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Thursday, December 29, 2005

Traffic Laws

This is interesting:
The New Scientist magazine recently reported a study conducted by Tova Rosenbloom of Bar-Ilan University that suggests devout Orthodox Jews are three times as likely to be risk-taking pedestrians than their neighbours in secular communities.

According to the magazine, Rosenbloom began to suspect that religious beliefs might play a role after hearing complaints about pedestrian behaviour in the ultraorthodox community of Bnei-Brak. To find out more, she and her colleagues watched more than 1000 pedestrians at two busy intersections, one in Bnei-Brak and the other in a largely secular city. They totted up the number of times a pedestrian either jaywalked, walked on the road as opposed to the footpath, crossed without looking for traffic or crossed without holding an accompanying child’s hand.

They found the inhabitants of Bnei-Brak were three times more likely than the others to break these rules.

Rossenbloom thinks an ultraorthodox faith might contribute to this cavalier behaviour by making people respect religious more than state-law. However, she did not rule out the possibility, that religious people might simply have less fear of death.

I have seen this phenomenon first-hand, as has anyone who has ever visited Boro Park, I suspect. And the pedestrians with an apparent disdain for the traffic laws have nothing on the drivers there. Driving in Boro park is like driving in another country - one that has close to zero enforcement of traffic rules and regulations. I have seen a driver behind the wheel of a minivan packed with kids cross 2 lanes to snag a parking spot without even checking for oncoming traffic. Double parking (for hours!) is perfectly accepted. And crossing a street there is a high-risk activity. Pedestrians and drivers in many Ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods play what looks to me like one big game of "Chicken". And in my opinion, it has nothing to do with a lack of fear of death in the Ultra-Orthodox community, and everything to do with a lack of respect for local traffic law.

What really scares me is that, anecdotally at least, I see this phenomenon becoming more and more prevalent in my neighborhood. As more and more people are transplanted here from Brooklyn and other points more Ultra-Orthodox, I have certainly seen a gradual increase in double parking, jaywalking (with young children in tow), illegal U-turns, and the like. And I don't like it. Laws, especially traffic laws, are in place to protect us and ensure our safety. Can anyone really make the case that pushing a stroller across a busy street against the light, chatting on a handheld cellphone while trying to make a tricky turn behind the wheel, or parking and blocking access to a fire hydrant is in the interests of the safety of yourself and your fellow citizens? I can't imagine.

Come on, people!


Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Mazel Tov

Blogger Steven I. Weiss has announced his upcoming knot-tying. Best wishes to him and his "special ladyfriend", Rachel Feinerman, for much continued happiness.

Not-As-Sanitized Parsha Retelling

One of my valued commenters, Sephardilady, left this comment on the thread of my Parsha post from last week:
We need an update for this Shabbat's parsha, Orthomom. What did the parsha questions say?!?!

Last week's parsha sure was tame in comparison.
In answer to your question, this past Shabbos, we recieved a slightly more graphic retelling than we had of the previous week's Parsha. A very close paraphrasis of my 5-year-old's version of the most lascivious part:
Yosef was working in Potiphar's house, and Potiphar's wife liked him. So one day, everyone left to go worship idols, and Potiphar's wife pretended she was sick so she could stay home and attack Yosef. She tried to attack Yosef, but when she grabbed him, he slipped out of his clothing so that she was just left with the clothing in her hands, and couldn't attack him.
At least this week the teacher used the word "attack", and didn't try to convince the class that Potiphar's wife just wanted to "marry" Yosef, like they tried to pull last week. Though I have a feeling that the sexual innuendo in the story was lost on my five-year-old. At least I think so.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Lakewood Auction Update!

In an update from Yeshiva Orthodoxy on the topic of my previous post:
Text of Lakewood Yeshiva Retraction
On behalf of Beth Medrash Govoha, we apologize to the Tzibbur for the Ladies Auxiliary "Home" auction book that was mailed out this past week.
Beth Medrash Govoha, with over 4,500 talmidim who are moser nefesh for Torah each day, epitomizes the very essence of ruchnios. The "Home" book clearly sent the wrong message about who we are, what we represent, and our standards.
We erred by allowing it to go out.
We thank all our yedidim who took the time to communicate with us on this important issue. We also thank the partners of House and Home, as well as the auction sponsors; their intentions to help the Yeshiva are sincerely appreciated.
We have canceled the auction and are refunding all those who already participated.
Thank you,
Rabbi Aaron Kotler

Wow. Can't accuse BMG of Lakewood of being hypocritical any longer. They certainly held true to their beliefs, after a fashion. Kol HaKavod to those who wer involved in making this surely complicated decision.


Anyone who frequnts my blog is probably aware of the issues I have with the conspicuous consumption that is so rampant in my neighborhood. So I read with interest this post, a follow-up to this post, by the blogger who calls himself "Yeshiva Orthodoxy".

Apparently, Beis Medrash Govoha of Lakewood has put out a catalog for its latest fundraising project, a Chinese auction. From an unpublished open letter to the editor of the Yated Ne’eman:
In today’s mail, I received one of the most beautiful brochures that I have ever seen. It was large and white with the majestic logo of Beth Medrash Govoah on the bottom and the word HOME elegantly printed toward the top.
I truly expected to open it and see beautiful pictures of the Ir HaTorah, the place that indeed is the HOME of Torah in America. I really looked forward to opening it and seeing how my once humble HOME has so greatly grown.
I thought I would see a HOME of a yungerman, a few children playing, others learning while, the kollel yungerman is depicted writing his chidushim.
I thought I would see the HOME of thousands of cheder children and Bais Yaakov girls, — thin institutions built for Tinokes Shel Bais Raban.
Those are the HOMES that befit the Lakewood logo.
What I saw was something that surprised — even shocked — me. I saw pictures that mirrored the most affluent homes, in the most expensive neighborhoods of Long Island and Westchester. I saw homes that, for the years that I spent in Lakewood I was told were the antithesis of the Kollel man’s ambitions and goals in life.
I make a nice living and have a nice home. But Ribono Shel Olam are you asking me that I give $50 to win $12,000 of living room furniture? Do you want me to put $7,500 moldings in fly Dining Room when my table (which seats many children) cost abit under $1000?
Why is the Mosad founded with the philosophy of minimalism encouraging extravagance?

Now, anyone who is on the Orthodox Jewish fundraising mailing circuit is familiar with the ubiquitous "Chinese Auction". According to a friend who is very involved with the fundraising of a local Yeshiva who runs a huge annual auction, these events tend to be spectacularly successful. But the extravagant offerings that are presented in full color array on the pages these auction catalogs aren't typically more lavish than what is in many Five Towns and Brooklyn residents' homes, and thus cause those on the mailing lists of such institutions to bat nary an eyelash. That said, Lakewood is a different sort of community. The rampant materialism that is part and parcel of life in the Five Towns is not at all present in Lakewood. In contrast to the Five Towns, where most men have full-time jobs, the Lakewood community is a Kollel one, with a minority of men actually working for a living. This demographic has led the community to reject the materialism that can be found in other neighborhoods - out of necessity as well as out of philosophy.

Evidently, this way of life led to quite the uproar from community members when the catalog for the auction was sent out. Eventually the yeshiva administration had to respond, and according to Yeshiva Orthodoxy, this is what is going on:
Everyone is in an uproar (prior post) over the Lakewood Yeshiva's recent Chinese Auction brochure which conveys a message contrary to what a yiddishe home should value.

Their message was extravagant, showy - certainly not the message they preach daily.

The Yeshiva ia now admitting they erred, and seeks to make amends.

To what extent the yeshiva is admitting it erred, and to what extent they are atempting to make amends is beyond me.

But this raises an interesting question. To what extent are Yeshivas and other institutions entitled to brush aside their long-espoused beliefs in order to raise money for the cause of spreading Torah and Mitzvot? This has been the subject of many a Shabbos table discussion. Are Yeshivas or Shuls entitled to take donations from or name as honorees convicted felons? Can a Tzedakah hold a "Casino Night", even if they are concurrently counseling and assisting people who have lost everything due to gambling addictions? Can an Orthodox institution accept money or name buildings after donors who are not and are not interested in becoming Shomer Mitzvot? Or, as in this case, is a Yeshiva that preaches moderation being hypocritical when they auction off lavish and extravagant prizes? Is the task that institutions are raising money for more important than the message they send with their methods of fundraising?

The question is a complicated one. There are many gray areas. But there are enough cases that are black and white. When an institution sends a message that financial support is more important than setting a standard of conduct for their members, isn't something lost in the message they are trying so hard to impart?

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Another Quiz

While we're on the topic of quizzes, my talented pal AirTime has put together this hilarious game, featuring questions about various J-bloggers, including yours truly. Check it out.

Who Knew?

Take this quiz, it's cute. It puts me at:

NerdTests.com User Test: The Orthodoxy  Test.

Who knew?

From LamedZayin via TTC.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

"Nanny Park"

Krum put up a post about a speech that was given by a "certain outspoken neighborhood Rabbi". Apparently, the Rabbi:
..recently blasted families in our community who rely too heavily on nannies to raise their children. He referred to the local park filled on a daily basis with hordes of foreign born nannies and their Jewish employers' children as Nanny Park.
Far be it from my place to join in this criticism. As a working mother, there are certainly times when my nanny can be found in the park with my youngest. I wish I could say that my job is not a necessity for my family - it is. I dream of the day when paying tuition, car payments, and my mortgage can be swung on just one salary - OrthoDad's. That day has not yet come. That being said, I do everything in my power to be there to send the kids off on the bus, and am just about always there for them when they get home. I actually took a pay cut a few years back to have more flexible hours so that I could be home more often with the kids. And the days that I am home, I don't go anywhere without my baby. I try my best.

I do agree wholeheartedly, though, with Krum's take on the Rabbi's words:
Orthodox mothers with multiple children often have no choice but to work. Tuition and housing in Orthodox communities are expensive and a single salary is often insufficient. So hiring a babysitter may be a necessity. But the problem is the institution is abused. Once hired, parents too often feel freed from simple parental responsibilities such as tucking their children into bed. In this vein, the rabbi suggested skipping the chupa, the annual dinner, the parlor meeting rather than leaving parenting to the nanny.
I go nowhere in the evenings. I miss every chuppah, and get there when I get there. I miss every parlor meeting, and send a check with my regrets. In my community, the parlor meetings come fast and furious. And while I commend the good people of the Five Towns for being so focused on Tzedakah, I don't feel I can leave my children before bedtime to "show my face" at a friends house. That is why it is so heartening to hear the Rabbi's words, which mesh with my own actions. OrthoDad has said more than once that he thinks that a local Rav should get up and ban couples with young children from going to parlor meetings. Some may say that such a strong move is unecessary, that people should be in possession of enough of their own common sense to figure that out for themselves. But it isn't so simple. When every week, another young couple who I count among my friends is giving up their home for an evening to raise money for a good cause, it's hard to be the one to say no. And I am fully aware that if all of these couples were to stop feeling obligated to attend such events, it would be harder to raise money for these worthy charities. But at what expense are the parents in our community opening their hearts and their checkbooks to these charitable institutions? At our children's expense?

I'm afraid I just can't do it.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

TWU Strike

The Transportation Workers Union began a strike last night that stops all of the buses and subways in New York City. Which effectively shuts Manhattan down. Which makes my life very, very difficult. Though the Long Island Railroad, the Five Towns Resident's commute of choice is still running, the lask of public transportation once you get to Penn Station makes it close to impossible to get around the city. And with carpool rules being implemented due to the strike, vehicles with less than 4 passengers are being turned away by police before they get to the city. So I'm staying home.

Saw some video of Mayor Bloomberg walking across the Brooklyn Bridge, wearing just a thin jacket in frigid temparatures, to show solidarity with the throngs of people walking to work from Brooklyn to Manhattan. The guy could teach GWB a thing or two about relating to his constituents. Gotta love the guy.

The footage of the masses out on the streets hoofing it to work is just unbelievable. Endless hatted heads bobbing up and down with puffs of vapor coming out of their mouths.

Anyone else out there in the J-blogosphere staying home because of the strike?

Monday, December 19, 2005

Not In My BackYard?

I read this piece in last weekend's Long Island section of the NY Times with some interest, as I had blogged about the story a few months back. The article recounts the story of how a Chabad Rabbi, Rabbi Rafe Konikov, came to Southampton, one of the towns on the tony East End of Long Island, and set up shop. Of course, for a Chabad Rabbi, setting up shop includes setting up weekly services for his constituents in his home. And that is when things started to heat up in the town of Southampton.
"This is a center for Jewish life in Southampton," Rabbi Konikov, 36, said recently.

It is also the center of a dispute: whether his home should also be a house of worship. In 1999, after the family moved into the 4,000-square-foot house, which was purchased by the Chabad of Southampton, a nonprofit group, the first floor was reconfigured with a 1,100-square-foot sanctuary, making it the first Jewish house of worship in Southampton since the village was established in 1640.
Many of his neighbors are irate about the establishment of the synagogue, and are fighting it tooth and nail. The opposition group has hired lawyers, and has even gone so far as to compare those arguing in favor of the synagogue to "fanatics" who take "violent action in the name of God":
"It's essentially converting a small one-family home on an undersized lot to a full-blown religious center with all of its ancillary uses," said Daniel Palmieri, a partner in Reisman, Peirez & Reisman, the Garden City law firm representing the opposition group. Opponents have cited issues like parking, potential sewage problems, fire safety and traffic.

Kim White, a part-time Southampton resident and a plaintiff in the lawsuit, bought a house in 2001 on Hill Street, a mile from the Chabad, unaware that services were being held there. In August, Ms. White took out a full-page advertisement in The Southampton Press, a weekly, to run an open letter about the "high degree of ignorance surrounding the commercial enterprise at 214 Hill Street, also known as the Chabad."

"Wrapping oneself in a religious flag in the name of breaking laws smacks of fanaticism and irrationality," Ms. White wrote. "This is the same kind of mentality which provokes people to take violent actions in the name of God. Do the inhabitants of this village not understand that issuing a 'special exception' to one group invites other groups, whoever and whatever they may be, to follow suit?"
Strong words, of course. And it makes it all the easier to dismiss this battle as one between Orthodox Jews vs. everyone else - especially those who write Orthodox Jews off as religious fanatics. But that knee-jerk assumption would be ignoring a very salient point. Orthodox Jews are just as capable of rejecting the proposal of a shul being built on a neighboring property to theirs.

Case in point:

Just this week at the Shabbos table of friends, the conversation turned to a controversy that has been going strong in the Five Towns for quite some time now. It is over an age-old source of controversy in Jewish communities everywhere, the dreaded "breakaway minyan". Evidently, a group of young families in one of the neighborhoods that comprise the Five Towns decided, for whatever reasons, that the shuls that exist in their neighborhood do not meet the needs of themselves and their families. So they got together, put up some capital, and decided to buy some property on which to locate a new shul. Everything went along swimmingly, and the group managed to purchase what looked to them like a perfect piece of property, in a location that seemed ideal - complete with Orthodox neighbors who surely wouldn't have the inclination to object to a synagogue next door. Right? Wrong.

According to our fellow guests at the Shabbos meal, the group met up with fierce opposition from the Orthodox neighbors of the property in question - not once, but twice, on two separate properties, by two separate groups of neighbors. Apparently, the threats that were thrown about by those opposing the new shul, aimed at the group spearheading it, that would make your hair curl. The hostility was enough to make the group (as I heard it) break contract on two separate properties before finding a property with neighbors who were amenable to having a shul as a neighbor.

Obviously, when it comes to a shul, the NIMBY effect is not just an issue of anti-Semitism or anti-Orthodoxy . It cuts across all denominations and religions.

Crazy Story

I had the craziest story happen to me this weekend. It was nuts. Absolutely unbelievable. However, I can't blog about it. I already told too many people. And I would like to be able to tell more. So, because of anonymity concerns, I can't share it with my readers. It's really killing me. The story is that good.

Which makes me feel like Kramer from Seinfeld. You know, the episode where Kramer sells his life stories to Mr. Peterman (Elaine's boss) for $750, so that Peterman can put them in his biography. Which is fine - until Kramer is reminded by Elaine, when he starts to recount one of his stories to his adoring public, that he can't tell any of his stories anymore because they all belong to Peterman. As it was a sitcom, hijinks ensue.

No hijinks here. Here I just have to deprive my readership of a great story - without even getting paid $750.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Sanitized Parsha Retelling

Question on my 5-year-old's Parsha sheets this shabbos:
Why did Dinah's brothers kill Shechem?
Because he wanted to get married to Dinah even though she didn't want to.
I guess that's one way to look at it.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Nassau/Queens Border

There's an article in the Long Island section of today's NY Times that discusses the border between Queens and Nassau County. The last paragraph mentions the border that lies between Far Rockaway (Queens), and Lawrence (Nassau). Both neighborhoods are part of the greater community of the Five Towns/Far Rockaway area (which is my community). In my opinion, however, the piece gets it wrong:
The first few blocks of Far Rockaway west of Beach 9th Street are becoming "visually and ethnically similar to Lawrence," Professor Caro said, as orthodox Jewish families move into the large single-family homes there.

The neighborhood is still Queens, but it seems to belong more and more to Long Island; people have even begun calling it West Lawrence.
I think precisely the reverse is true. Far Rockaway has been heavily Orthodox for decades. If anything, the shift has really occured in Lawrence, where the residents have become increasingly homogeneously Orthodox as more and more of the original non-Orthodox or Modern Orthodox owners sell to buyers from Brooklyn and Queens. Personally, I think the sentence in the article should have read "the Westernmost part of Lawrence is becoming visually and ethnically similar to Far Rockaway". That's certainly a more correct statement.

Matisyahu Rocks

I checked out the circular from Best Buy that was bundled with today's paper, and how cool was it to see Matisyahu's Live at Stubb's album, prominently featured with albums from five other super-popular artists in the "alternative" section. Complete with a thumbnail of his album cover (left) where he sports his hat, beard, and dark suit in the pic.
Love it.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Cracked Me Up

LOLOL. JibJab's latest is a must-see. Click the top one, called "205".

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Sick Insinuation

A pretty shocking insinuation by Labor Party's campaign manager Motti Morel in an interview this week:
Morel told Israel Radio on Thursday that the renewal of the targeted assassinations policy was intended to cause an escalation of the security situation on the eve of the elections, an escalation which would serve Sharon.
Morel said that Sharon was trying to divert public discourse from the social to the security arena, and intimated that Sharon has the power to influence the number of terror attacks which take place. According to Morel, several months ago, when targeted assassinations were not employed "there were no Qassams and no terror attacks."
So basically, Morel is accusing Sharon of instigating terror attacks against Israelis for political gains. That's a pretty sick allegation, and I think someone in a position such as Morel's had better be damn sure of the facts before making an allegation that basically accuses the Israeli Prime Minister of promoting the murder of his own citizens. I imagine, however, that there are no facts to back up Morel's little rant.

Quite correctly, the Sharon camp lashed out at Morel after his comments were made public, and called on Peretz to take a stance:
Officials from Sharon's party Kadima said that Peretz must renounce Morel's statements and fire him, otherwise he would be seen as supporting Morel's view.

A spokesman for Sharon's Kadima party defined Morel's words as "inciteful" and said in a statement that "Amir Peretz has lost his balance this morning. We demand to know whether he is behind these inciteful statements expressed by his campaign manager."In response,

Peretz said that Morel was expressing his own views when he made the statements. "Security is a consensual issue, and I will not let it be involved in political disputes. The election campaign will be run on social issues and on the need to provide social security to the weaker sectors and the middle class," Peretz said.
I just don't think it's enough for Peretz to say that Morel is "expressing his own views". If those are Morel's views, then he should be thrown out. Immediately.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Million Dollar Bat Mitzvah Fallout

The Jewish Week has a new story up that puts an interesting twist on the $10 million bat mitzvah I posted about here. Apparently, this story has gone from being good gossip fodder to being a topic for the Army Times.
The party was thrown by defense industry tycoon David Brooks of Old Westbury, chairman of DHB Industries whose subsidiary, Point Blank Body Armor, manufactures body armor vests for the military.

In its current issue, the Army Times pointed out that just six weeks before Brooks threw the mid-Manhattan bash for his daughter Elizabeth, the Army and the Marine Corps recalled 18,000 of the vests because some “had failed ballistics tests.”
This news has caused a bit of an uproar in the Army community. People seem to feel that had Brooks put a little extra money towards the testing of the vests and a little less toward the bat mitzvah, the vests wouldn't have been recalled.
That has prompted Iraq war veteran Paul Rieckhoff, who founded the first Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans organization, Operation Truth, to suggest that if Brooks had taken “a portion of the $10 million and put it into better testing, maybe 18,000 vests wouldn’t have proven defective. … If his 13-year-old daughter had to wear one of those vests in a war zone, he probably would have ensured that a greater degree of testing went on.”
Even Army chaplains have weighed in on the matter.
Rabbi Jacob Goldstein, a senior Jewish Army chaplain, said he was “outraged” after reading the story in the Army Times.

“I received some calls from non-Jewish military officers asking my reaction [to the story], and I told them I was frankly disgusted as a rabbi,” he said. “Even a million- or a half-million-dollar party is way over the line. What kind of values are we teaching our children?”
Not sure why an Army chaplain's opinion on bat mitzvah spending is relevant to the story, but a disgusted quote always adds to the mix, I guess.

For Brooks's part, he defends the record of the the vests he has supplied to the army, and denies spending as much on the bat mitzvah as was claimed in news reports.
Brooks’ office referred media calls to his spokesman, Bruce Rubin, who said in an e-mail that the $10 million figure for the cost of the party is “very greatly exaggerated.” But he declined to provide the actual figure.

Rubin said also that “none of the hundreds of thousands” of body armor vests made by Brooks’ firm have “failed in the field — an extraordinary achievement.” He noted that the military has said that “no soldiers were ever at risk,” and that all testing of the vests were under the close supervision of the U.S. government.
If that is the case, I don't see how Brooks's spending on the bat mitzvah has any bearing whatsoever on the recall of the vests. The extravagance may have been vulgar, and it may have set an obnoxious example for the tweens who attended the soiree, but does anyone really think for a second that a penny of the $10 million was ever earmarked for testing of the equipment?

Update From Shifra

I just put another update from Shifra over at her blog. Things are Baruch Hashem, continuing to go smoothly.

More On The Reform Letter

The Jewish Week has an article up about the GOP response to the anti-war letter put out by the Union for Reform Judaism.
This week the Republican Jewish Coalition began a series of full-page ads in leading dailies — including The New York Times and Washington Post — and Jewish newspapers across the country. Featuring a photo of an Iraqi woman with a purple-stained finger indicating she had voted, the ad, with the caption “To the Union for Reform Judaism,” expressed strong backing for the Bush administration’s Iraq policies.

“We support the President and the war on terrorism,” signers said. “We stand behind our troops and their mission of creating a safe, democratic Iraq. This mission is vital not only for the continuing fight against terrorism, but also for the security of Israel and the stability of the Middle East.”
Many signatories consider themselves members of the Reform movement. Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, strongly objected to the stance taken by Rabbi Yoffie and other Reform leaders in the letter:
“We’re not attacking Reform Jews, we’re attacking the tactics that the leadership of the Reform movement is using to promote an agenda that does not reflect the totality of American Jewry,” he said.

The Reform leadership “does a disservice to the Jewish community by making representations that they speak for a much larger segment of the community,” he said. “I’m a Reform Jew; they don’t speak for me.”
Rabbi Yoffie, however, disagreed with the argument put forth in the RJC ad.
“In terms of the substance, the facts are very clear: Our resolution was a centrist, mainstream resolution expressing a variety of concerns about the war in Iraq that are held by a majority of Americans, and by an even greater majority of American Jews,” he said in an interview.

Rabbi Yoffie called charges that he was claiming to speak for all Jews “silly.”

“Obviously, any resolution we pass does not reflect the views of every Reform Jew or every Reform congregation. There will always be some who are unhappy.”
I strongly disagree. In my opinion, to put forth a controversial position like this, without taking into account the views of the rank-and-file members of your community is dishonest of the URJ leadership.

"Curse" Update

Steven I. posts some further info that nicely updates this post. Check out.

Reform Anti-War Letter

Good article in today's NY Sun about a letter sent by the Union for Reform Judaism to President Bush, and the furor it has ignited among many in the Reform community. The letter expresses clear anti-war sentiment:

The letter, a copy of which was sent to members of Congress last week, alerts the president to a resolution the union passed at its Biennial General Assembly last month in Houston. The resolution calls for a "clear exit strategy" from Iraq that includes specific troop withdrawals after the parliamentary elections on December 15. The statement also condemns the use of torture and abuse of prisoners and detainees, demands more transparency from the Bush administration, and calls for the creation of a bipartisan commission to investigate administration failures before and during the war.

The letter to President Bush, signed by the union's president, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, and its chairman, Robert Heller, claims the Iraq war had to the "discrediting of America in the international community" and contributed "to the growth of terrorism."

Understandably, the position presented in the letter has raised the ire of those members of the Reform community who may not agree with its premise.

Several Jewish leaders, including Reform rabbis, swiftly rebuked the letter yesterday.

A rabbi of a Reform synagogue in Danbury, Conn., Clifford Librach, said the letter "amplifies the extraordinary alienation from Israel and Israel's security on the part of the American Reform elite."

"There may be a majority of American Reform Jews who are currently opposed to this war under any circumstances," Rabbi Librach said, "but the role of leadership is not to rubberstamp misguided popular opinion. The new peace process in Israel has advanced in part because Iraq has been neutralized and removed from the equation."

I certainly agree. I have no problem with Yoffie and some of the other signatories of the letter expressing their sentiments on the topic of the war as individuals. That is their right as Americans. But to present such views as if they were the views of every member of the Reform community is fallacious, and in my opinion, nothing short of outrageous.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Great Correction

This great site, Regret The Error, is almost addictive. In their own words, the site "reports on corrections, retractions, clarifications and trends regarding accuracy and honesty in the media." And it certainly makes for very entertaining reading.

In their round-up of the best corrections of 2005, they named the Correction Of The Year, and it's a good one:
The Denver Daily News would like to offer a sincere apology for a typo in Wednesday’s Town Talk regarding New Jersey’s proposal to ban smoking in automobiles. It was not the author’s intention to call New Jersey ‘Jew Jersey.’
I'm sure the Jews of Lakewood and Teaneck were very relieved to see this correction. And, as Regret The Error's writers point out:
Yes, it’s a terrible error. Offensive, even. And the resulting correction is hilarious. But another reason we singled this baby out is that, like so many corrections, it begs for much more detail and a more complete explanation. The News offends an entire state and a major religion and all it can muster is 39 words? Only a newspaper could get away with that.
Too funny. Check the site out. It's fun reading, as if any of us needed still more to read.


Update from Shifra

Today's update from Shifra on her brother's condition is over at her blog. Baruch hashem, he continues to improve.

JIB Awards

As I noted on Sunday, nominations have been opened for the JIB Awards. Some kind readers (or family members) have already nominated me in a few categories. But I looked them over, and I'm not quite sure in which category I belong.

I was nominated (twice!) in the Best Personal Blog category. Which doesn't seem all that off, until I read the description:
To be considered a personal blog, a blog must deal predominantly with the blogger's life, and must feature Jewish or Israeli themes.
My blog definitely deals with my life - but predominantly? I'm not sure.

I have the same problem with some of the other categories, Best Jewish Religion Blog, Best Jewish Culture Blog, Best Politics and Current Affairs Blog. I have all of those elements in my blog - but are any of those element predominant in my blog? is that even an objective question?

So what's a girl with an eclectic blog like mine gonna do? Any thoughts would be appreciated.

Also, I am perfectly cool with nominating myself for Best Post - that's really a self-nomination kinda category, I think. But I'd love a little reader input on which of my posts you guys think is my best. So if you have a few minutes, give a look through my archives, and tell me what you think. My picks so far:
Drive-By Jewish Mothering
Some Words to The Wise To My Children's Teachers And Administrators
What do you guys think?

Also, I have been nominated for Best Series, for the Heroine Of The Day series. And I was also nominated for Best New Blog - hard to believe that I'm still considered a new blog when there are so many bloggers who started up after me!

Well, anyway, thanks for the nominations, Anonymice!

Biggest props to Dave at Israellycool for all the work he's putting into this endeavor. He's a good guy.

Update: More best post picks. Krum suggests this one, DovBear suggests this. Thanks for playing, guys.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Update On Shifra's Brother

I posted an update on Shifra's brother's condition over at AskShifra. Thank God, his condition is continuing to improve, but all of our tefillot are obviously still needed until he is out of the woods.

Awards Season

'Tis the season for the JIB Awards. Check it out.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Hassid vs. Hipster

This is truly nuts. Many of us have heard about the uneasy relationship between the two diametrically opposite residents of Williamsburg, NY - the Hassids and the Hipsters. This heartwarming little vignette is an example of what can happen when the two worlds collide:

Finn came back to his apartment in Williamsburg on Thursday to find this mysterious sticky-note on his door. Not recognizing the language, he did what any bright hipster would do: posted it to Flickr and Ask.Mefi and asked for help. Quite soon, the answers started rolling in, and it was bad news! He had been cursed in Hebrew:

"My guess is that it is some kind of a curse written by a native Yiddish speaker who is religious (hence the "basad" at the beginning). The curse itself is in "loshen koydesh" i.e. Hebrew but the names are written in Yiddish...the entire last two lines are a name of a person (two names actually). "hi-ku besanverim" is from the bible and literally means to blind someone. It was probably aimed at a specific tenant only they weren't sure about the apartment number."

Basically, walk through the door and you'll be struck blind. Yikes! Time to get a counter curse brewing.

"With Heaven's help, strike blind the people of this house." The two names at the end--Levy Yitshak ben Sara-Sasha and Nachman ben Feyga--most likely identify the tenants to whom the curse is directed.

Evidently, the hipster tenant of a Williamsburg building did something so offensive to his Hassidic neighbor, that the Hassid felt it warranted a curse of blindness.

One can only wonder what offense would be worthy of such punishment. A party, thrown by the hipster, on Saturday afternoon, complete with music blasting so loud that it disturbed the Hassid's shabbos afternoon nap? A frequent female visitor to the hipster's apartment that doesn't dress modestly enough? The smell of the hipster's roasting pork wafting through the Hassid's air vents?

Any other good guesses, anyone? Put 'em in comments.

One Crisis Begets Another?

From Friday's Hamodia:
A gathering of Roshei Yeshiva of the tri-state area, as well as Scranton and Baltimore, convened Wednesday night in the home of Hagaon Harav Shmuel Berenbaum, shlita, Rosh Yeshivas Mir, to address the shidduch crisis.
...An open discussion among the Roshei Yeshiva followed, in which they explored many ideas. Everyone agreed that bachurim returning from years of learning in Eretz Yisrael should enter the next phase of their lives as quickly as possible, namely building a bayis neeman. All of the gathered Roshei Yeshiva agreed that earlier engagements should be encouraged.
There was consensus on the idea of abolishing 8th grade so that bachurim could leave for learning in Eretz Yisrael a year earlier, thereby moving up by one full year their entry into the shidduch world.

I find this difficult to fathom. These great minds of the Yeshiva world come together to solve the shidduch crisis, and the best idea that they can come up with is this? Marrying boys off even earlier than the young age that they are already getting married at?

First of all, I'm not sure what that will actually do to help the shidduch crisis. Yes, it will send boys into the dating market one year earlier, but does that really solve anything? Does anyone really harbor the illusions that these boys will be anywhere near mature enough to be choosing their life partner? And it isn't like this "solution" is going to magically create a large new crop of eligible young men. These boys were going to get to the dating market eventually, whether they skipped 8th grade or not.

Second of all, this proposal of sending young, green, immature boys with no life experience into the shidduch world may be a "band-aid" to the shidduch crisis, but I am very worried that it will increase the severity of another burgeoning crisis that I've heard is affecting the Charedi community. I will freely admit to having only anectodal evidence of the rising divorce rate of young couples in the Yeshiva world, but if it's true to any degree, it can't possibly help to force boys to make the decision of who they will spend the rest of their lives with before they even hit the legal drinking age.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Jerusalem Real Estate Boom

There has been a spate of articles recently about the large-scale purchase of Israeli property by foreigners, most notably in Jerusalem, and by Americans. From the JPost:
Despite the vast influx of French immigrants and tourists who are buying up apartments in many parts of Israel, most notably in Netanya and Jerusalem, Americans are still in the forefront when it comes to big money properties.

There has been a tremendous growth in the foreign real estate market, according to Stuart Hershkowitz, deputy general manager and head of the international division of the Bank of Jerusalem.

"The main thrust of the Americans is on more expensive apartments," Hershkowitz told The Jerusalem Post between greeting guests at the annual Succot breakfast that the bank hosts for its clients. Luxury market sales have shot up by 120 percent over the past 18 months, he said. "If we saw a $1 million deal once a month, we now see a $1m. deal once a week."
I have personally seen this trend among friends and family alike, who have been snapping up property in Jerusalem as second homes. Another blogger, Jerusalemite Michael Eisenberg, has taken note of the same trend, and pointed out some unexpected effects of it:
There is a shortage of property in Jerusalem. This is particularly true of the central neighborhoods around town (Rehavia, shaarei Chesed, Katamon, Talbieh, German Colony) where most tourists like to buy and where the municipality is trying desperately to invest in and gentrify. This global market for Jerusalem homes is driving up the cost of real estate to stratospheric prices. Homes in the central neighborhoods have doubled in price in the last 4 years to approximately $700 per square foot ($7000+ per Sq. meter). Your average Israeli cannot afford to purchase these homes and are moving out of Jerusalem.

As such, you have buildings in Jerusalem where there is one resident living alone and others where the lights are only on during the Holidays. Sellers routinely wait for Holiday time to see if they can get a better price from the tourists coming into town. While this may be globalization and capitalism at its best, it is a municipal and Jewish nightmare.

There are 300,000 Arabs on the other side of town. If we keep emptying Jerusalem of Jews because they cannot afford housing prices, what will become of city? Who will vote in municipal elections? Is an Arab mayor not a possibility if this trend continues? Who will buy from the shopkeepers and keep them in town? We already have empty buildings. What's next? Empty blocks? an entire ghost town?
Very interesting points, which show that there is a huge downside to this foreign housing boom. I wish I could get more excited about his proposed solutions, though. His first:
1. Preferred Solution - Aliya
The preferred solution is clearly for those American and French Jews purchasing the houses to make Aliya and move to Israel. Life is good here. We have Heinz ketchup now (did not when I arrived), slightly more palatable tax rates, job opportunities, reasonable education, community and Nefesh B'nefesh which makes the bureacracy and social aspects a lot easier. Come move here. You will like it and I am sure you will bring with you all of your vast talents to improve society and the economy. Some will say I am naive for even making this pitch. I do not think so.
Noble suggestion, but I do think he is naive for making this pitch. Unfortunately, most of those that are able to afford apartments in Jerusalem are able to do so because of the living they make in the U.S., or other foreign locales. I don't see many of them choosing Aliyah at this juncture, as wonderful as it would be if they would.
His second suggestion is one I don't even get:
2. Less Preferred Solution - Non resident tax
We need to level the playing field by making it more expensive for non-residents to purchase homes in Jerusalem. While this hurts me to the core of my low taxes conservative economic DNA, the tax base in Jerusalem is very small and losing our population because of the cost of housing is making the situation worse. There should be an extra substantial municipal property purchase tax for non-residents and an increased Arnona/property tax (dare I say double). This money should go into a fund to provide affordable rental housing around the city. It could also be used as an offset to reduce the tax burden on shopkeepers and businesses in Jerusalem who are lacking for business due to empty homes.
That might help ease some of the financial burden, but it does nothing to solve the problem of the empty buildings and the increased Arab voting majority.

I certainly don't have any solutions to the problem myself, though I'm sure that the influx of cash from foreign buyers is enough of a boon to the Israeli economy that it still beats the alternative of a real lack of foreign presence in Israel, which was the reality during the height of the intifada.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Stirring The Pot?

From this week's Five Town Jewish Times:
To express their protest at the lack of a new contract with District #15, Lawrence teachers planned a series of demonstrations outside a number of schools and at least one yeshiva over the next several weeks.

This information was apparently obtained by 5TJT editor Larry Gordon from "a memo circulated among District #15 teachers (a copy of which was obtained by the Five Towns Jewish Times)".

The teachers' claim they are protesting in front of the yeshiva because, as the memo explains, it is a "local private school where our PIPPS (Personnel in Private and Parochial Schools) teach". But one has to wonder whether the planned protest that will go on for two hours in the middle of a regular school day is going to do anything but stir the pot of resentment, especially with all the bad blood that has been flowing between the Orthodox community and the Lawrence Teachers' Association. The teachers run the risk of the HAFTR students feeling that there is something accusatory in the picketing - as if a message is being sent that the yeshivas are responsible for the lack of a teachers' contract. Which is pretty close to the false message the LTA has been sending up until now - that the Orthodox community is the root of all the district's budget troubles.


Kosher Komplications

I had a very annoying experience last night.

We were invited to a dinner party in a friend's apartment. Though this particular couple does not keep kosher, some of their frequent guests, including the Ortho family, do. The hosts, being exceptionally gracious - or sick of watching us eat pretzels and sip soda every time we go there - decided to order everything from a Manhattan kosher restaurant known to have fabulous food. I was psyched, but not as psyched as OrthoDad. For the first time that we were going to be eating over at their place, we figured we weren't going to have to drive around after the party, looking for a restaraunt that was open at 11 PM, or alternately, stop on the way at the local kosher Dunkin Donuts that is open 24 hours.

So imagine our chagrin to arrive just in time to see our hostess pulling the catered food, uncovered, out of her oven. The selfsame catered food that was delivered double wrapped in foil pans, with a seal that read "kashrut not guaranteed if seal is broken". All the food had been transfered to her (non-kosher) casserole pans to be heated up in her (non-kosher) oven. All of the salad dressings had been transfered to her fine china. To boot, she informed me that she had made a few of the salads herself, and they were mixed in together with the rest of the buffet, but "not to worry, I used all kosher ingredients". She also laughingly complained about how hard it had been to get past the double-wrapping on the food: "It was wrapped up like Fort knox! Haha!". Hahahaha.

So basically, we were in the worst possible position. Our hosts had gone through a tremendous amount of trouble and expense to make us feel comfortable, and we couldn't eat a blessed thing. To complicate matters, our co-guests who keep kosher didn't seem to be following as strict an interpretation of the kashrut laws as we were, and were merrily snarfing up the offerings from the buffet. We tried to be inconpicuous, and were not planning to tell our well-intentioned hosts that we couldn't eat. So what to say when the hosts asked why were eschewing the kosher food (that they had paid way too much for, of course), and (yet again) eating only pretzels and soda? My husband pulled the host aside, and, as gently as he could, explained about the laws of heating food up in an oven that had been used to cook non-kosher food, especially within the past 24 hours. Yes, he explained, even if the food being heated is completely kosher. No, he explained, the fact that the other couples who keep kosher are eating the food won't change our minds. Of course, he added how grateful we were that they had put in so much effort and expense on our account, and how he hoped the fact that we didn't eat didn't take away from our gratitude. Outwardly, the couple seemed to take it well, but I can imagine the nature and tone of the words they exchanged after we left. Yes, I will send them a large gift with my thank-you/apology note.

And guess who ended up making an 11:30 PM run for donuts and hot chocolate last night on the way home? Natch.

The good news is, I'm not too worried about what we'll eat when we are next invited to eat at the home of this particular couple.

Somehow, I don't think there'll be a next time.

More Gibson Fallout

The LA Times has an article up, marveling at the speed which with the mere possibility of Mel Gibson directing a miniseries about the Holocaust has become controversial.
Mel Gibson pulled off the seemingly impossible last year, turning "The Passion of the Christ," his low-budget biblical film in a dead language, into one of the year's biggest hits. Now Hollywood's in a frenzy over his newest project, a proposed ABC miniseries partly based on a little-known Holocaust memoir.

Network executives fielded calls from media organizations hoping to interpret the latest move by the actor-director, who has been criticized in the past for statements he has made about the Holocaust and whose elderly father has described some accounts of the mass murder of European Jews during World War II as "fiction."

Quinn Taylor, ABC's senior vice president of movies and miniseries, said Wednesday that he viewed Gibson's possible involvement as a potential plus in marketing the program, although he added: "We would never buy a project that didn't have merit solely for the purpose of getting publicity."

Taylor said he was a little surprised at the intense reaction to the miniseries, because "it's so early in the process."

I won't deny being concerned about the thought of someone like Mel Gibson, who has expressed a woeful ignorance about the history of the Holocaust in the past, directing a miniseries that requires the utmost of sensitivity.

That being said, it would be sad to think that the Jewish Community has learned nothing from the Passion of the Christ debacle. The endless cries of anti-Semitism from many in the Jewish Organizational world - most notably and loudest Abe Foxman, of course - did nothing for the movie except wildly increase its publicity, and directly, its box office sales.

I was happy to see, though, that some people are already coming out of the blocks with a more measured reaction, this time around:
Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said he remained concerned about remarks Gibson made during interviews last year. When asked whether the Holocaust happened, Gibson told one interviewer, "Of course," but added: "The Second World War killed tens of millions of people. Some of them were Jews in concentration camps." Hier and some other commentators believe those remarks downplayed and distorted the history of the Holocaust.

Still, "we should keep an open mind," Hier said of the new miniseries. "It may be an education course or eye-opener for his father, who said the Holocaust was mostly exaggerated."

An uproar may be just what ABC is looking for.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Anything for Ratings

Today's NY Times:
Mel Gibson, whose "The Passion of the Christ" was assailed by critics as an anti-Semitic passion play - and whose father has been on record as a Holocaust denier - has a new project under way: a nonfiction miniseries about the Holocaust.

Mr. Gibson's television production company is developing a four-hour miniseries for ABC based on the self-published memoir of Flory A. Van Beek, a Dutch Jew whose gentile neighbors hid her from the Nazis but who lost several relatives in concentration camps.

...Mr. Gibson's father, Hutton Gibson, has repeatedly denied that the Holocaust happened. Before the release of "The Passion of the Christ," Hutton Gibson said that accounts of the Holocaust were mostly "fiction" and asserted that there were more Jews in Europe after World War II than before.

Mel Gibson, for his part, when asked by an interviewer in early 2004 whether the Holocaust happened, responded that some of his best friends "have numbers on their arms," then added: "Yes, of course. Atrocities happened. War is horrible. The Second World War killed tens of millions of people. Some of them were Jews in concentration camps."
Ah, the old "Some of my best friends are Holocaust survivors". In the same breath as he says only "some" of the people killed in the Holocaust were Jews.

Of course, we have to assume that ABC has a very good reason for allowing a topic as sensitive as the Holocaust to be tackled by a figure that is so controversial to Jews. No worries, they have a very good, well thought-out set of justifications:
But Quinn Taylor, ABC's senior vice president in charge of movies for television, acknowledged that the attention-getting value of having Mr. Gibson attached to a Holocaust project was a factor.

"Controversy's publicity, and vice versa," Mr. Taylor said.
Next week on ABC: Al Sharpton produces a documentary on the history of Black-Jewish race relations.

Not Analagous

From YNet:
A group of Danish Muslims is refusing to eat traditional “Jewish” cookies because they feel offended by the name.

According to the daily Danish newspaper B.T., Ole Poulsen, head of the public food consumer department said that the Muslim refusal to buy the cookies could have an effect on sales.

"If this will be the case, then we would be obliged to do something about it," he declared.

He added that changing the product name was a possibility, as had in the past been done with the “Negroes’ kiss” cakes, which were re-branded with a more neutral name.

The obvious difference being, that with the "Negroes' kiss cakes", the product name was changed because it risked offending the ethnic group it was named after. In this case, the title change is being considered because of another group's intolerance and anti-Semitism.

So in the first case, it was done to prevent prejudice, and in the second, it's being done to promote prejudice. Nice.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Snow Day Season

I'll have to admit to being a little disappointed that last night's forecast snowstorm fizzled out. I was really pulling for a snow day. I felt like a kid when I peeked out the window this morning, only to see a couple inches on the grass and cars and nothing much at all on the roadways. Honestly, I would have loved for my kids (and therefore, me) to get a day off. They leave the house every school day at around 8 AM and come back at around 5 PM. That's a long day for little kids. The boys go to school 6 days a week. So I really related to my kids excited anticipation when the first flurries started to fall last night as they went to sleep, and to their crestfallen faces when they got their first look out the window at the washout. They were looking forward to our snow day tradition of pancakes and waffles for breakfast, and unlimited hot cocoa breaks. Oh well, we have a long snow day season ahead of us. And snow in the forecast for Friday night. Of course, a snow day isn't a snow day if it happens over the weekend, but we'll take what we get.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Bible P*rn

Update: I bleeped the title because apparently, the P-word is causing my blog to be blocked by some of my most loyal readers' workplaces. Not, of course, that I condone reading my blog on company time.

This is just a really weird story:
A German Protestant youth group has put together a 2006 calendar with 12 staged photos depicting erotic scenes from the Bible, including a bare-breasted Delilah cutting Samson's hair and a nude Eve offering an apple.
I would understand this being put out by a publishing company looking for a new gimmick to sell calendars - who isn't looking for a new gimmick these days? But apparently, this calendar is being published under the auspices of the Protestant church.
Bernd Grasser, pastor of the church in Nuremberg where the calendar is being sold, was enthusiastic about the project...

"It's just wonderful when teenagers commit themselves with their hair and their skin to the bible," he said.
The group behind the venture professes that pure motivations are behind it:
Anne Rohmer, 21, poses on a doorstep in garters and stockings as the prostitute Rahab, who is mentioned in both New and Old Testaments. "We wanted to represent the Bible in a different way and to interest young people," she told Reuters.
My question is, why stop at soft-core pornography? I mean, we should be trying everything to "interest young people" who are less than excited about religion, right? Maybe we should start handing out joints and quaaludes at the entrance to the local shuls. That should pull 'em in.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Words from the Agudah Convention

In my perusal of this article that serves as a round-up of last weekend's Agudah convention, I found something that was said during one of the sessions that I both agreed and disagreed with. From an address given by Dayan Aharon Dovid Dunner of London:
To deflect the spiritual dangers in our own culture, we must erect a solid barrier of kedushoh — an effort, the Dayan declared, that best begins at our own Shabbos tables, where opportunities for imparting important spiritual lessons and values to our children abound.
I couldn't agree more. How many times have I cringed when a guest brought up a topic that is completely inappropriate for the Shabbos table, like the latest movie he wanted to see, or the latest business deal she was making. I have always felt that Shabbos is the most special time of the week, the only time when all the outside concerns of business and pop culture and materialistic pursuits come to a screeching halt. When I wave my hands three times over the candles to usher Shabbos in, I know that I have hour upon delicious hour stretching ahead of me, to be spent with my children, with none of the phone calls, e-mails, or other distractions that plague us during our weeknight dinners. Dayan Dunner's advice resonates so deeply with me, as using our Shabbos meals as an opportunity to connect with our children's spiritual needs has always been a goal of mine and my husband's.

I didn't however, like the direction Rabbi Dunner's advice then took:
Dayan Dunner suggested that heads of household take control of the Shabbos meal in much the same way a CEO controls a company meeting — with careful planning.

"Schedule every moment of the Shabbos meal," the speaker recommended. "Don't be embarrassed to write it all down — a maasehele at 12 o'clock, a joke at a quarter past. Leave nothing to chance."

I can't agree. As much as I understand that Rabbi Dunner is trying to prevent the accidental introduction of inappropriate topics that can take away from the kedusha of the Shabbos table, scripting the meal is not the answer. Children are not an audience at a play. They are part of the play. Their participation is essential to a beautiful spiritual experience, and treating them as spectators only takes away from the spontanaeity that makes life with children so rewarding. So I will heed the first part of Rabbi Dunner's advice - and continue to try to abolish anything in our discussion at the Shabbos table that is not related to Shabbos. I will try to guide my children toward the type of discussions most befitting the holiness of the day. But please, excuse me if I ignore the second part of Rabbi Dunner's advice. I will not schedule those conversations like the minutes of a meeting, complete with scripted jokes written in. That would be more befitting a conference table than a Shabbos table.

And I certainly spend more than enough of my time time sitting at a conference table at work.

Update: How could I forget the hat tip? Thanks, Krum.