Powered by WebAds

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Of All The Crazy Campaign Promises...

Is this a joke?
Anyone who votes for religious Sephardic party Shas in the upcoming elections is assured of a place in heaven, the party's spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef told about 8,000 activists at a pre-election rally in Tel Aviv Tuesday evening.

Rabbi Ovadia told the enthusiastic listeners about a man who reaches heavens and fears God's verdict. At that point, a white angel appears and tells the man he is heading to heaven for building a mikvah (Jewish ritual bath) and a synagogue. The man says he has not done any of that because he had no money, but later admits he did vote for Shas.

The angel's reply: "Exactly. And by sending emissaries who built mikvahs and synagogues and safeguarded the world of Torah, you're a party to mitvzot and your place is in heaven." Therefore, the rabbi explained, anyone who votes for Shas will end up in heaven.

If Rav Ovadyah Yosef was joking, then the reporter who wrote this up clearly didn't get the joke. If Rav Ovadyah Yosef wasn't joking (which I suspect is the case), this has to be one of the easiest tickets to heaven ever.

I mean, wow. Extremist Imams are offering heaven in exchange for a suicide bomber's martyrdom, and all we Jews have to do to get into heaven is throw a vote the way of a certain Rabbi's political party. Life as a Jew is good - even if no one's throwing 70 virgins in as part of the deal.


In case you've been visiting Mars, and so somehow missed all the buzz about this in the J-blogosphere, the new season of The Apprentice has two Orthodox Jewish contestants. Steven I. liveblogged the first episode, and acording to his account, one of the Orthodox contestants Lee Bienstock (originally of the Five Towns), said at a point during the episode:
Theresa notices Lee shaking his head, and asks him to explain his upset. He replies, “I just personally don’t like to talk negatively of someone behind their backs; I’ve just never done it before.”

I'm going to extrapolate here, and assume that he has never talked behind others' backs because he doesn't speak Loshon Hora. Very nice, Lee.

Could The Ports Deal Get Any Worse??

So, as if this Dubai Port mess didn't look bad enough for our Prez with the 34% approval ratings. First, he claimed not to know about the deal until after it was approved, then he dug in his heels against scrapping the deal, even with so many pols on both sides of the political divide recommending as much. But this revelation is just too much:
The parent company of a Dubai-based firm at the center of a political storm in the US over the purchase of American ports participates in the Arab boycott against Israel, The Jerusalem Post has learned.

The firm, Dubai Ports World, is seeking control over six major US ports, including those in New York, Miami, Philadelphia and Baltimore. It is entirely owned by the Government of Dubai via a holding company called the Ports, Customs and Free Zone Corporation (PCZC), which consists of the Dubai Port Authority, the Dubai Customs Department and the Jebel Ali Free Zone Area.

"Yes, of course the boycott is still in place and is still enforced," Muhammad Rashid a-Din, a staff member of the Dubai Customs Department's Office for the Boycott of Israel, told the Post in a telephone interview.

"If a product contained even some components that were made in Israel, and you wanted to import it to Dubai, it would be a problem," he said.

Beautiful. Just beautiful.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Charity for Children

Funny (and maybe a bit scary) little piece in NY Magazine about the newest trend for Manhattan socialites. Apparently, there are now charity events for toddlers.
What does a benefit for kiddie socialites look like? Catering includes iced sugar cookies, star-shaped cheese sandwiches, and individual pizzas decorated to look like smiley lion faces; entertainment includes a puppet show. But the kickoff event for the New York Public Library’s Library Cubs wasn’t really for the children. It was for the 40 or so alpha families who eschewed nanny care to bring their kids to the walnut-paneled Trustees Room (with its seventeenth-century Flemish tapestries) to, you know, show their support.
...“I love the idea of kids connecting and introducing them to the idea of social responsibility,” says Molly Jong-Fast, who came with her husband, Matthew Greenfield, and their 2-year-old son, Max, who was sucking on an animal cracker during the puppet show. The soignée moms, dressed in cashmere sweaters and Joe’s jeans and carrying fancy handbags, traded stories about the birthday-party circuit and the preschool-admission process (this year’s hot pick: Park Avenue Christian Church Day School). Eventually, the kids tired of the bookmark-making station and began a pillow fight.

Why do I find this scary? Because imagine if Jewish fundraisers get these types of ideas into their heads. As it is, there are so many fund-raising events scheduled in my neighborhood that it is not humanly possible for myself and my husband to attend them all. The school-aged set opens up a whole new vista of potential invitees. I can just see it now. My already overflowing mailbox will be stuffed with colorful printed invitations for pizza and french fry dinners on Saturday evenings, pancake and waffle breakfasts on Sunday mornings, ice cream sundae parlor meetings on school nights in the family rooms of their well-heeled school-age buddies - all for the younger set. These events will be honoring some of my kids' nearest and dearest friends and classmates. Honorees will include "toddler of the year", "best behaved playdate", and "clean-up award". Awardees will be presented with sterling silver gameboys and barbie dolls. If you lived in my neighborhood, you might not think this possibilty was so farfetched. I'm shuddering just thinking about it.

Black Hat Breakdancing

So David Lavon, the guy from the famous Yeshiva music video, has hit the big time (sort of). Hard to belive that this is interesting to people outside the Orthodox community, but hey, the guy's got talent.

Hattip: J

Teens at Risk

My pal SephardiLady has an interesting post up about the "teens at risk" issue, and the coverage of the issue in a Jewish publication. She points out that the articles in the magazine say all of the right things, such as preventing pushing teens away from Orthodox Judaism by not being too rigid in our expectations, and not demanding the high level of conformity that has been the norm in certain segments of the Orthodox world. I put a comment in her comment thread that is on something I've been mulling for a while:

Let me preface my statement by saying that I think that the openness with which the Orthodox world has begun to discuss the "teens at risk" issue can only be seen a positive development. That said, I still have to wonder if all this frequent and open discussion about the topic has actually removed much of the stigma from "going off the derech". When I was growing up, there was much more emotional baggage involved in stepping away from the community. There was no popular term to describe it (the "at risk" designation), people didn't have regular meetings and lectures to discuss being supportive of those teens who might be heading in that direction, the Jewish publications didn't address it in every issue. A friend of mine who has a teenaged daughter said that she sees a tremendous amount of defiance in her daughter and her daughters friends when they push the envelope of the guidelines their parents set for them. My friend says it's almost as if their attitude is "I'm at risk, the Rabbis say not to alienate me, whaddaya gonna do about it?". And the conventional wisdom these days is NOT to ratchet up the level of strictness, as opposed to how it would have been twenty years ago. I don't doubt that that attitude is well-advised, as I'm sure ratcheting up the restrictions would push these teens further away. But again, I wonder if all this acceptance and discussion has only made it a more, rather than less attractive way to attempt a teenage rebellion.

Now as I said in my comment, I still think that open discussion is essential to dealing with issues that affect the community such as this one. But I wonder if all of this open discussion and seeming acceptance of the actions of teens who are straying from the limits set by their parents, while the only way to deal with the problem, is just making this kind of rebellion less and less risky an option for Orthodox teens. If there is no fear of parental or educator disapproval, then that is one less deterrant.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Funny Plug

(click on image for a better read)

Reader and commenter "Kishmech" sent me this clipping of a hilarious little piece that was in the London Jewish Chronicle about female bloggers. It mentions yours' truly, as well as my pal Renegade Rebbetzin, and the Shomer Negiah blog. The line that still has me cracking up every time I read it:
Orthomom, whose name evokes images of a super-powered sheitl-wearer...

How funny?

Thursday, February 23, 2006

The Saga of "Rachel"

I am slowly being driven mad by one of my daughter's classmate's mothers. Really. Absolutely nuts. This woman has to be the most difficult, competitive person in the history of the world. And in a neighborhood like mine, that's saying a lot. Allow me to share a few heartwarming examples of what she's been doing to make me feel ready to do something like... pour sugar in her gas tank, or let the air out of her luxury SUV's tires - right before carpool.

1. Her daughter (let's call her "Rachel") came over to my house to play, along with another girl. I was in the next room, and pretty closely supervising the playdate. All three girls were very nicely playing a game, until Rachel, out of nowhere, decided she didn't want to play anymore. It was "boring". So she petulantly walked away from the game, leaving the girls unable to finish it. Needless to say they were annoyed, and told her so, in no uncertain terms - and definitely too harshly. Which was wrong, even if Rachel had acted in an unpleasant and unsportsmanlike manner herself. I gathered the girls together, and told them that if they couldn't all be nice to each other, I would have to take the guests home. Said Rachel: "I do want to go home. My mom was right when she told me that they weren't going to be nice to me!" Lovely. Talk about a self-fulfilling prophecy.

2. My daughter attends an extracurricular program on Sundays, with a few girls from her class. One of these girls happens to be (you guessed it), Rachel. Rachel told my daughter that her mother had to "think carefully" about letting her go to the program, because she was afraid the other girls would "leave her out". Again, talk about a self-fulfilling prophecy.

3. My daughter was given a solo in a class production. Rachel told my daughter (in front of a large group of girls) that her mother said that the teacher only gave the solo to my daughter because my daughter is a "kiss-up". Did my daughter get the part because she behaved nicely? Perhaps - but that doesn't make her a kiss-up. That makes her, in the teacher's eyes, deserving.

4. This woman calls me every time the girls get a test back, to sniff out what my grade my daughter received (I usually refuse to put her out of her misery, and just let her keep sniffing). Why does this lunatic do this? I guess so she can keep the competitive spirit kicked into high gear.

5. I went in to Parent Teacher conferences, to discuss my daughter's report card. Her grades were (B'H) very nice, and so were her marks for behavior. So I went into the meeting expecting a good report. Which I got. What I didn't expect (though I should have - I know, I'm really a slow study), was for the teacher to tell me: "I'm very surprised that things have been OK between the girls in the class and Rachel." My response: "Huh? Why wouldn't they be?" Of course, all of my readers probably saw this coming from a mile away. Yes. Rachel's mother went in to the teacher at the start of the school year to tell her that she was worried that the girls in the class, particularly my daughter and a few others she named, were going to give her daughter a "hard time". The teacher made it clear that she had seen no sign of it. Yet, Rachel's mom felt it necessary to start off the year right for my daughter and others by putting them in the teacher's brain as "trouble". I only thank God that this prophecy wasn't self-fulfilling like some of the others.

The question is, what makes a person so inclined to poison her child (and her child's educators) against everyone around her? Is it some narcissistic need she has for her daughter to view her as the only person out there who really fully loves and cares about her? Is it her own wild insecurities about her own social status that she's betraying by projecting them onto her daughter? Is she just a grown-up version of the child who "doesn't play well with others"?

All of the above would be fine, if she would only be affecting her daughter with her crazy machinations. But she doesn't. Rachel doesn't live, play or learn in a vacuum. And when a mother creates these kind of negative feelings in her child toward her peers, it can only find its way into the child's interactions with her peers. For example, my daughter came home crying after incident #3 above happened, saying that she wanted to "give her solo to Rachel". Obviously, it took a while to get to the bottom of why, and I had to explain to her that the teacher gave her the solo for her own reasons - but certainly not because my daughter is a "kiss-up". I suspect that the honor and joy of being given the part was very much tempered fror my daughter by the response she got from her friends, and that's just not fair. I also don't need my daughter's teacher starting the year off with expectations (ultimately not borne out) that my daughter will be a problem. I don't need my daughter getting the message that every grade she gets is a competition with the grade that Rachel receives.

The simplest solution would be to separate the girls, and not let my daughter associate with Rachel whenever it's in my control. But I feel queasy about doing that to rachel, about punishing a young girl for what are so clearly her mother's hang-ups. But if I continue to let Rachel badger my daughter, and poison my daughter's peers and teachers, regardless of whether it comes from Rachel or her mother, aren't I risking my own daughter's budding self-confidence in favor of protecting her classmate's? As much of a responsibilty as I feel I have to poor Rachel, with the messed-up parents, don't I have a bigger responsibility to my own?

C'mon, people, I expect to see this all sorted out by you guys in the comment thread.

NYU is #1

Interesting survey done by Hillel, on the schools with the largest numbers of Jewish Students. The largest overall, of both private and public universities, is New York University, with 6,500. Actually, according to NYU's estimates, the total number of Jewish students enrolled in both the undergraduate and graduate programs is around 12,500 - which is almost 1/3 of the student body. Dat's a lotta Jews.

Obviously, New York City's large Jewish demographic is a huge part of the city's identity, and I am sure that is a big draw to Jewish university applicants, especially ones that come from locales with smaller Jewish populations. From the Washington Square News:
CAS freshman David Gromet said he came to NYU and New York City for their large Jewish communities, even though he does not participate in the Bronfman Center’s activities and services.

“Coming from a place where there was a fair amount of stigma attached to being Jewish, more so than New York, was definitely a reason that I came here — to just be able to be who I am without having to constantly justify myself or be a representative of my religion,” Gromet said.
The survey reports that NYU's Orthodox population has grown as well, tripling in recent years to a number of 300. This is, I'm sure, due to the services offered both by the University itself, as well as the huge number of resources such as kosher restaurants and synagogues that are available in the New York Metropolitan area.
“For 300 Orthodox students who keep strict kosher Shabbat rules and pray regularly, going to a college with no kosher facility or Orthodox services is virtually a nonoption,” Sarna said. “There are only 15 or so private [colleges] which have orthodox communities.”

NYU has steadily been increasing its Kosher dining options and recently revised the salad bar and meal options with the help of student input, Pines said.
Who thought that NYU would win the prize for being even Jewier than YU?

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Another Jewish Figure Skater? Um...Sort Of.

While we're on the topic of the Jewishness of Olympic figure skaters, check out this little vignette from an article in the Washington Post on showy mens' figure skater Johnny Weir:
Johnny Weir says he is very spiritual. It is true that he adores the celebrity rag Us Weekly and that he's currently reading a book by too-thin, too-blond starlet Nicole Richie. But he also has a deeper side. He says he's been obsessed with the Holocaust since he was little and considers himself "a little bit" Jewish, although he isn't, not technically. He says he's had his past lives read and found out that most recently he was a Jewish girl from Poland during World War II.

"I mean, it makes sense if you think about it," he says. "Like, what 4-year-old gets into learning about how 6 million people were exterminated?"

Around his neck, Johnny wears three chains with a knotted mess of pendants, including two Stars of David, an Israeli army dog tag, an Italian horn to protect him from the mal occhio , or evil eye, a miraculous medal of Mary, and the letter D, which stands for the Christina Aguilera song "Dirrty," because Christina Aguilera is his role model.

Something To See For Yourself

I'm not sure what to say about this, so I'll use the description I found at its source:
"A lesbian hippie-jew and a chassidic dude duke it out in rhyme at a Tu B'shvat seder in Park Slope."


Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Anti-Semitism or Architectural Preservation?

Interesting piece in todays NY Sun (registration req.). The City Planning Commission is considering creating a historic district out of the tony Riverdale, NY neighborhood of Fieldston. This would create a situation where residents of the neighborhood would have to apply to a Landmark reservation Commission in order to make any changes - no matter how minor - that affect the exteriors of their homes.
Because most of the houses were built in the 1920s, many in the area's growing Orthodox Jewish community who purchase there have undertaken additions of renovations in order to accomodate the needs of their growing families. The landmarking proposal has divided the Riverdale community, often pitting neighbor against neighbor.

...Rabbi Weiss is not willing to ascribe anti-Semitic motivations to those who are backing the proposed historic district. "But the result is the same," he said. "It will hurt the Orthodox community in a disproportionate way, regardless of the motivation. I can't look into the souls of those supporting this, but I know what the result will be".

Others have taken a harder line, suggesting that many of the landmarks and zoning decisions in Riverdale in recent years have consistently seemed to impact negatively on the areas Orthodox Jews.

I can see both sides of this. On the one hand, I can see why it is well within the right of every homeowner, Orthodox or not, to expand their houses as they see fit to meet the needs of their growing families. That being said, who hasn't been in a neighborhood where extensions and additions have been done in the least tasteful fashion, and certainly take away from the flavor and beauty of an area. I think a board that reviews every proposed exterior alteration is a perfectly fair idea - as long as the parameters are within reason. It seems that if Fieldston becomes a historic district, subject to approval by the notoriously difficult NYC Landmark Preservation Commission, it will become much more difficult and costly to make any changes to homes in the area at all. In addition, as the article points out, designating the area an historic district makes it illegal for visitors to park their cars on the street. Rabbi Weiss suggests something similar:
"I don't understand why the Fieldston Property Owners Association cannot self-regulate any proposed renovations to the homes here," Rabbi Weiss said. "It would seem that this is preferable to submitting these requests to the city."

I would have to agree. In the Five Towns area, many of the villages require that any exterior work first be approved by a Board of Building Design, which consists of a group of area residents who each have some architecture or design background and meet to discuss any submitted plans. As long as the plans submitted do not subvert a basic ideal of good taste and zoning restrictions, they are generally aproved, sometimes with suggestions from the board on how to bring the plan more into character with the style of the neighborhood. This seems to me to be a less restrictive plan than the one proposed in Riverdale, especially as the article points out that many feel that the original architect and developer of the Fieldston neighborhood is far from widely recognized as a great talent.

If it is approved, good luck to Fieldston's growing families.


There's a petition being filed by a group of NYU Law students for the creation of a minority lounge:
Members from the university’s chapter of the American Law Student Association and other minority law student associations on campus said they seek to establish a place at the school where minority students would feel welcome to discuss issues of race in the law. The lounge would be located at the Edgar Allan Poe Lounge in Furman Hall.

The lounge is necessary because minority students are underrepresented at NYU’s law school and minorities make up a small portion of employees in the legal profession, ALSA members said.

...Students in ALSA said the lounge is not supposed to separate minorities from the rest of the school, said third-year law student and ALSA member Tammy Kim.

“If white students feel uncomfortable entering the all-ALSA lounge — where they are in the abject minority — how do they think we feel entering the classroom every day?” Kim said.

I think that there is obvious truth to the point that any non-minorities who might walk into the proposed lounge will get a taste of what it feels like to be under-represented in the classrooms of NYU - but that doesn't make the idea right. Creating a lounge solely for the use of minorities is segregation, any way you slice it. I probably don't need to suggest the obvious exercise, but I will anyway: replace the word "minority" with the word "non-minority", and see how you like the argument.

That said, another obvious question that can be raised is how does a proposal like this compare to campus associations where Jews gather, such as a Hillel house? Honestly, the only one I can come up with is that a Hillel exists to offersreligious amenities, such as minyanim and kosher food. They are often the only place on campus for Jews to have access to these indespensable parts of Jewish life. The Hillel model is not set up to be a defined place for Jews to be the majority, and make other majorities feel like a minority. But even though the underlying basis for the creation of these two different types of minority associations are very different, so many Hillels become de facto minority lounges themselves.

So while my knee-jerk reaction is to oppose the NYU petition as as encouraging segregation in student life, I wonder how long it will be before organizations like Hillel are brought into the discussion.


Thursday, February 16, 2006

Hoenlein's Double-Talk

I have been reading accounts of the situation in Iran with great concern. So I read yesterday's story in the JPost with interest. In it, Malcolm Hoenlein blasts Western leaders for not doing enough in the face of the escalation of hate and agression from Iran's regime:
American Jewish leader Malcolm Hoenlein slammed the US and Europe Tuesday for not doing more to back Iranian dissidents and reformers in the form of money and moral support.

"If we want to see change in Iran, we have to support the people in Iran who will bring about change. And what we have done is everything possible to dissuade them," said Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, who is in Jerusalem for the conference's annual meeting here.

He particularly singled out the need to highlight Iran's human rights abuses, pointing to the hundreds of public executions on "spurious charges" held each year.

"It's all being published in the papers, and yet the West is absolutely silent in the face of this. It's inconceivable. It's incomprehensible. And it destroys the initiative of people inside the country" to foment change.

His point is very valid, and well taken. So imagine my surprise at seeing an article published mere hours later by the Forward, in which Hoenlein urges the need for restraint on the part of Jewish leaders in the face of the very same threatening behavior by Iran:
Most Jewish organizations, in speaking out on Iran's nuclear ambitions and Holocaust denial, have avoided raising public questions about the Jews in Iran to avert possible negative consequences for the local community.

"We're concerned about the escalating rhetoric, which could lead to actions, be it in Iran or elsewhere," said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Hoenlein is a key player in coordinating American Jewish organizations' responses on Iranian Jewish affairs. "It is among the most sensitive issues, because we know declarations could lead to consequences."

Um... Come again? Its hard to see Hoelein's lack of a clear message on this subject as anything but pandering. When speaking to the Jerusalem Post, a conservative publication, he is all about aggressive action inresponse to the threats. When talking to the Forward, a more liberal outfit, it's all about restraint. This is far from the first time Mr. Hoenlein has equivocated on issues depending on which way he senses the wind is blowing. And I'm sure it's far from the last.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Rally Report

A report I received by e-mail from a secret operative who attended today's rally in Albany in support of tax credits:
There were (as I heard reported on the drive home) somewhere in the neighborhood of 5000-6000 attendees. The vast majority were from Catholic schools, seconded (but very far from a close second) by a decent representation from the Syrian and MO yeshivas. Dead last was the abysmal showing from the UO and Chassidish communities, a few black hats and beards peppered throughout the crowd, but nothing noticeable, especially when you consider the vast numbers that stayed home. Pataki spoke to thunderous applause and cheering, he was the closest thing to a rock star, with students reaching out to shake his hand and touch him as he made his exit. The Catholic students were the most vocal, screaming "save our schools" at the top of their lungs at every opportunity. They also came prepared with signs (which they gave out to the non-Catholics who were there as well), and many were wearing hats with S.O.S. written on them. Afterwards, some groups (including mine) went to lobby our legislators directly in their offices (Harvey Weisenberg and Dean Skelos). Skelos was very gracious and let us take pics with him. The kids were pleased. All in all, definitely an impressive showing overall, though definitely not from the Ultras, who I expect would be most affected by the tax credit. hard to comprehend why not - I'm sure they could have arranged for separate sections for the men and women ;).
Thank you Agent X. More on this later.

Anyone else there? Put reports in comments.
Update: News coverage of the rally: I, II, III, IV, V, VI

Don't Say Cheese

A New York judge has ruled that an Orthodox man does not have the right to his own image:

A Manhattan judge has dismissed an Orthodox Jewish man's lawsuit, finding that a photo taken of him on a street and sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars is art — not commerce.
Emo Nussenzweig filed the suit on the grounds that his religion forbids photographs because they're graven images, according to his lawyer, Jay Goldberg.

"It puts him in a disgraceful light within his community," Goldberg said.

"It violates the tenets of the particular religious sect to which he belongs. He shouldn't be put in a position where people might think he sold out for a few bucks."

But Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Judith Gische ruled that the head shot showing Nussenzweig, with a white beard, a black hat and a black coat, is art — even though the photographer took it surreptitiously near Times Square in 2001 and then sold 10 prints of it at $20,000 to $30,000 each.

Apparently, there are pictures of this man hanging in homes all over the world - and he has no control over it. Some of the images were 3 feet by 4 feet large. The law dictates that photos cannot be taken without the subject's permission and used for commercial purposes, however, if they are deemed as art, then it is not prohibited by law. Of course, some might consider the hundreds of thousands of dollars the artist sold the photos for to be a commercial transaction, art or not. Some might also think that the subject should be entitled to a cut of the profits, or some sort of fee, for the use of his face.

I, for one, would be extremely uncomfortable with the knowledge that as long as they fall in the (subjective) category of art, photographs of an unwilling subject can be taken and sold, and that the images could end up anywhere.

Holocaust Studies

Interesting piece in the NYTimes about a New Jersey playhouse that is running The Story of Anne Frank to sellout crowds of high school students. The playhouse has had to add more and more performances to meet the demand of what will ultimately be 9,000 students viewing the production. Part of the demand, aparently, is due to the fact that New Jersey is one of seven states that requires Holocaust and genocide studies to be taught as part of its students curriculum.

The reporter actually attends the play with a group of high school students, and though the teens seem unfazed by the story's grave subject matter at the start of the performance, by the end, the crowd seemed shocked by the reenactment of Ann Frank and her family's capture by the Nazis.
But despite that — and most revealing about the play's impact on the students — at its end when the Nazi soldiers storm into the Franks' annex without warning, the young audience members let out an audible gasp, and a few even shouted, "Oh, my God!"

That one scene also answered the question of why make a field trip to the theater.
Interestingly, but not very surprisingly, some students revealed in a class discussion after the trip that "they thought Paper Mill was going to do something to end it on a good note". Which is par for the course in most of the canned entertainment of today, and even "reality" TV. it would be interesting to know if these students were jarred by the reality of the story line, and how their backgrounds in the required Holocaust studies affected that.

At least one student, though, was able to see this play as far from a fictionalized retelling. He was asked after the performance if he felt that the Holocaust could happen again:
"Yes," said William Vargas, a student at Lincoln Park Middle School.

When asked why, he thought for a second before giving his answer.

"Why not?" he said plaintively.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Holocaust Comparison?

Maryland Lt. Governor Michael Steele has come under fire (not the Dick Cheney kind of fire, though), for comments to the Baltimore Jewish Council that were perceived by some as over the lines of propriety. His comments:
You of all folks know what happens when people decide they want to experiment on human beings, when they want to take your life and use it as a tool.

Apparently, some found that comment to be unbelievably offensive, and they shot off their own comments in response. From WPost:
His remarks brought immediate condemnation from U.S. Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, a leading Democrat in the race, whose wife was in the audience, and from others who were there.

"If the lieutenant governor was drawing a comparison between stem cell research and human medical experimentation during the Holocaust, he must understand the pain this kind of analogy would inflict on survivors and their families," said Arthur C. Abramson, the Baltimore Jewish Council's executive director.

"We absolutely reject any comparisons between ethical and lifesaving medical research and the horrors committed by the Nazis in their evil drive to create a master race," Abramson said. "We welcome any clarification Lieutenant Governor Steele can offer about his remarks."

Now, I personally agree with SIW's assessment that this is a pretty inoffensive Holocaust comparison:
The guy didn’t use the word “Holocaust,” didn’t bring in the general oppression and murder of the Nazis, and didn’t utilize the broader horror of the Holocaust to make his point. It’s absurd to make this into a Jewish issue.
However, I am beyond offended by Steele's attempt to compare stem cell research to something as objectively gruesome as the Nazi's human experimentation - but not because I find the Holocaust comparison to be the problem. His extremist views against embryonic stem cell research are what make me ill, not his purported lack of sympathy for Mengele's victims (which is far from evidenced by his statement).

Best Dick Cheney Shooting Joke

I'm sure there is no one out there who hasn't yet heard about Dick Cheney's unfortunate hunting accident, where he shot his hunting buddy, prominent Texas attorney Harry Whittington, in the face. As Whittington is expected to recover fully, the jokes are already flying fast and furious. The best one I've seen yet (via):
Dick Cheney Finally Takes a Stand Against Trial Lawyers
Put any other ones you especially like in comments. I'll update the post as they come in.

Update: Another joke, this one in the form of a handy diagram for Dick Cheney's next hunting trip, also courtesy of Wonkette:

Friday, February 10, 2006

Stung by Solitaire

Is anyone else really pissed off at Mayor Mike for this move? From today's NYTimes:
Edward Greenwood IX was fired Jan. 30 from his job as an assistant in the city's lobbying office in Albany, not long after the mayor spied the game on his computer screen during a Jan. 4 visit to the state capital.

Mr. Greenwood, 39, said he was dismissed with no notice, and no severance pay, after working there for six years. He earned about $27,000 a year for duties that included sending legislative bills to city agencies and copying and circulating office memos.

Mr. Bloomberg confirmed yesterday that Mr. Greenwood's firing offense was the game of solitaire, saying that city employees were not paid to play at the workplace. The firing was first reported yesterday by The New York Post.

"I expect all city workers — including myself — to work hard," Mayor Bloomberg said during a news conference in Midtown Manhattan. "There's nothing wrong with taking a break but during the business day at your desk, that's not appropriate behavior."

Now, I'm not disagreeing that it totally sucks to have the big boss find out you've been playing solitaire on the job. I can't say "come on, everybody does it" about solitaire per se, because playing solitaire as a time-wasting pasttime has, in my experience, been replaced by the post-millenial time-wasting pasttime of blogging, reading blogs, general websurfing, and IM'ing. And who doesn't engage in one of those activities at work at some time or another? I see all my readers' hits from my sitemeter, and unless a large chunk of my readership actually live in various and sundry law firms, corporations, small businesses, and even (gasp) a varied representation of government offices all over the United States - I know that Greenwood isn't alone. And even if he was the only one unlucky enough to actually get caught, is this a proper response on Bloomberg's part? I appreciate the mayor's take-no-prisoners approach when it comes to playing tough with the Transit Workers Union, for example, but this is just too much. Why make an example of this guy when he has been at the job for so long? He wasn't even caught in the act of playing solitaire - it just happened to be on his screen when it was seen by the mayor:
Mr. Greenwood said yesterday that he always finished his work in a timely fashion, and that he played solitaire only when there was nothing else left to do, usually a few times a week or during lunch breaks.

"Any and all work I had to do, I did with a passion," he said. "If I have a stack of things to be done, I'm not the kind of guy to put it off."

Mr. Greenwood said that he had left the solitaire game on his computer while going to pick up tickets for the mayor and other city officials to attend the governor's annual address to the state. When he returned, Mr. Greenwood said, the mayor had arrived and was posing for pictures with other office workers.

I mean, can anyone really argue that an employee's playing a mindless game of solitaire while eating lunch - or even on a business phone call - is an offense that calls for the perpetrator's termination? I know I can't. This sucks. It sucks for Greenwood, and it sucks for the mayor. Because my opinion of him has changed, and I'll bet I'm not the only one.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Further Follies For Ford

The Sun has been running a story for the past three days that I simply cannot believe has not yet been picked up in any significant way by the Jewish press.

The American Association of University Professors had a conference planned in Italy next week on the subject of academic boycotts. Earlier this week, the Sun pointed out that 8 out of the 21 participating professors had strongly and publicly supported academic boycotts of Israel. In addition, the Sun uncovered that one of the articles circulated to the conference's attendees was an anti-Semitic article, written by a Holocaust denier, originally published in a pro-Hitler publication. The conference's organizer claimed it was included "in error". I'm sure.

Alan Dershowitz in the Sun:
"It's an absolute scandal," a Harvard law professor, Alan Dershowitz, told the Sun. "No legitimate funding source should be associated with this, and the AAUP should not be associated with this. If the AAUP wants to have a conference like this, then they ought to have nonpolemical experts who are neutral and not coming there with an agenda and a specific country in their sights, which is exactly what's going on."

He added that the conference would "turn into a debate about boycotting Israel. I wonder how many of the same people would come if this were a debate about boycotting China or Cuba. ... They don't favor boycotts, they favor boycotts against Israel."

Mr. Dershowitz also questioned whether the circulation of the anti-Semitic article was an accident. "Accidents like that don't happen unless you're playing footsie with Holocaust deniers."
The kicker? This conference was being sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and the Nathan Cummings Foundation. They urged in two separate statements for the postponement of the conference.
In a joint statement on Tuesday, the president of the Ford Foundation, Susan Berresford, and the president of the Nathan Cummings Foundation, Lance Lindlom, said the paper's inclusion in the conference materials had "undermined the credibility of this conference as a forum for intellectually honest and rigorous exchange." The Rockefeller Foundation, which was to house the conference free of charge at its historic villa on the banks of Lake Como in Bellagio, Italy, issued a separate statement on Tuesday that asked the association to delay use of its facilities. "The sponsors of the conference and subsequent publications have stated that the credibility of the conference has been undermined. ... The Rockefeller Foundation shares these concerns," it said.
I recall that this is not the first time the Ford Foundation has had trouble with type of thing. Last year, they came under fire after a series of articles in the JTA found that:
Large financial grants from Ford enabled Palestinian groups virtually to hijack the 2001 U.N. Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa, and direct attacks against Israel and Jews.
In that same JTA article, an announcement was made of the hiring of Stu Eizenstat, former advisor to President Clinton, as a liasion between Ford and the Jewish community, to help implement changes in how Ford spends its foundation money:
Eizenstat said his predominant role will be to work with Ford to implement new guidelines for how Ford grantees can use their money.

"We are making explicit what was implicit before — that no grantee can support or participate in any acts of violence, bigotry, intolerance, discrimination or call for the destruction of any state," Eizenstat said.
Yeah. Maybe Eizenstat should work a little harder, or try to make an appearance at his desk sometime.

Kudos to the NYSun for their hard-charging coverage of this story.

Ronald Lauder's Hypocrisy?

Very interesting and slightly disturbing piece in the Forward. Apparently, Ronald Lauder, heir to the Lauder fortune and a longtime advocate for restitution of art lost to Jews during the Holocaust, has not exactly practiced what he advocates.
When the heirs of Fritz Grünbaum, a Viennese art collector who perished in the Dachau concentration camp, began trying to track down their ancestor's collection of Egon Schiele paintings, they hit what they thought was a stroke of luck: At least two of the pieces seemed to have ended up in collections associated with cosmetics heir Ronald Lauder, chairman emeritus of the Museum of Modern Art, former treasurer of the World Jewish Congress and, most important, a major advocate of Holocaust-era art restitution.

Given that Lauder himself had argued vociferously for museums and private collectors to disclose the provenance, or ownership history, of any pieces thought to have been looted from Jewish homes during World War II, the family members assumed that they would easily get information about Lauder's collection.

They assumed wrong.
Apparently, Lauder is refusing to give up any information about the provenance of holocaust-era art that is in his personal collection, even though he has made statements in the past encouraging museums to do so, and even testified before Congress regarding this issue. Some are crying foul:
Despite his high-profile advocacy for openness — including testimony before Congress in 1998 — Lauder has never publicly listed the works in his own collection, many of which are by painters who were popular with Jewish collectors before the Holocaust. And a museum that he founded has failed to fulfill its pledge to post provenance information for its collection.

...On the Web site of the Commission for Art Recovery, an organization that Lauder founded in 1997 as an offshoot of the World Jewish Congress, the cosmetics heir wrote that museums "must review their collections to identify and then publicize any art in their collections that may have been stolen."

Given such statements, a number of art restitution experts said that Lauder's reluctance to release information about his own collection has been "hypocritical," in the words of one leading Holocaust researcher, Mark Mazurovsky.

"When the time comes for comments about restitution, he's very eloquent," said Ori Soltes, a lecturer in art history at Georgetown University and a founder of the Holocaust Art Restitution Project. "But when the time comes for action that requires a more personal inward look, he seems considerably more reticent."

I don't claim to know all the details here, but if there is any truth to this article, he certainly seems to setting lower standards for himself than he so vociferously sets for others.

I've Got Mail

A reader who calls himself "Dan the Man" sent me an e-mail:
Orthomom, why are you and other Jewish bloggers so obsessed with The Jewish Week? I know it's not the best specimen of a newspaper, but neither is the Jewish Press or the Yated. What's so much worse about the Jewish Week?
Good question. I can't speak for the other J-bloggers that Dan has referenced, but I can certainly speak for myself. I completely agree with Dan that unfortunately, there are certainly many examples of Jewish newspapers that practice bad journalism. But the Jewish Week holds a special place. All one would have to do is peruse the blogs over the past few years to see examples of Gary Rosenblatt and his staff's constant practice of often shoddy, and sometimes plain slanted reporting. For a small sampling of just a few links (note: this is far from a comprehensive list):

TTC: 1, 2, 3
Steven I. Weiss (Canonist): 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
Steven I. Weiss (Protocols): 1, 2,
Krum: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7
Slippery Slope: 1, 2, 3
Shmarya: 1, 2
Godol Hador: 1
DovBear: 1, 2, 3
Orthomom: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

So now that you've done some reading, Dan, I can explain to you why I find Gary Rosenblatt so dangerous. Because his paper is so widely distributed (though the numbers are largely inflated by the free subscriptions given out to all Federation donors), it is in the hands of so many Americans who treat it as their only Jewish news source. In addition, since the paper is not Orthodox, it comes closer to being a "regular" news source than the papers that are forced to toe the Orthodox party line (Yated, Hamodia, Jewish Press). This question about Gary Rosenblatt's lack of journalistic integrity comes at a time when many of us in the blogosphere (most notably Krum, TTC, and SIW) are up in arms over a series of articles on the World Jewish Congress that has, in my opinion, catapulted Mr. Rosenblatt to the "Yellow Journalists Hall of Fame". Krum has two long, detailed posts (1, 2) enumerating many examples of the biased reporting practiced by Mr. Rosenblatt and his staff during the course of their coverage of this story. His thorough posts stunned me when I read them, and I think they will stun you as well. Whether or not the Jewish Week's misleading and mischaracterizing reporting is intentional, it doesn't change the fact that they just press on with it, without ever issuing a correction or retraction.

It stinks, and I don't like it. I will continue to point out any biased reporting or errors on the part of the NYJW as I find them.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Tax Credit Missteps

I saw this item over at he Politicker last week, referencing a meeting between president of the United Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten and government affairs leader of Agudath Israel of America, Dovid Zweibel. Evidently, this discussion seems to many insiders to be about a possible quid-pro-quo between the teacher's union and the Agudah. Presumably, the idea being that the Agudah would support the teachers' Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit against NY State, in exchange for the teachers' union's support for the tax credit proposal. Teach NYS, a lobby supporting the tax credit proposal, apparently did not appreciate the Agudah linking these two issues, and Teach NYS's Michael Tobman blasted off an open letter in response to the Politicker's report of the meeting:
TO: Agudath Israel
FROM: Mike Tobman

I am terribly, deeply shocked and disappointed.

Meeting w. Randi to discuss Education Tax Credits – regardless of whatever else was discussed – was wildly inappropriate.

Agudath Israel, an institution for which I still have deep respect, is in no position to speak for larger coalition efforts.

Linking CFE w. Education Tax Credits is simply wrong.

CFE is a $5 billion statewide school-funding discussion involving all courts, public officials and players.

Education Tax Credits are a $400 million helping-hand for lower through middle income parents. It is absurd to link the two.

The politics of relevance notwithstanding, your work this past Friday jeopardized a statewide effort that would benefit Agudath’s constituency more than any other non-public school group. Of course, public school parents would benefit more than any other group.

That having been said, it occurs to me that you were spun good and we may all suffer for that.
Tobman comments further in a piece in this week's Jewish Week:
“This is consistent with [the UFT’s] ongoing efforts to mischaracterize tax credits,” said Michael Tobman of TEACH NYS, the pro-tax credits lobby, who insisted his movement is supported not only by Jews and Catholics but by public-school parents who stand to benefit from school expenses like tutoring or test preparation.
It seems to me that the Agudah has been making a muck of this tax credit proposal. First, they called a meeting with elected officials to proclaim their support for the tax credit proposal - and at the same meeting, they announce that they will not allow the students in their community to attend a rally in support of the same proposal (relevant post here).

In my opinion, which seems to be borne out by these missteps on the part of the Agudah, the Agudah has always been more of an advocacy type of outfit. They are the place to go if one needs help defending their religios freedoms, such as bris, sabbath observance, or shechita. But to attempt navigation of the evidently treacherous world of hard-nosed lobbying in New York politics, without a good grasp of the hyperactivity of the New York press may not be the Agudah's calling. Perhaps the internet ban has prevented them from having an accurate read on how fast news like this travels in the blogosphere. But they may have to consider upping their level of savviness (fast), or stepping away from this type of involvement. Because mistakes like these, made by our very representatives, are the last thing we need when it comes to the uphill battle for tuition assistance.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Cartoon Riots

I can't imagine that anyone is finding these riots so shocking. I mean, there is a historical precedent for this kind of behavior:

I remember well the scores of rioting robed choir and altar boys burning flags and shooting firearms outside the Brooklyn museum during the Sensation show, which featured Chris Ofili's depiction of the Virgin Mary with dung smeared on it. The culmination of the violence of that day was when a group of bishops proceeded to smash the windows of local storefronts, and then watched (and in some cases joined in) as masses of seminarians, priests, and pastors looted and vandalized the stores' merchandise. Who can forget the famed photograph of an archbishop running out of Century 21 with stacks of sneakers and blue jeans? A seminal image of that time in history.

And what about the wild groups of Catholic students who stampeded, killing three, during a protest at the Australian museum that exhibited Anthony Serrano's Piss Christ - a photo of a plastic crucifix suspended in a vial of urine? Things really got out of control when a small group of girls in short pleated skirts and knee socks torched some cars and a public bus, causing a team of Australian police constables to come after the teens in full riot regalia.

And most recently, I recall the hordes of Ultra-Orthodox who, during a violent protest, attempted to storm the London museum that was running a show displaying virulently anti-Semitic cartoons . There were scores of injuries, and even more arrests. I vividly remember the footage, caught on amateur video and widely run on national and international news outlets, of a pale, thin talmudic student in a black suit and hat, scaling a two-story building to get at a flagpole where the British flag was flying. Before he was apprehended and restrained by police, he managed to touch the corner of the flag with a cigarette he had been chain-smoking, causing the flag to go up in flames. The crowds of Yeshiva students went wild at the sight, and howls of approval that sounded like "Shkoyach Moyshe!" resounded from them at the sight of the burning flag.

Obviously, none of these happened. Nor would we expect them to. So why is this kind behavior in any way being treated as some sort of rational discourse on the merits of printing anti-Islamic cartoons? Whether or not it is acceptable to do so, this kind of action should be a non-starter when it comes to this kind of discussion. Nuts.

Well-Earned Plug

Sephardilady, a frequent and valued commenter here, has started her own blog. She already has two well-written and informative posts up about the tax credit proposal I posted about here. Check her out. It's worth the trip.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Red Sea Theodicy

Heard through the Five Towns grapevine about a speech given this Shabbos by a certain neighborhood Rabbi. Apparently, this Rabbi decided to draw an unfortunate parallel between the Red Sea ferry disaster that occured on Friday, and... Kriat Yam Suf. That's right. In his mind, this episode is perfectly reminiscent. You can just see the little checklist in his intercranial notepad:
  • Egyptians killed? Check
  • By drowning? Check.
  • In a Sea? Check. (Let's hope they don't ask which sea.)
  • The parallel event took place in this week's Parsha? Check. (Er..this week, next week - who's going to challenge me on this one?)
According to my sources, said Rabbi seemed to feel that somehow, the Egyptians should be taking a lesson from this tragedy, and doing Teshuva for all of their past misdeeds. Because somehow, the Egyptians should be aware of the coincidence that their ancestors were drowned in the story retold in next weeks parsha. Yeah. I'm sure that's common knowledge to the Egyptian working class people who were tragically drowned commuting home from their low-income jobs.

I hate this because it reeks of the theodicy that was so disgustingly on display after Hurricane Katrina, and even more so after the Tsunami. Remember that? When various and random people decided that the damage wreaked by Hurricane Katrina was a direct result of the policies that led to the disengagement, I posted on my doubts that any mortal can be as smugly confident as some were on the reasons behind God's ways. I objected to it then, I object to it now.

If we were to follow this kind of thinking through to its logical conclusion, then we should be able to figure out God's intentions from every bit of news we see reported. A top Al Qaeda operative who planned the bombing of the USS Cole escapes from jail? He was performing an altruistic mission. A young student was killed during a robbery while managing a donut shop? Wow, he must have deserved it. Clearly, these examples are beyond the pale. But I think they prove my point beautifully.

This event is a tragic one. Only the most heartless among us will not find the pictures of heartbroken family members waiting to know the fate of their loved ones who were traveling on this ill-fated ferry to be terribly saddening. I know I do. Further, to continue the parallel between the Kriat Yam Suf and this tragedy, the Jewish way is to spill a bit of wine from the cup of our day-to-day enjoyment of life when any of God's creatures are killed.

This tragedy should be no different.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Now This Is Funny

Lkwdguy, who has been a valued commenter on my blog and others, is posting over at Hayom, and he put up an absolutely hilarious post. Full disclosure: he links to me in the post. But check it out anyway. It's a riot.

Target Practice With Gary Rosenblatt

Wow. Steven I. puts up a post that meticulously trashes Jewish Week "editor" Gary Rosenblatt for his miserable coverage of the WJC affair. It's so good, he makes me look like a total hack when it comes to one of my favorite hobbies of Gary Rosenblatt-bashing. Check it out.

Racist or Reasonable?

There's a piece in the NY Times today that points out some opposition by the almost completely homogeneously Ultra-Orthodox and Hassidic neighborhood of Borough Park to the plan for a public school to be moved to the neighborhood. The school will apparently service a large demographic of black and hispanic. Some of the points made in the article against the school by community members and leaders sound legitimate, like this one:
And the plan for the new school has angered community leaders, who say that any one of the neighborhood's yeshivas would be thrilled to buy the building for a fair price.

"The yeshivas are bursting — every time you turn around, there's more going up, and boy, would our community like to get those schools that are empty," said Assemblyman Dov Hikind, a Brooklyn Democrat who represents the area.
That seems like a very fair point. Anyone who has ever driven through Borough Park, the "baby boom capital of NYC" when school is letting out, has likely seen the hordes of Yeshiva age children boarding the buses. It's also not hard to extrapolate how overcrowded the schools must be in a neighborhood as built out as Boro Park, where every square foot of property seems to be covered by some sort of structure. Though I'm not sure of the legal issues of selling a public school building for use as a private school, especially when the space is needed for public school students, I am sure the building would be of great use to the Borough Park Orthodox community.

However, the exclusionist tone of the other points made against the school really irks me. Said Dov Hikind:
He said of the neighborhood: "It is basically Hasidic, and one of the things in good government is you adjust to the changes. It's such an obvious thing to recognize, that our community is what it is. It is a wonderful community, a taxpaying community, it is a community of one of the lowest rates of crimes." He added, "We'd like to keep it that way."
I'm sure you would. He goes on:
Soon, he said, fliers were being distributed at synagogues and in the streets, urging residents to protest the plan at meetings of the local Community Education Council.

"These students will be imported from out of Boro Park and will have to walk through our streets during many hours of the day," read one such flier. "Can't you shudder to think what will become of our peaceful neighborhood?"
God forbid the residents of Borough Park should have to share their streets with outsiders in the free country of the USA. Nuts. Even more troubling is the headline and wording of yesterday's article on the subject in the Ultra-Orthodox daily Hamodia:
Shock, Anger Greet Boro Park High School Plan
...Neighborhood residents were livid over the plan, voicing their fears of the "impending deterioration of the quality of life" in the area.

One mother shared her anxiety with Hamodia: "I'm absolutely petrified. I won't be able to send my children to the grocery store or let them go to their friends on their own. They won't be safe coming home from school."
One would think from the fear the community is expressing the proposal concerns a community jail being built in the neighborhood, not a secondary school. Todays headline of Hamodia is even nuttier:
Kehillah Leaders Meet to Address Local Crisis
Crisis? This is a crisis? There are sick, impoverished people in our midsts, and this is how they define a crisis? The mind boggles. More choice bits about what was discussed at the meeting from today's Hamodia article:
Over and over again, Rav Rosenblum stressed that the crisis was all about the immoral alien cuture that was about to be imported into our insulated neighborhood, a unique and pure environment...He recommended that mothers in particular get together to express their pain and fears directly to the mayor, pointing out how this plan could destroy the entire value system they work so hard to imbue in their children.
Best graf:
When Hikind tried to calm the assemblage by describing the student body in question as highly scholastic and motivational youths who would not destroy the complexion of the neighborhood, Harav Epstein objected strongly and insisted that, notwithstanding their scholastic achievments, these youths would bring an unprecedented level of pritzus into the community that we could not accept.

Wow. I don't believe comment from me is even necessary on this one.

One additional point in the Hamodia piece that was made by local critics of the plan is that the government would bend over backwards to "preserve the homogeneous cultures like those in Amishtown". This is a ridiculous argument. If the residents of Boro Park would like to pick themselves up and move to a country setting in Central Pennsylvania or Ohio, as the Amish have done, their chances of being "infiltrated" by a (gasp) public school would probably be considerably lower. However, choosing to live in the middle of New York City significantly maximizes their cheances of "intrusion". It's been done before - see: Kiryas Yoel. Ain't nobody building a public school in that Orthodox neighborhood.

Bottom line, I am troubled by the exclusionist tone of the community. This is America, and smack in the middle of one of the most heterogenous cities in the world. Let's be reasonable, and choose our words a bit more carefully.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Conflicted on Kollel

I have started a post on this topic more than a few times, and sent it to the trash bin every time. But after a particularly vociferous debate on the topic with a close friend this week, I am resolved to finally write a post about the elephants sitting in the living rooms of so many in the Orthodox world.


Everyone knows the drill. It happens to parents in all walks of Orthodox life. You send your kids off for the obligatory year of learning in Israel, and they come back with the loftiest of intentions: to spend the rest of their life learning in Kollel, or married to someone who is. More and more yeshiva students are approaching their parents with this life plan to immerse themselves in full-time Torah learning, and many are doing so with the expectation - or at least the hope - that their parents will support them in this endeavor.

Ostensibly, parents who raised their children in the Orthodox Yeshiva system should be ecstatic at the fact that their offspring are internalizing all they were taught about the value of learning Torah. But the reality of the situation is that there is such a mass of young men and women embracing the Torah lifestyle due to the enthusiastic endorsements of their Rabbis and teachers, that this trend, while being a very encouraging sign of how much the learning of Torah is valued in the Orthodox world, is simultaneously creating a very worrisome situation.

On the one hand, I agree that it is wonderful that the younger Orthodox generation, even with all the talk of the growing numbers that are going "off the derech", or abandoning an Orthodox lifestyle, are embracing a fad that encourages more affiliation with Orthodoxy, instead of less. And by all rights, these young idealists should be correct in their expectations that their parents and other wealthy community members have somewhat of a Torah obligation to help support those who spend their days in the pursuit of Torah learning. Doesn't everyone learn in elementary school about the partnership between Yissachar and Zevulun? I know I did.

But that biblical partnership becomes much harder to strive for when parents who have worked hard their whole lives to ensure financial security for themselves and their families in the face of raising their children in today's age of astronomical costs of Yeshiva tuition, kosher food, and living in an Orthodox neighborhood, are asked by their children to help support them in a Kollel lifestyle. Many parents simply cannot afford the added expense of supporting another family - especially a family that grows as fast as a young Kollel family is wont to do. It becomes even more impossible when parents who have many children find themselves in the position of having one grown child after another approach them to ask them for assistance. There are many parents who can and do support their children in this lifestyle, even if it means giving up their own hard-earned material comfort and financial security. I have even heard of a father who is supporting a few married children who are learning in Kollel, to the point that he was forced to push off his own retirement, and with it, his own dreams of learning full-time. To these parents, I say Kol HaKavod. May they reap the rewards that the support of learning Torah brings. But what of the parents who simply cannot afford to do so? What of parents that are not willing to endure hardship to do it?

Unfortunately, the Charedi Yeshiva world has so embraced this lifestyle "choice", that it becomes less and less of a "choice" every day. Whereas in the past learning in Kollel full-time was reserved for the very brilliant, the exceptionally dedicated, or the wealthy, these distinctions no longer seem to exist. The Kollel lifestyle is becoming more and more de rigueur of a career choice for young men and women in the Yeshiva community. Which again, is something I have no trouble viewing as an altruistic ideal that embodies true Avodat Hashem. But I also view the fact that the pressure in the Yeshiva world is so high to reject working for a living in favor of learning full-time, as extremely dangerous. How is this ever-increasing lifestyle choice going to remain sustainable for the Yeshiva community? Yeshiva tuition is already almost unaffordable for the working family that is living on an average salary - how are the Yeshivas going to fill in the ever-widening gap that is going to continue to grow as fewer and fewer families are making the money that allows them to foot their full share of tuition? And even the children of the wealthy are putting theselves in a potentially precarious position when they forego any sort of professional training to remain in the kollel world. It is not unheard of for people with the greatest of financial security to suddenly find themselves in a much less assured position. What of their children, who can rely on them for support no longer, but yet have no marketable skills if forced by circumstances to go out and (gasp) find a job?

This trend has also created major issue in the shidduch world. Whereas people in the Yeshiva community have always been known to "check out" prospective matches for their children ad absurdum, now an entirely new category of requirements has emerged. A young woman is considered an extremely desirable prospect if (in addition to her other attributes - such as wanting only a "learning boy") her parents can afford to support a future son-in-law "in learning" indefinitely. Of course, the shidduch world is (not too shockingly) a man's world, so a young man of less than expansive means is never considered anything less than desirable if he is considered a "good learner". But a young woman with less than expansive means will either have to snag the prize of a wealthy young learning man (not an easy task), or give up on the Kollel ideal that all of her friends are likely aspiring to. Which of course brings up the obvious question. Twenty or so years down the line, when all of these Kollel couples have children who are reaching marriageable age, who in the world is going to support them if they choose a similar lifestyle?

I am not willing to say that the Kollel lifestyle should be abandoned. Too much of our tradition is tied up in the pursuit of learning Torah at all costs.

But I believe I've raised some serious questions here about the present and future economic health of the Yeshiva community in the face of this trend. I also worry about the cost to the self-worth and emotional well-being of prospective singles who don't quite fit in with the wave of Kollel conformity that is sweeping the Yeshiva world.

I wish I had answers.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Spitzer Spin?

I know I'm late to the party, as so many J-bloggers are already on this story. Check out Krum's posts (I, II, III), SIW's (I, II, III), and TTC's both at his place (I, II), and at Jewschool (I). But I do have a few little points of my own to add on the topic of the closing of the OAG's investigation of the World Jewish Congress.

OK. So I read the blogs last night, immediately after the AG's office releases the report, and I see that everyone feels that the WJC was completely exonerated of any real wrongdoing. Interesting. Then I read the mainstream media reports this morning, and see a completely different spin on the report. How exactly is that? The answer lies right here. If one reads solely the press release issued by the AG's office, one would get a completely different picture of the actual findings than if one would actually peruse the report (which I did - it can be downloaded here, and it isn't long). As a matter of fact, as Krum points out, the numbers in the press release do not even compute with the numbers in the body of the report!

There are two issues at play here. First, the complete irresponsibilty of the OAG in publishing a press release that does not reflect the findings of this year-long inquiry. The press release mischaracterizes the report - which finds (and stresses throughout its body) that there is no intentional wrongdoing on the part of anyone at the WJC. Then can someone please tell me where the press office gets its facts from? Is this willful? Did someone in the press office neglect to read the report, as Krum jokes? Unclear. But unfair, for certain.

The bigger point here is the complete laziness of the press in reporting this story. Again, Can someone please explain to me how every single news agency that picked this story up quoted directly from the press release, without delving deeper into the text of the report? Somehow, these guys, who do this for a living, can't find the time to do a little more research, while the bloggers, who usually do this as a pasttime, all managed to at least skim the report, and conclude that, as the report states more than once, the investigation uncovered no basis to conclude that the organization was harmed by the inadequate financial controls it practiced. I guess who would expect J-journalists to actually tax their brain by reading 38 double-spaced pages?

The picture the report paints is that of an organization that was not financially modern, but not of one that was attempting to defraud any of its donors or members. But the press seems to get that wrong, somehow. I guess sensationalism sells, but at what price? Of course, I can't resist the fun of taking a few potshots at the doyen of bad Jewish reporting, my friend Gary Rosenblatt. The guy can't actually admit that the report found nothing sexy in terms of wrongdoing, as he's been doing such a shoddy and biased job of reportage on this topic sice the outset (my previous posts on the subject here and here). So, in a classic Rosenblatt move, he puts up a piece chock-full of the same innuendo and anonymous quotes as usual, and of course, the same "facts" from the press release figure prominently into his story. He also mentions very casually that the "slush fund" that he wrote about so sensationally (and unethically - see here), was not found to exist by the OAG.
The London Jewish Chronicle published a story in November saying that Herbits was “considering legal action” against The Jewish Week for publishing an article about the Spitzer investigation dealing with allegations of a “slush fund” of about $2 million provided for Singer by Bronfman.

The attorney general’s report found no evidence of such a fund.
Is anyone besides me just loving the way Rosenblatt quotes the Chronicle's allegations of the "slush fund" - as if he had never published his own stories in the Jewish Week that treated the unfounded allegations of such a fund as fact?

But even Gary can't get around publishing the most important conclusion that the AG's office reached:
The attorney general’s report focused on “deficiencies” in governance and fiscal controls, though it found no criminal conduct and said the “shortcomings did not compromise the core mission” of the group or result in “other identifiable losses of charitable assets.”
Well, I can say this: I, for one, am glad to see a case involving Jewish and Orthodox Jewish subjects ending with no finding of any intentional wrongdoing. It's about time.