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Wednesday, November 30, 2005

You Haven't Come A Long Way, Baby!

A report put out by the Israel Women's Network shows a large gap between women and men in Israeli politics.
In 2004 Israel was ranked 66 out of 183 countries in an international list of female parliamentary representation - after European, American and Asian countries and only surpassing African and Arab countries.

Israel has only 18 female Knesset members compared to 102 male members signifying a 15 percent representation, despite the fact that the percentage of women in the Israeli population stands at a little more than 50 percent.

The report places Israel after countries like Mexico, Pakistan and Senegal. Scandinavian countries head the list with approximately 40 percent, while Arab countries are at the bottom with about six percent.

The fact that the Israeli political system tends to favor coalitions with smaller parties due to a lack of majority, and thus gives the smaller religious parties, who typically frown on the involvement of women, more power.

Also, Israel is still a very traditional society, and women are still encouraged to marry and bear children, regardless of level of religious affiliation.

Whatever the reason, I don't think Golda Meir would be proud.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

More Bat Mitzvah Madness

And I thought last week's bat mitzvah was bad. This week's version makes last week's look like child's play:

For his daughter's coming-of-age celebration last weekend, multimillionaire Long Island defense contractor David H. Brooks booked two floors of the Rainbow Room, hauled in concert-ready equipment, built a stage, installed special carpeting, outfitted the space with Jumbotrons and arranged command performances by everyone from 50 Cent to Tom Petty to Aerosmith.

...The party cost an estimated $10 million, including the price of corporate jets to ferry the performers to and from.

...the 150 kids in attendance seemed more impressed by their $1,000 gift bags, complete with digital cameras and the latest video iPod.

'Nuff said.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Merry Christmukah

Today's absurdity:
To give multifaith families an opportunity to celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah, Loews Hotels will add a "Christmukah" menu in the restaurants of the Regency in New York, Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel in California, and Loews Miami Beach Hotel during the last two weeks of December.

Among the selections: Shalom Santagria, made with Manischevitz wine; Christmukah Cheer, a mint cocktail with a hint of chocolate from Israeli Sabra liquor and hot cocoa with Star of David gingerbread cookies. Visit www.loewshotels.com for more info.

If celebrating Christmukah means drinking Sangria made with screw-top kiddush wine, I'll take latkes and sufganiyot any day.


Sunday, November 27, 2005

Jacko goes Muslim

Apparently, Michael Jackson has converted to Islam, causing some to speculate that this is the source of his anti-Semitic comments published last week. From YNet:
Does this explain the anti-Semitic comments? American pop star Michael Jackson has officially announced that he has been following the five tenets of Islam and intends to convert to Islam, according to a report on the website of Arab-Israeli newspaper Panorama.

...Jackson was the center of recent controversy after it was reported that he referred to Jews as “leeches” in a phone message to a former business partner.

Referring to Jews, Jackson was heard saying that "they're like leeches…I'm so tired of it…They start out the most popular person in the world, make a lot of money, big house, cars and everything. End up penniless. It is a conspiracy. The Jews do it on purpose."

I'm not saying that his comments aren't upsetting, but...hello? This is Michael Jackson. These comments are what tell us that this pedophilic freak of nature is weird?

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Adorable Thanksgiving History

As told by child #3 over Thanksgiving dinner:
"Christopher Columbus discovered America in the Nina, the Pindo, and the San Francisco."

More Lawrence School District

An editorial in the local paper, the Five Towns Jewish Times, has an update on the Lawrence School Board conflict (previously posted about here I, II, III, IV, V, VII, VIII). The editor, Larry Gordon, writes that he was anonymously mailed a newsletter, apparently put out by the Lawrence Teachers' Association, called Bits and Pieces. One of the columns, titled The Elephant In The Room, written by President of the LTA Samuel Clements, addresses the trouble he has been having getting the community to approve generous pay increases or new contracts for his teachers. As Gordon quotes Clements:
As I look back at my 33 years of teaching here in Lawrence, I am trying to understand what has changed in that time which has caused much of this community to have so much venom towards its teachers and our union. (In case you haven't noticed, read the local newspapers.)
First of all, the complete mischaracterization of the simple and democratic act of voting down a proposed budget as stemming from "venom towards teachers" totally poisons the debate. Clements seems to willfully ignore the fact that many members of this community - both Orthodox and not - have raised grave concerns over the Lawrence School District's shrinking student body and yet ever-growing budgets.

Clements then talks about the economic hardships that would have a community voting to lower taxes, but he says that:
...here in Lawrence, if you drive down most streets all you see is Dumpsters with people renovating their homes and making them larger. Hardly a sign that people are suffering...
I'm sorry, but who is Clements to decide that the residents of Lawrence should be
apportioning a larger piece of their pie to education because they are doing home improvement? If someone were to get a raise, would they then be required to tithe a certain amount of that money to the Lawrence School District? Or should, instead, the district come up with a plan
that has them educating their students in a fiscally responsible manner? Obviously, the latter.

Mr. Clements lets slip a very interesting tidbit in the piece:
The district was always committed to paying its teachers well. Our first contract at the inception of the Taylor Law in the late 1960's includes a provision that the teachers in Lawrence have to be in the top 10 percent of the county. Our salary, for the most part, is in that tenth percentile.
Excuse me? Clements is complaining that he cannot get a budget approved to pay his teachers competitively, and in the next breath, he admits that they are presently paid in the top ten percent of the county, and that they have a contract that stipulates that they continue to be paid at that level?

He then goes on to question the high number that has been thrown about of $22,000 that the district spends to educate each child. Clements claims that the number is inflated due to the cost of transportation and textbooks for private school students that are included in every budget. Except that Larry Gordon completely debunks that theory, pointing out that even with the $10 million of the private school students' portion of the budget subtracted from the $88 million budget, Lawrence is still spending $78 million to educate 3,400 enrolled students. The per-student cost of public education in Lawrence still comes to $22,941. Pretty high, especially compared to the US Nassau County median per-student cost of $8019 $16,800.

Bottom line, someone who is in a leadership position like Clements should ostensibly be acting responsibly to bridge the divide in the community - not sending out poorly-argued diatribes against the segment of the community that happens to be standing in the way of his goals to enrich the members of his association. No one is denying him the right to advocate for his members - but he shouldn't at the same time disingenuously claim to be looking out for the taxpayers' best interests.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Nazi Twins Redux

The Jewish Week has an article in their latest issue about The Nazi Twins, Lynx and Lamb Gaede (my earlier post here).

According to the piece, Brooklyn Assemblyman Dov Hikind organized a protest upon hearing that Teen People magazine had decided to feature an interview with the twins in an upcoming issue. The magazine then canceled the feature, although it claims the uproar had nothing to do with it:
One day after a group of politicians protested Teen People’s decision to feature a pair of singing “white separatist” twins in an upcoming issue, the magazine announced on Tuesday that it had spiked the interview. But not out of concern about their message.

The magazine said it had discovered that “a junior employee” had made assurances to the mother of the twins that certain key words would be omitted from the story.

“Such an agreement is in violation of Time Inc. editorial policy and, as a result, we are killing the story and pursuing a formal inquiry,” the magazine said in a statement.

Sources said that the taboo words were Nazi, supremacist and hate.
That would be a good reason to pull the article, if it's really the reason. That said, though I don't think quashing free speech is a solution, I can't say I'm sorry that the article was junked.

NYT On Lakewood Internet Ban

The NY Times has short piece on banning of the Internet in Ultra-orthodox circles. Pretty bare, but they get it mostly right. The part I find perplexing is that apparently, according to the article, Streimel, the blogger of Hassid and a Heretic fame, who stopped blogging suddenly in October, claiming to have rediscovered his religion, has been blogging under a new name. Why in the world he would "exit" the blogosphere, in a ruse obviously designed to protect his anonymity, only to "come out" to a NY Times reporter in a Starbucks, is beyond me. Should we expect him to make another hasty "exit", claiming to have had a reunion with his faith, and then start up again, under a new new name? Weird.

But seriously, the dangers of the Internet is a topic gaining more and more discussion time in the OrthoHouse as my kids get older. It was never really an issue for us while our children were small, and we weren't set up with any passwords or firewalls to keep the kids off. That changed one day, when I came home from work to find my oldest innocently perusing a (totally appropriate for children) website. I got very nervous. Anyone who uses the Internet regularly doesn't have to be told that questionable content is never more than a click away. So the thought of my child, even at a tender and innocent 10 years old, surfing the web, made the Internet warnings we had gotten from our kids' schools hit home. We set up the necessary security systems, and (so far), it seems that it has kept the kids out, except under our supervision. But anyone that thinks that no harm can come from kids trolling the net unsupervised is dead wrong. I have heard countless stories of kids who stumbled onto the wrong site, and soon became experts at finding such sites. Scary stuff.

I'm not advocating a ban, just more responsible use than I've seen in many of my kids' friends homes. To be honest, I have stopped letting one of my children go over to a certain friend's house where they have consistently had no supervision or restriction on their web access. I just cannot imagine any parent leaving a young child to surf the net in privacy.

The "hot button" issue when I was growing up was television. Our teachers tried to convince us to get rid of them, our principals railed against watching it in assemblies, our parents were told to strictly limit the time we spent in front of it. I laugh when I think of how naive they were about what was coming down the pike. There is no comparison between the "evils" of network television and the completely uncharted territories of the Internet.

Now, obviously, you can only protect your children so much, and they need to be given the tools to function in the outside world. So I am perfectly happy to show my children how to do research for a project or report on the web. But only under my watch. Oh, they plead. They beg to go onto PBS.com, the American Girl site, ESPN.com, and a few others. And the answer is always an unequivocal"no". If either myself or their dad isn't around, no dice. Maybe they think I'm a mean mother, like I surely thought of my parents when they restricted my TV time.

No problem.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Book Review

So. I finally got around to reading the book that had been breathlessly recommended by so many people in my life (about two years ago, mind you - I know, I know, the movie's already been out for ages), and... it fell flat. Maybe my expectations were raised by all the hyping of it. Maybe it just isn't my style. Whatever the reason, I found Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer to be a chore to make my way through. Now, I am a voracious reader. I can finish a good, engrossing book in one sitting. I avidly read books from many different authors and genres. At times, I am up at all hours of the night, working my way through the stacks of books I keep around. So I was more than excited to wade into this book that seemed to be found so extraordinary by everyone who read it. I'll tell you this: I may have waded in, but I had to plow my way out. The book left me a bit cold.

The book is touted as a book about the Holocaust. But I can honestly say that to me, the Holocaust was nothing more than one of the many plot devices that Safran Foer used throughout the book. Maybe that sounds unecessarily harsh, but there were so many distractions throughout the narrative, that by the time I got to the end of the book and the sad account of Holocaust-era atrocities that affected some of the main character's (named Jonathan Safran Foer, after the author) forebears, I was too mentally exhausted to care. I have read books about the Holocaust that have brought me to tears. This was not one of them. The mangled English of Ukranian teen Alex, who is acting as a translator to Foer on his trip through the Ukraine, started off amusing, but got old fast. The constant flipping back in history to the daily life of Foer's ancestors' shtetl is interesting, but it's recounted a bit like life in Chelm, with lots of sex. By the time the final, pivotal scenes are played out, in the final chapters of the book, not only are they anticlimactic, the implausibility raised by the coincidences that come in to play left me scratching my head.

All in all, I didn't love this book. It certainly held my interest, I wouldn't call it anything close to a complete waste of time, and Foer is clearly a very talented writer. But in my opinion, this book was too uneven to live up the huge hype that preceded it. Agree? Disagree? Put it in comments.

Double Standard?

Interesting story in today's NY Post:
A pregnant and unmarried former pre-kindergarten teacher yesterday accused the Diocese of Brooklyn and the Queens elementary school where she worked of wrongfully firing her for having sex out of wedlock and choosing to keep her baby.

...McCusker and the New York Civil Liberties Union filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission yesterday charging that the diocese and school broke a 27-year-old federal law banning pregnancy discrimination.
I have a hard time seeing a Yeshiva behaving any differently if they were presented with a similar situation.

William Donohue, president of the national Catholic League, takes the NYCLU to task for their hypocrisy in pursuing this case:
Donohue accused the NYCLU of hypocritically asking the government to step into a church matter after constantly battling any church involvement in government affairs.

"If they win, every rabbi or minister will have to listen to what state bureaucrats have to say about the running of religious schools," he said.
I would imagine that a religious institution has more leeway in requiring a teacher to follow rules of behavior than a public institution, but the NYCLU is using a claim of gender discrimination against the school.

Apparently, the school had always had a rule prohibiting premarital sex for its faculty members, but never enforced it. Only when the teacher announced her pregnancy did the school cite the rule.
But her lawyers argue that the school and church held McCusker to its policy of prohibiting sex outside marriage only after she became pregnant, thereby enforcing the policy in a way that disproportionately affects women and is illegal.

"The school used her pregnancy as a marker," said NYCLU lawyer Cassandra Stubbs. "How do they determine if male employees engage in premarital sex?"
Though I'm sure that there are people who will find this argument cogent, I think it's ridiculous. Yes, women are blessed with the ability to bear children, and thus bear a "marker" of premarital sex. But all her pregnancy is indicative of is that she wasn't careful about getting caught. I am quite sure that this school would show equal heavy-handedness if a male teacher were to show similar carelessness about getting caught having premarital sex, for example getting caught "in the act", as it were.

I also don't like the teacher's argument that:
"I don't understand how a religion that prides itself on being forgiving and on valuing life could terminate me because I'm pregnant and am choosing to have this baby," a sobbing McCusker said at a press conference at the NYCLU offices.
Yeah, being forgiving is a quality one might look for in a religious institution when one is a congregant. But as an employee, I am not as sure you can ask for such forgiveness. Don't religious institutions have a greater responsibilty to those who they are educating than to those they are employing? I believe they do.

Really Bad Luck

Check this out:
POUGHKEEPSIE, N.Y. -- A man who was struck in the head by a train this weekend was also hit in the head by a New York City subway car three years ago, officials said Monday.

Parker T. Hall Houghtaling, of Stanfordville, 23, was hit in the head Nov. 18 by a Metro-North train as it pulled into the Poughkeepsie station. He was listed in stable condition Monday.

In 2002, Houghtaling was waiting at a subway station in Manhattan when he stuck his head out and was hit by a subway car. He was hospitalized with a shoulder injury, nose fractures and bruises, according to the Metropolitan Transit Authority.
OK, either this guy has some really bad mazel when it comes to riding trains - or he has to start stepping back from the edge of the platform.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Blog Recommendations

Just want to take a minute out to point out two blogs that I read regularly. Both are written by fathers who suffered the worst sort of loss - the death of a child. Both are poignantly written, and I find myself going back to read their accounts of the days before and after their respective children's deaths often.

Elie-Expositions are the musings of a father who lost his teenaged son to a sudden illness. His frequent thoughts about life are great, but the posts I find myself reading over and over again are the ones in the sidebar, titled "Aaron's Story". They detail the story of Elie's son Aaron's short hospitalization and death. So sad, but so simply yet beautifully written.

Moving On is a blog written by the father of a beautiful little girl, Nechama Liba, who passed away before her eleventh birthday. She was ill throughout her life, but her father's stories of her faith and cheerful disposition even in the face of a life-threatening condition are truly amazing to read.

I recommend both of these well-written blogs - as much for the uplifting way these parents are coping with their loss, as for the message their stories send to live for every day of life.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Bat Mitzvah Madness

This article in the Style section of today's NY Times gave me a headache:
Ja Rule, the platinum-selling rapper accustomed to Madison Square Garden, could not afford to strain his vocal cords. He had an important gig the next night. He was playing a Miami steakhouse. The occasion was a bat mitzvah.

The next night he displayed considerably more fire, performing for more than an hour in front of 215 friends and relatives of Amber Ridinger, 13, sometimes barking out their names as he rapped. But that wasn't all. As he closed out the set, another superstar, Ashanti, joined him onstage for three numbers. As they performed, Amber stood onstage with them, in a $27,000 Dolce & Gabbana dress, waving to the crowd, particularly her deep-pocketed parents, Loren and J. R. Ridinger, the founder of an Internet marketing company.
Rent-a-superstar? A $27,000 dress for a pre-teen? Oy.

And as at every bat mitzvah, you have the proud parents. In this case, though, no one is saying anything about being proud of the bat mitzvah girl:
The Ridingers, who recounted the evening in an interview, proudly acknowledge that their booking two pop stars for a party that would typically call for a kitschy cover band wearing ill-fitting tuxedos was a social achievement, even in Miami money circles.
I guess my neighborhood isn't quite as bad as I thought. $1,000 strollers beat $27,000 bat mitzvah dresses any day.

Friday, November 18, 2005

More Jewish Week

Krum has posted an interesting follow-up to this story, and The Town Crier traces where the new information came from. Answers some questions, but raises a few more, especially about the propriety of The Jewish Week's coverage of the whole affair. Can't say that surprises me.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Heroine of the Day

Today's Heroine of the Day is someone I've read about many times, and every new bit of information I discover about her continues to blow me away.

Rochelle Shoretz is a young, Orthodox Jewish mother, who grew up in the Orthodox enclave of Flatbush, NY. She attended Barnard College, and then Columbia University Law School, graduating Phi Beta Kappa. After completing a clerkship for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, she took some time off to be a full-time mother to her two sons. On this break, at the age of only 28, she was shockingly diagnosed with Stage II breast cancer after she found a lump in one of her breasts. She had surgery, followed by chemotherapy. During that difficult time, Shoretz looked in vain for advice and support from people who were going or had gone through a similar experience to hers. She came up blank. A young mother who is a cancer survivor understandably has some completely different issues from those of the most common breast cancer patient - a middle-aged or post-menopausal woman. In Shoretz's own words:
I had a medical team, and there were many offers to connect me with older women with cancer, but they couldn't identify with the issues I was facing: raising children, fertility, career, supporting a mother who had a daughter with breast cancer. More frightening than living with cancer is believing that you are the only person like you living with cancer.
So, while she was in the middle of treatment with chemotherapy, Shoretz started an organization she called Sharsheret. Her aim was to create a support system to provide for the unique needs of Jewish women in their 20's, 30's and 40's who were suffering from cancer. And it seems like she achieved tremendous success in those goals. Some of Sharsheret's programs (as outlined on their wonderful website):
* The Link Program, a peer support network connecting women newly diagnosed or at high risk of developing breast cancer with others who share similar diagnoses and experiences.
* Education and Outreach Programs, including community outreach events in private homes as well as health care symposia addressing the concerns of Jewish women facing breast cancer. Recent events addressed the subjects of breast cancer and fertility, parenting during breast cancer, breast cancer genetics, and survivorship.
* Quality of Life Programs, including the Busy Box for young parents facing cancer, Best Face Forward, a program to address the cosmetic side effects of treatment, and Embrace for women living with advanced breast cancer.
* Sharsheret Booklet Series, designed to raise awareness about issues many Jewish women face in their fight against breast cancer. Booklets in the series include: Facing Breast Cancer as a Jewish Woman, Facing Breast Cancer as an Orthodox Jewish Woman, and Breast Cancer Genetics and the Jewish Woman.
* Health Information about breast health and the genetic risks of breast and ovarian cancer for Jewish women.
* Resource Information on a wide range of topics for women facing breast cancer and their families, available in print and on our website.
In my research on the organization, I came across an item that I found particularly amazing:
With the help of a 2004 grant from Komen Greater NYC, Sharsheret launched its “Education and Support Initiative Targeting Hasidic and Ultra-Orthodox Jewish Women.” “While we have always welcomed a very diverse group of women from all walks of Jewish life, we realized that we were not doing a great job addressing issues faced by Ultra-Orthodox and Hasidic Jewish women. Komen’s generous grant was enough to create a successful program,” says Shoretz.
In today's day and age, with such an unfortunate disconnect between different segments of the Orthodox world, it is so heartening to see that Shoretz, who is clearly from a more Modern Orthodox walk of Judaism, recognize and embrace the needs of a different demographic of the Orthodox community.

This unbelievable woman is an example of someone who saw a void, and filled it. Instead of focusing on her own formidable needs in a time of great personal trials, she focused on and worked for the needs of the Klall. For me, her amazing story particularly hits home because of her identity as a Orthodox Jewish working mother. But I think Shoretz's husband, Tani Mirsky, summed it up best, as recounted by Shoretz:
"One night before the whole idea for the organization exploded, I turned to my husband and said, 'Do we want to do this as a family?' He responded that, 'I'm going to heaven on your coattails.'"

(hat tip for getting this into my head)

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Hillary vs. Pirro

Interesting item in Eve Kessler's blog for the Forward on the race for NY Senator. Jeanine Pirro is apparently a friend of the Arab American Institute, so it doesn't surprise Kessler at all that the Institute put out a statement blasting Hillary and her recent trip to Israel in its latest newsletter:
By any measure, Senator Hillary Clinton’s (D-NY) recent trip to Israel was a breathtaking display of political posturing. She visited Israel’s wall, and explained that it is “not against the Palestinian people” but “against terrorists,” but while Senator Clinton met with a range of Israeli officials, she did not meet with any Palestinians. Haaretz also reported that Senator Clinton remarked that the “Palestinian people have to help prevent terrorism.” The article went on to say that Clinton “touted [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in September as ‘courageous’ and said the Israeli leader needs a ‘reliable partner’ on the Palestinian side to further the positive momentum created by the pullout.” The constant recycling of ten-year-old talking points, regardless of the facts on the ground, is damaging to genuine efforts for peace.
Another interesting fact, pointed out by The Politicker, is that Pirro is of Lebanese descent. Somehow it doesn't surprise the guys over at The Politicker that Pirro's campaign chooses not to publicize that . And as The Politicker notes, this whole line of attack is "political gold" for Hillary.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Movie Review

Like my friend Shifra, I, too, was lucky enough to carve out a few hours to see the movie that everyone has been talking about, Ushpizin. And I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Though the movie itself is far from groundbreaking in terms of plot line, the fact that it was so predictable did not bother me in the least. I was too engrossed in the absolutely beautiful acting of the main characters of husband and wife - married in real life as well. There are scenes that have them beseeching God for help in the form of a miracle, that were so heartfelt they had me in tears. I found the actors' portrayal of absolute bitachon (faith) in God, even in the face of tremendous trials and tribulations, to be unbelievably uplifting. Another part I particularly enjoyed was the fact that the wife, Mali, was not portrayed as ultra-Orthodox women have traditionally been portrayed in movies (A Stranger Among Us, A Price Above Rubies), as standing in the background, kowtowing to the men in her life. Instead, she has a mind of her own, and a mouth of her own to speak it. The couple has a chemistry that is explained by their real-life marriage, and it adds to the credibility of the movie. And in what is truly a refreshing break from the usual movie theater fare these days, the couple was able to express their obviously strong love for each other without any on-screen physical contact whatsoever. All in all, though some might find this movie treacly, I found its sentimentality a refreshing change of pace.

Check it out.

Status Strollers

I must admit to living in a neighborhood where conspicuous consumption is the name of the game. In my community, homes are being built that are true monuments to excess. And it doesn't stop there. These homes are being used as receptacles for yet more consumer items. From the luxury SUVs parked in front, to the custom kitchens inside, to the multilevel hardwood swingsets installed out back, the Five Towns is definitely not what I would call a model community for restraint when it comes to spending. So I guess I should have seen the advent of the "Status Stroller" as inevitable.

Evidently, the new must-have accessory in the Five Towns for hip mommies in the know is the $1,000 stroller (with accessories). It started small. Six months ago, I only saw a few of these dotted about the shul stroller parking lot. But now, these strollers (called bugaboos, in case you might not be up on the lingo) seem to be proliferating...well, like bugs. You know what they say about roaches, "if you see one, there are 100 more where that one came from"? Well, that seems to be the case with these bugaboos. They are crawling out of the woodwork. Unlike roaches, though, they don't only come in brown. I have seen them in every color imaginable, in denim, even in ultrasuede! They have managed to creep their way into almost every conversation. Overheard in the coffee shop yesterday: "I'm so depressed. I jumped on the aubergine, when really, I should have waited until the 2006 colors came out." Yeah. Whatever. Really depressing. Want to know what I find depressing, girls? That this is what passes for conversation these days.

Now excuse me, I need to take my baby out for a walk in my jalopy of a stroller. And it doesn't depress me a bit. As a matter of fact, I couldn't feel luckier - not even if I were to get a gray bugaboo cameleon with orange and red fleece fabric, complete with diaper bag, bag clips and footmuff (did I leave anything out?).

Yigal Amir: "No Regrets"

Yigal Amir announced at a hearing related to his prison conditions that he has no regrets over his murderous actions of ten years ago.

During deliberations on his prison conditions at the Tel Aviv District Court Monday, Amir said:
"I don't regret what I did, but I don't support violent action today.

...What I did was right at the time, at that point I felt the need to do it because of the situation,"
However, he then went on to state that:
...he agreed with his isolation conditions, "but on condition they stop claiming I'm a violent threat. I'm not willing to accept false accusations. I don't agree that I pose a threat."
Whatever you say, Mr. Amir.

Health News

When Bubby told you to "put on a sweater or you'll catch a cold", she wasn't wrong. It turns out exposure to cold may have something to do with the common cold after all.
For years, doctors scoffed at folklore that bundling up could help in staving off the sniffles, but British researchers have come out with a new study showing that a drop in body temperature could lead to a cold.

Researchers at the Common Cold Centre at Cardiff University in Wales recruited 180 students and asked half of them to soak their feet in a bucket of chilly water for 20 minutes. The other half kept on their socks and shoes and stuck their feet in an empty bucket.

Days later, a third of the students exposed to the icy water reported back that they had developed a cold, compared with 9% of the control group, according to the study, published in Oxford University's Journal of Family Practice.
Doctors posit that the people in the study who developed cold symptoms had a dormant cold infection that was showing little or no symptoms, and the exposure to cold caused the symptoms to take hold.

Still, some doctors are skeptical of the results of the study.
An assistant professor of medicine and pediatrics at Mount Sinai Hospital, Mary Jo DiMilia, said she had her doubts about the research.

"If it were so definitive, more people in the study that had their feet wet would have gotten sick," she said.

Dr. DiMilia also wondered about other contributing factors like stress, nutrition, and sleep deprivation. At the same time, she said she's going to have to think twice before telling patients that it's all right to go outside without first bundling up.

"It kind of makes you chuckle because we all try to tell our mothers that going out with wet hair has no bearing on whether you get sick," Dr. DiMilia said. "But I guess they might not have been wrong."
I've never been one to drive my kids crazy about dressing more warmly than they felt like the weather warranted, but I may have to rethink that policy.

Monday, November 14, 2005


I got home from work today, and as is my routine, I grabbed the mail out of the mailbox on my way into the house. All I have to say is that I am damn happy I got home before the kids today. Because lying on top of the mail pile of bills, charity mailers, and a stray invitation or two, was this (warning: link is not G-rated!). Now, I have been a subscriber to New York Magazine for years, and though I will be the first to admit that there is sometimes content here and there that can be inappropriate for my children's eyes, it's generally buried inside the inner pages of the magazine, somewhere among the columns of print. This issue, from the cover to every illustration in the feature, is so graphic that it's just shocking. I'm no prude, but I think that this issue should have come in a brown paper wrapper.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

10 Years

Tonight is the 10th yahrtzeit of the murder of Yitzchak Rabin. This year, the date falls out on a Motzoei Shabbat, just as it did in 1995. I remember it very clearly, as I was in Israel during that terrible time.

I was out with friends that night, 10 years ago. We went shopping and ate dinner at our favorite cafe. When we came back to our apartment, we were joking and laughing a bit too raucously, as teenagers are wont to do. As we walked down the hall from the elevator to the apartment, we were making way too much noise, I'm sure. A door to one of the apartments adjacent to ours opened. I could hear the TV blaring behind our pajama-clad American neighbor, who stood silhouetted in his doorway, glaring at us, with tears streaming down his face. "Why are you laughing?" he demanded. "Sorry", I muttered, as my friends giggled behind me. "We'll be more quiet". He continued to stare at our little group as if we were from another planet. I shifted uncomfortably, trying to figure out how to get out of this situation without a lecture about being more considerate of our neighbors. "Dont you know?", he asked, his voice cracking. I looked at the others in my group. They shrugged. "Sorry", I said again, assuming he had meant we had woke him up. "Rabin was shot! Rabin is dead!", he cried. He turned around, slamming the door behind him. We went inside, comletely silenced by our stunned disbelief, and spent the rest of the night and next day glued to the television.

It was a miserable time to be in Israel. I received a hateful comment from an angry man I knew, who was convinced that every Orthodox Jew, including myself, felt that Yigal Amir was perfectly justified in doing what he did. I received an infinitely more hateful comment from an Ultra-Orthodox acquaintance who actually did try to explain to me why Yigal Amir was justified in doing what he did.

I cried hardest during those awful dark days while watching the funeral, and cried hardest during the funeral when I heard Bill Clinton say those famous words "Shalom, chaver". I still don't know why his words resonated so with me. I didn't feel a particular connection with Clinton before then, but all I know is hearing those words, that day, from that man, made me sob and sob.

Heroine of the Day

Thanks to Krum for his suggestion of today's very worthy heroine.

Irena Sendler was born in 1910 in a small town outside of Warsaw, Poland. Her father was a doctor, who treated mostly poor Jewish patients.

Poland was invaded by the Germans in 1939, and the Nazis began their reign of terror over Poland's Jews. At the time, Sendler was working as a Senior Administrator in the Warsaw Social Welfare Department, providing for the destitute of Warsaw, many of whom were Jewish. Though her agency was prevented by Nazi edict from providing for Jews, Sendler skirted that law by registering many of the Jews she helped under fictitious names.

By 1942, the Jews of Warsaw were confined to the Warsaw ghetto, awaiting deportation to concentration camps and almost certain death. Sendler was so horrified by their treatment that she joined Zegota, the Council for Aid to Jews, organized by the Polish underground resistance movement. She began to direct the efforts to help Jewish children.

She used her position with the Welfare Department to gain access to the ghetto, getting a pass from the Warsaw Epidemic Control Department. She claimed she was visiting the ghetto to help combat contagious disease, which killed 5,000 people monthly in the ghetto. She smuggled food, medicine, and clothing to ghetto residents on every visit. While there, she wore an armband with a yellow star to show solidarity with the Jews she was helping.

As conditions got worse for the Jewish residents of the ghetto, Sendler began to attempt to convince parents to let her smuggle their children out of the ghetto. Though she initially met with much resistance, that began to change as death became more and more of a certainty for. Squalid conditions in the ghetto were claiming more and more lives due to disease and starvation, and deportations to concentration camps were coming ever more often. It became easier for Sendler to convince parents to give up their children to be taken in temporarily, as their death became more and more inevitable if they stayed in the ghetto.

Sendler smuggled the children out in ambulances, boxes, sacks, and even coffins. She placed the children with families and in religious orders. She was able to obtain for them false identities by recruiting help from other government agencies. Altogether, she was able to smuggle 2,500 Jewish children to safety. She wrote out every one of their identities in code, put these lists in glass jars, and buried the jars in the ground.

In 1943, the Nazis became aware of Sendler's activities, and she was arrested ans imprisoned. She alone knew the identities and whereabouts of the children she had smuggled, and she refused to identify any of them or any of her associates, even enduring horrible torture at the hands of the Gestapo. She was sentenced to death, and was only saved at the eleventh hour by bribes made to a guard by fellow Zegota members. She escaped, but remained on a Gestapo list of wanted criminals for the remainder of the war.

Even with the increased danger of being pursued by the Gestapo, Sendler assumed a false identity, and continued to enter the Warsaw ghetto, assisting families and rescuing as many Jewish children as possible.

After the war, Sendler dug up the jars, and used the notes to hunt down as many relatives of the children as she could, to reunite them with their families.

Sendler never considered herself a hero, and continued to work for Social Welfare Organizations in Poland throughout her life. She recently celebrated her 95th birthday.

This heroine is truly a woman who is "righteous among nations".

This site about Sendler, put together as a diversity project by a group of Protestant schoolchildren from Kansas, is a great source for more information.

Previous: I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Flapping in the Wind

A judge has ruled that the Israeli government is required to pay evacuated settlers from Gaza an advance within one week.
The State is obligated to pay settlers evacuated during the Gaza and northern West Bank pullout an initial advance within one week, the High Court ruled Thursday following an emergency petition filed by the Legal Forum for the Land of Israel.

According to Attorney Yossi Fuchs from the Forum, the petition was submitted on behalf of hundreds of families from former Gaza Strip settlements, including Neve Dekalim and Ganei Tal, who claim the government has not fulfilled its obligation of paying each family an initial amount of NIS 50,000 (USD 10,600).

"The families were told that the moment they register at a hotel, they'll receive an initial advance. To this day they have not received anything," he said.
The real question is, what the hell took the Israeli government so long? I consider all the evacuees to be heroes. Additionally, the ones covered by this ruling are those that didn't protest at all, and complied with the government ruling to evacuate their homes in the most noble manner, not becoming at all violent or rowdy during the disengagement. And now, after having lost their homes, their schools, their places of worship and work without a fight, they are expected to beg? They are expected to go to court to file claim for the basic costs of living that they were promised? For shame.

I hope that this ruling begins to resolve matters for these people who gave up everything in the most dignified fashion, only to be treated in such a roughshod manner by their government.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Dinner With Hillary and Rudy

During this election season, I have been the lucky recipient of many "autocalls" - automated calls urging one to vote for a specific candidate, generally recorded by a heavy-hitting politico.
So far, I have had the pleasure of "speaking" to:
  • Hillary
  • Rudy
  • Jeff Toback
  • Jeff Katz
  • George Pataki
Though it was nice to hear their "voices", especially during the dinner hour, I unfortunately had no time to listen to any of "them", as I was trying to feed a gaggle of OrthoKids. I have to assume that I was not the only one to hang up before listening to the full recording. Are these kinds of calls really effective? I can't imagine they are. The fact that some of the callers have celebrity status doesn't really change the fact that their message is recorded, and totally impersonal, and I can't see many people feeling otherwise. In addition, the only thing that generally keeps me from hanging up abruptly when real life telemarketers bother me during dinner, is my reluctance to be rude to a real live person. No such worries here, and I felt perfectly comfortable slamming the phone down. I know I didn't even stay on the phone long enough to find out which candidates these guys were endorsing.

So who do these calls target?

People Who Do Not Bother To Vote

Today is Election Day. Get out and vote, people. Or, in the words of the great poet and humorist Ogden Nash (1932):
Election Day Is a Holiday

People on whom I do not bother to dote
Are people who do not bother to vote
Heaven forbid that they should ever be exempt
From contumely, obloquy, and various kinds of contempt.

Some of them like Toscanini and some like Rudy Vallée
But all of them take about as much interest in their right to ballot
as their right to ballet.
They haven’t voted since the heyday of Miss Russell (Lillian)
And excuse themselves by saying What’s the difference of one vote in fifty million?

They have such refined and delicate palates
That they can discover no one worthy of their ballots,
And then when someone terrible gets elected
They say There, that’s just what I expected!

And they go around for four years spouting discontented
And contented witticisms,
And then when somebody to oppose the man they oppose gets
They say Oh golly, golly, he’s the kind of man I’ve always
And they have discovered that if you don’t take time out to go to the polls
You can manage very nicely to get through thirty-six holes.

Oh let us cover these clever people very conspicuously with loathing,
For they are un-citizens in citizens’ clothing.
They attempt to justify their negligence
On the ground that no candidate appeals to people of their intelligence,
But I am quite sure that if Abraham Lincoln (Rep.) ran against Thomas Jefferson (Dem.),
Neither man would be appealing enough to squeeze a vote out of them.

Vote GOP, vote Dem, vote early, vote late. Just vote.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Disaster Scenarios

This article in NY Magazine is beyond scary. It discusses 9 disaster scenarios that can affect NY City. They include:
  • Smallpox Attack
  • Chlorine Release
  • Blackout
  • Dirty Bomb
  • Earthquake
  • Indian Point Explosion
  • Avian-Flu Pandemic
  • Hurricane
  • Nuclear Bomb
Lovely. Though the article is titled Remain Calm, the message I think most readers will take away from reading it is: Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid.

I know that's what I got out of the piece. Fear. And a few additions to my regular shopping list that include:
  • Tamiflu,
  • biohazard masks,
  • lots of soap,
  • flashlights and batteries,
  • duct tape,
  • potassium iodide tablets,
  • a 30-day supply of prescriptions, food and water
  • a full gas tank
  • a $200,000 "safe room"
Do you think I can pick them all up at the local kosher supermarket?

Heroine of the Day

This article in today's Haaretz made me decide to bring back my Heroine of the Day series, which had become quite popular before work and family demands made me drop the feature in favor of less time-intensive blogging.

Hannah Szenes was on the short list of heroines that I was planning to post about, and today seems a perfect day to do so. From the article:
Hungary's Holocaust Museum on Monday organized a tribute to Hannah Szenes, a young woman executed for trying to organize Jewish resistance during the Holocaust.

Hungarian-born Szenes emigrated to Palestine in 1939 and was part of a group of young Jews sent to Europe in 1944 to try to save Jews.

In March 1944, Szenes parachuted into Yugoslavia but was caught soon after crossing the border into southern Hungary.

Tried for treason, she was executed by a firing squad in a Budapest prison yard on Nov. 7, 1944.
Szenes was born and raised in Hungary. She attended a Protestant parochial school that was open to Jews, and did very well there, even being elected to the school's literary society. However, she refused to take office in what she felt was anti-Semitic environment. Instead, she joined the Hungarian chapter of Maccabiah, a Zionist organization.

She became an ardent Zionist, and decided upon graduation to move to Palestine to study in an agricultural school. She joined a Kibbutz, and soon after, she joined the Haganah movement, the Jewish paramiltary defense organization. She then enlisted in the British army, and was recruited to join a small group of volunteers being trained to parachute into Hungary to help partisans there who were fighting against the Nazi occupation.

She was sent to make her way to Hungary with was a select group of 33, out of a larger group of 110 trainees. After parachuting into Yugoslavia, she spent three months there with partisan groups. She then crossed the border into Hungary at the height of the Jews' deportation. She was caught almost immediately, and put in prison under sucpicion of treason. She endured months of cruel torture, including threats on her family members' lives, and yet steadfastly refused to give up any information about her operation. She died as she lived - a heroine, protecting the lives of her fellow fighters by refusing to give up the code for the radio she was carrying when captured.

Throughout her life, Szenes kept journals of her writings. Her poems have been published and some set to music. Many have become famous both due to the talent of the writer, and the tremendous courage she showed in her life and her death.

Szenes wrote the following poem, Blessed is the Match, close to her death:
Blessed is the match that burned and kindled flames,
Blessed is the flame that set hearts on fire.
Blessed are the hearts that knew how to die with honor,
Blessed is the match that burned, and kindled flames.

May the memory of this true heroine be blessed.

Previous heroines covered in this series: I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII

Sunday, November 06, 2005


This is a beautiful, beautiful story. I literally choked up while reading it:
The organs of Ahmed Ismail Khatib, 13, the Palestinian boy shot Thursday by IDF soldiers in the West Bank town of Kabatiya near Jenin, will be donated to six Israelis.

Ahmed was shot after soldiers mistook his toy gun for a real one. Still, his parents decided to donate the organs “for the sake of peace between the two people.”

...Ahmed's heart has been transplanted Sunday into the body of a 12-year-old girl at the Schneider hospital in Petah Tikva. His liver was donated to a six-month old baby and a 66-year-old woman at the Beilinson hospital in town.

Ahmed's lungs will be donated to a 14-year-old Cystic Fibrosis patient, and his kidneys to a five-year-old boy and a four-year-old girl.
What a wonderful example of righteous people who took a personal tragedy, and turned it into an opportunity to help others. Their actions show not a trace of the bitterness that we see in so many of those affected by senseless events such as their son's accidental killing. Instead, they chose give the gift of life in the form of organ transplants to so many, regardless of the recipients nationality, religion, or political views. Let us all learn a lesson from this generosity of spirit and heart.

May God repay them in turn for their good deed, and may they be comforted in their time of terrible loss.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Assassins in the Wings?

Long article in this weekend's JPost magazine, on the 10th anniversary of the assassination of Yitzchak Rabin, about the rising anti-government sentiment in Israel, especially among the settler youth. The article makes the case that present conditions have created a ripe breeding ground for the kind of violent rhetoric that created Yigal Amir and his ilk a decade ago.
Has anything changed in the decade since the Rabin assassination? According to settler leaders, ultra-rightists and analysts, the real fight has just begun. While those both willing and able to sacrifice their lives to kill their fellow Jews remain a marginalized and closely watched few, support for the State of Israel and its symbols, among a larger portion of the Jewish public, is crumbling.

...West Bank settlers now bitterly debate whether to fly the flag of Israel in their synagogues, and an increasing number of young men and women no longer include the appeal for the security of the State of Israel in their prayers.
One example of the results of this attitude is a 17-year old evacuee from the Gaza settlement of Atzmona, who has openly hung members of the Israeli government, including Ariel and Omri Sharon, in effigy. The site is dedicated to the memory of Eden Natan Zadeh, the 19 year-old gunman who opened fire on a bus a few months back, killing 4 Arabs before being lynched. When asked about the effigy site, fellow settlers in the boy's community just shrug, saying "boys will be boys".
Settlers are just as devoted to the state as ever, leaders say. But one must ask: Would the people of Atzmona, prior to their eviction, have tolerated seeing an effigy of their prime minister dangling from a noose?
Last week, youths who were trying to prevent the IDF from dismantling an illegal hilltop settlement started to throw punches, injuring one paratrooper. The violence is becoming more more prevalent since the disengagement has riled so many.

And most Israelis view this behavior as a harbinger of worse things to come.
More than two-thirds of Israelis believe that the next political assassin is on his way, according to a Yediot Aharonot poll last weekend. That poll also showed that the vast majority of Israelis (83 percent) believe that Amir was not a "wild weed," but that "there are more like him."
Unfortunately, the article seems to support the possibilty of that terrifying prediction.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Judaism and Fur

In a shocking development, an article actually caught my attention in this week's edition of the local Jewish paper, the Five Towns Jewish Times. It's on a topic that I have always felt strongly about, the wearing of fur. The piece addresses a question that I have always wondered about. Do we, as Jews, have a responsibility to show compassion to the animals that are, by all accounts, cruelly trapped and killed before being skinned to create coats, hats and other fashionable garments for humans? I always thought that that answer was an unequivocal "yes", and have never really felt comfortable in fur. OrthoDad feels even more strongly than I do about the subject, preferring I not wear fur at all - even a inherited coat from a relative, for which animals gave their lives many decades ago.

So it was interesting to see that the article expresses that same view. The article is not online, so I will summarize and quote enough of it to hopefully get the points across. The article was written by Richard H. Schwartz, PH.D.

His first point is that Judaism has many Torah commandments that govern the kind treatment of animals. Examples include:
One may not muzzle an ox while it is working in the field nor yoke a strong and weak animal together. Animals, as well as their owners, are meant to rest on Sabbath day.
...Perhaps the best Jewish attitude toward animals is expressed by Proverbs 12:10: "The righteous person considers the soul (life) of his or her animal." The Torah prohibits Jews from causing tsa'ar ba'alei chayim, any unnecessary pain, including psychological pain, to living creatures.
He then goes on to prove that fur-bearing animals are trapped and killed in a way that causes them much pain:
Animals caught in steel-jaw leg hold traps suffer slow, agonizing deaths. Some are attacked by predators, freeze to death, or chew off their own legs to escape. It has been said that one can get a "feel for fur" by slamming your fingers in a car door.

Judaism puts humans on a higher level than animals, and indicates that animals can be harmed and even killed if an essential human need is met. However, is the wearing of fur truly necessary for people to stay warm during winter weather?
I would have to agree with Dr. Schwartz. In this age of high-tech fabrics like Polarfleece and Thinsulate, is there really an essential need for fur? Sure, a fabulous fur coat looks better than a ski jacket - but is that really a good enough excuse for causing such suffering to all the little minks, ocelots and foxes that are trapped and killed in its creation?

PETA even has made the case that Judaism prohibits the wearing of fur in their ad campaign titled "It's a shanda to wear fur ", going so far as to quote Orthodox rabbis in the ad.

But I do have to say, with the amount of fur that I see paraded through shuls in Five Towns on an average winter Shabbos, if a local Rav would come out against the wearing of fur, the fur would really fly.

Update: Lest anyone misunderstand, I view PETA's tactics to be way beyond the pale. However, I thought that an ad that they put out targeting Jews would be an interesting addition to this post. And there's nothing in this particular ad that I disagree with.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

More on the Satmar Squabble

This week's Jewish Week has an article that fleshes out quite a bit of the Satmar dustup story from last week. The account is very detailed, adding a lot to what was missing in the accounts that were in all the local papers.

The part that was widely reported was the fact that the group of Satmar chasidim who are followers of Reb Aaron, the older son of the current Satmar Rebbe, (referred to as Aronis), stormed the Rodney Street synagogue of the group of Satmar chasidim who follow the younger son of the Satmar Rebbe, Reb Zalman, (referred to as Zalmis).

After a brawl took place in the synagogue, apparently another group of Aronis broke into and vandalized the synagogue office next door.
The group reportedly broke computers, jimmied open cabinets, destroyed disks and documents, and upturned drawers before relaxing on the floor with cigarettes and whiskey. It was Simchat Torah, after all, second only to Purim as the wildest drinking night of the Jewish year. The police arrested all of them.
People speaking in defense of the Aronis have differing accounts of what actually transpired in the office, some saying it was as innocent as learning Torah, others saying that it was only a small group of rebellious Aronis who admittedly did do the vandalizing.

What is news to me is this part of the account:
After the dancing with the Torahs on the night of Shmini Atzeret — chasidim dance with the Torahs on that night as well as on Simchat Torah — a chasid stood up to make the announcements. He told the crowd that Judge Stewart Goldwasser, hearing one of the three Satmar lawsuits, declared that the Aronis had control of the Rodney Street shul.

In fact, Goldwasser said, “This court will not be sucked into the Brooklyn litigation,” according to this chasid.

Perhaps the Aronis misunderstood. The chasid making the announcements said to great cheers, “Tomorrow morning we daven at Rodney.”

The Aronis showed up the next morning at the Rodney Street shul, where some 5,000 Zalis were davening in numerous minyanim.

To even the odds the Aronis, numbering less then 300, arrived with “their so-called security people,” said one community official.

“They were not chasidim,” the official said. “They were people of color, and in black leather jackets. It was clear who was hitting whom.”

The Aronis were ready to rumble. Clearly visible on a videotape from a security camera turned over to the Brooklyn District Attorney were black men in baseball hats fighting alongside the black fur-hatters.
The pictures show the security guards, but it never ocurred to me that they were brought in by the Aronis. If the Jewish Week's account is correct, then all the men in this picture that have been assumed by most to be policemen or security guards called in after the brawl began, were in fact hired guns, brought in to start this squabble.

These guys were hired to fight. On Shemini Atzeres. Hard to believe, if true.

Endorsement Backtracking

This week's Jewish Week has a piece on an event run last week by the Bloomberg campaign, and some questions that have come up in its wake regarding endorsements.
Did “1,200 members of the Jewish community” endorse Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s re-election at a breakfast last Friday? The mayor’s campaign Web site claims they did.

Not so fast, say some of the attendees — leaders of national and local Jewish organizations that, as nonprofits, are prohibited by the Internal Revenue Service from making political endorsements. Many of the groups also bar officials from giving their personal nods.
Apparently, some Jewish officials are annoyed that the site has put them on his list of those who are endorsing him.
But Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Presidents Conference, said, “I haven’t made an endorsement in 30 years.” Michael Miller, executive vice president of the JCRC said that “as a policy, the president and the senior staff of the JCRC are forbidden from making any personal endorsement.”

Hoenlein said he often attends political events on both sides of a campaign as long as they are not fund-raisers and believed this breakfast would be more of an address by the mayor on Jewish issues, which in part, it was. Had he known it would also have been a get-out-the-vote rally, he said “I would have had to consider it.”
Fair enough - if the event was really presented as Hoenlein says it was, as opposed to an event endorsing the mayor's candidacy. Except that this event rang a bell for me. I remembered seeing the invitation for the event, as it was published in the NY Times and on the Politicker blog over Sukkos, to showcase an amusing misspelling of the name of former mayor Giuliani. The Times titled their piece "Did Bloomberg Buy an Extra Vowel?".

Correct me if I'm wrong, but if I got an invitation begging my presence at "a breakast in support of the re-election campaign of Mayor Michael Bloomberg", and I was prohibited by law from publicly endorsing a candidate, I probably wouldn't go. To me, this seems like a clear support rally for the mayor, not, as Hoenlein put it, "an address by the mayor on Jewish issues". Maybe, if Hoenlein's non-profit status is so important to him, he should start to read the invitations he receives a bit more carefully before he RSVP's to them. To not consider the possibility that with the wording of the invitiation as it was, attendees support for the mayor was implicit in their showing up to the event is just dumb. Though it seems not every official present at the breakfast was as oblivious as Hoenlein and others who might have felt that this event didn't imply support for the mayor:
Afterward, one official with a Jewish agency joked “we just lost our 501[c]3.” He was referring to the tax-exempt code for a nonprofit.

The Back of the Bus

JPost put up an interesting article discussing the phenomenon of "Mehadrin" and even "Glatt-Mehadrin" buses run on some routes by Egged, the national Israeli transportation authority. The Mehadrin bus lines, which were created due to requests from the Ultra-Orthodox who frequent those routes, have women sitting in the back of the bus, and men in front. The Glatt Mehadrin buses are even more strict about maintaining the separation between men and women:
In addition to the regular mehadrin lines, there are also what are known as "Glatt Mehadrin" that operate inside haredi city centers. On the "glatt" lines women enter the bus from the side door. Women with bus passes punch their own holes. Women who pay in cash have to somehow transfer the money to the driver at the front of the bus. Little children are often used. When there is no other choice the woman herself walks to the front to pay, says Rosenstein.
Apparently, trouble flared up one day on a bus of the Mehadrin variety, when a woman, who is plagued by severe motion sickness, boarded the bus before it had many passengers, and sat in the front seat, as many doctors recommend. Then, as she recounts:
"When I first got on the bus there were only a few people", recounts Ronit. "I explained to the driver my situation and he seemed to understand. So did a haredi man.

"But soon the bus began filling up. One haredi man came up to me and explained that I was on a Mehadrin bus and, therefore, I must sit in the back.

"'Perhaps the men could sit in the back and the women in the front', I suggested. But he rejected that possibility. I told him I could not continue to talk to him because I needed to look out the window, but advised him to sit someplace where he could not see me."

Ronit, who defines herself as religious and modestly dressed, recounts that "a semi-commotion broke out" when about 30 haredis got on the bus.
"One complained to the driver, 'this is supposed to be a mehadrin bus. I am going to complain to Egged'. I tried to explain again about my motion sickness, but no one listened.
This incident raises issues with the Mehadrin bus designation that were bound to come up. I think that creating the Mehadrin bus lines was a very admirable attempt by Egged to serve the needs of and be sensitive to the Charedi community. But anyone could have predicted that there would be people who view the relegation of women to the back of the bus as discriminatory, even if the vast majority of Charedi women are perfectly comfortable with the arrangement.

A Rabbi's opinion on the subject, from the article:
However, Rabbi Ratzon Arussi, chairman of the chief rabbinate's council on marital affairs and rabbi of Kiryat Ono, said that the Mehadrin buses sometimes create more halachic problems then they solve.

"Halachically speaking, it is preferable for a man to sit next to his wife than to have other women pushing past him to get to the back of the bus. Being with his wife keeps the husband's attention focused.

"Seating men up front causes additional problems. For instance, pregnant women or women with heavy bags are forced to walk all the way to the back of the bus.

"It is obvious that men who initiated the Mehadrin lines did not think about women or about the halachic problems created.
In addition, the article stated that an Israel MK is looking to take the issue up with Egged because he feels the practice is discriminatory:
MK Doron thinks Egged's and Dan's policy is discriminatory. In a letter to Transportation Minister Meir Sheetrit, Doron writes, "Egged is a public company that is supposed to provide egalitarian services to all of its customers. But line 982 does not serve all segments of the population." Doron says he plans to appeal to the Supreme Court to halt state funding to Egged if Egged does not change its policy.
I am perfectly comfortable with a segment of society choosing to live their life as they see fit. For the men and women of the Charedi community to choose to sit separately is perfectly acceptable - unless their decision starts to affect others who have not made such a choice. If the woman with motion sickness who boarded the bus needed to sit in front of the bus for her comfort, then requiring she move to the back for the comfort of the men on the bus is simply wrong.

I have a feeling this may turn into a flashpoint issue for non-Charedi women who feel that this policy of seating women at the back of the bus is discriminatory, and may start to attempt to protest it by staging sit-ins or other such tactics. Or maybe it won't, as long as the Mehadrin bus lines run on routes that are so heavily Charedi that the policy doesn't end up affecting enough people who would be offended by it. I guess time will tell.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Religious Freedom Case

Interesting case in front of the U.S. Supreme Court right now. It concerns a small religious group who follow a Brazilian-based religion, and their petition to import a tea containing a banned substance into the country to use as a sacrament in their worship. Their argument is for the U.S. ban on importing the hallucinogenic substance contained in the tea to be waived due to their rights to practice their religion freely. According to the JTA, Jewish groups have filed in support of the religious group's petition. According to the coverage of the deliberations, the Supreme Court seems to not be of a single mind on this issue, with some justices (Scalia, Stevens, Ginsburg) sounding amenable to making an exception on the ban due to religious freedom, and others (Roberts, Souter), sounding less inclined to allow the importing of the substance. The case tests the Religious Freedom Act, which sets a high standard for the government restriction on religious practices.

This is, of course, relevant to every person who practices religious rituals of any nature. Obviously, no one is taking issue with the practice of aquiring and shaking of the Arba Minim, nor with the practice of checking lettuce for bugs before serving, nor with the practice of driving on Shabbos. But there are much murkier areas of Jewish ritual, and it isn't hard to find opponents of practices that we are allowed to perform under our right to religious freedom. One of the most current examples is, of course, the controversy over Metzitzah B'Peh, on which I posted my take here. But that is just one example. There are child rights activists who oppose Brit Milah, saying it is a brutal, barbaric practice, that causes a helpless infant undue pain. There are animal rights activists who oppose Shechita, saying it is a brutal, barbaric practice, that causes a helpless animal undue pain. If it were up to some of these groups, these practices would be banned as well. So the question becomes, where is the line drawn when it comes to religious freedoms? I personally feel that the line should be drawn to include as many practices and rituals as possible, short of proof of a direct link of a threat to public safety. Does allowing small amounts of a banned hallucinogenic drug for sacramental use cross that line? If the import is controlled in a manner that ensures that the substance is used solely for sacramental purposes and not for distribution, it seems to me that the right to religious reedom would override the ban on the substance, especially as was pointed out by Justice Ginsberg, Native Americans use a similar substance, peyote, in their rituals.

We'll see how this case falls out.