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Friday, June 30, 2006

Asheri Funeral Recap

Chayyei Sarah attended the funeral of Eliyahu Asheri, the Itamar teenager who was abducted and brutally murdered by Palestinians this week. Her recap is here.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Reports of Racial Steering by Local Real Estate Agents

Wonderful story in this week's Nassau Herald about allegations of racism and discrimination on the part of a local real estate agency. The National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) and Long Island Housing Services claim that in an undercover sting operation, they uncovered discriminatory acts by local real-estate agents working for Julia Stevens Realty in Hewlett. Some examples:
During a June 21 press conference at the Five Towns Community Center in North Lawrence, NFHA president Shanna Smith outlined numerous examples of intolerance shown by Julia Stevens Realty agents, including steering African-American undercover agents posing as buyers to areas with large minority populations like Inwood and Valley Stream. Smith also said that during the undercover operation, which spanned from 2004 to this past January, whites were steered to homogenous white communities such as Hewlett, Lynbrook and East Rockaway. In addition, agents made negative comments abour Jews to both white and African-American testers and allegedly discouraged non-Jewish whites from considering neighborhoods with a large Jewish populations like Cedarhurst.

...Smith said examples of racial-steering included agents making remarks to black testers about how great the Valley Stream and Malverne districts were (both enroll a large percentage of minority students), but to white prospective home buyers an agent from the company would say the opposite.

...NFHA officials said one example of anti-Semitism uncovered in their sting operation came when a female agent drove a white tester past her own home in Hewlett and pointed to a picture of Jesus that a relative had placed in the window, saying it was there to "show the Jews". The same agent later said it was good to have some Jews in the neighborhood, adding that "they have a lot of money and they would never sell their homes to blacks, thereby keeping the property values up,"...
Nice. I have no doubt that this type of steering of different buyers to different neighborhoods based on demographics is an age-old practice. But it's another thing entirely when you see these kinds of tactics uncovered.

More on this investigation's findings in Newsday:
Steering also occurred during checks on the agency's rental offerings, it said. For instance, white testers looking to rent a home were told that a price might be negotiable, while black testers were told there wasn't any room for negotiation, said Michelle Santantonio, the executive director of Long Island Housing Services, a fair housing organization in Bohemia.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Unconfirmed Reports Of Kidnapped Teen's Execution

From JPost:

An unconfirmed report from the Popular Resistance Committees said early Thursday that it executed 18-year-old Eliyahu Asheri, an Israeli settler kidnapped earlier in the week in the West Bank.

The group, which has links to the ruling Hamas, had threatened to execute the Israeli if Israel did not halt its invasion of Gaza.

Earlier Wednesday, Israel's fears came true Wednesday when a spokesman for the PRC in the Gaza Strip revealed an authentic copy of missing teenager Asheri's identity card to the press, confirming claims that he had been kidnapped.

Please make it not be true. There are no words.

Update: The IDF believes that a body found in a Ramallah Wadi belongs to Asheri.

Another Kidnapping

This is disastrous. The release of an identification card has confirmed the kidnapping of a teenager from Itamar, on top of the kidnapped soldier already in custody of the Palestinian terrorists. Please have them both in your Tefillot.

Update: The soldier's name is Gilad ben Aviva, I do not know the teenager's full name, so until someone leaves it in comments, please have him in your Tefillot as Eliyahu Pinchas Asheri.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Anti-Semitism Alive and Well in Lawrence? - UPDATED

I posted a few weeks back about the brave words of a Lawrence High School student, Ilana Yurkiewicz, who bemoaned her experiences with teachers in her school who she claimed tolerated anti-Semitic and anti-Orthodox sentiments expressed by her fellow students in the wake of the recent divisive school board elections. Outrageously, she was called a liar by a teacher in her school in the pages of the very same local paper a week later, even as he spent the rest of his statement excusing and being an apologist for the very sentiments he claimed to "know" had never happened.

Now, apparently, this courageous young woman has suffered yet again for her choice to speak out against what she perceived as an injustice. From a source who attended the Lawrence High School graduation ceremonies:
That young lady from LHS, Ilana Yurkiewicz, was valedictorian and spoke all about speaking out in the face of injustice and "if you see something, say something"

She was booed and jeered.
No word from the operative on who, exactly, did the jeering and booing, but any further information on the incident would be greatly appreciated.

Update: Here is a comment from a commenter who claims to be Ilana's sister:
I'm Ilana's sister, so if anyone was especially attuned to possible jeering, it was me. My family and I were sitting directly next to the teachers' section, and we have Ilana's entire speech (including the interruption) on videotape. During her speech, I did not notice any movement or shuffling or hissing in the teachers' section or onstage. Everyone, at least from my vantage point, seemed to give my sister utmost respect during the speech. She mentioned that when she first read Martin Niemöller's quote, she heard a little bit of rustling, but nothing major. The speech went on fine after that, until the last four lines. While she paused for dramatic effect, someone in the audience screamed out, "and then they came for the Palestinians!" He was shushed, and Ilana ignored him and eloquently finished her speech. She was cheered and sat down.

Then principal Touretz got up on stage to warn the audience about decorum while many people booed as the heckler left the auditorium. It seemed clear to me that they were jeering him and not Ilana. Of course, I cannot speak for the entire audience, but from my experience and from the videotape, I believe that account is accurate. Ilana was congratulated for her speech by many people after the ceremony.

Our family really appreciates the support you all have been giving Ilana. From someone who usually only hears the public school side, it is nice to hear kind words for Ilana from others. Thanks again, and I hope my account clears things up.
If this version is true (again, to me, it just hearsay - just like the first version, and all of the others left ion the comments), then it is a newsworthy event in and of itself. It's shocking that someone would get up and scream a pro-Palestinian comment in the middle of a speech given by someone that he obviously considers a pro-Jewish "collaborator" - simply because she spoke out in a way that defended the rights of Jews not to be openly denigrated, with the tacit support of teachers, in our schools. If that's how it hapened, that's pretty sick as well.

Pulsa Denura Redux

Here we are again, one year later, with some extremist Rabbis in Israel still attempting to curse their elected officials with death via a "Pulsa Denura" ceremony.


Bad Education

This post at DovBear, taken from a commenter, makes me want to scream. An excerpt:
Case in point. A parent I know with a son in a "black hat" mesivta told me that one day, the menahel comes into the office, where there's a big mess because, I believe, some of the hanhola had a breakfast meeting, and he bellows "I NEED A GOY TO COME AND CLEAN THIS MESS UP!"

The fact of the matter is that like most yeshivas, this one's maintenance staff was totally comprised of non-Jews --but he did not say "I needs a janitor," or "I need a custodian" or "I need a maintenance man" -- he said "I NEED A GOY".

The obvious implication of his wording being that even though frum Yidden made the big mess, their neshamas are too holy, refined and pure to clean it up, and besides that, it would be "bittul Torah" -- precious time that could be spent teaching or learning Torah, wasted doing such menial chores.

The other implication, of course, is that the so-called "goyim" (and God, how I, as a Jew, despise that noxious term and anyone ignorant enough to spit it out with such clear contempt!) are fit to do nothing else in this world but to follow the Yidden around with a broom, doing the dirty work that the Yidden are supposedly too good to do. I have no doubt that many of the people in the office probably had not much use for the so-called "goyim" either -- but this guy was so obvious and over-the-top in his bigotry that even they burst out and started laughing at the pompous, pretentious SOB. I don't know if he picked up that they were laughing AT him, not WITH him.
Hey, Rabbi Menahel, if you have racist attitudes, fine. Just leave them at home, please.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Tragic Raid

Please have in mind in your Tefillot Gilad ben Aviva, the Israeli soldier kidnapped yesterday in Gaza, and pray for his safe return.

Unfortunately, there is such no hope for his fellow soldiers tragically killed in the raid. Baruch Dayan HaEmet.

Ultra-Orthodox Attorneys

A new Ultra-Orthodox program at Kiryat Ono Academic College is producing thousands of Charedi students with law and business degress, both men and women.
These ultra orthodox lawyers represent a quiet revolution-taking place in that community in recent years. They are going out to work. Among the 40 new lawyers are the children of religious regional council officials and rabbinical scholars. 140 additional attorneys in training are currently doing their internships.

Oy Gevalt! A tank top

The campus looks like a shtetl. Standards of modesty are strictly adhered to. The men and women study on separate days. Lecturers are asked to apply self-censorship in their communications with students and to dress modestly. A lecturer who arrived in a tank top was asked by the students to wear more modest attire.

The course began in 2002 and 1,500 have already enrolled in the law faculty, business administration, computers and accounting. There is a preparatory course in which students improve their skills in math, English, Hebrew etc. The course is offered to married people only. In order to ensure the men do not abandon Torah studies, acceptance to the school requires the permission of the head of the Kollel religious seminary with which the potential student is affiliated.

I find this very heartening. I have been worried for some time now about the direction the Charedi word has been taking, particularly in Israel, with regard to the social acceptability of earning a living. Though sitting in Yeshiva and learning has always been the ideal for the very learned and pious of the community, the choice to do so has become more of a standard, creating a financial crisis of ballooning proportions.

The thought that there is increased acceptance, and now resources such as this program, for the Ultra-Orthodox in the community who do not feel that they are "cut out" for the Kollel lifestyle - or more fascinatingly, their wives, who choose to support the family, is something of a relief.

In addition to being role models for financial responsibility, these new lawyers actually bring some very valuable perspective to the courtroom:
Two days before graduation, the new lawyers visited the Supreme Court. They entered the various courtrooms and imagined the time when they would be litigating. The last time they visited the Supreme Court was six years ago in a demonstration of the ultra orthodox community against the court. Now there are on the other side of the barricade, but it appears that their legal studies have not changed their attitude towards the Supreme Court.

Yonni Faloch, whose mother is the Prime Minister’s Advisor on Ultra Orthodox community, said that the Supreme Court doesn’t understand the needs of his community. “Their rulings do not stem from an anti religious bias: whoever thinks so is misguided. I believe that at some point ultra orthodox judges will sit on the Supreme Court bench and that will minimize the polarization in the society. We will have a presence in courtrooms and people will get to know us. They will understand that the ultra orthodox do not have horns – just beards and moustaches.”
One complication that the article points out is questions about whether the new attorneys are going to take on clients who do not observe Shabbat and Kashrut, and as of now, they choose not to prosecute cases that does not relate in some way to Torah, though they can defend them.

Hatzlacha to these trailblazers.

Hattip: Jameel, who is the place to go for info on the Israeli soldier who was kidnapped yesterday.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

I Am Not Making This Up

I'm certainly a believer in the power of prayer, but in my opinion, this ad, from this week's Hamodia, takes the concept way too far. The text:
There are many ways to get from Point A to Point B this summer.
s one way to make sure you get there safely.

Ordinary insurance can provide financial insurance in case of an accident, but Shmirah Bidrachim prevents accidents from happening in the first place.

For just pennies a day, you and your family will receive the ultimate protection from harm while traveling.

For a minimal fee of 40 cents a day, two thousand children recite select tehillim and additional special tefilos of pretection for each policy holder.

In exchange, your fee will help provide a Jewish child with a License to Suceed in life by getting the best possible Torah education.

Shemirah Bedrachim is supported by leading Rabbonim including Hagaon Harav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, shlita, Hagaon Harav Ovadia Yosef, shlita, Hagaon Harav Shmuel Halevi Wosner, shlita, among others.

List of Benefits:
  • Free Tefilas Haderech bookletFree Certificate of Protection
  • Protect your family from harm while traveling
  • Special 2-month Summer Package
  • Help provide Jewish children with a Torah education
Now, I am certainly in support of donations to "help provide Jewish children with a Torah education". And I fully believe that giving Tzedakah is one of those good deeds that certainly couldn't hurt when it comes to ensuring God's protection. But for this instituition to solicit that sort of charity, and give this promise of safety in return as some kind of slam-dunk assurance of safe travel is, um...not something I would feel comfortable relying upon. The tone of the ad offers the protection against injury or accident as a bit too much of a sure bet, with language like "one way to make sure you get there safely", and "Shemirah Bidrachim prevents accidents from happening in the first place", and this testimonial, from a satisfied customer, to boot:
I was heading home during my regular evening commute from the hospital, when out of nowhere, a huge SUV slammed into the side of my car. It sounded like a bomb had detonated right next to me.

I don't remember much from the incident, but I should not have walked away without a scratch. But I did.

And I can only attribute it to my Shemirah Bidrachim Insurance Policy.

It saved my life.

Are we really to believe, as the language implies, that this protection is absolutely guaranteed? Well, not even the organization behind the offer believes that, apparently. The CYA fine print on the bottom of the ad makes that quite clear:
This agreement is a mere spiritual agreement! It does not constitute any grounds for the Insured to claim money from the Ashdod Mercaz Chinuch Project or anyone affiliated with this campaign.

People, if you are going to rely upon this particular insurance policy for your traveling safety this summer, I have a few tips that might boost the efficacy of your purchase: drive carefully, buckle up, and observe traffic laws.

New E-mail Address

As an FYI to any of my readers who might need to e-mail me for any reason, I have finally had enough of Hotmail. I switched to a Gmail account, and the link in my sidebar has been updated to reflect the new account info. Please contact me there in the future. Thanks.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Ann Coulter Lunacy Watch

Once again, just for fun, I am linking to some of the more egregious of one of my least favorite people Ann Coulter's offensive attention-grabbing antics. Here's a clip from a radio show where she really sounds like she's going off the deep end, and some words from her latest column that some claim fall into the category of incitement. Enjoy.

Summer Fever

The NY Times tells us something we all know. It is almost impossible to keep the kids focused on schoolwork once the weather warms up. And I can just forget about getting them to spend any meaningful amount of mental energy on homework. I'm just glad that school's out. At least the farce that the last few weeks has been is over.

Now it's on to packing trunks. Only slightly more fun than forcing the kids to come in from playing outside to do homework. Wish me luck.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Some Proof That Yeshivas Don't Offer Classes In Journalism

Headline from page 6 of today's edition of the ultra-Orthodox publication Hamodia:

For The Third Time, A Lawyer For Saddam Hussein Is Assassinated

Wow. How many more lives do you think this lucky guy's gonna get?

Distressing Dispatch on Kiruv

Avraham points me to an upsetting piece in Dei'ah V'Dibur, taken from a talk "given by the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivas Beer Yaakov about the danger of dialogue and connection with those who have cast away Torah and mitzvos."
In truth, there are some who think that we need to speak to them and discuss all these matters with them, and to see where we have a common denominator. For after all, we are brothers. They think that drawing our hearts closer together is a great mitzvah.

However, we see an amazing thing in recent years. The more the chareidim draw close to them, the more their desire to uproot religion grows. In all matters that the chareidim entered into a discussion with them, their demands only increased. On the contrary, it is precisely in those areas that they know we have no intention of compromising about and would never enter into negotiations about, that we have had siyata deShmaya to succeed.

We must remain with ours and they with theirs. There is no place for kiruv and discussion in matters of Torah and mitzvos. Our life style is not a subject that is open for discussion, argument, or compromise. Our brothers who are erring in their ways have no way to understand our path in chinuch, which is according to the Torah. What can be understood from speaking with them about this? Only a negative influence could result from this, G-d forbid.

Even in the methods of educating for proper behavior and derech eretz, one could think — incorrectly — that there is no difference between the way of Torah chinuch and the secular educational system, and in this we may discuss things with them. However, this is a bitter mistake! Our derech eretz and our culture do not come from good chinuch in these matters. Rather, everything comes from the Torah and our erring brothers have no understanding of this at all.

Now, I can fully understand the idea of feeling that not every member of the Charedi community is strong enough in their convictions to attempt dialogue with those who are non-observant. But to hold a blanket view that is completely anti-Kiruv is just so sad, in my opinion. Yes, there are anti-religious people in the world, and there is a chance that if they came into contact with a member of the community that is doubtful or wavering in their beliefs, that person could be easily convinced to "walk" from the Charedi lifestyle. But to present this as an across-the-board piece of advice to an entire community? That is just so painful to me. I have many friends that are Baalei Teshuva. They are inspired and valued members of their community. In many ways, they are more deeply and spiritually religious than many of my friends who were raised observant. Myself included.

Are we to extrapolate that they are negligible in their contributions to our community? I refuse to do so. I can understand the limits of immersing oneself in Kiruv activities. I would not be rushing, for example, to send my young teens out, alone, to parties given by their non-Orthodox counterparts with a mission of "being a light unto others". That would be hopelessly naive. But I will continue to do as I have been doing all my life, and remain involved in Kiruv to the degree that I feel comfortable. I will continue to invite non-Orthodox friends and colleagues from my office or my husband's for Shabbat meals. Nothing makes my children glow like being asked to "show the ropes" to an adult who for once, knows less about their ritual and beliefs thean they do. Every step of the Mitzvot that we perform on a Friday night such as Kiddush on the wine, Hamotzi on the Challah, and Birkat Hamazon takes on more meaning for my family as we are required to explain the basis and meaning of each throughout the meal. My children are forced to take the weekly Divrei Torah taught to them by their Rebbes and teachers in school, and translate them in a way that makes it that much less rote of a performance. And you know what? Every time I do it, every time I welcome those who are less observant than we are into our home, I feel closer to my religion. When I see a newly religious person struggling through the Birkat Hamazon with so much concentration or a person with no background in Judaism reading it in English, focusing on the meaning of the words, it just makes me say it with more concentration, and appreciate every word more than I find myself doing on a regular Shabbat meal when it's just my family, or when I host friends that have been raised Orthodox.

Kiruv is not simply something we do to help others, It is something we do for the benefit it provides to us as a family and to our spirituality.

To say, as quoted in the piece above, that from attempting to be Mekarev Rechokim, "only a negative influence could result from this" is a very narrow view, when all the positives that I outlined above are taken into account. I know that such views are popular in segments of the Charedi world. I detest them nonetheless. I consider myself blessed to have been raised in an Orthodox lifestyle. I view it as a privilege for myself and my children to share our blessings.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Yet More School Board Drama

Newsday wasted no time in covering the story of last night's eleventh-hour contract signing by the outgoing board. The piece also adds credence to rumors that had been floating in the lively comment section of my previous post of an attempt to bring this before the courts to prevent the contract from being signed.
A new teacher's contract approved last night became the latest skirmish in a bitter struggle over control of the Lawrence school board, which will soon be led by an Orthodox Jewish majority that has been sharply critical of district spending.

With just two weeks before the new majority takes over, the rancor between public and private school advocates, many of them from the Orthodox community, landed in court yesterday as three sitting board members unsuccessfully sought a court order to block the vote on the teachers' contract.
This passage sums up my feelings on the matter:
The meeting was the last before the new majority takes control of the board, and many private school advocates said they are suspicious of the sudden resolution of a contract dispute that has been going on for a year.

"Tonight, the letter of the law was, in fact, upheld but the spirit of the law was trampled upon," said Michael Hattan, one of the new members who will be sworn in next month.
I agree completely. This last-minute contract deal saddled the incoming board with a massive financial responsibility, and it did so in a manner that was clearly against the mandate inicated by the voters in the the elections just last month.

One point in the piece that I find extremely disingenuous is the following two paragraphs:
The three board members who sought the court order were Asher Mansdorf, Murray Forman and David Sussman. Forman and Mansdorf will, along with two new members to be sworn in on July 5, comprise the new Orthodox majority on the panel.

...Sussman was booed when he spoke against the contract.

"We have a lot of problems in the district and this contract leaves us in the lurch," he said. "We have not adequately discussed how we are going to pay for it."
The reporter spend a lot of column space setting the stage for the "fact" that the rancor exists solely between the Orthodox and the public school community. Yet that is not the case. David Sussman is neither Orthodox nor a private school parent. The man sends his children to Lawrence public schools, yet somehow, when he makes a point that sums up the fiscal irresponsibility on the part of the outgoing board in signing this contract, it is dismissed as merely "tensions on the board". And when the reporter mentions the fact that three board members voted against the contract, it mentions the Orthodox status of 2 of the 3 - but glosses over the non-Orthodox status of the third?

Does it occur to anyone that perhaps, this isn't about one segment of the community looking to shaft the district's students, but maybe, just maybe, it's an alliance of likeminded people from all segments of the community looking to create a healthy, sustainable, financial environment so that going forward, the needs of all the district children can be met?

In a bit of refreshing honesty, one school board member actually speaks up about the motives behind the manner in which the contract was sneaked in under the wire:
"Sometimes you have to grab hold of opportunities and the opportunity presented itself that the union was more willing to negotiate harder and give more back because of the political realities" of a new Orthodox Jewish majority on the board, said board member Pamela Greenbaum, one of the four members who supported the new contract.
Maybe if everyone were to start being more up-front about their motives and bring some honesty to the table, we can actually get somewhere when it comes to the common goal of helping our children.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Live-Blogging The School Board Meeting

True to the rumors I reported on here, the lame duck District 15 School Board voted tonight to approve a new teachers' contract, thus locking in 5 more years of bloated salaries and a lack of accountability, democracy be damned. The teacher's union turned out in force, as could be expected. The president of the board, Frank Parise, did not recuse himself from the vote even though his daughter, who is a teacher in the district, is a direct recipient of the provisions outlined in the new contract. I, and many others with whom I discussed the matter, think that it is a clear conflict of interest, and certainly does not pass the "smell test" - even if it were to come up in a district that isn't plagued with the rancor and enmity that exists here.

I also have to note that Mr. Parise mentioned yours truly, in response to the raising of a busing issue. He words: "I read all about it on Orthomom". My cheeks were burning.

Tragic Holocaust-Era Rabbinical Rulings Released

This article is fascinating, but more so, terribly sad.
Was it right to give a German soldier a gold watch in exchange to killing my father without torturing him? Is resorting to cannibalism allowed during famine in the ghetto? These are only two examples of dilemmas raised by Jews during the Holocaust and collected in more than 150 books throughout the years.

A CD containing the dilemmas was revealed for the first time Tuesday. It was produced by the Claims Conference (an organization representing global Jewry on issues of reparations against Germany and Austria) in association with Bar-Ilan University and the Netivei Halacha institute.
Some of the questions are tragic:
One example is the question of whether a Jew can use medications produced by the Nazis after experimenting on Jewish people. Rabbis determined at the time that despite it being a medication, one cannot make use of a person who was killed and therefore using this medication is forbidden and is considered desecration of the dead.

As far as consuming human flesh in situations of famine, which was the general condition in ghettos and concentration camps, the rabbis' instruction was that it is permitted only if it saves lives, but the general notion was that one should not resort to it as one would lose human character.

One of the issues featured in the CD is a case in which a father and son were beaten up by a German soldier. The soldier told the child that if he gave him the gold watch he was wearing he would have mercy on the father and would kill him with a gunshot without torturing him. The child handed his watch to the German soldier and "in exchange" the solder shot and killed the father.

...A question that many Jews asked during the Holocaust was whether it is allowed to get married at a time of war. Rabbis determined at the time that holding a marriage ceremony during wartime is unadvisable since many women could remain "agunot" (women who are bound in marriage to husbands that are missing or not proven dead). Additionally, rabbis said that single women could hide or better integrate in labor camps and therefore save their lives.
Hard to read, but I think it gives all of us, living our comfortable lives, a little perspective on the horrors faced by that generation.

Wal-Mart Jews

There's an interesting story in today's NY Times about how the Wal-Mart headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas has brought Jews to the area for jobs, changing the demographics of the town significantly.

When many of these Jews, called "Wal-Mart Jews" in the article, first moved to Bentonville, they were not affiliated at all, but moving to a city bereft of Jews changed that:
There were, for example, Betsy and Marc Rosen, who moved to Benton County from Chicago in 2000 after Mr. Rosen was offered a job in Wal-Mart's technology department. The family did not attend a synagogue in Chicago because, Mrs. Rosen said, "you didn't need a synagogue to have a Jewish identity." There were Jewish neighbors, Jewish friends, Jewish family.

But not in Bentonville, where her daughter brought home from day care a picture of Jesus to color in. Suddenly, a synagogue did not seem like a luxury anymore, but a necessity to preserve her family's Jewish heritage.
Bentonville, where, according to the article, natives knew next to nothing about Jews and Jewish life, are slowly being introduced to the details of Judaism that most non-Jewish residents of more diverse cities have always been familiar with.
Recruited from around the country as workers for Wal-Mart or one of its suppliers, hundreds of which have opened offices near the retailer's headquarters here, a growing number of Jewish families have become increasingly vocal proponents of religious neutrality in the county. They have asked school principals to rename Christmas vacation as winter break (many have) and lobbied the mayor's office to put a menorah on the town square (it did).

...Not everyone is ordering the knishes, but Christians throughout Benton County are slowly learning the complexities of Jewish life. Gary Compton, the superintendent of schools in Bentonville and a member of a Methodist church in town, has learned not to schedule PTA meetings the night before Jewish holidays, which begin at sundown, and has encouraged the high school choir to incorporate Jewish songs into a largely Christian lineup.
The piece talks about some challenges the new synagogue faces, one being the fact that the members are all from different denominations and at different observance levels, which has led to differences over questions such as whether to allow photography during services (yes). Another challenge the synagogue is facing is competition, from a Chabad Rabbi who headed over to Bentonville to hang up his shingle as soon as the Jewish community started to grow, offering Orthodox services and kosher meals - apparently an almost impossible-to-get amenity in Bentonville. high turnover also seems to be an issue.

The piece highlights how when Jews move to a town with no Jewish identity, it can bring changes to the town, as well as to the Jews themselves.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Study Released On Ashkenazi Feelings Of Superiority

The results of this study can't come as a shock to very many people who follow the travails Sephardim living in Israel face:
According to a study presented during a Van Leer Jerusalem Institute conference Monday, Ashkenazim consider their culture superior to that of the Sephardim.

Additional studies on the matter indicate that people of Ashkenaz origin tend to refer to themselves as “Ashkenazim,” while Sephardim usually define themselves as "Israelis.”

The number of Sephardim who deny their origin is larger than the number of Ashkenazim who are reluctant to admit to their European descent, the studies reveal.
I mean, why wouldn't Israelis admit to being of Sephardic lineage? Simply because they were prevented from attending their school of choice? Or perhaps because they are being barred from living in their neighborhood of choice:
Meet Rav and Shmuel Street in the ultra-Orthodox town of Kiryat Sefer in central Israel: A corner street, a great view, and lots of children with side curls playing around. But there is something else this street has: It is the only street in Israel where Jews of Middle Eastern descent are not allowed to move to.

The Brachfeld neighborhood's reception committee decided to ban additional Sephardic families from entering streets and buildings in which 35 percent of the tenants are Sephardic.

The reception committee recently decided that there are too many residents of Middle Eastern descent in some of Brachfeld's streets and buildings. Therefore, Sephardic Jews wishing to live in the town cannot live on Rav and Shmuel Street and are directed to other streets.
Reading this, does anyone have to ask why Sephardim are tragically feeling it necessary to cover up their rich heritage?

True Carpool Stories

I will admit that aside from getting the opportunity to personally check in with my child's teacher weekly, I don't find carpool to be in the least enjoyable. I've blogged about it before, and I haven't changed my tune. I really hate carpool. But here are a few choice vignettes I thought I'd share with my readers from over the years of doing carpools for my various children. Maybe getting these stories out of my system will be cathartic. Here goes:

When the mother of one of the girls in carpool came to strap her daughter in to the car, and another girl unceremoniously announced: "Mrs. ____, you're very fat." Mrs. ____ was not pregnant, by the way. Also, just to clarify, the girl who made the announcement was not my daughter.

The mother who would give a taffy to every kid in the carpool every morning when she would strap her son in. Well meaning, but who needs their kids to start the day of with an infusion of taffy, every day?

The mother who would ask one or another of the mothers in the carpool to fill in, regularly, and not ever be available to reciprocate.

The mother who had the gall to call me to fill in for her the morning after she made a gala Bar Mitzvah for her older son, and when I indicated that it would be very difficult for me to do so as I had a work committment, and that she should ask another parent from the carpool, she said "But they are all going to be up late at the Bar Mitzvah too!". Just a tip: If I am the only parent out of the five not invited to your Simcha, and you happen to request a favor of me, don't let the fact of my exclusion from your party drop during the conversation. It's just not advisable.

The mother who is never home at the end of the school day and creates a regular playdate for her daughter at the home of whoever is doing carpool - unilaterally. Did I mention she doesn't work? And that her daughter had intermittent accidents?

The child who slammed the door on another child's hand, causing a minor (but quite bloody) trauma. It was never ascertained whether the injured child was correct in his assertion that it was done on purpose.

The boy who would lead the car in a rousing chant of Tehillim every time he would hear a siren from an ambulance. (That one was sweet).

The mother who forgot she had switched carpool days, and left the kids waiting for more than an hour. (OK, that was me - but in all fairness, the mother who asked me to switch had asked me weeks before and never confirmed.)

Unfortunately, by far my best one can't be told, for risk of compromising my anonymity (it's that good).

Anyone have any of your own good ones to share?

Sunday, June 18, 2006

"Israel from Cairo to Damascus"

Section from an interview of Malcolm Hoenlein of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations on the Nachum segal show last Friday morning (clip here, at about the 12:50 mark):
Nachum Segal: Are you capable of stepping up and going against the organizations you represent, Mr. Hoenlein, and by the way, my question is a follow-up to that. If you would have, would it have stopped that disengagement? Would Jews still be living in Gaza, if Malcolm Hoenlein would have gotten up from 6,000 miles away and said "this is outrageous" and by the way, on this program you've said many times how you, personally, are against all types of disengagement. You've made that comment-
Hoenlein: I want Israel from Cairo to Damascus. It's that simple.
Segal: You're like the enemy. You're the only guy brave enough to be like the enemy.
Where do I even begin. First of all, the idea that had Hoenlein gotten up, from 6,000 miles away, as Segal puts it, and opposed the disengagement, that his opposition to the pullout would have somehow stopped it in its tracks is laughable.

Second, the comment itself. The elephant in the room. The statement, that he wants "Israel from Cairo to Damascus. It's that simple.", and that having been his reason for his not speaking up in opposition of the Gaza disengagement. This is just crazy, on so many levels. The fact that he even said what he said is just shocking. In the current tense political climate that exists in the Middle East, for a leader that stands in representation of 52 Jewish Organizations and is ostensibly the spokesman for American Jewry to say this?? Does anyone think that any of the organizations that Hoenlein represents would ever put themselves behind his statement? A public statement that is completely beyond the pale from even most right-wing American Jewish Organizations?

Third, Mr. Segal's assertion that somehow, by saying, almost a full year after the disengagement has come and gone, that somehow Mr. Hoenlein is "brave" for speaking up now? Because he speaks "like the enemy", he is brave? Last I checked, the rhetoric of wanting to throw all Jews out of Israel is precisiely the kind of rhetoric "the enemy" is constantly being excoriated for using.

Publicly, Hoenlein purports to be supportive of the Israel government in their actions, but when pandering to a right-wing American Orthodox Jewish audience, he shows his real politics. He's absolutely entitled to his views, however, they seem to be well outside the mainstream. Is this the man who should represent US Jewry?

Hattip: Canonist

School Board Sneakiness

The outgoing school board in our district has one last meeting scheduled for this Tuesday evening before the newly elected board is seated.

Rumors abound that they will attempt to sign a new teacher's contract in the eleventh hour of their term, and indeed, a source close to the negotiations tells me that pushing through a new 5-year contract is definitely on the agenda for Tuesday night's board meeting. Clearly, this would be the last chance for the teachers union to negotiate another sweetheart deal along the lines of those they have negotiated in the past - giving them salaries that have consistently been among the highest in the state - a deal that they would have next to no chance of negotiating when the new board members promising fiscal responsibilty take their posts. The problem with the prospect of a last-minute deal is the clear fact that the voters have spoken regarding the district's misuse of taxpayers funds.

If underhandedly signing another bloated teachers' contract when the voters have spoken isn't a subversion of the will of the people, then I don't know what is. The public has clearly not given a mandate to the outgoing board to sign a contract that locks us in for another 5 years. The previous contract is one of the factors that has put this district into the precarious financial position we find ourselves in today. What many people from the so-called "public school community" may not realize is that the new bloated contract, which according to a source, includes the same much-criticized system of annual double pay raises for every teacher, no performance incentives (a concern in a district with such disappointing test scores), as well as a clause that caps class size (which would effectively prevent the district from closing any of its underutilized buildings as has been proposed as a huge source of revenue for the district, most recently just this past week by the school superintendent himself), is more likely to be the cause of cuts in programming and sports in the public schools than the austerity budget has been.

I am all for negotiating a competitive contract to entice the best teachers to stay in this district. But the outgoing board is treating this negotiation as if it were as simple an action for a lame duck elected official as a last-minute pardon by an outgoing president. And as an action that affects the financial health of the entire district, it isn't.

Father's Day Unobserved

My son came home from school on Friday not knowing that today was Father's Day. I find that interesting. His Rebbe and teacher of last year obviously felt it necessary to point out that "every day is Mother's Day", and thus, evidently, Mother's Day wasn't really a day to single out, but his teachers this year chose to recognize the day as a harmless if fake holiday, and even helped the class make a project as a token of appreciation for their hard-working mothers.

This morning, however, when I told my kids to say "Happy Father's Day" as their father returned from Shul, my son looked at me blankly. (My daughter was not as confused as her brother. Obviously, as Ultra-Orthodox as my daughter's school may be, they still keep up with the non-Jewish holidays). Fascinating. So in the scope of things, am I to assume that if one absolutely must observe a "goyische" holiday, only mothers are deserving of it - fathers need not apply for the homemade cards and coffee mugs.

Good to know.

Happy Father's day to all anyhow.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

A Post To Read

I am getting to this post recommendation a little later than I would have liked - but it remains a must-read. The always astute Sephardilady has some very eloquent criticisms of the shidduch-related expectations that have become de rigueur in the Yeshiva world. I think most readers will find it hard to disagree with her points. Give her a visit, read the post - and while you're at it, poke around her blog a bit. She's a very wise woman.

London Orthodox School Admits Non-Halachic Jews

This is a bit surprising:
The decision by a London-area Orthodox day school to admit students with only a Jewish father is provoking outrage in parts of the community.

King Solomon High School’s move brought a vehement reaction from some members of the local community, including Rabbi Alex Chapper, who said the policy “effectively recognizes the liberal definition of who is a Jew.”

The school’s action also has re-opened a debate about the future of publicly funded Jewish schooling in the face of shifting Jewish demographics in London and surrounding areas.

Rabbi James Kennard, King Solomon’s headmaster, defended the move. With a 2003 English law prohibiting state-funded religious schools from holding empty places for members of their own faith, the school had to seek solutions to fill the spaces or admit students with no Jewish ancestry.

Under the law, all schools must have 30 students in each classroom.

“It wasn’t our decision. The law dictates what we must do to fill our spots,” said Spencer Lewis, the school’s director of Jewish studies.

The decision apparently has met with much opposition in the London Orthodox community, with suggestions by a local Rabbi as to how the school could have tried to adopt other cost-cutting measures before this one.

But I can't imagine that this comment, by Rabbi Chapper, will endear him to many of the school's newest enrollees:
As alternatives, Chapper suggested removing a grade, reducing admission numbers or admitting students with no Jewish ancestry, adding that accepting Muslim students would be better than the current situation.
The first two examples would probably have gotten his point across without risking the offense and outrage his third suggestion is likely to cause.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Ann Coulter Is An Even Bigger Idiot Than I First Thought

I'm linking this stuff just for fun, because I hate Ann Coulter so darn much. Apparently, the junk that she spews out of her mouth isn't just unbelievably offensive - it isn't even original. Check out the (very credible) accusations against her of plagiarism here: (I, II, III)

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Endorsement Issues?

Ben Smith points out an interesting endorsement received by Eliott Spitzer, as reported in the Jewish Press:
Hoping for significant increases in government funding of yeshivas and day schools, representatives of more than 50 yeshivas from New York's five boroughs, under the banner of the United Federation of Torah Institutions, met in Brooklyn on Monday to endorse Attorney General Eliot Spitzer for Governor.
As many commenters to Ben's point out, nonprofit organizations that have 501c3 status are not allowed to endorse candidates, but there's no indication of whether the organization (United Federation of Torah Institutions) has that status. (Update: a commenter says they do not). What seems clear though, is that the Yeshivas that are under the umbrella of the organization certainly do. And though representatives of charitable organizations are allowed to endorse candidates as individuals, that would seem to be at odds with how this was done, according to the Jewish Press article, which quotes the organizer of the event boasting that the organization, which includes representatives from many Brooklyn Yeshivas, represents (there's that pesky word) 100,000 students in their endorsement of Spitzer:
Collectively, they represent 100,000 students, or 90% of the yeshiva children in the city, according to organizer Shiya Ostreicher.
That's also unusual as, as Ben points out, the Spitzer campaign hasn't publicized this endorsement at all. If these Rabbis really do represent thousands of people, why would the Spitzer campaign not seek publicity on what would seem to be a plum endorsement?

Ben also points this out in a later post:
Also, the Yeshiva group I blogged about this morning was founded just this April -- and incorporated by a lawyer who happens to be engaged to Spitzer's top fundraiser.
All of this reminds me of my post about questions raised over endorsements by Jewish organizations back during the Bloomberg campaign - though that event seemed to have kept the endorsements on an individual level, and not an organizational one.

Hitler Quotes In Yearbook

Check this out:
The principal of a Long Island high school has apologized to outraged parents after two students put quotations by Adolf Hitler underneath their senior yearbook photos.

The school will offer amended copies of the yearbook.

Classmates lobbied to keep the quotes by students Philip Compton and Chris Koulermos in the yearbook even after a faculty adviser counseled against it, a school source said.

Cute. Always nice to see a whole class working together for an important cause.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Great Article

New York Magazine put out their annual Best Doctors issue today, but this feature, about fascinating medical cases and how they were helped by their physicians, is what really grabbed my interest. I love this type of reading, and I never really caught on to the genre of medical shows like ER and Gray's Anatomy - they don't capture enough of the medical side for my tastes.

More of that type of reading can be found in these books, recommended by a friend who is equally addicted to stories of medical drama: Second Opinions, by Jerome Groopman and Complications, by Atul Gawande.

Newly Christened Cocktail

Shifra, sharp as always, comes up with a great name for the cocktail I "invented" and recommended. Warning: men, this is a very vaibishe drink - you are not going to be running to try this one, though your wives will probably love it.

Can You Hear This Sound?

This is cool. Teenagers have started to use a high-frequency ringtone that, apparently, adults are unable to hear:
The principle behind it is a biological reality that hearing experts refer to as presbycusis, or aging ear...
While most human communication takes place in a frequency range between 200 and 8,000 hertz (a hertz being the scientific unit of frequency equal to one cycle per second), most adults' ability to hear frequencies higher than that begins to deteriorate in early middle age.
Click here for a recording of the sound. I guess you're over the hill if you can't hear it, still young and hip if you can. (Amusingly, I was able to hear it clearly, as a high-pitched ringing sound, though Orthodad - only a few months older than me -heard nothing when I played it for him. My ears are young for their age, I guess).

Tell us in comments whether you were able to hear it, and put your age in (anonymously if you're concerned about anonymity).

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Precocious Standards of Modesty?

I had what I think of as a not-quite-dilemma today.

We had decided to drive my daughter to Brooklyn this morning, to have plans with her bunkmate from sleepaway camp last summer. Of late, they had been rekindling a phone friendship that had sort of petered out since last summer's declarations of being "Best Friends Forever". I guess they are preparing for being best friends forever again this summer - at least for the month of July.

I woke her up, and told her to get dressed in the outfit I had laid out on her desk chair. A few minutes later, she met me in the kitchen for breakfast, fully dressed. But dressed in a completely different outfit than the one I had selected for her to wear.

Which would have been fine had it simply been a matter of her exercising her fashion sense. But that's not why she told me she chose another outfit. Apparently, she had decided that the outfit I laid out for her did not have sleeves that she considered "long enough" to go see her friend in Brooklyn. As a matter of fact, she continued, she didn't really "feel comfortable" in that outfit at all, and wanted to wear only sleeves that reached below her elbow in the future. I explained to her that she might be reacting to the externals that she sees when she goes to visit her friend in Brooklyn, and that simply because her friend dresses a certain way does not mean she is required to comply with those external standards, and even if she felt more comfortable doing as the Brooklynites do, she should certainly should not feel compelled to do so when not visiting her friend's home neighborhood. To no avail. She is determined to banish all of her short sleeves and skirts, as well as her ankle socks, from her closet. And I (I am not proud to admit) am an unhappy mother.

Now I am well aware that a girl begging her parents to dress more modestly than they would expect would not by any means be looked at as a problem by most parents - whether Orthodox or non-Orthodox. And I fully understand that compared to other clothing requests that some parents put up with from their "tween" daughters, her desire for increased modesty is a veritable gift from God. But still. She attends a relatively Ultra-Orthodox school, where she is required to wear long sleeves and knee socks every day - even at her tender pre-Bat Mitzvah age. She will thus be dressing and accessorizing in these modest fashions for a long time to come. In sleepaway camp, the rules are the same. Knees and elbows covered for every camper.

So my thinking is, that soon enough, she is going to have to wear this kind of clothing all day, every day. I just worry that by imposing these extra layers of modest dress on herself at an age that is younger than her parents would expect it of her she will burn out on all this modesty at an earlier age than I would like her to. Does that make sense? Is my thinking on this ridiculous, to worry about the potential future of her wanting to foist off all these layers - when she is only a child? Am I overly fearful? Have my friend's complaints of their daughters trying to dress like the Orthodox Britney Spears unduly influenced my decisionmaking capabilities when it comes to my dear daughter?

I also can't deny my own reasons of wanting her to remain a little girl as long as possible. All of the complications that go hand-in-hand with the increased body awareness of teenagerhood is not a stage that I look forward to. So I admit to trying to push that milestone off as long as humanly possible.

But the question, readers, is - what do I do? Do I "let" her wear only long sleeves and knee socks - no matter the weather - even when I, myself don't necessarily set quite those standards for myself? Do I have a choice? But is she setting impossibly high standards for herself that are going to cause her to rebel in a manner that she may not have had she enjoyed her carefree years as a child a bit longer? Is this thinking, the nervous worrying that she will rebel at all, a twisted mentality?

Please, everyone, especially parents of "tweens", I would love to hear you weigh in.

Atheists Allowed at the Altar?

"True-Life Tales" are a weekly feature in the NY Times Magazine, part of the expanded Sunday edition. This week's tale is quite interesting. It discusses a boy whose Bar Mitzvah is "cancelled" by his Rabbi - after the invitations had gone out - apparently because he admitted that, he had "been insisting he's an atheist. He says he doesn't want a bar mitzvah if it means believing in God".

According to the story, the rabbi, who was Reform, would not allow the boy to go ahead with being called to the Torah unless he would agree to say that he believed in God. As I might have predicted, the Orthodox Synagogue they approached did not have any such compunction about allowing the Bar Mitzvah boy his fifteen minutes at the Bima (I had never heard anything about an explicitly stated requirement before an Orthodox Bar Mitzvah of the Bar Mitzvah having to announce one's belief in God), but the family still did not like what the Orthodox Rabbi was offering, ultimately pulling out before the deal was made:
A year passed. Michael's mother began conversations with a local Orthodox rabbi, who had a different approach from the Reform rabbi who had banished Michael. He told her that if her son was Jewish when he turned 13, he automatically became bar-mitzvahed. It didn't matter what he believed at the time — it was like a turkey timer that popped in his soul. The rabbi offered to briefly call Michael to the Torah on any given Tuesday at his synagogue. No one in the family got very excited about that option. A proper bar mitzvah celebration requires dancing in a conga line to the "Feelin' Hot Hot Hot!" song. An Orthodox synagogue on a Tuesday was no place for that.
Ultimately, the family found another synagogue, presumedly not an Orthodox one, to go ahead with the ceremony. All in all, an amusing piece.

My question is, is the standard of "believing in God" really required of Reform adolescents in order for them to be called to the Torah, and then go ahead with their "dancing in a conga line to the "Feelin' Hot Hot Hot!" song."? It would seem an impossibly high standard to expect of mostly secular young not-quite-adults in a world where declarations of atheism and agnosticism probably are all the rage for teenagers. Anyone have a clue?

Anti-Semitic Caricature In Campaign Flyers?

Check out this story:
Senate candidate James H. Webb, President Reagan's former Navy secretary, was criticized by his Jewish opponent Friday over a campaign flier that depicted the opponent with a hooked nose and cash spilling from his pockets.

The flier was intended for distribution among labor groups. It was titled "Miller the Job Killer," referring to Webb's opponent for the Democratic nomination in Tuesday's primary, businessman Harris Miller.

The flier, drawn in comic-book cartoon style, depicts Miller with a grotesquely hooked nose and cash overflowing from his suit pockets as he orders an underling to find ways to export U.S. jobs overseas. The flier refers to Miller as the "anti-Christ of outsourcing."

Webb claims that there was no anti-Semitic intent in the caricature. At left is the flyer, along with a photograph of Miller. I'm not sure what to think. I do know it's in bad taste, and the money-stuffed pockets and term "anti-Christ" are worrisome...but the drawing does look a heck of a lot like the photo. Then again, the nose is definitely exaggerated, and along with the image of his money-stuffed pockets, the cartoon seems a bit too close for comfort to the way Jews have historically been caricatured in anti-Semitic propaganda. What about you guys? Was there anti-Semitic intent here or just the usual election mudslinging?

Five Towns Article in Newsday

The article that was in the works when I wrote this post, about some questions the reporter covering the story had asked the editor of the local Jewish paper, has been published. Kudos to the reporter, Carol Eisenberg, who seems to have done her research thoroughly, and, in my opinion, presented an accurate and fair representation of the very real tensions that exist due to the shift in demographics here in the Five Towns.

The question I have is, why is this such a big story? The Orthodox migration is no different from other migrations of visible ethnic groups who make their move from the city to the suburbs. I presume that the added drama of the "Jew vs. Jew" angle makes what is really just a typical demographic shift a more tempting story line.

Update: The first article linked above was aparently one of a series of three articles on the tensions in the Five Towns. Here is one about the Public School board and election conflict that I have been following closely. Also overall, pretty balanced, though there are some quotes that I can't see as anything but combative, such as these two, by a husband-and-wife team who have been known to be a loud advocate of the budget and voting for the "Public school candidates":
"Basically, I feel like they are trying to make us extinct," said Annette Robbins of North Woodmere, a Lawrence High School alumna and a vocal public school advocate. She is the mother of two boys, one a third-grader and the other about to start school, and her anxiety and anger surface quickly when she considers the future of the district.

"We were here first. Why are you trying to take over?" she said. "I hope they do the right thing, but I think the right thing to them and the right thing to us are two different things."

"It's an us-versus-them situation," said Annette Robbins' husband, Jordan. He shrugged. "It is what it is. We didn't make it that way. It's the Orthodox against the public school people."

"They are trying to make us extinct"? "We were here first"? "It's the Orthodox against the public school people"? In addition to being wrong, these quotes, in contrast to every quote that was obtained from members of the private school community, are just a continuation of the rhetoric I've grown used to seeing from some (but by no means all) members of the public school community - both here in my comment threads and elsewhere. Not exactly the bridge-building the community so sorely needs.

The third piece is basically a feel-good piece about some Orthodox and non-Orthodox students attending a local public school together, and how they manage to coexist peacefully.

Update II: Another point that I missed when skimming the second article is, according to a source, this factual error right here:

Two sides to numbers' story

Look at the numbers, private school parents say. They speak for themselves.

Lawrence spends more than $24,000 per pupil - among the highest in Nassau County and more than Garden City, Jericho or Manhasset - and its academic achievement doesn't rank as high as those districts.

Look closer, district officials argue. That number doesn't tell the whole story.

Most districts don't have so many private school students. The district says that artificially inflates its per-pupil spending, which also includes transportation, special education and textbook costs for private school students. State law requires school districts provide those services for private school students.

The State's per/student spending costs do not seem to factor in the private school transportation, textbook, and special education costs. If they did, the number would be closer to $27,000 per student - not the $24,000 number as reported by the state and repeated in the article. (Special Education students that attend private schools are counted in both the private and public school enrollment numbers, according to a source) That discrepancy seems to account for the private school's share of the pie, belying the reporter's claims in the article. If anyone has any information to the contrary, please feel free to e-mail me or comment, but it appears that the figures are pretty self-explanatory.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Truly Unbelievable

I posted last week about a brave and well-spoken local high school student, Ilana Yurkiewicz, who wrote an amazing op-ed in last week's Nassau Herald regarding her experience teachers who tolerated the expression of anti-Semitic and anti-Orthodox sentiment from their students.


This week, the outgoing president of the Lawrence Teachers Association, Stephen Clements, decided to print a letter to the editor as a rebuttal. I didn't expect much from Mr. Clements. After his organizing of teacher protests outside a local Orthodox board member's office, accusing him of not looking out for the needs of non-Orthodox district students, as well as organizing the picketing of a local Yeshiva over teachers' contracts, I already knew he was not someone actively looking out for the resolution of this community's truly unfortunate divide. But this letter really sinks him to a new low.

Read it and weep:
To the editor:

Ilana Yurkiewicz is one of the finest students who has ever walked the halls of Lawrence High School. We are proud of her accomplishments and find joy in her success. however, even the best students sometimes make mistakes, and her "Lawrence Lately" column in your June 1-7 issue is one of those times. She makes generalizations about her fellow students'attitudes that are unfair. By implying that anti-Semitism is widespread at Lawrence High School, she disregards the spirit of tolerance that prevails among the overwhelming majority of our teenagers.

In the wake of the onset of a fourth year of austerity, it has been reported to me that there have been a number of incidents of students' making inappropriate remarks that could be construed as anti-Semitic. In every case, teachers reported that they used the remark as a "teachable moment" to advance tolerance. I know that the very day the Herald hit newsstands, I experiences such an incident in my classroom. It was dealt with swiftly and forcefully.

That being said, students are reacting to budget defeats that reveal a highly polarized electorate, with a clear bloc of voters supportive of district budgets, and a clear bloc voting against them. Students are reacting to the reality created by those voting patterns. Clearly there is a split in this community. Students see buildings deteriorating, programs being cut and resources becoming scarce. They read local newspapers and understand the divisions in the community.

We, as adults and teachers, do not believe anger and hatred are healthy student reactions. But we wonder: Did those who organized no votes on district budgets really think there would be no consequences of their anti-budget actions and strategies?

If these are people of good will who want to end this destructive pattern, count us in as partners in this effort. Ignoring the problem will not make it go away.
Stephen Clements
President, Lawrence Teachers Association

So let me get this straight. To recap his talking points:
  1. Ilana Yurkiewicz: Smart and accomplished girl, who we are proud of. However, we have one little minor niggling problem with her. She is clearly either a liar or has hearing and vision problems. She says that teachers didn't step in when they overheard students making anti-Semitic remarks. Well, being as Mr. Clements says he knows personally of some teachers who took students to task on such comments, it apparently directly follows that Ms. Yurkiewicz is incorrect in her allegations that she personally saw teachers failing to act on such behavior. Because that's the kind of unassailable logic we would hope to expect from one of our oh-so-highly paid teachers, not to mention the audacity of a teacher stating flatly and publicly that one of his best students "got it wrong".
  2. Even if it may be true, can you blame us? You guys voted down our budget, making us subsist on the "meager" per/student cost that are the highest in the county ( and double the state average). Don't you know, anti-Semites don't cause anti-Semitism, Jews do! (Whoops, that doesn't look quite right...is that not how the saying goes?)
Shouldn't we be able to rely on our childrens' teachers to bridge these divides instead of affirming them? Obviously, as Mr. Clements is leaving his post at the end of the year, he feels that his "lame duck" status takes away any constraints he might have felt in the past when it comes to speaking his mind. And what's on his mind seems to be quite reprehensible.

Zarqawi's Corpse - Tastefully Framed!

You'd have to be living under a rock to have missed yesterday's killing of the most-wanted Al Qaeda leader Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi by US soldiers in Iraq. And I'm sure all of you have seen the photo of his dead body (at left) that was presented at the press conference and reprinted in every news publication, oddly matted and framed as if it were some sort of great masterpiece. This blogger has put forth a hilarious scenario on how the photo got that way:
The Pentagon Framing Shop

So, Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi is dead. So be it. I'm not shedding any tears. Of course, he'll be replaced in short order by some new al Qaeda schmuck.

I woke up this morning to footage of the press conference in Baghdad, with the unveiling of the photo of the deceased Zarqawi. I understand why they need to show his dead body to people. I get that, 100%. But what's the deal with the jumbo dead head photo being matted and framed? Isn't that just a little bizarre? I mean, it's not like you've gone to Olan Mills or the Picture People for a lovely moment frozen in time. It's a corpse, people!

A corpse.

There's something very Victorian about it, really.

But this begs the question - do they have a framing shop in the green zone, just waiting for insurgent leaders and al Qaeda bigwigs to get blown up? Does the U.S. military have someone on call with glass and elegant wood frames available 24/7? I mean, clearly, this wasn't your $19.99 plastic poster dorm crap from Michael's or Wal-Mart.

Is there a "MAFS" unit out in the desert? A Mobile Army Framing Shop?

Sgt. Crafty?!? We need a buffered, acid-free white mat and a can of adhesive spray at the Command Center, asap! I know it's 3 a.m. We've got ourselves a majorly DOA hostile, son, and a press conference at 06:00. Now, get me some goddamn picture wire, tasteful antique gold molding, and cut some non-glare glass in a 30x30 square on the double, soldier!
It's a strange little world we live in, isn't it?


Thursday, June 08, 2006

More Jewish Spelling Bee Words

Here's an update to this post, about the word "hechsher" being given to a contestant in the Scripps National Spelling Bee. Steven I. Weiss points out two other words of Jewish origin that were presented to contestants in this years contest: Knaidel, and Gematrial. You'd imagine there would have to be more than enough words in the English language that they wouldn't have to look for words that are transliterations of foreign words. Especially as it's hard enough for a Hebrew-speaking person like myself to transliterate in any consistent manner.

More about the foreign words that came up in this year's Spelling Bee in today's NY Times.

Update: According to this, the words "Moloch", "Yizkor"and "Kaddish" also came up during the Spelling Bee.

Muslim Groups Want Jewish Holidays Removed From Calendar

This is a tough call:
Muslim group protests school calendar
A Muslim group is reportedly demanding that a school system in Maryland remove Jewish holidays from its calendar.

The Towson Times reported that The Baltimore County Muslim Council battled the Baltimore County school system for three years over adding two Islamic holy days, Id al-Fitr and Id al-Adha, to its calendar, which would make them vacation days.

When the request was not submitted to a vote, the Muslim council demanded that the Jewish holidays on the calendar be dropped, calling it an issue of equity, said the Times.

The move “is an attempt to wage de-facto warfare between Muslims and Jews” in the county, said Arthur Abramson, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council.

The Times quoted him as adding that the decision to have Jewish holidays adopted as vacation days was economic, since it is too costly to hire substitutes for all the observant Jewish teachers.

I don't think that removing Jewish holidays from the calendar in retribution is the answer here, especially since, as the article points out, the decision to give off on Jewish holidays was an economic one. However, I can completely understand the feelings of anger on the part of the Muslim community for this apparent lack of equitable treatment.

Though I can see that it could be problematic for the school district to start a precedent of giving vacation on every holiday that might be celebrated by any religious denomination, I know that if the tables were turned, and Muslim holidays were on the calendar to the exclusion of Jewish holidays, I don't doubt that there would be a huge outcry from the Jewish community.

(Details here)

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

I Have Had Enough

Seriously. Enough. I have had far, far more than enough of the same two or three trolls who keep coming back to say the same things again and again. Whatever I choose to post about, they find a way to leave rude and obnoxious comment - usually bringing nothing to the discussion at hand but bile.

I get the point. You don't like me. You don't like my blog. And guess what? The feeling is mutual. I don't like you. At all. So seriously, to channel my good friend RenReb here: JUST GO AWAY.

Really. As a rule, I usually don't believe in deleting comments - especially not simply because they are critical of me. I can take it. I generally have a pretty thick skin. But you know what? When the same few people keep coming back again and again simply to trash me, this is not being critical of me. This is also not commenting. This is being revolting and hateful, and I'm going to have to start deleting anything that falls into that category.

When I post on a topic that many bloggers are covering on the same day, yet the same few trolls come only here to trash my motives for putting up an extremely responsible post - then it's personal. Take today, for example. I post on a subject that was covered as well by bloggers all across the Orthodox divide: SIW, Chaptzem, Vos Is Neias, Yeshiva World, Jewschool. Yet somehow, there are numerous obnoxious comments on my site - and only my site - accusing me of "muckraking" or "bringing up a dead issue" or "being on a witch-hunt" for the very person I am vociferously defending. It's clear that it's personal. And it's perfectly fine if you don't like me. But your hate is stinking up my comment sections.

I have gotten enough e-mails from friendly readers telling me that they have never seen such a nasty bunch of anonymous commenters as I have on my blog to know that it isn't just my own take on the matter.

To reiterate what I said above: You don't like my blog? Fine. Please. Do us all a favor. Just stop coming here. Do you really have nothing better to do with your lives than visit a blog you quite obviously don't enjoy reading?? It's clear to everyone here that you find reading my blog a miserable experience. But it's a misery, unlike some others, that is easily remedied. Put yourselves out of your misery and stop coming here. Wouldn't you rather spend some time with your spouses than sit here and call me names?? Are you that miserable in your jobs? I have advice for you: Go to a bar and have a drink. Go to a movie. Take your wives out for a nice dinner. If you still insist on hanging around, you can either keep quiet, post something that qualifies as a substantive comment relating to the issues in my post, or you can expect to see your little bits of obnoxious stupidity summarily deleted.

People, (and you know who you are), it might be time to find yourselves another hobby.

Brooklyn Warehouse Owner Cleared Of Arson

It's hard to believe the way this story is being reported:
A homeless metal scrapper was charged with setting a 10-alarm warehouse fire that tore through a Greenpoint warehouse complex last month.

Fifty-nine-year-old Kuczera Leszek was taken into custody this morning and is being questioned by investigators from the NYPD's Arson and Explosion Squad. He was charged with arson, burglary, reckless endangerment and petit larceny. Leszek, who is described as homeless, will be arraigned later today in Downtown Brooklyn.

Authorities believe Leszek set the fire while trying to steal copper wire from inside the former Greenpoint Terminal Market in the early morning hours of May 2nd. He, and possibly other homeless men, appear to have been attempting to burn the insulation off the copper at the time, sparking the massive fire.

It was unclear arrests of other so-called metal scrappers were being sought.

The drums have been beating in the local media in the weeks since the fire that the owner of the property, Joshua Gutman (a local Orthodox man) had set the fires himself, even though the buildings were slated for imminent demolition. Though no charges had been brought, many news sources seemed to have written him off as guilty - even pointing fingers at a previous suspicious fire that had occured in one of his properties a few years before, though he had been fully cleared of any wrongdoing.

I guess raising suspicions without any evidence and rushing to judgement is business as usual for these news sources - but it stinks.

I would hope to see an apology published somewhere in the news sources I linked now that Gutman has been cleared (again) - but I'm not holding my breath. I expect to see all the stories cover the arrest of the real source of the blaze to do so as if they haven't been appointing themselves Gutman's judge and jury up until now.


Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Construction Accident In Flatbush Mikvah Kills Worker

Lovely. One construction worker was killed and another two were seriously injured in an explosion in Flatbush today. According to this account from NBC News, they were building a Mikvah in the basement. Three guesses as to whether they were operating with a permit:
City officials said the homeowners did not have a permit to install the bath, called a mikvah, which is used by Orthodox Jews in a purification ritual. Firefighters at the scene said the basement did not have proper ventilation. Five firefighters suffered minor injuries in battling the resulting blaze, Daley said.
People seem to feel that building permits are just a technicality, and that somehow, they are above the law when it comes to building home additions, shuls or mikvahs. Well, the necessary permits aren't technicalities. They are for the safety of both the workers and the residents on the job. Maybe it's time for people to get that into their heads. What's terrible is that it takes a tragedy like this to showcase the necessity.

Ann Coulter Is An Idiot

Ann Coulter, who fancies herself a GOP cover girl of sorts, has written a line in her new book which is simply stunning in its insensitivity. She is referring to the 9/11 widows:
These broads are millionaires, lionized on TV and in articles about them, reveling in their status as celebrities and stalked by grief-arazzies. I have never seen people enjoying their husbands’ death so much.
When taken to task for the line by Matt Lauer on the Today Show, she dug in deeper (video here):
LAUER: Do you believe everything in the book or do you put some things in there just to cater to your base?
ANN: No, of course I believe everything.
LAUER: On the 9-11 widows, an in particular a group that had been critical of the administration: “These self-obsessed women seem genuinely unaware that 9-11 was an attack on our nation and acted like as if the terrorist attack only happened to them. They believe the entire country was required to marinate in their exquisite personal agony. Apparently, denouncing Bush was part of the closure process.” And this part is the part I really need to talk to you about: “These broads are millionaires, lionized on TV and in articles about them, reveling in their status as celebrities and stalked by griefparrazies. I have never seen people enjoying their husband’s death so much.” Because they dare to speak out?
COULTER: To speak out using the fact they are widows. This is the left’s doctrine of infallibility. If they have a point to make about the 9-11 commission, about how to fight the war on terrorism, how about sending in somebody we are allowed to respond to. No. No. No. We have to respond to someone who had a family member die. Because then if we respond, oh you are questioning their authenticity.
LAUER: So grieve but grieve quietly?
COULTER: No, the story is an attack on the nation. That requires a foreign policy response.
LAUER: By the way, they also criticized the Clinton administration.
COULTER: Not the ones I am talking about. No, no, no.
LAUER: Yeah they have.
COULTER: Oh no, no, no, no, no. They were cutting commercials for Kerry. They were using their grief to make a political point while preventing anyone from responding.
LAUER: So if you lose a husband, you no longer have the right to have a political point of view?
COULTER: No, but don’t use the fact that you lost a husband as the basis for being able to talk about, while preventing people from responding. Let Matt Lauer make the point. Let Bill Clinton make the point. Don’t put up someone I am not allowed to respond to without questioning the authenticity of their grief.
LAUER: Well apparently you are allowed to respond to them.
COULTER: Yeah, I did.
LAUER: So, in other words.
COULTER: That is the point of liberal infallibility. Of putting up Cindy Sheehan, of putting out these widows, of putting out Joe Wilson. No, no, no. You can’t respond. It’s their doctrine of infallibility. Have someone else make the argument then.
LAUER: What I’m saying is I don’t think they have ever told you, you can’t respond.
COULTER: Look, you are getting testy with me.
LAUER: No. I think it’s a dramatic statement. “These broads are millionaires stalked by stalked by grief-parazzies”? “I have never seen people enjoying their husband’s deaths so much”?
COULTER: Yes, they are all over the news.
LAUER: The book is called “Godless: The Church of Liberalism.” Ann Coulter, always fun to have you here.
So let me get this straight. Ann Coulter is unhappy with the 9/11 widows, because they are using their grief to make a political point, so she criticizes them in order to make a political point.

I am ill.

I would have to imagine she doesn't consider herself one of those "compassionate conservatives" we've been hearing about.

More Riots

This article is so appalling, I will paste it here in full:
Yeshiva students attack income tax officials
Income tax investigators came under a violent attack in the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak, near Tel Aviv, on Monday afternoon, and it is believed that police saved the lives of the officials.
The Tax Authority has launched a campaign against severe violations in the ultra-Orthodox sector, and investigators raided four haredi charity centers used as fronts for changing money where hundreds of thousands of dollars have disappeared.
One of the well known centers raided usually has dozens of people seeking interest-free loans and cashing in dollars at the lowest cost in the market.
On Monday, however, the party was over, when tax officials raided the premises and photographed all the checks in the facility. At that point, however, a riot began. Rumors of the raid spread around the city, and within minutes hundreds of yeshiva students arrived.
'Things got messy'
The neighborhood residents who arrived on the scene snatched documents from the hands of the officials, attacked their vehicles, beat them, threw them on the floor and kicked them.
"All the guys from the yeshiva came and then things got messy. We bought tomatoes and threw them at the officials. The officials took
shelter in one of the houses. In the meantime we broke their windshields and slashed all of the tires. We didn't leave one windshield whole," one rioter boasted.
The tax officials called the police, who came to the rescue of the besieged investigators. One of the officials was hospitalized at the Assaf Harofeh Medical Center, where she was treated for shock.
A senior Tax Authority official said: "We are acting throughout the sector without fear, and we view these attempts to harm the officials with severity."

In a case that seems similar to the Brooklyn riots of a few months ago, these youths seem to feel that being held to the standard of keeping the law of the land is somehow such a horrific prospect that it is worthy of rioting over.

Street Fight?

Larry Gordon, the editor of the local Jewish paper, writes on his new blog about a call he received from a reporter for the New York Newsday, Carol Eisenberg, regarding a story she is writing for her paper.
Well, Carol said, people she had spoken to had told her that they feel that if they are not Orthodox and live in today’s 5 Towns they are looked down upon and not regarded with respect. She repeated the old and often repeated accusation that we as a people insist on walking in the middles of the street on Shabbos and don’t pay any attention and sometimes don’t even care if there is car behind us that needs to pass.

I told the reporter that I had lived here a relatively long time and that I have a brother who lives in the 5 Towns ten years longer than that. I recall reading stories and letters in the local press about this annoying habit of walking in the middle of the street on Shabbos over twenty years ago. My guess is that for every hundred time his idea is mentioned a minimal form of the scenario may have unfolded perhaps a total of once. “I know lots of people,” I said, “and I don’t know any at all that set out on Shabbos to walk on the street to assert the growing Orthodox presence in the area by obstructing traffic.” If anything at all Orthodox Judaism represents the exact antithesis of this type of behavior. A truly observant Jew is always concerned about his or her good name, reputation and image and how his or her behavior will impact on the image of all Jews everywhere.

This suggestion that we must walk in the way of traffic as a way of announcing to the world that we are observing the Sabbath is nothing other than a ridiculous idea.

I think he is right and wrong. Yes, ideally, a "truly observant Jew" will be concerned about his reputation and image, and will not walk down the middle of the street and obstruct traffic. Mr. Gordon is also correct in saying that any traffic obstruction that is done is not done to announce our Sabbath observance to the world in any way, shape, or form. That being said, one can't deny that in this area, on a typical Shabbat, large groups of observant Jews do seem to find themselves walking down the middle of the street. Does this is action in any way have as a goal obstructing traffic for the non-observant residents in the area? Not a chance.

Sure, the practice shows a lack of consideration - and that is something that needs to be worked on, big time. I have actually heard many community Rabbis speak out specifically against walking smack down the middle of the street on Shabbat. Obstructing traffic is rude, inconsiderate, and needs to be stopped. I understand that there are no sidewalks on many streets, but that doesn't absolve people from walking on the side of the street (not the middle) and sharing the road.

But again, to give a motive to this type of behavior of some kind of attempt at religious domination of the streets of the Five Towns is absurd. Thankfully, this isn't Meah Shearim. No one is walking down the middle of the street as some sort of protest to driving on Shabbat, or standing at the corner of Rockaway Turnpike and Central Avenue every throwing stones at passing cars.

At least, not yet.