Their friendship developed into a sexual affair even though Blue was still living with his first male lover, whom he refers to in his memoirs as JB.
“But I was about to leave him anyway,” said Blue. “JB had met Janny and disliked her.” This next phase in the relationship with Hughes, who was a historian and writer, lasted for several months.
Forty years on, Blue admits that he does not know if he might have made a success of marriage: “Or would it have been prison to me? How do other couples fare in situations like ours?” Blue now accepts the fact that he passed on the prospect of marriage because he was “a coward”.
He said: “I was still struggling with my slough of despond and I don’t know if I could carry her problems as well as mine......
After her death 17 years ago, Blue admits that “Janny continues to live in me. Her voice says to me, giggling, ‘Lionel, you can’t do this’ or we just fall into each other’s imaginary arms.”

You do the math

Jerusalem Post readers who have been missing Bret's weekly columns will be relieved to hear he's started publishing again in the Wall Street Journal. His piece begins:
"I bought my wife a skirt and blouse at a Benetton outlet the other day--in Ramallah."
Is it really worth it? You do the math:
A skirt and blouse at a Benetton outlet: $200
A new job at the Wall Street Journal: $200,000
Getting out of Ramallah alive: priceless.
More here.

Salt of the earth

Songwriter, singer and performer Uzi Chitman,52, died this week from a heart attack. No one outside Israel will ever have heard his name, but they might know some of the songs he wrote -- 'Noladeti LaShalom,' for example, and 'Kan' (sung by Orna and Moshe Datz in the Eurovision). In any case, an entire generation of Israeli kids, including me, grew up on children's shows he starred in, including Parpar Nechmad and Hopa Hey! To me, this gentle, amiable, idealistic man, who didn't seem to move without his guitar, represents an Israel which doesn't really exist any more. YZB.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Mr. Bronfman, go get some Jewish education

WJC President Edgar Bronfman is coming under fire this week from British Orthodox Rabbis, including Chief Rabbi Sacks, for telling the Jewish Chronicle last week that the time has come for the Jewish community to abandon its fight against intermarriage. He called the fight "racist," complaining that "the whole concept of Jewish peoplehood, and the lines being pure, begins to sound a little like Nazism, meaning racism." Bronfman reportedly derided the current communal attitude as "dated" and warned that "we can make an attempt to double the amount of Jews that there are, or we can irritate everybody who's intermarried, and lose them all."*
While I disagree with his last comments -- I don't think that accepting intermarriage means doubling the amount of Jews that there are -- this is a legitimate point of view. And we certainly need to reach out more to intermarried couples. But to call the fight against intermarriage 'racist' is to perpetuate one of the grossest and most dangerous misconceptions about. In my mind, this completely misguided fear of being labelled racist for wanting to date and marry other Jews is one of the primary reasons why relatively unaffiliated Jews date out (and as I have written in other forums, I think that it's also the reason why you see so few Jews dating and married to other Jews on tv programmes; the Jewish tv execs themselves see it as racist). There's no greater sin in this day and age than being perceived as a racist.
But the fight against intermarriage has nothing to do with race -- after all, people can convert to Judaism. There's nothing more offensive about someone wanting to marry someone of the same religion than there is about an art enthusiast wanting to marry someone who knows something about art, or a hiker wanting to marry someone who loves nature. And there's certainly nothing offensive about trying to stop your group from becoming extinct.
For Edgar Bronfman (who himself married out, more than once I believe) to label the need to preserve our religion 'a little like Nazism' is preposterous and completely unbefitting one of the most prominent leaders of the Jewish community.

*Quote taken from the Forward as the old article is no longer available from the JC.

An aidel model

Havi Posted by Hello

The JPost profiles Havi Mond, the world's first Israeli/Jewish Orthodox supermodel.
No, seriously.
The Tzfat born beauty, now working out of London, has been featured in British Vogue, The Times (on the cover and in an article), Cosmopolitan, In Style, Harvey Nichols Magazine and Marie Claire. She has walked down the the catwalk for Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent and London Fashion Week and has appeared in the advertising campaigns of Laura Ashley, French Connection and Gina Bakoni. She is leading the 2004/5 winter campaign of Armani Jeans and the current, worldwide campaign for Pantene hair products, and recently became the face of Castro in Israel as well. According to this profile, originally in the Daily Telegraph, she "is widely talked of as the girl most likely to revive the supermodel phenomenon."
And she keeps Shabbat, eats only Kosher, put off modelling to do her national service and only models modest clothes. Here's a photogallery of her shots; yikes. Maybe not so modest after all. Cindy Crawford, eat your heart out.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Don't give up

The Forward is running an absolutely excellent piece on the gulf between the Russian Jewish immigrants in North American and the mainstream Jewish community, a subject which has fascinated and pained me since I wrote about the non-existent relations between the two groups in Toronto for The Jerusalem Post a few years ago. It explains clearly why the Russians almost universally failed to integrate:
"In the Soviet Union, Judaism was a matter of ethnic identity devoid of any synagogue affiliation, and it appears to have stayed that way for immigrants after they immigrated.... For many American Jews, the complete ignorance of Judaism among the newcomers, along with other cultural differences, came as a rude jolt.
Among the immigrants, the ways of the Jewish community were mystifying. The notion of paying dues or volunteering time was not something they were familiar with, nor was either of the languages — English and Hebrew — spoken at the synagogues."
The fact is, none of these immigrants had any experience at all of Jewish community life. Many of them, I would add, were also used to receiving from the State, and because they didn't exactly understand what a community was, expected the community to help them out financially as a state would, and resented it when they didn't. This was a particularly common criticism, I found, from Russian immigrants who came through Israel (a large percentage, in Toronto at least). The North American community never understood any of this, at least until very recently, leading to complete cross-wires.
According to the Forward article, many of the professionals in the field are now giving up and abandoning their outreach efforts. What a tragedy; just when we are beginning to understand why we've failed so far.

Too big for his boots, too big for his jacket

Sharon told his colleagues today that the reason he doesn't wear a flak jacket is because he can't find one big enough to fit. Ho ho ho. Such a sense of humor, our Prime Minister! I would have loved to have seen how his audience reacted to that cracker; I wonder how many of them were sitting there thinking he's in more danger of a heart attack than an assassination attempt.
He later added that "I'm not afraid because I've seen a lot during my long military carrier." I don't know whether his security team has asked him to wear a jacket or not, but his attitude is simply irresponsible. Protecting a Prime Minister is not just about the personal risk; it's about protecting democracy, protecting your country's interests, and preventing an entire nation from having to go through a terrible trauma. You'd think a Prime Minister would be used by now to thinking in national terms.

A priest, a rabbi and a reality show contestant...

Hot on the heels of Jennifer C. who was fired from The Apprentice and later from her real job for anti-Jewish remarks made on camera, a contestant on the German version of Big Brother was voted off the show for telling three anti-Semitic jokes (the report doesn't repeat them). Someone alert the State Dept.

Whatever happened to....

Allegations of sexual abuse by rabbis are being bandied around left right and center. Can someone a little closer to the ground tell me what ever happened as a result of the charges against Rabbi Mordechai Tendler printed by the Forward a few weeks back? The whole Tendler affair, which was supposed to rock an entire religious world, seems to have fizzled into nothing. Anyone?

Does it make a difference that Jewish women are talking on blogs, and being heard?

My article on female Jewish bloggers is finally out, in the Jewish Quarterly. Since they don't appear to have posted any of the individual articles, I've posted it to my own website. Thanks to everyone who took the time to talk to me and apologies to those who didn't make the final cut.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

My two cents on the $45m.

No one in the Jewish blogosphere (as far as I've noticed) seems to have said much about the $45 million gift some anonymous philanthropists gave Boston's Jewish schools last week, perhaps because there's not much to say beyond 'wow' and 'congratulations.' The importance of this event, however, is that these generous families are helping to set Jewish education as a communal priority, putting Jewish school programming (as opposed to buildings) on the philanthropic map and setting an example by donating the kind of sum that was previously reserved for universities or big museums. Let's hope other philanthropists in other cities sit up and take notice.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Elections 2005

Ariel Sharon promises to fight with a 'heavy hand' against the 'Likud rebels,' who have made his life a misery over the last few months; the coalition is falling apart.
Prediction: By the time the next elections roll around, Sharon will have quit the Likud (the party he founded) and will be running as the head of a brand-new party, joined by some of his supporters in the Likud, Shinui (which is falling apart for different reasons) and Labor (dead horse). He'll still easily win.

"Is it a bird .. is it a plane ... oops! It's a stretcher!" -- confirmed

The IDF has admitted it made a mistake. What a mess! It undermines credibility.

Arachnophobia vs. Iraqnophobia

Remember what I wrote yesterday about Britons being completely apathetic to the terrorist threat? Today it emerges that they're more afraid of spiders than of terrorists. Talk about creepy (crawly).

Monday, October 11, 2004

OK, I thought about it

A long walk helped me to formulate a concise explanation of why I (and, apparently, others) feel uncomfortable when our shul (or school, or neighbourhood, or friends ..) "goes black" - ie Haredi /Yeshivish. It seems that one of the hallmarks of contemporary Haredi society is that it is extremely conformist - in dress, in ritual, in social and even personal behaviour, and in thought and belief. It does not tolerate those who don't fit in -- the greatest sin in contemporary Orthodoxy is non-conformity. But conformity, ultimately, is not about inclusion - it is about exclusion. We are excluded, and therefore alienated. And please don't write in and say that we are all imagining it.

A man after my own heart

It being a holiday (Canadian Thanksgiving, not Labour Day, as I mistakenly wrote earlier), and since I am very temporarily back in the Blog business, I have been surfing around. I haven't checked out Baynonim , written by 'Adam Ragil' (= 'a regular guy') for some time. He sounds like a man who is somewhat after my own heart -- a slightly uncomfortable observer of polarization in our community. He offers a partial answer to 'Avrom", who asked me why some people in my Shul thought it mattered if the shul was increasingly 'Yeshivish" (see "Heard in Shul" below) -- refer to Baynonim for October 3.

In our case, it is Litvish Yeshivish - not Hungarian or Hassidic. (Hassidic might be better.) We are increasingly surrounded by a baleful sea of black, humourless in the extreme.
  • At this point I wrote a long rant about the other dozen reasons which I think prompted the reported comment. But on reflection, I've deleted it. This isn't my blog, I shan't be around to respond, and I don't think it's fair to post what I'd written. Vehamavin yavin.

UPDATE: -- and more relevant postings on a site I've never read before, -- see "Tradition, Tradition", link to "RN's and OMJ's", and the long trail about the "Girls event".

Heard in shul .....

Two interesting (unconnected) conversations heard in shul over Shabbat Bereshit:

  • A friend who was brought up in Chabad, and still studies Habad Chassidus (although no longer a Chassid) was lamenting the current state of the movement. "The shluchim are the elite, in every way - ideologically, financially. There is nothing left for the others, the simple hassidim. For many of the younger generation, all bets are off. They reject the mashichists entirely, and have no focus whatever. It is almost nihilistic. They either want out of the movement -- they dropout or want education, or they just rebel from within. Acoholism among they disaffected young is a huge issue." The objective book on Chabad still has to be written, but it will be fascinating when it is.
  • Another group was lamenting the fact that they are feeling increasingly uncomfortable as our shul gets more and more Yeshivish or, worse, would-be Yeshivish. Is it only a matter of time before the shul bans people in blue shirts?
  • Is this the future? Jews as ultra-minority

    Miriam is en route back to the UK from her stay in Toronto. As we said goodbye at the airport, her parting words were "By the way, you have to do the blog until Monday night." Fortunately, today is a public holiday in Canada (Canadian Labour Day).

    A fascinating statistical report from the UK government census focuses on religion. I haven't had time to read the entire report, but all sorts of data about the Jewish community jump out. (Can't link to the individual relevant pages, but the index on the side of the main page is clear, quick and easy to use.)

    • Total number is given as less than 270,000 -- a huge drop over previous figures, and over the figures used by the Jewish community. 56% of Jews live in London.
    • Jews are less than half of one percent of the total population. Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims have greater populations. There are approximately six times as many Muslims as Jews. The political implications of this are not difficult to understand.
    • The Muslim population is the most disadvantaged - health, work and employment - of all the religious groups. They are the youngest; and the Jewish community is the oldest of all UK groups, including the Christians.

    Pretty depressing, overall. If these data are even remotely representative of other Jewish communities elsewhere, the demographic, not to say political, future is beset with difficulties. On the other hand, it is astonishing that such a tiny community has such an organised and high-profile identity.

    Sunday, October 10, 2004

    What were they doing there?

    Full coverage of the terror attacks in the Sinai here.
    While I would never blame the victims for acts of terrorism, I must ask in this instance what so many Israelis were doing in the area. The government had specifically been telling citizens not to go for weeks, and even more specifically not to go over Succot. Everyone knew about the warnings -- and went anyway.
    Clearly, some people assumed that because nothing had happened so far the threat was exaggerated (there were even reports, I seem to recall, that another attack in the Sinai was foiled a few weeks ago). Perhaps people also felt that there are often terror alerts in Israeli cities which usually/lately come to nothing and that that would be the case here too; the obvious difference being that there is no one to protect them overseas. However, there is no excuse for ignoring persistent and clear terror alerts, and Israelis should known this better than anyone.
    I see the same thing, incidentally, in London the whole time; although the police catch people planning real and devestating terror attacks almost every month, people are completely apathetic to the threat -- precisely because of the police's success.

    Read over the weekend

    -- Foiglman by Aharon Megged -- I thoroughly enjoyed Megged's fabulous, seminal novel of Israeli-Diaspora relations, translated into English more than 15 years after its original publication in Hebrew.
    Zvi Arbel, Israeli professor of Jewish History, is given a copy of Yiddish poems written by Parisian holocaust survivor Shmuel Foiglman. Foiglman gradually worms his way into Arbel's life, despite the fact that Arbel's wife, the biologist Nora, can't stand him or anything he represents. As Arbel agrees to pay for the translation of Foiglman's book into Hebrew out of his own pocket, and gets more and more involved in Foiglman's affairs, he fails to notice that his wife has sunk into a deep depression, and a tragic set of events is set in motion which ends with the dissolution of their marriage and his wife's suicide (as revealed in chapter 1).
    While it has a strong plot, Foiglman is a novel of ideas. Essentially, the novel pits Yiddish -- representing Jewish history -- against Hebrew -- representing the Israeli present, and questions the Israeli attitude to the Diaspora and to its Jewish past. There is also a strong recurring theme of history (Arbel) vs. biology/science(Nora) vs. poetry/fiction (Foiglman) as ways of looking at and understanding the world. Ultimately, Arbel is criticised in the book for being so engrossed in analysing dry historical trends that he cannot see what's going on in the here and now and is oblivious to the human element. Says Arbel:
    "It is the great writers, the novelists, who see deeper and further than us. And the reson is that they, unlike us, focus not on events but on people... And I, who have spent my entire life examining the minute details of events, did I hear the anguished cry of Nora's soul?"
    It took me a while to get into this dense book -- it's quite slow to begin with. But I read the last 200 pages in one sitting and am still thinking about its multiple layers. Definitely recommended.
    An extra plug, incidentally, for Jerusalem-based publisher The Toby Press. Almost everything they publish is really exciting -- look out for their books.

    -- Natasha: And Other Stories by David Bezmozgis. The much-hyped collection of short stories about Russian Jewish immigrants to Toronto in the 1970s and 80s. The author, himself a Russian immigrant to Toronto was barely 30 when the collection was published, was awarded an unprecedented advance by FSG and was widely compared to everyone from Philip Roth to Checkov to Bashevis Singer.
    The stories are told from the point of view of Mark Berman, who grows up as the book progresses. The stories are charming, poignant and often very funny. They are also important: as I've written before, there are enormous Russian Jewish communities throughout North America which are little understood by the mainstream community. However, the book is unfortunately over-hyped. Because Mark grows up so quickly, he is virtually unrecognizable from one story to the next, so it's very hard to connect to him. Some of the stories are unoriginal. And what you see is what you get: there are no multi-layers like in Foiglman; the read was way too easy.

    -- The Maiden of Ludmir by Nathaniel Deutsch -- the story of the only female hassidic Rebbe. Haven't finished it yet but so far, fascinating!

    Wednesday, October 06, 2004

    Plus ca change....

    My father's post on Simchat Torah, and a similar post by Joe Schick, reminded me that Samuel Pepys, the famous 17th century English diarist, describes visiting a shul (I think perhaps a Portugese one?) in one of his entries. It was, of course, Simchat Torah, but he had no way of knowing that what he saw was not typical. Here is his horrified description of the goings-on on Simchat Torah in a shul in London in 1663 -- I've italed the bits specific to the chag, and bolded his conclusions:
    Thence home and after dinner my wife and I, by Mr. Rawlinson's conduct, to the Jewish Synagogue: where the men and boys in their vayles, and the women behind a lattice out of sight; and some things stand up, which I believe is their Law, in a press to which all coming in do bow; and at the putting on their vayles do say something, to which others that hear him do cry Amen, and the party do kiss his vayle. Their service all in a singing way, and in Hebrew. And anon their Laws that they take out of the press are carried by several men, four or five several burthens in all, and they do relieve one another; and whether it is that every one desires to have the carrying of it, I cannot tell, thus they carried it round about the room while such a service is singing. And in the end they had a prayer for the King, which they pronounced his name in Portugall; but the prayer, like the rest, in Hebrew. But, Lord! to see the disorder, laughing, sporting, and no attention, but confusion in all their service, more like brutes than people knowing the true God, would make a man forswear ever seeing them more and indeed I never did see so much, or could have imagined there had been any religion in the whole world so absurdly performed as this. Away thence with my mind strongly disturbed with them, by coach and set down my wife in Westminster Hall, and I to White Hall...
    Worth keeping in mind in 2004....

    Posthumous citizenship

    Dutch lawmakers want to make Anne Frank a citizen of the Netherlands so that she can qualify to win the title of 'Greatest Dutch National' in a tv. show. Anne was officially stateless -- born in Germany, her German citizenship was revoked and she never became Dutch.
    Leaving aside the questions of whether such a step would be offensive to the thousands of other German refugees in Holland who wouldn't receive such an honor, whether it is legally possible and whether all this fuss is worth it for a television show, the entire idea of giving someone posthumous citizenship is ridiculous. Citizenship is a technical legal term; it has no meaning to someone who is dead. In Anne Frank's case, understanding that she was not in fact born in Holland, and that her family expected to return to Germany, puts everything that happened to her in context. If the Dutch want to call Anne Frank an 'honorary member of the Dutch nation,' or simply regard her as Dutch anyway because that's where she grew up, so be it; making her a posthumous citizen tinkers with and obscures historical realities.
    Incidentally, the Pakistan Daily Times has reprinted AP's article on the Frank issue, adding the line, "Probably, she is the only Jewish character that people feel for." It will be interesting to see whether AP is as upset about this as Reuters was about the Canadian National Post adding the word 'terrorist organization' to its reports on Hamas.

    Still cuckoo

    Remember what a laugh everyone had when Courtney Cox named her new daughter "Coco?" It now turns out she was named out of respect to Jewish traditions.
    Wonderful name, wonderful name.

    It's a bird's a plane -- oops, it's a stretcher

    Amos Harel writes a good summary of 'l'affaire UNRWA' in Haaretz. I doubrt that many readers of this blog have much sympathy for UNRWA or other UN agencies, but the accusation about the Kassam rocket and the UNRWA ambulance is now in strong reverse gear. The real issue is explained in a parallel Haaretz article.

    Here we go again ... three days / three pounds weight gain?

    Well, again into a three-day stretch of Yomtov and Shabbat. I have nothing to add to a) what I've written already about Simchat Torah and b) what everyone else has written at length about the two-day yomtov, except to say that I seem to mind it less than many others. That may be because I work in a Jewish school, and so the entire institution pauses to celebrate. Only one thing worries me -- the effect of the three-day stretch on my campaign to lose weight. Over the last few months, by eating less, eating different and exercising more I have shed quite a few pounds (over 25, and going on 30, actually) and, noticeably, several inches of middle-aged spread. After Yomtov, I have to have several suits altered, fortunately in the right direction. In part, the key has been a pedometer (I recommend the Sun Trekling, available by speedy mail order from Red Oaks Trading ) and a 10,000 steps a day target, which I have been able to keep up for 3-4 days a week. Aidel Maidel, persevere! Ultimate target is to lose another 15-20 lbs, which will put me into the 'normal' area of the age/weight graphs (too depressing to link to) .....

    Anyway, enough of these personal musings. Miriam and Danny were heard returning at about 1:30AM from their trip, so I suppose Miriam will take over the blog again (just when I finally remembered how to do a link properly!). Nice to have been here ... chag sameach, shabbat shalom and toodle-pip!

    Tuesday, October 05, 2004

    Concordia, Montreal -- next episode

    Concordia University in Montreal, site of the major Jewish-Palestinian confrontation in 2002 (when Bibi was prevented from speaking) has forbidden Ehud Barak from speaking on campus because of security concerns but has praised him and offered to co-sponsor the event at a more secure, off-campus venue. Not a bad compromise, in my view - is this really an issue of free speech? The advantage in getting official University co-sponsorship, wherever the talk (might) take place is probably worth a lot. Watch for the next development(s). For a variety of views on Martin Himel's scary documentary on the 2002 incident, some of them scary in themselves, see here.

    Yisrael Ta-Shema ztz"l

    Haaretz reports the passing of a great scholar and Talmid Chacham.

    Fantasists I have known

    Protocols is checking out info on Marc Gafni / Winiarz, and has some emails regarding his claimed Oxford credentials. "Always check the references" is sound advice, together with "Always check the footnotes". In a long career working in the Jewish community, I have come across numerous fantasists, let alone the occasional con man (not that I am saying that Gafni is necessarily either, as I know nothing about him). They range from the yeshivish Sefardi who claimed that he was a consultant brain surgeon and nuclear scientist ("they only call me in on special projects"), last heard of employed in a responsible kashrus capacity by a leading Bet Din, to the shoe salesman who claimed to be a major Canadian investor and was wined and dined by various Israeli municipalities and ministries for several weeks until some of us in Jerusalem stopped to think. Plus a few!!! The most outrageous, still hanging around J-m I believe, claimed (claims?) to be a survivor of Babi Yar who was smuggled into England in the middle of the war, became an Anglican vicar and then mysteriously 'discovered his roots' and became an anti-missionary campaigner. Despite compiling a formidable file on this character -- who, for various reasons I believe to be the most far-out Evangelical Christian you will ever meet -- the one thing I never found out was his real name, which is certainly not S****l *****ng. (Anyone have info? is the address, or post here).

    Monday, October 04, 2004

    Who stole Simchat Torah?

    As a kid growing up in Golders Green (London), I have many wonderful memories of Simchat Torah. I admit I am going back several decades. But in recent years I, and a growing number of my middle-aged friends, have simply stayed at home over Simchat Torah, and I am afraid that I will do the same this year. Simchat Torah has become a poor imitation of Purim in too many places. It seems to have too little real religious 'Simchah', and not a deal of meaningful 'Torah'. It is wild, and it is, I am sad to say, in many places, tied in with alcohol. Alcohol abuse is a growing problem in our community. In my shul, there are notices printed in the shul bulletin warning that the shul has a 'no tolerance' policy for under-age drinkers on Simchat Torah. But every single week, a procession of shul leaders walk out in the middle of davvening on Shabbat morning to go to 'Kiddush club'. What sort of role-modelling is that? I think the time has come to consider making all shuls teetotal.

    Henry VIII's Talmud?

    The Jewish Week is running an article about a display at Sotheby's in London of rare manuscripts and Hebrew books from the Valmadonna trust Library - the stunning collection of Jack Lunzer. The 'jewel in the crown' is the Bomberg Talmud which may be the copy ordered by Henry VIII (1491-1547) to bolster his case against the Church of England to allow him to divorce his wives. Alas, the story of how Jack Lunzer acquired it is tremendous, but too long to relate here in full. ( Miriam, feisty proprietress of this blog, warned me sternly against making my blogs too long ...) In short, Jack first saw a volume of this on display (but mis-attributed) in Westminster Abbey in 1956 in an exhibition celebrating 300 years of Jewish resettlement in England, and spent close to 25 years courting the Abbey in attempts to acquire it. Eventually, he managed to purchase a 900-year old copy of the Abbey's original Charter, being sold by an impecunious British aristocrat, and presented it to the Abbey. In return, the Abbey made him a gift of the Bomberg Talmud - whose pages were still uncut! The initials 'HR' (Henry Rex? or someone else?) were embossed in the binding.

    In an interview elsewhere, Mr. Lunzer expresses the hope that the Library will remain in the UK, but alludes to the interest of the American LIbrary of Congress in the collection. (The website of the Library of Congress announced in 2001 that it had raised USD$9m to purchase the library. What happened?) . He also refers - correctly - to the disgraceful record of Anglo-Jewry in preserving its treasures.

    Calling all 'lobbeses'

    I am embroiled in fierce correspondence in the columns of the London 'Jewish Chronicle' ( , but articles etc only accessible to subscribers). In an idle moment in the summer I wrote suggesting, with some support from the mighty Oxford English Dictionary, that there were a few words ('porge', 'congregant' and 'lobbes', for example) that were micro-linguistically unique to English Jews, and constituted unique Anglo-Jewish contributions to the English language. Were there any others, I wondered? No-one has suggested any others, but my claim about 'lobbes' has been seriously challenged. This Polish word, meaning a litlle rascal or mischievous boy, is extremely common in English-Jewish speech. Over many years in Israel, the USA and Canada (the latter having strong Yiddish speaking communities) I have found it unknown to most Yiddish speakers. Are you reading this? Where are you from? Are your family from a Yiddish speaking background? Have you ever heard the word 'lobbes'? Please help!