11/30/08

Will Worldwide Hasidic Chabad Lubavitch Jewish Outposts Survive in a Post-Mumbai Terrorism Age?

The Times has a follow-up article on the Chabad Mumbai tragedy.

My thought upon reading that Lubavitch has 4000 outposts worldwide - can the movement survive the additional risks and concomitant security costs that result from the Mumbai attack and tragedy?

No other Jewish sect or movement has done more to make Judaism's presence known (and Kosher food and minyanim available) in the four corners of our world.

I hope and trust that those who support Chabad will step up and contribute as much as it takes to help them continue their holy works around the globe.

[PS: Tzvee to Chabad: It's way past the time to choose a new rebbe. How about it?]
Chabad Movement Vows to Continue Work of Couple Killed in Attack
By CARA BUCKLEY

For many Jews, they are homes away from home: Chabad Houses, welcoming outposts in foreign lands or across the United States, places to drop in to celebrate Hanukkah, Passover or weekly Shabbat dinners.

Almost always, the Chabad Houses are run by young couples, emissaries of the Chabad-Lubavitch denomination, a Hasidic faith with its headquarters in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, whose adherents believe that secular Jews ought to become more observant.

Two of those emissaries were killed when their Chabad House was among the buildings attacked by terrorists in Mumbai last week. In their deaths, the couple, Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg, 29, and his wife Rivka, 28, drew a spotlight on the Chabad faith (the terms Chabad and Lubavitch are used interchangeably) — and to the emissaries’ growing presence around the world.

The number of Chabad Houses has mushroomed in the last decade, and now more than 4,000 husband-and-wife couples run them in 73 countries.

In 2003, the Holtzbergs, newly married, opened the first Chabad House in Mumbai.

Chabad leaders are quick to stress that the emissaries, called shluchim in Hebrew, are not missionaries. They do not try to convert non-Jews to Judaism. Instead, their mandate is to act as “lamplighters” by reaching out to secular Jews, often stopping people on city sidewalks and asking, “Are you Jewish?,” and trying to persuade them to deepen their faith.

The Chabad faith emerged 250 years in Russia ago as a branch of Hasidism. In 1951, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson became the spiritual leader, or rebbe, and under him, outreach bloomed.

“They pioneered Jewish outreach, and they developed techniques now used by other Jewish denominations,” said Sue Fishkoff, a journalist and author of the book “The Rebbe’s Army: Inside the World of Chabad-Lubavitch.”

The Holtzbergs moved to Mumbai in August 2003. Mr. Holtzberg, who was born in Israel and had moved to Brooklyn in his teens, had nursed a dream of becoming a shliach emissary. He spent time as a student in the Chabad House in Bangkok, and helped open a house in south Thailand, according to Rabbi Yosef Kantor, who oversees new branches in Southeast Asia.

The region sees great numbers of Israeli and Jewish travelers, and the Chabad movement wanted to expand its presence there. The Holtzbergs, it was decided, were perfect for the Mumbai job. As a student, Mr. Holtzberg was noted as a nimble thinker and, according to Rabbi Zalman Shmotkin, a spokesman for the Chabad movement in New York, for advancing Talmudic concepts. Mrs. Holtzberg seemed at once endlessly calm and energetic, said people who knew her.

Jewish groups are often wary when a Chabad House opens in a new city, but the Holtzbergs forged harmonious relationships in Mumbai, Ms. Fishkoff said. The couple’s home in the Colaba neighborhood, a popular destination for tourists, quickly became a favorite among Jewish backpackers, who were attracted to its welcoming air, Jewish art and the shelves lined with row after row of religious books.

“We talked and argued politics, discussed economics, shared our personal stories,” Olga Daniella Bakayeva, a recent guest, wrote in a post on Chabad.org after the Holtzbergs’ deaths were reported.

A week before the terrorists attacked, the 25th annual International Conference of the Chabad-Lubavitch Emissaries began in New York. Mr. Holtzberg chose not to attend: his eldest son, who was gravely ill with a congenital disease, was in an Israeli hospital, and Mr. Holtzberg wanted to stay close to home.

On Thursday morning, hours after the terrorist siege began, the Holtzbergs’ Indian nanny managed to escape with the couple’s other child, Moshe, who turned 2 on Saturday. It was not until Saturday night that terrible images from the Chabad House, known as Nariman House, began to trickle out: photos of a blood-soaked floor of a library strewn with red-stained pages of holy books.

Some of the dead, including Mrs. Holtzberg, were found wrapped in prayer shawls. Witnesses speculated that the rabbi had managed to cover the bodies before he was killed.

The Chabad community was seized with horror and shock. They had not been so maliciously singled out in at least 50 years, Mr. Shmotkin said.

“You think about those who were so selfless, they had no other life than spreading love and goodness,” Mr. Shmotkin said. “To have them cut down in this kind of way is really unfathomable.”

Yet within hours after the news broke about the Holtzbergs’ deaths, young Chabad couples from around the world stepped forward, offering to move to Mumbai and continue the movement’s work.

Chabad leaders said the Mumbai house would be certain to reopen.

Isabel Kershner contributed reporting from Jerusalem.

11/29/08

Join Tzvee's Jewish Book Club - Rabbis, Jewish Prayer, Hebrew, Syllabi, Courses

11/28/08

We Curse the Killers of the Holy Mumbai Hasidic Chabad Jewish Hostages

The insane terrorists have reached a new moral low.

How senseless and barbaric it was to seek out and harm a Hasidic holy man in a synagogue - a holy place - one of less than 4000 Jews in a country of 1.13 billion inhabitants. There is no logic, no point, to such action no matter what your state of mind.

This act is the antithesis of civilization.

We curse by name the evil terrorist Imran Babar who occupied the Nariman House and all of his ilk.
Hostages said dead in Mumbai Jewish center
By RAVI NESSMAN, Associated Press Writer Ravi Nessman, Associated Press Writer

MUMBAI, India – Commandos who stormed the Mumbai headquarters of an ultra-orthodox Jewish group found the bodies of five hostages inside, an Israeli emergency medical crew said, as a fresh battle raged at the luxury Taj Mahal hotel and other Indian forces ended a siege at another five-star hotel.

11/27/08

Cellphone Transcripts of Indian Islamic Terrorist Calls to India TV Station from the Oberoi Hotel and Nariman House Where Israelis Hostages are Held

Frightening and dramatic phone calls...

Source: India TV
Thursday, November 27, 2008 09:00 PM IST (03:30 PM GMT)
Editors: General: Consumer interest, People, Politics; Business: Advertising, PR & marketing, Business services, Defence & security, Media & entertainment

Terrorists Ring Up India TV Twice During Siege Using Hostages’ Cellphones

New Delhi, Delhi, India, Thursday, November 27, 2008

Two terrorists, Shadullah and Imran Babar, rang up India TV twice during the siege on Thursday using cellphones of their hostages to place their points of view.

The first call came in the morning from Shadullah who was holed up in Oberoi Hotel, Mumbai. Using Cellphone no. 09769679723 belonging to a Swedish lady named Lisa Ringner from Room No. 1856, Hotel Oberoi, Shadullah rang up India TV’s popular number 93505 93505 and spoke at length about why he and his colleagues carried out the strikes in Mumbai.

Shadullah claimed that he belonged to Deccan Mujahideen, a little known outfit which had claimed responsibility of the terror strikes in Mumbai on Wednesday night. The anchor repeatedly asked whether he was from Hyderabad, India, or from Hyderabad, Pakistan, to which he replied in his heavily Pakistani accent that he belonged to Hyderabad of the Deccan. Shadullah carried on with his litany of perceived injustices meted out Muslims in India. The conversation ran thus :

India TV – What do you want?
Shadullah – When so many of us were killed, who did anything for us? Babri Masjid was demolished. We were not allowed to stay in peace..That time, nobody was with us. You are talking of surrender.. Let these commandos come.. Hum Uski Aisi Chhutti karega ki Who apne bachhey ko yateem kar lega.(We will get rid of them in such a manner that their sons will become orphans)
India TV- You belong to which place? To which faction do you belong?
Shadullah- We belong to Hyderabad.
India TV—Hyderabad of Pakistan?
Shadullah- No, Hyderabad of the Deccan. And we are from Deccan Mujahideen.
India TV—What are your demands?
Shadullah- Wait for a minute ( he consults with somebody)
India TV—Tell us your demands, because the whole of India is listening to you.
Shadullah—Hello, We demand the release of all mujaheddin put in jails. Then will we release these people. Otherwise..Nahin Toh hum Eent se Eent Bajayega (we will destroy this place)..You must have seen, what’s happening here.
India TV- Tell us, how many of you are there in Oberoi hotel?
Shahdullah—Why should I tell you?
India TV—No, you tell us because you are claiming that so many people are fighting for you..At least tell us, how many of you are there?
Shadullah – Hum saath hain (We are seven)..saath (seven)
India TV- You are seven there in Oberoi Hotel?
Shahdullah—Yes
India TV—Do you have the single demand that all mujaheddin arrested be released.. or do you have any other demand?
Shahdullah - Yes, release them, and we, the Muslim who live in India, should not be harassed.. Things like demolition of Babri Masjid and killings should stop.
India TV—Shahdullah, we want to tell you that you are yourself a citizen of India.. You yourself say that you belong to Hyderbad. Don’t you have love for your own country.. your own Hindustan? Because those who are killed they could be your brothers, or the brothers of others..
Shahdullah--- We love this country.. this is our country..but the issue is this: when our elders, our brothers are killed, didn’t these people see all this? OK ..Allah Haafiz.

The second call was from another terrorist Imran Babar from Nariman House, Mumbai, where he used the cellphone no. 9819464530 belonging to Holtzberg Gaverlein, staying at Nariman House Number 3, Hormusji Street, Colaba, Mumbai. Imran Babar also rang up India TV’s popular number kept aside for viewers 93505 93505. Time: 17:07:05 hrs.

India TV—Hello, Imran, where are you?
Imran Babar – We are here..You call their (Israeli) Army Staff to visit Kashmir.. why is it so?..Who are they to come to J & K..This is a matter between us and Hindus..the Hindu government..Why does that Israel come here..To say that Israel and Palestine..
India TV—Imran, you claim that you are in Nariman House.. How many of your friends are there in Nariman House?
Imran –We know how to live.. how to snatch our rights…
India TV – Imran, are you able to listen to what I am saying?
Imran—Yes, I can hear you..
India TV—Just reply to my question.. How many of you are there in Nariman House?
Imran—I have five persons with me..
India TV—And when did you come to Mumbai?
Imran—Hum log.. Hum log apne kaam se aaya hai (We have come here for our work)..Raah Dekhte Raha (we waited)…Saara maamla aapke samne hai (everything is before you).. Zulm aur zyadati bardasht karke jab hum thak gaya hai, tab humne eisa karne ko majboor ho gaya hai.. Aapke saamne haalaat hai.. Main toh wahi aapko baar baar itihaas bata raha hun..lekin (We are tired of facing tortures and injustice, we are forced to do this.. The situation is in front of you..I am merely repeating history to you, but..) I don’t’ understand why you people talk like this?
India TV—What’s your age, Imran?
Imran—I am 25.
India TV—What’s the age of your friends?
Imran—My other friends are also of the same age…young..adults..

Claiming to have worked as a medical representative in a multinational company, Babar said these attacks were to avenge “torture and injustice”. He, however, skirted the query as to which place he hails from.

India TV repeatedly appealed to both the terrorists to surrender and release the hostages, but they were adamant. India TV informed the security agencies in Delhi and Mumbai as soon as the calls were received from the terrorists. The details of the cellphones were obtained from security agencies, who were keeping track of these conversations.

11/26/08

Our Prayers for the Safety of the Mumbai Hostages and Victims

We extend our prayers for the safety and recovery of those hostages and victims of terrorism attacks today in Mumbai, India.

We feel involved somehow, I guess it is because we visited the Taj and stayed at the Oberoi hotel in Mumbai in November 2003.
At the Oberoi from 2003 India
In front of the Taj from 2003 India

Tzvee's Obama-and-the-Orthodox Op-ed Published in the Jewish Press

It's great to be published by America's Largest Independent Jewish Weekly newspaper.

11/25/08

The Born Again Times Science-Religion Section

Baffling!

Perhaps the editor of the Times Science section is hoping to attract advertising from the John Templeton Foundation.

I can think of no other explanation for the publication of "science" stories about the 19th century issue of science and religious miracles and the account of a mixed up inconclusive "cautious" study by a Yeshiva University professor of the 18th century question of the health benefits of religion, see below.
Magnificent Medical Miracles, and Everyday Ones, Too By ABIGAIL ZUGER, M.D -- Two new health books go a long way toward explicating medical miracles pursued and those that unfold against all expectations.
Vital Signs: Patterns: Better Health for Religiously Observant By ERIC NAGOURNEY
Many people believe that going to religious services may be good for the afterlife. But researchers have found that it may not be so bad in the here and now.

A new study, which followed the health of more than 90,000 women over an average of more than seven years each, found that those who attended services were one-fifth less likely to die than those who did not.

The subject has been controversial, and the authors of the study, which appears in Psychology & Health, were at pains not to appear to be making a link between religion itself and health.

“I don’t want to go beyond what the facts are showing us, and I want to be cautious,” said the lead author of the study, Eliezer Schnall of Yeshiva University.

Whatever the explanation, the researchers found a significant difference over the course of the study in the death rate of women who reported attending the services of Christian, Jewish and other faiths at least once a week.

The researchers used information from the Women’s Health Initiative, a long-term study looking at women 50 to 79 at 40 locations around the United States.

The researchers also looked to see if religious observance played a role in reducing heart disease. Though the findings did not support that, they did show a lower rate of death from all causes.

The reason is not clear, although earlier studies have suggested that people who are part of strong social networks tend to be healthier. Some religious people may also be more likely to refrain from tobacco or alcohol.

Those who are moved by the findings to make their way to church, temple or mosque should note that the researchers did not provide the answer to one question: which religion had the healthiest members.

11/24/08

NY Times' Editors Oppose College Football

I don't have anything to say. I am speechless.

The Times' editors have discovered that college football costs money, money that indeed, "might otherwise have been devoted to academics."

I did not know that. Wow, thanks NY Times. Just remind us how this factotum eluded you all these years.
Editorial
The Rutgers Mess

Rutgers, the biggest and most important public university in New Jersey, has spent millions of dollars furthering its ambition to become a major football power that might otherwise have been devoted to academics. It has done so during a period of rising tuition and budgetary cutbacks in academic departments, and, worse, without any real oversight from the university’s president, Richard McCormick, and its Board of Governors...(more opining and whining...)

Top 3 Religion Stories: Interfaith Talk Impossible; Forgive Lennon for his Boast that Beatles Bigger than Jesus; Have Sex for Seven Days

Sex, Drugs, Rock and Roll.

It's been tough keeping up with all the breaking religion news this week.

Here is our breathless list of the top three stories juxtaposed and with comments interposed... and they are real stories, not things we made up...

1. Vatican forgives John Lennon for “more popular than Jesus” quip. (Reuters)

Yes, they forgive him because he was just boasting - and yes the all time boasting rock stars know just how to forgive.

2. Confusion over pope's letter saying interfaith talks impossible. (Reuters)

Pope says interfaith talk is impossible. Interfaith Rabbi says, say it ain't so Ben, that will kill my business. (Yeah, I know, this is not actually about drugs, but if you have ever sat through interfaith talks...)

And finally, 3. Pastor’s Advice for Better Marriage: More Sex. (Times)

From Grapevine, Texas comes forth the Torah of Rev. Young preaching seven days of sex, he calls it whoopee. Philip Roth laughs. We ask, Nonstop?

And your comment is....

Was comedian Buddy Hackett Jewish?

Of course Buddy Hackett was Jewish. And he was one of the funniest people on the planet.

This video from Jib Jab has a few of his funniest jokes -- as told on the Johnny Carson Tonight show.

I have told his "Duck" joke dozens of times (see it at about 4 minutes left on the video). Also it forms the basis for my negotiations philosophy.

11/21/08

Times: Drug Companies Own NPR Radio "Infinite Mind" Shrink Fred Goodwin

"I forgot to tell you about the $1.3 million that the drug companies paid me."

That is the shameful excuse that this immoral and corrupt doctor has offered to NPR. It's the health and safety of children that is at stake here.
Popular Radio Host Has Drug Company Ties
By GARDINER HARRIS

An influential psychiatrist who served as the host of public radio’s popular “The Infinite Mind” program earned at least $1.3 million between 2000 and 2007 giving marketing lectures for drug makers, income not mentioned on the program.

The psychiatrist and radio host, Dr. Frederick K. Goodwin, is the latest in a series of doctors and researchers whose ties to drug makers have been uncovered by Senator Charles E. Grassley, a Republican from Iowa. Dr. Goodwin, a former director of the National Institute of Mental Health, is the first media figure investigated.

Dr. Goodwin’s radio programs have often touched on subjects important to the commercial interests of the companies for which he consults. In a program broadcast on Sept. 20, 2005, Dr. Goodwin warned that children with bipolar disorder who are left untreated could suffer brain damage, a controversial view. “But as we’ll be hearing today,” Dr. Goodwin reassured his audience, “modern treatments — mood stabilizers in particular — have been proven both safe and effective in bipolar children.”...more

Is Michael Mukasey Jewish?

Yes, Attorney General Michael Mukasey is an Orthodox Jew.

JTA has an extensive story on this:
...Mukasey, 66, is a lifelong congregant at Kehillath Jeshurun on New York City's Upper East Side. He was educated at its Ramaz school, and his wife for a time was the school's headmistress. He is close friends with another congregant, Jay Lefkowitz, a top Washington lawyer and a veteran of the Soviet Jewry advocacy movement who is Bush's special envoy for human rights in North Korea...
The AG also is a neighbor of my dad and brother. They live on the same floor in their Upper East Side building in New York City and have met on several occasions at the elevators.

Mukasey appeared ill last night while giving a speech. He was taken to a hospital. We wish him a speedy and complete recovery.

11/20/08

Mitt Romney's Bankrupt Evil Ideas About General Motors and American Workers

The Times ran this greedy republican screed by a management toad and much to my shock a lot of average working class Americans agree with it.

Here is the op-ed and interspersed  are some of my comments and reasons for taking exception to Romney's evil and mean-spirited attack on a the workers of our nation through his attempt to justify union-busting at the worst possible juncture in our history.
New York Times Op-Ed, "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt," By MITT ROMNEY

If General Motors, Ford and Chrysler get the bailout that their chief executives asked for yesterday, you can kiss the American automotive industry goodbye. It won’t go overnight, but its demise will be virtually guaranteed.
Comment: Scare tactic, Romney has no way of knowing this and big three executives will guarantee the opposite.
Without that bailout, Detroit will need to drastically restructure itself. With it, the automakers will stay the course — the suicidal course of declining market shares, insurmountable labor and retiree burdens, technology atrophy, product inferiority and never-ending job losses. Detroit needs a turnaround, not a check.
Comment: It is not so easy to do anything drastic and always costs more than gradual. Using suicidal is over the top rhetoric. Turnaround and check are not mutually exclusive.
I love cars, American cars. I was born in Detroit, the son of an auto chief executive. In 1954, my dad, George Romney, was tapped to run American Motors when its president suddenly died. The company itself was on life support — banks were threatening to deal it a death blow. The stock collapsed. I watched Dad work to turn the company around — and years later at business school, they were still talking about it. From the lessons of that turnaround, and from my own experiences, I have several prescriptions for Detroit’s automakers.
Comment: Credentials for his assessment – his love of cars and his father's experience. Last I checked parents' experiences are not genetically transmitted. And gosh – did his father succeed or did he fail? AMC is not around is it?
First, their huge disadvantage in costs relative to foreign brands must be eliminated. That means new labor agreements to align pay and benefits to match those of workers at competitors like BMW, Honda, Nissan and Toyota. Furthermore, retiree benefits must be reduced so that the total burden per auto for domestic makers is not higher than that of foreign producers.
Comment: Management agenda item one – break the unions. Lower wages for all workers. Hey, is that what you want as a working person? I did not think so.
That extra burden is estimated to be more than $2,000 per car. Think what that means: Ford, for example, needs to cut $2,000 worth of features and quality out of its Taurus to compete with Toyota’s Avalon. Of course the Avalon feels like a better product — it has $2,000 more put into it. Considering this disadvantage, Detroit has done a remarkable job of designing and engineering its cars. But if this cost penalty persists, any bailout will only delay the inevitable.
Comment: The whole paragraph is nonsense. Detroit is doing a "remarkable job" and the only problem is the other car "feels like a better product" because lower paid workers made it. Nah. And scare us one more time: "bailout will only delay the inevitable" – the disaster that is.
Second, management as is must go. New faces should be recruited from unrelated industries — from companies widely respected for excellence in marketing, innovation, creativity and labor relations.
Comment: Fire all the managers and bring in Pepsi managers to make cars. Sure if all you want from a manager is to break unions, you need to bring in anyone who can do that.
The new management must work with labor leaders to see that the enmity between labor and management comes to an end. This division is a holdover from the early years of the last century, when unions brought workers job security and better wages and benefits. But as Walter Reuther, the former head of the United Automobile Workers, said to my father, “Getting more and more pay for less and less work is a dead-end street.”
Comment: Out-of-context quotation to support the notion that unions just want more money to do less. That's insulting plain and simple. Labor wants a good solid living wage to do a professional job. Workers want security and a sense of pride and ownership in their company. Let's see where Mitt says this.
You don’t have to look far for industries with unions that went down that road. Companies in the 21st century cannot perpetuate the destructive labor relations of the 20th. This will mean a new direction for the U.A.W., profit sharing or stock grants to all employees and a change in Big Three management culture.
Comment: Profit sharing or stock grants – sounds like he wants to share the company between labor and management. Wow he is progressive, or is he?
The need for collaboration will mean accepting sanity in salaries and perks. At American Motors, my dad cut his pay and that of his executive team, he bought stock in the company, and he went out to factories to talk to workers directly. Get rid of the planes, the executive dining rooms — all the symbols that breed resentment among the hundreds of thousands who will also be sacrificing to keep the companies afloat.
Comment: "Sanity in salary and perks" – another slap in the face of labor. Deliberately confusing corporate management jets with job security and proper benefits and retirement. Nice try Mitt.
Investments must be made for the future. No more focus on quarterly earnings or the kind of short-term stock appreciation that means quick riches for executives with options. Manage with an eye on cash flow, balance sheets and long-term appreciation. Invest in truly competitive products and innovative technologies — especially fuel-saving designs — that may not arrive for years. Starving research and development is like eating the seed corn.
Comment: Whoa, the platitudes come tumbling forth like a torrent, now directed at managers. I'm really confused. Whose fault is this mess anyhow – management or labor?
Just as important to the future of American carmakers is the sales force. When sales are down, you don’t want to lose the only people who can get them to grow. So don’t fire the best dealers, and don’t crush them with new financial or performance demands they can’t meet.
Comment: A sudden shift in direction now – dealers need to be protected from being "crushed."
It is not wrong to ask for government help, but the automakers should come up with a win-win proposition. I believe the federal government should invest substantially more in basic research — on new energy sources, fuel-economy technology, materials science and the like — that will ultimately benefit the automotive industry, along with many others. I believe Washington should raise energy research spending to $20 billion a year, from the $4 billion that is spent today. The research could be done at universities, at research labs and even through public-private collaboration. The federal government should also rectify the imbedded tax penalties that favor foreign carmakers.
Comment: "Win-win" and "I believe" in "basic research" and "universities" and "research labs" and "rectify" and raise the flag, eat apple pie and honor your mother.
But don’t ask Washington to give shareholders and bondholders a free pass — they bet on management and they lost.
Comment: No "free pass" for the poor shareholders, many of whom also happen to be the workers.
The American auto industry is vital to our national interest as an employer and as a hub for manufacturing. A managed bankruptcy may be the only path to the fundamental restructuring the industry needs. It would permit the companies to shed excess labor, pension and real estate costs. The federal government should provide guarantees for post-bankruptcy financing and assure car buyers that their warranties are not at risk.
Comment: What is the main purpose then? A plan that will "permit the companies to shed excess labor, pension and real estate costs." Screw the workers!
In a managed bankruptcy, the federal government would propel newly competitive and viable automakers, rather than seal their fate with a bailout check.
Comment: "Seal their fate" - pardon me while I go and throw up.This is such a transparent management slanted tirade, I do not see why any hourly worker, any salaried employee in any industry, any manager, any sane and right thinking American would agree that now is the time to break the unions and screw the American worker. It just makes no sense.

Alas I have said before in the blog that I fear the fix is in and that Bush will add to his legacy the demise of General Motors - two big feathers in his cap - the busting of the unions and the murder of the Volt electric car - one reward for the republicans at large and one special gift for the oil companies.

11/19/08

Jewish Week: Frum Orthodox Jewish Men Flock to Single Malt Scotch Show

At the Marriott Marquis in Times Square New York last week, at the 11th annual WhiskyFest, the world’s distillers assembled to serve single malt scotches (i.e. actually 230 different whiskeys and scores of rums, vodkas, gins, brandies and beers) to enthusiastic Orthodox Jewish men and others paying $120-$160 for admission. The Jewish Week has brought us the details of this urgent breaking story of international significance, especially this:
...Since its inception in 1997, WhiskyFest has always attracted a sizable number of Orthodox Jews, and the festival has offered a kosher meal plan since 1999. At this year’s WhiskyFest, approximately 10 to 15 percent of the male attendees were wearing yarmulkes or black fedoras, and during the course of the evening there were at least three impromptu Maariv minyanim...
So apparently it is legal to drink and daven, or did the rabbi bring a breathalyzer?

Franken Gains 28 Votes in Day One of the Recount

As we predicted, democrat Al Franken is picking up votes in the Minnesota recount.

The ballot boxes are being "unstuffed." Somewhere out there in the precincts is the mother lode of republican hanky-panky and when discovered that will finish the story.

StarTribune:
The contentious fight for a U.S. Senate seat between incumbent Republican Norm Coleman and Democratic challenger Al Franken inched into the recount phase today as election workers across Minnesota began retabulating more than 2.9 million ballots -- one by one.

Coleman held a 215-vote lead heading into the process.

In several precincts in the Democratic stronghold of St. Louis County, Franken made a net gain of 28 votes today that officials said were faintly marked and therefore not originally picked up by an old brand of optical scanner.

Elections officials said the votes were missed by a small number of outdated "Eagle" scanners still in use in 18 of the large county's 184 precincts...more
In other Minnesota politics news....

human loon Michelle Bachman has been named the new Minnesota state bird, replacing the avian loon. She now says on FOX that what she said on national TV on MSNBC she did not say and she says on FOX that the story that she said it on MSNBC is an urban legend. See the details and have a laugh.

Is Mark Begich Jewish?

No Mark Begich, who has defeated Ted Stevens in the Senate race in Alaska, is not a Jew.

Begich, is a Roman Catholic. He was born in Anchorage, the fourth child of six born to Nick and Pegge Begich. His paternal grandfather John Begich immigrated to the United States from Croatia in 1911. Although he took continuing education classes at University of Alaska in Anchorage, Begich will be the only U.S. Senator without a college degree.

One news report narrates the following exchange during the campaign.
SOLDOTNA, Alaska -- U.S. Senate candidate and Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich appeared at a forum ...put on by the Kenai and Soldotna Chambers of Commerce.

The forum got pretty heated at times, especially when fellow candidate Libertarian Bob Bird brought up Begich's religious views.

"The pope and the bishop have said Catholics that support abortion rights should not present themselves for communion," said Bob Bird, a candidate for U.S. Senate. "I'm going to simply say this: If you are not a Catholic Mark, I can respect that, but I heard you had a baptism in the family at St. Patrick's Cathedral. So I'm going to simply ask you, are you a Catholic, and the next thing I'm going to answer is would you present yourself for communion?"

Begich searched for a polite way to respond.

"First off, I'm a Catholic and I take communion," Begich said. "But let me say one other thing Bob. That the baptism you're talking about is my child's, and for you to do that and now bring that into this campaign is the lowest I've ever seen in any campaign."

11/18/08

Times: New Study Proves Only that the Statin Drug Crestor Fails to Cure or Prevent Heart Disease


The Times carefully cautions (A Call for Caution in the Rush to Statins By TARA PARKER-POPE) that the latest blockbuster study may not show all that it's cracked up to show. You should read it.

I'm no fan of statins because when I took Lipitor it gave me liver disease and elevated test readings that lasted for months even after I stopped taking it. Now that does not make me biased for or against the drugs. It does make me stop and look closely at the statistics and claims to see if I am seriously at risk for not taking this class of drugs. The editorial writer of NEJM and the science writer at the Times have also raised critical questions about the relative and absolute value of the benefits of this drug for this population and by extension of the general use of the whole class of pharmaceuticals.

Another series of red flags for me are the pom-pom waving physicians who make quotable assessments and the multi-million dollar ad campaigns that subtley terrify folks about risks of heart attacks and death.

That personal episode and my critical nature vis a vis the surrounding hullabaloo that is absolutely not acceptable in any professional scientific research community together gave me plenty to think about. Here are some of my thoughts that echo many of the NEJM and Times' themes and cautions...

There are at least two sides to every study. Your government now permits companies making cholesterol drugs to overstate the results of their studies and to reap enormous financial benefits from "preventative medicine" that is of statistically little value.

Let's look at how some spokesmen tout the latest results for a study of Crestor in a sample population.

One doctor, Steven Nissen, head of cardiology at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, referred to the findings as an "out- of-the park home run" that will change medical practice. Now, that kind of assessment is just plain unprofessional. Dr. Nissen acts like a cheerleader, not like a professional and he ought to be disciplined for that.

And the news reports say that, "In the Crestor study, dubbed Jupiter, patients on the drug were 47 percent less likely to have a heart attack, stroke or die of cardiac causes after two years than those using a placebo."

So wait, that means that 47 percent of people who took the drug were cured of a disease, doesn't it?

But the real results for each individual who takes the drug are spelled out by Dr. Mark Hlatky of Stanford University in an editorial accompanying the report, published online by the New England Journal of Medicine:
Overall, the study found 83 heart attacks, strokes and deaths from cardiac causes among the 8,901 patients given Crestor, or 0.9 percent, compared with 157 in the 8,901 patients, 1.8 percent, getting a placebo. That means 120 people would need to be treated for 1.9 years to prevent just one event, Hlatky wrote in his editorial.
This drug does not cure heart disease or stroke. It lowers risk by a very small percent.

The number needed to treat is enormous. Out of 240 people in a year, you might prevent one event in one person. For you, and for each person that is less than a half a percent of cure, not 47 percent.

Or another way to look at it is the drug is less than one percent better than placebo.

The Times explains i this way:
Only 1.8 percent of the subjects who took a placebo had a major cardiovascular problem during the study period. Among statin users, 0.9 percent did. In other words, the absolute risk of a serious cardiovascular problem (as opposed to the relative risk) was reduced by less than one percentage point.

“Absolute differences in risk are more clinically important than relative reductions in risk in deciding whether to recommend drug therapy,” The New England Journal of Medicine noted in an editorial accompanying a report on the study.
And by the way, did we mention that those who took it develop a statistically significant risk of diabetes?

This drug does not provide any cure for any disease. The study gives truncated evidence that the drug is a relative risk reducer of small merit, with possible debilitating side effects for a given population.

For you and for me it is a bunt, if not a foul ball, surely not an out of the park home run.

And nobody bothers to explain convincingly why a study designed for five years was suddenly ended after two years. Was the initial design wrong? Who stopped the study? Why not keep it going? What are they afraid of? Hmm, perhaps even the misleading numbers won't hold up in a longer study.

Smells to me like the company saw a glimmer of daylight and cut and ran for it.

You can read the medical editorial in the NEJM here.

Consult your doctor about the actual value for you of any medications that he might prescribe. And ask him if the expensive pill that he gives you actually cures or prevents any disease.

Times: Bad Economy = Early Holiday Sales on Fifth Avenue in New York City


How bad is the economy? I can see from my office window that the sidewalks are empty along Fifth Avenue.

Still, it is hard to believe that the New York Times printed a list of holiday Christmas (and Hanukkah) sales along the ritziest avenue in the country, Fifth Avenue from the 40's through the 50's (Story: "On Fifth Avenue, the Discounts Arrive Early").

Here are the stores they mentioned and some of the specific bargains. (BTW, I'm still not buying.)
  • Takashimaya, the deluxe, eclectic Japanese department store at Fifth Avenue between 54th and 55th Streets, a $290 pair of black pony hair gloves for $199
  • H&M’s flagship shop at Fifth and 51st Street advertised a one-day 30-percent-off sale on outerwear
  • Ann Taylor - 30 percent off at Armani Exchange over the weekend
  • Cole Haan shop at Rockefeller Plaza - “whisper sales,” offering 30 percent off to whoever wanders in
  • Banana Republic, Gap, Old Navy and Bloomingdales, - “Friends and Family” sales
  • Bergdorf Goodman
  • Salvatore Ferragamo
  • Benetton near the corner of East 48th Street, coats are 40 percent off
  • Esprit shop - $30 cash card for every $100 spent
  • Banana Republic’s “Friends and Family” sale
  • sweater dress at Ann Taylor, introduced at $100 just over two weeks ago, now $59.99
  • Paul Morelli jewelry counter at Bergdorf Goodman - a $1,400 Nancy Gonzalez raspberry crocodile skin clutch, now $980
  • Prada and Fendi
  • Versace
  • Salvatore Ferragamo
  • Donatella
  • boutiques in SoHo
  • East Village boutiques

11/16/08

WSJ: German Mulsim Professor Doubts Existence of the Historical Muhammed

They hired him to be a good Muslim professor. He ends up now engaged in scholarly grandstanding. If we awarded a worst Muslim of the week award, this fellow would win it. But we don't so he won't.

The professor says, "With regard to the historical existence of Muhammad ... I consider my position simply as a continuation of the most recent research results. It appears so spectacular only because it has been said by a Muslim ... Most Western scientists turn down such an hypotheses out of respect for Islam or because they are afraid of the reactions of their Muslim friends or because they think it is speculative nonsense."
Professor Hired for Outreach to Muslims Delivers a Jolt
Islamic Theologian's Theory: It's Likely the Prophet Muhammad Never Existed
MÜNSTER, Germany -- Muhammad Sven Kalisch, a Muslim convert and Germany's first professor of Islamic theology, fasts during the Muslim holy month, doesn't like to shake hands with Muslim women and has spent years studying Islamic scripture. Islam, he says, guides his life.

So it came as something of a surprise when Prof. Kalisch announced the fruit of his theological research. His conclusion: The Prophet Muhammad probably never existed...more

Optimistic Mr. Franken Goes to Washington Before Recount

I like that optimistic Al Franken will go to Washington before the recount to confer with senators, to be prepared just in case he wins the seat.

He will win it, no doubt in my mind.
Al Franken to visit with Senate leaders in D.C.
By Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS - Democrat Al Franken says he’ll be in Washington, D.C., this week to meet with Democratic Senate leaders.

There’s an orientation for new senators being held this week, but Franken told WCCO-TV on Sunday that it would be too presumptuous to attend the orientation with the race between him and Republican Sen. Norm Coleman still unsettled.

Coleman leads Franken by only 206 votes, and a statewide recount will be conducted starting this week to determine the winner.

Franken will meet with Senate leaders on Tuesday. Franken spokeswoman Colleen Murray says Franken has also hired a transition director so that if he comes out ahead after the recount, he will be ready to serve Minnesotans.

11/15/08

Haaretz: Obama is Our First Jewish President

We obviously need to go to an overseas Israeli publication to get some perspective on Barack and the Jews...
Some Chicago Jews say Obama is actually the 'first Jewish president'
By Natasha Mozgovaya
Quite a few of Barack Obama's "friends from the past" have popped up recently. It's doubtful whether he even knows their names, but in the Chicago Jewish community many people really are long-time friends of the president-elect. Some of the older people in the community say that they "raised him," while others half-jokingly call Obama "the first Jewish president."
They raised contributions for him, provided him with contacts, and also enjoyed hosting him and believed in his glorious future in politics. During most of the campaign, when rumors were spreading among American Jews that Obama was a closet Muslim who was more supportive of the Palestinians and was interested in granting the president of Iran legitimacy, his support among American Jews did not even come close to that enjoyed by Bill Clinton. But at the moment of truth, according to the exit polls, it turns out that 78 percent of Jews voted for Obama.
Members of the Chicago Jewish community are not surprised. They claim that the Jews simply discovered what they have known for years. Obama lives near the synagogue in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago, an area with quite a large Jewish population. Some of area visitors may even mistake the heavy security presence on the street for the synagogue's location - that is, until they hear about Obama.
Alan Solow, an attorney from Chicago, a leader of the Jewish community and a veteran Obama supporter, was one of the few who gained access to the president-elect after his speech in Chicago's Grant Park last week. "After his speech on Tuesday night [election day] in front of hundreds of thousands people, he was the same Barack Obama I know. I think his life is going to change, but it won't change the type of person he is. Presidents tend to become isolated, but I'm confident he'll fight hard against it," he says.
Solow used to live in Obama's neighborhood, and says that Obama has always had "excellent relations with the Jewish community."
"As a local senator, he was very effective and helpful in what we call 'the Jewish agenda,' the community issues, values. He has always had a deep understanding of Israel's need for security. I went with him to Israel for a week in January 2006, and when he started the race for the presidency I had no doubt I'd support him. The first thing that impressed me about him was his intellect - he's one of the smartest people I've met - but he's also a warm and caring person who has a keen interest in issues that people of this country are worried about," continues Solow.
"I said with a smile that he will be the first Jewish president. He also has a deep understanding of issues that confront Israel and the Jewish community. And I think his personal story reflects the story of Jewish immigration to the United States.
"He was raised in a family without any built-in advantages: His father was a stranger, but with the help of a close family and an emphasis on education and hard work, he succeeded. It's the Jewish story in America. He understands it, and that's why he's so close to the Jewish community. His first autobiography is about seeking his roots and he understands Jewish people's yearning for this - it fits into his world view and it's one of the reasons for his support of Israel. When he says that Israel's security is sacrosanct, I believe him. As I know him, he won't say things he doesn't really mean. And he has a lot of close Jewish friends who can confirm this."
Solow is also very familiar with Obama's first appointment - his designated White House chief of staff. "Rahm is an active member of Jewish community, his children go to the day schools and he was always recognized as Jewish when he was Clinton's advisor. But I don't believe that the fact that he's a devoted Jew and supports Israel has anything to do with his appointment. He's simply the best person for this job, because of his experience in Congress and in Clinton's administration, and because of his intellect. But his support of Israel fits with the president-elect's thinking."
Michael Bauer, a political activist from the community who has known Obama for over a decade and supported his presidential campaign, says his first reaction to Obama's victory was disbelief. "It seemed like a dream. After the election, I had a brief opportunity to congratulate him, to exchange a hug with Barack, a kiss with Michelle. We're very proud of him and we're sure he'll successfully handle the big challenges facing the country and the new president," he says.
"If we go back to his work as a State senator, his Senate district had a relatively high percentage of Jews, and more importantly, it was a Jewish population involved both politically and with charity organizations. When he was in the State Senate, the Democrats were a minority. When you're a minority you don't get too much accomplished. Neither Barack as a State Senator nor any of his colleagues were able to accomplish a great deal, because of Republican control of the State Senate. However, because of his district, it was always clear to me that many people supporting Barack are active in the Jewish community both locally and nationally. And they agreed about his sensitivity to a number of issues - the issue of the U.S-Israel relationship and domestically, issues that many of us are concerned about, be it the separation of Church and State, women's right to choose, etc. It was always a natural fit between the Jewish community and Barack Obama. He understands those issues. Frankly, he's so smart he understands them better than most of us," says Bauer.

Identifying with Sderot
"As a U.S. senator he visited Israel twice, and especially the second time I think was highly significant," Bauer continues. "I think it was important to him personally to go to Sderot and see the proximity involved when Israel is attacked on a daily basis from Gaza. I think it was also symbolic for the people of Israel and the worldwide community, as well as the Jewish community, to see Barack Obama going to Sderot and speaking about it, that as president it will be unacceptable to him and he recognizes Israel's right to defend itself. This symbolism was important on so many different levels. I've known the president-elect for over 10 years, and his values and principles never change. If you ask me whether I have confidence that he'll continue to be committed to Israel's existence as a Jewish state within secure borders - I have absolutely no doubt."
"President Bush supported Israel as well, but after eight years of his support Israel faces a stronger Iran, Hezbollah at the northern border, Hamas at the southern border - and Hamas gained a sort of political legitimacy. I think George Bush was a disaster for the State of Israel. And I think Obama's administration understands Israel's needs for safety and security, the importance of Israel remaining a Jewish state, and will try to help to mediate a peace in the Middle East that accomplishes those goals. There are still people who don't believe it, but the great thing in democracy is that everyone has an opinion and you don't need 100 percent consensus. I think peace in the Middle East is one of his highest priorities - he's not going to wait for seven years as a president to start working on it."
Bauer was also heavily involved in Rahm Emanuel's campaign for Congress. "Let me say something about Rahm. One of the things people don't like about him is the fact he's short with people, but it's only because he's such a smart person. He doesn't need a 15-minute phone conversation, he gets to the issues in three minutes. And Israel - it's in his blood. The fact that Joe Biden, with a long record of supporting Israel, is Obama's vice president-elect and Rahm Emanuel is his chief of staff - I'm not sure what reassurance anyone needs that the president-elect when he is president will remain a close ally of the State of Israel and the people of Israel."

Obama Jews to McCain Jews: You lost AND you are bigots

The articles this week (Jewish Week, Jewish Standard) about bigoted comments said by children in Orthodox day schools and about the superficial reactions to them in the community are exercises in truly tasteless journalism and gossip mongering.

To our esteemed and liberal journalists may I remind you that when you win you don't seek to humiliate or embarrass the loser. That's something you learn when you play team sports in grade school.

And to our allegedly bigoted schools, as long as the subject has been opened, there are indeed a couple of more urgent and persistent probing questions to ask about day schools and race. In the aftermath of these articles about the hurried and superficial responses by the schools to the offhanded remarks by young students, I'd really like to know,
  • How many black teachers have the day schools hired in the past ten years?
  • How many black (Jewish) students attend the schools?
  • How many lessons have been taught in class about multiculturalism?
  • How many Martin Luther King Day events have been held?
Once we have the answers we need to see some serious debate on the issue of latent racism in the Jewish Day School movement and in the Orthodox community at large.

Finally I'd like to read some award-worthy stories in our Jewish journals about new, creative and sustained action in the works to confront these problems head-on.

[See this as my letter to the editor in the Jewish Week and Jewish Standard.]

11/13/08

Should We Rejoice When Ultra High Net Worth Rich People Lose Their Money?


I get it. I can see the point. But in a word, no.

I don't think this is a time to rejoice when UHNW people become plain rich people.

I'm talking to you Mr. Tikkun Olam Richard Silverstein who posted, Leviev’s Corporate Empire Crumbles 

Let's just say this attitude is not in consonance with the ideal of Tikkun Olam. The Leviev wealth is disappearing. It is not being redistributed to the poor.

Bush to General Motors: Drop Dead!

Back on 10/30 I posted this. It gets clearer every day that Bush is committed to adding the destruction of General Motors to his legacy for one reason only.

Bush: Y'see they are buildin' the Volt electric car. GM must die...


...WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Treasury Department is not negotiating with General Motors Corp and the owners of Chrysler LLC on a request to provide direct government aid to their proposed merger, a Bush administration official said on Thursday....

11/12/08

Ynet Orthodox Analyst: Election of Secularist Nir Barkat as Jerusalem Mayor is good for the Orthodox and bad for the seculars

Let's view everything through a distorting prism, says a Ynet Orthodox Analyst.

The election of secularist Nir Barkat as Jerusalem Mayor, "is good for the Orthodox and bad for the seculars."

Okay then, up is down, day is night, black is white. Just one thing I need to say. In a democratic state the mayor does not own the city. He just helps governs it. Get it? Maybe Jerusalem schools should teach a little more civics.

Here is the start of the "analysis"....
Seculars, Jerusalem isn't yours
Secular Jerusalemites to pay heavy price for Barkat's election win
Mordechai Lavi

I'm a Jerusalemite, I'm ultra-Orthodox, and I'm very sad. I'm not sad because secular candidate Nir Barkat defeated Orthodox candidate Meir Porush. I'm sad because an internal ultra-Orthodox struggle prompted many community members to simply fight themselves, vote against Porush, and bring about his loss.

I knew this defeat would come. I knew it the moment I read about the recording of Porush in an ultra-Orthodox event, saying that in 10-15 years there will be no more secular candidates. The fact that an Orthodox person was willing to share this sensitive information with secular media outlets said it all.

Porush's rivals realized they are holding explosive material and were willing to do anything to bring him down, shatter his spirit, and minimize his chances. At that moment, I got it. When someone inside the community is willing to do something like that and undermine the interests of the entire Orthodox sector in the gravest, crudest, and most manipulative manner, the conclusion is clear: The battle had been decided.

Nir Barkat did not win. Nir Barkat lost. He didn't quite sweep the masses who he promised would come out and vote against the Orthodox. He received, not because of anything he did, thousands of votes from ultra-Orthodox who merely wanted to hurt the Orthodox candidate. This was a protest vote, and I say it unequivocally: If it wasn't for the internal strife, Barkat would keep on dreaming.

Orthodox to get more
Secular Jerusalemites, don't be confused (and don't take what I'm about to say too hard.) Jerusalem isn't yours. It really isn't. Jerusalem is more ultra-Orthodox than ever, and this trend will only grow stronger. The victory is a direct result of the internal Orthodox struggle. It is indeed a miracle that we ultra-Orthodox are such great fools.

I’m sorry to disappoint you, secular voters who wanted a change. You will get change, but the opposite of what you hoped for. Jerusalem will become more Orthodox, more devout, and worse for secular residents under a secular mayor. Nir Barkat will be a mayor at the mercy of an Orthodox coalition. The implication is that the ultra-Orthodox will receive much more from him than in their rosiest dreams under an Orthodox mayor.

A secular mayor will not face the limitations faced by an Orthodox mayor – close scrutiny and legal advisors that look into every move. In the name of unity, fraternity, and clinging to power, a secular mayor will give the Orthodox everything they want. After all, you know that without the Orthodox he cannot govern.

An Orthodox mayor would not dare close shops on Shabbat, because he's Orthodox. A secular mayor won't dare open stores on Shabbat, because it will prompt a mess. He won't have the privilege of enjoying the quiet enjoyed by former Mayor Lupolianski. If Barkat hurts the Orthodox community even a tiny bit, it won't only be the zealots of Meah Shearim who will come out and set the streets on fire.

The ultra-Orthodox will only gain from Nir Barkat's victory, because a secular mayor is good for the Orthodox and bad for the seculars. The seculars will lose big time. If they would have realized how badly they would lose, they would likely come out en masse Tuesday and flood the polling stations with Meir Porush ballots.

Right now it's a little too late, but don't you worry, secular Jerusalemites; in five years you'll have the opportunity to rectify your mistake.

11/11/08

Review of the Replay: FaithWorld Fumbles on Blasphemy Goal Line

Religious people at an interfaith conference ask: Do we let the players move the goalposts on the football field?

We are going to learn little from a discussion asking stakeholders to referee the rules of blasphemy. Goalpost placement is an arbitrary rule of the game, not subject to discussion. Fans get arrested if they rock the posts and tear them down.

Our metaphor scores and Faith World fumbled on this one.
Where is the line between criticism and blasphemy?
Posted by: Tom Heneghan

Where is the dividing line between acceptable and unacceptable criticism of religion? How should the media cover issues that offend certain believers? These issues came up at last week’s Catholic-Muslim Forum in Rome and in the public editor’s column in the Sunday New York Times. In both cases, useful distinctions were made. But I’m not sure how much agreement they will produce the next time someone finds a depiction of a religion, its beliefs or its symbols outrageous...more
In fact, the Times discussed not an allegedly blasphemous play but the propriety of reviewing said drama in the newspaper.

Gourmet Kosher Dining Suffers a Setback


News Flash (via serandez):

Effective November 11 2008, Subway Restaurant, located at 28 Water Street, New York, NY, will no longer be certified OU Kosher.

Not to worry. Buses run from Port Authority to Teaneck where, last we checked, Dunkin Donuts is still rabbinically sanctioned, even the eggs on muffin.

New Yorker: Lopatin is Rahm Emanuel's Favorite Rabbi

New Yorker reveals that Rabbi Lopatin is definitely a creative interpreter of divine law.
Emanuel In Full
by Lizzie Widdicombe

When Barack Obama appointed Rahm Emanuel as his chief of staff last week, a bunch of old stories went back into circulation, clues, perhaps, to how he’ll run the White House: Emanuel wrapping up a dead fish to send to a pollster who’d made him angry; Emanuel stabbing a table with a knife while shouting the names of people who’d betrayed Bill Clinton; Emanuel saying “Don’t fuck it up” to Tony Blair. These are memorable moments, but Rabbi Asher Lopatin, Emanuel’s rabbi at the Anshe Sholom B’nai Israel congregation, in Chicago, pointed out that they don’t capture the whole man. “I don’t know him in a political way,” Lopatin said, “but I wish all our congregants were as loyal to the synagogue and as engaged as he is.” Lopatin said he tries not to get involved with politics, since this can lead to trouble (see Wright, Jeremiah; “Sometimes we spiritual leaders say things we don’t mean,” Lopatin said), but he’d taken the liberty of leaving “a couple messages” on his congregant’s voice mail. “I didn’t push him one way or the other,” he said. “I just wanted to congratulate him and tell him it’s a good opportunity.”

Emanuel, Lopatin emphasized, is “a genius at balancing things.” A few weeks ago, Emanuel consulted Lopatin about working on the financial-bailout package during Rosh Hashanah. The rabbi gave his approval, citing the principle of pikkuah nefesh—“To save a life, you can violate almost any commandment,” he said. “There’s no doubt that somewhere in the world there would be a serious risk to lives and personal survival if the financial system melted down,” he reasoned. So Emanuel tiptoed out of the service to take a conference call. But the rest of the time he was in synagogue. “This year, I’d asked Rahm to open the ark,” the rabbi said. “We had to make sure we gave him an ark-opening time that didn’t conflict with the conference call, so he could get down from the bimah in time.” (Lopatin said that he had missed the episode of “Entourage” in which the character based on Emanuel’s brother, the Hollywood agent Ari Emanuel, sneaks out of Yom Kippur services to talk to a studio head on his cell phone. “That is so funny!” Lopatin said. “I like Jewish characters on TV. I think it’s a good thing.”) ...more

Times Online: Di Segni is Not the Pope's Favorite Rabbi

We know the pope's favorite rabbi. It is not Rabbi Di Segni.
Chief Rabbi accuses Pope of "taking God's name in vain"
Riccardo di Segni claims the Pope has "reversed" John Paul II's policy of apologising for Church mistakes
Richard Owen in Rome

Riccardo Di Segni, the chief rabbi of Rome has accused Pope Benedict XVI of "taking the name of God in vain" and reversing the policy of apologising for past Christian errors adopted by John Paul II, his predecessor.

Referring to Pope Benedict's support for the beatification of Pius XII, who is held by Jewish and other critics to have "turned a blind eye" to the Nazi Holocaust, Rabbi Di Segni said it had aroused "indignation in our community".

He said the Pope had described the wartime pontiff as a gift from God, "but he certainly was not that for the Jewish people. There is no need to take the name of God in vain"... more

The University of Frozen Euphemisms

Remember the joke about the woman who told the rabbi after the sermon that she really liked his words but couldn't he just be a little less harsh and refer to those rules as the "Ten Suggestions"?

Really, using the phrase "hiring freeze" in Minnesota is not going to scare anyone.

This president must be awarded our blog's honorary doctorate in doubletalk, and it is better if we do it "sooner rather than later." We deemed our award essential before we decided it.

The StarTribune reports:
University of Minnesota imposes 'hiring pause'
University President Robert Bruininks said he's taking that temporary action to control costs "sooner rather than later." Under the hiring pause, all open positions must be reviewed and deemed essential before being filled.
PS: After the "pause" the U will go back to its regular non-essential hiring practices with no review required and no cost controls. Here, here, job well done!

11/10/08

Time for Orthodox Jews to go from "No We Didn't" to "Yes We Can"



Why did Jews as a whole community heartily endorse the "Yes We Can" campaign of Barack Obama while my own subset of Orthodox voters turned away and voted for McCain? And what can we do now to influence this Orthodox preference in the future?

Somewhere between 66% and 75% of Orthodox Jews supported and probably voted for McCain in the past election. Straw polls at Yeshiva University, a left of center Orthodox school, had McCain ahead with 66% of the vote.

Other pre-election polls gave Barack even less overall support among the group. You could say that I happily cast my somewhat lonely Orthodox vote for Barack along with that minority in my community.

Or you could say that I voted along with the majority of Jews as a whole who went 78% for Barack Obama in last week's presidential contest. This outcome continues the long and deep tradition of Jews nationwide voting for Democratic candidates. We voted at the rate of 77% for Kerry in 2004 and, because of the presence of Lieberman on the ticket, 80% for Gore in 2000.

But you should ask us, why do you Orthodox resist the landslide of Jewish support for democrats?

The main factor that accounts for this contrarian trend is that many of us Orthodox Jews in recent elections have identified with the message emanating from the Bush-Rove strategies pitting us versus them, blue versus red, and liberal versus conservative.

As we know this dualistic worldview of good versus evil was sold by the republicans to the public through fear tactics and division. Bush-Rove sought to divide America, to create overt culture clashes and capitalize on the friction.

When challenged on the essence of the political clash, and when confronted with the notion that fairness for the poor and middle-class was elemental to Jewish values, and when accused of making their choices tinged with racism, the Orthodox republicans with whom I spoke during the campaign repeatedly and seamlessly fell back on their well-rehearsed non-sequitur standard that Obama was "bad for Israel."

We've by now seen how Obama dramatically came forth with a strong and consistent message in his campaign that neutralized and superseded the politics of division. His historic efforts brought together Americans with substantial and meaningful messages of unity and purpose.

And by the way, we've now seen how his first appointment was Rahm Emanuel as White house Chief of Staff, a proudly identified Jew of Israeli-Irgun extraction, and a negation of all the Orthodox doomsday predictions.

As I watched and listened during the campaign, my fellow Orthodox tribalists who threw in with Bush-Rove and friends had lots of fun mocking the Obama message as just "words" and calling Barack and all his inspiration an "empty suit." To their credit, they spoke accurately from their point of view, at one with the Great-Divider's political philosophy and adding their voices to the chorus of the great republican echo-chamber.

But, as the campaign wore on, more and more people, Jews and gentiles, minorities and members of the silent majority, all joined in accepting and then enthusiastically endorsing the Obama political platform and its mission.

Through it all, with only small attrition, the majority of us Orthodox Jews apparently held fast to the politics of divisiveness, derision and fear. They stood by McCain and Palin and all that those two stand for. And they suffered a rout.

What now for those folk after the "bad outcome"?

The first Obama-era scenario for us Orthodox is more of the same - more divisiveness as part of the pious opposition in America.

Though that would be disappointing, I expect it will prevail. Right wing Orthodoxy has invested a heap of politically naïve capital in that worldview. Why? Because, first off, it sets them apart from other Jews competing for souls in the synagogues and schools. And at the same time, right-wing identification appears to give the reactionary Orthodox some solid standing in a broader community coalition of political adherents, that is, as part of right-wing America.

This answers the always enigmatic question – what do northern urban Orthodox Jews have in common with the anti-Semitic southern conservative rural whites with whom they have found truck as political travelers? The two groups eerily found companionship because they both hold to three characteristics. They are: "not-them" preachers, "they are immoral" teachers, and they claim to be "indeed we are holy" believers. I fear this "strange-bedfellows" scenario will continue.

Yet, I am praying for the emergence of a second and more positive Obama-era scenario for us Orthodox Jews as a community.

With some soul-searching and some real faith, we sectarian Orthodox brothers and sisters together in unity can achieve a Come-to-Barack transformational moment.

What such a true change will require of the majority of my compatriots is threefold. First, they must repent somewhat from the hubris that they bear, that Orthodox means isolated, separate and better.

Second, they need to seek a healing from the fear of the darkness and doom for the future of Israel and the Jews that has been sowed amongst us Orthodox.

And third, they need to pick themselves up and with their boundless devotion and energy they must join the "Yes, we can" movement to rebuild the American middle-class.

It's up to all of us in the Orthodox community, our leaders and above all, our talented and energetic base to resolve to repent, to turn the page and to go forward together from "No We Didn't" to "Yes We Can."

Tzvee Zahavy is a resident of Teaneck NJ. He served as president of the Young Democrats of Yeshiva College in 1969-70, has been a lifelong Democrat, and most recently served as a volunteer for Obama in the past election. He is an ordained Orthodox rabbi, a professor of Jewish Studies and corporate consultant. [Revised essay's tone 8:00 PM.]

Al Franken recount update: Gap closes to 204 votes in Race for the Jewish Minnesota Senate seat

Franken trails by 204 as of 11/10/08.


Franken will win, we know it because Coleman's alleged lead in votes is highly dubious and greatly improbable.

Republican theft of elections is over!


The StarTribune reports:
...Pine County's Partridge Township had revised its vote total upward -- another 100 votes for Democratic candidate Al Franken, putting him within .011 percentage points of Republican U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman.

The reason for the change? Exhausted county officials had accidentally entered 24 for Franken instead of 124 when the county's final votes were tallied at 5:25 Wednesday morning.

11/9/08

Teaneck Shuls - a Great Internet List - and they have a charity drive

Teaneck Shuls is a Yahoo Group. You can join it and choose to be bombarded with loads of emails of single posts or you can opt for a daily email digest or you can do what I do - elect to receive no emails and go to the web site when you want to search for something. Here are the main details:
The dedicated team who run the site also raise money for charity each year. We endorse their efforts and urge you to contribute. Here is what they say this November.
  • For some in our community, the recent severe economic crisis....literally means the difference between being able to put food on the dinner table & going hungry. The current economic downturn has affected all of us. We can't forget those whose economic situation was already precarious and who may now have been pushed into a genuine crisis: imagine what it feels like to not know how one is going to manage to feed one's family in the upcoming weeks & months. And the number of those in our community who face such a tragedy is growing. Even though it may be more difficult this year, the TeaneckShuls 7th annual fundraiser may be more important than ever to assist our designated recipient, Tomchei Shabbos, in its very important work.
  • Tomchei Shabbos of Bergen County is an organization dedicated to providing Shabbat meals to any needy Jewish family in Bergen County. Since its establishment 19 years ago, they have distributed 450,000 Shabbat & Yom Tov meals to the elderly, single mothers, Russian immigrants, the unemployed, the sick & disabled, etc. All drivers & packers are volunteers, so that their entire budget is allocated directly for the purchase of food- there is no overhead! As the need has grown greater, Tomchei Shabbos is struggling to cover their food expenses, without wishing to cut back on any of their meal deliveries. They are turning to us, their community, for our generous support. The charitable reputation of the Teaneck Jewish community is legendary and its commitment to helping others knows no bounds.
  • For those of you that are new to our list, each year we select a tax deductible charity, to which our members can donate directly, as another way to show the usefulness & importance of the TeaneckShuls list. This fundraiser runs through the month of November.
  • As members, you are very aware of the reach & benefits of this listserve.TeaneckShuls is a volunteer organization, which is available to everyone, 24/7, free of charge. Many in our community have been touched by something/someone as a result of their membership in TeaneckShuls. We feel very strongly about using the power of our enormous membership base(10,000 members!!!) to try & help a worthwhile organization such as Tomchei Shabbos. If you are able, please join us in giving back to our community by making a contribution that represents what your membership in the TeaneckShuls community has meant to you. There is no minimum donation amount.
  • 100% of your donation will go to Tomchei Shabbos & is tax deductible. Please send checks payable to Tomchei Shabbos by November 30 to: Shari Lindenbaum, 464 Winthrop Road, Teaneck, NJ 07666
  • Thanks in advance for any support you can give & for considering this fundraiser in your charitable donations this year! Please help us to make this the most successful fundraiser in our history.
  • Ruthie Levi, Nathan J. Lindenbaum, Chaim Shulman, Bryan Alter, Kevie Feit, Aaron Kornbluth

11/8/08

Did 78% of Jews Vote for Barack Obama? Yes We Did

United we progress toward a more perfect union. Did 78% of Jews Vote for Barack Obama? Yes We Did. (Source: New York Times, 11/9/2008)

Background to the Franken-Coleman battle: A History of Minnesota's Quirky Jewish Senate Seat

The Minnesota St. Paul Legal Ledger reviews the quirky history of the senate seat that has been held by a Jew for thirty years in a state where there are more Lakes than Jews in all but 2 of its counties.

My most cherished episode was when Wellstone trounced Boschwitz after Rudy's great last minute Bad-Jew attack -- nicely summarized in the article, "Jewish senators: ‘An oddly persistent Minnesota tradition’" by Betsy Sundquist, as follows:
...Judaism did, however, become a campaign issue in 1990 during the Boschwitz-Wellstone campaign, but not because of Minnesota anti-Semitism.

Less than a week before the election that year, with the two candidates locked in a tight race but with Wellstone gaining ground on Boschwitz, the incumbent senator’s campaign sent a soon-to-be-infamous letter to Jewish groups in the state.

The letter trumpeted Boschwitz’s support for Jewish causes, but it went further: It also said Wellstone was married to a Christian, that he was raising his children as “non-Jews,” and that he had no ties to the Jewish community.

Minnesotans didn’t take kindly to the implications, and neither did Wellstone, who launched a counterattack: full-page newspaper ads two days before Election Day, complaining that Boschwitz was attacking him “because my wife is a Christian.”

Pundits acknowledge that the so-called “better Jew” letter, and the subsequent backlash, helped Wellstone squeak past Boschwitz by just 48,000 votes.

Time magazine chose Boschwitz as one of its “losers of 1990,” saying that the letter had caused the senator to be “buried by his own mud.”
Politics at its worst that leads to the outcome that is the best. Proving again that God is Jewish (and a Democrat). I remember it well.

Bild: Nazi Holocaust Auschwitz Concentration Camp Blueprints Discovered in Berlin


A new accidental discovery reconfirms the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust
Blueprints for Auschwitz camp found in Germany
By Erik Kirschbaum
BERLIN (Reuters) – The original construction plans believed used for a major expansion of the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz in 1941 have been found in a Berlin flat, Germany's Bild newspaper reported on Saturday.

The daily printed three architect's drawings on yellowing paper from the batch of 28 pages of blueprints it obtained. One has an 11.66 meter by 11.20 meter room marked "Gaskammer" (gas chamber) that was part of a "delousing facility."

No one from the federal government's archives was immediately available for comment on the authenticity or importance of the documents.

The plans, published ahead of the 70th anniversary of the "Kristallnacht" or the Nazi pogrom that was a harbinger of the Holocaust, also include a crematorium and a "L. Keller" -- an abbreviation for "Leichenkeller" or corpse cellar.

A drawing of the building for Auschwitz's main gate was also found in the documents that Bild said were believed to have been discovered when a Berlin flat was cleaned out.

The mass-circulation newspaper quoted Hans-Dieter Kreikamp, head of the federal archives office in Berlin, as saying the blueprints offered "authentic evidence of the systematically planned genocide of European Jews."...more