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Friday, March 31, 2006

New Comment Policy

Effective immediately, all comments that denigrate myself or other commenters on this blog for no apparent reason wil be deleted. In the close to a year that I've been blogging, I have never deleted a comment because the commenter was rude to me. And I am loath to begin deleting comments at all. But when people are so interesting in seeing their own rudeness in print that they start attacking my commenters, they leave me no choice.

Apparently, a bunch of toddlers has decided to come around, and they don't know how to play well with others. I welcome commenters that have things to say that are sustantive and on topic - and I've always even given a little leeway to such commenters to throw some jabs in here or there to help make a point. But that is not what this particular group of trolls came here to do. They came here simply to ruin someone else's blog, and revel amongst themselves in their own "witty" repartee. They would be better served in creating their own sandbox for themselves to pee in.

I wish them all the luck in doing so.

Hatzalah Update

Lots of developments on the Hatzalah kerfuffle front.

1. Larry Gordon, the editor of the 5TJT, issued a retraction and apology. It states, in no uncertain terms, that the ad contained an "inaccurate characterization" of the Rabbi's remarks, and apologized to him for it, and the "harsh criticism" contained within it. He also apologized to his readers, if any of them had been "offended by the thrust and the direction of the message". (Full text of retraction below - click to view full size). He comes out looking good here. He accepted and published an ad, was subsequently informed of its inaccuracy, and promptly retracted and apologized. This is the classy way to behave.

2. Hatzalah put out a new ad (only a measly quarter page this time, money must be tight), with a clarification. Except that the wording was far from unambiguous: "To the 10+ thousand members of our community who we serve: It was not intended to offend anyone, but rather to ensure that each and every case of Safek Pikuach Nefesh receive the quickest care possible". (Full ad below - click to view full size). Yeah. Hard to believe this was completely well-intentioned when they spent so much ink misquoting and denigrating a community Rabbi last week. I don't think this ad is enough. They owe the Rabbi an apology, or at the very least, a retraction. Instead, it was more like: "We didn't mean to call the Rabbi names, and misquote him terribly. What we really meant was...GutYuntiff!!" Pretty weak.

3. The Community leader who called for the subsequent boycott of the 5TJT has reportedly withdrawn it, in wake of the published apology and clarification by Larry Gordon. Also, the Rabbi's name was taken off the letterhead in Hatzalah's follow-up ad, presumably in response to his anger at being included in the letterhead of the first ad without his approval. OK. The boycott may have been a hasty decision, and though I didn't agree with that sort of action, I think overall his behavior was fair and measured in his response to the 5TJT retraction.

Here's hoping this saga is over, and Hatzalah can get back to the business of saving lives, and out of the business of calling people names over inaccurate information.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Black Sunday Indictments

I have to say, this story really bothers me:
The former owner of a Bronx building and two of his tenants have been indicted in the deaths of two firefighters whose efforts to battle a blaze in the building last year were hampered by a warren of illegally constructed rooms and walls, the authorities said.

On Jan. 23, 2005, Lt. Curtis Meyran and Firefighter John Bellew leaped to their deaths from a fourth-floor window of the building at 236 East 178th Street when they could not find the fire escape. Four other firefighters were critically injured that morning when they, too, had to jump from the apartment in an attempt to flee the searing heat and smoke. Investigators determined that the fire was sparked by an overloaded extension cord that powered the illegally built rooms.

...But yesterday, in unsealing an indictment against one of the tenants, the Bronx district attorney, Robert T. Johnson, focused on plasterboard partition walls in two apartments that investigators say blocked firefighters' access to the fire escape and forced the six men to jump. Investigators also determined that the jerry-built rooms helped accelerate the spread of the fire throughout the five-story building.
Try as I might, I just can't see this as anything but scapegoating. I can understand finding the tenants and the landlord guilty for whatever the charges in creating a fire hazard, or the illegal subdivisions. But to indict them as being directly responsible in the deaths of the firefighters? Especially coupled with the fact that accusations have been swirling that Fire Department underpreparedness contributed to the deaths as well:
The deaths prompted an internal investigation by the Fire Department and led to a new policy that gives firefighters safety ropes they can use to rappel from buildings. In a report issued in September, investigators said that frozen hydrants, nonfunctioning hoses and poor communication among those battling the fire might have contributed to the deaths and injuries.
Is it just me? Or does this indictment seem tacked-on?

Tragedy happens, and I can't begin to imagine the sorrow of the firefighters' families. But not every tragic event has to have a scapegoat.

Troubling Israeli Media Censorship

Jameel has an interesting post up about a media blackout in Israel on election day. Apparently, a Katushya missile attack was shot from Gaza and landed in Ashkelon on election day. Jameel was wondering why the incident was not reported until later in the evening, and he found out from a matter-of-fact admission in an article from Haaretz (emphasis mine):
Although some of the media knew a Katyusha had been fired, the military censor did not allow publication of the report until 8 P.M., thus lessening any possible effect on voting patterns. Israeli right-wingers had been warning of Katyusha rockets from the Gaza Strip for a long time.
Wow. I can totally understand military censorship being necessary in Israel when it is regarding issues affecting national security. But for Israel's ostensibly apolitical military to hold back news coverage of an event that transpired because of a fear that reporting the truth will affect voting patterns is, in the eyes of this blogger at least, plain wrong.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Dinner Musings

I had to bite the bullet and go to a certain dinner recently. My readers may recall me saying in the past that I try to attend as few of these types of things as possible, but this was a must. All in all, the evening was enjoyable. A few little observations:

1. The dinner was mixed seating. Finally. Between Yeshiva school dinners, weddings, and various other Tzedakah events, I tend to resent the fact that I get all dressed up, pay for a babysitter, and leave my kids kicking and screaming, on one of the few nights my husband gets home before my bedtime, only to have to bid him goodbye immediately upon arrival at our destination. It was really refreshing to actually eat dinner with him for once, even if it was a not-so-romantic candlelight dinner at a table for ten. From what I understand, only in recent years have all these Yeshiva dinners been separate seating. My daughter's school was apparently mixed until rather recently (still before my time though). And actually, Brooklyn Yeshiva Chaim Berlin's dinner is still mixed. Can you believe?

2. How many combinations of the same 30 phrases can people come up with for their dinner journal ads? "You are true role models for us all". "We are so proud of your accomplishments". "To all the truly deserving honorees". The journal chairpeople should just give out forms with blanks for the names and a few choices of generic terms, and the rest already filled in. You know like that fill-in-the-blank game children love to play in camp called mad libs - or in this case, ad libs.

3. Two women were honored, and were given (drumroll) the Artscroll Women's Siddur as a gift. Nice gesture, but I've made my opinion known here on that particular publication. I'm not the biggest fan.

4. There was dancing, but only for the men. Not that I'm big into the circle dances, but what are the women supposed to do while the men stamp around in a ring holding hands?

More Hatzalah Happenings

I heard an update to this post that I found a bit distressing. (Word to the wise: read the original post first if you want to understand what I am discussing here). Apparently, a well-known and well-respected community leader was included on the letterhead of the Hatzalah ad, without his express permission. Not only did he not approve the ad, he was extremely upset at being mentioned in the ad, and publicly said as much at a community event this week. All fine.

However, he then apparently sent out an e-mail, urging people to boycott the Five Towns Jewish Times, as the editor of the paper contributed to the "bizayon" of a Rabbi in our community.


I don't even know what to say. I thought the Hatzalah ad was heavy-handed and unecessarily toxic in tone, but this latest installment is also more than a bit much. Talk about shooting the messenger here. I can understand the fact that the Rabbi who sent out the e-mail wasn't exactly going to call for a boycott of Hatzalah. (Though I wouldn't put such self-sabotaging pettiness past some other leaders - just not this one). But to call for a boycott of a local paper, because they printed an ad by a local organization? Things are waaaaaay outta hand here.

All of this political backstabbing and public gameplaying is not doing anything for our community. What should have happened here, is that Hatzalah should have started this off by contacting the Rabbi who made the original disputed comments, whether themselves or through an intermediary, to try and iron out an understanding. And then, another respected leader behaved in a similar fashion.

Why is all of this necessary? Isn't there some other way this incident could have been worked out without all of the name-calling and infighting?

Monday, March 27, 2006

"Halal" Cell Service

I'm sure there isn't anyone reading this who hasn't heard of "kosher" cellphones, but this article covers some cellphones marketed to other religious denominations, such as Muslims and Christians. An interesting point that the piece makes is the difference between the kosher cellphones marketed to the ultra-orthodox market, and the phones marketed to other religious markets. The kosher cellphone is really just a cell service that is stripped of any extras that are increasingly standard on today's cellphones, such as internet service, whereas phones marketed to Mulims and Christians tend to add services:
Good News Holdings LLC, in partnership with Barna Group Ltd., a Ventura, Calif.-based provider of Christian data, recently launched FaithMobile, a cellphone service that offers scriptures, Christian ring tones, and one-minute-long inspirational videos to subscribers who sign up on its Web site. The service's advertising slogan: "Have you talked to God today?" It is available in the U.S. on T-Mobile, Alltel and Cingular, selling for an additional $5.99 a month.

Good News also is planning to launch a branded phone this summer in conjunction with six ministries across the country, which will provide subscribers sermons, news, movie reviews and other content. Good News originally thought of calling it the "godphone," but thought better of it and named it the FaithMobile phone instead.

Other projects planned by Good News include a service called e-prayer.com, which will allow users to ask others to send prayers either via the Web or, if they subscribe to FaithMobile, their cellphones. David Kirkpatrick, a former president of Paramount Pictures and one of Good News's founders, says the company's products make religion more convenient for people who occasionally don't have time for church. "In our busy lives, having access to spiritual resources on the go will help us all keep connected to God," he says.

And a new Christian text-messaging service called UCB Mobile was launched in the United Kingdom by United Christian Broadcasters Ltd. last year to enable people to stay connected to their faith by text messaging prayer requests to a UCB team, who will then pray for the sender.

For Muslims, businesses have come up with cellphones that help them in their daily prayer rituals. Dubai-based Ilkone Mobile Telecommunication in 2005 launched a phone in the Middle East with an internal compass that tells users the direction of Mecca, where Muslims face when they pray. Ilkone, which comes from the Arabic word for "universe," also equips its phones with a Hijri, the Gregorian calendar, and alerts users to prayer times with an alarm that features an actual muezzin's voice. It also has a complete version of the Quran, with an English translation. The phone, already on sale in Europe, recently became available in the U.S., where it can be purchased by contacting Indianapolis-based reseller Tradelink, Inc. (www.tradelink.us).

In England, Muslims have been using MyAdhan.com as a digital muezzin. The service provides them with calls to prayer five times a day in the form of a text message sent from cellular towers instead of vocal announcements from minarets.

How far down the road could cellphones with ringtones from "The Chevra" be? Or maybe cellphones with inspirational messages preloaded on the screen, like: "Step away from the internet enabled cellphone with your hands up", or "Don't even think of downloading that Top 40 ringtone". Any day now.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Hasidic Coast Guard

Interesting piece in tomorrow's NY Times about a Chasidic Coast Guard Auxiliary applicant who has passed all of the eligibility requirements and was ready to sign up for duty - until his commander pointed out that he cannot work as a Coast Guard auxiliarist and wear his yarmulka.
Wearing a visible piece of religious garb violates Coast Guard regulations. It says so in the Coast Guard manual, right between "Umbrellas" ("Plain black or navy blue, expandable, straight handle. Must be carried in left hand.") and "Backpacks" ("Must be carried in left hand when in uniform"). "Religious Items," the manual says. "Concealed or worn only during religious services."

Mr. Rosenberg's main skullcap, a black velvet model, is about six inches across. On occasions when Coast Guard protocol calls for wearing the official cap, including most outdoor activities, it would conceal the skullcap.

But indoors, auxiliarists are not supposed to wear their caps. (They are also told not to wear them while walking to a plane at an airport; a blast of prop wash could lead to the undignified sight of an auxiliarist chasing his bounding cap across the tarmac.)

What is most interesting is the fact that other organizations, as well as the US Army, have changed similar laws to allow for skullcaps and other religious headcoverings, yet the Coast Guard has still not found a way to acommodate Mr. Rosenberg. A particular amusing attempt on the Coast Guard's part to try to make things work:
Mr. Rosenberg said his flotilla commander, Arthur Ramirez, of the auxiliary unit based in Lincoln Park., N.J., tried to accommodate him.

"Is it possible," Commander Ramirez asked in an e-mail message, "that you could wear a 'miniature' yarmulke, small enough to be concealed by your hair?"

It would have to be very small indeed. Mr. Rosenberg is bald on top.

In any event, it does seem that the Coast Guard's uniform board is considering a change in the laws, on "whether to relax the restrictions on religious accessories to bring them in line with armed forces policy" - and according to a spokesman, had been considering the switch before Mr. Rosenberg's story was even called to their attention. I am sure that doing so would not compromise the integrity of Coast Guard operations.

Hatzalah Happenings

I opened up the local Jewish paper this week. and was surprised to see a huge two-page ad (which cost around $3,400, according to what is written here) put out by the local Hatzalah organization. Evidently, the organization is extremely unhappy by some words spoken by a local Rabbi in a shiur he gave to some members of his shul a few weeks ago. The relevant grafs from the ad (all grammatical errors and inconsistent italicizing are original):
While we are hurt and outraged at the accusations of a local Rabbi in our community, publicly accusing our members who are Yirah Shamayim and Moser Nefesh of Rachmana Litzlan being Mechallel Shabbos. We would have been silent, preferring not to dignify his venomous attacks against us, with a response.
...However, when he recently publicly Poskened that one should not call Hatzalah but rather look for a Doctor to determine if it is indeed a Sakanah, because Hatzalah members are not qualified to make that determination, we must cry out. We are frightened and concerned that delay in calling for emergency care will Rachmana Litzlan result in unecessary death.

The ad enumerates the various qualifications its members have in being capable of determining when a situation is truly life-threatening, and when it is required to break the laws of Shabbos. It also goes on to state that:
In the summer of 2000, the Hatzalah Bais Din Poskend "on the issue of whether or not a local Rav or even Vaad Horabbanim has a right to become involved in Halachic decisions regarding Hatzalah practices in their local neighborhood.
Now, if this were to be the case, that a local Rabbi stood up and denigrated these dedicated members who give so much of themselves of acting in a way that is contrary to Halacha, then indeed that would be troubling. Of course, the ad is too vague to make any determinations about whether that happened, or what happened at all. So after Shabbos, I put in a call to a friend of ours who is usually in the know when it comes to neighborhood goings-on. According to him, the Rabbi of a local shul, who has reputedly garnered a bit of a reputation as being outspoken on some controversial issues in the past, (including, apparently, other issues that were relevant to Hatzalah), made some references in a weekly shiur that some feel denigrated Hatzalah members. However, the fellow I was speaking with seemed to feel that the whole statement by the Rabbi was blown out of proportion, and that much of this might be based in previous bad blood between the head honchos of the organization and this Rabbi. He said that he spoke to a friend who had actually been present during the lecture, and his friend did not feel that the Rabbi was denigrating Hatzalah members, or Paskening for Hatzalah members at all. He simply was advising his congregants that they should take care before calling Hatzalah for something minor (the example I was told he gave was a cut finger), and in the case of a situation that is certainly not life-threatening, people should contact a doctor first. Additionally, the person present at the Shiur said it was a tiny part, and he certainly did not walk away with the message that he should call a doctor instead of Hatzalah in the case of a true or even a possible medical emergency. I can't see that as being inappropriate, nor do I see how giving such advice is contrary to the reference in the ad to a Din Torah finding that there is one central Halachic authority for the organization. Anyone know any more about this, and care to add?

Another point is that I'd like to make is that I live nowhere near where this Rabbi gave the shiur. I would have never known a blessed thing about this little incident, and I strongly suspect neither would the vast majority of the 5 Towns, had this not been called to my attention in a ginormously massive ad in the local paper. So what was really the point here? Clearly it was not to protect the reputations of the local Hatzalah volunteers, as they were never seriously harmed by this, even if the organization maintains that the Rabbi said what they claim he did - which my source disputes.

Unless someone has some information that the Rabbi behaved in a manner that is contrary to the version I reported above, I can't possible see how Hatzalah can justify having spent $3,400 of their funds on this ad, whether it was based on a statement that is open to interpretation, or worse, just to settle a score.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Return of the Gedolim Album: Series 2

I wrote a few weeks ago about the phenomenon that has been sweeping through Yeshivas - the Gedolim Album. Well, as wholesome a conception as the album seemed, its execution was not exactly uncontroversial. Many children (and their parents) resented the fact that some cards were "held back", making it impossible to get all the cards in the series until they were released. Some said that this wasn't an issue at all, as baseball cards are distributed similarly. There will always be rarer and more common cards. However, this rationale was not accepted by many of the series' detractors, moving some to go as far as to take the producer of the project to Bait Din. You see, it was more complicated than just not being able to complete a collection. The whole thing was actually a contest, with those who finished their albums first being eligible for all sorts of prizes, such as trips to Israel, bicycles and Seforim. People felt that if the project's creator was actually doing what was alleged, holding back certain cards completely until he sold enough cards to make back his investment and then some, then there was actually no possible way to complete the albums at all until the cards were released at the marketer's whim. Aside from being, according to an attorney pal I spoke with, possibly illegal, one could certainly make the case that this was unethical, and contrary to halachic business practices. As a matter of fact, a local Rabbi who gives Gedolim stickers along with a lollypop every shabbos to children from the shul, actually stopped giving them one week, stating as his reason the Din Torah (he inexplicably chose instead to give out cards with pictures of aircraft on them, and reportedly told a kid who asked where the rebbe cards were, that "The Chafetz Chaim is on the airplane!", but I digress). In any event, this little kerfuffle, paired with the unhealthy level of competition that some parents felt in induced in their children, stories of enterprising (some would say price-gouging) kids selling the rarest of cards to their classmates at a huge profit, and the rush to spend untold sums in order to be among the first to complete the albums, gave the whole endeavor a whiff of unpleasantness for some families.

Well, to put an end to this saga, my kids came off the bus today all abuzz. It seems that Series 2 of the Gedolim album has been released. But apparently, the project has been taken over completely by new management, and has a whole new methodology. From the front page of the album:
The New Gedolim Album
Introducing the "No-Pressure" Series
1) All 300 cards are available upon initial release of the new series
2)No "first-to-complete" contest to be held
3) Prizes and awards meet educational standards

Children! No need to rush! This is not a contest!
Everyone has an equal chance to be a winner!

Looks like this time around, whoever is organizing this is hoping to avoid the ill will that was generated by the first series. Though I learned a long time ago that there will always be complainers, I would have to assume that the changes made will turn the project into one that actually acheives what so many had hoped Series 1 would - a wholesome hobby that teaches the kids about the names and likenesses of some of our great Torah Sages. Of course, I'll have to pretend I didn't hear my son just say to his brother: "I'll trade you 314 for 345!"

Monday, March 20, 2006

More Marzel Idiocy

Not that we needed this guy to say more to convince us he's a loon, but he obliged anyway:
Chairman of the National Jewish Front party Baruch Marzel has let his tongue loose in the recent elections campaign, and some believe he may have gone a bit too far.

At an elections convention in the town of Ramleh Monday, Marzel said that "the people of Kadima and all those wishing to expel Jews from the Land of Israel are doing a despicable act."

"These are criminals and traitors. Evicting Jews is treason, this must not be forgotten," Marzel declared.

Marzel, who spoke before dozens of his supporters, also called on the government to "carry out a targeted killing against (left-wing figure) Uri Avneri and his leftist collaborators."

I'm all for free speech, but isn't Marzel's calling for the killing of a political figure a bit, well...much?

Sunday, March 19, 2006

More Nauseating Talk of Divine Retribution

This story tops both this one and this one:
Rabbi Shimon Baadani, a member of Shas' Council of Torah Sages, provided on Saturday evening amazing explanations for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's illness.

"Ariel Sharon had a stroke because he went with Shas and hurt religious services," Baadani explained during a sermon he gave at a Jerusalem synagogue.

The rabbi also promised "hell to those who don’t vote Shas," thus extending the remarks of Shas' spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who said at the beginning of the month that heaven awaits only those who will vote for the party.
The first point is just nauseating. As I've said before, I absolutely despise these attempts to explain God's ways. We simply have no idea why tragedy befell Ariel Sharon, or why tragedy befalls anyone, for that matter. And we certainly have no tradition in Judaism that tells us that if bad things happen to someone in this world, it is in direct retribution for misdeeds done in that person's lifetime. Many righteous people are struch by tragedy, and many blatantly evil people seem to live lives that many would envy. What we do believe, is that God gives everyone what He feels they deserve in the world to come, and that it all evens out in the end. That certainly does not jibe with the statements made by Rabbi Baadani.

The second point is pretty bad as well. Now, it's one thing to promise a place in heaven in exchange for voting a certain way, as Rabbi Ovadyah Yosef did a few weeks back. I personally didn't love the implication that it was more of a campaign promise than a prediction of reward for righteous actions, as some commenters here felt. But fine. At least that statement was open to interpretation. But this one? To vote for anyone but Shas earns an automatic ticket to hell? I'm sorry, but that's a bit much for my tastes.

Only God knows who is going to hell, and why.

Hattip: Charlie Hall

Tax Credit Talkfest

I received a tip by e-mail that Shelly Silver was going to be plugging his tax credit counterproposal on the Dov Hikind show last night. So I tuned in. Little did I know how entertaining it would be. First up was State Senator Carl Andrews who invoked the name of Jesus when discussing his recent trip to Israel. I would have to imagine that he may not have been briefed on who the target audience of the Dov Hikind show is. Then things got really amusing when Shelly Silver called in. Listeners had to endure five minutes of Shelly and Dov stroking each other's egos, (paraphrasis: Dov: Shelly, let me thank you for being such a great leader and always doing everything possible to help our community. Shelly: Dov, great leaders need great followers, and I stand on your shoulders.) Dov then spent the remainder of the show trying to hawk Shelly's inferior tax credit plan as if he were selling George Foreman grills on the Home Shopping Network. The real kicker was when the station took a call from "Steven". Now "Steven" was apparently having none of this Dov/Shelly lovefest. He took issue with Dov's characterization of Shelly's tax credit as the best thing since sliced bread, and rightly criticized the counterproposal for it's lack of requiring any investment in a child's education. He pointed out that on Shelly's plan, beneficiaries of the tax credit could just as easily spend the cash on cigarettes as on their children's education. He was very respectful, but brought up all of the issues that the opposition has raised to Shelly's plan. What did Dov say in response to this? "Thanks for your opinion".


Dov hung up on him. No response, no comment. He didn't want to discuss the possibility that Shelly's proposal had any opposition whatsoever, or that Shelly was anything less than the demagogue Dov had made him out to be. He hung up on the only person who had something intelligent to say during the whole darn show. I don't harbor any illusions that Dov Hikind is someone who is looking to foster the open exchange of ideas, nor did I have any idea that this stupid two-bit call-in show at 11 PM on a Saturday night was going to include any sort of meaningful debate on the important issue of education tax credits. But still. To completely ignore any comments that raise intelligent opposition to what Dov just spent a good portion of the show selling just shows what a load of fluff the whole segment was. Just don't call it a radio show. Call it what it is.

An infomercial.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

More Gaza Theodicy

I guess I should have seen this coming:
The bird flu outbreak in southern Israel is God's punishment for the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank disengagement, National Jewish Front Chairman Baruch Marzel says.

"You were punished by God and now you'll have to ask for the forgiveness of Gush Katif residents," Marzel wrote in a letter to southern residents whose communities were affected by bird flu.

In the wake of the bird flu outbreak, rightists have been voicing various theories regarding the connection between the disease and the implementation of the pullout. Marzel himself is certain such connection exists.
I'm glad he is "certain". And apparently, not only does he feel that this is a general punishment, but the particular community that is affected by the avian flu is getting directly punished for their actions during the disengagement:
"The kibbutz was used to house the expulsion headquarters because of greed, and therefore the bird flu outbreak happened there of all places," the far right leader wrote in his letter to Ein HaShlosha kibbutz.

Marzel later told Ynet that anti-pullout activists were pained by the fact nearby southern communities did nothing to help Gush Katif residents.

"They were neighbors, and so even if politically they do not support (the settlements of) Judea and Samaria, they should have assisted their neighbors," Marzel said. "Yet they made money from the expulsion of Gush Katif residents."

Marzel added southern residents should ask former Gazans for forgiveness and then seek advice with leading rabbis.

"Maybe that will help them," he said.
I imagine that if some in the anti-disengagement camp felt that the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina that befell the destitute of the United States Gulf Coast was somehow in retribution for the disengagement, it's to only be expected that the same people would draw similar conclusions about God's intent when tragedy falls so much closer to the scene of the "crime", as it were. I can only echo now what I said back then. I detest any attempts to declare, with certainty, any sort of misfortune that befalls our fellow humans as punishment for one supposed crime or another.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Five Towns Guide To The Perplexed

Krum has a great post up which breaks down the different demographics that make up the wonderful community I call home. Check it out. It is, as always, hilarious. His post struck a nerve, especially the part about the dearth of a decent bookstore:
...there is little, um, how you say, thinking going on in the Five Towns, period. OK. Sorry. That was harsh. But seriously. While there are 75 boutiques and 23 beauty salons on Central Ave., there is only one quite crappy book store.
This has been a rant I've gone on many a time. My version went something like Krum's. One can purchase a wig at one of tens of wig sellers, choose from egg, water, or chocolate chip challah every shabbos, or buy your pick of tens of thousands of shoe styles - from stilettos to motorcycle boots. Yet, the best bookstore this neighborhood can keep in business is a lousy "Borders Express" (formerly an equally lousy Waldenbooks), with the largest selection in the "Popular Fiction" section. And I could swear the alcove that houses the huge selection of glossy fashion and shelter magazines takes up more space than "History" and "Biography" combined. You don't even want to know how huge the "Self-Help" section is. Trust me. And the store closes at 6 PM almost every night. Really.

And Krum is right on the money about the lack of large-scale interest in intellectual pursuits out here. There is a Rav who gives what is called a "Women's Hashkafa Shiur" every week. Nice, but translating Hashkafa as "story time" is a bit loose for my tastes. I know a lot of community women who attend a Shiur given by a local semi-celebrity Rebbetzin, and while I'm sure her experiences and faith make her extremely inspiring to hear, I personally need a little more content mixed in. Let's just say there are a lot more Tehillim groups for women than Chavruta learning programs.

And before any of you trolls come back to my comment section telling me that it is somehow Lashon Hara to talk ill of a neighborhood that includes (roughly) 30,000 Orthodox Jews, be aware that as I've said before, the behavior I describe here is not objectively bad. The people who live out here seem to be pretty happy with the status quo. It certainly doesn't seem to be hurting the demand for real estate any. And if you still feel you have to comment and defend this neighborhood against my supposed slander and libel, go do it at Krum's. He started this.

A Few Mini-Rants To Get Out Of My System

A few little rants that you may or may not find in the least bit interesting:

1. Why do they put soda machines in elementary schools? And if they must, why do they have to have the machines that dispense those supersized 20-ounce bottles? Does anyone there really think that the under-Bat-Mitzvah set needs 20 ounces of liquid candy with their lunch? And speaking of lunch, do the people in charge of the Yeshiva hot lunch program live in a time warp? Are they the only people in the universe who did not get the memo that hot dogs and bologna are no longer exactly considered healthful fare? I mean, I understand that carrot sticks and grilled salmon is not gonna be on the menu any time soon - but must they serve lunch meats that are first packed chock full of nitrites, food coloring, and other such goodies, and then stuffed into a casing?

2. My monthly supermarket bill has gotten astronomical. And I rarely entertain on Shabbos, so I am talking about just the food that goes directly into the Orthofamily's mouths. It is getting nigh impossible to feed a family of six (without resorting to serving macaroni every night) and pay tuition. I don't understand how people less fortunate than us manage.

3. I don't know why the people who give out parking tickets in the village of Cedarhurst are wasting their time at this lousy job. They are so unbelievably fast with the ticket pad that their reflexes must be superhuman. Someone should recruit them for some pro sport or the other. I don't know much about sports, but there must be some that require participants to be fast on the draw. (Boxing?) I could swear that these guys start filling out my license plate onto the ticket as the last few seconds are still ticking off of my quarter. There's no other way they can keep managing to get to the car just as the red flag pops up. The pile of parking tickets that I've thrown on the floor of the passenger seat has gotten larger and larger (I have to remember to shove them in the glove before Orthodad sees 'em). And out here, the fees double about five minutes after the ticket is issued. They double again five minutes later. I think my fees are in the thousands by now.

4. I don't know how Gourmet Glatt supermarket gets away with stopping delivery service at 4 PM on Thursday afternoon. Talk about catering to the stay-at-home set. Uh, hello? Guys? There are people out here who actually work during the day? Maybe you can try and understand that there is no way they are getting in to do their shopping during work hours? What kills me is that I spend the entire day working, and then a supermarket penalizes me for that by making me carry a week's worth of groceries into the car, and from the car into my house. Which is why I now mostly shop at a different supermarket, where the service is absolutely fantabulous, but whose prices are somewhat higher (reference rant #2 above).

Thanks for listening. I feel a whole lot better.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

More on Purim and Underage Drinking

I touched on this topic here and here, but I've gotten more and more incensed about this since my earlier posts.

A Purim tradition that I'm sure many are familiar with is the one that has groups of Yeshiva boys traveling around in vans, trucks, and (sometimes) stretch luxury SUV's, collecting money house-to-house for one cause or another. I always found it to be a very nice practice. The boys who are collecting have fun, the people whose homes they visit enjoy the boys' dancing and singing and get a Mitzvah to boot, the Yeshivas or Tzedakahs get donations - everyone comes out ahead. Maybe it happens every year, and I never noticed it before. But this year, many of the boys who came around appeared to be tipsy, and some were out-and-out sloppy drunk. One group came in that absolutely reeked of alcohol. A few boys asked for drinks, which we flatly refused. Let me be clear. I don't think one boy who came through our home today was above the legal drinking age. Many were minors. Where the hell are they getting these drinks? Was I the only stickler for that pesky thing we call the law? Were they getting drinks in other homes they were visiting?

Another aspect of the underage drinking that goes on is one I touched upon earlier today. Many Yeshivas have parties, some on Purim eve after Megilla, some after the Purim Seudah. Apparently, underage drinking is shrugged off as "in the spirit of Purim". I am completely against this. If young boys feel so strongly that they must drink wine to fully celebrate Purim (I personally think that is a risky road to go down, however), they should do so at their own tables, under supervision of their parents. Not in Yeshiva, where from what I've been hearing, supervision at these parties is scant to nonexistent. Someone said to me "What should they do, tell the boys not to drink when their Rebbes are drinking right in front of them?". Um...yes. Not only should the Rebbes not allow their underage charges to drink just because they themselves are doing it, I don't personally think (and sorry if this sounds outlandish) that Purim is a good enough excuse for ostensible role models to get inebriated in front of their students in the name of religion. Call me crazy.

Listen, I think Purim is a blast. And I try not to be a spoilsport. Today was the first time I've seen Orthodad imbibe in ages, and he had just enough to be tipsy and fun. But hard liquor? And lots of it? And again, to minors???

Something has to change.

A Few Purim Points

A few little Purim tidbits:

1. I just heard that there was a Hatzalah call at a local boys' yeshiva during their Purim Mesiba last night. It was a high school boy who passed out, after vomiting copiously, obviously having had far too much to drink. And in my opinion, before the legal drinking age, "too much to drink" means any at all. Not to mention the fact that any Rav will tell you that there is no Mitzvah to drink on the night of Purim, just the day. Scary stuff, and makes me hope and pray that things change a great deal by the time my kids grow up.

2. Listen, I hate being relegated to a "women's" anything just as much as the next person. But the reason they have women's readings that are after the main reading is so that women can then leave their screaming-whining-toddlers-who-have-no-business-completely-disrupting-the-Megilla-reading-for-everyone-in-the-room at home with their husbands when their husbands return home from the main reading. I even understand giving the main reading a shot and bringing your child, if you have every intention to give up, leave, and wait for the women's reading when your child starts shrieking for his father while banging his bottle on the back of a metal chair and making a loud clanging sound so that the people sitting near you need to get up and change seats in the middle of the reading. Just a thought.

3. The Shalach Manot this year? I am happy to report that things have been scaled back in certain pockets of the community. I received a bunch of packages sold by Tzedakah organizations, a few cards that said a donation was made in lieu of an actual package, and many were cheap but cheerful (like the Orthofamily's). More than a few declared last night at Megilla reading that they will not be giving to those people that they put on the list for the shul'd Shalach Manot. We still received plenty of extravagances, though, and one actually contained a $30 bottle of wine. I must admit that Orthodad is looking forward to drinking it at the Seudah (which I should really get my act together for).

More later, maybe.

Simchat Purim!!

Monday, March 13, 2006

Halacha and Fertility in the NYT

Very interesting article in the NY Times about a graduate-level Rabbinical course being offered on the halachic issues of infertility medicine. As fertility medicine becomes a method used by more and more Orthodox couples to help nudge nature along in the quest to fulfill "peru urevu" ("be fruitful and multiply"), there are obviously a whole host of halachic questions that come along with it. And in order to answer these questions, these Rabbis have to be familiar with the topic material.
It sounds like the setup of a joke: 20 rabbis walk into a fertility clinic.

But it really happened. One recent Tuesday afternoon in Brooklyn, a group of young men in yarmulkes packed the waiting room of the Genesis Fertility Center, eyes glued to a roundish smudge on a video screen, absorbing a lecture in basic reproductive technology.

"This is the egg," said the center's lab director, sounding like a filmstrip narrator. "Here are zygotes. These are fertilized eggs."

From there things got complicated, touching on everything from the shelf life of sperm samples to the mechanics of intracytoplasmic fertilization to the ethics of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis.

Arcane as this stuff may sound, the rabbis, all graduate students at Yeshiva University, need to know it, and not just for the course they are taking in infertility and Jewish law.

Interestingly, the fertility center that they visited retains a full-time halachik advisor for questions that arise during treatment. This is explained by the revelation in the article that fully half of the clinics patients are Orthodox Jews. Lest anyone think that Judaism is too restrictive in that it requires its adherents to consult a Rabbi even on something as private as fertility treatments, Judaism actually comes out looking pretty good as compared to some of the infertility issues Catholics and Muslims face:
Under Islamic law, for example, a couple may use a surrogate mother, but the husband must take the surrogate as a temporary wife. In the United States, Professor Sachedina said, "This is done very quietly."

A course in medical ethics is required at many Roman Catholic seminaries. The church disapproves of any pregnancy that does not result directly from sexual intercourse.
Which would seem to rule out most procedures that take place in a fertility clinic for devout Roman Catholics.

I know many couples who have struggled with having children naturally, and I know that many of them thank God every day for the huge technological advancements that made it possible for them to give birth to their own, or to even consider it as a possibility. The support that they can receive from their spiritual leaders, who evidently must put long hours into becoming experts in this field must be a great help as well.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Purim Politics

Spring is in the air, another holiday is upon us, and it's that time of year when thoughts turn to writing a new classic Orthomom rant (TM) on the (mostly) wonderful community the Orthofamily calls home.

Purim. A holiday of fun and festivities. A joyous holiday where kids and adults alike can concentrate on the seemingly fun and relaxing task of visiting friends and family to deliver packages of food and wine. Well. As with everything else in the Five Towns, things aren't so simple out here. With the joy and celebration Purim entails comes the endless battle of one-upmanship that some residents of the Five Towns seem to live for engaging in. Here are a few examples:

Which child doesn't look forward to dressing up for Purim? I remember fondly the days of my youth, when I would agonize for days over what to dress up as for the holiday. Except. Long gone are the days of homemade, construction-paper and glitter crowns for Ahashverosh and Esther, and beards drawn on faces (with Mom's eyeliner) for Haman. Oh no. Some of the costumes that I see on the backs of neighborhood children these days are nothing short of breathtaking. I mean, we are talking worthy of Best Costume nominations at the Oscars. I have seen girls walking around in little Geisha costumes that are authentic enough to fool the most discerning Western businessman (kidding). Firemen that have not only a full uniform and hard hat, but an axe, oxygen tank, rescue ladder, hose - I wouldn't be surprised to see some local kids being chauffeured around to deliver Shalach Manot in a rented fire truck. Which brings me to the next topic.

Shalach Manot.
These packages of food are distributed to friends and family members. Used to be, a small bottle of grape juice with baggie of homemade hamantaschen loaded into a little basket and you were good to go. Not anymore. Now, Shalach Manot are as much a staus symbol as the luxury cars and designer shoes that mark status out here. A few years back, "theme" Shalach Manot were popular. I remember getting countless packages that included a decorative teapot, tea bags, honey and lemons. Another recurring theme was a fishbowl containing goldfish crackers and a bottle of water. These days, when minimalism has become de rigueur, the hottest trend seems to be color coordination. Last year I received a blue box with everything inside in the same hue. Blue candy, a cobalt blue glass bottle of vodka, cookies with blue icing, and it was all wrapped up with a blue ribbon and a custom printed blue decal with the distributing family's name and purim wishes imprinted on it. In addition to the obvious cash expenditures that go into making these creations, the enormous amount of time that go into them is another thing entirely. I have acquaintances that have been packaging these for weeks, using every spare second of their time. And of course, who would trust their children to assist with the packing as I remember fondly doing when I was a child? Young children might commit the cardinal sin of tying a ribbon askew, or neglecting to include one of the myriad coordinated items that make up the package. That would border on the disastrous. I went to a friend to drop something off last week, and though she was not home, her housekeeper was sitting at the dining room table, packing and wrapping her employer's Shalach Manot packages. Is it just me, or is there something very, very wrong about paying a non-Jew to package your mitzvah up? Something else that really bugs me? As many shuls do, the sisterhood of my shul gives shul members the opportunity to participate in giving and receiving a package that the sisterhood creates and delivers, for the cost of around $70. This ostensibly saves time, as well as doing the service of helping raise money for the shul. Which is a wonderful concept - if it actually worked. Though an understanding exists that people should not give private Shalach Manot to anyone included on the list, more and more people have been ignoring that unwritten rule in recent years, and some have lately expressed to me that they wonder if the whole idea had run its course if people are just going to give each other twice. Another big trend in Shalach Manot is that now, the kids create themed packages of their own to give out to their own friends. We're talking fancy. My kids received packages from their friends last year that were far nicer than anything I ever gave out. And in exchange for delivering these fabulously appointed goodie baskets, they receive "Purim Gelt" at the doors of the recipients. Which, of course, brings me to the next subject.

Purim Gelt.
Does anyone else remember getting a quarter at the most? Well, apparently, the neighborhoods kids banded together to demand a Cost of Living increase. Because my kids made a serious amount of money last year. They got at least a dollar (each!) at every house - and they received five-dollar bills from more than a few package recipients when they made the drop-off. Couple that number with the ever-growing list of recipients (this year I made 75 packages!) and... you do the math. That's a pretty good take for something that's a mitzvah as well. The amount of one-dollar bills that I need to pick up from the bank grows every year. I learned my lesson a few years back when I oh-so-pathetically had to borrow from one of my kid's stash when I ran out.

Welcome to the Five Towns.

Purim Perils

Interesting piece on YNet:
A Safed Rabbi on Sunday issued an edict banning the use of firecrackers during the Purim festive day this week.

Rabbi David Lakhiani of the Kabbalh town explained his decision saying: “Over the last few years, as the rabbi of the local hospital,
I met parents whose children lost an eye or a finger because of firecrackers exploding near them over Purim. Few days ago, I visited a kid suffering from burns in the waist area caused by firecrackers he had placed in his pocket. These events have Halachic repercussions.”

Lakhiani added that according to Jewish law one should avoid endangering his and other people’s lives. “It is forbidden for men to injure themselves or others in any way and I think these firecrackers are dangerous and endanger children’s lives and the Halacha proves my words,” he said.
I am very pleased to see someone speaking out against some of the Purim practices of unbridled "festivity" that often become dangerous. Unfortunately, banning fireworks is just a start, and irrelevant here in the US, where it is illegal to posess fireworks anyhow. I would be pleased if a Rabbi would step up to the plate and be more forceful in speaking out against the unfettered drinking that goes on in so many yeshivas. I will never get used to the fact that it is assumed to be a God-given right for so many (underage!) yeshiva boys to get inebriated to the point that it is not uncommon for more than a few to pass out. I ate with a friend this Shabbos, and her husband is member of the local volunteer ambulance association, Hatzalah. He said that on Purim, his radio goes off all night and day with calls regarding people who have imbibed way more than is prudent, and need medical attention. Thankfully, drinking and driving has become much less of an issue in recent years as yeshiva boys are encouraged to travel in vans and buses to do the traditional Purim eve activity of house-to-house Tzedakah collecting. But why can't the heavy drinking be banned or at least controlled? That is a danger as well.

Another Purim "tradition" that is winked at as a harmless practice is the one that allows young yeshiva boys to smoke cigarettes on Purim. Though the practice of smoking has become less and less accepted in the Yeshiva community, and it is frowned upon when young boys take it up, for some reason, it is still looked at as OK to do "only on Purim". How many boys do you think got their first taste on Purim, and then decided they liked it and kept it up? With all that we now know about the direct effect smoking has on lung cancer, if allowing teenagers to smoke - even one day a year - isn't against the stricture that Rabbi Lakhiani is referencing above of "v'nishmartem meod l'nafshotechem" ("be extremely protective of your lives"), then I don't know what the law could possibly refer to.

Campaign Ad Adversity

I posted a while back about an apparent campaign promise made during a campaign rally by Rav Ovadyah Yosef that a vote for Shas earns the voter a place in heaven. Subsequently, that campaign promise was made into a television advertisement by the political party:
During the Shas ad, footage is shown of Rabbi Ovadia addressing enthused followers showing a Shas rally.

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

The angel's reply: "Exactly. And by sending emissaries who built mikvahs and synagogues and safeguarded the world of Torah, you're a party to mitvzot and your place is in heaven." Therefore, the rabbi explained, anyone who votes for Shas will end up in heaven.
The ad was then banned for broadcast by an Israeli judge, who made the decision based on her opinion that the ad contained "banned content". This quote from the JPost gives the most information on what evidence Judge Beinish based her ruling - and it's pretty scant information at that:
On Saturday evening, Shas, whose election ads have also stirred up controversy, decided to pull one of its campaign ads following Beinish's Friday ruling that the promo violated the laws governing election propaganda by promising anyone who voted for Shas a place in heaven.

Which would seem to mean she is saying it is "propaganda" because it is patently untrue, in her opinion. And though I can understand her skepticism, I'm not sure why she would want to base a ruling on her opinion that the claim can't be true. I guess the alternative would have been to ban the broadcast because they were handing out bribes in exchange for a vote - and that would imply that the campaign promise has some merit.

In addition, some of the articles imply that the spot was canceled only after an extremely inflammatory spot put out by the political party Shinui was ordered by the same judge to be taken off the air:
A few days ago, Judge Beinish banned an ad by Shas' biggest rival, Shinui, in which a secular person is seen walking towards a poll, with ultra-Orthodox men grasping his legs. After the man votes for Shinui, the religious figures disappear one after the other.

The elections committee said that the Shinui ad was banned "because their content severely offended the ultra-Orthodox public, and also constitute an inappropriate offense to the sensitivities of the general public."
Which I would agree with. The question is, where to draw the line when it comes to government censorship of political ads? In the second case, I think many would agree that the ad was inflammatory, offensive and anti-Orthodox. In the first case, I don't think it's so clear.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Dance Journal Shows Anti-Israel Bias

Steven I. has been following a story that has truly ticked me off. Apparently, a prestigious dance journal based in the UK, Dance Europe, will not feature any Israel-based dance groups in their publication as a rule. There's some interesting back-and-forth on the subject here and here, but the part that really gets me ill is this particular section that Steven quotes from a piece in the London Jewish Chronicle:
Ms Manning would say only that “as an editor, I am entitled to choose what to print. It is my prerogative.” Mr Kaul was more forthcoming, telling the JC: “We are opposed to the occupation. If any company in Israel co-operates with us by adding a disclaimer saying it is opposed to the occupation, settlements and everything else, we will co-operate with them.”
The website of the 17,500 circulation magazine includes a link to the website of the Palestine El-Funoun Popular Dance Troupe. Asked why the Palestinian company was not required to provide a disclaimer against suicide bombings, Mr Kaul responded: “There’s a reason for people to become suicide bombers. Their land has been occupied.”

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Funny Take On LTA Protests

On the topic of the picketing outside a local school board member's office yesterday, Krum (as always) has the funniest take.

Tax Credit Disappointment

The Private School community was dealt a setback yesterday when Speaker of the Assembly Sheldon Silver ommited the school tax credit proposal from the Assembly version of the 2006-2007 budget. From the NY Sun:
Tensions further escalated as it emerged that the Democratic-controlled Assembly is planning to omit from its budget the controversial tuition tax credit that Mr. Pataki proposed earlier in the year. The Assembly's expected removal of the tuition tax credit, which is heavily favored by school choice advocates, comes amid a ramped up effort on the part of the New York State teachers union to defeat the governor's proposal, which would give a credit of up to $500 to low and middle-income parents of children enrolled in private and public schools.
The NYS Union of Teachers and The United Federation of Teachers have vehemently opposed the tax credit proposal, spending a significant amount of time and capital on an item which is a miniscule part of the $110 billion 2006-2007 NYS budget, and even the $17 billion portion of the budget that goes to education. It seems that the teachers' union will pull out all the stops to exert complete control of the state's educational establishment. Mr. Silver has made his decision to back the teachers' union, who seem to be using quid pro quo tactics to oppose the tax credit at all costs:
The most aggressive challenge against the tax credits appears to be coming from the state teachers union, New York State United Teachers, which lawmakers say has threatened to withhold contributions from those who support the measure.
It is unfortunate that Mr. Silver has given up this chance to help those in his own community. The private school parents that he has neglected here save the state billions of dollars every year by sending their kids to public school, and yet Mr. Silver begrudges them $500. I received an insert in a Jewish newspaper yesterday, that urges NY residents to call Mr. Silver's office to ask for his support on this issue. The phone number is: (212)312-1420.

I always worry when Orthodox politicians win public office, that some will bend over backwards to appear impartial to their community, instead of just doing the right thing as each individual situation warrants. In a case such as this, when numerous local and state politicians clearly see the merits of this proposal - most with no connection to the Orthodox community - it is depressing to see Mr. Silver show his stripes.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

More Protests

An operative tells me that the Lawrence Teachers Association is again picketing in front of Dr. Mansdorf's office, for the second time this week. It is clear that they are making every effort to affect his livelihood. There have been claims made that they are targeting all of the board members homes and businesses, not just those of the Orthodox board members. That may be the case (though I have not seen or heard any word of it.) However, I am not sure why that would at all be a mitigating factor. The fact that they are even considering picketing in front of these board members homes, and disrupting the lives of the board members neighbors and families - particularly their children - shows me that these teachers are not concerned with treating other people with respect. They claim that they are being mistreated because the board is not negotiating with them on their new contract in good faith. Well, whether that is the case or not (and please recall that teachers in Lawrence are among the highest-paid in the country), to mistreat people in return is simply not the way I expect or would hope that the people who are entrusted to educate our district's children would behave.

Obviously, the LTA themselves never learned the Golden Rule.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Shul Demolition

There has been much coverage in local news sources of the roof collapse and subsequent full demolition of a synagogue on the Lower East Side. The NY Times ran a piece today on how unhappy preservationists are about the fact that the building had fallen in to such disrepair that its roof caved in:
The demolition of a 150-year-old synagogue on the Lower East Side is generating widespread criticism among preservationists, who say that one of the city's historic religious buildings has been lost because too little was done to save it.
...City officials said the demolition was legal. The synagogue's roof collapsed in late January, and permits were issued on Wednesday by the Department of Buildings to take down what remained of the synagogue because it posed a safety hazard.

But in the weeks since the roof collapsed, apparently ensuring the building's demolition, preservationists have recounted a litany of miscues and failed efforts to help shore up the sagging building, which flourished during the waves of 19th-century Jewish immigration but whose congregation and finances have dwindled in recent years.
This post from Gothamist also shows how the demolition has captured the interest of so many locals:
Tragedy on Rivington Street
Everyone in LES is still pretty stunned by the demolition of the Rivington Street temple that took place last week. We walked by over the weekend, and tons of people were still gathering on the sidewalk, staring into the ruined shell of a building that was once described as "Carnegie Hall for Cantors." Everyone had their cameras out-- snapping pictures of the remaining back wall, which still had the stained glass and undamaged bema.
The shul's demise has even gained enough local interest to spawn its own conspiracy theories:
We've heard lots of conspiracy theories that the congregation allowed the roof to deteriorate in order that it would collapse and give them an excuse to sell the building. Let's hope that's not true.
One would certainly hope.

What I find so interesting is the obvious pain the shul's destruction is causing for its neighborhood - and not necessarily solely from the Orthodox sector. Another point that occured to me is that I vividly remember all the anger and despair that was expressed in the blog world regarding the destruction of the shuls in Gush Katif after the disengagement. I admit freely that there is a distinction here, namely that those shuls were deliberately destroyed simply for the sake of their destruction, and this shul fell into disrepair due to neglect. Still and all, I would have expected to see some distress expressed somewhere in the blogosphere by those who were so pained last summer by the destruction of shuls 6,000 miles away. Stripped of all its political significance, is the destruction of a shul an equally terrible event no matter where and when it occurs? Shouldn't it be?

Monday, March 06, 2006

Has The Lawrence Teachers Association Gone Mad?

Dr. Asher Mansdorf is a well-known local dentist with a busy practice. So why in the world is the Lawrence Teachers Association picketing outside his office? Are they demanding better dental benefits?

(caption on yellow sign in above photo: Dr. Mansdorf, Don't destroy our Public Schools!)

(caption on yellow sign in above photo: Dr. Mansdorf, you're responsible for All children!)

No. These teachers are picketing in front of Dr. Mansdorf's office because he is a member of the Lawrence School Board. Now, anyone who has been reading this blog for a while probably remembers the unfortunate battle that has been going on in the Lawrence public school system (background and previous posts here). And this is not the first time that the Lawrence teachers have picketed in a manner that I found reprehensible. Just a few months ago, they protested outside a Yeshiva during class hours, distracting the students and disrupting their learning for the day (post here). But this is too much. Interfering with the livelihood of a man who has committed much of his free time to public service - a post into which he was elected by a very comfortable margin in a vote that included the entire community - really is way over the line. Did the LTA protest at all of the board members' (read: non-private school) places of business? I will believe it when I see it.

Another point which I need to address is the inflammatory language on the protestors' signs :
Dr. Mansdorf, Don't destroy our Public Schools!

Dr. Mansdorf, you're responsible for ALL children!

I have been following this feud for a long time. And one constant that seems to exist is the fingerpointing that is always going on as to which "side" (Public school or private school) is more actively creating the bad blood here. Well. I don't think it takes a genius to figure that one out when looking at these pictures. To target a School Board member solely because he is a member of the private school community, with loaded statements printed on signs that imply that somehow he is giving short shrift to the community he is not a member of, and to do so at his place of work is clearly a tactic that is meant to inflame already raw tempers. I am well aware that as Americans, we have the right to protest. But where is the line here? Are they entitled to protest outside the school board members' homes? Their kids' hockey practice? The inalienable right to protest does not take away the obligation these teachers have to act responsibly.

I can just imagine the fire the Orthodox community would draw if they resorted to similar tactics. What would happen if Orthodox parents decided to picket in front of the Lawrence public schools with similarly provocatively worded signs? Ha. I can only envision the tempest that would create.

Update: Here is the flyer distributed by the teachers' association at the protest, which selectively quotes no less an authority than the Times' columnist the Ethicist as support (here is the actual column). Next week the LTA should ask him about the ethics of interfering with the livelihood of an unpaid public servant.

Purim Parodies

Jameel has started a very funny (and ambitious) bit of Purim fun: parodies of a bunch of J-blogs, in individual blog form, written by various bloggers who remain anonymous (at this time). So far, Mirty's is up, as well as the one of my blog (this post is particularly hilarious). I've even written a parody that will be posted by Jameel and his volunteers at some point, but I won't say which! Check it out, and have fun.

Boycott Update

To my commenters who argued so vociferously that there's no reason to throw this guy off of the Javits Center project: the architect himself disagrees with you. Not only has he clearly distanced himself from the group that proposed a boycott of Israel, he went even further:
Embattled British architect Lord Richard Rogers yesterday called on Hamas to not only renounce terrorism, but to "back it up" by recognizing Israel's right to exist.

Rogers, in line to be awarded contracts on two major New York projects, has been under fire from some Jewish leaders and elected officials for allegedly aligning himself with a pro-Palestine architects group.

But yesterday, he firmly declared his pro-Israel position.

"Hamas must renounce terrorism," Rogers told The Post. "Hamas must recognize Israel's right to exist. Just making a statement is not enough. They have to back it up."

He said a starter should be holding "a press conference, don't just make a fig-leaf statement."

I cannot for the life of me understand how it is difficult for some people to comprehend that those who encourage action on views as reprehensible as the boycott group's should not be given huge amounts of government funds. As a taxpayer, that galls me. This isn't just about making someone ineligible to bid for a government project due to his politics - this is about a person who was ((though now he has backed down on those actions) acting on those politics by supporting an inti-Israel boycott.

I, for one, am thrilled that some of our local lawmakers refused to back down on this until Lord Jacobs declared his unequivocal support for Israel's right to exist:
Rep. Anthony Weiner, a Democrat from New York who ran unsuccessfully for mayor last year, said yesterday he thought Lord Rogers's association with Architects and Planners for Justice in Palestine should disqualify him from working on the Javits Convention Center.

"I think the activities of Mr. Rogers and his organization should render him not qualified to do the work on the Javits Center," Mr. Weiner said. "An organization that advocates an economic boycott of Israel is one we should not be getting in bed with.

"Mr. Rogers is free to have his views, and he is free to serve as a member of this organization, but that doesn't mean he should be getting large amounts of taxpayer dollars from the taxpayers of the state of New York. Surely we can find an architect with less abhorrent views."

After Weiner's statements, and ones from Sheldon Silver, Lord Jacobs "clarified" his position on Israel.

Friday, March 03, 2006

More Jewish Celebrity Tidbits

This is a odd little bit of news (scroll down for 2nd item):
Jailed rapper Shyne is legally changing his name to Moses Michael Leviy - and he's taking out a classified ad in The Post tomorrow to make it official. Shyne, who hopes to get out of Clinton Correctional Facility upstate next year, was born Jamaal Michael Barrow in 1978. The Belize-born rhymer converted to Judaism while locked up and now claims to be descended from Ethiopian Jews. Shyne was sentenced to 10 years for his role in a 1999 shooting at Times Square nightspot Club NY that left three people wounded. His former mentor, Sean "Diddy" Combs, and Combs' then-girlfriend, Jennifer Lopez, fled the scene after the wild melee, but only Shyne got sent to the slammer.
I wonder how the kosher meals are over at Clinton Correctional Facility. And you think this is one of those prisons that has a daily minyan? Well, anyhow, Shyne - er, Moses - can now officially join the ranks of the Jewish and not-quite-as-Jewish celebrities in the news.

Update: In a weird coincidence, I just checked my inbox for the first time in a few days and found this link from Must Gum Addict.

Quite The Correction

From the NYT Corrections (emphasis mine):
March 1, 2006, Wednesday. The Istanbul Journal article on Feb. 14 about ''Valley of the Wolves -- Iraq,'' a popular Turkish-made film that depicts American soldiers in Iraq as tyrannical occupiers, referred imprecisely to scenes cited by the screenwriter as ''inspired by real events.'' While two such scenes -- the killing of Iraqis by American soldiers and the mistreatment of inmates at Abu Ghraib prison -- have been documented, the scene depicting an American Jewish surgeon at Abu Ghraib removing organs from Iraqi prisoners for shipment to recipients in New York, London and Israel is fictional.
Well, yes. I would say that depicting a Jewish doctor stealing Iraqi prisoners' organs to send to Jewish recipients as being "inspired by real events" is a bit "imprecise".


Thursday, March 02, 2006


Interesting new development in the WJC case that has been receiving coverage in the J-blogosphere for a while now. Isi Leibler, the failed whistleblower behind the allegations that began the whole saga, has apparently backtracked on many of his cries of foul on the part of the WJC's leadership. Evidently, as Krum points out, one of Leibler's e-mails was posted last week at Mentalblog. A few hours later, the post with the text of the e-mail was apparently taken down by the siteowner, with no explanation. Within days, Leibler sent out a retraction in a new mass e-mail. Seems to me like a case of damage control. After Leibler realized that his first, clearly libelous e-mail, was made public on Mentalblog, especially in the wake of the $6 million libel lawsuit filed against him by the WJC, he shifted gears into reverse - and fast.

How much do you want to bet that Gary Rosenblatt, who as Krum points out, had been treating Leibler as a reliable source well after he had been discredited by the OAG report (and now discredited himself by his very own admission), will not publish any part of this e-mail. What's Gary's excuse going to possibly be for not reporting on this e-mail? That he doesn't publish stories based on e-mails of mysterious provenance? Oh, right. He does.

What really galls me is this line that Leibler put into his latest e-mail:
I apologize for intruding on you regarding this matter - but you will appreciate that when confronted with a $ 6,000,000 libel suit, I must ensure that any communication I make is unequivocal and not open to any possible factual error or misinterpretation.
I'm glad he is being so careful these days. Or, as Krum so brilliantly put it:
As opposed to times when I am not confronted with a $6 million libel suit, when I have no problem lying my ass off.
This point from his e-mail is troubling as well:
I trust it is clearly understood that being at the brunt of a vicious $ 6 million libel suit, I am not being vindictive when I am obliged to expose the behavior and motivations of those initiating this unseemly libel suit, even if it provides additional grist for the media mills.
Is the implication that he withheld information when testifying before the Attorney General? That would only serve to further discredit Leibler as a source, if it is even true (which seems extremely unlikely).
And this point:
It is also clear that despite their bitter recent experience, the WJC has yet to appreciate the sanctity of public funds. The mere filing of such a flamboyant law suit incurs court costs of $150,000, excluding legal fees and other associated expenses.
I cannot begin to estimate how much the investigation and concurrent trial in the press cost the WJC, which was instigated solely by the machinations of this man. I am sure that he will claim that it was done for the good of the public, though I have difficulty agreeing that an expensive and very public inquiry into an organization that was already years deep into working to improve their governance is a slam-dunk use of taxpayers money. It is clear, however, that the same mindset that allowed Mr. Leibler to justify causing the WJC to have to spend obscene amounts of donors money to defend itself against his allegations - which he now admits to have been exaggerated, should allow the WJC to attempt to recoup some of those lost funds by making their case against Leibler in the courts.

All this development goes to show is that even though we've thankfully come a long way from sweeping every scandal that affects our community under the carpet, each whistleblower's claim must be examined both on merit and on the credibility of the accuser. I think we can do better than "shooting first and asking questions later".

Related: Full text of Leibler's e-mails and subsequent retraction at Canonist.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

More Boycott News

Fresh on the heels of this story, I had the "pleasure" of reading this one this morning:
The lead architect tapped to head the $1.7 billion redesign of the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center last month hosted the founding meeting of an association of professional building designers considering a boycott against Israel.

On February 2, Richard Rogers gave his office space for the inaugural meeting of Architects and Planners for Justice in Palestine in his London headquarters.

A statement from the new organization released on February 9 condemns any individual or company working on "occupied territory" as violating their professional ethics and being complicit in promoting "an apartheid system of environmental control."

Sigh. It doesn't surprise me that anti-Israel sentiment exists in this world, and that it manifests itself in the way of boycotts. That is nothing new. What I find so hard to believe is that the US government, both on a national and local level, finds it acceptable to hire companies and individuals who so clearly and publicly show their anti-Israel colors. I still have some hope that NY will back out of the Javits deal - the article seems to imply that they are considering their wiggle room in that direction. But our dear President of the rapidly plummeting approval ratings seems to be inexplicably digging in his heels in support of the ports deal, even in the face of the revelations that the Dubai company is an active and proud participant in the anti-Israel boycott.

Anyone else feeling a little abandoned by our government these days? Used to be that the US government, as opposed to the governments of Europe, was the only one that could be counted on to stand up against these types of anti-Israel sentiments. Seems like things might be changing around here. Scary.