Friday, May 16, 2008

Really Resting

"We fight against time: we feel rushed and race against time; we feel bored and 'kill time.' B’har invites us to experience time as neither a master nor an enemy, but as one of God’s creations. Weekly, and later—every seventh year—it is a creation we indeed have dominion over by experiencing time outside of time in the peace and blessedness of the Sabbath."- Dr. Carol Ochs

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Huray to be Gay by the Bay

California Supreme Court overturns gay marriage ban
The California Supreme Court ruled today that same-sex couples should be permitted to marry, rejecting state marriage laws as discriminatory.

The state high court's 4-3 ruling was unlikely to end the debate over gay matrimony in California. A group has circulated petitions for a November ballot initiative that would amend the state Constitution to block same-sex marriage, while the Legislature has twice passed bills to authorize gay marriage. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed both. (Read more)

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Bad News in Israel

I have stayed away from Israel for a while; I felt despondent due to the celebrations and the like. But the latest attack that hit Ashkelon today is bad news. Any hopes of continued negotiations are more than likely dead, the fact that Abbas said he is upset that Israel celebrated Independence Day could have told you that. But this attack is really bad.

AP is reporting that Israel believes Islamic Jihad is getting longer range weapons from Iran. “It's part of the Iranian war against Israel,” Former Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh told Israel Radio.

While they aren’t good at getting the word out internationally, internally Israel is good at the news game. Just like here at home, we can assume former military folks in Israel are working for the government when it comes to propaganda. Is Iran a major threat? You better believe it. Are they ready to fight this second? Nope. Will they fight? Who knows. We do know that Amamamdnandandandinijad is a bit nuts and doesn’t like Israel so much.

So do we have a localized situation that will give rise to a regional war? Will one enemy be conflated to be another? I don’t know where that has happened before? Iran may be supplying Islamic militants in Gaza; most likely they are. But the US supplied Iran (and Iraq) and others with guns and those states have used our guns for bad things. While it doesn’t take much of a leap of faith to make the connection, is the state that sells the weapons responsible for their use? (I say yes and that makes this even scarier.)

The global war on Islamofacist or whatever the rightwing is calling it today is getting much closer to a much large theater. Israel vs. Iran is nothing I want to see. It should be nothing the regional community wants to see. Sunni Saudi Arabia sure as hell doesn’t want Shi’a Iran to be the force that takes down Israel or have Israel take down Iran. This so-called, and increasingly real, Iranian war against Israel is bad news. It hurts us all.

Damn.

Friday, May 9, 2008

It's all alive as long as we keep it alive

Y-Love is a friend and I do love his sound. I also agree with his universal message of responsibility. The end of this interview is great. Highlight: "I want more Jews to view Judaism as an asset not a liability" and "It's all Chai, It's all alive as long as we keep it alive."

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Liberal Jewish Boys

Back in the news: There are no liberal Jewish men around. Shocking. But what are people going to do about it besides say there is a crisis and holding “men’s only” seders and youth group events? “It’s not cool for boys to be in touch with their emotions or care about the environment or religion when girls are around,” Jason Wachs, BBYO’s 18-year-old international president for the boys’ chapters says. “BBYO allows them to open up.” This is crap. The boy crisis has more to do with lazy parenting than anything else, but the Feminist reaction is killing me.
“Thirty-five years ago -- when women were not ordained as rabbis, when girls in the Conservative movement celebrated a bat mitzvah on Friday night, when Orthodox girls did not receive an education remotely comparable to that of their brothers, when women were not called to the Torah for aliyot or allowed on the bimah at all -- where were the headlines proclaiming a girl crisis?” wrote Rabbi Rona Shapiro, senior associate at Ma’ayan: The Jewish Women’s Project, a program of the JCC in Manhattan, in a Jan. 2007 op-ed.
Rabbi Shapiro, I am pretty sure that the Feminist movement addressed the girl crisis. Stop me if I am wrong but there is a problem. If we do nothing to address the shrinking number of men in Liberal Jewish life, then woman will dominate Liberal Judaism. People are trying to figure out how to create balance in the world, not have one group dominate the other.

The first step I would say would be to teach parents to teach their children to be responsible.

No one teaches kids responsibility to community. We teach them to play sports, read books, understand science, act in the play, read from the Torah and then move one to more sports, books, science and theater. Liberal Jews have a responsibility to their community in the same way Black Hats have a responsibility.

Without liberal Jews, there will be no liberal Judaism. If we don’t teach kids that it is scared work to build community, that it isn’t easy, that it is as important as acing the test, we all fail. The boy crisis has nothing to do with boys and everything to do with values. As a community of liberal Jews, we are not reinforcing the values of communal responsibility.

We are ignoring why Reform Judaism took shape: an awareness and embrace of modernity with a solid foundation in history and tradition. Without a well balanced understanding of our past, present and future, the community falls apart. We must stop pointing fingers and start teaching values. Rabbi Shapiro is in the prefect position to take the lead. But it is easier to protect her own hard-fought and won space in society, than to sacrifice for the benefit of the community.

Loving Israel Like Children

Al Franken, political commentator and funny man, wrote in his book Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them that the rightwing tends to love America like a child love his mommy. They don’t look at the flaws, they don’t accept the problems, they don’t engage on an adult level. They say you love or hate. There is no middle ground.

Not surprisingly, this mentality also holds true with much of the mainstream Jewish community when it comes to supporting Israel. There are those in the community who criticize, there are those who point out her flaws, and there are those who engage on an adult level. But when it comes to other taking a fair look at Israel, many revert to childlike tantrums about anti-Semitism.

We have leaders who are willing to point the finger at the IDF’s track record in the Territories, we have organization dedicated to helping minority groups in the State, we have individuals who spend money and time supporting civil society issues far outside the mainstream Israeli culture. But when we hear the non-Jewish media doing this we go ballistic.

This week the Jewish community remembers and celebrates 60 years of Jewish independence in Israel and people have their guard up high. Francine Klagsbrun writes in the Jewish Week, that she is sick of the “Yes, but” syndrome when she deals with people talking about Israel. This isn’t just a problem with Israel. I would challenge people to have a conversation about France in the same way. “I love French food,” says one traveler. Average Joe responds: “But the French are pompous asses.” Or what about this situation: “Dubai’s economy is truly blossoming,” says one business woman. Average Joe responds: “But they are taking away high paying jobs from this country.”

This isn’t an Israel problem; this is an American problem with superiority. We want to be the best at everything, but are not. It is childish and not worthy of a major concerted effort to combat this mentality. In the case of Israel’s so-called syndrome, perhaps next time we hear the “Yes, but” refrain we simply say, we are working on it, just like you do with a real adult relationship.

Yom Haztma-ut Tov.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Israeli Pluralism, in time for its 60th

The Jerusalem Post reported today that for the first time in 60 years of statehood, the so-called democratic, pluralistic country of Israel provided funding for a non-Orthodox synagogue building. Happy Anniversary and way to grow up!
For the first time in its 60-year history, the State of Israel is funding the building of synagogues that will serve non-Orthodox congregations.

Until now, the Orthodox establishment, under an unofficial status quo arrangement, has enjoyed a total monopoly over state funds earmarked for the building of houses of prayer.

In Israel, where there is no separation of religion and state, all public religious services are provided through a network of neighborhood and city rabbis who are chosen by the Orthodox Chief Rabbinate. Non-Orthodox streams of Judaism in Israel are not officially recognized by the rabbinate.

The soon-to-be built synagogue belongs to Modi'in's Yozma Reform Congregation. A special ground-breaking ceremony will be held on Monday.

Kinneret Shiryon, Yozma's female rabbi, said the announcement, on the eve of Israel's 60th anniversary, was particularly satisfying.

"It feels enormously rewarding to see that our perseverance has finally paid off," said Shiryon, a US immigrant.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Shabbat Idea - April 25, 2008

The Shabbat Idea is back with a new and less frequent form:

Earth shattering news hit the stands this morning in the award-winning free daily; the Metro reports: “Home foreclosures’ subprime race rise.” New York City, bastion of free thought and rock solid/sky high real estate value is effected by the subprime mortgage crisis.

Stop.The.Presses.

But possibly more shocking than any of the news that the Big Apple is also part of the United States economy, this New York City problem is hitting minority communities harder:
And subprime mortgages in our area are disproportionately a problem for African-American and Hispanic communities, the report states…Foreclosure filings went from 10,000 in 2006 to nearly 15,000 in 2007, the report said. Seven of the 10 neighborhoods with the most foreclosures have high rates of subprime loans; all are at least 88 percent nonwhite.
The numbers are truly staggering. In the first pages of the Executive Summary readers are introduced to the fact that since the mortgage systems became open to financing and trading, the subprime and predatory loans have become more prevalent. Piggyback loans when from 9% to 28% and increased in values more than 31% in two years. The problem here is that people are borrowing against value that is no longer in their homes…sounds surprisingly similar a few days in 1929.

It seems to this financial neophyte that we have journeyed back to another time when we forgot that money and the economy effect people. So as Bears Sterns and Co choose to make money on nothing and value suddenly disappeared. Shockingly when those paying attention found this to be a bad idea, they sold their holdings causing a massive collapse. While we haven’t quite hit the Great Depression, the system that took us here is the same that took us there. Speculation is based on nothing more than a hunch.

But hey, at least the Ortiz jersey went for $175,000. Some things in this world hold their value.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Torching Tibet

I have not posted on the issue of Tibet. It isn't that I don't care, it is that everything has been said. I know that it may be shocking to hear that a blogger doesn't want to add anything to a political debate, but I really don't. I found this really beautiful piece of protest art on a Street Art blog. Thought I would share:



And another:

The Fire of the Building Project

Aish Ha'Torah is re-building the Temple.
A grandiose museum featuring an elaborated massive replica of the Temple is currently being erected opposite the Western Wall.

The three-storey museum, whose construction is valued at nearly $20 million will be erected in the Aish Ha'Torah ("Fire of the Torah") Yeshiva complex. The museum will feature a journey through Jewish history, from the days of Abraham to the present, emphasizing the message and significance of the Jewish people’s presence in the Land of Israel and their degree of accomplishment in world improvement. (Ynet)

While I hear this will soon be on the Koshosh Edition of Flip this House the Aish folks forgot the first rule of Real Estate: Location, Location, Location. It isn't going to be where Temple belongs, it is Temple adjacent. Come on Aish, we all know that Beverly Glen isn't Beverly Hills and that Brooklyn really isn't New York City.

But seriously now, $20 million dollars is going to build this thing and it won't even be usable. It will be a museum for people to walk through. Last time I was in Israel I walked through a Temple museum complete with a weird video featuring a guy who looks strangely like the Geico Cavemen. This is just another tool that will be used to scoop up excited, un-observant Jewish youth during his first trip to Israel.

So Aish if you want to demonstrate the "degree of accomplishment in world improvement" thanks to the Jewish people, perhaps use that $20 million to help feed the people you "save" from the secular world, put diapers on the kids you help birth and perhaps (just maybe) provide some job training.

(Update: DK had it before me and he got it from FailedMessiah, but still this story is really crazy so it needs all the air time it can get.)

Thursday, April 17, 2008

What should we do with all this Creative Jewish Energy Matzah?

Thanks be to the all mighty eternal for people like Michelle Citron and her crazy Jewish music videos:

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Ice Cream of Affliction

And no this has nothing to do with Jews having problems with dairy. JTA reports:
Ice cream with Passover-themed flavors are on sale in Israel.

Matzah may be the bread of affliction, but it is making a welcome appearance in a Ben and Jerry's ice cream available only in Israel. The confection, "Matzah Crunch," is traditional vanilla mixed with bits of chocolate-coated matzah. It comes in milk or dark chocolate.

Yediot Achronot reported Wednesday that charoset has joined the flavors offered at Tel Aviv's Dulce Melody ice cream parlor. Much like the Passover seder dip that is meant to recall the mortar used by Jewish slaves in ancient Egypt, the ice cream contains apples, kiddush wine, raisins and nuts.

Dulce Melody also has vanilla ice cream with crushed and sweetened matzah. Kosher-for-Passover cones are available.

Each year I am pleasantly surprised at the ingenuity of Kosher establishment!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Values Voting

"Faith is about unity, not division," the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, told the 1,000 guests in the Brubaker Auditorium [attending the Faith Forum at Messiah College]. "At the end of the day, let us not forget that the kingdom of God is not red state or blue state." (source)

Thank you Rev. Rodriguez.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

NPR on JTA's 'Exclusive'

Yesterday I posted a podcast that was well done, informative and even a bit funny done by JTA's Ron Kampeas of Sen Barack Obama. They claim it as an "exclusive" interview. Granted no one else was on the call and the Senator most likely didn't give more than one interview to Jewish news services yesterday, but he probably did give a few other interviews during the day.

NPR Senior News Analyst Daniel Schorr rants just a bit in the podcast below about the jargon of the current news media. Exclusive, he bitterly explains, used to mean you were the only one with the interview. JTA did well and scored big, but Schorr may argue it wasn't an exclusive and it sure wasn't live.
'Live', 'Exclusive' and Other Media Jargon

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

JTA: Obama Loves Passover

Another reason to vote for him!


(Hat Tip JTA's Telegraph You should also listen the whole interview...it is pretty good.)

The Vatican West Texas is not

I have been to West. Rather I have driven through it and stopped to buy purogies. West Texas is not the Vatican. It is dusty, Central Texas farm town. However Gary Goldstein, a lawyer for the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, is fighting the recent raid of the church's compound saying just that, reports the AP in the Houston Chronicle.
Their pioneer-style dress, multiple marriages and cloistered ways may be unusual, but church lawyers argued in court Wednesday that the polygamist sect has a right to its faith and privacy.

Gary Goldstein, a San Antonio lawyer representing the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, told a judge that the search of the temple in the sect's West Texas compound is analagous to a law enforcement search of the Vatican or other holy places.

He urged authorities to handle any documents seized with respect.

Ok...now, I am fine with Religious Liberty; it is supported by the first amendment to the constitution. However, forcible marriage of minors is really not in anyone's interest except for the pedophiles who are getting lucky with 14 year olds.

However, this story is also hits on my point that I wrote about in the post on pride of Jewish people. Gary Goldstein, Jewish or not, has a Jewish name. Regardless of what happens people will read this and say, "Of course a Jew Lawyer would argue that." This is one of those things that will make us cringe a little when we read that Gary Goldstein is the defense council. When I read the first paragraph, I was hoping the lawyers last name was Smith.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Action on Hill for Houses, just in time for re-election

"Casting aside partisan differences, Senate Democratic and Republican leaders said on Tuesday that they would work urgently on a package of legislation to help millions of homeowners at risk of foreclosure, with the hope of bringing a bill to the floor as early as Wednesday afternoon [so to make sure the legislators can tell their constituents all about it within early campaign literature]," reports the New York Times.


ACH! It is about time. I suppose the elections are good for something besides pretending we will get a new direction for our country. Ach, I say.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Jewish Pride

Why do we take pride in people of Jewish heritage who do nothing within the Jewish community? I too am guilty of this, but I just started to think, why do we care if someone has a Jewish parent (mother in most cases) and does something great or is powerful if that person doesn't participate in any way within the Jewish community?

The Forward has a piece on Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell's involvement in the Clinton campaign. He has raised un-Godly amounts of cash in PA, has taken his personal defense of Sen Clinton to a new and unscripted level and has a Jewish mother.

However the story goes on to mention that Rendell isn't involved in the community. He is a power broker, works on both sides of the aisle, helps do some fund raising (and perhaps helps get shady building deals) for his Hassidic rabbi friend and is a governor. He is married to a Catholic and sent his children to a Quaker day school. This is not to say that there aren't many interfaith couples who chose to engage in the Jewish community, but the Rendells are not such a family.

Why do we kvell over this guy as one of us? There is no question that he is powerful, smart, funny and resourceful. There is not question that he may be on Sen Clinton's short list for Veep. But he isn't a mench. He isn't the model good Jewish boy.

I suppose it has a lot to do with the fact that if he was a huge smuck, others would say "he is a Jew, told you he would do X,Y and Z." This is what happened when Spitzer had a bit of zipper control problem - even the Jewish media jumped on it.

When will our community take that step back and take pride in Jews who work hard, do well and fulfill their communal responsibility? There are lots of us who do just that and are in interesting positions of power. I just don't understand why we care that Rendell has MOT blood.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Stamping Out Hunger


The New York Times reports a record number of Americans have registered for food stamps in recent months. As the economy weakens, more and more people will take advantage of this “vital safety net.” On average, those who qualify for the Food Stamps receive about $100 a month per family for food and other essential groceries. Besides that being nearly impossible to keep one person full and healthy, $100 a month for 28 million people adds up fast and doesn't fix the problem.

In times of crisis, post-Katrina for instance, the Congressional Budget Office has seen spikes in regional sign-ups for this program. However this coming year, the CBO estimates that 28 million Americans will be registered and utilizing this program, the most since the program began in the 1960s. This isn’t good by any measure. The Times reports that one in eight Michigan residents receive Food Stamps. One in 10 New Yorkers. The number of people on the rolls in Rhode Island increased by 18% in the last two years and now 8.4% of the population is enrolled in the program.

This mirrors equally disturbing trends in the real wages earned by the bottom fifth of the United States population. As essential goods (food, water, energy) have gone up at least 5% since 1996 in real dollars and real wages have not changed or in many cases gone down, many American families are feeling this economic slow down at the kitchen table.

But here is the kicker. According to Jared Bernstein, director of the Living Standards program at the Economic Policy Institute in DC, the average family income of the folks in this group is $15,500 a year. This isn’t enough for rent in most places, let alone food to feed a family of four. And to make this even more ridiculous the Times reports: “Eligibility [for the program] is determined by a complex formula, but basically recipients must have few assets and incomes below 130 percent of the poverty line, or less than $27,560 for a family of four.”

And $100 bucks a month is going to fix that? I know I live in New York and it cost a fortune to do so, but $27,560 for a family of two is tight in New York, but four? Wow.

We need to take a quick step back and figure out what is going wrong here. We have an economic system that broke. Too much money invested in things that were worthless, too many people with homes they couldn’t afford, too little oversight protecting the American economic supremacy in the world. And now, the former richest country in the world has nearly 10% of its citizens in need of food purchasing assistance.

And the worst part about this situation is that this 10% should really be about 15%. The fact that you must be making less than $27,560 for four people to get help from your government to feed ones family is in direct opposition to Jewish tradition.

The Jewish community really needs to jump on this in the coming budget cycle.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Freedom

As I have mentioned before I am privileged to take the class “Exodus and Revolutions” sponsored mainly by AJWS and Avodah and few other cool organizations. We talk about oppression and the Exodus and other such Jewish-lefty-entitled things.

Tonight we focused on the actual freedom that was achieved in act of leaving Egypt. Isaiah Berlin writes that we either have positive liberty (self-realization) or negative liberty (non-interference) - or more simplistically freedom to or freedom from. Are the Israelites free from the oppression of slavery or are they free to take on the commandments? The rabbis (clearly) believe that the positive liberty was what should have come from the liberation from Egypt. Fine. I will give you that.

It may come as no surprise that I talk a lot in classes, especially Jewish studies classes. However I have long tried to wait at least 10 seconds (a lesson I learned from a great teacher) before I talk. Odds are within 10 seconds of silence someone will say something. Yet it is a very rare occasion that I don’t talk at all.

When class ended a man in the back called our attention to the fact that a vast majority of the class is women while a vast majority of the air time (his words) has been dominated by men. I was pissed at first, reviewed the folks who were talking second, realized he was right about the domination of the conversation third and finally was able to come up with the thesis of this post and say his issue comes down to a question of freedoms.

Are women in our class free to engage in the class or are they free from historic sexism to be equal members in class? In that a majority of folks in this class are women, it is pretty clear they are free from the sexism that would have kept them out twenty-five years ago. However they may not yet be free to engage, explained this person in the back of class.

I personally don’t buy it. In any other place I might agree, however the AJWS/Avodah and Co. social justice class is not the place were women are being put down and forced not to speak due to male dominance. Not to mention that an equal number of men and women spoke and there were many times during the class where the room was silent. As the female teacher asked us for comments, no one spoke. Granted there are more women in the class, but there were men who said nothing at all.

Freedom isn’t easy; it is complicated in the Exodus story and remains this way today. The opposite of slavery, explained our teacher, is responsibility. I suppose the ultimate question of this commentary from the man in the back of the room would be who is responsible for the female involvement in the class?

A comment that was made before this male domination observation that our texts, such as Leviticus 19:33-34 (welcome and love the stranger because you a stranger in the Land of Egypt) are condescending and assume we as Jews know how to best welcome and love the stranger. A woman made this comment. Who am I to decide the best way to be involved for others? Or do my values dictate what my response should be?

Perhaps I don’t see this dominance as an issue because my mom was such a strong and willing teacher in my life. She is a driving force behind my view of feminism and social justice. This is not to say that my dad didn’t have an impact my world view, but my mom taught me about responsibilities and that people (not men or women) deserve respect. We are to learn from smart people and respect hard work – regardless of if a man or a woman delivers the education or sets the example to follow.

Tonight’s best, most insightful and most useful comment came from a haveruta of women, one a rabbinical student and one a layperson. Now do I have the obligation and freedom to learn more from the best comment or should I make the extra effort to learn from a woman? Luckily tonight I didn’t have to make that choice.

God-o-Meter

Thanks to Time magazine and beliefnet we have the God-o-Meter. This state of the art machine gives you the skinny on what is going on in regards to all the presidental candidates and their feelings on God and religion.

It is pretty neat. Click a candidate's head and learn more!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Pull a Godfather

Mark Helprin, a fellow at the Claremont Institute, writes in the New York Times that we need to threaten with Sudan an "offer it can't refuse" - stop the genocide or face major military action to stop the rapping, razing and killing in Darfur.

I agree. Military action should be an option in all situations of international conflict. Just like everyone of the real Democratic candidates for president said that the military option will be on the table for Iran, we in the activist community, must be willing to say air strikes, tactical assaults and violence are useful to end this humanitarian disaster.

If we are willing to fight Iran over the words uttered about Israel, isn't it time to fight Sudan - with what Helprin suggests would be about three days of ammunition - to end an actual genocide?

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Life Gap

The Times reported today that there is a growing gap in life expectancy between rich and poor, black and white. Not surprising but utterly sad.

The most telling aspect of the report is that from 1966 until 1980 the gap shrank only to start growing again in the 1980s... Wonder what happened?

Rightwing selfishness and anti-religious behavior of the Regan era has lead to more poor people dying. Thank God we have lower taxes, higher incarcerations rates and more guns. Sure helps all those people in need of boot straps with which to themselves up.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Shabbat Ideas - March 21, 2008

It is Shabbat so here are my Shabbat Thoughts for March 21, 2008:
Super (Jew) Delegates
An American administration that huffs and puffs about protecting Israel and standing up to its enemies, but undercuts its own freedom of action by mortgaging itself to foreign governments, is no friend at all.
Something VERY wrong for Purim
DK on Obama

Five years and two days ago, I was sitting in my Northern California home helping a friend study for a Micro Econ final and was glued to the soothing tones of Wolf Blitzer and the continuous loop of the smart bomb attack on what was thought to be Saddam Hussein.

I was on the phone with this friend last night shooting the breeze and he brought this up... I suppose that moment will be with me forever, just like my mom knows what she was wearing and where she was when Kennedy was shot or that I know I was eating Honey Nut Cheerios when the Challenger exploded.

We remember trauma in strange ways. Experts call it different things but anyway you look at it, trauma like war or murder scars you regardless of if you are physically injured. These past five years, some of the most important in my young life, have scared me, my peers and my country.

Trying to make sense out of the war effort in Iraq is impossible. Ending this war is also going to be impossible, for the time being. You break it, you buy it seems to apply to this horrible situation. When thinking about the way our world could have been if we had finished the job in Afghanistan and stayed out of Iraq, forcing Hussein into a corner similarly to the situation of Kaddafi. Would there be a peace accord between Israel and the Palestinians? Would oil be less than $100 a barrel? Would the market stabilized? Would the deficit be smaller?

We could be optimistic and say we have no idea…but we do have an idea. While it isn’t for sure, many of the major issues we are dealing with as a society are due to the fact that too many people are being killed and too much money is wasted in the war in Iraq.

Trite as it may be, I get physically upset when I see stories about the war. I get mad when some story about an injured vet comes up on the nightly news and the problems she is having getting a job in she Red State home town. I am furious every time I hear the Dem Presidential candidates dance around the truth regarding this war. I am disgusted when John McCain talks about the 100 more years of war we must endure.

This war is unjust. But now we are in and we must fix it. And that is the scar that will be left on all of us lucky enough not to serve in the military in Iraq. Our pain will be the loss of hundreds of thousands young American service members, the waste of billions of dollars and the establishment of a horrific international profile. This isn’t to say that the trauma of the last five years won’t end. But just as we all remember trauma differently, we will also try to fix it differently. It is time for a different approach to our problems.

Shabbat Shalom

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Jewno: Generational Divide

First watch this:


I thought this was laugh out loud funny. My mother thought it was funny but it made her "squirm." Humor is an important aspect of Jewish tradition and helped save us from some of the worst aspects of our history. However, where do we draw the line between "insider baseball" and what we share with the public?

Looking back on history, the majority of our humorists (like a majority of all of Jewish art) was enjoyed by Jews. Dating back to pre-modern Europe and as recently as Summering in Catskills, most of our jokes were delivered to our people. However as the Jewish community has been invited into the mainstream in the United States, the beacon of pop for the entire world, Jewish humor and entertainment has taken a more central and public role in modern culture.

Jews created Hollywood and the business side of Show Biz for no other reason than they were permitted into the industry. In the beginning, movies were looked down upon as low level and dirty entertainment. So a group of guys took the opportunity to make a few dollars and a lot of very pro-establishment, pro-American (pro-White Anglo Saxon Protestant) movies. Not until the 1970s did we start to see movies, TV shows or anything else for that matter with very much diversity on the screen.

The change came about due to the change in the concept of the American dream. We once saw the United States as the "Great Melting Pot." Yet with the rise of cultural-nationalism, minority pride and the other social movements of the 1960s and 1970s this all changed; we became more of a mixed salad: all parts important and bringing a distinctive taste to the bowl.

I grew up in a time (and in places) where it was fine to be Jewish and to express one's Jewish-ness. While there still is anti-Semitism, it isn't a daily problem for the vast majority of the American Jewish community. We are the second best educated, wealthiest minority group in the United States, and have been for my entire life. While it isn't perfect for Jews here in the USofA, it is pretty darn close.

So it only makes sense that due to our success, we would share our culture with others. However for thousands of years, our culture - including our food, literature, music and humor - has been for US, not THEM.

Now the Luftmenchen say let THEM figure it out; art is art and we should let it speak for itself. Others, like those in my parents' generation, will say we should be careful how we present ourselves to the rest of the world; THEY still hate us you know. As with most issues facing the Jewish community, there isn't a black and white answer to this problem.

Borat came out in theaters more than a year ago and cause a HUGE ruckus. I got the DVD (because it was on mega clearance - how can you pass up such a deal?) and started watching it. I found it to be boring. I had heard the jokes, didn't think they were all that funny, but not for their offensive nature (which they are) but because that is an old bit. The Ali G Show was funny, Borat, Ali G and Bruno are all funny characters. The Ali G movie was not funny and so I wasn't surprised when I found Borat to be similarly lackluster.

However, people like my mother rejected the movie out right because it did nothing good. "It puts nothing positive into the universe," she said. I would happen to agree, but that is because the movie was bad. This generational divide, as my mom coined in our conversation about Jewno, is at the core of this conversation.

Does art and humor educate people or does it simply enforce stereotypes? In its purest form, art elevates our human existence and according to Walter Benjamin it all started as a way to give praise in religious life. Is our art pure in our time? I do not think so. However Jewish humor has influenced thousands of comedians and has made THEM laugh for a very long time - and not always at US.

This is something that will change over time. Just like the trends change with the season and are influenced by the ones that came before, our humor - and understanding of it appropriate display - will change. And a little squirming (for everyone) can be a good thing.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Shabbat Ideas - March 14, 2008

I have been out for a while, lots has happened that I have opinions on (shocking) and it is Friday so here are my Shabbat Thoughts for March 14, 2008:

The AJWS, Avodah and others class on Exodus and Revolutions is great! Glad I am taking it. I will also report on it from time to time.
Hey HUC Students: It is time to step up! Our country needs you. (CCAR that means you too)
Rabbi Arik Ascherman is in Jail (he used to be the executive of Hillel where I went to school)

This past week we have seen a leading Democratic Governor fall into a nasty sex shunda, the presidental race go back to the race issue and glimmers of hope in the economy. But all of this is lost on me.

I was on vacation for an entire week. My third day off was during the shootings in Jerusalem and really that was the only news I really watched. I didn't watch Wolf Blitzer screaming in the situation room about Texas or Ohio. I didn't read the Times editorials on something they believe to be important. I stayed away from my Google Reader (sorry fellow bloggers.) I really unplugged.

For more than a year now I have taken to this digital soap box to rant and rave about some topic each week. On Fridays, as a way to bring in the Shabbat and perhaps give my readers (all three of you) something to think about over the sabbath day, I wrote these long opinionated and sometimes well thought-out pieces. I would think about the news of the week and then sit down and type it out. But this week, I will not do that at all.

This week I am going to talk about Shabbat as a concept. People need a break. God's rules say we should take one once a week. But we often forget to actually complete stop. The last week, when I was on vacation, I did stop. I feel better, I act better and I can work better. This is a no brainer. The NY Times had some guy write about his "Secular Shabbat" a few weeks ago and how it really helped him move forward and be more productive. However the mere fact that he wrote (and made money, hence worked) with something regarding his day of rest takes away from the power and sanctity of restfulness.

I like the idea of a Shabbat; a time to stop and think that we have something for which to be thankful is a useful tool in our world. This is partly because of our information overload. Should we stop and thank God for the creation of Coca Cola? Perhaps if that is a way to make yourself feel connected...this is a way to slow down and be thankful.

Millions of Americans crack open a Coke each day, drink it down and move on. But for this Shabbat follower, he stops and makes a statement saying thanks for his frosty beverage. I don't think that makes much sense, but hey it works for him.

(I for one will not stop to pray over my corn-syrup and brown water.)

Yet as Shabbas come to us later in these sunnier months, and we have longer Saturdays to relax, I hope I can take a vacation a little more effectively. Even if it is only 24 hours long. But it is once a week.

Shabbat Shalom

Monday, March 3, 2008

Told You So



Hat Tip (yeah I am ashamed) TMZ

Saturday, March 1, 2008

New York Times, Jews and Barack Obama

As I am about to spend my weekend cold, wet and the less than glamorous primary state of Rhode Island for Mr. Obama, I was up early reading the Times and was surprised to see the top story on the website to be about me. You know about Jews and Obama

Now we all know what is going on in the Jewish community, but JJ Goldberg, editorial something or other at the Forward NAILED it:
Some Jewish leaders [like Goldberg] said the anxiety over Mr. Obama might reveal more about Jews than about the candidate. By their analysis, those who heed the e-mail are generally older and have closer ties to Israel. The break is between “those who are motivated by traditional Jewish liberalism and those motivated by traditional Jewish anxiety over Israel."

Time saved to borrow from my friends at Jspot, but actually read the article if not only to see how 1.7% of the population can be so important.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Shabbat Ideas - February 29, 2008

It is Leap Day and also Shabbat so here are my Shabbat Thoughts for February 29, 2008:
Taking a leap of (basketball) faith: Muslim community stands up for Jewish HS b-ball champs
It is about time (from Mixed Multitudes)
The Daily e-Forverts
So we all are on the same page here…Torture is bad, right?
Obama on the Gays…perhaps now the rightwing will attack for something he actually said.

Yesterday the New York Times reported that 1 in 100 American adults are incarcerated. Ten percent of the men and women who should be active parts of society are in jail. The emotionally charged, statistic-laden headline forces many questions to forefront of a national conversation.

Clearly we are still the #1 country in the industrialized and modern world for per-capital captives, but where does these numbers come from. Pew, an organization that has a lot of great studies coming out in the last few days, explained that these numbers are so different because they use the number of adults in the US as the denominator as apposed to the entire population, as the Justice Department does…I would pad my numbers too if I was the Justice Department. But outside of the methodology differences, it seems that the reading of these numbers also comes down to political padding.

Susan Urahn, managing director of the Pew Center feels as if “we aren’t really getting the return in public safety from this level of incarceration.” But Paul Cassell, a former federal judge and University of Utah law prof, sites the face that violent crime rates are down by 25% in 20 years and points out that “one out of every 100 adults is behind bars because one out of every 100 adults has committed a serious criminal offense.”

Now, we all know there is bias in the mandatory minimums delivered to drug charges and “simple drug possession convictions make up about 5% of the federal prison population and about 27% of the state prison population, according to the federal government’s own figures.” (Megan McArdle of The Atlantic Monthly via Tuccille’s Blog) While I can’t do the math without the exact figures it is fair to say that a statistically significant portion of the 10% of incarcerated Americans are serving time for non-violent drug charges.

Does shooting up, snorting or smoking constitute a serious criminal offense? Does selling drugs—a crime that should be punished—really necessitate a 15 to life punishment? The answer is no. The drug problem in this country will not be solved with the clank of cage, but with the healing of rehabilitation.

A major aspect of incarceration is rehabilitation, however it is often overlooked by US prisons and rent-a-prisons looking to save a few bucks. Addiction is an illness that must be treated. Could you even imagine the outrage if we put all the people with some sort of STI or STD in jail for possibly endangering the lives of others? Fine them, mandate treatment, but incarceration for engaging in sexual activities is unconstitutional. There is an argument that drug use is the same.

Let me be clear: I am not calling for the legalization of drugs. I am calling for the de-criminalization of drug use. We have laws to protect lives and property. (ok perhaps some values too.) With so many people in jail, perhaps it is time to look at the problem we are creating by solving another.

Shabbat Shalom

Thursday, February 28, 2008

RJC: Bunch of Racists

And Back-up for the titled claim.
"The Republican Jewish Coalition is responsible for a mailing received by Reform rabbis and other Jews that included a DVD of the controversial anti-Muslim film Obsession, JewsOnFirst.org has learned. At least part of the mailing was sent under the postal permit of Christians United for Israel, a leading Christian Zionist organization." Isrealenews via Jews on First


FOR SHAME!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Taking a Chance Standing Up for Jews in NY

Sen Hillary Clinton said that she "took a chance" in her "rejection" of wacko right and left wing folks who discredited the Jewish community and Israel during her Senatorial campaign.

Big.Risk.Taker. Wow standing up to for a major voting group in a state with the largest number of said voting group is really courageous.

Too bad this baiting allowed Sen Barack Obama to make fun of her and say "If Sen Clinton believes reject to be stronger than denounce I will concede that point. [couple of laughs and baiting from Clinton] And I will reject and denounce Minister Farakan's opinions." (More or less...)

Ach. I thought Sen Clinton was supposed to be the better debater...please she is just fighting to hold on.

Now I remember why I don't watch these things.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Pew on Religion

The Pew Forum on Religious and Public Life held a press conference today about trends in American religious affiliation. The call was interesting to say the least but the findings aren't that surprising.

Here are some of the highlights in my opinion:
1. Even the largest religious groups are relatively small.
2. 2/5 of American adults have changed religious affiliation in their lifetime.
3. 40% of married respondents have a spouse of a different faith.
4. The Midwest has the most diverse religious make up of any region in the the US.

From my limited reading of this here are some Jewish highlights:
1. Jews make the most and have the second highest post-college education level. (Second place and First place to Hindus respectively)
2. Affiliation is lowest among young people who also make the least amount of money (cause and effect)
3. Jews make up 1.7% of the US population.

Read the report here.

The Times on the topic.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Shabbat Ideas - February 22, 2008

It is snowing really hard and it is Friday so here are my Shabbat Thoughts for February 22, 2008:
McCain's Daughter needs a publicist and to take off her Hipster Kaffiyeh
Putin's successor Jewish heritage has Russians upset...Just like the people are scared of Obama being born of a Muslim father? Thanks Dan good call.
See! The Democratic Party is for the Jews (and Jewish Asses...really)(thanks JTA)
Darfur News: And it is good.
UCI isn't the place it place it used to be...(God Blog)
Turkey on Rye, good; Turkey on Iraqi Soil, bad

Barack Obama is an American citizen and a well established supporter of diplomacy within an American context. He has supported Israel and will continue to do so when elected President. Jews: STOP THE HATE SPEECH.

Malcolm Hoenlein, leader useless Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Orgs and rightwing wack, said he was scared of the excitement and hope talk because it leads to "zeitgeist." Using a very scary German word to describe a man being accused of being a Muslim terrorist by smear campaigns is wrapping up a prefect present that for the fearful Jews in this country.

Real community leaders have denounced this over and over again. Now it is time for a meaningless blogger to stand up (or type in caps lock) about it too. I support Barack Obama because he has a sound idea of what needs to be done about International Relations. He does not believe our country sits above the rest anymore but that we must work our way back to the top. His ideals will lead to policies that will help the dollar against the Euro, create jobs both at home and abroad and all while supporting Israel.

Perhaps we missed something when he voted time and time again to support Israel, denounce Hezbollah and continue to be accepted into the Jewish community in Chicago. That said, it is also pretty stupid that we are still talking about this issue.

So here is my plea: Stop talking about Israel as if it was the only thing Jews in this country care about. It is important; it is not the most important. We have a war going on that makes Israel more vulnerable, we have a slumping economy that hurts the sheckel, we have no health care which drains our social services, we have a lack of civil liberties which may lead to a lack of religious freedom (and has).

BUT a community of active voters such as the Jewish community is stuck on one issue that hasn't changed for nearly a generation. We vote in greater numbers than almost any other ethnic group, we have a more organized lobby on many issues than any other group. So why can't we expand our issue base?

Israel is Social Security, Immigration and Iraq combined for politicians wooing the Jewish vote. US support of Israel is not in question right now. So dearest rightwing racists in our community: STOP IT. You are going to vote for McCain anyway, to bad his daughter wears a keffiyeh.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Shabbat Ideas - February 15, 2008

It is Friday, it is nice in the City, so here are my Shabbat Ideas for February 15, 2008:

Lantos: Remembered
More fun with the RA and its hypocritical policy
And some from Rabbi Jacobs at the RA
Really, I don't get time off? (Very worthwhile reading)

As a lifelong Red Sox fan living in New York, it gives me unending joy to see traitors suffer at the hands of others. While the sight of Wade Boggs cantering around Yankee Stadium on a NYPD horse is forever burned upon my consciousness, it is nice to see Johnny Damon warm the bench due to a slumping batting average. However I find no pleasure in the Rocket being publicly flogged during congressional hearings.

Newspapers around the country are filled with stories exploring the detailed testimony and possible perjury of Rodger Clemens. Leaving the details for the sports page, he said he didn’t take Human Growth Hormone and his trainer Brian McNamee said he did. Even if he did take these supplements and lied about doing so, the US House of Representatives should spend its time elsewhere.

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is investigating sports icons for reasons that are outside my comprehension. Athletes occupy a unique place in American society and perhaps should be held to a higher standard. But Congress has more important things to do than collect pictures of used syringes and empty pill bottles from the club house trash can.

There is the oversight of a ridiculously lopsided budget proposal, a two-front war, a lack-luster economy and a diminishing social security system that this committee should be discussing. Instead the committee is spending time talking to what Representative Elijah Cummings calls personal “heroes.” The 47 million Americans without healthcare would much rather know if Clemens is telling the truth than be able to pay for a doctors visit.

Priorities in American culture are not inline with our values. Is it too much to ask that those who sit on a congressional committee on oversight and reform set their priorities based on the values of the American people?

These hearings may uncover a shockingly under-reported wrath of supplement and steroid use among professional athletes in the same way the $20 million Mitchell report did just a few months ago.

Thankfully Spring Training is less than a month away and there will be something worthy of day time ESPN coverage. Until then it seems that Congress is out to get some headlines. It isn’t very often that the giants of Capital Hill share a time slot on Sports Center with the New York Football Giants. Clemens should be held accountable but Congress should be ashamed of itself.

Shabbat Shalom

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Ever Gawker Agrees

Now that the WGA strike is over, we are going to see a whole bunch of "solidarity" folks saying this labor action was a bad idea. Even Gawker, the snarky, very pissed off NYC cult(ure) and entertainment blog, thinks this was a mistake. If the WGA leadership must preempt the stupid victory speech with a we screwed up statement you know this was a wash:
Patric Verrone, the WGA's West Coast president, acknowledged yesterday that the deal is "not all we hoped for and it is not all we deserved." Calling the walkout "the most successful strike in American labor in the past decade," Mr. Verrone went on to highlight the guild's accomplishments in creating a collective system, rather than the deal terms. WSJ via Gawker

That said where are our stories about Felipe Garcia?

Monday, February 11, 2008

Z"L Tom Lantos


May Your Memory Be For a Blessing.


Tom Lantos died today. He fought the bad guys for years on the floor of the United States House of Representatives. He died of cancer this morning.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Shabbat Ideas - February 8, 2008

It is Friday and I am not as lazy as I was last week, so here are my Shabbat Thoughts for February 8, 2008:
Hoffa: Zionist and Union Leader
Rabbis with no opinion or just hoping to keep their 501c3 status?
Jewcy Guide to Israel Apartheid Week (I came up with the Palestine is for Lovers shirt, so I want some credit for that)
Killed by the Bomb, not the Bullet … but still dead

As news of the WGA strike possibly coming to an end is on the front page of many papers throughout the country, I read about a very interesting and meaningful organization movement that is relegated to the third page of a free daily paper in New York City. Today the Metro covered the termination of Felipe Garcia due to his request to unionize his kitchen at the Citigroup Center in Manhattan.

Mr. Garcia, a legal immigrant worker, worked for years in the kitchen for less than $11 a hour for the Aramark food-service company. After a few months of working towards organizing with UNITE HERE and letting the Citigroup leadership know about this desire, Garcia and some of his kitchen co-workers were fired. They were offered jobs else were, but only in places where they would have to cross a picket line.

If you have ever read a post on Unions from the POLJ site, you know I am not a blind fan of Unions. Many are just as bad as the companies they are working against. However, when low wage workers, employed by execs bringing home seven figure bonuses as the company is losing money, I tend to side with the Unionization efforts. UNITE HERE has been fighting the good fight now as Manufacturing Unions refuse to modernize and the WGA pretends that they are in a battle for what is right.

The coverage of the writers strike is simply because so many of the people writing the news are personally connected to it. Just this week the Forward published an article about the Jews in LA feeling the pain in the pocketbook, but the following lines really brings it all home:
At Hanukkah time, one month into the Hollywood writer’s strike, Rabbi Sharon Brous, founding rabbi of IKAR, a spiritual community on Los Angeles’s West Side, sent out an e-mail to her congregants, expressing support for members of the Writers Guild of America. Her position was a no-brainer, in some respects. Brous, who framed the cause as one of workers’ rights, is known for her views on social justice. Plus, the political was also personal: Her husband, David Light, is a screenwriter.

To conflate the issue of paying thousands of dollars for synagogue dues with knocking out rent is an unfair and unethical argument. The writers have a real gripe and hopefully both sides will figure out how to act like grownups so I can watch something besides reality TV. However for Mr. Garcia and his colleagues, the Unionization effort will lead to real change in their lives. The difference between fair wages and distribution of profits is as great as night and day. The kitchen workers at Citi aren’t asking for dividends; they are asking for a living wage and benefits.

This issue should be on the front page for concerned citizens and the allies of the writers strike. But I have yet to see this fight anywhere but the Morning Metro.

Shabbat Shalom

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Super Tuesday Posts

Some interesting stuff this morning:
Cole on Jewish Youth Vote
Shockingly bland piece from Jewschool
JTA: “Jewish” States up for grabs…
Election Central: Ben and Ami talk politics
Super Cool Super Tuesday Jewish Graphic from JTA
Supper Tuesday

Monday, February 4, 2008

Vote for Hope


Obama for President

Really Strange Bedfellows

Over the past few months the leftwing Jewish community has started embracing some strange bedfellows. Namely Jspot has been publishing briefs about the power of the Evangelical preacher Rick Warren. Granted what he is doing is wonderful; Warren has made thousands of people extremely excited about religion and acting piously. However what makes me uncomfortable is his less than progressive views on LGBT issues and reproductive rights.

We have a lot to learn from this man and his style of religious observance. But just like we must be careful with our "friends of Israel" we should be careful in selecting our teachers of creating community.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Fixin' Whats Broke

Not that I am an expert on Education or Constitutional Law, but if this is the case:

We must also do more to help children when their schools do not measure up. Thanks to the D.C. Opportunity Scholarships you approved, more than 2,600 of the poorest children in our Nation's capital have found new hope at a faith-based or other non-public school. Sadly, these schools are disappearing at an alarming rate in many of America's inner cities. So I will convene a White House summit aimed at strengthening these lifelines of learning. And to open the doors of these schools to more children, I ask you to support a new $300 million program called Pell Grants for Kids. We have seen how Pell Grants help low-income college students realize their full potential. Together, we have expanded the size and reach of these grants. Now let's apply that same spirit to help liberate poor children trapped in failing public schools. (Full Text)

Shouldn't the government try to fix the PUBLIC school and not just fund the religious ones?

Friday, January 25, 2008

Shabbat Ideas - January 25, 2008

The Press is abuzz with The Jewish Americans; it is Friday so here are my Shabbat Thoughts for January 25, 2008:
Religion and Economics? And it isn’t even the Republican Debates
Hassid Heist
Leave him alone…Obama isn’t a Muslim and so what if he was
Actually Useful Jewish News on the Presidential Hopefuls
Egypt doesn’t want Gaza either…

The economy is in Shirutim and shockingly attention is shifting away from the wars overseas to the financial crisis in the United States. Ron Paul, presidential candidate and noted anti-Semite, said in the debate last night that no war has even been fought without an adverse consequence to the aggressors’ currency. We currently see that around the world.

But the thing I believe Paul is missing, besides his mind, is that in seven years we have taken the strongest economy in decades and destroyed it. Under Ron Paul’s idea of the Federal government tax cuts could work. However with everyone else running for president, tax cuts will only limit the budget of the government and lead to inflationary spending. It is naive to expect that with less money in the coffers of the government, the government will actually work.

I tend to quote the West Wing from time to time. There was one episode where Toby was quoted saying something to this effect: “Government is supposed to be a place where its citizens can get what they need. It should be a place where everyone comes together and makes the world better...” While that is not exactly the quote, you get the point. This idea of cutting taxes, giving the American people $600 a person, saying “go buy some stuff” and expecting the economy to recover is just pain dumb. Even the tax breaks for corporations is way too little way too late.

The economic situation we have today is due to a number of issues. Chief among them is the Predatory Lending scams of the past five years. With the relaxation of the regulations, we have seen a HUGE increase in number of high-risk low-cost sub-prime loans. I have said this for months and months. Jspot has been saying it for months and months. Even rightwing market people have been saying it for a few months now. What I really don’t understand is why, even as the “market decides” how to fix it, the government is not acting quickly about the sub-prime lending market?

Sure they are doing something, discussing a few bills here and there, but nothing substantial. The fact is the economy will not be jumpstarted by a lack lust tax relief check. The economic situation will be restored by a strong market lead by a rebounding housing market. The interest rates are lower than they have been in nearly 10 years. The market is full of foreclosed homes. The supply is high and there is cheap money to be had.

However, because of the crash of sub-prime, millions of people are without any capital to invest in real-estate. I believe we will see a raise of a new upper class because of this crisis. We will see young well off business types buy up lots of real-estate, flip it and make a ton of money. We will see fewer and fewer people living the American Dream. We will see more and more rich, young people living in “newly restored” communities.

However, if we act to preserve our ways of life, insure the American Dream doesn’t have to come with a no limit American Express, work to include all people in our dream we won’t lose it. This week we get the Ten Commandments. We learn that we shall not covet our neighbors property; we must take action not only to act well towards but to think well of our community members. This is extremely difficult, but no one said it would be easy.

Shabbat Shalom

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Part Two: They Really Do Hate Us

I watched the second installment of the Jewish Americans last night. I believe the producers did a much better job of presenting a complete look at their thesis. This episode, titled "The Best of Times, The Worst of Times," hits the main fear that Jews have in this and any country: fear.

I believe we are currently in a VERY Golden Age of Jewish life in the USofA at the same time that there is always some aspect of otherness that is under the surface. This show did a great job of reinforcing every idea that was presented at Jewish institutions for years. We are other, we want to be more like everyone else, they won't let us, they let us get killed. Mind you I do not believe this to be untrue, just the manner in which it is presented gets very old after a few hours.

Everyone knows that the funders of this documentary want Jews to (as they say throughout the entire thing) "marry within the faith." So many of the Jews who are profiled are non-religious, intermarrying and assimilating. The film makers go out of their way to mention that regardless of their efforts that they weren't considered "Americans," but rather Jews. No kidding!

Like I said in my last post about this series, the agenda of the funders and producers comes through almost too much in the presentation of the facts. I have a degree in Jewish Studies and have worked with experts who deal with the images of Jewish people in the media, so my eye is trained on these issues. While the show was very interesting and in many respects a good PBS special, the constant reminder of otherness made me uncomfortable.

I was not around in the early 20th Century, but I can imagine that the otherness felt by Jews permeated much of everyday life. But I also can imagine the Jews of America were not only driving towards assimilation and acculturation. I can safely say that Kaplan wasn't trying to be an American out and about and a Jew at home, but you never would have gotten that message from this show.

I look forward to see what they do about the present-day American Jewish experience. My guess is that we will spend about an hour and half on the relationship with Israel. Time will tell.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Voting for Class President

I live in New York and will vote with millions of other eager party affiliated Americans on Super Duper Tuesday. For a while I was really excited to watch and listen to what actually sounded like a new debate. Hillary, Barack, John and friends seemed like they actually wanted to fix the country and move towards something useful. Boy was I wrong.

Last night they went at each other like kids playing dodge ball. Now if you care to know who I am voting for that is nice. I will vote for Barack Obama because I like him more. His speeches make me proud to be an American. His ideas energize me. I like to listen to him because he sounds presidental. I truly believe either Clinton or Obama would be a great president, I just don't have any passion for Clinton. That said, I will vote for who I want in the primary and who I need in the general election.

But what gives with this bickering? I am sick of it. Give the stupid pundits something to talk about that isn't causeless hatred. I wanted to believe in the system for the first time ever. Good job Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton for making me, a political junky, turn off the news in favor of bad reality TV. Even the "Real World" is more civil than your debates. Get a grip and start fighting the real bad guys.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Shabbat Ideas - January 18, 2008

It is Friday, so here are my Shabbat Thoughts for January 18, 2008

UJC has issues. DUH
Davos is next week…hopeful sure why not
Values on the Left
Disunited…


The writers strike needs to end. Here is a lefty reason why the writers should go back to the tables with the Producers to make a deal.

The workers are being hurt. End of story. The real workers who are out of work because of this strike are not protected by a strong and stubborn WGA. They are the food service guys, the house keepers, the delivery folks. They are out of work and the struggle for fairness has forgotten them.

The Award Shows provide work for THOUSANDS of people. The studios that are dark employ most of Los Angeles. These writers and producers are hurting real people.

The writers are framing this about fairness. Fine. They should get a share of the revenue of online stuff. No question. But what is ridiculous is that they are utilizing the language of labor vs big business. Please! This isn’t a major struggle against the man.

Real struggle is plight of the hotel worker who must clean 100 rooms every day. Real struggle is the danger faced by the miner who digs millions of pounds of coal out of the ground every year. Writers give me a break.

Shabbat Shalom

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Shabbat Sh-Vote

While Jspot, the JCPA Blog and JTA have all already written about this, I find it very interesting. As the candidates all race to shul to court the small but active Jewish vote this primary season, the Jews in Nevada will not be voting in its state's Caucus, or at least not the Shomer Shabbas Jews. For the Nevada Caucus will take place on the Holy Sabbath of the Hebrew people.

JTA has a pretty in depth look at the issue
. I can't understand why this would be done. Both parties have Jews in high positions in most states and especially in states were Jew are well represented. Nevada is one of those states. It always makes my head spin when reporters or politicians try to make a story about religion and then forget completely that (for example) the Pope is Catholic and Protestants don't care that he is coming to the US or that Jews are to be wished a "Happy Yom Kippur."

I am not asking for much but take a minute before begging for our vote and listen to who we are, what we believe and then ask us for our vote.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Future of the Jewish People

Drastic I know, but it seems that Gil Troy has written an interesting column over on the JPost about just this topic. He calls it "Center Field: Paradox and struggle" but it seems to me like he is talking about the mainstream Jewish community more than any sort of political middle ground as his title suggests. It is good and I suggest reading it...here is a taste.

I recently attended a conference which invited participants to pose questions about the Jewish future. I asked: Why is life for centrist Jews so lonely these days? I wanted to talk about my troubles finding passionately committed, spiritually sophisticated, Jewishly ambitious, morally rigorous, deeply learned, non-Orthodox Jews. No one signed up for my session, proving my point.

As the center withers, the modern Jewish problem grows. Modern Orthodoxy is growing in confidence more than in numbers. Barely 20 percent of Israelis are religious. In North America, population estimates hover around 13 percent. Orthodox triumphalists tout the expanding families and ba'alei tshuva - newly Orthodox - Jews who returned to the path. They ignore the many who lapse, or as Israelis call them Datlash, dati lesheavar, formerly religious.

Moreover, whatever religious growth there is cannot compensate for the broader spiritual, organizational, marital, and demographic collapse.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Shabbat Ideas - January 11, 2008

It is Yom Shishi, still really warm out and the election is up in the air so here are my Shabbat Thoughts for January 11, 2008:
Best Federation in the Land does more good
DK is written up
Shocking the San Fran paper is in favor of dealing with Gender (good Editorial though)
Plaguing Haiku

Jews have lived in America for hundreds of years. The new PBS documentary about Jewish Americans does an interesting job at taking a look at the history that informs our understanding of our role in the United States. If you have not yet seen this show, I suggest trying to find it in the coming weeks and recording it.

I watched the entire two-hours of the first show and was riveted. The content was nothing we haven’t heard before but it takes on the issues of American Jewry in a way that actually makes a lot of sense - in the way we want to remember it. The folks who put this documentary together (almost every major Jewish foundation that has anything to do with the arts) really put forth an image of unity in the Jewish community. It just isn’t true.

There was no history of the strife within the community presented. The arguments from traditionalists against the Reform, disdain from what the film called the “Our Crowd” or the rich German Jews towards the late nineteenth century immigrants, the industrialists fighting the unionist – it seems according to this documentary that the Jews lived in harmony with each other just hoping to take full advantage of the new country but cognizant of the underlying hatred. What about our fights? They are apart of this country's freedoms as much as anything else.

Fine I say: Paint that picture. However the dynamics in the Jewish community in the country are as interesting as the factual history itself. How the community reacted to the Triangle Shirt Factory fires was as important as the fire itself. How the Jewish owners back big business is as important as the fact that to this day UNITE-HERE is still lead by a Jew.

The diversity (while most of the Jewish community was then and still is today politically liberal – I had to get it in somewhere) of opinion in our community is its greatest strength. While this documentary didn’t present a monolithic American Jewish community, it did present a harmonious one. I look forward to the next two installments of the film to see if any other these issues are addressed.

Shabbat Shalom

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Doing Holy Work

I recently read something written by Jacob Neusner about saving Judaism through Philanthropy. I also recently read some stuff by the Rebbe Nachman of Braslov. All of this finding holiness in everything you do just seems antithetical to Judaism.

Granted I am no Chasid, nor am I mystic in any stretch of the imagination. However I can see the benefit to striving towards holiness in mundane actions.

Yet this idea that there is always holiness around makes me uncomfortable. Neusner writes that some Jews feel obligated to put on a kippah when praying in a shul or when studying Torah in a group setting. He asks in that case must these Jews "put on a kippah when he or she works for the Federation? ... Do they have to put on a kippah in the office of the executive director or president of the Jewish Federation?"

This is the kind of bending ideas of holiness that make me uncomfortable. Jews are commanded to give Tzedakah. They are also commanded to eat Kosher food and visit the sick. Then, according to this twisted-self-applied-logic, should these Jews wear a kippah for all of these commandments (or say all the time?) I get that Neusner's thesis is that giving will give back to the community, but come on already.

This is looking for holiness in all the wrong places. Treat people respectfully. Yes take care in your work and try to make the world better. But if we are to make everything about holiness, we will find that nothing isn't holy and therefore nothing is holy.

An Orthodox friend of mine mentioned (when we were having a similar conversation to this post) that at the end of Shabbat we pray and thank God for giving us the ability to differentiate between the Sacred and the Profane. So if we are always looking for the holy within the everyday, we lose. We all do holy work. But we also do everyday work.

It has been a while since I went all religious on everyone and this could be seen as a downer. But does anyone really believe that everything we can do could be holy? And more so that every we do is holy? This coming Shabbat we read about how God tortures the Egyptians. Is that holy?