Hootenanny in Teaneck and Other Breaking News

» School’s out — for good

Community mourns Metro Schechter’s untimely closing


Peace! Never! Israeli-Palestinian co-existence projects are a waste of money!

The consensus - peace is not possible.
The most to expect - mitigating the conflict.
Still campaigning for co-existence
From The Economist

There is still no shortage of Israeli-Palestinian co-existence projects, but serious activists are more sceptical of them than they used to be

PEACE between Palestinians and Israelis is not a problem; anyone can make it. This summer alone, a group called the June 5th Initiative ran a series of “peace days” and conferences in Israel, the West Bank and several other countries. The Sulha—reconciliation, in Arabic—Peace Project held a three-day new-age-style festival. A thousand young Jewish and Arab would-be football stars competed in a “Mini World Cup”.

Countless others went to peace camps and summer schools in Israel and abroad. An 86-year-old Californian Jew donated 12 surfboards to Gaza and called it “Surfing for Peace”. Previous attractions have included a “hip-hop sulha” by Arab and Jewish rappers; an olive oil blended from the produce of Israeli and Palestinian farmers; and an Israeli-Palestinian comedy tour. Add in long-established projects such as the Jerusalem peace circus, Fighters for Peace (Israeli ex-soldiers joining up with Palestinian ex-guerrillas), a host of mixed Jewish-Arab villages, schools, youth groups, environmental bodies, magazines and websites, a peace phone line, two peace radio stations and much more besides, and the churlish might ask: if so many people are intent on making peace, why hasn't it happened by now? Or more fairly: do such “co-existence” projects actually change anything for the good?

Seven years after the last serious peace talks collapsed, polls show that most Israelis and Palestinians still think a two-state solution is the only viable end to their conflict. A joint lobby group, OneVoice, hopes to get a million of their signatures on a petition calling for immediate peace talks; it has 435,000 so far. But their views on the details, such as the borders and the fate of Palestinian refugees, remain far apart, and most doubt it will happen in the next few years. When Israel's main peace groups called a rally in June to mark 40 years of occupation, perhaps 4,000 people turned up. The many hundreds of Israeli and thousands of Palestinian deaths during the second intifada have hardened hearts; Israeli security measures have rendered most of the projects that brought together Israelis and Palestinians across the Green Line (the pre-1967 border) impossible.

Plenty of philanthropists—usually Jewish ones—are still happy to fund Israeli-Palestinian get-togethers “based on the mistaken European assumption that every conflict is based on a misunderstanding”, as the Israeli novelist Amos Oz, a reluctant beneficiary of many such events, recently put it. Plenty of people are happy to take their money. But the more serious donors have been shifting their approach.

The start of the intifada, says Amnon Be'eri-Sulitzeano, the director in Israel of the Abraham Fund, was “a big bang in the co-existence world. Many activists realised that just bringing people together isn't enough.” Palestinians were unhappy that such projects often ignored the inequalities between them and Israeli Jews, or acted as a conscience-salve for the Israelis. “Existence first, co-existence later”, became a common Palestinian slogan.

The Abraham Fund now concentrates on improving the way Israel's Jewish majority treats Arab-Israelis. It pays for cultural-awareness training for the police and Arabic lessons for young Jewish schoolchildren (the mandatory teaching starts late and there are many exemptions). One grantee, the Centre for Jewish-Arab Economic Development, runs schemes to lessen job discrimination against Arab-Israelis, who, though a fifth of the population, contribute less than a tenth of GDP.

...much more...


John 3:16 is Gone from Teaneck

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,
that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life
-John 3:16

By early July everyone on our quiet Teaneck street had noticed the lawn sign in front of the tidy yellow house in the middle of our block. It said - John 3:16 - in big black letters on a white background.

The sign appeared about the time that Rev. Billy Graham came to the city for his big event at the end of June. Of the twelve houses on our one street, eight are occupied by Orthodox Jewish families. We said nothing to each other or to our Christian neighbor at first because we assumed this was a short term passing display put up in the fervor of the Graham crusade.

We were wrong. After more than a month, we started talking to each other. What should we do? Did we want to constantly be confronted by an allusion to a verse that insinuates that we Jews - who obviously do not believe in Jesus - will not have eternal life; that we will perish?

Vigilante-like, after more than a month, I finally took it upon myself to act. One fine sunny day in August I saw our neighbor working on her lawn and I sauntered across the street to make small talk. In that context I ask casually about the sign. "What is this sign all about?" "I want to spark interest and conversation," she said in her own defense. "When will you be taking it down?" I asked, in what I thought then was a not-so-subtle hint.

The sign stayed up. My hinting was unsuccessful. About a week later, in a burst of nearly adolescent enthusiasm I devised a new strategy. I printed - Deuteronomy 6:4 - on a manila folder and posted it on our front lawn. Our Orthodox neighbors saw my foolish display and smiled. Our Christian friend was away for the weekend and did not see it. I took down my sign.

I decided that clearly I was too casual in my approach to our gentile neighbor the first time around. And my neighbor was too fervent in her faith to sense my intent. In late September, as Rosh Hashanah approached, the sign was still up.

I knew that we Orthodox residents were all growing increasingly weary at having to come home to this overtly Christian missionary message each night and to have our children play in its shadow. Accordingly I prepared for strategy number three.

I researched the Teaneck ordinances online and found that lawn signs are tightly controlled in our locale, limited to 30 days. Violation of the town ordinance could result in a fine of $200 or jail time. I printed this ordinance and made preparation for another foray.

The opportunity did not come until the day of Rosh Hashanah. I came home from synagogue and our neighbor was again working on her landscaping. I retrieved the printed page from my desk and came out to speak to her. This time I walked deliberately over and asked straight out, "How are you? Fine. Would you please take down your sign?"

Naturally she was slightly taken aback by my directness. I explained that I knew that we neighbors were not pleased that the sign had been up for so long. I told her that I spoke only for myself, that to me the sign was confrontational - especially because I understood the theological implications of the verse - and that it made me uncomfortable. She said she'd "think about" taking it down.

At that point, I handed her the ordinance. I was polite but firm saying, "We don't put such lawn signs up in Teaneck as a rule. And now yours has been up for three months. It's against the law to keep it up on your lawn." I turned and went back across the street.

The sign was down by evening. I went to synagogue the next day and went up to one of my neighbors. "John is gone," I whispered. "I know," he replied. "Thanks."
Originally posted in 2005


The Forward: Rabbis Push Pagan Rituals - Let's Not Do Them

Kapparot are "a practice generally performed during the period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in which a live chicken is swung over one’s head in a gesture of transferring one’s sins of the past year onto the animal."

Hey, let's not do this. This is a bizarre pagan ritual. Not my opinion but that of Maimonides and Joseph Caro, author of the Shulchan Aruch.

The Forward:

The kapparot ceremony is one of the more colorful elements of the High Holy Days but one of the most historically fraught. Maimonides and later Joseph Caro, author of the authoritative code of Jewish law, both claimed that kapparot had its roots in pagan ritual and should be abandoned by religious Jews. But Moses Isserles, the famed 16th-century talmudist from Krakow promoted the practice, as did many of the founders of Hasidic Jewish sects.

Today, many Modern Orthodox Jews swing money, instead of chickens, over their heads. But Hasidic Jews have retained the use of the live animals. Men are instructed to use roosters, which are grasped by their shoulder blades and rotated above the person’s head three times. Women use hens for the ritual (two if the practitioner is pregnant). The animal is then supposed to be slaughtered immediately after the ritual and donated to a poor family.

NO NO NO let's not swing chickens around this year. We are not pagans.

Sex, Cantor, Toronto Synagogue, $1.3 million Lawsuit

A lurid set of accusations has emerged in Toronto following the filing of a law suit.

Rabbi, synagogue sued over seduction scandal

Rabbi Tobias Gabriel says the allegations that he pressured Richmond Hill resident Yona Nadler, 52, into a sexual relationship are “groundless.”

Woman who claims cleric pressured her into a sexual relationship wants $1.3M in compensation

Staff reporter

A woman claiming she was coerced into a sexual relationship by a rabbi is suing the rabbi and a prominent Toronto synagogue for $1.3 million.

Richmond Hill resident Yona Nadler, 52, is suing Rabbi Tobias Gabriel and the Beth Tzedec Synagogue for breach of fiduciary duty and the pain and suffering she claims the relationship caused her and her marriage. MORE...

NY Times: Right Wing Destroys Muslim Principal

Profoundly sad. If only this school succeeds, then the doors open to greater tolerance among us all - and... to public support for Jewish schools as well.

How sad that the right wing has not a shred of common sense or decency.
Critics Ignored Record of a Muslim Principal

Last Feb. 12, you may recall, New York education officials announced plans to open a minischool in September that would teach half its classes in Arabic and include study of Arab culture. The principal was to be a veteran teacher who was also a Muslim immigrant from Yemen, Debbie Almontaser.

The critical response began pouring in the very next day.

“I hope it burns to the ground just like the towers did with all the students inside including school officials as well,” wrote an unidentified blogger on the Web site Modern Tribalist, a hub of anti-immigrant sentiment. A contributor identified as Dave responded, “Now Muslims will be able to learn how to become terrorists without leaving New York City.”

Not to be outdone, the conservative Web site Political Dishonesty carried this commentary on Feb. 14:

“Just think, instead of jocks, cheerleaders and nerds, there’s going to be the Taliban hanging out on the history hall, Al Qaeda hanging out by the gym, and Palestinians hanging out in the science labs. Hamas and Hezbollah studies will be the prerequisite classes for an Iranian physics. Maybe in gym they’ll learn how to wire their bomb vests and they’ll convert the football field to a terrorist training camp.”

Thus commenced the smear campaign against the Khalil Gibran International Academy and, specifically, Debbie Almontaser. For the next six months, from blogs to talk shows to cable networks to the right-wing press, the hysteria and hatred never ceased. Regrettably, it worked.

Ms. Almontaser resigned as principal earlier this month. Nominally, she quit to quell the controversy about her remarks to The New York Post insufficiently denouncing the term “intifada” on a T-shirt made by a local Arab-American organization. That episode, however, merely provided the pretext for her ouster, for the triumph of a concerted exercise in character assassination.

After initially consenting to an interview for this column, Ms. Almontaser backed out, saying she did not want to “do anything that would jeopardize the school,” which is still set to open next month in the Boerum Hill section of Brooklyn. One of her longtime colleagues, however, spoke candidly about her emotions.

“She feels that she’s been violated, personally and professionally,” said Louis Cristillo, a research professor at Teachers College at Columbia University who has studied the experiences of Muslim children in the New York public schools. “To be painted as somebody who’s un-American, questioning her patriotism, is extremely hurtful for her. She’s really shocked at how devastatingly effective the defamation was.”

For anyone who bothered to look for it, Ms. Almontaser left a clear, public record of interfaith activism and outreach across the boundaries of race, ethnicity and religion. Her efforts, especially after the Sept. 11 attacks, earned her honors, grants and fellowships. She has collaborated so often with Jewish organizations that an Arab-American newspaper, Aramica, castigated her earlier this summer for being too close to a “Zionist organization,” meaning the Anti-Defamation League.

Ms. Almontaser has twice been profiled on Voice of America as an accomplished Muslim American. Her son, Yousif, spent several months on rescue efforts at ground zero as a member of the Army National Guard. Four of her nephews and cousins have served in the United States military in Iraq.

None of these details were exactly hidden under a rock. But her critics ignored them. In syndicated columns by Daniel Pipes, in articles and editorials in The New York Post and The New York Sun, on such Web sites as PipeLineNews and Militant Islam Monitor, both concerned with radical Islam, the Gibran school was repeatedly characterized as a “madrassa,” an Arabic term plainly meant to evoke images of indoctrination into terrorism and holy war.

Bella Rabinowitz, writing on March 9 in PipeLineNews, called Gibran “an Islamist public school whose curriculum shares the same ideology as the Sept. 11 terrorists.” Alicia Colon wrote in The Sun on May 1, “How delighted Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda must have been to hear the news” that New York “is bowing down in homage to accommodate and perhaps groom future radicals.”

Just as the school was caricatured, so was Ms. Almontaser. Although she has used the first name Debbie since childhood, her critics relentlessly identified her by her legal name Dhabah, the better to render her alien. Some articles would add the phrase “a k a Debbie,” treating her chosen name as a sort of criminal alias.

What all the attacks lacked was a single solid example of Ms. Almontaser having espoused Islamic extremism, much less jihad, during her 15 years as an educator. They have described her as a “9/11 denier” on the basis of one statement that “I don’t recognize the people who committed the attacks as either Arabs or Muslims.”

Yet, as Larry Cohler-Esses noted in an incisive article in New York Jewish Week, these foes conveniently overlooked what Ms. Almontaser went on to say in the same interview: “Those people who did it have stolen my identity as an Arab and stolen my religion.”

What Ms. Almontaser has done — as a private citizen, not in her classroom — is assail the Bush administration for its domestic surveillance and for its Middle East policies. She has said that desperation and oppression contribute to terrorism. You can disagree with her positions and still not believe they should be the basis for destroying her career.

“There’s zero correspondence between the caricature and the actual person,” said Rabbi Andy Bachman of Beth Elohim, a Reform Jewish congregation in Park Slope, who was on the Gibran school’s advisory board. “The words that were used to describe her, the fears that were evoked, are absolutely unrelated to her and her life’s work. Not in any way, shape or form.”

Another rabbi who has worked with Ms. Almontaser on interfaith efforts, Michael Feinberg of the Greater New York Labor-Religion Coalition, said: “It’s all about insinuation and innuendo and this formula of Arab equals Muslim equals terrorist. The viciousness and the vileness of this case surpass anything I’ve seen before.”

That vileness also did no favors to the responsible critics of the Gibran school, whether they were parents worried about school overcrowding or scholars like Diane Ravitch and Richard Kahlenberg, who believe that public schools should reinforce a common American culture rather than promote ethnic identity. Their worthy voices got lost in all the bile.

For now at least, Ms. Almontaser remains employed by the Department of Education. What she requires, though, is something harder to obtain than another job. As another victim of a different smear campaign put it once: “Which office do I go to to get my reputation back?”


From Harvard: How to do Everything Internet

This term I'll be podcasting my course as an experiment. I've stumbled upon Harvard's site "Computer Science E-1: Understanding Computers and the Internet Harvard Extension School" replete with many wonderful samples. A great resource for introducing newcomers to the Internet.


A cedar has fallen: Rabbi Leon Chait, zal

Wail, O cypress-tree, for the cedar is fallen; because the glorious ones are spoiled; wail, O ye oaks of Bashan, for the strong forest is come down (Zechariah 11:2).

My uncle, Rabbi Leon Chait, passed away early today. The funeral was held in Hewlett, NY. His sons rabbis Israel, Moishe and Chaim Ozer, two of his grandsons, his younger brother Joey and his student Rabbi Pesach Krohn eulogized him.

Uncle Leon was a great American-born-Torah-scholar who epitomized every ideal that we hold dear.

I wish my aunt May and my cousins, his remarkable children, comfort among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

Update: Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim, a talmid of Rav Yisroel Chait, writes that Mesora.org has published a special issue of the JewishTimes dedicated to Rav Aryeh Leib Chait zt"l, linked here.

NY Times says the Kibbutz is baaaack!

Our favorite Jewish newspaper
reports that the kibbutz has returned to fashion in yet another gilgul (reincarnation) as a post-socialist Israeli suburb:

KIBBUTZ YASUR, Israel — For much of Israel’s existence, the kibbutz embodied its highest ideals: collective labor, love of the land and a no-frills egalitarianism.

But starting in the 1980s, when socialism was on a global downward spiral and the country was mired in hyperinflation, Israel’s 250 or so kibbutzim seemed doomed. Their debt mounted and their group dining halls grew empty as the young moved away.

Now, in a surprising third act, the kibbutzim are again thriving. Only in 2007 they are less about pure socialism than a kind of suburbanized version of it.

On most kibbutzim, food and laundry services are now privatized; on many, houses may be transferred to individual members, and newcomers can buy in. While the major assets of the kibbutzim are still collectively owned, the communities are now largely run by professional managers rather than by popular vote. And, most important, not everyone is paid the same.

Once again, people are lining up to get in.

“What we love here is the simplicity,” said Boaz Varol, 38, who rides his bike along wooded pathways to work at the swimming pool, once for communal use, that he rents and runs as a private business at Kibbutz Yasur, in the rolling hills of the Western Galilee, northeast of Haifa. “Everyone does what they want, we have our independence, but without the kind of competition you find outside.”

Two years ago he bought a two-bedroom home here for his young family for $71,000. More than 60 other young adults have joined in the past four years, increasing the number of residents by half and bringing new life to an aging population.

The Varols are part of a growing trend. In April, Kibbutz Negba, in the south, accepted 80 new members in one day. Many kibbutzim have waiting lists — mostly former residents who want to return, but also urbanites looking to escape the rat race.

The kibbutzim were once austere communes of pioneers who drained the swamps, shared clothes (and sometimes spouses) and lived according to the Marxist axiom, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.”

Today, most are undergoing a process of privatization, though kibbutz officials prefer a more euphemistic term: renewal.

The new kibbutz seeks a subtler balance between collective responsibility and individual freedom, with an emphasis on community and values. Its drawing points include a safe environment, usually in the heart of nature, away from the cities scarred by suicide bombings; excellent day care and education; and an improved quality of life at out-of-town prices.

This is quite a change from recent years. By 2000, more than half of Israel’s 257 collective farms were bankrupt.

The economic crisis exposed a festering ideological one. The second generation of kibbutz offspring — who slept in communal children’s houses with assigned caregivers — began to rebel. With the lifetime security that the kibbutz was supposed to offer in jeopardy, young people began to leave.

“By the end of the 1990s,” said Gavri Bargil, executive director of the Kibbutz Movement, an umbrella organization, “you could find kibbutzim with no young generation at all.”

Worse, after decades of hard work, the kibbutz founders, now in their 80s and 90s, were left with not even an apartment or a pension to call their own.

Part of the recovery involved selling the Israeli dairy giant Tnuva, a cooperative half-owned by the kibbutzim. The sale provided them $500 million to establish pension funds.

In the past, kibbutz members were rewarded equally, whether they milked cows or managed a large industry. On the new kibbutz, members earn salaries or receive end-of-month allowances reflecting the income they bring in.

“It is not total equality, but basic equality,” Mr. Bargil said. “You earn more, you pay more internal kibbutz taxes, and you get a bit more at the end of the month.”

The taxation provides a safety net for the financially weak. “From that point of view, we’ve maintained something of the old values,” said Yaakov Lazar, secretary of Kibbutz Nachshon, between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, which went over to the new system last year.

Yasur, established in 1949, had failed. Its textile and toy factories were unprofitable and closed. “Those of us left in our 50s wondered who would look after us in another 20 years,” said Ami Kilon, who was born here in 1951.

Then Yasur began its renewal and began to recruit new members in 2003. The empty kibbutz houses are now nearly filled, and Yasur plans to sell plots for new housing on former farmland.

About half the kibbutzim have moved into real estate, selling plots for luxury neighborhoods in place of the fields and orchards outside their gates. House buyers generally do not join the kibbutz, but pay for services like child care.

Next year the Varols must decide if they want to become full members of Yasur, buying a stake in communal assets like the dairy and chicken farm. If not, they can remain as private residents.

“The new kibbutz is not perfect, but economically things are improving,” said Mr. Kilon, who manages Yasur and another kibbutz nearby. “The incentive to work has gone up, and after changes in the management, we are standing on our feet.”

Not all kibbutzim followed this kind of strategy. About 30 percent stuck to their socialist principles. But many of them are flourishing, too.

“I get calls every day from people who want to join,” said Yaniv Sagee, the secretary of Kibbutz Ein Hashofet. “I don’t have room for them.”

Ein Hashofet, a pastoral haven of well-tended manicured lawns, art and culture south of Haifa, has not introduced varying wages. The communal dining room still functions — though diners must pay for their food these days.

Ein Hashofet can afford to remain a classic kibbutz because its spotless factories are highly profitable. One of its founders, Yehudit Kotzer, 92, still works four hours a day in one of them. “It’s very sad what’s happening on the other kibbutzim,” she said. “But we’re O.K.”

Mr. Varol was born on a kibbutz in the far north, but he left at 18. He is at peace in his new home, but bitter about the past. “My parents worked all their lives, carrying at least 10 parasites on their backs,” he said. “If they’d worked that hard in the city for as many years, I’d have had quite an inheritance coming to me by now.”

What to Do When a Rabbi Becomes a Heretic

Two years ago an anonymous coward diminished the reputation of the Teaneck Jewish community by publishing a remarkable self-hating screed.

At the time (9/25/05) I wrote the following to rebuff that onslaught:

The formation and development of the State of Israel since 1948 is the single most redemptive chapter in all of Jewish history since the exodus from Egypt in ancient times. No matter how imperfect are the politicians who govern it, no matter how deficient is the army that defends it, no matter how disappointing is the population that lives in it -- the State of Israel is the miraculous "first flowering of our redemption" as a Jewish nation in our day and in the near future.

Any Jew who denies this is a heretic. Any rabbi who denies this is a heretic and a true apikores -- a denier of the essence of Judaism. Any rabbi-apikores who denies this and occupies a pulpit supported by a sincere community of Jews subverts the very core of his mission.

Accordingly, one "powerful" Rabbi S. A. Halevy, author of the horrible screed that appeared recently in the Jewish Voice and Opinion, must be placed into the category of heretic and complete apikores. That perverted essay denied the miracle of the modern State of Israel and dismissed as worthless and corrupt its founders and its current leaders and defenders.

In one fell swoop of gushing diatribe, the author attempted to pull out the rug from under an essential modern American Jewish belief. In one regurgitation of awful hatred, the author sought to reduce to nil the nearly divine act by modern Zionists of the creation of a marvelous entity out of nothing. This denial is heresy -- plain and simple -- clearly and succinctly.

A rabbi who prevents himself from recognizing the truly divine hand of G-d working in our own day, through G-d's chosen emissaries in the democratic government, brave army and valiant citizenry of the State of Israel, is not worthy to call himself a rabbi.

Those ordinary house-holders, businessmen, professionals, young and old, in our communities of proud and accomplished Jews must stand firm in rejecting all divisive, hate-mongering leaders. And certainly even the plainest, most uneducated members of a synagogue have the right and duty to stand up and say to a rabbi who denies the most obvious central reality of our faith -- here is your bus ticket out of our town. Have a safe trip.
Tzvee Zahavy is the real name of a not-so-powerful, not-so-important rabbi and scholar in Teaneck, NJ.


Richest US Jew - Sheldon Adelson - Opens the $1.8 Billion Venetian Macao Hotel and Casino

Sheldon Adelson (Gambling and Trade Shows) is the richest US Jew.

Forbes says Adelson is worth $20.5 Billion, making him the third richest person in the US right behind Gates and Buffet:

Son of a Boston cabdriver borrowed $200 from his uncle to sell newspapers at age 12. Made first fortune in trade shows. Created computer industry's premier show, Comdex, mid-1980s; ran 70% profit margin renting space for 15 cents a square foot and leasing it to exhibitors for up to $40 a square foot. Sold show to Japan's Softbank for $862 million in 1995.

Then Las Vegas: bought old Sands casino for $128 million, demolished it to build the $1.5 billion all-suites Venetian casino resort and the 1.2-million-square foot Sands Convention Center. Changed the way Vegas does business by enticing conventioneers to Sin City midweek, taking emphasis off gambling. Sold suites for $250 a night, added high-end retailers, celebrity-chef restaurants.

Old guard mocked him: "I loved being the outsider. I didn't care what those guys said." Took Las Vegas Sands public December 2004; stock up 135% since. With family owns 244 million shares worth $17 billion. Net worth 10 times that of archnemesis Steve Wynn (see); building $1.8 billion Palazzo resort adjacent to Wynn Las Vegas.

Big bet on Asia: opened $265 million Sands Macau casino May 2004, recouped entire investment in one year. Ramping up construction on Cotai Strip: $6 billion project will place 7 hotel-casinos on Macau's 2 islands, Taipa and Coloane. Cornerstone of project will be $1.8 billion Venetian Macau.

In May won coveted Singapore gaming license. Plans to build $3.5 billion Marina Bay Sands on 51-acre site with a view of the city's skyline. Expertise in conventions put him ahead of rivals MGM Mirage and Harrah's Entertainment despite their partnering with Singapore companies.

According to Yediot over in Israel in February he decided to donate $25 million for free trips to Israel:
Richest US Jew pledges USD 25 million to Taglit - birthright israel

Adelson family gift will double to at least 20,000 the number of free summer trips to Israel offered to Diaspora Jews by birthright israel; 'The birthright israel program is one of the best ideas of our time,' Sheldon Adelson says

Ynetnews Published: 02.06.07, 22:03

A new gift to the Taglit - birthright israel program (BRI) will double to at least 20,000 the number of free summer trips to Israel offered by BRI this summer.

The gift is being made by The Adelson Family Charitable Foundation, established by philanthropists Dr. Miriam and Sheldon G. Adelson, one of the world's richest people and the richest Jew in the United States.
The USD 25 million gift is in addition to a grant made by the Foundation to birthright israel in December to fund 2,000 additional spaces for the winter session, and brings the Foundation's total contribution this year to USD 30 million. The Foundation anticipates making similar gifts to birthright israel in future years.

Taglit - birthright israel is funded by the Government of Israel , private philanthropists and Jewish communities around the world. The USD 25 million gift is contingent upon BRI’s other funding partners maintaining their annual collective commitment of USD 51 million.

Adelson, estimated by the Forbes Magazine to be worth over USD 16 billion, said, “The birthright israel program is one of the best ideas our time has seen because it has the greatest potential to maintain the Jewish continuity in the face of growing assimilation.

Expanded repost of 2/7/07


Esther Madonna and Friends in Israel for the Really High Holidays

YNet reports:
Guests for the holidays

Madonna, Guy Ritchie, Demi Moore, and Ashton Kutcher will arrive in Israel to celebrate the High Holydays at the Kabbalah Center

Avner Hoffstein

An especially large group of Hollywood stars will travel to Israel this year to celebrate the High Holydays at the Kabbalah Center in Tel Aviv, along with 3,000 students from 21 countries.

A high-ranking official at the Los Angeles branch of the Kabbalah Center confirmed that Madonna, Guy Ritchie, Demi Moore, and Ashton Kutcher are scheduled to arrive in Israel to celebrate Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in a series of seminars, meditation and prayers. The guests will also visit Galilee and Jerusalem. This is the second time Madonna joins the Kabbalists on their journey to the Holy Land ahead of the New Year.

For Demi Moore, and Ashton Kutcher – who are considered Kabbalah enthusiasts - this will be their first visit to the country.
(a) I don't think this will happen this year. Just a hunch.
(b) Given the lifestyles of the Hollywood set, if they do go, this could be a really high holiday.


Meshuggenah Florida School Board to Hebrew Charter School: "Stop Teaching Hebrew" Say What?

Look you bipolar Hollywood School Board! You gave them a charter to teach Hebrew. Now you say don't dare do it. You are meshuggah! (Hat tip to M. Thanks.) NY Times--->

Hebrew Charter School Spurs Dispute in Florida

HOLLYWOOD, Fla., Aug. 23 — The new public school at 2620 Hollywood Boulevard stands out despite its plain gray facade. Called the Ben Gamla Charter School, it is run by an Orthodox rabbi, serves kosher lunches and concentrates on teaching Hebrew.

About 400 students started classes at Ben Gamla this week amid caustic debate over whether a public school can teach Hebrew without touching Judaism and the unconstitutional side of the church-state divide. The conflict intensified Wednesday, when the Broward County School Board ordered Ben Gamla to suspend Hebrew lessons because its curriculum — the third proposed by the school — referred to a Web site that mentioned religion.

Opponents say that it is impossible to teach Hebrew — and aspects of Jewish culture — outside a religious context, and that Ben Gamla, billed as the nation’s first Hebrew-English charter school, violates one of its paramount legal and political boundaries. more...


Yeshiva University - US News National Universities #52 Mazal Tov

Nice recognition from a National Ranking. Down a few notches. The U.S. News and World Report's 2007 "America's Best Colleges" ranked Yeshiva University as the 44th best national university, up from 45th, the year before.

The current ranking requires revision of the Wikipedia entry, "It has been consistently listed among the top 50 national universities in U.S. News & World Report."

This is still a major recognition and deserves a mazal tov and yasher koach.

In March, US News also Ranked Yeshiva U Law School #52

President explains, Why the slip in ranking?


Minyan Video: Spoof of Jim Cramer's Meltdown

1. Minyan videos has nothing to do with the minyan for praying. The site calls itself Minyanville for some other arcane reasons.

2. I've been wanting to run a video of Cramer's on the air rant -- but somewhere in the tradition it says, "You don't run with humor while you are losing your shirt."

3. Heard on the Street, "Buy Treasuries now." They are safe and they will appreciate markedly if the Fed continues to lower rates, which may happen real soon now...

YNet: Rap in Yiddish, Madonna in Yiddish

YNet reports on the latest controversy of the hip Yiddish music world.

Yiddish rap stirs controversy in Israel

Album by Bnei Brak rappers featuring Yiddish versions to pop songs by Madonna, 50 Cent prompts boycott by rabbis, despite enormous popularity...

YouTube Video: Jewish Vigilante Jimmy Justice

Funny stuff...# 2 on countdown with keith olberman


YNet Scorecard: Rabbis 9 Psychotherapists 7

YNet tells us that for counsel on personal issues in Israel, "the public ... chose rabbis before the psychotherapists (9% and 7%)."

The article is rich on statistics and poor on analysis. What does it all mean?
61%: Public figures who seek rabbinical blessings are fawners

Israelis are non too excited about secular politicians and businessmen who consult rabbis, believing they are fawners. A Ynet-Gesher survey further found that while a significant number of people prefer the counsel of a close friend or relation, rabbis are still the most popular sources of advice, beating out even psychotherapists
Kobi Nahshoni

Fawners, We're Fed Up: We are all familiar with presidential candidates, party leaders and businessmen who rush to pay their respects to the nation's rabbinical elite the day before a crucial deal or election is at hand. We all see the pictures on tomorrow's front page.

A survey commissioned by Ynet-Judaism and the Gesher Association shows that the public frowns upon the practice, with 61% saying that secular businessmen who consult rabbis are "kissing up to the religious and strictly Orthodox." That was the prevailing view in every sector - secular, observant, religious, and strictly Orthodox.

Secular respondents said they would rather consult a close family member on personal issues, the strictly Orthodox said they would consult a rabbi on that same problem. Conducted by the Mutagim Institute, the poll surveyed 500 interviewees who constitute a representative sample of the adult, Hebrew-speaking Jewish population of Israel.

When asked how they felt about secular politicians and businessmen who consulted rabbis, 61% said they viewed those figures as only trying to curry favor with the strictly Orthodox and religious publics.

A significantly lower 16% said they think the secular celebrities genuinely believe the rabbis posses supernatural powers and 14% said they felt the public figures are "humbled in the face of Creation." The remaining 9% said seculars seeking religious blessings act out of superstitious beliefs.

Similar results emerged when the data was split according to respondents' religious views, meaning that the religious and strictly Orthodox are also doubtful of seculars who visit rabbis.

The poll further inquired who respondents were mostly likely to turn to in the face of a personal or economic crisis - 53% of all respondents said that in an economic crisis they would seek the advice of a relative, 22% said a close friend, 18% said a professional and only 7% said they would consult a rabbi.

The broken-down results showed that the religious and strictly Orthodox are most likely to initially seek counsel from a family member (43% and 48% respectively) and only afterwards speak with a rabbi (23% and 31%).

In case of personal issues, family members still come first (52%), followed by close friends (32%). But the public still chose rabbis before the psychotherapists (9% and 7%).

However the further analyzed results showed observant respondents placed the therapist before the rabbi on their lists.

A majority, 55%, of the strictly Orthodox said they would consult a rabbi on personal matters. Only 3% of that same group said they were most likely to call a therapist.

Rabbinical roles through the ages
Shoshi Becker, director general of Gesher Educational Enterprises, said that the negative perception of secular public figures consulting rabbis indicates that rabbis are viewed as sources of authority and power capable of rallying the religious and strictly Orthodox publics for various causes.

She added, however, that while during the biblical era, kings would only go to war after consulting the Sanhedrin – nowadays rabbis are viewed as lacking the comprehensive political and military knowledge
necessary to make such rulings.

"It would be best if the rabbis offered expansive reasoning to clarify their opinions, in a manner that respects all Israeli sectors. By doing so, they will be accepted by the wider public in Israel – not only as a means to apply pressure, but as influential leaders in a Jewish democratic nation."


NY Times: How do you get to heaven? Through the Bermuda Triangle

Peter Steinfels reports in his religion column in the Times that the Weekly World News print edition is dead. Where will we get our weird religion news? WWN Online of course! And don't forget us bloggers....

Here are a few classic Q/As that Steinfels has culled from the WWN:
Q.: What does God look like?

A.: God “has fiery green eyes, flowing brown hair and stands 9 feet tall.”

Q.: What does God sound like?

A.: “A hundred baritones and a symphony orchestra rolled into one,” as recorded by a Soviet space probe.

Q.: Where is heaven?

A.: Heaven is 28,000 light-years from Earth, according to another space probe.

Q.: Where is hell?

A.: Nine miles below the surface of Earth, according to Soviet engineers drilling in Siberia (the Soviets played a curiously large part in these discoveries). Weekly World News reassured readers that those engineers had capped the hole after smelling smoke and hearing the cries of the damned.

Q.: How do you get to heaven?

A.: Through the Bermuda Triangle — did you have to ask? This was attributed to a Dutch physicist, who also reported that the passage to heaven was open 16 times a year.

Q.: How much does the human soul weigh?

A.: “The human soul weighs 1/3,000th of an ounce.” This detail was not the discovery of Soviets but the next best thing, East German scientists.
So you ask, what is new from WWN religion desk?

Glad you asked. Here my friends is the very latest.....

By Paul Kupperberg

SINAI PENINSULA — Sometime around the year 1340 B.C., this little patch of sun-baked land was the setting for one of the most heroic escapes in the annals of mankind: the Exodus of the Hebrew people from Egypt.

“After Moses led the people of Israel from Egypt, they wandered in the Sinai desert for forty years,” said Rabbi Zalman Schmotkin-Fisher of the Moses Studies Institute. “It’s long been a mystery exactly how the Hebrews could have remained lost for so many years in an area approximately the size of Arizona. Why hadn’t the Lord shown them the way?”

Now, an archaeological dig on the shores of the Red Sea proves that God did show Moses the way.

“A parchment map was found in a sealed urn not far from the remains of an Egyptian chariot,” said Rabbi Schmotkin-Fisher. “We surmise that Moses dropped it in the rush to get across the Red Sea before the parted waters came back together.

“It was etched by I Am’s own flaming finger, plainly mapping the way to the Promised Land. Remarkably, had they followed the Lord’s route, the trek would have taken the Israelites about a month, tops.”

“This explains so much,” Rabbi Schmotkin-Fisher said, “especially why God didn’t let Moses enter the Promised Land.

“You know how angry your wife gets when you won’t pull over and ask for directions?” the rabbi asked. “Imagine how irate the Almighty gets when you pull the same thing on Him!”

NY Times Mag: The Politics of God - Not in Our Back Yard

Mark Lilla writes about "the Great Separation" between religion and politics -- that we in the U.S. get it and the rest of the world doesn't. Yes we know -- and that is why we are the sole superpower.

The weaknesses of his analysis are (a) it is too high-level. He needs to name more names. And (b) he ought to shine the spotlight on the religious leaders who aspire to political power and the politicians who climb on the back of religion -- not on the philosophers. Perhaps he does more of this in his forthcoming book.

What interested me greatly in the article were the two references in the article to the philosopher Hermann Cohen. Rav J. B. Soloveitchik, my teacher, wrote his doctorate on Cohen at the University of Berlin (Das reine Denken and die Seinskonstituierung bei Hermann Cohen; i.e., Pure Thought as the Constitution of Being in Hermann Cohen's Philosophy). So anything about Cohen has added significance for me.

First shocker, Lilla's citation of Cohen saying the we are all Protestant in our "intellectual questions of religion":
Among Jewish liberal thinkers, there was a different sort of hope, that of acceptance as equal citizens. After the French Revolution, a fitful process of Jewish emancipation began in Europe, and German Jews were more quickly integrated into modern cultural life than in any other European country — a fateful development. For it was precisely at this moment that German Protestants were becoming convinced that reformed Christianity represented their national Volksgeist. While the liberal Jewish thinkers were attracted to modern enlightened faith, they were also driven by the apologetic need to justify Judaism’s contribution to German society. They could not appeal to the principles of the Great Separation and simply demand to be left alone. They had to argue that Judaism and Protestantism were two forms of the same rational moral faith, and that they could share a political theology. As the Jewish philosopher and liberal reformer Hermann Cohen once put it, “In all intellectual questions of religion we think and feel ourselves in a Protestant spirit.”
Second shocker, Lilla's citation of the letter that Cohen wrote supporting German WWI militarism:
By the turn of the 20th century, the liberal house was tottering, and after the First World War it collapsed. It was not just the barbarity of trench warfare, the senseless slaughter, the sight of burned-out towns and maimed soldiers that made a theology extolling “modern civilization” contemptible. It was that so many liberal theologians had hastened the insane rush to war, confident that God’s hand was guiding history. In August 1914, Adolf von Harnack, the most respected liberal Protestant scholar of the age, helped Kaiser Wilhelm II draft an address to the nation laying out German military aims. Others signed an infamous pro-war petition defending the sacredness of German militarism. Astonishingly, even Hermann Cohen joined the chorus, writing an open letter to American Jews asking for support, on the grounds that “next to his fatherland, every Western Jew must recognize, revere and love Germany as the motherland of his modern religiosity.” Young Protestant and Jewish thinkers were outraged when they saw what their revered teachers had done, and they began to look elsewhere.


News and Views from Teaneck's Premiere Jewish Newspaper


Petition to Deny Tenure to anti-Zionist Barnard Professor

The Chronicle for Higher Education blog summarizes the latest on the brouhaha over at Morningside Heights. Heated discussion follows the posting.

I don't care for the petition against this professor because it focuses on alleged errors in the book she wrote - all of which can be refuted by her supporters - as if that is why we'd like to see her fired. Actually it would be more honest to sharply focus on her underlying agenda of antisemitic and anti-Zionist assertions as the crux of the reason for any petition-signer's opposition to her serving on the faculty of Barnard or Columbia.

My prediction - she will be denied tenure and then be hired at three times her current salary by a University in the Arabian Gulf.
Alumni Group Seeks to Deny Tenure to Middle Eastern Scholar at Barnard College

Controversial research on Israel and the Palestinian territories has become the basis of yet another campaign to prevent a professor from winning tenure. A group of Barnard College alumni has drafted an online petition asking their alma mater to deny tenure to Nadia Abu El-Haj, an assistant professor of anthropology whose scholarship, they say, is flawed and skewed against Israel.

The group’s criticisms of Ms. Abu El-Haj focus on her book Facts on the Ground: Archaeological Practice and Territorial Self-Fashioning in Israeli Society (University of Chicago Press, 2001), which argues that Israeli archaeologists have produced biased research that bolsters the “origin myth” of the Jewish state.

The petition, which has drawn just over 1,000 signatures, accuses Ms. Abu El-Haj of ignoring or mischaracterizing large parts of the archaeological record, of not being able to speak Hebrew, and of treating Israeli archaeologists unfairly in her work. Ms. Abu El-Haj declined to comment today.

The petition comes on the heels of a high-profile campaign — led by Alan M. Dershowitz, a Harvard law professor — to persuade DePaul University to deny tenure to Norman G. Finkelstein, a professor known for his criticisms of Israel and what he calls the “Holocaust Industry.” Mr. Finkelstein was denied tenure. —John Gravois

Petition and Counter Petition

Blackballing the Bigots

Professors can be bigoted, a point proven by the diabolical duo, Mearsheimer and Walt. These annoying antisemites have recycled their garbage about the "Israel Lobby" aka, the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion Redux" into a book. The Times reports that it looks like the fix is in and the bothersome twins can't get many speaking gigs to push their trash.

Backlash Over Book on Policy for Israel
“The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy” is not even in bookstores, but already anxieties have surfaced about the backlash it is stirring, with several institutions backing away from holding events with the authors.

John J. Mearsheimer, a political scientist at the University of Chicago, and Stephen M. Walt, a professor at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, were not totally surprised by the reaction to their work. An article last spring in the London Review of Books outlining their argument — that a powerful pro-Israel lobby has a pernicious influence on American policy — set off a firestorm as charges of anti-Semitism, shoddy scholarship and censorship ricocheted among prominent academics, writers, policymakers and advocates. In the book, published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux and embargoed until Sept. 4, they elaborate on and update their case.

“Now that the cold war is over, Israel has become a strategic liability for the United States,” they write. “Yet no aspiring politician is going to say so in public or even raise the possibility” because the pro-Israel lobby is so powerful. They credit the lobby with shutting down talks with Syria and with moderates in Iran, preventing the United States from condemning Israel’s 2006 war in Lebanon and with not pushing the Israelis hard enough to come to an agreement with the Palestinians. They also discuss Christian Zionists and the issue of dual loyalty.

Opponents are prepared. Also being released on Sept. 4 is “The Deadliest Lies: The Israel Lobby and the Myth of Jewish Control” (Palgrave Macmillan) by Abraham H. Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League. The notion that pro-Israel groups “have anything like a uniform agenda, and that U.S. policy on Israel and the Middle East is the result of their influence, is simply wrong,” George P. Shultz, a former secretary of state, says in the foreword. “This is a conspiracy theory pure and simple, and scholars at great universities should be ashamed to promulgate it.”

The subject will certainly prompt furious debate, though not at the Center for the Humanities at the Graduate Center at the City University of New York, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, a Jewish cultural center in Washington and three organizations in Chicago. They have all turned down or canceled events with the authors, mentioning unease with the controversy or the format.

The authors were particularly disturbed by the Chicago council’s decision, since plans for that event were complete and both authors have frequently spoken there before. The two sent a four-page letter to 94 members of the council’s board detailing what happened. “On July 24, Council President Marshall Bouton phoned one of us (Mearsheimer) and informed him that he was canceling the event,” and that his decision “was based on the need ‘to protect the institution.’ He said that he had a serious ‘political problem,’ because there were individuals who would be angry if he gave us a venue to speak, and that this would have serious negative consequences for the council. ‘This one is so hot,’ Marshall maintained.”...more


Are they your friends? Assessing Christian Zionists’ support of Israel

Are they your friends? New Jersey Jewish Standard Cover story.

‘It’s not our agenda’: An interview with Abraham Foxman New Jersey Jewish Standard, NJ - The Jewish Standard interviewed Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, about Christian Zionism. Jewish Standard: The Rev. ...

‘Christians are hearing the message’: An interview with David Brog ... New Jersey Jewish Standard [repost from 06]

Right Wing Gotcha! Players

What do the blogs at Cross Currents, Michelle Malkin and the National Review Online have in common? They are all Right Wingers and they all love to play the game of Gotcha!

What is the game of Gotcha!? It's the game where you get your enemy or opponent on some technicality. CC and MM love to review ad nauseum how they caught the media lying and misrepresenting the facts. CC is crowing about how the Jewish Week "distorted" the news about the synagogue on the upper West Side of Manhattan that hired a woman rabbi. Those guys can prove that it really isn't an Orthodox synagogue. Gotcha!

MM goes on and on about the "fauxtography" that bloggers uncovered in the Lebanon war photos from Reuters. Gotcha!

The NRO has an proud article showing what a hypocrite Al Franken is because he himself hasn't hired enough blacks. Gotcha!

Right Wing Bloggers: I am tired of your game of Gotcha! Don't you get it? It really doesn't matter if the whole world lies and is hypocritical. And it really doesn't impress me if you prove that.

What matters is that you stand FOR something that brings new value to the world we live in.

Keeping power and stopping progress does not do that. Showing how clever you are in discovering the false claims and manipulations of others -- that does not bring value to the world.

Progressives and liberals dedicate their lives and talents to improving the planet. You guys, you conservatives, you right wingers, it seems to me more and more that all you do is play the game of Gotcha! How tiring. [repost from 8/30/06]


Pogrom Coming to Teaneck!

There is a blog commenter with a screw loose out there. Citation below from the Teaneck Truth blog courtesy of the Teaneck Progress blog:
Anonymous said...

If you don't believe a pogrom is on its way to Teaneck you are out of your mind. The difference between now and the 30's is instead of German's its going to come from non religious Jews and ultra liberal democrat tree huggers!!

When is the orthodox community going to wake up and start playing offense? Do you want idiots like Monica, Ron Schwartz, & Marty Cramer running this town? Speak up and get involved- the orthodox jews pay the highest amount of taxes in this town- if they were to leave what would Teaneck do? Your voice means something- let it be heard

One Committee - 300,000 New Jews

Can a committee appointed by a Chief Rabbi somehow come up with the wisdom to resolve the question of the estimated 300,000 immigrants to Israel who have arrived under the Law of Return but are not (yet) considered Jews?

Now that is what I would call a responsibility!
Chief Rabbi Amar moves to resolve conversion issues
By Anshel Pfeffer, Haaretz Jewish World Correspondent

Israel's Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar has decided to appoint a committee of rabbinical court judges (dayanim) to examine the array of religious issues that have been delaying the conversion of thousands of immigrants.

The committee of three dayanim will look into the requirements for religious observance  which have proved a stumbling block for many would-be converts  and try to formulate clear rules in the matter.

Amar's decision followed an agreement with the director general of the Immigrant Absorption Ministry, Erex Halfon, to accept the recommendations of an inter-ministerial committee established five months ago and headed by Halfon, which dealt with reorganizing the entire field of conversion.

Halfon's committee is scheduled to present its conclusions in a week. These are expected to include setting up a unified conversion authority that would operate under the auspices of either the Immigrant Absorption Ministry or the Prime Minister's Office.

The authority would likely encompass the special conversion courts, which would grow and employ more dayanim. The authority would also finance the various frameworks for preparing converts.

The prime minister will appoint the director of the authority, but in practice this will be a confidant of the chief rabbi. The latter is also supposed to set the standards for the new authority pertaining to halakha, or Jewish law.

The director will evidently be former Knesset member Rabbi Haim Druckman, who is currently head of the conversion courts.

According to government figures, there are some 300,000 immigrants who came to Israel under the Law of Return but are not recognized as Jews.

JPost: Israeli Government Cracks Down on Rabbis

Coincidence? Some Rabbis have condoned insubordination in the IDF and suddenly the Government announces -- no more special treatment for the retirement age for Rabbis.
40 state rabbis face forced retirement

Neighborhood rabbis on the state payrolls must retire at the age of 65 like any other public sector clerk, according to a Prime Minister's Office directive.

In a letter that went out to heads of religious councils across the nation, Meir Spiegler, director-general of Religious Services in the Prime Minister's Office, said that all council employees aged 65 or older, including neighborhood rabbis, were to be retired immediately.

If implemented, about 40 neighborhood rabbis will be forced to retire.

Spiegler told The Jerusalem Post that the directive was approved by the Justice Ministry, the Finance Ministry and the State Comptroller's Office.

"Rabbis are no different from any other public servant," said Spiegler. "And the law says that he or she must retire when the time comes."

Spiegler said that until now the law had not been enforced due to "rampant nepotism and unethical practices that over the past decades have undermined the religious establishment's legitimacy."

"We are trying to improve religious services, including a strict adherence to the law," he said.

However, Minister-without-Portfolio in charge of religious affairs Yitzhak Cohen (Shas) told the Post that Spiegler's letter was "annulled" and that he would not let the rabbis be forced into retirement.

"Spiegler is nothing but a clerk," said Cohen. "I'm the one who sets policy, not Spiegler. I'd sooner fire Spiegler than let those rabbis go."

Cohen said that one could not apply to rabbis the same restrictions that apply to clerks. Rather, they should be seen as elected officials, like the president or members of the Knesset, who are not bound by age restrictions.

Spiegler said in response to Cohen's comments that, "I will not be intimidated by threats. I perform my professional functions in full accordance with the law in the State of Israel, which is my sole criterion for determining employment of public servants."

Moshe Rauchverger, 69, rabbi of the Ramat Hadar neighborhood in Haifa, who according to the Prime Minister's Office's directive will be forced into retirement, said he was organizing both a legal and a political battle to fight the move.

"Rabbis are not just some paper-pushing clerks who can be dismissed when they get old," said Rauchverger, who is also chairman of the Association of Neighborhood Rabbis.

"Over the years we have developed significant relationships with our communities; we are their fathers," he said. "How can they possibly replace us? Our communities won't let it happen."

Rauchverger and other rabbis want to continue to receive a salary from the state for the services they provide, which includes serving as marriage registrar, presiding over marriages and burials, and answering questions in Halacha [Jewish law].

Shlomo Stern, head of the Histadrut Labor Union's religious services department, said that his organization was opposed to the forced retirement measure.

"In 1988, the Histadrut, religious councils and municipalities signed a collective labor agreement that guaranteed the status quo regarding the way rabbis were employed would not be broken," he said.

Given that until 1988 no rabbi had been forced into retirement due to old age, Stern said, the agreement effectively prohibits the government from doing so in the future.

Spiegler added that in some cases after the rabbis were retired they would not be replaced, but that essentially the forced retirements were not intended to reduce the payroll, but simply to comply with the law.

"In each case a special professional committee will decide whether the civil servant who retired should be replaced," he said. "But if there is no reason for that civil servant to be replaced than a redundancy will be eliminated and tax payers' money will be saved."

Spiegler said that his office has been laboring over a massive rehabilitation program for religious services which includes layoffs and increased supervision of the way religious services are provided.

"For decades, rabbis have received money from the state for providing services to the public without any supervision of the quality of those services," said Spiegler. "We want to start instituting greater control in an attempt to improve the services we provide."


NYTimes: The Second Temple in Jerusalem -- the Israel Museum Renovation

I like it the way it is now. No objection to the renovation as described in the Sunday Times. In a manner of speaking, this museum is the Secular Temple of the State of Israel. The renovated museum will be the Second Temple...

The $27 Million Mortgage Fraud and the Kiddush Club

I'm told by anonymous that Mr. Hershkowitz contributes to the Kiddush Club of the Atlantic Beach Jewish Center. The FBI came and took him away. One less shnapps to pour this week.
Two arrested in New York real estate investment scheme allegations
Posted on Monday, July 30, 2007 at 11:40AM by The Editor - Ian Shuter in Flipping, Investment Schemes, New York, Arrests

In the following press release MICHAEL J. GARCIA, United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and MARK J. MERSHON, Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), announced today the arrests of Michael Hershkowitz and Ivy Woolf-Turk in connection with an elaborate scheme to defraud approximately 70 individuals of over $27 million. As alleged in the Complaint filed in Manhattan federal court:

HERSHKOWITZ and WOOLF-TURK, working through a Manhattan real estate development company, The Kingsland Group, Inc., and related entities (collectively, “The Kingsland Group”), fraudulently induced approximately 70 individuals (the “Investor Victims”) to loan them, in the aggregate, over $27 million, purportedly to fund the renovation of approximately sixteen multi-family apartment buildings located in upper Manhattan.

As part of the fraud, HERSHKOWITZ and WOOLF-TURK falsely represented that the Investor Victims would hold, as collateral for the loans, interests in bona fide first mortgages in the various properties in which they thought they were investing. In fact, the Investor Victims did not hold recorded, first mortgages in the properties. The defendants have defaulted on a number of the loans by failing to make scheduled payments of both interest and principal. To date, the Investor Victims’ losses exceed $27 million. more details...


JVO: The Teaneck Orthodox Picture Scandal

Everyone in this picture of local Orthodox pols eating together at a Kosher restaurant should have been cropped out. And the picture should never have been sent to the local penny saver newspaper.

But Michael Wildes, Mayor of Englewood, sent it to the Suburbanite with the "humorous" description that this picture was taken at a "Regional conference on municipal issues." It was published as submitted.

So now the women and blacks who represent Teaneck are asking, Who are we? Chopped liver?

Hello. Orthodox guys! Are you there? When you get elected to a public position, that means you have been entrusted with public funds and public responsibilities.

This is not a kiddush club in a shul where you act as obnoxious as you like and there is no accountability.

It's public service for a community! Hello. You are going to have to learn how to be less obnoxious and more accountable.

See the predictably unprofessional account (in pdf) of this mess by the Jewish Voice and Opinion.

Why do we care? Because by engaging in this "joking around" the Orthodox leaders who have been given a chance at public service are screwing it up!

For more on Teaneck see The Teaneck Progress Blog, "Voices for Coffee and Against Corruption."


EBAY: $1,525.69 for Jesus on the concrete garage floor

You Gotta Love eBay

Christ - Like Smudge Fetches $1,500 - Plus
Published: August 9, 2007 Filed at 11:16 p.m. ET

FOREST, Va. (AP) -- A smudge of driveway sealant resembling the face of Jesus Christ has fetched more than $1,500 in an online auction. The family that found the image on its garage floor sold it for $1,525.69 on eBay Wednesday, more than a week after the slab of concrete was put on sale.

''I really never thought I'd get any, to be honest,'' said Deb Serio, a high school teacher.

''It's fun to see what people say and think about it,'' said Serio, who has gotten hundreds of messages from around the world.

The family has hired a contractor to remove the section of concrete. The chunk will be turned over to the winner, identified only as ''islandoffthecoast.''

An active Lutheran, Serio considers the smudge just an odd occurrence -- not a sign or miracle.

''There are some people who need this kind of thing to sort of start them on their faith journey. I don't,'' she said. ''That's why I don't mind parting with it.''

JTA: The Professor's Death Curse

Be afraid of the curse of the Jewish Studies professor. Israeli police take it seriously!
Professor probed for incitement
Published: 08/09/2007

Israeli police are investigating a professor who cursed an army officer overseeing the eviction of settlers in the West Bank.

Hillel Weiss, a professor of Jewish studies at Bar-Ilan University, publicly called for the death of Colonel Yehuda Fuchs on Tuesday as the commander oversaw the eviction of squatters from two disputed buildings in Hebron.

The remarks, which reminded many Israelis of the curses directed by right-wing activists at Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in the months before his 1995 assassination, caused outcry. Weiss was condemned by the military top brass and many pundits.

On Thursday, police said they were investigating the incident to see if Weiss could be perceived as having committed incitement to violence.


1985 Silberman, "A Certain People": Intermarriage is good for the Jews and other bon mots

22 years later and not much can convince me that Silberman was wrong on any of the big issues. He represented a Reconstructionist view of American Jewish identity then and that has not changed.

I continue to scoff at the rhetoric of the reversion movement - that intermarriage is the completion of Hitler's Final Solution. That's just beyond the bounds of civilized expression.

A marginal Jew who marries out or marries in - remains a marginal Jew. If they marry out and the mate converts in 51% of the cases then we do have a net gain for the Jewish people. If you argue that "waters down" the quality of the tribe - I can't answer you other than to say, you ought to get real.

Here is the 1985 review of Silberman from the Times:

A CERTAIN PEOPLE: American Jews and Their Lives Today. By Charles E. Silberman. 458 pages. Summit. $19.95.

AMERICA'S Jews have never had it so good. That, briefly, is the message of Charles E. Silberman's new book. Drawing on a library of statistics, a lifetime of anecdotes and some old jokes, Mr. Silberman reports many things that few are likely to quarrel with and a few things that many are bound to question.

In the so-what's-new? category are his findings that Jews are relatively well-educated and affluent; that they have moved into professions such as law and medicine in numbers far exceeding their small percentage of the population, have established themselves in executive suites, academic groves and the halls of Congress and figure conspicuously as performers, creators and benefactors of cultural activities, high, low and middle.

More controversial is Mr. Silberman's contention that anti-Semitism in America is not just around the corner or under the surface as Jewish defense agencies never tire of cautioning, but that with the disquieting exception of stirrings among young blacks, anti-Semitism exists only in vestigial form. He exhorts Jews to remain true to the Democratic Party in order to preserve it from the ''Third World stance'' on foreign policy of the Rev. Jesse Jackson, but he sees little cause for anxiety in what he calls America's ''benign atmosphere.''

And most controversial, particularly among traditional Jews, is his assurance that despite assimilation and intermarriage, Jewishness is thriving.

Mr. Silberman, an experienced magazine hand, puts forth his argument in serviceable if not especially felicitous prose. He is given to the big statement: ''In the America of the 1980's no challenge is more urgent or more important than that posed by the willingness of mixed-married couples to raise their children as Jews.'' And he uses some old tricks of the trade, notably this sort of interpolation: ''ITEM: When Louis Borgenicht, the father of a childhood friend of my mother's, arrived in New York in 1888, he sold herring out of a barrel on a Lower East Side corner.'' A quarter of the book seems to be taken up by such ITEMS, which I found more jarring than enlivening. However, Mr. Silberman and his researchers seem to have read all the books and talked to everybody who's anybody. If there are holes in the research, I failed to spot them.

Mr. Silberman's good riddance to anti-Semitism runs counter to an understandable tendency in his generation to see the worst in every rude word written on a temple wall, but he marshals considerable supporting evidence in the form of public opinion polls and other data. Although acknowledging that there are perils for American Jews in their close identification with Israel, he reminds us that the fears of a few years ago that the oil crisis would engender ill feelings toward Jews ''turned out to be groundless.'' Even if Mr. Silberman is right, however, the matter invites more stringent analysis than he supplies. It is hardly enough to say that the reason for the happy situation is that ''a multiethnic, multireligious society cannot permit anti-Semitism, or group prejudice of any sort, to intrude in its public life.'' It has intruded often enough.

As for the prospects for the survival of Jewish identity, they have always been problematic. Mr. Silberman emphasizes that although about one in four Jews marries outside the faith, in many cases the gentile partner converts and the children are brought up to consider themselves Jewish. He writes that ''most Jews are choosing to remain Jews - some kind of Jews, if not necessarily the kind their parents or grandparents were.''

But what does that mean? Will celebrating Hanukkah instead of Christmas suffice? Or having the family over for a Passover seder, possibly without the prayers? Or lighting candles on the Sabbath? Or just feeling Jewish?

Mr. Silberman, who is active in Jewish affairs, is associated with the Reconstructionist movement, which emphasizes ''the centrality of Jewish peoplehood'' rather than the religious side of Judaism. He is sanguine about the endurance of the community, if not the faith, and quotes approvingly the view of the Reconstructionist leader Mordecai Kaplan that ''the Jewish religion existed for the Jewish people and not the Jewish people for the Jewish religion.''

On this matter of whether Jews are an endangered species, Mr. Silberman's evidence is selective. His persuasive confirmation of American Jews' sense of belonging, of the breadth and depth of their place in the society and the fading of resistance to their full participation cuts both ways. Assimilation can mean a more secure identity or the loss of identity. It's a long-simmering issue, and ''A Certain People'' can be counted on to bring it once again to a boil.

Video: The Burning Bush Jewish Brothel in Reno

Reno 911 is a show on Comedy Central. This is pretty funny clip from the show.

-re-run from 2006-

Chabad takes on the Bullies

How nice!
Before the Bullying Begins: Chabad Educators Explore Character Development

NEWARK, NJ -- (August 6, 2007)
R.C. Berman

Not a topic normally associated with nice Jewish kids, bullies have garnered a lot of attention lately. According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, nearly a third of children grades 6 to 10 have been bullied or bullied others.

Coupled with the finding that bullying affects children’s mental health, academic performance, and, for the bullies themselves, a future criminal record, it’s one of the hot school issues d’jour.

Last week, 100 educators from Chabad-Lubavitch’s 140 elementary, middle and high schools across North America spent two days in the classroom, devoting more than ten hours of lectures and presentations at the conference to character development, with a focus on positive ways to take on bullies.

The rabbis took notes, leaning forward to listen to the group of experts assembled by Chabad’s educational division, Merkos L’inyonei Chinuch, at Newark’s Robert Treat Conference Center.

Following the approach of Chabad-Lubavitch, the topic was flipped to a positive angle at the conference. Dr. David Pelcovitz, a psychologist, author, and professor, pitched his pointers for helping students develop positive interpersonal communication skills as a stopgap before bullying begins.....

VB Review of "Steel Toes"

I have not seen it - but it looks interesting and I will be renting it.

Steel Toes
By Ed Grant -- Video Business, 8/6/2007 MONTEREY MEDIA

Skinhead drama benefits from excellent lead performance by David Strathairn.

The one element that distinguishes this Canadian drama about the difficult relationship between a skinhead murderer (Andrew Walker) and his court-appointed lawyer is the fact that the lawyer is played by the impeccable David Strathairn (We Are Marshall, The Sopranos). With his nuanced portrayal of the Jewish lawyer who struggles with his true feelings about his racist client, Strathairn is able to elevate Steel Toes from being a standard-issue TV movie “message drama.” Walker is good but not exceptional as the skinhead, and the script by co-director David Gow is basically structured around a series of scenes between the two characters, giving the film the feel of a play adapted for the big screen.

Shelf Talk: Previously known only to fans of independent film, Strathairn achieved mainstream recognition with his starring role in George Clooney’s Good Night, and Good Luck. Other selling points include Steel Toes’ inclusion in such film festivals as the Beverly Hills Film Festival (where it won Best Feature), the Detroit Jewish Film Festival (Best New Film) and the USA Film Festival.

Drama, color, R (mature themes, violence, language), 90 min.