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?

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Funny I didn't think there were Blacks and/or Jews in the Midwest

I totally missed this story a few weeks back but it is very interesting. In Cairo, Ill a town that "boasts 40 churches, 40 blocks and fewer than 4,000 people" now has 55 brand new Jews according to a Forward report.

According to the article, this group of 55 African Americans grew out of its leader's disenchantment with his Baptist faith. They started learning Torah, observing Shabbat and then called a rabbi and said "we want to convert."

A comforting aspect of the story was when the newly minted tribal members were invited to a congregation in Carbondale, Ill and "felt genuinely embraced" by its members. In light of re-newed and re-surfacing racism in the name of Jews, it is comforting to see this kind of thing in our community.

Welcome new Jews of Cairo!

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Where Does Chuck Norris Vote?

Where ever he wants. But he is voting for Mike Huckabee according to this hard (karate chop) hitting piece from NPR. This is a great, light and funny piece about Chuck and his latest political aspirations that are driving young people to the polls for Huckabee...

Greatest lines: For instance, perhaps you didn't know that Huckabee's bumper stickers don't have glue? They stick to cars because Chuck told them to. And, when Chuck Norris gives a stump speech, it is on an actual stump — that he pulled from the ground with his teeth.

Perhaps I will go to some more substance tonight.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Shabbat Ideas - January 4, 2008

It is Friday, I am back to work and sorry to miss a few weeks but I needed it. Anyway I am very happy and hopeful about the future so here are my Shabbat Thoughts for January 4, 2008:

Obama did it! I was hopeful, but now I am pumped.
Huckabee is unelectable and the Jews won’t like him either
Here comes Bloomberg
Lantos is sick but resolute
JVoices Ends Strike and a Tree Fell in the Forest…no one heard but the Forward
Funny piece on the strike.

I have been out of the loop for a while as a Jewish blogger and thought I might even retire from this world of “ego and swagger” but it is times like these that remind me why I blog in the first place. Rabbi Avi Shafran wrote a piece that was picked up the j. in Nor Cal. In this op-ed he decries the entire Internet but specifically blogs and Jewish blogs in particular.

It is not surprising to see Rabbi Shafran go off the handle about blogging. It is true many Jewish bloggers do violate Jewish values in their posts. No question. However why is the director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America so upset about blogs? Because he can’t control them.

This has very little to do about values and very much to do about power dynamics. Radical Orthodoxy is out to stop divergent views. Anyone who reads the likes of Kvetcher, Failed Messiah or even DovBear knows that alternative views within the Orthodox community are frowned upon.

But this isn't the core argument. Rabbi Shafran is out to stop one particular group of bloggers. Here is a jewel from his piece:
Many blogs have become showcases for carefully concocted stews of truth and falsehood well stirred and generously seasoned with gall and spleen. The Jewish sites among them like to malign guilty and innocent people alike — extra points for Orthodox Jews and triple score for rabbis.

I am sure Rabbi Shafran is attacking those in the community who have had the guts to stand up and point the finger at those who are sexually molesting little boys at Yeshiva. He goes on:
Truth may be “an absolute defense” in American libel law, but not in Jewish law; true statements are precisely the focus of the prohibition of lashon hora. It might strike some as strange, but the Torah teaches us that the evil of such speech is inherent, not a function of falsehood.

Where is the gall and spleen directed at the Baltimore Jewish Times? That newspaper has a long and well researched section on rabbinic malfeasance in the region? Much of their discovery was started by bloggers.

The thing that gets to me here is that not only is this a power play, it is fueled by fear. Studies upon studies say that young people are interested in using the Internet as a way to connect to other people and traditions in new exciting ways. This is luddite mentality only serves to hurt the Radical Orthodox movements.

Outside of pointing the finger without providing a source (so to save face not to violate any sort of Jewish value) Rabbi Shafran is perpetuating the same things he says he is against. The blogs are simply a bunch of soap boxes. There are millions of them and most are awful. Most people know that they are just a bunch of crazies with Internet connections...but they are people to be respected.

Just like those who would walk across the park to avoid the wack on the soap box, most people stay away from the wacks with the keyboards.

Shabbat Shalom