The Zionist Conspiracy
Sunday, July 31, 2005
Judith Shulevitz On Shabbat
In an otherwise interesting piece on Slate about non-observant Israelis' increasing interest in reclaiming the Jewish sabbath as a day of rest, Judith Shulevitz misrepresents reality when she writes of "black-hatted men in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods who stone Sabbath-breakers and who have in Israel's half-century of existence twice brought down governments for violating Sabbath laws."
With regard to Shulevitz's first charge, it's true that in the past - though not in the last few years - there have been incidents in which religious extremists have thrown stones at cars driving on shabbat on roads in charedi neighborhoods. Those incidents were disgraceful, but it simply is false to infer that Sabbath-breakers in charedi neighborhoods are stoned on a routine basis. Anyone who has spent time in Jerusalem knows that is absolutely not the case.
Shulevitz's second claim is completely false. While charedi parties have left government coalitions over religious disputes - including the Rabin government in the early 90's over Meretz's ultra-secular shifts in the Education Ministry - never has a charedi party brought down a government over a religious issue.
The only time that a religious issue was related to the fall of an Israeli government occurred in December 1976, but that involved the National Religious Party, which any knowledgeable observer of Israel knows is not "ultra-Orthodox" and does have too many "black-hatted" constituents.
Then, with the first Rabin government already facing widespread discontent, F-15 jets arrived in Israel just after the start of shabbat. In a subsequent no-confidence vote, NRP - a government coalition member - refused to support the government, and instead abstained. The vote was defeated and the Rabin government survived, but shortly thereafter, revelations of an illegal United States bank account held by Rabin's wife resulted in Rabin's resignation and the Labor Party's call for early elections, which Labor lost in a landslide to Menachem Begin's Likud party.
Judith Shulevitz is a good and interesting writer, but it is hoped that next time she is ignorant about a subject, she is more careful in her submissions.
Jerusalem Of Orange? Not Really.
A couple of weeks ago on Cross-Currents, Rabbi Emanuel Feldman wrote:
The streets of Jerusalem are ablaze with the color orange - which has become a potent symbol of solidarity with the Jews scheduled for expulsion from Gaza. Strips of orange are cropping up everywhere: On apartment porches, on children's bookbags, on briefcases, in wrist bracelets. Orange ribbons are festooned on automobiles, on flagpoles, on tree branches, in gardens - a bumper crop.
After four days in Jerusalem in which I have been to various sections of the city, I just don't see Jerusalem as being "ablaze with the color orange."
To be sure, there are quite a few cars adorning orange ribbons. In Jerusalem, they probably outnumber those with blue ribbons in support of withdrawal by a 4-1 margin. And many people are wearing orange bracelets, or T-shirts.
Yet the majority of residents are wearing neither orange nor blue. There are a few people giving out material about the withdrawal, but not on a large scale. If someone came to Jerusalem this week and did not know about the monumental event scheduled to begin in just two weeks, they would likely find little if anything out of the ordinary. At most, there would probably be mere curiosity about the orange ribbons on some of the cars.
I am guessing that things are somewhat different from the way they were even a couple of weeks ago, when Rabbi Feldman posted. Now, many who had mixed feelings or moderate opposition about the withdrawal seem to have accepted it as a fait accompli, and are refraining from any political expression. They support the government without any excitement, and feel deep sympathy for the residents slated for evacuation, but have accepted that the political struggle for Gush Katif is over, and hope that the withdrawal is a smooth one and that the government's decision will prove to be the right one.
Jerusalem in Summer 2005
The Ben Yehuda pedestrian mall in Jerusalem is packed each night. On Emek Refaim Street, the restaurants and cafes are completely filled. While there are quite a few tourists, most of the revelers are Israeli. Many Arab families, some in which the women wear the traditional Muslim hijab, are also among those enjoying the Jerusalem nightlife.
I have been in Jerusalem almost every summer over the last decade, and at least for now, things clearly are back to the way they were prior to Yasser Arafat's launch of the Palestinian terror war in September 2000. It's not just the large crowds, but the sense - hopefully accurate - that it's safe to go out.
Will things be this way after Israel's withdrawal from Gaza and northern Samaria, or will, G-d forbid, frequent terror attacks return? Only time will tell whether Jerusalem in Summer 2006 and beyond will look as it does tonight.
Tuesday, July 26, 2005
Out of Office
I'm flying to Israel tonight. If there is something worth writing about, I will try to post from Jerusalem.
Hopefully when I come back the Mets will not have sold off the rest of their minor league system (I do not want Alfonso Soriano).
Martin Peretz on Gaza
Martin Peretz comes up short in his piece about the Gaza withdrawal in this week's issue of The New Republic.
Referring to the use of the color orange in the opposition to the withdrawal, Peretz writes:
Orange is this year's color of massed dissent, and it is certainly the color of this movement, but nobody could tell me why. I was reminded of Jimmy Carter's pathetic yellow ribbons. Maybe such bits of dyed cloth are the sure signs of losing movements.
Nobody could tell Peretz why orange is the color of the movement? Come on. The answer is that orange has traditionally been the color of Gush Katif, the main Gaza settlement bloc.
As for the opposition being a "losing movement," perhaps because of the use of orange, actually both the campaign and the use of orange have been recognized as having been successful. Indeed a report (I don't recall if it was in Haaretz or Ynet) assessed the PR campaign for Gush Katif and the use of orange as having been the best of 2005. While the opposition will be a "losing movement" in the sense that it will not succeed in stopping the withdrawal, it has resulted in a substantial drop in public support for the withdrawal.
Monday, July 25, 2005
I'm not going to rehash the very interesting feature in the New York Times Magazine by Zev Chafets about Yechiel Eckstein.
For those who aren't familiar with Eckstein, he heads the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. The group has raised a significant amount of money for Israel-related causes from Evangelical Christians and other Christian supporters of Israel. One such cause is Nefesh B'Nefesh, which provides financial and social support to North American Jews who immigrate to Israel, and in just a few years has almost single-handedly achieved a very significant increase in the amount of such aliyah.
Here are a few of my thoughts about the article and its subject matter:
1. I have no doubt that on a theological level, religious Christians (and perhaps even many rather secular ones), want Jews to convert to Christianity.
2. Many of the people who give money to Eckstein's organization also donate to organizations that conduct missionary activity targeted toward Jews, including blatantly misleading ones like Jews for Jesus.
3. The average evangelical Christian does not donate money for Jews and/or Israel because he or she believes that the Armageddon is imminent, or because putting more Jews in Israel makes the prospects better for mass conversion. The financial and political support is sincere, and we should acknowledge and appreciate it.
4. This does not mean that these individuals do not believe in Armageddon or that Jews would be better off accepting Jesus. It simply means that in their day-to-day lives, not everything they do is motivated by a desire to convert Jews. Nor does this mean that on some level - likely a significant one - the checks written to Eckstein's group is not based at least in part on Christianity's traditional view toward Jews, albeit put in a more positive light.
5. Similarly, most observant Jews would prefer if secular Jews became more religiously observant. Many, including me, donate money to charitable causes such as NCSY and NJOP that are involved in outreach toward the non-observant. That does not mean that our routine day-to-day interaction and friendships with non-observant Jews are based solely upon our support for such outreach.
6. In case anyone objects, I do not wish to compare observant Jewish outreach toward non-observant Jews to Christian targeting of Jews for conversion. There is a big difference between outreach and education toward members of one's own religion, and aiming to convert members of another religion. Furthermore, Christian missionary activity targeted at Jews is particularly offensive given Christianity's history of hatred and violence toward Jews.
7. In principle, I don't have a problem with Eckstein or what he does. (In many ways, Joe Lieberman's stump speeches in the 2000 election campaign were quite similar, albeit for a different purpose.) At times, however, Eckstein has been way too eager to support his Christian allies who have made offensive statements, and I hated his 'On Wings of Eagles' infomercials, which struck me as filled with literally neutral, but obvious buzzwords, meant to attract Christian viewers, such as "please donate so that together we can 'save' Russian Jews." While this may not say much, overall Eckstein's record in that regard is far better than people like Daniel Lapin, who has made a career out of supporting any Christian action, speech or cause that Jews (legitimately or illegitimately) are critical of.
8. It is noteworthy that many Christians are quite critical of Eckstein. Indeed, one anti-Eckstein web page on a Christian site argues that:
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein says that it is spiritual genocide to preach the gospel to Jewish people! Do I need to say anymore? Should this not be enough to stop you from supporting this man no matter how noble his intentions may appear? What is more important to you, obeying Jesus Christ to preach the gospel to every creature or to bring Jewish people back to Israel? Should you give your money to a man or organization that calls the Great Commission "spiritual genocide?"
I believe the answer is a resounding no! ... If you truly love the Jewish people you would want the gospel preached to them above anything else, even more than bringing them back to Israel. What good is it for a Jewish person to get a flight back to Israel if they die in their sins? Why not support an organization like Jews For Jesus that are on the frontlines preaching the gospel and handing out tracts to Jewish people around the world?
9. Those who criticize Eckstein and his work may have a point, but they must recognize that full termination of such efforts will result in reduction of funds available to organizations like Nefesh B'Nefesh. Ultimately, the question is whether Christian theology relating to non-believers in Jesus makes efforts to create an alliance with believing Christians an absolute non-starter.
My feeling is that the answer is no, that such an alliance can be beneficial, so long as the Jews involved are not willfully naive, and do not sell out their dignity or compromise their values in the process. Does Eckstein cross the line? I think that he at times does. In a way, the harsh criticism of Eckstein by some Orthodox Jews may be just what is needed to put Eckstein back in place and force him to tone down his pandering to evangelicals, while continuing his efforts.
Good Terror and Bad Terror
As reported in Haaretz, Israel's Foreign Ministry has appropriately expressed its anger at Pope Benedict's failure to mention terror in Israel in a speech that condemned the recent attacks in Egypt, Britain, Turkey and Iraq, but omitted the bombing in Netanya and other terrorism against Israelis.
Israel's Foreign Ministry is right to protest the Vatican's blatant double standard, but has been too slow to protest similar omissions of terror against Israelis by European leaders and even at times by President Bush.
The reality is that the world places murder of Jews in a category separate from murder of everyone else, and too often, the Israeli government fails to express its anger.
Hopefully the criticism of Benedict is more than a one-time adjustment to Israel's response.
Sunday, July 24, 2005
Stupid Letter of the Year
Rarely has a letter as asinine as the first letter in this week's New York Times Magazine been printed in a reputable publication:
James Bennet's article on Bashar al-Assad (July 10) provided a much-needed insight into the workings of Syria and its president. I was struck by the account of Assad's night at the opera. There was no mention of a heavily armed escort or a selected and searched audience. And at the end of the performance, Assad and his wife mingled with the crowd before (and this was most amazing to me) driving off into the Damascus night traffic, the president at the wheel of an Audi.
I long to have a president who will take a Sunday stroll, even with his guards a few steps behind, one who will stop and chat with ordinary people and who might, God forbid, pop into Burger King.
J.D. Coleman Cincinnati
Perhaps Coleman would prefer life in Syria to life in Ohio. Though I'd suggest that anyone with similar sentiments read the blog of Syrian dissident Ammar Abdulhamid to get a glimpse of what life is really like under Bashar Assad's tyrannical rule.
It's odd that even most opponents of the Sharon plan to dismantle the communities in Gaza and northern Samaria refer to the plan as "disengagement."
The term "disengagement" is obviously meant to connote a positive meaning to the plan, suggesting that Israel will be able to disengage from the Arabs.
But the question of whether or not this is a "disengagement" or "a retreat" or "surrender" is subjective.
It seems to me that "unilateral withdrawal" is the most value neutral and objectively accurate term for the plan. One can support unilateral withdrawal by seeing it as a means to "disengage," or oppose unilateral withdrawal by seeing it as a retreat that will encourage further terror.
Friday, July 22, 2005
Returning to Israel
Next Tuesday night, I plan to fly to Israel for a 12 day trip. It will be my 12th trip to Israel, my ninth since 1995. Aside from Canada, I have never been to any other foreign country, with the exception of a 3 hour stopover in London.
A black friend of mine responded to my telling him about my travel plans by saying that he respects my identification with Israel, and that he hopes, similarly, to make numerous trips with his family in the coming years to the West Indies, where he is from.
Two people - one Jewish and one non-Jewish - asked me what I plan to do while in Israel. When I informed them that I have no real plans, that I hope to visit a few sites but mostly will just hang around Jerusalem, they appeared a bit bewildered.
Two other people - both observant Jews - asked why I keep going back to Israel. Isn't there some other place in the world that I'd like to visit, they ask.
Invariably, my response is that I'd like to visit many places, but alas, I am boycotting them due to their hatred on me. For example, why would I want to visit London, whose mayor - even after the London terror attacks - still supports suicide bombings in Israel?
In truth, Israel is in many ways not the easiest place to visit, and going there is much more of a trip than a vacation. The flight there is very long, and the flight home is even longer, at nearly 12 hours, and returning to a full docket of cases while completely jet-lagged is brutal.
But at least for me, walking in the Old City of Jerusalem, having breakfast at Cafe Atara on Aza Street in Rehavia, or walking the Tayelet (Tel Aviv promenade along the Mediterranean) never gets boring and never leaves me wishing that I was someplace else.
Life's Simple Pleasures
Walking back to the office from lunch, I passed a middle-aged African-American man wearing a Jets jersey. The name and number on back of the jersey were "Coles" and "87."
Welcome back Laveranues.
I just came across a post on a blog called Elster's World, in which the blogger writes:
Mets, Jets, Knicks, Rangers. 32 years, exactly 2 world champions ('86 Mets, '94 Rangers). To quote ESPN.com's Bill Simmons, not good times.
Is it bad that I would contemplate exchanging my spleen for a Jets Super Bowl victory? ... Is it bad that while I love Herm Edwards, I constantly find myself wondering if I am a better game coach than him.
Wow, if not for the fact that I'm a Nets fan, I'd have thought I was the author of this post. While I'm a disgruntled fan of the Mets, Jets and Rangers, and am a long-suffering fan of the Nets, these days the Nets are the far superior basketball team. I feel for this fellow, who, to his credit and unlike other Knicks fans, does not pretend that the Knicks - who have failed to win a championship in 32 years - are anything other than a sorry franchise.
As for Elster's comments about the Jets, surely he understands that while Herm Edwards is a very nice man, and he motivates most of his players to show up on game day, he has no clue how to manage a game. As I posted on January 15, 2005 - my 32nd birthday and minutes after the Jets - thanks to Edwards - blew the playoff game against Pittsburgh:
It won't happen now, but Herm Edwards should be fired as Jets head coach. The weekly time management problems are inexcusable. Edwards is probably going to fire offensive coordinator Paul Hackett, but the ultimate responsibility and blame belongs to Edwards...
The loss to Pittsburgh is not, in itself, why I'm convinced Edwards will never lead the Jets to a Super Bowl. It's his predictability, his inability to say anything other than cliches, and his game plan of keeping the game close rather than taking control of the game...
Instead of putting the opponent away, Edwards suffices with staying in the game. In his postgame press conference, Edwards was truly befuddled at reporters who questioned his strategy. As a result of that strategy, despite the Steelers playing a poor game doing everything possible to lose, the Jets' season is over.
Tuesday, July 19, 2005
The Assassination of Lord Moyne
This post is written in memory of Eliahu Hakim, 17 and Eliahu Betzouri, 22, who sacrificed their lives in 1945 so that the Jewish people would have a homeland in the Land of Israel, and in objection to the defamation of these heroic Jews. May their memories be a blessing
In an otherwise fine column in the Los Angeles Times condemning Europe's anti-Semitic sentiments toward Israel and Jews, Yale Professor David Gelernter, referring to Jewish "terrorism" prior to the formation of the State of Israel, wrote:
Jewish terrorism existed and was unforgivable, but describing it without mentioning the official Jewish response is a lie of omission.
There were repeated confrontations between Palestine's Jewish community and Jewish terrorists. A famous one followed the 1944 murder in Cairo of Lord Moyne, the British minister-resident in the Middle East, by the terrorist Stern Gang. In response, the shocked and revolted Jewish community hunted down terrorists relentlessly, turning over more than 700 names to the British.
There may have been acts of terrorism by members of the Stern Gang and the Irgun, but the assassination of Lord Moyne was not one of them.
Moyne was assassinated in Cairo by two young members of the Stern Gang, 17 year-old Eliahu Hakim, and 22 year-old Eliahu Betzouri. Hakim and Betzouri were arrested, admitted to the assassination, and hanged in Cairo. While at the time he strongly condemned their action, subsequently, after Israel's formation, David Ben-Gurion expressed his "reverence for the dedicated patriots who were hanged in Cairo."
The notion that Moyne's assassination was a terrorist act is absurd. Terrorism is the intentional murder of civilians. Moyne was a high-ranking British official who served as the United Kingdom's Resident Minister in the Middle East, based in Cairo. Britain was illegally and brutally occupying the Jews in the Land of Israel, denying Jews the right to a homeland, and preventing any and all Jewish immigration, even as six million European Jews were murdered. Assassinating governmental or military officials - such as Moyne - of an enemy - such as Britain - is not an act of terror, but a legitimate act of war.
Furthermore, Moyne was directly involved in Britain's crimes against the Jews. In 1941, nearly 800 European Jewish escapees from Romania (including people who had already been deported and had escaped the Warsaw Ghetto) boarded a ship called the Struma. Moyne, claiming that the Struma's passengers included Nazi informers, refused to allow the ship to enter Palestine and directed the Turks (over whose territory the Struma was temporarily docked) to force the Struma back into the Black Sea. There, the Struma sank, with all but two of the Jewish escapees dying.
Later, Joel Brand, a Hungarian Jewish emissary, met with Lord Moyne in an attempt to broker a deal under which one million Hungarian Jews would be saved. As Brand later testified at the trial of Adolf Eichmann, Lord Moyne's reply was: "What shall I do with those million Jews? Where shall I put them?"
It could be argued that the Moyne assassination was politically foolish, as it angered Winston Churchill and could have been seen as undermining British support for a Jewish state. However, after initially supporting a Jewish homeland in the Balfour Declaration, Britain had already become hostile to the Zionist cause.
In any event, the assassination of Moyne was not a terrorist act, and Eliahu Hakim and Eliahu Betzouri were not terrorists.
In a prisoner exchange after the Yom Kippur War, Egypt released the bodies of Hakim and Betzouri. Hakim and Betzouri were immediately given a military funeral at Mount Herzl, and were praised by Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. The London Daily Telegraph reported that Britain "very much regretted that an act of terrorism should be honoured in this way" and that the Rabin government responded by rejecting the representation that Hakim and Betzouri were terrorists.
David Gelernter is a fine thinker and writer, but his mischaracterization of the Moyne assassination as a terrorist act cannot pass without strong objection.
The Heroes of Gush Katif
Amidst all of the false portrayals of the Jewish residents of Gaza as extremists, Nadav Shragai's column in today's Haaretz is a must read.
Shragai wrote, in part:
After 5,860 mortar shells and Qassam rockets, as of yesterday morning - or, in the words of Gush Katif residents, 5,860 miracles - the time has come to discuss miracle No. 5,861: the fact that most Gush Katif residents still manage to preserve their sanity and behave in a way that elicits astonishment and respect from the external enemy and those who hate them at home...
Other people would have exploded, possibly taken the law into their own hands... But that's not what happened in Gush Katif, where residents displayed a restraint difficult to understand, and decided to stick to the routine...
Soon everything might end, and the people of Gush Katif will embark on a new path. The Israeli public would do well to engrave on its memory the noble behavior pattern of the Gush Katif residents - a type of unknown Jewish attachment to the land, in which every additional day of green grass and laundry fluttering in the wind, of planting in the greenhouse, learning Torah in the study hall and shopping in the grocery store, even when the sword is on the neck - is the fulfillment of a nearly sacred commandment...
In the middle of this crisis and harsh reality, many Gush Katif residents still find time for some self-examination regarding the sin of secluding and distancing themselves from other crises in Israeli society. At this time, many of them are still going door to door in a personal attempt to convince people to oppose the disengagement. They insist that the slogan, "With love we will triumph" is not just a marketing device, that only love (sometimes baseless love) and dialogue will lead to a renewed engagement, and that even if disengagement is the punishment, engagement is the correction.
Everyone has his own engagement. Gush Katif residents see not just engagement with territory, but primarily engagement with a different spirit - a spirit of faith, with Jewish tradition, with a different type of relationship among individuals and between each person and his God.
The big test of Gush Katif residents after the evil, immoral and dangerous "disengagement" will be the continuation of the engagement process. Those who already have proven they are not blinded by money will need to prove, even after they have been uprooted from their homes, that the process of engagement does not stem solely from a momentary interest. They will certainly know how to do this.
Jews For Gush Katif ... and Jesus
I should probably stop accepting flyers on the street.
Last week, I accepted a flyer purportedly in support of the Jewish residents of the Gush Katif settlement bloc in Gaza. The flyer compared the impending evacuation of Gaza and northern Samaria with the Holocaust.
Yesterday in midtown Manhattan, a few people had a sign expressing support for Gush Katif, and were handing out flyers. I hesitated, but accepted a flyer; after all, while I reject the extremist anti-withdrawal rhetoric, I have serious doubts about the evacuation and, in any event, have very positive sentiments toward the heroic Jewish residents of Gaza.
Unfortunately, the flyer had absolutely nothing to do with Gush Katif. Instead, it was a Jews for Jesus flyer that implored me to accept Jesus at once.
This approach is typical for Jews for Jesus, which will use any misleading method to attract Jews.
Whenever I have an encounter with Jews for Jesus, I am reminded of an incident I experienced in 1991. I went with a friend to a Yankees game. As we were entering the Yankee Stadium complex, a Jews for Jesus guy approached us aggressively, rambling about Jesus and trying to give us flyers. My friend, who was an aggressive guy then active in the Jewish Defense Organization, demanded that the Jews for Jesus guy "shut up," Alas, the Jesus freak wouldn't stop, so my friend took all of the flyers away from him and dumped them into the trash container. Just then, a group of rowdy Yankee fans came by to congratulate my friend for the confrontation, though they had no idea what it concerned.
Thursday, July 14, 2005
Tonight's Mets victory won't be remembered by too many in ten years, or, likely, even in one year. But it was a special night at Shea Stadium nonetheless.
Nearing 37 years of age and in his 13th season in the majors and his 8th as a Met, the Mets' catcher, Mike Piazza, is clearly on the downside of a Hall of Fame career. Sadly, over the last three seasons this once dominant hitter has at times become a liability to his team. His contract expires at the end of the season, and he and the Mets will probably then part ways.
Tonight against the Atlanta Braves, with the score tied 3-3 in the bottom of the 8th inning, Piazza came to the plate with runners on first and second base and one out. Piazza had grounded into a double-play his previous at-bat, and I was hoping that he would simply strike out, leaving David Wright, the following batter, with an opportunity to give the Mets the lead.
It looked like Piazza might strike out when the first two pitches were strikes. But then, in a thrilling blast from his illustrious past, Piazza hit a three run homer over the right field wall, giving the Mets a 6-3 win. For a moment, the feeling was that experienced from 1998 through 2001, when the Mets and the Braves had a fiery rivalry.
Piazza has provided many great moments during his time with the Mets, and tonight might well have the been the last real highlight of his reign at Shea. The fans seemed to sense that, giving him a long standing ovation and a curtain call, thanking him not only for tonight's performance, but for providing five great seasons from 1998 through 2002.
Housing, Tuition and North American Aliyah
On Hirhurim yesterday, Gil Student posted about the still evolving proposals emanating from Lawrence and Woodmere, for observant Jewish students to spend at least part of the day in area public schools.
A number of those commenting suggested that those struggling to pay yeshiva or day school tuition move to Israel, where religious schooling is mostly paid for by the government (though in the last few years, budget cuts have resulted in parents' obligations substantially increasing).
None who commented appeared to realize that 500 North American Jews arrived as new immigrants in Israel yesterday, with another 2500 slated to join them by the end of next month.
I am certain that a substantial reason for the increase in North American aliyah is that many young families cannot afford the massive costs of both housing and tuition. Even on a much lower salary, for many, it is easier to get by in Israel than in the U.S. The notion that families of five can incur $30,000 a year in after-tax tuition payments along with a massive mortgage is unrealistic, and the current economic structure in unsustainable in all sectors of Orthodoxy.
Furthermore, due to technological advances, some who move to Israel can actually keep their current jobs. My brother-in-law, for example, works for a Brooklyn real estate office. While he has not made aliyah, several months ago he moved to Israel for an indefinite period. He has the same job - albeit with somewhat unconventional hours due to the seven-hour time difference - and simply logs on to the office's computer network. With Jerusalem rents far below New York rents, his standard of living is much more comfortable in Israel than it was here.
Wednesday, July 13, 2005
Zionism in 2005
Today, 500 North American Jews arrived in Israel as new immigrants. Over the course of the summer, a total of more than 3000 Americans and Canadians will make aliyah to Israel.
Much appreciation should go to Nefesh B'Nefesh, the organization that is revitalizing aliyah, and to the Jewish and Christian supporters of Nefesh B'Nefesh.
Congratulations to the new olim, who have chosen to actually participate in the daily existence of the State of Israel, instead of blogging about Israel from New York.
Sportswriter of the Year
Last week, Chris Perkins, who covers the Miami Heat for the Palm Beach Post, wrote that Heat backup guard Keyon Dooling "is talking to New Jersey about becoming its starting point guard."
Given that future Hall of Famer Jason Kidd is the Nets point guard, that statement was absurd, but I did not post about it because I figured it was a momentary lapse by Perkins.
Yet in today's Palm Beach Post, Perkins writes that Dooling "remains high on New Jersey's list. Dooling, a key reserve for Miami last season and in the playoffs, wants a starting job and the Nets could offer such an opportunity."
How Perkins could be employed as a sportswriter despite such ignorance is beyond me.
Monday, July 11, 2005
Main Street Extremists
Yesterday I was walking with my wife and son on Main Street in the Kew Gardens Hills section of Queens when a middle-aged woman stuffed a flyer in my hand and told me that she was collecting money for Gush Katif. She started explaining what was being done with the money, but I politely told her that we were in a rush and gave her a dollar.
As I walked away, I looked at the flyer. It was by Chabad, and explicitly equated the unilateral withdrawal from Gush Katif with the Holocaust and accused Ariel Sharon of perpetrating another Holocaust. It even responded to critics questioning the comparison to the Holocaust by insisting such analogy is apt.
The irony is that almost all of the residents of the communities slated for destruction are fairly moderate, and have opposed the government's decision without resorting to this sort of lunacy. With a small number of exceptions, the Jewish residents of Gaza are not extremists, but the extremists in the United States who compare the Sharon plan to the Holocaust, and the extremists in Israel who block and place oil and nails on roads, have done much damage to their cause.
Thursday, July 07, 2005
Slifkin in Queens
Rabbi Natan (Nosson) Slifkin spoke last night at Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills about the age of the universe, the order in which different species were created, and the existence of dinosaurs.
The lecture was interesting and informative, and Slifkin clearly is very knowledgeable about topics related to Torah and science.
There were approximately 40 people in attendance. While that's not bad for Kew Gardens Hills, which aside from the corner of Jewel Avenue and Main Street is rather sleepy on weeknights, it does indicate that Slifkin is less of a celebrity in the real world than in the J-blog world.
Slifkin explained why, in his view, most of the observant Jewish approaches reconciling the text in Genesis to science are logically flawed. He submitted his own approach, based largely on the writings of Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler and other leading rabbinical figures.
The explanations offered by Slifkin sounded persuasive, but I wonder whether his tendency to summarily dismiss alternate contemporary approaches is one of the reasons for the charedi opposition to him. Slifkin is only around 30 years old, and in the charedi world, presentation of personal humility and modesty, along with expressions of respect for those with whom one differs, are generally requirements when submitting controversial opinions, especially those that are outside of the traditional consensus.
That's not to suggest that Slifkin is wrong in his arguments or that he does not have the right to make these arguments without being subjected to a ludicrous ban. But Slifkin seems to still desire acceptance in the charedi world and if that is to happen, a change in style will be necessary. My sense is that Slifkin was somewhat naive about that world (he expressed surprise that some charedi yeshivas refuse to teach about dinosaurs, even though this is nothing new), causing some of his problems.
While it is not likely that Slifkin will be publicly accepted by the leading charedi rabbis, it is likely that moderate charedi people will give his ideas serious consideration. Slifkin is clearly a talented person and an original thinker, and could make a significant contribution to observant Judaism's understanding of difficult issues relating to Torah and science.
Columns on Spielberg Munich Film
A revised version of my post about Steven Spielberg appears in this week's Jewish Press. Jason Maoz also has a column on the topic, in which he strongly criticizes Spielberg's selection of Tony Kushner to rewrite the original script of Spielberg's film about the aftermath of the massacre of the Israeli Olympic athletes in Munich.
Sunday, July 03, 2005
Steve Spielberg, Hollywood Jews and Jewish Heroes
After a five day visit to Israel, New York Giants running back Tiki Barber is heading back to the United States today. Barber went to Israel after Shimon Peres invited him following a chance encounter in a Manhattan restaurant. He told reporters: "I'm under no illusion that this trip is gonna bring peace, but it's gonna bring understanding at least to me, and I can give that back to someone else in the States."
In contrast to Tiki Barber, it is rare for a Jewish celebrity to visit Israel. Indeed, last week, Josh Malina of The West Wing, on a visit to Israel, asked, in an interview with The Jerusalem Post, "Hollywood is filled with big Jewish stars, so why don't they speak out about the State of Israel?"
Also in contrast to Barber, the few Jewish celebrities who come to Israel do tend to be under an illusion that their visit will bring peace. Last year, when Seinfeld's Jason Alexander visited Israel, he came with a self-described "grass roots" peace initiative calling for a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders that, he proclaimed, would succeed in ending the Arab-Israeli conflict.
This brings me to Steven Spielberg. Spielberg is currently making a film about Israel's targeted killings of Palestinian terrorists involved in the massacre of the Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics in Munich.
The film will not be released until December, but early reports are very disturbing. According to a Reuters article, Daniel Craig, an actor in the film, said that the screenplay is a less-than-flattering portrayal of Israeli tactics. "It's about how vengeance doesn't work -- blood breeds blood," Craig is quoted as saying.
The Reuters report notes that five retired Mossad agents, all of whom served in key intelligence posts during the hunt for the terrorists responsible for the murder of the Israeli athletes, all stated that they were never contacted in any way about the film.
But according to the New York Times, the failure to actually speak with the relevant Mossad members does not stop the Spielberg film from portraying those very people as "struggling to understand how their targets were chosen, whether they belonged on the hit list and, eventually, what, if anything, their killing would accomplish." In a statement to the Times, Spielberg confirmed that the film will focus on the Mossad agents' purported "troubling doubts about what they were doing."
As Michael Oren - author of the superb Six Days of War - noted: "I don't know how many of them actually had 'troubling doubts' about what they were doing. It's become a stereotype, the guilt-ridden Mossad hit man. You never see guilt-ridden hit men in any other ethnicity. Somehow it's only the Jews."
Indeed, it seems that every film that relates to Palestinian terrorism must include Jewish angst about defending itself against terrorists. Take, for example, Voyage of Terror: The Achille Lauro Affair, which purported to chronicle the hijacking of a cruise ship by Palestinian terrorists and the murder by those terrorists of Leon Klinghoffer, a Jewish New Yorker who was shot in the head, his wheelchair-bound body thrown overboard. In the film, prior to her husband's murder but after the hijacking, Marilyn Klinghoffer, Leon's wife, expresses sympathy and even understanding for the PLO's terror against civilians. The obvious point of this fictional portrayal is that the Klinghoffers are especially sympathetic because they are Jews who also have "troubling doubts" about whether they or the terrorists who murder them are morally right.
Similarly, in Victory at Entebbe - the worst of three films about the heroic IDF rescue on the night of July 3, 1976 (exactly 29 years ago tonight) of 103 hostages of an Air France flight hijacked by the PLO, Richard Dreyfuss played Yoni Netanyahu (brother of Binyamin Netanyahu), the mission commander who died during the raid. Netanyahu was also portrayed as having sympathy for Palestinian terrorists and for the Palestinian cause, and having "troubling doubts" about what he was fighting for, all this surely to make it sadder when Yoni loses his life. Never mind that the Netanyahu family has always been devoted to the fight against international terror, or that in one of the letters published in Self Portrait Of A Hero: The Letters of Jonathan Netanyahu, the real Yoni Netanyahu wrote, just after the 1973 Yom Kippur War:
"I see with sorrow and great anger how a part of the people still clings to hopes of reaching a peaceful settlement with the Arabs. Common sense tells them, too, that the Arabs haven't abandoned their basic aim of destroying the State; but the self-delusion and self-deception that have always plagued the Jews are at work again. It's our great misfortune. They want to believe, so they believe. They want not to see, so they shut their eyes. They want not to learn from thousands of years of history, so they distort it. They want to bring about a sacrifice, and they do indeed. It would be comic, if it wasn't so tragic. What a saddening and irritating lot this Jewish people is!"
Ultimately, the "troubling doubts" in Steven Spielberg's upcoming film are his own and those of his fellow Hollywood Jews who care much less about Israel than about their own reputation in the ultra-left entertainment industry. Especially absurd is that Spielberg's discomfort about Israeli anti-terror tactics apply to its response to the Munich massacre, given that, while Israel killed 10 PLO terrorists, there was very minimal collateral damage; the only innocent who died was a Moroccan man mistakenly thought to be one of the terrorists. Indeed, in the annals of military responses to terrorism, Israel's targeting of the perpetrators of Munich and Entebbe are among the most successful in having eliminated the terrorists without causing civilian collateral damage.
In sharp contrast to his film about Munich, Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan, about World War II, appropriately includes no "troubling doubts" by the heroic American soldiers about the morality of their cause. While Saving Private Ryan hardly glorifies war - it shows all of war's brutality and the suffering of those who fought in it - the movie never questions the necessity of the war against Nazism.
Only when the subject is specifically a Jewish one does Spielberg have a need to express his "troubling doubts" and much worse, project those doubts onto his film's characters.
Following Schindler's List, Spielberg was often described as a Jewish hero. But Spielberg is apparently yet another Jew who is comfortable only with the Jew as a victim, as someone filled his angst and "troubling doubts" about a Jew defending himself against his murderer.
Steven Spielberg, who never bothered to express support for Israel during the Palestinian terror war, is not a Jewish hero, and today, 29 years after the heroic rescue at Entebbe, is a very good day to understand that. Our true heroes are Yoni Netanyahu, the Mossad agents who without any fanfare anonymously protect Israel, and all of the IDF soldiers who without "troubling doubts" risk, and all too often sacrifice, their lives for the sake of their people and their country.