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Monday, July 31, 2006

Of All the Ways to Spend a Shabbat Afternoon...

NY1 reports on a protest against Israeli policies in Lower Manhattan on Saturday. Many of the protesters were Jews:
The march was co-sponsored by Jews Against the Occupation, but protestors of many religions joined them to call for an immediate cease-fire in the region.

"There are a lot of Jews who are against Israeli policy and believe that what Israel is doing now in Lebanon is not just; its not justified," said one protestor. "It's not going to solve the crisis and though Israel may claim to act in our name, as American Jews it's not acting in my name, not Israel and not the United States."
I'm pleased to see that a video clip from the march shows that among the "Jews who are against Israeli policy" are some Neturei Karteniks marching among the throngs. That doesn't surprise me. What does is the fact that they obviously felt that the cause was so important that it superceded other activities that they could have been doing on a Saturday, like...uh...praying? Eating a Shabbat meal?

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Israel Taking a Pounding in the Press

Watching a segment on NBC's Meet The Press this morning was infuriating. When Tim Russert asked a Lebanese Special Envoy, Nouhad Mahmoud, whether Lebanon would have responded with military action had Israel, unprovoked, crossed its border with Lebanon, kidnapped two Lebanese soldiers, killed six more, and launched rockets at Lebanese civilian targets, and the response he received was a flat-out "No". Does anyone watching really believe that????

Ambassador Dan Gillerman, who was featured in the first segment on the program, put up a great fight, defending Israel for its tragic airstrike of a building in Qana, Lebanon, in which at least 56 Lebanese civilians were killed, while still apologizing and expressing deep regret for the deaths. He pointed out that hundreds of Katushyas had been shot from that exact area, and that the civilans in the area of the airstrike had received numerous warnings to evacuate the area.

I am a person who does not find it difficult in the least to mourn civilan deaths on either side of the Lebanese-Israeli border. These deaths are tragic and unfortunate, and Israel made a grave error, regardless of whether the error is a defensible one. That being said, I am surprised to see how slow the facts are to catch on that Hizballah embeds themselves among civilians, and how in doing so, directly affects the disproportionate civilian death count. In addition, as this picture (left) shows, Hizballah soldiers dress in civilan clothes, and move their rocket launchers around civilian areas on flatbed trucks. More on Hizballah's cowardly tactics here. LGF has a translation up of a flyer, widely distributed by the IDF in the village it struck today, which warns civilans to vacate the area:
To all citizens south of the Litani River

Due to the terror activities being carried out against the State of Israel from within your villages and homes, the IDF is forced to respond immediately against these activities, even within your villages. For your safety! We call upon you to evacuate your villages and move north of the Litani River.
This isn't that complicated a case to make. It seems to be falling on willfully deaf ears. The press has been just so rabidly anti-Israel this morning that it's truly painful to watch. I have to say, it really feels like the Nine Days.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Mel, Why Don't You Tell Us How You Really Feel About Us?

I posted a few months back about a controversy over whether Mel Gibson, a man with long-suspected anti-Semitic views, is the right guy for the job of producing a non-fiction miniseries about the Holocaust. Well, I think we have our answer. Mel Gibson apparently went off the deep end when pulled over for a DUI last week:
According to the incident report obtained by TMZ.com, the Road Warrior embarked on a belligerent, anti-Semitic outburst when he realized he had been busted.

"F-----g Jews. The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world," Mee's report quotes him as saying.

"Are you a Jew?" Gibson asked the deputy, according to the report.

The actor also berated the deputy, threatening, "You motherf----r. I'm going to f--- you," according to Mee's report.

The actor also told the cop he "owns Malibu" and would spend all his money "to get even with me," Mee said in his report.

TMZ quoted a law enforcement source as saying Gibson noticed a female sergeant on the scene and yelled at her, "What do you think you're looking at, sugar t--s?"

Deputy Mee then wrote an eight-page report detailing of the incident, but higher-ups in the sheriff's department felt it was too "inflammatory" to release and would merely serve to incite "Jewish hatred," TMZ said.

Somehow, I have a feeling this might hurt his shot at directing that Holocaust miniseries he was hoping to start working on, even with this subsequent apology he issued.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Wartime Flame Wars

In a post Ben Smith titles "Mideast Conflict Spillover Watch", he points out how a sweet little post on the NY real estate blog Curbed has its comment thread turn into a platform for a lovely little anti-Israel diatribe. The post discusses a newly opened public waterfront park in the Hassid and hipster enclave of Williamsburg, and includes some pictures which have views of some Hasidic parkgoers enjoying the view in the foreground of the shots. The images somehow compel a commenter to leave this sentiment on the thread:
Yep, JEW York has served its 'chosen people' before the rest of the unwashed masses. Send them back to Israel to be cannon fodder of the Hezbollah.

Screw the Amish too.
And when other commenters respond to this idiocy, he lashes out with more of his version of the "facts":
If I'm infuriating any one, who cares...the truth hurts. Try being a Palestinian, living in Gaza, freely expressing yourself. Your house will get knocked down and the Israel government will put you in the streets.

Why arent Americans sick of having to 'protect' a weak nation such as Israel? We believe in 'might makes right'. That means if Israel cannot defend itself without the suport of the good ole USA, too bad, BYE BYE Israel.

There are more Jews in NYC than IN Israel anyways...So why aren't they returning to fight their own battles??? Are you weak?? How can an American Jew complain about Israels situation, OR my opinion of it, if they are'nt DOING something about it?? Hypocrisy disgusts me.

What disgusts me the most is the ethnic cleansing perpetrated by the Jews against the Palastines...and the genocide aginst the Lebanese.

It takes a BIG Jew to drop bombs on Lebanese civilians.

I mean...aren't you people paying attention??? The Israelites are no better than Machette wielding Hutu's murdering thier neighbors.

No wonder Arabia hates the Jew.

....I'm just sick of Jews getting the US into it's scraps. Any one notice that big whole in the NYC skyline?? Whey are we putting ourselves in the cross hairs again?? For what??
Another commenter on the post responds with an amusing rejoinder:

Just an ironic note -- the Hasidim pictured in the park are members of the Satmar sect, whose leaders are virulently anti-Zionist. The chief Satmar rebbe Joel Teitelbaum (1887-1979) even went so far as to declare that Zionists had "caused the Holocaust" by taking back the land of Israel before the arrival of the Jewish Messiah.
Also, here's another post, on a Brooklyn-focused blog, about a Brooklyn home that was defaced with red paint because the residents chose to fly an Israeli flag from their front window. That comment thread also turned into a battle between pro-Israel and anti-Israel commenters. Check them out.

These flame wars over the Mideast conflict have been occurring, of course, on a much larger scale on megablogs all over the blogosphere. But it's interesting to see this on a local level, on these blogs with such a narrow focus.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Kofi's Story Unravels

Great piece in the NY Sun about some details that are coming out which dispute Kofi Annan's outrageous and as yet unretracted claim that Israel deliberately targeted a UN outpost in Lebanon, killing four UN peacekeepers.
An apparent discrepancy in the portrayal of events surrounding the deaths of four unarmed U.N. observers in Lebanon threatens to unravel Secretary-General Annan's initial accusation that Israel "deliberately" targeted the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon.

A Canadian U.N. observer, one of four killed at a UNIFIL position near the southern Lebanese town of Khiyam on Tuesday, sent an e-mail to his former commander, a Canadian retired major-general, Lewis MacKenzie, in which he wrote that Hezbollah fighters were "all over" the U.N. position, Mr. MacKenzie said. Hezbollah troops, not the United Nations, were Israel's target, the deceased observer wrote.
A UN spokeswoman is denying the allegation - even though there are e-mails that back up the claim that Hizbollah was using the UN post for cover, and the UN declined to present evidence to back up their denials of the claims. This story was around the blogs a bit yesterday, but it's nice to see the more mainstream media pick it up - even if it is only the Sun so far.

UPDATE: The JPost has a great editorial on the subject:
Israel has already apologized for, and pledged to investigate, the deaths of the UNIFIL soldiers. Where is Kofi Annan's apology for insulting Israel, and his investigation of how UNIFIL came to be so inseparable from Hizbullah that it has been almost impossible to target the later without inadvertently hitting the former?

...The lamentable killing of the four UNIFIL personnel clearly requires investigation, something the IDF carries out in any case of a mistake made in the heat of battle. But an investigation of even greater importance to long-term regional stability would be of UNIFIL's failure to fulfill its mandate of restoring peace and security in southern Lebanon and assisting the Lebanese government in restoring its effective authority in the area.

With diplomacy focused on creating a new multinational force in the aftermath of the fighting in southern Lebanon, it is essential to understand what went wrong with the existing one.

Such an investigation must determine more than just how UNIFIL troops were located in such close proximity to Hizbullah terrorists that they ended up in the line of fire. More fundamentally, it would delve into how, in complete contravention of its objectives, UNIFIL stood by without a murmur as a terrorist organization amassed thousands upon thousands of rockets whose unprovoked use has killed and wounded dozens of Israelis and precipitated the current war.
Read it.

UPDATE II: Received this link via e-mail - it's a good one.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Fox News Negotiates With Hezbollah?

Wow, this is some story. After reporting on the locations of Hezbollah Katushya launches, Fox News was issued a directive from Hezbollah to cease and desist from such actions, as they were apparently giving the Israelis more information than Hezbollah wanted them to have. Fox News complied. Here's the video:

In Gawker's words:
Does this mean Fox negotiates with terrorists? More importantly, does this mean Hezbollah views Fox's intelligence-gathering as superior to Israel's?
I also find it weird that with all the technology the Israeli army has at their disposal, Hezbollah actually found Fox's coverage to be worrisome.

Cartoon Controversy

I always love it when those really offensive political cartoons come out - and we get to prove that however outrageous we might find them, we can act like human beings and not riot over them. From JPost:
Invoking a scene from the film Schindler's List, one of Norway's largest newspapers recently published a political cartoon comparing Prime Minster Ehud Olmert to the infamous commander of a Nazi death camp who indiscriminately murdered Jews by firing at them at random from his balcony.

The caricature by political cartoonist Finn Graff appeared on July 10 in the Oslo daily Dagbladet. It has prompted outrage among the country's small Jewish community and led the Simon Weisenthal Center to submit a protest to the Norwegian government.

In the cartoon, Olmert is likened to SS Major Amon Goeth, the infamous commandant of the Plaszow death camp outside of Krakow, Poland, who was convicted of mass murder in 1946 and hanged for his crimes.

While in charge of Plaszow, Goeth would go out to the balcony on his villa, and engage in target practice by aiming his telescopic rifle and firing at random at Jews imprisoned there, often killing them.


War Links - UPDATED

For some reason, I find myself with writer's block when it comes to covering the war, at least for the moment. So here are some relevant links that I've taken note of from around the blogosphere:

Chaim wonders if we are "starting to win the PR war". I only wish it were so, but nice to see some optimistic reviews of recent headlines.

Check out all of David's recent posts.

AKS rewrites the current conflict between Israel and Lebanon as if it were a schoolyard tussle - in response to Hezbollah's claim that they didn't expect the response they received from Israel. *UPDATE: Ezzie points out that apparently, in my caffeine-deprived daze (I'm trying to detox before the fast) of this morning, I misssed that AKS was quoting my friend Chayyei Sarah in her post. The blockquotes probably could have been a good tip-off, and it would be nice if I could work on my close reading skills, but hey, blame the lack of controlled substance in my system. And AKS's posting has been awesome on its own merit as well, so check her out.

SoccerDad's been running a daily war edition of Haveil Havalim - some great links there.

And of course, Jameel.

Feel free to add any other good links in comments.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Report From the Five Towns Israel Rally - UPDATED

Pictures from this evening's Israel rally in Cedarhurst Park:

I won't deny that the turnout was a bit disappointing, but it was not as sparse as it appears in the pictures - the crowd was spread out all over the park, which is quite large. In addition, today was visiting day for almost every one of the Modern Orthodox sleepaway camps. Factoring that in, and the fact that a somewhat sizable number of locals spend weekends in the Catskills, it was not quite as disappointing as it would have been on an ordinary Sunday - though it was still disappointing. The most personally disappointing to me: I saw almost no one from our Chevrah of friends.

Another part of the rally I found interesting was the interdenominational aspect of the rally. There was an Orthodox Rabbi who spoke, as well as a Reform and a Conservative Rabbi. The Conservative Rabbi mentioned in his speech that this is an issue that all denominations in the Five Towns can agree on, and one that can bring unity to the Five Towns - clearly alluding to the recent rancor in the community. That said, the rally was, to my eyes, attended almost entirely by Orthodox members of the community. I wouldn't minded seeing the issue of support for Israel picked up by some of my non-Orthodox neighbors in a more visible fashion.

Update: A few commenters have correctly pointed out that the turnout for this rally was not that disappointing when the lack of publicity it received is considered. We heard about the rally when we were forwarded an e-mail about it this morning, otherwise we probably would not have known about it at all. When I wrote this post, I did not know that this rally's lack of publicity was universal to the community, rather, I thought the Orthofamily was somehow alone in missing the bulletins. So please take that into account when considering the crowd.

On Shabbat Elevators

This week's NY Times real estate section has a reader Q & A on the topic of Shabbat elevators:
Q. Orthodox Jews in my co-op want to make one of our two elevators a Sabbath elevator, which would stop automatically at every floor. We have only 2 elevators for more than 190 apartments on 16 floors. Dedicating one as a Sabbath elevator could cause problems. For one, it could take quite a bit of time just to get in and out of our apartments, particularly from upper floors. Can the co-op do this even if a large number of people oppose it? ... Bob Zolt, Riverdale, the Bronx

A. Arthur I. Weinstein, a Manhattan lawyer and the vice president of the Council of New York Cooperatives and Condominiums, said that the power to decide whether to have a Sabbath elevator belongs to the board of directors of the co-op corporation.

“New York’s Business Corporation Law provides that the business of a co-op is run by its board of directors,” he said. “And the courts have held that they will give considerable weight to the board’s exercise of its business judgment and will generally not overrule a board without very strong reasons.”

Mr. Weinstein said that while state law also requires a co-op to treat all shareholders equally, it is quite likely that a court would limit that obligation to financial matters and not extend it to building policies or house rules that may benefit one tenant more than another.

“The only real course of action for the questioner is to make his arguments to the other shareholders, let the directors know the concerns about this proposal and, if necessary, at the next election, vote in board members who agree with those concerns.”

This is an interesting question. As opposed to some accommodations that are made to increase the comfort level of observing Shabbat, such as an Eruv - which does not affect the quality of life of anyone who chooses not to utilize it - the question outlines a very different scenario. If, as the letter-writer alleges, there really are such a large number of nonobservant or non-Jewish residents who would be inconvenienced by putting one of only two elevators on a Shabbat schedule for much of the weekend, then it seems to me that it would be a hard sell. And, as the answer to question outlines, this would be an issue that is entirely up to the co-op board. So the assumption is that in order to approve this request, the board must either have a majority of Orthodox members, or those who are sympathetic to giving up their free use of the elevator over the weekend to make observant resident's lives a little easier on Shabbat, though the latter would seem unlikely to exist. My assumption is that in a case such as the questioner outlined, the granting of a Shabat elevator would be a long shot until there is an Orthodox majority on the board, just from a legal perspective.

And I'm not sure why, but for some reason, my knee-jerk response to this request is an uncharacteristically ghetto-jew one. My first reaction to this question was that this is an unfair request for the building's Orthodox residents to make of their non-Orthodox neighbors - to give up one of only two elevators for 16 floors, over the probably very busy weekend period. I mean, when they moved in, they knew that the building didn't have a Shabbat elevator, right? So why should their desire not to have to walk up the stairs on Shabbat come before those of their neighbors' desires not to wait an unfair amount of time for an elevator - at the very least until there is an Orthodox majority in the building?

Friday, July 21, 2006

Shabbat Shalom

Shabbat Shalom, all. Let's all pray that this Shabbos is a safe one for those in Israel.


Gothamist points out this brilliant NYPD crime-fighting program:
Last February, the NYPD announced that it was conducting "Operation Lucky Bag" to suss out criminals. The police leave a shopping cart, purse or bag on a subway platform to tempt thieves, and then arrest crooks who try to steal the items!
I cannot believe that this is what "New York's Finest" are wasting their time doing. First of all, who says that taking lost or abandoned property is stealing? Sure, it's a gray area, and people should ostensibly do everything possible to return the items to their rightful owner, but a person who chooses to walk off with the abandoned property is far from a criminal, in my mind. With shootings of innocent vistims, some of them children, hit-and-runs, armed robberies, and break-ins happening every day in NYC, it's hard for me to view this program as doing its part to get the real criminals off the streets. Also...entrapment, anyone? Gothamist points that out, as well as this amusing story:
Of course, lawyers are concerned about entrapment, and Gothaimst had wondered what if someone, trying to be a good samaritan, attempted to take the bags to the lost and found. Well, someone did - and she was arrested! The Downtown Express reports that 52 year old Helen Calthorpe was arrested after picking up a shopping bag at the Columbus Circle 1 platform.
Calthorpe, an actress who was going to her day job at about 1 p.m. on June 14, saw the Verizon shopping bag, looked in and saw a box for a cell phone and an iPod beside it and picked up the bag. She was immediately surrounded by four police officers, one in uniform and the others in plainclothes.

“They kept asking, ‘Where are you going with that bag?’ and put me in handcuffs with my hands behind me,” Calthorpe said in an interview last week during which she insisted she had never been arrested before and was victimized by police.

She recalled that she had been in a hurry to get to her job and intended to look into the bag later to see if there was a receipt with an address of the person who lost it.

“I was going to call up and say I’d found it — the same thing happed to me a couple of years ago when I lost my wallet in the subway and a man from Queens called me to say he found it,” Calthorpe said.
This whole NYPD operation is absurd - from conception to execution, and in my opinion, should be scrapped. The NYPD should go find some real bad guys!

Pirro's Pro-Israel Props

Not a huge Jeanine Pirro fan, but I am a fan of the pro-Israel front she put up on the Nachum Segal show yesterday when asked her wievs on about Lebanon's war with Israel. Ben Smith reports, noting Pirro's Lebanese roots:
She took a hard pro-Israel line: "The root of this problem is Hezbollah," she said. "Hezbollah is as much an enemy of the Lebanese people as it is of the Israeli people."

As for the Israeli military action in Lebanon, "At the end of the day it will benefit Lebanon."
It's nice to hear some words of support - especially as from what I'm reading, watching and hearing these days, I fear that the tide of public opinion has been turning against Israel, even among those who started off in support of Israel's offensive. It doesn't help that news reports seem to relish pointing out the disparity in the civilian casualty numbers from Israel and Lebanon.

Update: TTC thinks she's pandering, along with her fellow candidates for AG, here.

NYPD Jew - Take II

First we read that Joel Witriol, the Hasidic NYPD aspirant was in. Then we read that he was out. The good news is that he is back in:
Mazel tov! Joel Witriol became the first Hasid to join New York's Finest when he was sworn in to the NYPD Police Academy yesterday.

... He was supposed to have been among the initial intake but received word at the last second that the NYPD hadn't completed a check of his academic background verifying he had a bachelor's degree, leaving him well short of the 60-credits-minimum requirement. A day later, his educational record was confirmed.

He was inducted yesterday with the so-called "catch-up" group. The new recruits now go through a six-month training program before graduating in December.

Because of his religion, Witriol will need exemptions for hairstyle rules so he can keep his beard and side locks.
Here's wishing him the best of luck in this endeavor.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

I Spoke Too Soon...

Looks like I spoke too soon when I said the whole "War Theodicy" meme wasn't catching on. Just last night, OrthoDad said to me: "How long until someone blames the war on the gay parade in Yerushalayim?" I actually chided him for his show of cynicism. But a day later, we have an answer to his question: Not very long at all.

From JPost:
Hizbullah's ongoing attacks on Israel and the war in northern Israel are the result of the planned international gay pride parade in Jerusalem next month and Israel's inadequate response against the controversial event, a senior Israeli Rabbi said Wednesday.

"We have not protested enough against this parade of abomination and therefore we have received this warning," warned Rabbi Moshe Sternbuch, the head of the extremist Eda Haredit rabbinic court, in a hand-written message to his followers. "Who knows where things will get to if we do not act further and more stringently against it."


Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Blogging the School Board Meeting - III

Nothing too exciting at tonight's District 15 School Board meeting. The referendum regarding the sale of the #1 school building is still going to be voted upon, but the capital improvement proposal has been shelved due to the Board council finding the proposal to be defective.

A district resident has apparently filed a lawsuit to have three Orthodox members of the board, Murray Foreman, Uri Kaufman, and Michael Hatten, removed from the board. She is attempting to make the case that as non-public school parents, they are not fit to serve on the board of the Lawrence School District as they do not represent the interests of the students. Curiously, she did not name Asher Mansdorf, the Orthodox president of the board, in her suit - I have no idea why not. In any event, the board voted tonight to pay all of the legal expenses for their defense.

Anyone else who was there have anything more to add? Feel free to do so in comments.

Theodicy on the March...or Not?

Shmarya points out this case of theodicy from an article in the JPost:
Safed Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu called the Hizbullah offensive a direct result of disengagement.

"The logical outcome of our desertion first from Lebanon then from Gaza and Northern Samaria is what is going on right now," said Eliyahu.

Kiryat Shmona Rabbi Tzfania Drori echoed his colleagues' sentiments, saying the present situation is punishment for the "disengagement folly."
I actually think, though, that the one example of theodicy presented in the article shows that the kind of tit-for-tat mentality about God's ways that was so prevalent at times of other disasters is not becoming quite as entrenched as I'd expected (and feared). Rabbi Eliyahu's words are not really theodicy, as they can be interpreted to mean that the disengagement was a poor strategic move - a statement that I think many people are agreeing with in these dark days. So though I still detest the kind of talk that we hear from Rabbi Drori here, and will continue to rail on any similar examples as I see them, I think that perhaps, despite attempts by some people, "War Theodicy" isn't catching on quite as well as they would hope.

For now.

Designer Babies

I have been hearing for a while now about the science behind elective gender selection, so the fact that the process exists is not news to me. Even so, many of the details outlined in this piece shocked me. Apparently, elective gender selection is becoming more and more popular in the New York area, due to clinics that offer the procedure on their menu of services. The procedure, which was originally developed to lessen the chances of parents who were carriers of certain chromosome-linked genetic disorders passing those disorders on to their children. I personally know a couple who have made use of the technology to prevent becoming pregnant with boys, to whom they would have a high chance of transmitting the always fatal x-chromosome-linked disease of Tay-Sachs, due to birth parents' positive positive carrier status. So obviously, this technology can be a huge blessing to families such as those, who (at last count) are B"H the proud parents of three beautiful girls.

But - this article is describing something far different. It outlines the increasing trend towards elective gender selection - performing these pricey procedures simply because parents-to-be desire a child of one gender or another (according to the article, usually girls), and don't like the 50-50 odds that doing things naturally present them:
These women want girls for pseudo-Steinem-like reasons, like bringing up “strong, independent” lasses. And they want girls for Betty Crocker reasons, like dressing them up, taking them to the ballet and having a playmate. And, either way, many want girls so they can have their own Mini-Me projections of themselves.
The practice is euphemistically called "family balancing", and seems to be on the rise. Some doctors only entertain parents' requests if they already have a child of a certain gender, others don't limit performing the procedure at all:
“We have a criteria, and that is that we don’t offer gender selection to a couple for the first time. They have to have one or the other gender of child. This assures that the natural balance between the sexes is not disturbed,” said Dr. Khatamee, the executive director of the Fertility Research Foundation.

But a few doctors don’t observe the one- or two-child rule anymore, and some couples are not in it for “balance.” Some just want a child of a certain gender, and they have always wanted that gender, and they want it with a feral, unflagging, Veruca Salt intensity.

Dr. Steinberg, for example, has no problem with gender selecting for first-time parents. “To some couples,” he said, “the drive to get the gender that they’re after is just as strong as the drive in fertile couples to make sure they don’t have a genetically abnormal baby.”
Wow. Hard to understand the motivation behind first-time parents having a strong enough preference for one gender over another that they spend thousands of dollars to nudge the process along. One can't help but feel like pretty soon, many of these Manhattan parents are going to be stopping at their local gender selection clinic for a designer baby - on the way to meeting their interior decorator to choose furniture for their baby-to-be's designer nursery. (I hope the baby's eyes and hair color match the bumper set and the bugaboo's lining!)

I was happy to read, at least, that the clinics do have some standards for who they perform the procedure on:
And they do screen couples carefully to make sure those couples aren’t completely bonky, that they don’t have “unrealistic expectations,” as Dr. Steinberg put it.

“It’s funny—this week I turned down two people,” the fertility doctor said. “I had one couple that wanted triplet boys and nothing else. I mean, totally crazy. So we booted them. And I had another couple that was unhappy with a teenage daughter and wanted to have a new girl that would be better. So we booted them too.”

Dr. Steinberg added, “It was really weird.”
I would have to imagine it was a bit "weird" to have to mull the requests of a parent to trade up to a better model daughter than the one they were "unhappy with". But what a relief to know that the clinics' standards are so rigorous, isn't it?

One has to wonder how this trend toward designer babies is playing out in the epicenter of Orthodox Jewish materialism - my very own neck of the woods, the Five Towns, where designer everything seems to be the rule (well, almost everything).

Interestingly, I have heard the discussion of gender selection brought up in the Orthodox community, by a friend with quite a few children, all of the same gender. Though she is perfectly happy with her children, and thankful for their good health, she is concerned about fulfilling the mitzvah of "Pru Urvu", the Torah commandment to be fruitful and multiply, which acording to Halacha is not fulfilled until a couple gives birth to at least one child of each gender. Her doctor mentioned one of the techniques described in the article, and she was musing as to whether it was a halachically acceptable procedure. The processes that entail gender selection do raise many halachic questions, though I have heard of specific rulings permitting it being given in a case of a health situation, such as the one mentioned above where both parents are carriers of a transmissible chromosome-linked disorder. I would tend to doubt, however, that a blanket Psak would be given allowing the procedure in the case of a family simply wanting to add to the mix, even if their goal is to fulfill Pru Urvu. I certainly can't imagine it being allowed for the express purpose of "family balance". Of course, I should add, that hasn't stopped parents out here from trying more low-tech techniques, such as I heard about in far too much detail in an incident I outlined here.

Bottom line, I don't see designer babies becoming a new hot trend in my area, much as some moms might probably like the idea of putting one wearing the sweetest little toddler-sized tankini, into their Britax carseat, in the backseat of their shiny SUV, and drive off to the beach club for the day. Designer babies just doesn't seem to me to be the next wave in accessories I see in the Five Towns trend forecast, as exciting as they sound. We'll just have to be content to lag behind Manhattan on this one.

Though one does have to wonder if gender selection is the answer to solving another community crisis - the Shidduch crisis.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The Right Way to Do Things

Longtime readers of my blog may be aware of my utter distaste for attempts at theodicy in the wake of disaster. We saw it last summer after the disengagement, and we saw it after Hurricane Katrina. We hear about theodicy from both Rabbis and laymen.

So I was heartened to read about a letter published by Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, and Rav Aharon Leib Steinman, in regards to the war in Israel. These Gedolim set an example with their words for anyone who ever attempted to ascribe specific outcomes to specific misdeeds. According to this article, Rav Elyashiv and Rav Steinman explain in their letter that though they do not know what caused the escalation of the situation in Israel, people should nevertheless examine their deeds. There is a tremendous distinction between what these Gedolim are recommending, which is an instrospective look at one's deeds with an eye toward improvement, and the theodicy that I have expressed distaste for in the past - where people claim to know the specific shortcomings in our actions that cause God to dole out retribution of specific outcomes. While every tragedy or disaster is a collective opportunity to examine and improve our actions, only God knows which deed in particular is the "one" that needs improvement - if it is even just one.

Rav Steinman and Rav Elyashiv do suggest in their letter some specific deeds for the community to improve upon, such as, first and foremost, the avoidance of conflicts:
"One should do anything so at least he didn't fail doing the opposite of charity, meaning causing harm to his friends or the public."

The rabbis said that even in times when the Jewish people had foreign elements in their midst there was no conflict among the people. "We used to face the war and win, while it is not the case at times of conflict, may the All-merciful protect us, and we need to try our best to have peace between the people."
Keeping Shabbat is mentioned as well:
Keeping Shabbat is also a major point in the letter. "It is well-known that God almighty likes the Shabbat keeping, and the opposite is hated."

The rabbis also ask not contribute to desecration of Shabbat in cases that are not life-threatening and one should not sponsor places that desecrate the Shabbat. "This is one the things that should be accepted – do not despise the Shabbat," they rabbis ruled.
And attention to modesty gets a mention:
The rabbis also touched on the subject of modesty "that needs correcting, since when there is no modesty, God will ignore our requests."
But all of these suggestions are done in a positive manner, with an eye toward improvement - not with exhortations of God's wrath and all-knowing declarations of how we ourselves brought that wrath upon us. It is important to note that when Gedolim who actually know what they are talking about address these issues, they show us how it's done. None of the ridiculous omniscience and claimed knowledge of God's will that we hear from lowly bloggers and some local Rabbanim in the wake of bad things happening. Just recommendations of which areas in our lives show particular room for improvement, and most importantly, this point:
Concluding the letter, the rabbis explain that they do not know what the reasons for the troubles are, "But clearly anything we strengthen could be useful for God to let up his wrath."
I am perfectly willing to accept that any good deeds that we can strengthen, particularly in the arena of avoiding interpersonal conflict, can only help. It's only when the attitude becomes only about exhortations that God is particularly incensed by a specific misdeed that I get steamed.

Monday, July 17, 2006

"Watching the War"

I'm sure many of my co-Americans can relate to my family's feelings of inadequacy and helplessness in the face of the crisis in Israel. While our brothers and sisters in Israel are listening to the howls of sirens, holed up in their shelters, or reporting for Army duty, we are, to a large extent, going about our daily business. But the worry pervades every part of our day, and we spent much of our free time yesterday with our television tuned to the news, anxiously watching for updates. Obviously, I try hard to reassure my children, but they can't miss the fact that their father and I have been basically glued to the screen. Last night, child #3 came into my room and sweetly asked: "Mom, can I watch the war with you?"

Heat Wave Tips

The NY Area (as well as much of the country) is going to have a few days of searing heat and humidity. Everyone, if you know of any elderly neighbors who live alone, please go check in on them frequently during this run of dangerous weather. Every year, shut-ins suffer from heat exhaustion and even die during heat waves such as this one, so try to be aware of any shut-ins and/or elderly or disabled residents who might need your assistance.

The OEM has some tips for everyone to stay safe and avoid heatstroke, as well as advice on energy conservation, that you can find here:
OEM also offers the following tips to help New Yorkers stay safe:

*If possible, stay out of the sun. When in the sun, wear sunscreen (at least SPF 15) and a hat to protect your face and head. Dress in lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing that covers as much skin as possible.
* Drink fluids - particularly water - even if you do not feel thirsty. Your body needs water to keep cool. Avoid beverages containing alcohol or caffeine.
* Avoid strenuous activity, especially during the sun's peak hours - 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
* Cool down with repeated cool baths or showers.
* Never leave children, seniors, or pets in a parked car during periods of intense summer heat.
* Make a special effort to check on neighbors, especially seniors and those with special needs.
* Report open fire hydrants by calling 311.
* Recognize the symptoms of heat-related illnesses including heat exhaustion and heat stroke:

Heat exhaustion: Symptoms include heavy sweating, weakness, headache, weak pulse, dizziness, exhaustion, fainting, nausea or vomiting, and cold, clammy skin. Body temperature will seem normal.

Heat stroke: Symptoms include flushed, hot, dry skin, weak or rapid pulse, shallow breathing, lack of sweating, throbbing headache, dizziness, nausea, confusion, and unconsciousness. Body temperature will be elevated, and victim should receive immediate medical attention.

Energy Conservation and Power Outages

During periods of hot and humid weather, regional electricity use rises. Residents should conserve energy to help prevent power disruptions.

* Set your air conditioner thermostat no lower than 78 degrees.
* Only use the air conditioner when you are home. If you want to cool your home before you return, set a timer to have it switch on no more than a half-hour before you arrive.
* Turn non-essential appliances off.
* Only use appliances that have heavy electrical loads early in the morning or very late at night.
On another note, it's interesting that even though I am always hearing complaints from my fellow Orthodox friends that it is especially hard to follow the laws of Tzniut during heat waves such as this, the recommendations for all, Orthodox or not, are, according to the press release from the OEM quoted above, to "dress in lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing that covers as much skin as possible". Interesting.

Flight 800

Today is the 10th anniversary of the tragic downing of TWA flight 800 off of the coast of Long Island. Though the apparent cause of the disaster was a problem with the plane's center fuel tank, I remember the theories that were swirling in the aftermath of the crash. The most prevalent theory in the earliest days was a surface-to-air missile shot from a boat off the coast of Long Island. That theory dovetailed nicely with the one, widely disseminated in shuls and bagel shops community-wide, that the plane that the theoretical "terrorists" were aiming for was an El Al flight, supposedly claimed to have been unexpectedly delayed (as if an El Al flight being delayed is ever unexpected), allowing flight 800 to be at the precise point in the sky that the El Al plane was scheduled to be.

To this day, I have heard the conspiracy theories of terrorism vs. mechanical failure regarding this tragedy bandied about - even with the results of the FAA investigation having been published, and pointing with no uncertainty to mechanical failure. It's as if people are more inclined to believe in the evil than in the incompetence of their fellow man.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Darkly Amusing

Gotta love it. Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a famous holocaust denier. Yet, when grasping for a comparison for Israel's "aggression", whose actions does he come up with? Hitler, natch. You would think that according to his version of events, Hitler didn't do anything particuarly offensive - so according to his logic, Israel's doing nothing wrong. Good to know.

Some Links

Here are some sites I've been going to for updates on the situation in Israel:
There's also a comprehensive list of bloggers who are covering the war here.

Feel free to leave any relevant links you feel are worthwhile in the comments.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Gulf War Flashbacks

I was watching CNN on Erev Shabbat, and Wolf Blitzer came on, talking about the war in Israel. I had instant deja vu to 1991, when Wolf was in his breakout role covering the Gulf War. The current reports and shaky video footage of the damage from the Katushya missiles that are raining down on Israel, with Blitzer's voice narrating the list of casualties, are eerily reminiscent of the coverage from 15 years ago of the attacks by Iraq's SCUD missiles. I was only a teenager then, and I remember (with great embarassment), the annoyance I felt at having my winter break plans to jet to Miami canceled by my parents' desire to have me show some solidarity with my Israeli brethren - more than I remember the actual worry I felt for the people living there. Though it was in vogue for those in my social circles to declare our anxiety over the situation, I suspect that my immaturity prevented me from feeling as concerned as I should have.

Not so in the Mideast conflict's current incarnation.

I have been nervous and jittery for days now, completely at a loss for what I can possibly do to help the situation aside from praying. (David has some other suggestions.) Not much else to do right now but wait, watch, and worry.

Weird Lawsuit

Strange piece in today's NY Times about a woman suing a cemetary for breach of contract over their decision to allow burials of people who were non-members of an organization - contrary to an agreement signed between the organization and the cemetary in 1930. Curiously, the woman also takes issue with what she seems to feel is the flouting of Jewish custom that has been taking place in the cemetery:
The graves, Ms. Grezinsky says, are “eyesores,” and they offend her religious sensibilities. Though the Star of David appears on the headstones, in Ms. Grezinsky’s view they are not proper Jewish graves.

“According to traditional Jewish custom, headstones are to be plain, with only English or Hebrew writing on them,” said Ms. Grezinsky, a slight woman with shoulder-length brown hair who lives in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, where she was raised. No pictures are allowed either, she said, nor should there be any writing on the back.

...By filing the current lawsuit, Ms. Grezinsky hopes to stop lodge officials from selling the last six plots in the designated area to nonmembers, and to have the offending headstones corrected to be more in keeping with “traditional Jewish customs.” Barring all that, Ms. Grezinsky said she would consider urging that nonlodge members be exhumed and buried elsewhere.

“Our position is that the lodge has exceeded its boundaries and has threatened not only the religious sensibilities of my client, but also the future ability for her to have grave sites next to her parents,” said Ms. Grezinsky’s lawyer, Marshall B. Bellovin, of the Manhattan firm Ballon Stoll Bader & Nadler. “This is more than just a cultural war.”

Her case, however, seems has been disputed by an Orthodox Rabbi who is quoted in the article as an attorney for the organization in question:
Rabbi Jay Shoulson, the lodge’s burial chairman and the lawyer for the lodge in Ms. Grezinsky’s first lawsuit, seemed unmoved by the latest litigation.

“She has her two graves, and she got what she’s entitled to,” he said, referring to the plots for herself and her brother. “She has the option of disinterring her parents’ remains and moving them elsewhere if she doesn’t like it. She can even fence it all in if she likes.”

As for whether selling the plots to nonmembers violates the 1930 contract, the rabbi said that the lodge was allowed to conduct charitable burials and funerals for those in need, and that those in question fitted that mold.

He also disagreed with Ms. Grezinsky’s interpretation of Jewish burial customs. “I’m an Orthodox rabbi, and I can tell you there’s no violation of Jewish custom here,” he said. “Different people have different customs. Some like pictures on their graves. Some like to have a l’chaim — they drink to life — to honor their loved ones. Some leave flowers. What’s so wrong with that?
“It’s ridiculous for her to tell people how they should mourn,” he continued.

That sounds reasonable to me.

Fast-Break Meme

Ezzie tagged me for this meme, and I figured I might as well jump at the opportunity for a light post like this.

I broke Thursday's fast on fresh, warm homemade brownies, and a big pitcher of ice cold iced tea.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

I Was Wrong

It's hard for me to believe that it's a year after the disengagement, and we are back in Gaza, with the situation in Israel looking worse than it has in years. Looking back, with the clarity that hindsight affords me, at the support I expressed last year for the disengagement, I am willing to admit that my hopes for the pullout actually bringing about widespread change in the situation were not much more than wishful thinking. I'm just not sure that I think things would be diferent right now had there been no disengagement. Maybe I'll change my tune again if and when the situation improves in Israel, and I will reaffirm the lukewarm support for the disengagement I expressed this time last year.

Right now, however, I'm finding it difficult to do so.

Conventional wisdom has always been that when Israel fights back, their military operations succeed only in reinforcing the average Palestinians' support for Hamas and for terrorism, and makes Israel's job fighting terrorism even harder. Well, I can say something similar about the attacks and kidnappings of Israeli soldiers perpetuated by Hamas and Hizbollah in recent weeks. The actions, along with the Qassam and Katushya attacks raining down on Israel, are succeeding, in my view from here, only in turning more and more dovish types into hawks. And the Palestinians do not help themselves or their cause by drumming up hawkish sentiment.

It Couldn't Have Happened to a Nicer Person..

I can't help feeling a bit satisfied at this news:
Ann Coulter is no stranger to controversy, but her latest adventures have several newspapers questioning whether carrying her syndicated column is worth the trouble. The Shreveport (La.) Times is currently leaving the decision of whether or not to keep Coulter up to its readers. But the first newspaper to officially drop Coulter’s column since the latest uproar began seems to be The Gazette of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where she had appeared for about 14 months.

Opinion Page Editor Doug Neumann told E&P, “Our decision was made before the plagiarism allegations. It did come after the publication of [Coulter’s] book, but I would say it didn’t directly play any role on our decision.”

However, Neumann surmised that Coulter’s incendiary book may have played an “indirect” role in the final decision. “I think it was the book that began to unwind support among her readers,” Neumann explained.
“Liberals have never liked her, and we’ve always gotten complaints [from them]. But the complaints that mattered the most were from the conservative readers,” who felt that their views were being misrepresented.

It's about time conservatives admitted that she is giving them a bad name. Honestly, I think she has inched closer and closer to sounding like a true fringe lunatic. I hope that the forums she has been using to spout her nauseating views are taken away one by one.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

A Tale of Two Cities

Funny to read about a city like Lakewood, NJ, where accusations are roiling that Orthodox students get better services than non-Orthodox students:
The town could face more problems, in the long run, from the recent findings of the New Jersey department of education. The department began investigating after the local American Civil Liberties Union issued a report indicating that Orthodox children were given a disproportionate number of referrals to expensive, out-of-district special education schools. The Lakewood School District filed a response from a former state commissioner of education arguing that the higher number of referrals was a result of the higher number of requests from the Orthodox community.

After an investigation, the state department of education called the town's response "disingenuous." The state found that white students were six times as likely to be given a full-day special education program than a non-white student, and that among children with the same disabilities, white students were systematically given more extensive help by the district.

"Program and placement decisions can be directly correlated with a student's race," the report concluded.
I find it funny because I live in a district where, in contrast, public school students receive services at a rate of three times of that of the district's mostly Orthodox private school students. Go figure.

In a Bit of a Funk

Sorry no post since yesterday morning. Recent events in Israel have me preoccupied with worry. Maybe in a little while. For now, Jameel's blog, as usual, is the place to go for the latest news from Israel.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006


I don't even know how to react to this kind of craziness:
As preparations for the World Pride Jerusalem Parade were in the final stretch, an anti-parade flier distributed in Jerusalem's ultra-orthodox neighborhood of Mea Shearim as well as other neighborhoods on Tuesday, offered an NIS 20,000 reward for "anyone who causes the death of one of the people of Sodom and Gemorrah," referring to homosexuals taking part in the parade.

It was suggested in the flier to use homemade firebombs, and instructions for how to make them were provided in the flier.
Lovely. Though I rest assured that this is the work of a fringe lunatic group or individual, it is certainly troubling nonetheless.

Here is a repost of something I put up about a year ago, after a participant in last year's gay pride parade in Jerusalem was stabbed:
I cannot for the life of me understand how anyone who opposed the gay parade in Jerusalem could think that critically stabbing a marcher is the solution. I'm sure the stabber considers himself a modern-day Pinchas, who stabbed and killed Zimri for publicly having intercourse with a Midianite woman. Though Pinchas is praised as a zealot, Rambam and R' Chisda both tell us that had Pinchas asked for halachic advice, he would have been told not to kill Zimri. Furthermore, Rabbah bar Channah says that had Zimri stopped sinning even for a moment, and Pinchas killed him then, Pinchas would have been brought to Bait Din, and possibly even given the death penalty. Clearly, according to these opinions, simply marching in the parade would not qualify someone to be stabbed by a zealot, even one who considers himself to be following in the footsteps of Pinchas. I hope to see condemnations of the stabbing from the same Rabbis who roundly condemned the parade. I'm not holding my breath.
I have not changed my opinion on the subject.

Here They Come...

In a follow-up to these two posts, I guess Jews for Jesus really is stepping up its New york Metro area proselytizing campaign. This bus, packed to the gills with what I have to assume were missionaries, pulled up next to me at a red light while I was on my way to work in the city.

In other J4J news, the Metropolitan Transit Authority has ordered the group to cease-and-desist from using a logo on t-shirts that too similarly mimics the MTA logo.

Agudah to Control NYC Grant to Yeshivas

Check this out:
The City Council is allocating $1 million of taxpayer money in this year's budget to purchase school buses for Jewish schools. Last year, the City Council paid $2.5 million to put computers in Jewish and Catholic schools.
To me, a supporter of State aid to Yeshivas, this would seem like good news. The State has being paying for yeshiva transportation for years, and every extra little bit helps. However, this part of the article gave me pause:
Under state law, the city is obligated to provide the same transportation for parochial school students as for public school students. The city this year is giving an Orthodox Jewish group, Agudath Israel of America, $1 million to distribute to Jewish schools to buy their own buses.

...The bus money will be given directly to Agudath Israel of America to distribute to Jewish schools.
Why does this have to controlled by any organization? Shouldn't these types of funds be granted directly to parochial schools on a case-by-case basis? One has to wonder how the Agudah plans to distribute the funds. Will they only distribute to the Yeshivas that they represent, or will they actually "stoop" to the level of deeming a school like Ramaz or SAR (two of the city's more Modern Orthodox day schools) eligible for the services? I think putting the Agudah in control of the funds was a blooper on the part of the City Council. Maybe they don't understand how fractious New York City's Orthodox Jewish community can be.

Time will tell how equitably the Agudah distributes the funds among the City's Yeshivas - and I'd like to think it will be done fairly, to all Jewish schools, regardless of their level of Orthodoxy. Even if they do, however, I don't think giving them the purse strings is a good idea.

Monday, July 10, 2006

First Chassidic NYPD Trainee

The NY Post dedicated this morning's cover to a Chassid, Joel Witriol, who has enrolled in the NYPD's Police Academy. He started off on this career track after he did a stint as an auxiliary officer, patrolling the streets of Brooklyn.

The department will have to issue exemptions to allow him to maintain his beard and payos, as well as allowing him to take Shabbat and Jewish holidays off, which they say should be no problem with a "note from his Rabbi".

I think that this young man is setting a great example of public service for others in the Orthodox and Hassidic community.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Tefillot Needed

RenReb points us to someone who needs our prayers. Her name is:
Please oblige, and consider this an open comment thread to put the names of anyone else who may be in need of our Tefillot.

More On the Jews for Jesus NYC Campaign

Here's an update from the NY Post on the Jews for Jesus campaign in New York City that I first posted about here. Apparently, the NYC campaign includes plastering huge signs all over the city's subway stations. One Jewish official expresses his anger with the signs:
"If even one member of the Jewish community is enticed by these ads, that would be tragic," said Michael Miller, vice president of the Jewish Community Relations Council.

"I find their message offensive whether it is plastered on advertisements or handed out," he said. "The idea that someone could be a more fulfilled Jew by becoming a Christian is absolutely wrong."
I agree with his outrage over the message that the group is sending - that somehow we are unfulfilled as Jews unless we accept their doctrine. But I can't get worked up over the signs hanging in a subway station. This is America, after all, and the group is an entitled to paper the subway with their ads as other groups who do the same, such as Chabad.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

The Nassau Herald and Manufactured News

This article, published yesterday in the Nassau Herald, is quite intriguing. The Herald reports on what they claim are examples of campaign finance improprieties on the part of the winning school board candidates. They suggest that there is a clear case of significant wrongdoing by Uri Kaufman and Michael Hatten, because there was, apparently, unreported money spent for campaign expenses by persons unknown to the candidates. The article even quotes a statute from the election regulations of the Ny State Education Department. Sounds ironclad. Too bad it's completely untrue.

Aparently, Kaufman and Hatten claim to have no idea of the identity of various anonymous benefactors who paid for ads and other campaign materials. And the Herald references a section of the election law to make a case that there's some illegality on the part of the candidates due to that situation. But that simply isn't in the election law. This is the relevant clause:
No person or persons shall make expenditures on behalf of a candidate without his or her approval unless such person or persons files a sworn statement with the clerk and commissioner stating that the candidate did not approve such expenditure.
Well, it seems very clear from the statute that the onus falls on the part of the person making the expenditures to make the disclosure. It does NOT name any consequenses NOR any responsibility on the part of the candidate to uncover said person's identity. Yet, the Herald somehow writes a full story alleging wrongdoing,

The article quotes the opinion of the district clerk on the matter - though her opinion does not seem to be rooted in any way in the actual election regulations:
According to Lawrence district clerk Alice Laino, candidates are supposed to uncover who paid for campaign expenses on their behalf and report to her.
They are "supposed to"? According to who? Her? Evidently - because it sure isn't consistent with what is written in the actual regulations.

The Herald even uses this pathetic and poorly sourced piece to give the losing candidate a handy little platform to disparage and mudsling his opponents one last time:
Brooks said Hatten and Kaufman are not being up front with how their campaigns were funded, which is similar to how they were dishonest about pre-election issues such as District 15 busing being eliminated for private school students if the public school candidates were elected. "When you lie about one thing, you are capable of lying about another," said Brooks. "When you lie to your own constituents, there is something completely wrong."
Can you believe? What proof does Brooks have to support his allegations of dishonesty? That is a pretty serious and inflammatory statement to make, not to mention making Brooks sound like quite the sore loser.

Maybe the Herald should start to do some actual reporting, instead of publishing (erroneous) conjecture masquerading as fact.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Blogging The School Board Meeting II

Tonight was the inaugural meeting of the newly sworn-in school board. Some details:
  • Asher Mansdorf elected president, and David Sussman vice president of the new school board by a margin of 4-2, despite objections by school board member Pamela Greenbaum, where she criticized Mansdorf's attendance (he apparently missed 8 meetings - one for his son's wedding), and claimed that Sussman "lost" $18 million when he was president of the school board.
  • Board member Stanley Kopilow said that the referendum on the sale of the #1 building is a "referendum on the new Orthodox school board." Whatever that means.
  • Barry Ringelheim of Atlantic Beach, presumably a public school parent, wrote a nasty letter (read by his wife because he had made other comments and apparently was out of time) criticizing the private school parents for their lack of interest in the needs of the public schools, and accusing them of being driven only by their own narrow agenda. Here we go again.
  • The Board then went in to a private executive session.
A preliminary observation:
All the post-election talk about giving the new school board a chance to prove itself, and the blabbering on about bridge-building in the wake of the acrimony that reared its head during the course of the last few elections has shown itself to be just that - empty blabbering.

More later. Dinner awaits.

Jewish Family Forced to Move from Their Delaware Hometown

This is crazy stuff. A family in Delaware did not appreciate what they considered proselytizing on the part of their children's public schools. The ACLU filed a complaint, exposing the family to appalling treatment from their community. A full account of the events can be found here, and this is just an excerpt:
A large Delaware school district promoted Christianity so aggressively that a Jewish family felt it necessary to move to Wilmington, two hours away, because they feared retaliation for filing a lawsuit. The religion (if any) of a second family in the lawsuit is not known, because they're suing as Jane and John Doe; they also fear retaliation. Both families are asking relief from "state-sponsored religion."

The behavior of the Indian River School District board's behavior suggests the families' fears are hardly groundless.

The district spreads over a considerable portion of southeast Delaware. The families' complaint, filed in federal court in February 2005, alleges that the district had created an "environment of religious exclusion" and unconstitutional state-sponsored religion.

Among numerous specific examples in the complaint was what happened at plaintiff Samantha Dobrich's graduation in 2004 from the district's high school. She was the only Jewish student in her graduating class. The complaint relates that local pastor, Jerry Fike, in his invocation, followed requests for "our heavenly Father's" guidance for the graduates with:

I also pray for one specific student, that You be with her and guide her in the path that You have for her. And we ask all these things in Jesus' name.
The topic was brought up by the Dobriches at a board meeting, and the board considered its policy.
The district board announced the formation of a committee to develop a religion policy. And the local talk radio station inflamed the issue.

On the evening in August 2004 when the board was to announce its new policy, hundreds of people turned out for the meeitng. The Dobrich family and Jane Doe felt intimidated and asked a state trooper to escort them.

The complaint recounts a raucous crowd that applauded the board's opening prayer and then, when sixth-grader Alexander Dobrich stood up to read a statement, yelled at him "take your yarmulke off!" His statement, read by Samantha, confided "I feel bad when kids in my class call me Jew boy."

A state representative spoke in support of prayer and warned board members that "the people" would replace them if they faltered on the issue. Other representatives spoke against separating "god and state."

A former board member suggested that Mona Dobrich might "disappear" like Madalyn Murray O'Hair, the atheist whose Supreme Court case resulted in ending organized school prayer. She disappeared in 1995 and her dismembered body was found six years later.

The crowd booed an ACLU speaker and told her to "go back up north."

In the days after the meeting the community poured venom on the Dobriches. Callers to the local radio station said the family they should convert or leave the area. Someone called them and said the Ku Klux Klan was nearby.

Classmates accused Alex Dobrich of "killing Christ" and he became fearful about wearing his yarmulke, the complaint recounts. He took it off whenever he saw a police officer, fearing that the officer might see it and pull over his mother's car. When the family went grocery shopping, the complaint says, "Alexander would remove the pin holding his yarmulke on his head for fear that someone would grab it and rip out some of his hair."

The Dobriches refinanced their home so that Mona and Alexander could move to Wilmington, away from a situation that had become untenable, while Marco stayed behind because of his job, according to the complaint.

Ultimately, it continues, the expense of two households forced the Dobriches to sell their home. And Samantha was forced to withdraw from the joint program she attended at Columbia University and the Jewish Theological Seminary. She is being treated for depression.
Apparently, the home address of the family was published by a pro-prayer group called "Stop The ACLU", who encouraged its readers to "contact the family in question". The type of "contact" the family received was apparently what caused them to flee. When contacted, Stop The ACLU had this to say about the part they played:
I am pleased that we had an effect in this case. We have others we want to put up on the site to shame them but have not gotten around to it.

Full details here and here.

Mother of Slain Itamar Teen Says Negotiation With Terrorists Unacceptable

Jameel has an amazing post up with the transcript of an interview with the mother of the kidnapped and murdered Itamar teen, Elyahu Asheri. It's hard to believe the grace and goodwill she exudes in what is probably the hardest week of her life. Read the post.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Happy Fourth!

Happy Fourth of July!

Jews for Jesus: Coming to a Metro-Area Town Near You

From today's NY Times:
Jews for Jesus Hit Town and Find a Tough Crowd
It's all about a group of 200 missionaries for the group who are taking the summer off to attempt to spread their "gospel" throughout New York. Seemed, from the article, like the Orthodox Jews they encountered did not take well to their campaign:
Later in the day, the volunteers ventured onto the streets for the first time. Avi Snyder, the group's European director, demonstrated how it was done, briskly proffering blue pamphlets to the crowds plowing past on 34th Street and Broadway.

A man in a skullcap talking on his cellphone took one and tore it in half, tossing it over his shoulder while walking away. "Do you want another one?" Mr. Snyder asked.

A tall Orthodox Jew in a black hat, black coat and flowing beard stalked up to Ms. Katz as she was handing out tracts and said, "Ignorance is bliss."

At one point, Mr. Cohen was surrounded by a group of Jewish men who engaged him in an angry debate. "This ministry is not for the shy or timid," he said later.

The missionaries' campaign, however, is not limited to Manhattan:
During previous summers in New York, a small group of Jews for Jesus missionaries concentrated on Manhattan. This year the group plans to make its presence known in all five boroughs, as well in Westchester and Rockland Counties, in northern New Jersey and on Long Island. There are also campaigns aimed at Russian-speaking Jews, Israelis and Hasidic Jews.
So watch out for the folks in the blue t-shirts, because they're coming to a neighborhood near you.

Blogger Botch

If anyone hasn't read up on the ridiculous case that was made by some conservative bloggers that the NY Times had somehow attempted to retaliate against Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney by publishing pictures and locations of their vacation homes in a Travel section article, you must.

The theory went as follows:

The NY Times published a story outlining the details of a government anti-terrorist program in which banking data was successfully used to track terrorists.
The Bush administration and its supporters spoke out forcefully against the NY Times story, with Bush calling it "disgraceful", and some going so far as to call the Times' publishing of the story an act of treason.
Then, (and here's where you must put on your tinfoil hats), the NY Times, so outraged by the criticism it received, published photos and locations of the vacation homes of Rumsfeld and Cheney in a story on a resort area.

The above scenario was treated as gospel by some conservative bloggers, to the point that some started posting the name and address of the NY Times photographer who took the picture, as well as those of some of the NY Times editorial staff, in addition to putting out a call for others:
So, in the school of what's good for the goose is good for the gander, we are providing this link so YOU may help the blogosphere in locating the homes (perhaps with photos?) of the editors and reporters of the New York Times.
Let's start with the following New York Times reporters and editors: Arthur "Pinch" Sulzberger Jr., Bill Keller, Eric Lichtblau, and James Risen. Do you have an idea where they live?

Go hunt them down and do America a favor. Get their photo, street address, where their kids go to school, anything you can dig up, and send it to the link above. This is your chance to be famous - grab for the golden ring!
Of course, when the fact came out that Rumsfeld had given permission for his house to be featured in the article, there weren't many retractions or apologies for the publishing of addresses of supposed perpetrators of a misdeed that evidently never occured.

Let me be clear. With the facts as they have come out, I actually do not support the writing of the original story by the NY Times. They have done nothing to convince me that the story did not harm a very successful anti-terrorist operation, and they did not succeed in convincing me that the program was anything but legal, so therefore certainly not worthy of publication at the risk of shutting down the operation. Their editorial on Sunday which basically read "Trust us that we always do the right thing - but don't trust the government!" did nothing to change the direction of my take on this story. So there's certainly a case to be made against the NY Times here.

But still. One has to wonder whether it the conservative blogosphere do themselves any favors when they come up with these crazy conspiracy theories. Ther's a case to be made here, people. But you'll do much better if you just stick to the facts.

A terrific (and hilarious) summary of the whole flap can be found here, by blogger Glenn Greenwald:
I learned today from Michelle Malkin, Powerline's John Hinderaker, Red State, and David Horowitz, among others, that The New York Times not only wants to help Al Qaeda launch terrorist attacks on the United States, but that newspaper also want to do everything possible to enable The Terrorists to assassinate Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld. That is the conclusion which these sober leaders of "conservative" punditry drew after reading this article in the Times' Travel section, which features the tiny, charming village of St. Michaels on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, where both Cheney and Rumsfeld have vacation homes.

Darkly lurking beneath the rustic, playful tone of the NYT Travel article is a homicidal plot on the part of the reporters and editors of the Times to provide a roadmap to their Al Qaeda allies so that they find Cheney and Rumsfeld (and maybe even Mrs. Rumsfeld) and murder them.

...Being an ardent admirer of such investigative journalism, I wanted to add to this scoop. On June 8, 2003, the same New York Times published a lengthy article entitled "The Ex-President Next Door," which provided every possible detail one would ever want to know, and then many more beyond that, about Bill and Hillary Clinton's new home in Chappaqua, New York and the lives they lead there. The article contained numerous photographs of their home, and all sorts of information about where they eat, recreate and jog.

...The article essentially provided a daily roadmap of Bill Clinton's day. But that was completely different, because everyone knows that the Clintons are good friends of Al Qaeda's and have nothing to worry about. When The Times publishes extensive photographs of the Clintons' private home and reports on their daily activities, that's done with the purpose of glorifying them. But when The Times publishes an article on the town where Cheney and Rumsfeld have vacation homes, and includes a photograph of the mailbox of Rumsfeld's house, it's all part of a nefarious plot to tyrannize prominent conservatives and send Al Qaeda hit squads to get them.
You have to laugh. Read the whole thing, as well as his update here.

Contraception-Free Certification?

Ok. Can somebody help me out with this one?

I was passing through Brooklyn yesterday, and I spotted two pharmacies, which clearly cater to the local orthodox community, with similar signs in the door. The signs read something to the effect of:
We do NOT carry Plan B contraceptive!
I understand that these pharmacies are perfectly within their right to choose not to carry a product that in all likelihood is a controversial one in their neighborhood. But are the signs proclaiming the pharmacies to be a "Plan B-free" zone a customer service notification, to let people seeking the item know that they won't find it there? Or are they actually a badge of honor not unlike the "Shomer Shabbos" sign that was hanging just above it, or similar to a certificate of Kashrut on a restaurant's door?

Anyone know?

UPDATE: A commenter points out that if a pharmacy does not carry Plan B, it is required by law to advertise that fact. I assume there isn't much demand for Plan B contraception in Midwood, and therefore these Orthodox-owned pharmacies choose not to carry it - or do they choose not to do so over religious objections?

Sunday, July 02, 2006

District 15 Tidbits

A few little points that came up over the weekend in the continuing saga of District #15:

1. Superintendent John Fitzsimons published a letter in Lawrence Express. a monthly publication put out by the Lawrence Public schools. An excerpt:
Another pressing issue is the need to consolidate our schools. Our public school enrollment has declined, thus, a proactive plan to educate our students efficiently and more economically in less space seems warranted. However, the consolidation process is complicated, and once underway, permanent. So we must act wisely, with our students' educational, physical, and social needs, along with staff and faculty requirements, as priorities.
All quite reasonable. Of course, a while back, when I posted about the need to consolidate, I was met with comments that accused the private school community of having all sorts of ulterior motives beyond the obvious reality of dealing with schools that are operating at well below capacity. Maybe now that Dr. Fitzsimons has raised the issue in a reasonable and logical fashion, it can be discussed with some clarity and calmness, instead of the hysterical accusations that the private school community is looking to "take over" the public schools that have been the response to any airing of the issue in the past.

2. Outgoing Lawrence Teacher's Association president Stephen Clements just can't leave well enough alone, can he. I criticized him here after in a letter to the editor in the Nassau Herald, he essentially called the Lawrence High School Valedictorian Ilana Yurkiewicz a liar for speaking out against injustices she had witnessed in her schools. He was subsequently lambasted by several district residents in letters they wrote in response to his reprehensible statements. Well, this week he came back for more. He chose, apparently, to defend himself in the following letter:
To the Editor:

The letters written by Nathan Begelman, Michael Brenner and Abel Feldhammer in your June 15 edition are among the most distorted you have ever printed,. It is clear that their agenda is one of both personal and professional destruction, evidenced by what they purported that I wrote in my letter to the editor regarding Ilana Yurkeiwicz’s column. Their letters are a compilation of mistruths and distortions.

For example, Mr. Feldhammer charges that I "vilify" Ilana Yurkiewicz. This is what I wrote:

"Ilana Yurkiewicz is one of the finest students who has ever walked the halls of Lawrence high School. We are proud of her accomplishments and find joy in her success. However, even the best students sometimes make mistakes …"

For Feldhammer to use the word "vilifies" is outrageous. This is just one of the many examples of distortion that is written in the letters from these three men. I would urge your readers to re-read my letter regarding Ilana Yurkeiwicz’s column.

Frankly, it is ill advised that accusations of anti-Semitism are continually used in attempt to stifle legitimate debate in this community. The three men imply that the faculty of Lawrence is anti-Semitic and blind to the issues of race, religious, national origin and gender. That’s because they don’t know this outstanding faculty. And that’s because they don’t send their kids to the public schools. How can they make such outlandish charges against tan entire faculty based on the word of just one student? Parents who send their children to the public schools know that the entire public schools system has done a great deal to teach about diversity and tolerance.

Every time someone in this community disagrees with private school parents, some people such as these three men charge the rest of us with anti-Semitism. There is a real danger in that. It is like the "boy who cried wolf" because when anti-Semitism really does occur, people wont recognize it. And then, all of us, will be in trouble.

In the YMHA that I belong to in Commack, there is a sign that states that the word "community" ends with the word "unity." Perhaps these three men should examine the role they have played in creating division in this community which, when I started working here 33 years ago, was filled with peace, respect and harmony.



Lawrence Teachers Association

First of all, when he accuses three men that wrote letters against him of "crying wolf" on charges of anti-Semitism, he seems to forget that these men were not the originators of this charge. The charge came from a student, a remarkable student and person who he declined to treat as a reliable witness. He is so dismissive of her dependability that he says this:
How can they make such outlandish charges against an entire faculty based on the word of just one student?
The word of just one student? How many students' allegations does it take for Mr. Clements to pay attention? And this "just one student" is the selfsame student, mind you, that this month's issue of Lawrence Express lauds as being, in addition to Valedictorian:
One of twenty high school seniors nation-wide to join [the] All-Usa High School Academics First Team...a semifinalist in the Siemens Westinghouse Science competition and the Intel Science Search, along with the Yale Science and Engineering Award and a second place finish at both the New York State and Long Island Science and Engineering Fairs...a National Merit Finalist, Advanced Placement Scholar, and National Honor Society member...a cellist since age seven, a varsity gymnast, and a member and co-captain of the varsity badminton team.
Now, I don't personally think that a teacher ever has any right to publicly call a student a liar, but to dismiss the reports and allegations of this particularly stellar student is an especially galling action. And when he claims not to have "vilified" Ms. Yurkiewicz, it seems that he must not be fully apprised of the word's definition.

It is patently clear that though Mr. Clements is a teacher, he first and foremost views himself a union leader. That he prioritizes his union members before his students in every way is far too evident.

Good riddance to Mr. Clements. I couldn't be happier to see him go.

Death of a Hero

A great and righteous man was lost today. Jaap Penraat, a Dutch architect, saved over 400 Jews during the Holocaust by forging papers for jews to use for passage. He was caught, and sent to prison, where he was tortured. Even so, upon his release, he continued in his unbelievable work, disguising Jews as construction workers in order to smuggle them to safety - obviously risking his own life all along the way.

When asked why, he answered:
"You do these things because in your mind there is no other way of doing it," he told The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2000.
May his memory be blessed.

More here and here.

More Coulter Dirt

I mentioned the Ann Coulter plagiarism charges here. They seem to be getting some mainstream traction here - in a conservative rag, no less! The allegations include pointing out passages that she seems to have lifted verbatim or almost verbatim from other publications with no attribution whatsoever. Read the piece.

Delicious, isn't it?

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Strange Shabbat Experience

Being as this Shabbat was just about the longest of the year, and with many of our friends and neighbors checking out for the semi-holiday weekend (taking our kids' playmates with them), when we received an invitation to spend it at a friend's house, we snapped at the chance to vacate the neighborhood, welcoming the thought of a change of scenery. And what a change it was.

Apparently, we found ourselves in the most conformist place in the universe. Basically, I showed up at shul this morning to find a women's section full of clones. Every woman was attired in similar clothing, and I spotted at least five women in the same pair of shoes. The kids all seemed to be dressed in different pieces from the same coordinating line of children's clothes. But weirder still, and the part that made the room seem like an outtake from Stepford Wives Gone Charedi, was the fact that every single woman had exactly the same hairstyle. Precisely. Either every single shul member uses the same wig stylist, or I was the only person there who didn't get the memo with the attached picture of Jennifer Aniston circa 2001.

Weird. I was never so happy to get home to the good old Five Towns.

Oh, and for those of you who are always worrying that I've gone to far and am risking outing myself, hold off on the warning e-mails this time. There's nothing to worry when it comes to the risk of these particular friends reading this post, recognizing the description of themselves or their shul in this post, and being on to my identity. When my husband brought up a certain blog (not mine - that crazy we're not) at the table in response to a topic of discussion, both of our hosts looked at us blankly, having no idea what a blog even was. I am quite sure they are not visitors here.