Thursday, November 27, 2014

Expressing Gratitude on Thanksgiving

Norman Rockwell's 'Freedom from Want'
Once again as I do every year, I would like to offer my best wishes to all for a Happy Thanksgiving. The custom widely observed in this country is to have a festive turkey dinner with your family. Among religious Jews there are many opinions as to whether this is appropriate for us… or whether it is even appropriate to celebrate Thanksgiving in any way at all. This is based on the question of whether Thanksgiving is a legal non religious holiday or in fact a religious one.

The answer is not so clear. Thanksgiving was first celebrated by the early Pilgrims actually based it on the Torah’s commandment to the Jewish people to celebrate the fall harvest season… better known as Sukkos. 

Of course Sukkos is not only about that. It is obviously more about remembering how our ancestors left Egypt and of necessity lived in temporary dwellings called Sukkos (hence one of the reasons for the name of the holiday). But it is also about celebrating the fall harvest. The Pilgrims  (who were very religious Christians) focused on our Torah (which they refer to as the ‘Old Testament’). That may have been what led them to mimic this celebration because of their own fall harvest at around that time of year.

This would seem to make it a non Jewish religious holiday and not to be celebrated by the Jewish people. There are some Poskim who feel that way and forbid celebrating it as a violation of the prohibition against idol worship. Or at least connected to it (which is also forbidden by Jewish law).

But Rav Moshe Feinstein - whom many consider the Posek HaDor of the 20th century - was not one of them. He declared Thanksgiving not to be a religious holiday. Others - like Rav Yitzchok Hutner and R’ Menashe Klein felt that it was and should not be celebrated in any way. Still others objected specifically to the ‘ritual’ of having Turkey on that day. Still others allow it provided we don’t treat it as a mandatory ritual every year.

I take the view of my Rebbe, Rav Ahron Soloveichik who not only permits celebrating the day, he permits eating a festive turkey dinner with one’s family on that day.  As did his brother, the Rav. It is rather well known that the Rav (and I assume Rav Ahron) attended the annual family turkey dinner hosted their sister every Thanksgiving.

As I say every year at this time- if there was ever a day to give thanks to the ‘Medina Shel Chesed’ – country of Kindness -for the privilege of living in it - with its unprecedented acceptance of our presence here, this is the day to do it. More importantly we should be giving thanks to God for leading us to this great nation. 

Saying Hallel is one way to do that. Although I do not advocate doing so there is at least one Orthodox synagogue that actually does say Hallel on Thanksgiving.  And they have been doing it for over 200 years.   

Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Part of Me that is Forever Chabad

Guest Post By Paul Shaviv

Speaker of the Israeli Kenesset Yuli Edelstein addressing Chabad Shiluchim
On Sunday I was a guest at the closing dinner of the annual Chabad 'Kinus Shluchim 5775 - 2014'. This took place in a huge hangar-like space in the Brooklyn dockyards that had been transformed in to a hi-tech event hall for the occasion. (There is a good eight-minute video by Hillel Engel on YouTube.)  More than five thousand people sat down for dinner. 

There were two main speakers - one was Yuli Edelstein, the Speaker of the Knesset, who spoke brilliantly about his time in the Soviet jail, and his early contacts with Chabad in Soviet Russia.  The other was a UK Chabadnik from Wimbledon (home of the tennis tournament), Rabbi Dubov, who spoke for too long but it was hugely entertaining, and at times very moving.

It was hugely impressive. There are just under 3,000 Chabad families serving as 'shuchim' in eighty countries all over the world -- from Tashkent to Tasmania, in many African countries, in China, S Korea, and everywhere you can think of, including 49 US states.  No other Jewish presence comes close to this.

The theme of the Kinus was ‘The Rebbe is with you on your journey’.  For the record, none of the speakers implied that the Rebbe was still physically alive, and references to the Mashiach were all carefully phrased in the future tense.  But the spiritual presence of the Rebbe was electrically and tangibly alive for all of these shluchim.  It is the belief that they have a spiritual partner as their immanent support that gives them the ability to live and work in total physical and spiritual isolation. That, I have to assume, is the secret of a Rebbe and his Chasidim. 

Think what you will of Chabad, the Rebbe, or Chassidim in general, but it is undeniable that Menachem Mendel Schneerson personally inspired (inspires) the existence and promotion of Jewish life for thousands, or hundreds of thousands of Jews who would otherwise be totally lost.  On campuses, in communities, as individuals - Chabad is there for them, with unbounded love, “one Jew at a time, one mitzvah at a time”. Many other Jewish groups and streams look totally desiccated by comparison.

What interested me too were some of the items that got huge applause -- the IDF, Israel, battling Antisemitism. Support for Israel and Israelis was unequivocal (what other Orthodox group would invite Yuli Edelstein as their main speaker?) They also had no hesitation in showing men and women equally in all of the videos, displays and photos.
The future, my friends, might belong to them...... 

I was invited to the Kinus by my (young) friend, Rabbi Didy Waks, who with his wife and two very young children is just opening Chabad on the campus of Hamilton College in upstate New York.  He will do well.  At he Kinus, I had the enormous pleasure of meeting my old friend and teacher Rabbi Shmuel Lew, from London, England – now a senior, beloved and respected figure in Chabad worldwide.  It is, I realized, exactly fifty years since we first met.  This story illustrates the power of Chabad.

In 1964, as a 14-15 year old, I was running a Jewish youth group ('Jewish Youth Study Groups') in a large, gloomy synagogue in Golders Green.  The Jewish community in the UK in those years was deadly – demoralized, semi-Victorian, stultified and without any spark or direction. We were all expected to quietly assimilate.  I had read in the local Jewish newspaper something about a new organization called ‘Lubavitch’ that had opened up in London.  

I called them, explained who we were, and asked them to come and speak.  We fixed a date. (Years later, Shmuel Lew - maybe Faivish Vogel - told me that it was the very first 'cold call' invitation that Lubavitch ever received from an Anglo-Jewish organization.)

Come the appointed Sunday evening, at 8:00PM I went outside to the synagogue entrance to wait for the 'Guest speaker'.  We didn't really know what to expect. What did a “Lubavitcher” even look like?  After a few minutes, a small white van came slowly round the corner. It stopped.  It looked as though it might seat three or four people at most. The doors opened and six, maybe eight bearded, hatted figures piled out.  To this day I do not know how they all crammed into that small van.  We greeted them and they came into the room where we met, singing and clapping. 

As reserved, polite English boys and girls we didn't quite know what to do.  A “Rabbi Lew” introduced someone who he said would speak -- Rabbi Berel Baumgarten, the 'Rebbe's shaliach" [what on earth did that mean?] to South America, who was passing through London.  But fifty years later I remember what he said, because it blew me away completely.  "The Rebbe told me to go to South America and spread Yiddishkeit. So I packed a suitcase with tins of tuna and boxes of matzah, and I took a plane to Argentina. I got off at the other end and looked around, wondering what to do next....."

I cannot describe the impact of those words on me. The idea that someone would 'get on a plane' to an unknown destination with the single intention of spreading Yiddishkeit was like a revelation. Not only was it mind-blowing; it was inspirational.  There were people in the world who really cared about the survival of Judaism and Torah!  

I didn't become a Chabadnik, but I have spent my entire professional career in Jewish education, eventually heading the two largest and most important mainstream Jewish schools in North America – TanenbaumCHAT in Toronto, and Ramaz in New York.  A part of that choice, a part of that career and a part of that inspiration, belongs to Berel Baumgarten.

Paul Shaviv was born and educated in London, and has lived in Israel, Australia, Canada and the USA.  For fourteen years he was the Director of Education at TanenbaumCHAT, the Community HIgh School in Toronto; since 2012, and until the end of this school year, he is the Head of School at Ramaz in New York.  He has written a practical guide to the management of Jewish High Schools: , and is a frequent writer, lecturer and commentator on Jewish education, Jewish history and Jewish life. In 2010, he was the recipient of the Max M. Fisher Award for Excellence in Jewish Education. 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Driving While Black

Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson and Michael Brown (New York Post)
A few years ago while listening to a comedy routine by comedian Chris Rock he  said said something to the effect that black people are often stopped for an offense that white people never are: Driving while black.

That joke is an unfortunate truth about profiling black people by many police departments across the nation. If a suspect is black, it seems like the police are thinking ‘guilty until proven innocent’. This is of course a grossly unfair way to treat innocent citizens. And yet that’s the way it is. The question is, is this the result of an inherent racism that exists among white policemen? Or is there some other reason for it? I'm sure that some cops are racist. But I don't think that is the main cause of this problem. 

The following anecdote should illustrate. It is a true story told by the Reverend Jesse Jackson about an experience he once had walking down a dark alley one night. He thought he was being followed and started to get worried, When he saw that the person following him was white, he was relieved. Is Jesse Jackson racist? Hardly. He was expressing the common belief that there is a higher rate of crime in poor black communities than there is in white ones… especially black on black crime.

Why that is the case is beyond the scope of this post. I will just say that it is in part the result of a culture where young people lack the motivation to get an education that would pull them out of the endless poverty and crime that permeates black slums. Why many young blacks are not motivated - may or may not be for legitimate reasons. But again it is beyond the scope of this post. It’s a big topic.

But it is a fact that is recognized even by civil rights activists. As is the resultant perpetuation of poverty and crime. Which is why Jesse Jackson reacted the way he did, and why police departments often treat blacks suspects unfairly.

Despite this unfortunate phenomenon - the facts are as they are… and black people are unfairly profiled. And they are justifiably humiliated by it.

Which brings me to yesterday’s events in Ferguson Missouri.  From the Washington Post:
A grand jury on Monday declined to indict police officer Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager, resolving a secretive, months-long legal saga and reigniting powerful frustrations about America’s policing of African Americans.
The decision means that Wilson, 28, will face no state charges for the Aug. 9 shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown. It also set off a show of fury on streets near where Brown was shot, a reflection of emotions that register in this riven city as either out of control or justifiable. (Washington Post video below)
I saw the reaction last night on TV. It was like watching an Intifada in Israel. It’s depressing to see this kind of reaction to a verdict that by all accounts seemed to be reached fairly after long deliberation. 25 days and 60 witnesses testified. As did the accused - Officer Darren Wilson. He described in detail the course of events on that fateful evening. There were photos of the injuries he sustained in the struggle with Michael Brown, all matching Wilson's claim that he shot Brown in self defense. Witnesses for the prosecution contradicted each other and actually changed their testimony after being confronted with the facts.

Members of the grand jury clearly believed Officer Wilson whose testimony matched the physical evidence over the conflicting testimony of the prosecution witnesses - which didn't.  Members of the grand jury surely realized the emotion in the street. Protesters clearly thought this was a case of a white cop murdering an innocent black teen who was unarmed. Grand jury decisions notwithstanding.

While it is true that racial bias still exists in America and it ought to be protested. This is not the place to protest it. Certainly not by burning down the town. Ferguson was set ablaze by arsonists and looted by criminals that took advantage of the chaos that ensued. This was a justifiable homicide by a trained police offcier.  I understand the disappointment at what those protesters thought was a clear injustice. But to act like a bunch of savages is inexcusable – even if they were right. Which they weren’t.

Contrast that with what happened earlier in that day. Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner and James Chaney - 3 legitimate heroes of the 60s civil rights movement were honored posthumously by President Obama with the Medal of Freedom. That is the highest honor a civilian can receive. Unlike the protesters in Ferguson last night, they saw real racial injustice and they fought it – ultimately giving up their lives for it.

There was no injustice here.  A young black teenager was killed because of his own aggression against a police officer. That was determined fairly by a grand jury after examining the facts.

Like I said, racism still exists. But to the extent that it does it has nothing to do with what happened to Mr. Brown. And yet so many people ignored the verdict. Blacks protested late into the night in the streets of not only Ferguson, but in the streets of Chicago and New York too. And there were plenty of white sympathizers there to help champion their cause. I guess they don’t want to be confused by the facts.

I went ‘off script’ today to talk about the events in Ferguson Missouri because I see similarities between the protesters there and Palestinian protesters in Israel. There too we have the people who feel unfairly profiled. And there too we have non Palestinian sympathizers who champion their cause. Some of them are even Jewish.

They too do not want to be confused by the facts. All they see is an underprivileged underclass being unfairly profiled and harmed by an overbearing and armed police force.  People who refuse to see the facts are the ones doing the most harm to their cause. Any sympathy I might have for the plight of an underprivileged minority gets swallowed up by the damage of the unbridled rage which causes some of them to do to great harm to innocent people.

What's been happening in Ferguson since Mr. Brown was killed last summer culminating with what happened last night is nothing short of an Intifada. There is no other way to look at it - if you ask me.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Bury Them with Deceased Pigs?

Rabbi Steven Pruzansky (Times of Israel)
Much as I have tried, it has been hard to get away from the carnage that happened at a Har Nof Shul in Jerusalem last week . The image of bloodied bodies draped in Taleisim... the thought of being hacked to death with hatchets and knives attacked from behind while in prayer… the fact that it was all so close to home in the sense that I have extended family there. I know that place. In fact I attended a Bar Mitzvah of that extended family right in that Shul just a couple of years ago.

The horror of this event is beyond description. By all accounts the four Jews that were killed were gentle people that would not harm a fly. And then there was the Druze police officer who gave his life in the line of duty protecting the Jewish people.

There is no word for those who did this other than savages. I don’t care what their motive was. These people are no different than any other mass murderers.

The question is, what do we do about this problem? I am at a complete loss for any answers. Not that there aren’t any floating around. There are. And they are all terrible. Some worse than others. But all bad. There are no good options for the people of Israel that will give them the answer to what surely must be their most fervent prayer: Living in peace without fear of being attacked, murdered, maimed or kidnapped. All in the most violent of ways imaginable to man.

There is not a sane member of Klal Yisroel that doesn’t crave that. The only question is, how is it achieved? I don’t see any reasonable answer.

A 2 state solution? You cannot make peace with Palestinians as long as there are people among them who will use any advantage handed to them to further damage us in the above mentioned ways. Giving the Palestinians a state right next to Israel will just turn the West Bank into another Gaza. Not because the average Palestinian necessarily wishes it. But because of the ultimate control that will be taken by the religious fanatics of Hamas and other fundamentalist Muslims.

The Satmar option of dismantling the State of Israel and handing it over to Palestinian control is an even worse prescription for death and destruction. Imagine what a dismantled Israel that became the unified State of Palestine under the rule of Fundamentalist Islam would do to us if that were to happen. I have little doubt that there would be unprecedented carnage against the Jewish people – the likes of which haven’t been seen since the Holocaust . Lest there be any doubt about radical Islam being capable of that – I refer you to ISIS.

The status quo isn’t really working out that well either… as the events in Har Nof and elsewhere in the last couple of weeks amply demonstrate.

But there is one option that is about as abhorrent as it can get. An option that hearkens back to the era of Rabbi Meir Kahane. I can understand the frustration. I can even understand the logic. But treating every Arab like he was the reincarnation of Charles Manson is not only immoral it wouldn’t even work.  And yet this is apparently what Rabbi Pruzansky seems to feel should be done.

The fact is that not every Arab is a Nazi. (Rabbi Pruzansky seems to like using Holocaust imagery  - so I’m going with it.) Not every Arab is interested in pursuing an unattainable goal of throwing the Jews into the sea. Much as some of them would prefer it. They realize the Jewish people are in the holy land to stay.  I would be willing to bet that although most Palestinians would like it if we left they realize that this is not going to happen. In most cases, therefore, they would prefer to just get on with their lives without the indignities they must suffer because of Israel’s legitimate security needs.

(In fact a recent poll shows that given the choice of living under Palestinian rule or Israeli rule, 77% of all Israeli Arabs would prefer Israeli rule. So much for their wishing Israel were wiped off the map. While it's true that Israeli Arabs are not in the same boat as West Bank Palestinians the fact is that Arabs that have experienced what Israel has to offer clearly prefer that over what their Palestinian brothers on the West Bank have to offer.)

Rabbi Steven Pruzansky recent blog post (since removed) is filled with suggestions about how to handle the ‘Arab question’. I would not even bother commenting on it were it not available for all to read in a cached copy linked in a Times of Israel article. But now that it is out there for all to read, I have no choice but to condemn his words.

What he has written is a Chilul HaShem of major proportion. He probably wrote in in the heat of anger after what happened in Har Nof. And I’m pretty sure he removed it because of all the flack he no doubt got about it. But cyberspace is unforgiving that way. Which means it is out there for all to read. When a prominent Modern Orthodox rabbi says things like this, it places a stain upon us all as a moral people.

I’m not even sure Rabbi Pruzansky regrets his characterizations of Arabs nor his recommendations in how to deal with them.  I hope he retracts it publicly and apologizes. How bad was it?

For starters, one can only guess what he meant by saying ‘many things can be done that should not be in print’. But it must be a lot worse than the things he does say in print. Which are mostly terrible! Such as the following (partial list):

Arabs who dwell in the land of Israel are the enemy in that war and must be vanquished.

Uproot the Dome of the Rock.

Destroy the Muqata in Ramallah.

Incarcerate “President” Abbas as a war criminal.

Kill terrorists instead of capturing them.

Cremate their bodies and perhaps bury their ashes with deceased pigs. 

Deported their family members to the Muslim country of their choice.

Shoot anyone who riots or throws a stone at a Jew  – with real bullets. 

Does Rabbi Pruzansky believe that this is in any way moral? Does he really think doing these kinds of things would bring peace to the Jewish people? Does he really believe the world will look the other way while Israel shoots and kills stone throwers? Does he think he will generate anything but unprecedented world anger and condemnation against Israel with such acts? 

Does he think that there won’t be a response from the world that will make the sanctions against Iran look like a trip to Disney World? Does he think the United States will cheer and applaud Israel for doing any of these things? Does he think the United States will continue to supply Israel with its  most sophisticated weapons and finance defense systems like Iron Dome? 

Does he think that the 6 million Jews in Israel can be part of the family of nations if it is seen as mimicking some of the acts of a genocidal nation like Nazi Germany?

Rabbi Pruzansky may have been well intentioned in the sense of protecting the Jewish people. But he could not be more wrong. Not only is it immoral; not only is it a Chilul HaShem; not only wouldn’t it work... it would do the exact opposite. It would destroy us.

Rabbi Pruzansky has published a Clarification of sorts. 

I'm not buying it. His original post sounded nothing like this. He still wants to shoot stone throwers with live ammunition and has not changed any of his views. It is unacceptable and a Chilul HaShem. He made no apology for his original post. He apologized only  to the extent that his remarks, even unintentionally, added to that hatred. That is unacceptable. He said that no one offered any solutions? Well... there aren't any. Certainly not his.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Yiddish Isn’t Enough

Naftuli Moster - photo credit: Jewish Press
As noted here many times the fastest growing segment of Jewry in the US (and probably in the world) is the Orthodox segment. This is no longer news. It is a well established fact. What is also well established is that the fastest growing segment in Orthodoxy is the Chasidic segment. That too is well established fact.

The question I've asked in the past still applies. If Chasidim are the fastest growing segment, will the future of mainstream Judaism primarily be Chasidic? … with several smaller subsets of Orthodox Jews? Certainly one can make that case. But as I have said in the past linear projections are not always the best predictors of the future.

Not that there is anything inherently wrong with being a Chasid. I am not one and firmly believe that my Centrist Hashkafos are the truest form of Torah observance. But I concede that that there are others that feel the same about their Hashkafos and can make arguments supporting it. I am not here to debate that issue. Only to say that I respect all legitimate Torah based Hashkafos in the Elu V’Elu sense.

So what’s my problem with Chasidim? It is primarily the same as my problem with the Charedi world in Israel:  the lack of a decent secular studies program in their schools. Which results in an increasing number of families living below the poverty line. From an article in the New York Times:
Boys in elementary and middle school study religious subjects from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. followed by approximately 90 minutes of English and math. At 13, when boys formally enter yeshiva, most stop receiving any English instruction.
Just as is the case in Israel with respect to government mandates of educational standards - in New York where the vast majority of Chasidim live, there is a similar mandate. And just as is the case in the Charedi world in Israel – it is honored in the breach by Chasidic word in New York. And in both instances the government has pretty much ignored it an allowed the status quo to continue.

In some ways things are actually worse in the Chasidic world here that the Charedi world in Israel. Israeli Chasidim speak the language of the country (Hebrew) fluently. Not so Chasidim in America. The language of America is English. Their schools do nothing to change this actually preferring they speak English that way. It is one way of distancing themselves from the general culture. Thus we have native born Americans whose knowledge of their native tongue is so flawed that is hard to believe they were born in this country. Their spoken English is filled with mispronunciation of common words; grammatical errors; errors of syntax; and a relatively poor vocabulary.

Being a poor English speaker does accomplish their goal of limiting social interactions with non Jews. But more importantly it limits job opportunities and hinders the pursuit of a higher education.

This last point was made clear by Naftuli Moster, who is cast as OTD by his former Chasidic community and who is now studying for a Masters degree in social work.

As I have pointed out many times - it is no secret that Chasidim with this kind of limited education are among the poorest Jews in all of Jewry. There is the notable exception of the few successful Chasidic entrepreneurs that were able to overcome that handicap and amass great wealth in business. But by far they are a small minority of the population. Most Chasidim like this live well below the poverty line in this country. Their limited education, resultant menial jobs with meager pay combined with their large families (typically 10 or more children) equals poverty.

How do they survive? By maximizing the use of govern aid, and free loan societies. Needless to say living below the poverty line and relying on government aid and charity is not a prescription for the future.

I have recently said that I believe there will be a change in the education paradigm one way or another.  Education will somehow become more sought by the average Chasid as each generation multiplies exponentially and geometrically increases the number of Chasidic families living in poverty. It may have already begun.

A lawsuit against the New York State Education Department is being considered by Mr. Muster. I’m not sure suing the government will succeed in any change.  Naftuli Muster is describe by the article as no longer observant (OTD). Ordinarily that would mean that his actions are completely discounted by his former community. But I think it’s significant that the lawsuit I supported by actual members in good standing of their Chasidic world – albeit anonymously:
Mr. Moster said many families in New York’s Hasidic enclaves were sympathetic to his cause. So far, a small number of parents have agreed to take part in a lawsuit if they can remain anonymous. They worry that the yeshivas will expel their children and that the community will ostracize them if their names are revealed.
The Chasidic world does not take challenges from the outside lightly. They fiercely oppose it.  But it appears that there is a  grass roots crack in the typical resistance to any change coming from the outside..

The purpose of the lawsuit is to get the State of New York to enforce its mandate for requiring a decent curriculum in its schools.  For their part, Chasidic leaders in these enclaves are quite proud of being a century behind the times:
(A) Yeshiva Belz board member named Jacob Ungar... has high praise for his community’s educational standards. “It’s like at any school, where you have the main subjects and then the extracurriculars,” he said, adding: “Whatever a child usually gets in a public school, or Catholic parochial school or modern Jewish school — the yeshiva education is superior to that. Our students are as well educated as they were 100 years ago.”
I’m glad to see that there are some in his community that support the lawsuit. I don’t know if the lawsuit will accomplish the necessary change. But I’m glad to see that the monolithic wall against change is being breached even slightly.  Chasidim want to see a better material future for their children than what they currently have. And that means that change may very well be in the wind.

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Fall of an Icon

Cosby as Cliff Huxtable with his TV daughter, Keshia Knight Pulliam (Time)
Bill Cosby is about the closest thing we have to being a cultural icon in this country. His contributions to the advancement of interracial relations are exceptional. His hit television series, ‘The Cosby Show’ (1984-92) literally changed the way Americans saw their black neighbors. For the first time blacks were portrayed as people with the same middle class values as their white counterparts. Cosby’s character, Cliff Huxtable was a successful obstetrician and Felicia Rashad who played his wife Clair was a successful attorney. Their children were as normal as any middle class white family’s children would be… having the same lifestyles, goals, and problems any middle class family would have. 

For the first time there was a major TV series that went against the stereotypical portrayal of blacks as an underclass living in slums and leading a life of poverty, violence, and crime with no decent values at all.

The fact that it was such a hit is what made his contribution so significant. I truly believe that this series changed the way most white Americans saw blacks.

Bill Cosby had a wonderful reputation before that. He was a man of honor who kept his word. My children’s elementary day school, Arie Crown, hired him for a concert fundraiser one year – at a very reasonable price. He accepted with a caveat that if a better deal came along - he could break his contract with us. That is exactly what happened.  But being the gentleman he was he promised us that next year he would come perform for us guaranteed for the same price. He kept his word. It was one of the most successful fundraising events we ever had up to that time. What made it special is the type of humor he presented. It was completely clean and it kept us in stitches. Shortly after that he debuted his series.

Bill Cosby did not stop keeping his eye on his community after his series ended. He was a man of conviction and did not let the political correctness of black leaders like Al Sharpton influence his actions. He ‘told it like it was’ despite enormous criticism from black leaders like Sharpton. He believed that the image of ‘Cliff Huxtable’ was obtainable for a lot more blacks than was currently the case. But that the culture of disinterest in education – that is so prevalent in impoverished black neighborhoods prevented it. He urged young black people to ‘pull themselves up by their own bootstraps’ and get out of the cycle of poverty and crime they were in which they were immersed in their own neighborhoods.

All of the made him a hero for me.  But there is a ‘fly in the ointment’.  First there were accusations of an extra-marital affair that produced a child. That proved to be true. He admitted it. And more recently there have been accusations of rape. Multiple accusations by women who described their ordeal in similar ways. Rape that occurred decades ago when Bill Cosby was a young man – albeit already a successful comedian.

Cosby has remained silent about these accusations refusing to admit them to deny them. Of course as is always the case, a man should be given the benefit of the doubt when one is uncertain of the truth. That is what our system of jurisprudence is about. Innocent until proven guilty.

That said, it is highly unlikely that so many different woman have come out recently to describe what happened to them so many years ago. All with a similar modus operandi.  It is doubtful that these women collaborated in some sort of conspiracy to ‘get their stories straight’. I don’t see what they could gain by lying about it. I doubt it is about money. If I understand correctly lawsuits are not available to them because of the statute of limitations. Why did they take so long to come out?  There are many reasons. Perhaps they thought nobody would believe them. Maybe they just wanted to get on with their lives and not spend the time and energy in what they probably thought was a lost cause in making accusations against a popular celebrity. I don’t know. But I believe them. There are too many accusations - similarly described - for them all to be false.

For those of you that felt the way I did about Cosby, perhaps we can see why there is so much disbelief and denial when a local icon is accused of it. It is very understandable there is disbelief when a community hero is accused of such despicable acts. How can a man like’ Bill Cosby’  (fill in your own icon) have done what he is accused of? Everything he stands for - stands against those accusations. They must be lies. And the person making these accusations are the real despicable ones. Who knows why they’re doing it. They are evil people. Or sick people. But liars either way.

I believe that this is what generates protocols  by Agudah like telling rabbis first before reporting it to police… and let them sort it out. Those rabbis know their ‘Bill Cosbys’. And they simply cannot fathom that it could ever be true about a man whose entire life has been dedicated to doing so much good for the world. My guess is that unless there is hard evidence of sexual abuse, accusations about icons are rejected. And then those abusers are free to continue their abuse.

Obviously it is the wrong approach to be biased in favor of an accused sex abuser whose entire life up to this point seemed to be exemplary – albeit a natural one. And that is why rabbis who are not experts - and are Nogieh B’Davar (biased) knowing well the accused and his pristine reputation - are not the ones to determine the veracity of an accusation.

I was therefore very gratified to hear the address given by Rabbi Avrohom Nesanel Zucker at the Agudah convention last week who made some of these very points. Perhaps his words and the events with Cosby will turn the tide.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Words I Have Been Waiting For

I am not in the habit of posting videos as a primary post. At most I will post them as an enhancement of what I have written. But I am making an exception in this case.

Rabbi Avrohom Nesanel Zucker addressed a workshop at the Agudah Convention last week that should be seen by every religious Jew in the world… especially those in a position of Jewish leadership - lay or rabbinic.

Rabbi Zucker is the Rosh HaYeshiva of Yeshiva Gedola Ohr Yisrael of Marine Park.

His lecture was simply astonishing.  He did not mince words. He was hard hitting about the many Chilul HaShems that have been perpetrated by Orthodox Jews and especially Orthodox Jewish leaders.  I believe he touched all bases. Bases that I touch here all the time. I could swear he reads my blog… although I doubt it. He is my new Charedi hero. It is imperative in my view to watch this video to see what he says. You will not be disappointed.

My only criticism is that it was not given as the keynote address in front of everyone. It should have been. It’s about 20 minutes long and it will be well worth your  time.

Surrounded by Scandal: Rabbi Avrohom Nesanel Zucker from Agudath Israel on Vimeo.

The Poor Judgment of Crying ‘Wolf’ Too Often

CBS Morning News Anchor, Norah O'Donnell
I don’t really pay that much attention to Honest Reporting - a website that is supposedly a watchdog for media bias against Israel. There certainly is enough of it out there to require a watchdog and to be grateful to them for their service.  But sometimes they just go too far. I get spammed by them all the time and I generally just click on delete.

But this morning something caught my eye.  They had a clip of what I am certain was an inadvertent error. They played it up as yet another example of media bias against Israel.

In her report on the CBS Morning News about the massacre in the Har Nof section of Jerusalem she said it took place in a contested religious site in Jerusalem. As any religious Jew knows, Har Nof is not a contested religious site.  We know that because it is a religious neighborhood in Jerusalem… and we religious Jews tend to know the names of the religious neighborhoods there. Har Nof is a very familiar name to us. 

But for those who are not religious Jews… or even Jews, the name Har Nof may as well be Skokie. Especially if they don’t live there. The name is meaningless to them. So when something like this happens in Jerusalem where there are contentious neighborhoods – like Har HaBayis, it is an easy mistake to make.

I am absolutely convinced that this is what happened to Norah O’Donnell, one of the CBS Morning News anchors. She read the news copy that was handed to her. There was no bias on her part… and probably not even the news copy writer’s part.

I usually watch the first 20 minutes of the news program everyday while having breakfast. I've seen her report on Israel numerous times. Norah O’Donnell is no more biased against Israel than I am.

Now it’s true that it was a serious error since it places an entirely different light on the motives behind the attack. Not that it justifies it. Nobody says that (…except for the dancing Palestinians in Gaza and their kindred spirits elsewhere). But it does make the incident just a bit less heinous if one sees legitimate grievances behind it. (Not to me or any decent human being. But to some…)

It is dishonest of Honest Reporting to characterize Norah O’Donnell and CBS as purposely misleading the public about the possible motives of the attackers.

They acknowledge that CBS removed the clip from their archives – probably because of the protest it registered. But they Honest Reporting archived it just to make sure people know about it. Which allows them to make their case about media bias. But in this case they are dead wrong, in my view. 

They ought to stop doing things like that. You can’t cry ‘wolf’ if there aren’t  any real wolves around. If they keep making these kinds of accusations and insinuations they will lose any credibility they may have. That would be a shame. We do need watchdogs to expose media bias.

I therefore think they should make an apology. Or at least remove this particular report from their website.

They may counter by saying that CBS should apologize for their error. Maybe so. But that does not free them to heap scorn upon people that haven’t earned it.

Leaving this report up will show media bias. Not Norah O’Donnell’s.  Not CBS’s. But that of Honest Reporting.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

A Hero, an Apologist, and a Truthseeker

Funeral of  Zidan Saif (Photo: Israel police via the Jerusalem Post)
Unlike many religions, Judaism does have a place in Heaven for non Jews.  Judaism does not require conversion as a prerequisite for Heaven.  Ours is a religion of merit. Anyone who merits it in the eyes of God will receive an eternal heavenly reward.  In the case of one particular non Jew, there is not a doubt in my mind that he has earned it, albeit at a very high cost. The cost of his life.

Master Sergeant Zidan Saif, age 30, a Druze from the Galilee area was shot and killed yesterday while trying to save Jewish lives. He was an Israeli cop tasked with traffic duty when unexpected events called him into action. Sergeant Saif was one of the first responders to the massacre in Har Nof. 4 innocent Jews were slaughtered yesterday by Palestinian terrorists. Officer Saif was shot during an exchange of fire with the terrorist savages who committed those atrocities. He died later of those wounds – leaving behind a wife and 4 month old daughter.

He did not see ‘Arab hating Jews’ being attacked. He saw fine human beings - innocent people - in a Shul during prayer being attacked.  And without thinking about his own safety he ran to that Shul to try and prevent any more killings. It cost him his life. May God comfort his family as they grieve over their tragic loss

His sacrifice has not gone unnoticed. Israel has honored him with thousands of people attending his funeral. As did Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin.

As reported in the Jerusalem Post Israeli Police Chief Yochanan Danino eulogized Zidan Saif saying that the officer “ran into the heart of the murderous inferno, without fear."
“We are burying a hero of the Israel police, who laid down his own body to protect the worshippers at the synagogue in Har Nof,”
(Public Security Minister Yitzhak) Aharonovitch said in his eulogy. “Zidan was there first and operated with courage. Without hesitation he charged inside, in the face of the horrors there… “(H)is heroism cost him his life, but saved the lives of others. Zidan is a source of pride for his family, for the Druse community and for the police and the people of Israel.”
Druze serve in the Israeli army with pride. So it should not be all that surprising that one of them acted with the courage and heroism he did.

Shibley Telhami
Contrast that with the predictable Arab narrative that accompanies atrocities like this. Even among supposed moderates. Like Shibley Telhami, the Anwar Sadat Professor for Peace and Development at the University of Mayland. He was interviewed along with Dennis Ross yesterday on Public Television’s Newshour.

After Dennis Ross blamed Palestinian leaders like  Mahmud Abbas’s for  inciting violence- along with the general  demonization of Israel in the Arab world, Telhami said that if he were an Arab leader he would condemn it with ‘ no ifs and or buts’. That was followed with (you guessed it) a ‘but’:
Put that aside. But to think that what that leader’s going to say is going to be the reason why people are going to do or not do the thing, when they’re facing settlements in Jerusalem that they think are illegitimate and illegal, in comparison to what Mahmoud Abbas will say or not say, the weight here is — is in the wrong place.
I am reminded of what ABC News anchor Peter Jennings said the day the World Trade Center was attacked: ‘Why do they hate us?’  He went on to talk about America’s foreign policy (read: support of Israel). I was appalled that a respected American TV Journalist would stoop to blaming Israel for 9/11 even in the indirect way he did!

What he did is not that different than what Talhami did. Innocent Israelis get attacked? That’s terrible. But it’s their own fault. There was not a hint of embarrassment or shame on his face. For him it was all about blaming Israel for their own troubles.

This is a typical response by even moderate Arabs. The ‘not so moderates’ were actually dancing in the street and tweeting ‘bravo’ to the terrorist success in killing Jews!

Tarek Fatah
There are however some Muslims that are embarrassed by it.  Toronto Sun columnist Tarek Fatah is one of them. He is not what I would call an ‘Uncle Tom’ who sold out to the ‘dark side’ of the ‘hated Jewish taskmasters’. He is a proud Muslim that supports the Palestinian cause. Here was his reaction to the massacre:
(I)f the savagery of the act was not enough of a shock, one response from a Muslim on Twitter was equally gruesome.
Responding to my tweet about the Jerusalem slaughter, he welcomed the mass murder by writing a single word, “Bravo”.
Elsewhere on social media, Palestinians in Gaza circulated cartoons using the image of the meat cleaver and knife used in the attacks, to mock the Jews.
As a Muslim who has spoken all my life for the rights of the Palestinians to a state of their own, I was left holding my head in despair and shame…
What have we become, I asked myself?
Indeed. It’s nice to see a bit of introspection on the part of an Muslim that actually supports the Palestinian cause. Instead of the ‘but’ that usually follows the pro forma condemnation of atrocities. He held his head in despair. If only there were more like him; heroes like Sergeant Saif;and less apologists likes Shibley Talhami… you never know what impact that might have on world order.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The CBC and the Events in Jerusalem

R' Moshe Twersky - 1 of 5 people killed by terrorists in Jerusalem this morning
Yes… the Israeli police have done it again. This morning they shot and killed some hapless Palestinians. Is this not proof of the Nazi like tactics of the Jews? Oh sure they say that it was precipitated by an attack against some Jews in a synagogue. Don’t you believe it. We don’t know what happened there. The Jews – once persecuted by the Nazis have themselves become Nazis. It is they who are the terrorists.

The above narrative might as well have been written by the anti-Semites at the Canadian Broadcast Corporation (CBC).

Here is what they wrote on their Twitter feed: 
Jerusalem police fatally shoot 2 after apparent synagogue attack 
Oh… they are reporting the story more accurately on TV and on their website.  But it doesn’t matter. Their anti-Semitic bias has been exposed for the entire world to see.

This is no simple error. This is a deliberate attempt to paint Israel in the most negative light. As a brutal occupier that kills innocent Palestinians for practically no reason at all. Just to teach them who’s boss! A tweet like that sends this message exactly. And they know it. It casts the Israeli police as virtual Nazis. Which according to them is what this Jewish nation of occupiers has turned into.

Even Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas condemned it.  Not to mention Secretary of State John Kerry who called it an act of pure terrorism.  Hamas – as expected – has praised it. I guess the CBC sympathizes more with Hamas than they do with even the PA!

They may eventually apologize for this tweet. Even profusely. But again it doesn’t matter. Their bias has been exposed for the entire world to see. They will never have - nor should they have - any credibility again on any story coming out of Israel.  In fact I wouldn’t give them credibility on any story they report. It is one thing for personal bias to enter ones reportage of a story. That is usually unintentional and can be forgiven. But this was intentional and was done with the agenda of de-legitimizing Israel.

You would think that rational and professional journalists wouldn’t do things like that – despite their bias. There is little doubt in my mind that the CBC didn’t know that a synagogue was attacked and blood was spilled before the police showed up. But – again - it didn’t matter. They had to skew the facts with a deliberate negative twist against the Jewish people on the story.

Furthermore, I do not buy the distinction that is often made between being anti Israel and anti-Semitic. It is true that the 2 can be separated and one can criticize Israel without being an anti-Semite. But I believe in most cases the motivation is anti-Semitic. The burden of proof that someone who made critical comments against Israel is not anti-Semitic rests on the person who made them.

Case in point. The Obama administration has been very critical of Israel’s settlements policy. But they are clearly not anti-Semitic. Their actions speak louder than their critical words. The enormous military and intelligence cooperation between the 2 countries is unprecedented. Not to mention the US funding of Iron Dome.

But when there is statement by a news organization like the CBC made which is negative in its entirety without any reservation… such as their tweet this morning on Twitter, that tells you what they really think.

I am thoroughly disgusted by these people. There is little they could say or do now to dissuade me of the anti-Semitism that permeates their thinking. Even if they got on their hands and knees and said ‘I’m sorry!’

I should add that the CBC is not the only major news organization that expresses this kind of anti Israel bias. They are only the latest!

Now that I got that off my chest… I am still in state of shock over what happened there. This butchery took place in a Shul in Har Nof, an Orthodox section of Jerusalem. 4 religious Jews were attacked by 2 Palestinian terrorists and were killed while they were in the middle of prayer. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) has already claimed credit for it.

One of them, Rabbi Moshe Twersky was a Rosh Yeshiva at Rabbi Moshe Meiselman’s Yeshiva - Toras Moshe. He is a grandson of Rav Soloveitchik!

A fifth victim died as a result of wounds received after arriving at the scene. He was an Israeli police officer who responded to the attack. The 2 terrorists were killed in a shootout. 

I have relatives that live right in that area. Rav Moshe Sternbuch lives there.  It could have been any one of them.

I don’t know how the families of these four Jews can deal with what - so suddenly and so unexpectedly - just happened to them. One moment their son/husband/father/grandfather is alive in Shul where he Davens every day at that time. And the next thing you know he is covered in blood lying dead on the floor.  

I can’t begin to imagine the pain these families must be going through. These people are not the extremist 'price tagger' types that live in remote areas of the West Bank. They are normal everyday people like you and me. Jews going about their daily affairs. The thought of terrorism is the furthest thing from their minds. They rarely if ever think about the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. For them it is a remote story happening somewhere on the West Bank – a place where they never go. Har Nof is a peaceful place nowhere near the West Bank. It is not the most likely target of a terrorist attack. I don’t think Har Nof has ever experienced anything like this before.

It has been quite awhile since there has been anything like this in Israel. Terrorism has been curbed by the extraordinary measures taken by the Israeli government. Like building a protective wall of separation between the West Bank and Israel proper. But nothing is foolproof. Aas we learned today. The hard way, Rachmana Litzlan – may the Merciful One protect us.

I have no clue how Israel can protect itself from these kinds of terrorists. Perhaps police or security guards should be placed at the entrances of every single Shul in Israel when people are there. I don’t know. What I do know is that there has to be something that can be done to stop it. Because the people of Israel have the same right to live in peace and security as we in America do.