Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Disaster relief funds

The pictures and stories coming out of New Orleans tonight are simply beyond belief. An entire city destroyed! Who can comprehend. Even the most powerful nation in the world can be impotent before nature.
According to JTA, many Jewish organisations are already collecting donations for victims of Hurricane Katrina. If you would like to contribute,
    • Contributions through the UJC can be made online at or by mail at United Jewish Communities, P.O. Box 30, Old Chelsea Station, N.Y., 10113, attention: Hurricane Katrina. Mark the memo section of checks with Katrina.
    • To donate through B’nai B’rith, checks should be made payable to the B’nai B’rith Disaster Relief Fund and sent to B’nai B’rith International, 2020 K Street, NW, Seventh Floor, Washington, D.C., 20006; or online by going to and clicking on the link for disaster relief.
    • Contributions through the Union for Reform Judaism can be made at Information on the Disaster Relief Fund can be found at
    • Contributions through Chabad-Lubavitch can be made online at, or by mail at Katrina Relief Fund, Chabad-Lubavitch of Louisiana, 7037 Freret Street, New Orleans, La. 70118.
    • Contributions through the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism can be made online at, or by mail at USCJ Hurricane Disaster Relief Fund; 121 Congressional Lane; Suite 210; Rockville, Md. 20852. Checks should be made payable to “USCJ”; mark the memo section with USCJ Hurricane Disaster Relief Fund.

For your reading edification

If your blood pressure isn't high enough after the Hurricane-Gaza comments, check out this discussion on from last month. It concerns a poster setting out some 'rules' for residents in New Square. I was pretty proud of myself for deciphering some of the Yiddish, but then found this handy (and rather loose...*) summary quite a long way into the thread:
1. Men should not go in the street together with their wives.
2. Women should not sit in the front of a car. Women and girls, of course, should not sit in the front when in a taxi. And of course, don't send kids alone in taxis.
3. The men should stick to the "men's side" and the women on their side. (and no one should walk in the middle of the street)
4. Women should not make any hupkis in the street, and shouldn't speak loudly, especially when the bachurim and men are coming and going from yeshiva and kollel.
5. In the 'connected' houses (duplexes?), don't stand or sit at the
entrances so the men can get in and out in a tzniusdik manner. And don't speak loudly so that people in the houses can hear you.
6. Women and girls can't go out in long housecoats.
7. It's not tzniusdik to wear bobby/ankle socks over stockings.
8. About tznius in dress: ?? should be long - till past the bone(?). C'v never wear see-through(?) or colored stockings, or tight or short dresses. Don't dye your eyebrows. Stick to the takanos about shaitel bands, and never wear long shaitels.
9. Girls may not ride bikes.
10. Girls should not jump on trampolines unless there's a really good mechitza around it.
11. Make sure the goyta that comes to work in your house doesn't dress, ahh, improperly - not in the street or in the house.
12. Don't make exercise groups without permission from the Beis Din and without a mashgiach.
13. When you make a simcha, the entrances should be totally separate(?). And it should not be possible for men and women to meet up. There should be extra sinks (by the bathrooms). And understandably, the mechitza should be properly closed.
14. The Bais Medrash is a makom kadosh, and men must come in properly dressed - with hat and rekk'l (long jacket). Make sure to turn off cellphones so they won't ring inside, and don't talk loudly(?), especially during davening.
15. Children, (inc. bachurim and older girls) should not own any modern technology - computers, cellphones, palm pilots.
Ho hum. There's actually not much to say about a society in which a little girl riding a bike must be guarded against as a potential sexual temptation. (Although I am wondering about pt. 12. What exactly does the mashgiach do at these exercise classes? Doesn't a mashgiach being there run completely contrary to the spirit of these rules? Or perhaps it's a mashgicha?)
This list is simply so absurd and over the top and depressing and pointless -- you can regulate from here until tomorrow, but unless women are shut up at home and not allowed out, men will always have opportunities to see them and hear them and will at some point have to deal with this.
It did occur to me that the women in this community could start wearing a burqa -- however, they can't go out in a long housecoat (pt. 6). So I guess that's out of the question...

(Via SIW)
*More accurate translations welcome in comments.

Blog Day 2005

Today, apparently, is Blog Day 2005, created by Israeli blogger Nir Ofir. The idea is that
In one long moment on August 31st, bloggers from all over the world will post a recommendation of 5 new Blogs, Preferably, Blogs different from their own culture, point of view and attitude. On this day, blog surfers will find themselves leaping and discovering new, unknown Blogs, celebrating the discovery of new people and new bloggers.
I found out about the day by being linked to by a Jordanian blogger. However, instead of giving my own recommendations, I think I'm going to open up the floor to Bloghead readers. What blogs do you recommend outside of the Jewish blogosphere -- blogs we normally wouldn't be exposed to without some digging (ie. not LGF, Andrew Sullivan etc.)?

UPDATE: ELF posts her recommendations.

Livingstone's London

London Mayor Ken Livingstone is going to face an official disciplinary hearing for asking a Jewish reporter in February whether he was "a German war criminal" -- though technically, he isn't being held to account for the anti-Semitic overtones of his remark, but for failing to "respect" the journalist.
Whether he is barred from future office (unlikely), told to pay a fine (?) or forced to apologise (halevai), I don't expect that he will ever truly repent or understand how offensive his remarks were -- he is simply too arrogant.
What I do hope, however, is that the disciplinary process will make Londoners -- and not just Jews -- more aware of the Mayor's anti-Jewish tendencies, and more angry about it. This city should be embarrassed, in this day and age, to have a Mayor who, time and time again, shows himself to be ambivalent (to say the least) towards Jews. That they're not is a source of much deeper worry than one anti-Semitic mayor.


First, G-d created the Tsunami to punish the nations of the world for supporting disengagement (if you believe rabbis Amar and Eliyahu). Now, according to R. Lazer Brody -- brought to you via orthomom, whose piece you should read on this -- he's brought Hurricane Katrina for the exact same reason:
Katrina is hitting just as the bulldozers are completing the destruction of Gush Katif. The Talmud teaches that Hashem administers the world according to the "ATFAT" principle, in other words, "a turn for a turn". My heart tells me that there's a link between the forced expulsion of 8500 people from their blood, sweat, and tear-soaked homes in Israeli Gaza and between the nearly 850,000 people who are forced to flee from their homes in Louisiana. Sharon, at the prodding of the American government, has destroyed hallowed centers of prayer, Torah learning, and settlement in the Land of Israel. Hashem isn't wasting much time in showing His wrath. In fact, Katrina has chosen Ms. Rice's home state as a target; I humbly believe that the unfortunate people of Louisiana can blame Mr. Bush and Ms. Rice for their misfortune. This is a classic ATFAT situation: He who creates exiles in the Holy Land, will have a hundred-fold exiles in his own land.
I've already discussed several times on this blog how, imho, reading G-d's intentions into acts of nature is theological folly, terrible arrogance and extremely dangerous, so I'm not going to go into it again. However, just to play this game for a moment, if R. Brody truly believes that Hashem administers the world according to a simple ATFAT principle that human beings can decipher, and that bad things happening to good people -- particularly people being expelled from their homes, etc -- are a sign of G-d's wrath and that we can draw a direct line between specific cause and effect, he may wish to take his piece to its logical conclusion and start considering what, then, the settler movement or its leaders have done to deserve disengagement.

Taiwan, the Jews and the monkeys

JTA is reporting that
a human rights group in Taiwan is calling on Chinese journalists and academics around the world to stop the “discriminatory” way that the characters for “Jewish people” are written in Mandarin.
“There are many Chinese characters for ‘you-tai,’ or Jew, but the combination that is currently being used refers to an animal of the monkey species and has the connotation of parsimoniousness,” Chien Hsi-chieh, the director of the Peacetime Foundation of Taiwan, said recently... Chien said the biased Chinese characters were devised by Christian missionaries in China around 1830, when they were translating the Hebrew and Christian Bibles into Chinese and needed a term for “Jews”... Following the news conference, held in Taiwan’s Parliament, a local English-language newspaper quoted Zhou Xun, a Chinese professor at the University of London, as saying that it’s not easy to define Jews as a people using a combination of two or three Chinese characters.
“In fact, the current way of writing ‘you-tai’ to mean ‘Jews’ indicates the imagined physical difference between the Chinese and the Jews, which is rooted in the tradition of picturing all alien groups living outside the pale of Chinese society as distant savages hovering on the edge of bestiality,” Zhou said.
Of-course, this is interesting in and of itself, but there also seems to be a whole political context here it would be interesting to hear more about. This becomes clear looking at the original reports in the Taiwanese press and especially the Peacetime Foundation's rather detailed own press release, where you can see the Peacetime Foundation is in a fight over this with the vice president, who has said that "this issue is not important, this issue has no need to be dealt with as a priority." Nasty recriminations are busy flying back and forth.
Basically, I'd really like to know more about why a Taiwanese peace organisation -- whose website, incidentally, includes several pro-Palestinian analysis pieces -- would choose to pick a fight with the government over the spelling of the word 'Jew.' They may be geniunely interested, but considering that Jews are not exactly a great presence in Taiwan, the word can't come up that often and that the country probably has more pressing issues on its agenda, it's still a surprising issue to go to such lengths for (see their press release for detail). Would we, for example, go to similar lengths to get the word for 'Taiwanese' changed, had it been offensive in Hebrew? I don't think so.
Their press release -- which I can only assume sounded less hyperbolic in the original -- does clear things up somewhat:
We originally thought that this movement would succeed, and win praise for Taiwan from the international community for our attention to human rights and peace, and at the same time would be an effective way to educate the people. What we did not expect was for the Human Rights Consulting Committee's chairwoman, Vice President Annette Lu, to cause our successful reform to become a defeat when victory was within our grasp...
Let's be clear -- pitching something to the international community does not mean they are not genuinely concerned -- I get the feeling from something else on their website that local attitudes towards other ethnicities is one of their issues. However, it is still interesting that even in that distant corner of the world, they think that focusing on the word 'Jew' is a way to get international attention and praise.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Likud lemmings

What's going on in the Likud at the moment is quite remarkable. How often do you see a ruling party trying to oust a popular prime minister?
The coverage is almost unanimously portraying this as Sharon fighting for his political future. The truth is, of course, that the story is not about the end of Sharon, but about the potential end of the Likud as we know it. The fact is that the party's only real asset is Sharon. He will be voted in as the next PM no matter which party he heads. The Likud, however, headed by Netanyahu, won't win anything. He -- and the Likud he represents and that supports him -- is much further to the right than the majority of the Israeli electorate. A large proportion of the Likud's votes in the previous election came from former lefties who could no longer support Labour but were willing to cast their ballot for Sharon. They won't do the same for Netanyahu, whose strength is his appeal to the traditional Likud voter and to the stereotypical Likud central committee memeber -- those who feel discriminated against and disenfranchised. Middle Israel, which the Likud needs to keep its electoral advantage, don't sympathise to say the least, and still love to hate Netanyahu.
The question, then, is not whether Sharon is going to disappear, or how he is going to survive, but whether the Likud is about to consign itself, completely needlessly, to political oblivion, making itself a party of the working-class again rather than a party of power. As things look likely to pan out now, for the first time in decades, a brand new party -- neither Labor nor Likud, but a mixture of refugees from both, plus a few Shinui members, headed by Sharon -- would take power, changing the political map perhaps forever.
The Likud, with a few breaks, has basically been in power for decades and has no serious rival in Labour -- which is why its members may feel invincible now, and think they can afford to boot out Sharon. However, stranger realignments of the political map have occured; there is no question that the Likud needs Sharon much more than Sharon needs the Likud.

Out of the Ghetto - reality check

Came across this very interesting posting on a site I long ago bookmarked for some reason - GoldaLeah's well-written Go West, Young Jew. What interested me, apart from the posting itself, were the Comments, including the Conservative 'Twelve Steps to Keeping Kosher'. In both of the versions (12-step and 8-step) quoted, separating meat and milk and waiting between meat and milk came before eating only kosher meat. While I respect every attempt to give positive guidance in the difficult process of changing behaviour, and I assume that the advice is based on experience - can someone help me understand the logic?

Monday, August 29, 2005

Under our noses

During the 1990s, many people relished the fact that there hadn't been such a peaceful decade in... well, decades. In the aftermath of 9/11, it was clear that under the surface, there was already a lot of trouble brewing during the 90s which simply went unnoticed -- or misunderstood -- at the time. Mostly, this reassessment focused on goings on in the Arab world and in Western Europe, where a second generation of Muslim immigrants was quietly stewing.
It seems, however, that we've really only just began to rethink the decade. The Spectator, for example, is running a very interesting article about the effect the wars in the Balkans played in the radicalisation of a whole generation of Muslims. To cut to the chase,
Though underdiscussed, the mujahedin’s movement to Bosnia had a transformative effect on the holy warriors and was key to the development of al-Qa’eda. In moving to Bosnia, Islamic fighters were transported from the ghettos of Afghanistan into Europe, from being yesterday’s men in a has-been Cold War clash to fighting alongside the West’s favoured side in the Balkans. As Evan Kohlmann argues in his Al-Qa’eda’s Jihad in Europe: The Afghan-Bosnian Network, by 1995 Bosnia had become a ‘strategic foothold for Osama bin Laden and his fanatical allies to infiltrate Europe and the Western world’. Indeed, virtually every major al-Qa’eda attack of recent years has links back to Bosnia.....
Abu Hajer al-Iraqi, a veteran al-Qa’eda associate and one of the leading conspirators indicted by the US for the embassy bombings in Africa in 1998, had a Bosnian visa; he visited Bosnia for a three-day ‘business meeting’ only weeks before putting the finishing touches to the embassy bombings. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the architect of the 9/11 attacks, fought in Bosnia in 1992 and financed al-Qa’eda training camps there. At least two of the 9/11 hijackers — Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi — got their first taste of jihad in Bosnia. As already noted, the alleged mastermind of the Madrid attacks that killed 191 in March 2004 trained in Bosnia. The Dutch authorities are currently investigating links between Mohammed Bouyeri, the Dutch-Moroccan who murdered film-maker Theo van Gogh, and an al-Qa’eda cell that has its origins in Bosnia. And on it goes.
To what extent did American / European policies in the region facilitate this (the Spectator claims, for example, that Clinton actively encouraged Iran to arm the Muslims, contributing to the 'Islamification' of the conflict. But what about the way we handled the conflict in general)? To what extent did the Western media's coverage of the conflict -- which, as I've touched upon in the past, was completely and willfully biased and misrepresentative, insistantly portraying Muslims as victims while the truth was far more complex -- fuel Muslim extremism (the Spectator argues, a great deal) and help shape a foreign policy with serious long-term effects not properly understood at the time?
The sad truth is that I am completely ill-equipped to answer either of those questions, because I never really paid much attention to the conflict at the time -- couldn't keep track of who was who and never bothered trying to sort it out -- and to this day do not really understand what went on there. Unfortunately, I suspect I am not that different to 99% of Westerners on that count. As we begin to look more closely at the last decade to figure out exactly what had been going on, unnoticed, under our noses, there's a good chance that the fact most of us didn't pay the slightest bit of attention to this rather major conflict while it was going on will be something we end up deeply regretting.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Thank You Sir, May I Have Another Hundred Thousand

(Hey, it worked for Gil!)
Just to note that Bloghead passed the 200,000 hits mark today.
In the meanwhile, I'm going away for a few days (it's a long weekend in the UK) and will be back sometime on Monday.
Shabbat Shalom everyone!

Even in Shekels, Jewish education isn't cheap

In a few discussions we've had about the high cost of Jewish education on this blog, my old friend Danny has a couple of times recommended that people move to Israel where they can get a good Jewish education for free, funded by the state.
Turns out that the cost of a good Jewish education is becoming a burden for many orthodox parents in Israel as well. Partially it's due to funding extra hours of religious study that the state doesn't pay for (that was certainly the case, for example, in the mamalachti dati torani -- state funded religious school, with extra Jewish studies -- I went to for primary school). But not always:
Jerusalem's prestigious yeshivas, for example, charge up to NIS 13,000 a month. Religious school principals often charge fees to finance things they are not permitted to charge for, such as raising teachers' pay or decreasing class size.
The Education Ministry does not check, and parents mostly refrain from complaining, because they want to give their children the best.
The average Israeli salary, just to give you an idea of how outrageous that sum is, is around NIS 7,000 -- could they really have this figure right? No wonder Avital Goldberg, one of the organizers of an action committee on this issue, says, rather familiarly,
"Anyone who wants his children to go to a religious state school has to take out a mortgage."
It's interesting to see that they are feeling this pressure although they are only paying for the Jewish Studies portion, unlike most Jews in the diaspora who have to pay for an entire private school.
In any case, the good news is that there is clearly a demand everywhere around the world for more intensive Jewish education. The bad news is that it is beyond the means of many families and individuals and no one yet has worked out how to pay for it....

The rabbi and the pot

See update.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Were even the Palestinians touched?

Sharon, usually the West's arch-villain, has received some rather good press lately, for obvious reasons, and there's been some comment about how the disengagement has shown the 'human side' of the settlers, touching even many people who are anti-Israel. None of it is likely to last, of-course. But if you really want to read a surprising piece on this, read Daoud Kuttab.

Now here's a truly modern dilemma

What do you do when your community rabbi is charged with possessing marijuana and driving while his ability was impaired by drugs?
Congregation Sons of Israel, for example, suspended their rabbi on full pay (!!) for a month. Lucky guy. Could have been worse, considering he could have killed someone.
I don't know the congregation at all, but a fair bet would be that they couldn't/wouldn't fire him 'cos a large proportion of them smoke pot regularly themselves...'cos for reasons that readers can speculate on by themselves, there is not much sympathy in public opinion for pot-smoking to be regarded as a criminal offence. Of course, the fact that he was driving 'under the influence' and a danger to others is a different issue. How would a congregation react if a rabbi was charged with driving under the influence of alcohol?

Mazal Tov, Mazal Tov

Jerry Seinfeld can now be added to the list of celebrities who give their babies really, really weird names. He's just had his third child, a son, v'yikareh shmo b'Yisrael... Shepherd. Yes, Shepherd (second name Kellen).
Giving Seinfeld the benefit of the doubt, I can only assume it's a holy reference to The Lord is my Shepherd -- which would make his Hebrew name is Ro'i. Yes, that's it, I'm sure....

Orthodox blogosphere?

The Forward is running a fairly predictable article about the Jewish Orthodox blogosphere, how blogs are a window into the Orthodox world, allow people to connect, etc. etc. etc.
However, it neglects to ask one question I've been pondering recently. The real anomoly is not that the Orthodox bloggers are on the net -- but that they seem to be so massively over-represented in the Jewish blogosphere. Where are all the equivalent Reform and Conservative blogs, discussing their movements, their communities, their future, their priorities, their Judaism? OK, I know of a handful -- some are truly spectacular -- but broadly speaking, the Jewish blogosphere is dominated by the Orthodox blogosphere.
I can only assume that either there is a vast world of Jewish blogs out there I don't know about, or that other Jews are out there, but simply not writing, or not writing regularly, about Jewish topics. Sadly, I suspect it's the latter.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Choosing Jewish

YNet is running a feature (originally published in the Detroit Jewish News) about an intermarried couple debating how to raise their children. Ultimately, the Christian father writes:
In the end, we decided to raise our children Jewish. We would make sure that our kids learned about my religion, too. But, they would not be “both.”
How did we know it was the right decision? It’s hard to say, but it just felt right. Everybody has their own reasons, but for us, we knew it would also ease Bonnie’s transition to moving away permanently from her family in Boston. I was born and raised here in Ann Arbor. We see my family all the time. I realized that I’m still connected.
It shows something about the difficulty the Jewish community has fighting for these kids when such important decisions can be made on such flimsy grounds ('ease Bonnie's transition') -- and when the parents themselves sometimes don't even fully understand or can't fully articulate why they've chosen one religion over the other.

Throw Ali G down a well

Sacha Baron Cohen is having to resort to increasingly desperate stunts to get a laugh:
ALI G star Sacha Baron Cohen has been dunked in the sea by Pam Anderson's bodyguards...after rugby-tackling the sexy actress at her dogs' wedding.
The star's creator Sacha Baron Cohen was dressed as his other creation, cringe-inducing Kazakhstani TV journalist Borat, when he pulled the stunt.
Cohen, 33, in trunks, leather jacket and Village People-style cap, emerged from the surf on an inflatable turtle. But the gate-crashing escapade seemed to go a bit too far when he sent Pammie, 38, hurtling to the sand on the beach at Malibu, California.
Security men clearly thought Cohen needed to cool it and dragged him into the sea.
I'm not sure why the media is so focused on what happened to Ali G, though. Surely the bizarre story here is that Pam Anderson's pooches were getting married on the beach????

Suicide or not?

Strange report on the BBC:
One of the 7 July London bombers rang his fellow suicide attackers before his device went off, the BBC has learned.
Hasib Hussain, 18, called his three accomplices on his mobile phone before killing 13 people on the No 30 bus.
But Mohammad Sidique Khan, 30, Germaine Lindsay, 19, and Shehzad Tanweer, 22, had already killed themselves and 39 passengers on three Tube trains... Terrorism expert Michael Clarke, of King's College, said the calls showed Hussain was in a panic and probably rang his accomplices to make sure their bombs had exploded.
Or -- is it possible that the four never intended to be suicide bombers and didn't know they were going to die in the attack, as some originally thought?

UPDATE: Apparently not. The Times reports that
Forensic science experts who have examined the remains of the bombs are now certain that they were all triggered manually, which proves that the men were not duped into becoming suicide bombers.


A curious juxtoposition of stories in the Jerusalem Post this morning. Let's take a look.

Story 1:
A leader of the Legal Forum for the Land of Israel charged on Tuesday that only 100 of the 1,700 families evacuated from the West Bank and northern Samaria settlements have found permanent housing solutions so far, and that only 700 families have found temporary solutions to tide them over. The other 1,000 have no
solutions at all.
Story 2:
Most of the NIS 70 million to NIS 80m. in public funds spent so far on hotel rooms for evacuees has been wasted, due to a lack of cooperation on the part of the evacuees, Tuesday's special hearing in the Finance Committee revealed. Of the 1000 hotel rooms reserved by the government for the evacuees, roughly 800 are standing empty, as are 600 of the 850 rental apartments, Finance Committee spokesman Zvi Rosen related.
What's clear is that both parties are at fault here. By all accounts, some of the hotel rooms were not pleasant -- one of the Post articles mentions mice -- and it's likely that many of the apartments reserved by the government are inappropriate too. The government, inexcusably, also did not properly plan for resettlement until very, probably too, late in the game. On the other side, you have the evacuees who have known the schedule for disengagement for months and could easily have found somewhere appropriate to go to in plenty of time. If G-d forbid I was in the same situation, I don't think I would have left it to the day after disengagement to start scrambling around for alternative accomodation for my family. The sad truth is many were in denial, others ignored what was going on for political reasons and most of them were encouraged by their leadership not to prepare for post-disengagement, again for political reasons -- and now they are paying the price. Even worse, many are continuing to sacrifice themselves and the welfare of their families by refusing compensation, leaving themselves homeless etc. for purely political purposes, despite the fact that it's all over, their point has already been made and the only losers here will be them and their families. As Sarah says, what a mess.
It didn't have to be that way. For an interesting article on how Gaza residents who did plan ahead are being welcomed at one kibbutz and one moshav -- and how their arrival is positively affecting those locations -- see last week's JC. According to the JPost, others decided last minute, some on a split-second whim, to go to some West Bank settlements. While I fully understand their motivations -- the welcome there will probably be more generous than elsewhere, the lifestyle might eventually, if they end up with permanent accomodation, be more similar to the one they're used to -- I wonder whether they wouldn't be better off, for their own mental health, somewhere where the future is somewhat more certain. I have a horrible feeling that somewhere down the line, we're going to be reading about settlers who were evacuated from Gush Katif, and then have to go through the whole thing again in Kedumim and Ofra etc.

Giving a new definition to the term, 'bad taste'

Talking of Hitler parodies, my husband remembers a short-lived sitcom produced in the UK called 'Heil Honey, I'm Home!', made in 1990 for BSB. A quick Google search came up with this:
The show was centred on fictionalised versions of Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun, who lived together in suburban bliss, until the day their lives are turned upside-down by their new neighbours, the Goldensteins, who are Jewish. The show's plots inevitably centred around Hitler's inability to get on with his neighbours. The show spoofed elements of 1950s and 1960s American sitcoms such as Leave It to Beaver, including the corny title, light to the point of vacuous plot and dialogue, and unwarranted applause for when any character appeared on screen...
To say it was controversial is somewhat an understatement. When the first episode was aired, it was seen by virtually all as being in very poor taste. It was accused of crassly trivialising Nazism and the horrors of the Holocaust, and of being an insult to British survivors of the Nazis' atrocities. Altogether, eight episodes were produced but only one was ever screened; the inevitable furore that accompanied the first episode led BSB to pull the remaining shows, and they have not seen the light of day since. The show has since become renowned as one of the most controversial programmes ever to have been screened in the UK; it listed at #61 on Channel 4's The 100 Greatest TV Moments from Hell.
Just sounds too awful for words. Any Bloghead readers actually ever see it?

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Montreal's Jewish poets

I was genuinely upset to read about Leonard Cohen's financial troubles. The 70-year-old poet is effectively broke, after millions were (allegedly) stolen from him by his own manager of 17 years after he went to live in a Buddhist retreat. Apparently he retreated a little too far and didn't notice the money flowing out of his account. He has now had to remortgage his house and is, understandably, "devestated."
I have a special place in my heart for Leonard Cohen, one of whose poems directly inspired me to major in English Literature. In many ways, he was the embodiment of a very creative, soulful and sexy post-war Montreal, and his spirit was still keenly felt at McGill (where he took the same degree as me) decades after he graduated. Whether you love or hate his music and his voice, his poetry is worth reading, on paper. I hope his troubles end soon.
Cohen was, in fact, one of a triumvirate of Jewish poets from Montreal who achieved national fame, although only Cohen is a household name outside of Canada. The other two were Irving Layton, who I never found very interesting, and AM Klein, who some consider one of the foremost Jewish poets in English of the last century. He was a sad figure who spent long periods in deep depression over the Holocaust, and who attempted suicide in the early 50s for the same reason (he died in his sleep in the '70s). In addition to his poetry, his major work is the brilliant and complex The Second Scroll (1951), an early attempt to grapple with the meaning of the Holocaust and the establishment of the state of Israel. Its structure deliberately paralleled the five books of the Torah.
By sheer coincidence, I had occasion to think of AM Klein tonight. Watching The Producers, I suddenly remembered that AM Klein had written a long poem in 1944 also -- as I recall? -- mocking Hitler (more subtly), called The Hitleriad. He was a man deeply troubled by what was going on in Europe and this was his genuine attempt to come to grips with events. Unfortunately, it was too soon, and the poem was very badly received (although others say it was just a bad poem...). Who would have thought then a few decades later, a play parodying Hitler would be selling to full houses around the English-speaking world.
Strangely, I can't find the poem on the Internet (I thought you could find everything on the Internet nowdays), and indeed, can find very little about Klein himself online. It's a shame so few know about him today -- one of the few Jewish poets writing in English who's actually worth reading.

Stealing from the poor and giving to the rich

According to the NYT,
Last Thursday, Mr. Radler, 63, was indicted on criminal fraud charges related to the sale of dozens of papers several years ago. He has agreed to plead guilty and cooperate in a continuing investigation into financial scandal at Hollinger, presumably in return for a more lenient sentence than the maximum of 35 years he could face....
David Radler, as you will recall, is the former owner of the Jerusalem Post (and Hollinger), who, together with Conrad Black, stole millions upon millions from the company, leaving some employees so skint they literally couldn't pay their heating bills in the winter.
Far be it from me to take pleasure in the misfortune of others, but in this case, as a former employee, I hope he goes down for a long, long time. And the best news yet:
[T]hough the United States attorney's office would not say whether charges will be brought against Lord Black, legal experts said Mr. Radler's decision to cooperate made that a near-certainty.

Monday, August 22, 2005

The Bible as you've never heard it

Fascinating article in the Guardian, of all places, about a school in Jerusalem set up to give non-Jews the Hebrew skills to translate the so-called 'Old Testament' into their own languages:
One challenge for the translators is to find equivalents for words that don't exist in the native tongue, such as "snow" in tropical Benin, or where vineyards or types of animals and plants don't exist, in Africa or Asia. In translating "stiff-necked people" (Exodus 32:9), for example, one translator came up with "blocked-ears" and another with "as hard as a grasshopper's head". These may be far from traditional translations, but they make sense in the local vocabulary and world view of the intended audience.
The Jews -- hard as a grasshopper's head. I like it!

Targeting Muslims, affecting Jews

JTA is reporting on an attempt (going on a year now) to ban shechitah in Belgium. There seems little chance that it will succeed, however any attempt must be taken seriously as there are dangerous precedents elsewhere. What's interesting, however, is the allegation that the law is partially motivated by a desire to control Muslim animal slaughter, which is often unsupervised and illegal:
The second representative, Pinchas Kornfeld, a community leader from Antwerp, claimed that the law “mainly tried to attack the Muslims, but the Jews will also feel the effects of it”...
The legislation urges the government to crack down on animal slaughter outside of government-inspected abattoirs. Illegal killings occur yearly around Id al-Adha, a Muslim festival that traditionally involves the slaughtering of a sheep for each family. As many as 22,000 animals are slaughtered illegally for the festival each year, and Dedecker said he wants to pass the law before next January’s festival.
We're going to be seeing much more of this -- laws actually targeting the Muslims which inadvertantly effect the Jews, as governments can't be seen to be discriminating against one religion. In England, for example, there are already people wondering how talk of banning state 'faith schools' as a result of 7/7 is going to affect the Jewish community's schools. Something to watch.

Got royal blood?

The Eshet Chayil Foundation is preparing to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Israel capturing East Jerusalem with a massive reunion of... King David's descendents. As we discussed a few weeks ago, that's probably most of us -- something the organizers are clearly wise to, as they are asking for 'historical data' to back up all claims... Of-course, this is utterly ridiculous as proving this is almost always a matter of tradition, and most families actually can't trace back -- with names etc. -- more than 6-7 generations (if they're lucky). Which doesn't mean they're not descended from King David. So I won't be offended that I won't be admitted...

Cynical ploy, brilliant marketing idea or joke of the week -- depending on how you see it

Some enterprising settlers from Sa-nur are (supposedly...) trying to sell advertising space on their home on eBay. The thinking is that
we (among hundreds of others) will entrench ourself to the houses and to the old english police fortress thats in the middle of the settlement and fight hard as we can against the soldiers.
this event will be filmed by international news station and will reach MILLIONS OF VIEWERS AROUND THE WORLD.
you are bidding on a spot on the fortress or on my house.the exact place of the ad will be decided during the evacuation(see pics).
we will hung a big flag with your company name on it!!
Well, I guess if they don't leave soon they won't get compensation -- so they might as well get everything they can through advertising. Bidding starts at $40,000.

Where do we go from here?

Unfortunately, my broadband was down during most of the disengagement so pretty much all that there is to be said has already been said. However, two important articles on disengagement which I highly recommend, and which should really be read together, both address the question of 'where do we go from here':

  • Ehud Ya'ari in the Jerusalem Report: Ya'ari, an insider's insider if ever there was one, argues that the Palestinians are not really entirely sure they want a state -- under any terms. With all the problems in their society, getting to a functioning state would simply be too difficult, both practically and psychologically, and quite simply, it's easier to focus on war against Israel than on building a new Palestinian society:
The bottom line is that there are more Israelis eager to see a Palestinian state than Palestinians who want to part from the Israelis. There are many Israelis, and I am among them, who believe that a two-state solution is much better than the Oslo system of two governments in one country, but the Palestinians prefer the latter system, which gives them a regime and armed forces, but without an agreed-upon permanent border. This is why in the Gaza Strip - whatever the circumstances of the withdrawal - the Palestinians will strive to preserve a close link to Israel. Instead of trying to turn their backs on the erstwhile occupiers, they will do their best to tie themselves to them.
The de facto independence that they will achieve without paying any price will not be used to construct a model of successful sovereignty, but rather a base for the struggle for the West Bank and Jerusalem. They will refuse to see the withdrawal as an end either to the occupation of the Strip or to the terrorist activity emanating
from it. Listen to Abu Mazen himself: Israel, he says, is "getting out" of Gaza, definitely not "withdrawing." Israel's aim is to make the Gaza Strip a foreign country, to cut itself off from it, and to have little to do with it. The Palestinians will resist this, insisting that it is not a separate entity, but merely a mutation of the system of two governments within the same country.
  • Hillel Halkin in the Jerusalem Post: Halkin says, and I tend to agree, that although the disengagement went relatively smoothly and quickly, the past few months have shown that evacuating tens of thousands of Jewish settlers from the much larger West Bank will be virtually impossible:
The settlers can wipe the tears from their eyes and start smiling. The Palestinians giddily celebrating our departure from Gaza might as well make it as big a bash as they can, because they won't have an opportunity for another one soon...
A second disengagement from the West Bank is a dead duck, at least for the foreseeable future - and by the time the foreseeable future is gone, the only politician in Israel capable of carrying out such a step, Ariel Sharon, will be gone too. That leaves, as I say, a big question: Exactly where do we go from here?

Halkin doesn't provide another answer. However, if you accept his thesis, put these two articles together and we have a serious question. The Palestinians, despite their protestations to the contrary, will actually make it hard for Israel to ever disengage from them completely, and will continue to sabotage any negotiations. The Israelis, on the other hand, are going to find it extremely difficult to disengage any further unilaterally. The status quo is not an option -- which is why successive Israeli governments since the early 1990s have tried to get out of it. So, to repeat Halkin's point, how on earth are we ever going to solve this conflict? Are we destined to forever manage this conflict from within fuzzy borders -- a continuing drain and moral problem?
Of-course, there is always the possibility that conditions will change. For the Palestinians, this will mean coming to terms with the problems in their society and developing the courage to confront them. Not gonna happen any time soon, and isn't something we can really control. On our side, however, this means reaching a point where we will be able to evacuate the majority (let me emphasise -- not all) of the West Bank settlements, something we will only be able to do with the support, active or passive, of the settler leaders and the rabbis. This internal conversation has been going on for years without resolution and I can only hope that the Gaza disengagement has somehow changed its terms, so that new insights and new breakthroughs can be made. I also hope that Sharon holds elections very soon. Much of the (official) right-wing opposition to the disengagement was on the basis that Sharon was "subverting democracy" and should have held a referendum; in an upcoming vote, I hope the nation as a whole will show in a democratic way, beyond a shadow of doubt, that they are behind the concept, making further evacuations (unilateral or not) more difficult for the settlers to oppose on the scale of the past few weeks.
Otherwise, we will just have to wait for the point until economics, human resources, demography and time reduce life in many of the settlements, particularly the more isolated ones, to the point where even the right wing feels they are no longer viable; that's essentially what happened in Gush Katif. We might be waiting a long time.

Muslim cheshbon nefesh

Tonight I watched the controversial BBC Panorama investigation into whether Britain's Muslim population is honestly confronting the extremists in its midst. The program achieved some notoriety before airing because some Muslim leaders demanded to have it cancelled and claimed it was proof of 'BBC pro-Israeli bias.'
The show proved pretty quickly why they were so eager to prevent it being shown. The leaders, in particular the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) and the main 'moderate' Muslim spokesman, Sir Iqbal Sacranie, were shown up as complete hypocrites, anti-Semites and anti-Christians, and supporters of terror -- although they sang a different tune in public. Moreover, they were shown time and time again trying to politicise Islam, turning cultural issues into political issues (eg. the case of Shabina Begum).
Most viewers -- who presumably previously bought the Islamic leaders' moderate statements to the public -- probably found this behind-the-scenes footage shocking and scary. So did I -- but it was nothing I didn't know before.
In fact, I came away somewhat reassured -- because the program also featured some moderate Muslim groups having extremely honest internal debates about what's going on in their community, appearing to be genuinely shocked by some of the statements of their well-known leaders, and being prepared to say so on the record (as opposed to Sacranie and a few others on the program, who were jumping through hoops to avoid condemning other Muslims who had called for the murder of Israelis, to avoid saying that the fatwa against Salman Rushdie was wrong, etc). It is this face of Muslim Britain which is rarely seen and which I am encouraged to know exists. It is a shame, however, that they let their leaders get away with so much -- and that the government and the press continue to indulge and pander to the self-proclaimed leaders. Let's hope that the events of the last few weeks will spur them into speaking up more loudly and taking a more assertive role in their community.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

My Yiddishe iPod

I've just joined the rest of humanity and finally got an iPod (for my birthday -- this Wed.). Can anyone recommend a good site from which I can download Israeli songs?

Broadband back up...

Back online. Sorry for the break.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Heshbon ha'nefesh

A very radical article in the Jerusalem Post, reflecting on the direction(s) of the dati-leumi movement in Israel. Were the priorities and perspectives right?

Slow blogging

I guess I should probably explain why blogging is slow-to-none-existant at the moment. British Telecom accidentally (kind of -- long story) cut off our broadband at home last week, making all I'net surfing and posting painfully slow, not to mention expensive. Please bear with me -- should be back online properly in a couple of days.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Blue collar Jews

We spent this Shabbat with friends in a very small community outside London. For the Seudah Mafseket before Tisha b'Av, they had over a mother and her son, who our host was preparing for his Bar Mitzvah. The woman, a single mother, was a chambermaid at a local hotel.
The son will be Bar Mitzvah in January, and this woman was insistant that her son will be called up to the Torah. To prepare him for this, she took him to the local Orthodox synagogue, where, she says, she was roundly ignored by the rather snooty community. A local rabbi agreed to teach the young boy, however, he never invited the family over for a meal (something I find incredible), and told the mother the kid wouldn't be able to do more than read the brachot for the Torah, mainly because he didn't have time to teach him properly.
Luckily, our host met them in shul and volunteered to take the boy under his wing. He's having three lessons a week and our host was certain he would be able to read the entire parsha fluently by January. The kid was bright, interested in Judaism and eager to learn (so far, he said, he most enjoyed learning to put on tefillin; he joined us for eichah in shul and was going to try fasting 'til midday). The mother told us how proud she was and how, although making this Bar Mitzvah for her son was a major financial hardship, she felt it was important and was prepared to do it (although she was upset that the rabbi of the shul where her son would be called to the Torah -- not the local one -- was very particular about which tefillin she got her son and from where; he didn't understand she couldn't afford the best). She also, incidentally, insisted on a ceremony in an Orthodox shul and did not want to go to the local progressive (Reform) synagogue, which probably would have been more welcoming.
My heart went out to this warm and friendly woman, who genuinely wanted to give her son a Jewish experience/education, yet, because she was essentially a working class/blue collar Jew, and did not conform to our middle class conception of what a Jew looks and sounds like, was not made welcome, was not helped 'do Jewish,' and was completely under-estimated (as were her son's capabilities). We complain that our simchas are costly -- for this woman, a hotel maid, I remind you, making even a modest Bar Mitzvah -- new suit, kiddush, etc. -- was more of a financial sacrifice than most of us could imagine.
According to our host, the boy's school has other kids just like him -- Jewish, blue collar, no money. How many more people like this are excluded from our communities because they don't look or sound 'right' and because they are priced out of the market? It makes me shudder to think.


Posted by Picasa
Thanks to Sarah for posting this extremely powerful picture of a resident of Nitzanit and two soldiers, as the settlement's synagogue is dismantled.
Despite the deep differences of opinion, we are still one people.

Tisha b'Av footnotes

  • Two people told me yesterday they were going to spend the day / part of the day watching Holocaust movies. Just as Tisha b'Av should not be confused with Yom Yerushalayim, I hate it when people confuse it with Yom Hashoah.
  • Tisha b'Av urban legend:
    The story is told that Napoleon was walking through the streets of Paris one Tisha B'Av. As his entourage passed a synagogue he heard wailing and crying coming from within; he sent an aide to inquire as to what had happened. The aide returned and told Napoleon that the Jews were in mourning over the loss of their Temple. Napoleon was indignant! "How come I wasn't informed? When did this happen? Which Temple?" The aide responded, "They lost their Temple in Jerusalem on this date 1,700 years ago." Napoleon stood in silence and then said, "Certainly a people which has mourned the loss of their Temple for so long will survive to see it rebuilt!"
    Alternate versions have the story taking place in Acre, or Napoleon himself going into the synagogue; alternate punchlines have him saying, "I vow that this people is destined for a future in their own homeland. For is there any other people who have kept alive similar mourning and hope for so many years?" or "any people that still feel strongly about events that occurred to them thousands of years ago, will surely survive as a people, and persevere."
    Anyone have any idea how / where this story originated?
  • So you want to eat KOSHER????

    ... click here.


    The pullout from Gaza has begun. Over the weekend, I was mulling over the settlers' tactics. Why is it that all the attention has been focused on the Gaza settlements, and the four settlements in the northern West Bank, which will also be evacuated, have been virtually ignored? Surely, as far as the West Bank settlers are concerned, pulling out of West Bank settlements is as great, if not a greater precedent, one far more worrying as far as they are concerned?

    Here's a charge you don't hear very often

    BBC denies charge of pro-Israeli bias after complaint by Muslim leaders
    Must have taken them about a second and a half to establish a convincing defence.

    Friday, August 12, 2005

    Follow-ups to some recent Bloghead stories

    -- A few weeks ago, we asked why President Moshe Katsav wasn't doing anything to help calm spirits and unite the nation during the difficult time of disengagement. He finally came through this week, apparently brilliantly. Should we kvetch he didn't do this a month ago?
    -- Last week we briefly discussed the Heeb 'We're cool Jews -- and we're cooler than you' phenomenon. Nextbook has published an excerpt from a long essay by Heeb's founder, which reveals exactly why it was always destined to stick to the surface of every issue:
    For some, I began to think, being Jewish was the main-course brisket on their identity dinner tables. Everything they do, everyone they know is Jewish. Maybe they have a couple of side-dish identities—being a woman, a litigation attorney, from St. Louis—but by and large, they are Jews. But then, there were people for whom identity itself is more of a dim sum, and their Jewish part like one small, tasty dumpling amid a variety of other yummy treats. I was a dim sum Jew, and so were most of my friends. I had the idea one autumn day to make a magazine for us. This magazine, I decided, would be called Heeb.
    Eventually she, too, tired of the whole thing, though not, according to her own account because she'd gained any true perspective or a more sophisticated understanding of what being Jewish can mean:
    After a while, it was like I was putting out a magazine for people with brown hair. Sure, I have brown hair. I like having brown hair. But I can talk about it only so much until it feels irrelevant, not to mention self-indulgent. Being the poster girl for hipster secular Judaism wasn't really me. And although I was glad for Heeb's success and worked very hard for it, the popular message was, roughly speaking, that being Jewish is cool.
    Being Jewish, cool? Um, dork factor: ten. It's not cool now, it never has been, and it never will be. But, this was the message taken by many people, and I was its mortified messenger.
    I preferred the definition of Jews as ultimate outsiders.
    That's the best she could do after three years at a Jewish mag???
    The real story here is, of course, the media, which, presented with a sexy Jewish story, jumped on the Heeb bandwagon and created a myth totally unsupported by circulation figures (a sad 22,000 according to figures on the 'net), output or quality. (Hat tip: Tamara)
    -- A couple of days ago, I complained that radical sheikh Omar Bakr Mohammed didn't seem to see a contradiction between calling for the destruction of the West and taking hundreds of thousands of pounds of benefits from the British government and tax-payer. He has finally been banned, forever, from returning to the UK -- but it took the final revelation that he was actually planning to return to get a free heart operation at the expense of the NHS (National Health Service).

    Cancel Christmas Tisha b'Av!

    Former MK Avrum Burg, son of former NRP leader Yosef Burg Z'L, seems to have created a rather large commotion with an announcement that he intends to break his fast halfway through Tisha b'Av and have a Seudat Mitzvah with his family, "since Jerusalem is no longer destroyed, but built up and flourishing, and because the people of Israel control their own destiny."
    Predictably, the comments on NRG are extremely hostile, accusing him of making up his own religion, being a shameless publicity-seeker, and -- the ultimate insult in some circles -- being a 'Reformi,' or a Reform Jew.
    In fact, what Burg (who, to the best of my knowledge, davens at a masorti shul) is doing is relying on a Conservative Tshuva which says exactly what he's arguing. See the full thing here (in Hebrew) or a short summary in, of all places,
    There is actually also a very good Conservative tshuva by David Golinkin against this idea, which you can see here. I've only skimmed over it, but very broadly it approaches the question historically (showing that the people fasted on Tisha b'Av even while the second temple was still standing and when the Jews were sovereign), halachically (showing that there's no halachic concept of stopping the fast midday -- it's all or nothing -- and that you cannot treat Tisha b'Av seperately to 17 Tammuz, 10 Tevet etc.) and philosophically (arguing that the biblical condition for turning these fasts into days of happiness has not yet been fulfilled, mainly as we do not yet have a third temple). This is also, incidentally, not the first time this discussion has come up. In England, for example, in 1968 or '69, a new* rather fine translation of the Tisha b'Av kinnot came out (the Abraham Rosenfeld edition), in which Nachem was amended to reflect that fact that Jerusalem had been 'rebuilt.' After a big fight, it was changed back again.
    As far as I'm concerned, (much as some of us would like to...) it goes without saying that cancelling any portion of Tisha b'Av is, at this point in time, dubious, to say the least, and outrageous to say the most. It is one thing to celebrate the rebuilding of Jerusalem, which you can do on Yom Yerushalayim or Yom Ha'atzmaut, and another to play down the historical memory of the city's destruction, to ignore that fact that its revival, without the temple, is not yet complete, and to tamper with what is one of the most seminal, and deeply rooted and evocative days in our calendar. Eating a 'Seudat Mitzvah' on the day, moreover, is what the term 'sacrilegeous' was coined for.
    Perhaps in the ecstacy of the aftermath of 1967, sentiments in this direction were understandable, if misguided. It's hard to see Burg's statement, however, in anything but a political and social context. He is deliberately making a public statement about where he stands, ideologically, on Israel and Zionism. Why would he bother? Apart from publicity-seeking, I'm guessing this is, or this began as, a dig at the haredim who don't celebrate Yom Ha'atzmaut etc. They're pareve about the state -- he's going to reaffirm just what it means to him....
    Either way, I am simply astounded by his truly awful timing, remarkable even for a failed politician. First of all, Tisha b'Av is about to take on a new significance and new resonance for a large portion of the religious population, who from now on will forever associate it with what they perceive as the national tragedy of the disengagement. Then, you have the country at real risk of civil war, wallowing in needless hatred -- and he wants to eat a Seudat Mitzvah on Tisha b'Av!?!?!?!?
    Words fail.

    *The copy of the Rosenfeld edition I'm
    holding in my hands at this moment says the first edition came out in 1965
    -- presumably this was a second or third edition.

    Thursday, August 11, 2005

    Jews and guns

    J. profiles Sandra Froman, the NRA's first Jewish president.
    Froman said there’s plenty the public would be surprised to learn about the gun lobby. For one, says Froman, she’s not the only Jew. She estimates seven or eight of her fellow NRA board members (out of 76) are Jews.
    So what? Doubtful the same percentage of the membership are. All this shows (again...) is that Jews make good machers.

    The demographic argument

    Here, ultimately, is all you really need to know about disengagement and the general policy of exiting from the occupied territories:
    [F]or the first time, the proportion of Jews living in territories under the country's control has dropped below 50 percent, standing slightly more than 49 percent .The results are based on figures supplied by Israel and the Palestinian Authority's official statistics bureaus. According to the figures, following the upcoming disengagement, the proportion of Jews in territories under Israeli control will jump to 56.8 percent. As a result of this development, demographic expert Prof. Sergio Della Pergola of the Hebrew University said the country is ensured of a Jewish majority within its territories for the next 20 years.
    As Ariel Sharon realized several years ago, from a purely selfish Jewish point of view, case closed.

    The Rabbi's wife

    Sorry, RenReb, you missed the boat. Someone else is coming out with the big book of Rebbetzins (although your blog is much more interesting than the book sounds)....

    Wednesday, August 10, 2005

    If this is what the rehearsal is like......

    1. Today, the army and police had to stop their joint dress-rehearsal for disengagement -- because the (Magav) policemen were too violent towards the soldiers playing settlers. According to YNet,
    חיילים מגדוד קרקל האשימו את השוטרים כי הם באו בכוונת תחילה כדי להשתמש בכוח. השוטרים מצדם אמרו כי "אם גם בעת הפינוי יתנהגו המפונים האמיתיים באגרסיביות כמו החיילים, נשבור להם את הידיים
    In other words, the soldiers [playing the settlers] accused the policemen of intending right from the beginning to use force. The policemen, for their part, said that 'if during the evacuation the real evacuees behave aggressively like the soldiers, we will break their arms."
    Yes, break their arms. I would take them at their horrifying word and be very afraid for next week. This is exactly what we don't need -- idiot macho policemen all too eager to get a bit of action, play the tough guys (maybe take the opportunity to get one back at the hated settlers), and to do whatever it takes to fulfill their 'mission,' with none of the enormous sensitivity that's called for. It's a scary thought that next week depends, in good part, on people who are talking about the settlers as if they were the enemy.
    I really hope that those in charge have learned the lesson from today and will both choose wisely who they send to Gaza next week (if possible) and (more likely) get the guys they trained today under control, pronto. They need to make it crystal clear to those participating in the evacuation that not only will gratuitous violence be absolutely forbidden -- but they must do everything possible to avoid even a whiff of violence, and exercise enormous restraint where in other circumstances, they might have taken action. Of-course, they must do their jobs, but everything must be done to prevent events which we all would immediately regret. (The same goes for the settlers.)
    What happens next week has enormous consequences for the unity of the nation and for the way the state functions for years to come -- let alone for the individuals concerned. The soldiers and policemen can't mess up.
    2. Curiously, this story disappeared off YNet at some point this afternoon. What's really suspicious, however, is that by this evening it was re-written to reflect a cheery, positive angle, emphasising how ready IDF was for the mission ahead of them and how optimistic they all were it was going to go well. Guess what wasn't mentioned? The fact the whole exercise had to be called off due to violence. (I couldn't see the story on NRG or the JPost; it's still on Ha'aretz, link above). And how, do you imagine, could such a story have been completely erased and sugared-up? It's not like controversial YNet to give up a good story, and they've never behaved responsibly before... One can only conclude that someone, somewhere exercised some pressure on the editorial staff -- presumably to protect the reputation of the IDF and the police and to shelter them from criticism they thoroughly deserve. Shame on YNet; Comments to I'd love to know (and indeed, think we need to know) what went on behind the scenes to make a usually fiery paper pull a story and replace it with a piece of propaganda.

    (Hat tip: OOSJ for the links.)

    Archaeology / Etymology corner

    Fascinating article in Ha'aretz about a new dig which has uncovered an enormous trench around the Philistine city of Gat -- seemingly supporting the bible's account of the fall of the city. (Uh-oh. Archaeology supporting the bible? The Palestinians won't like that.)

    Also from Ha'aretz:
    Modern Hebrew words such as kova (hat) and argaz (crate) are apparently derived from the Philistine language.
    A quick google search brings up this:
    There are several words, that appear in the Bible in conection with the Philistines, which seem not to be Hebrew, and different scholars have suggested that they are of "Philistine" origin. One is Seren, the title of the Philistine rulers (usually translated "captain"), perhaps related to the Greek "Tyranos" (Tyrant). And Koba, used for Goliath's headgear, is spelled Qoba by Isaiah. This would show that the word is not Hebrew - might it be related to the Hindu-European "Cap" (head)? Also the Argaz (box) on which the Philistines loaded the ark as they sent it back to the Israelites.
    It's amazing how far back the influences on a language like Hebrew go -- all the way to the Philistines.

    Salute to a grand old man

    From the depths of the Ontario countryside (on holiday):

    Last week was the 120th anniversary (English) of the passing of Sir Moses Montefiore, a truly trend-setting Jew. My thoughts printed here:

    What on earth is going on in the FSU?

    There's been a lot of attention given to anti-Semitism in the UK and France over the past couple of years, but there is no doubt that the most anti-Semitic place in Europe at the moment is the Former Soviet Union, where a concerted anti-Jewish campaign is being waged, with no let-up.
    After the call to ban Jewish organizations and the investigation into the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch in Russia, we now have a letter signed by the leaders of the Ukrainian Conservative Party and editors-in-chief of some Ukrainian media organizations (which ones? No one's saying) calling for criminal action against the 'Judeo-Nazis' (!) of Chabad for distributing the Tanya:
    ‘We demand to bring a criminal action against the Habad rabbis Asman, Dov Blaih and others… for the dissemination in Ukraine of the Judeo-Nazi teachings from the Book of Tania, for teaching it in the Jewish schools and synagogues, and for the involvement of Jewish children and teenagers in this misantrophic religious system.’
    In Russia-proper, Chabad cosied up to Putin and in the Kitzur SA investigation, defended the government against accusations of anti-Semitism and according to early accounts, were the reason the investigation was lifted (it later emerged Ehud Olmert had done the heavy lifting). Curious they are being specifically picked on in the Ukraine. What kind of relationship does Chabad have with Yushchenko (who, as I seem to recall from before the election, is not known as a friend of the Jews -- indeed, the Jews were worried that his election would strengthen the ultra-nationalists in the country, resulting in the exact kind of anti-Semitic actions we see above)? Shmarya, we're relying on you to tell us and to add some perspective.
    And Mr. Yushchenko: we're watching.

    Tuesday, August 09, 2005

    And don't come bak!

    Sheikh Omar Bakri, one of the most extreme and dangerous Muslim leaders in Britain (and that takes some doing), realized he was about to be prosecuted for supporting the 7/7 bombers -- eg. calling them the 'fantastic four' -- and managed to flee to Lebanon (although by flee I mean, got on a flight at Heathrow, showing his own passport). Initially it was claimed he'd gone for good, now, unfortunately, he's saying he's just on vacation.
    Let's hope it's a long, long one. Although I have a horrible feeling that Sheikh Bakri, who lived off government benefits -- also known as my tax money -- for 20 years, topping up his £250-a-week payments with an extra £50 incapacity allowance*, might think again once he discovers that the Lebanese welfare state is rather less generous with its allowances than the satanic infidel government in Britain.

    *"Islam allows me to take the benefit the system offers. I'm fully eligible. It is very difficult for me to get a job. Anyway, most of the leadership of the Islamic movement is on [state] benefit.'"
    -- Sheikh Omar Bakri, The Daily Mirror, September 7, 1996

    Excuses, excuses

    I had no idea Hitler had a sister (somehow, you don't picture him as a man with a family). Turns out, not only did he have one full sister and two half-siblings, they all kept diaries, which historians are saying are authentic:
    Two historians yesterday acclaimed the discovery in Germany of a journal written by Adolf Hitler's sister, saying it offers remarkable insights into the dysfunctional nature of the Führer's family.
    Paula Hitler's journal, unearthed at an undisclosed location in Germany, reveals that her brother was a bully in his teens, and would beat her.
    Recounting the earliest memories of her childhood, when she was around eight and Adolf was 15, Paula wrote: "Once again I feel my brother's loose hand across my face."...
    The two historians have also located a joint memoir by Hitler's half-brother, Alois, and half-sister, Angela.
    One excerpt describes the violence exercised by Hitler's father, also called Alois, and how Adolf's mother tried to protect her son from regular beatings.
    "Fearing that the father could no longer control himself in his unbridled rage, she [Adolf's mother] decides to put an end to the beating.
    "She goes up to the attic, covers Adolf who is lying on the floor, but cannot deflect the father's final blow. Without a sound she absorbs it."
    It's only a matter of time before we start hearing leftist do-gooders explaining that Hitler's actions during the war can be blamed on his miserable childhood. No, hold on, that's already happening: One of the historians, Florian Beierl, told the Guardian:
    "This is a picture of a completely dysfunctional family that the public has never seen before.
    "The terror of the Third Reich was cultivated in Hitler's own home."
    Let's be absolutely clear. Being beaten in your childhood explains a lot. It does not explain launching a world war and exterminating 6 million [plus] people (!). Indeed, to imply it does is actually insulting to the many people who have had traumatic childhoods and despite hardship, gone on to live positive, productive and honest lives -- not to mention, to Hitler's victims.
    Next up -- how Osama bin Laden planned 9/11 because, as a young child, he got sent to his room without dessert.

    Freedom -- at last

    At long last, "Orit," the woman whose get saga we've been following, has finally been handed her divorce -- four and a half years after asking for one.
    The account of even the final court session makes miserable reading. The husband made demand upon demand, tried delay upon delay, and eventually consented to give the get only after the dayanim promised that the issue of the kids' custody would later be re-opened. I don't have to remind you that this man is a convicted child abuser. Another factor in his agreement was the rabbis' threat to send him to jail for 3 months -- one wonders, if he was so afraid of this, why they had not tried this tactic before. (I also wonder to why this doesn't make this into a get meuseh -- a forced get -- however if a Beth Din with five rabbis on it, including theChief Rabbi, accept it, I ask no further questions). Last but not least, I have no doubt that despite the scorn heaped on Yad L'isha, the publicity in the case helped to pressure the rabbis into pushing for a resolution.
    In short, we wish "Orit" an enormous Mazal Tov and a long and happy life -- and pray that the courts should in future always be as firm with other recalcitrant husbands as they were today, so that other women in "Orit"'s situation should achieve the same happiness and freedom soon.

    (Hat tip: OOSJ)

    Monday, August 08, 2005

    Jerusalem Syndrome -- the first patient

    A rather bizarre article in the JPost on Jerusalem Syndrome -- in which sufferers are famously overwhelmed by the spirituality of the city and go temporarily insane -- contains the following interesting snippet of information:
    the syndrome has been documented for some 600 years, going back at least to an early 15th-century Englishwoman named Margery Kempe who began to show signs of dementia upon entering Jerusalem during a grueling religious pilgrimage.
    According to Wikkipedia, her story is much more complex than this; she had suffered from self-described 'madness' and visions since the age of 35, and is also the author of what is sometimes considered the first autobiography in English:
    Having for many weeks railed against the institutions of family, marriage and church, Kempe reports that she saw a vision of Christ at her bedside, asking her "Daughter, whyhave you forsaken me, and I never forsook you?" From that point
    forward, Kempe undertook two failed domestic businesses--a brewery and a grain
    mill--both common home-based businesses for medieval women. Though she had tried to be more devout after her vision, she was tempted by sexual pleasures and social jealousy for some years. Eventually turning away from what she interpreted as the effect of worldly pride in her vocational choices, Kempe more fully responded to the spiritual calling that she felt her earlier vision required. Striving to live a life of commitment to God, Kempe negotiated a chaste marriage with her husband, and began to make pilgrimages around Europe to sites that were holy to her, if not to others. The stories surrounding these travels are what eventually comprised much of her Book, although a final section includes a series of prayers.

    New Voices, of all places -- in an excellent article on Jer. Syndrome -- adds:
    Margery Kempe was a married woman who, after 14 pregnancies, received directions from God to declare herself a “spiritual virgin” and take off for the Middle East (she arrived in Jerusalem riding a donkey and was immediately seized with fainting fits).
    Of-course, combining all the information on Ms Kempe, you might argue that she suffered some kind of illness before Jerusalem Syndrome -- although one definition of the illness does allow for this.
    Which brings me to my second point. Wikipedia answers, although briefly, a question I've always had about Jerusalem Syndrome: is it absolutely unique to Jerusalem?
    The answer is, apparently not:
    behaviors have been noted at other places of religious and historical importance such as Mecca and Rome (see Stendhal syndrome).
    Although of-course, we long ago documented Paris Syndrome.

    Mom, dad, Bleemy's 'off the derech'

    Wow. Some poor teenage girl in Lakewood calling herself 'Bleemy Hornygirlowitz' is going through a rather public teenage rebellion (warning: do not open her blog at work. Some of you may not want to open it at all...). She says of herself:
    "I grew up extremely sheltered, and I hate my parents for that! I broke free, and am enjoying life now to the best of my ability! If you dont like it, fuck off!"
    She lists here interests as:
    men sex reading blogging jews judaism more sex lakewood jewish frum. yeshivish
    Unfortunately, her blog seems to cover only one of these interests, and no points for guessing which one.
    Yikes. Bleemy: I think it's time to shidduch you off...

    Who ya gonna call? Jail busters!

    A fantastic -- and, I suspect, probably at least somewhat fantastical -- story in the Daily Telegraph about 'Pidyon Shvuyim,' a group of Israeli ex-armymen who, for a generous sum, will break you out of jail in the third world.
    With an armoury ranging from spiked drinks and disguises to fake passports, honeytraps and sheer brute force, the seven-strong squad of former special forces troops will launch freelance jail-breaks across the developing world...
    Although they might sound like a team dreamt up by a Hollywood screenwriter, their existence was confirmed to The Sunday Telegraph this week by lawyers - and by Dafna Margolin, a 46-year-old from Tel Aviv, who was smuggled out of Cuba by the team four years ago.
    "We have rescued eight people so far," said the commander of the group, who insisted on remaining anonymous. "Our price is anything from $50,000 to $150,000."
    From India to Cuba and Mexico, the team specialises in rescuing Israeli prisoners from countries where lawyers say that corruption can hamper chances of a fair trial and prison conditions can be horrendous...
    "For most cases we spend between two and six months on reconnaissance and preparation," said the unit commander. "We work on two or three at a time and then take time off, sometimes a year, as a 'cool-down' period."
    The team is reluctant to divulge details about how it frees its clients, from whom it demands a vow of silence over the specifics of the escape. Those who know their techniques, however, say that the mission is often launched as a prisoner is being moved from place to place.
    "One tactic is for the prisoner to fake illness and get moved to a hospital wing, or a clinic, which is less secure," said the associate. "The unit forces the vehicle transporting the prisoner to stop and snatches the inmate.
    "Or it uses sedatives to drug police watching the inmates at the hospital, or even girls to fool around with the guards."
    The team usually acquires its weapons locally and uses fake passports to get its clients out of the country.
    Confirmed by "lawyers"!? Which lawyers, pray, would that be?
    And let me ask you this: If you were Dafna Margolin, and had been smuggled out of jail -- anywhere in the world -- illegally, would you be going on the record saying so, using your own name?
    Nevertheless, file this under, 'good to know -- just in case.'

    (Hat tip: Harry)

    Ew, ew, ew

    Apparently the guy selling Moshe Dayan's eyepatch on eBay has given other people ideas. Bad ideas. Now we have some money-grabber selling Ariel Sharon's headbandage from the 1973 war, which the seller's father, "who served in Division 143 under Sharon’s command, kept... after having replaced it with a fresh one." Whatever next? Yitzchak Rabin's used tissues? Shamir's old socks?

    Cavalier diplomatic relations? By Israel? No way!

    The Economist adds some useful background to the recent Israel-Vatican spat:
    In fact, despite the optimism created by John Paul's historic visit to the Holy Land in 2000, workaday relations between Israel and the Vatican have been quietly fraying for years. The root of the problem may lie in the cavalier way diplomatic relations were established in the early 1990s. (Prior to that, Israel and the Holy See had never exchanged ambassadors—in part because of the Vatican's insistence that Jerusalem and its sacred sites should be under an international regime.)
    To get around what Israel saw as obstructionism by the Vatican's Secretariat of State, Israeli negotiators went directly, but secretly, to John Paul. The late pontiff—a “big picture” man—agreed that diplomacy should not be held up by questions of detail. But two main things had to be settled, sooner or later: the status of the Catholic clergy, friars and nuns who are the guardians of many holy sites, and the Vatican's wish for a formal deal on the tax-exempt status of the church. The first issue has been settled in principle, but the deal has yet to be ratified. The tax issue remains unresolved, and at the time the current row broke out the talks had stalled.
    In other words, though the two popes may think very much alike, personality is already making a difference; and it's the old sin of Oslo -- leaving the big questions til later just doesn't work.

    Know your limits

    So, Bibi has quit the government to protest disengagement and left us with that idiot Olmert as Finance Minister.
    Everyone broadly agrees on three things: Netanyahu was a great Finance Minister and his departure is basically a financial disaster; If Netanyahu wanted to make a difference to disengagement, he chose a strange time, as it's now finally signed, sealed and about to go ahead; and that his move -- in typical Netanyahu fashion -- has as much to with jostling for the position of prime minister as anything else.
    At the press conference yesterday, Netanyahu said,
    "Remember, I am the son of a historian... What will they say of me [in the future], was he part of this or not? I want to know that in 10 years, 50 years, 100 years they will say unequivocally -- he was not part of this."
    Well, too late, as a member of the government up to the 9th hour you have been a part of this. But your behavior is strange, Mr Netanyahu, for someone who is looking to secure their place in history. The last few years have shown without a doubt that you are an excellent UN Ambassador, a fabulous Finance Minister. The one position you are an absolute disaster in is Prime Minister -- yet you seem to spend your time scheming to get back there, in a casebook study of a man who undoes himself with ambition. For G-d's sake, and for ours, try and understand your own limits, and stick to what you are truly good at. That's what will secure your place in the history books.

    Sunday, August 07, 2005

    In a Ruined Country

    A big chunk of my weekend was taken up reading the Atlantic's 20-page 'expose,' 'In a Ruined Country: How Yasir Arafat destroyed Palestine,' which has been much-anticipated around the blogosphere.
    Here's the low-down: there's nothing in it any of us -- well-informed supporters of Israel -- don't already know, or haven't already known for years. However, articles confirming our prejudices and possibly spreading the message always make satisfying reading, and this was no exception.
    The first half of the article basically focuses on Arafat's financial misdemeanours, and how he sucked the Palestinian economy dry. Unfortunately, the Israelis don't come out smelling of roses here either -- the author spends a good couple of pages rehashing the Ginossar Affair, in which some unscruplous, rather prominent Israelis basically helped the Pals launder money, in return for some large commissions. All you really need to know is contained in the end of this paragraph:
    Lev also agreed to create an investment fund for leading members of the Palestinian security apparatus, which was registered on the Isle of Man under the name Supr a-din—a pun on "Saladin." Management commissions for the fund were paid to Rachid's deputy, Walid Najab, through a company called MCS, which forwarded a commission to Ginossar and Lev through a company that the two men had set up in Tel Aviv under the name ARK, a Hebrew acronym for "Anachnu Rotzim Kesef"—"We Want Money."
    The last few pages are devoted more to politics, and the question of Camp David / the second Intifada. The article includes a quote from Ehud Barak basically saying outright that he conceived of Camp David as a way of exposing Arafat's true intentions to the world -- something I don't believe at all. It also includes a direct admission by Mamduh Nofal, the former military commander of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, that the 1996 riots over the HAsmonean Tunnel were ordered by Arafat:
    Nofal says that the impetus for the violence was the statement by the newly elected Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, that he would not speak to Arafat directly. Arafat was furious at the slight.
    "I was with him in his office," Nofal recalls. "He got up and walked around the desk. He was very, very angry. Finally he calmed down a bit and he pointed to the phone on his desk. He said, 'I will make Netanyahu call me on this phone.'"
    Arafat ordered demonstrators into the streets, and told them to provoke the Israelis. When violence erupted, the Israelis were blamed. "I was sitting with him again when the phone on his desk rang, and he looked at me and said, 'It's Netanyahu.' And it was him."
    Similarly, he says outright that the violence of the second Intifadah was planned well before Camp David:
    The second intifada also began with the intention of provoking the Israelis and subjecting them to diplomatic pressure. Only this time Arafat went for broke. As a member of the High Security Council of Fatah, the key decision-making and organizational body that dealt with military questions at the beginning of the intifada, Nofal has firsthand knowledge of Arafat's intentions and decisions during the months before and after Camp David. "He told us, 'Now we are going to the fight, so we must be ready,'" Nofal remembers. Nofal says that when Barak did not prevent Ariel Sharon from making his controversial visit to the plaza in front of al-Aqsa, the mosque that was built on the site of the ancient Jewish temples, Arafat said, "Okay, it's time to work."
    The only other notable interesting point in the article is that it brings up again the possibility that Arafat died of AIDS:
    How long did you know that he was sick?" I ask.
    "For the last year. Last year in September he told me he doesn't feel well. So, and he felt that something was not right, and it looks like he had the same symptoms again, but the last time he had enough immunity. Yeah, he knew."
    I am struck by [Munib] al-Masri's use of the word "immunity," which is a word characteristically associated with aids.
    One thing the article doesn't do a great job on is providing a psychological portrait of Arafat -- why did he behave as he did? Ultimately, it basically treats him as a cross between a fantasist and a narcissist, but it doesn't spell it out strongly enough for my taste. Good article nonetheless.

    The end of Jewish history

    Strange column from Andrew Silow-Carroll in the NJJN, in which he argues that
    we have entered an uncertain era in which most if not all of the major Jewish agenda items have been resolved. Or, as I put it, “What’s the Jewish agenda for a people who lack an agenda?”.... I [am] merely pointing out that the organized Jewish world seems in search of an enterprise around which the majority of American Jews could rally.... When I say Jewish agenda — at least in these secular, post-assimilationist times — I mean the kinds of movements that have inspired Jews en masse. Such movements — Zionism, the absorption of immigrants in America and Israel, the fight against anti-Semitism, or the redemption of Jewish captives the world over — energized and rallied Jews without regard to their particular commitment to Torah.
    Hold on -- all the major Jewish agenda items have been resolved??? How about that little item about our very survival -- whether, in 50 years, thanks to intermarriage, assimilation, lack of education and involvement, etc. there will even be a major Jewish community to set an agenda?
    To support this question (although in my mind, confusing the issue), Silow-Carroll asks an even more dubious -- but rather more interesting -- one: is this the end of Jewish history?

    There is barely a Jewish population in need of rescue, perhaps for the first time in history. The big social issues — the role of women and gays, reactions to the intermarried, and the need for dialogue among the denominations — have been largely resolved, or at least the vast majority of Jews are able to find communities in which those issues have been resolved to their satisfaction.
    Despite talk of a “New Anti-Semitism,” few if any Jews in the West meet the kinds of impediments that blocked generations of Jews in education, the professions, housing, and social life. If anything, according to foes of intermarriage, gentiles are loving us to death.
    I’ve compared this resolution of the big Jewish issues of the 20th century to political scientist Francis Fukuyama’s famous pronouncement of the “end of history” — the idea that liberal democracy had ultimately triumphed over all the other isms. Fukuyama did not assert that the world would be free from conflict, but rather that “there would be no further progress in the development of underlying principles and institutions, because all of the really big questions had been settled.”
    The obvious contradiction to the idea of the “end of Jewish history” is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which feels never-ending. But even there, the two-state solution has become a consensus position in Israel and beyond. (Put it this way: When was the last time you read an essay that staked out a new position on the conflict?) What’s going on in Israel is no longer a clash of ideas — it is a showdown between the will of the majority and what Fukuyama has called a “series of rearguard actions from societies whose traditional existence is indeed threatened by modernization.”
    To my mind, the end of Jewish history (in the sense Fukuyama talks about the end of history) was declared some 2,000 years ago, when Rabbinic Judaism came into being.
    But, to approach this question on Silow-Carrol's terms, I question whether, as a nation, we really have settled the big questions and whether there really will be "no further progress in the development of underlying principles and institutions." Sure, at the moment there is a place somewhere on the spectrum for everyone -- but there are significant doubts as to whether one, possibly two of the major denominations, Reform and Conservative, are even viable in the long-term (demographically -- as a result of their own internal contradictions). Can movements which still have to prove whether they can even survive possibly be said to have 'triumphed' over anything else?