Monthly Archives: August 2008

Israel’s Parties

This entry was posted in History on by .

Yoel Marcus asks of Benjamin Netanyahu, “What is the secret of this man, who flubbed up as prime minister, who suffered a stinging defeat after three years in office, but is back again, nine years later, topping the charts?” But Aluf Benn has his own theory.

Gideon Levy, looking at the “demonization by the Anti-Netanyahu Defense League,” says: “The media embraces Livni, accepts Mofaz as legitimate, sometimes supports Barak, but is terrified only by Netanyahu. Why?â€?

Aluf Benn and Yoel Marcus each try to explain why Ehud Barak is so unpopular. And Uzi Benziman doesn’t think much of him either.

Ari Shavit has a dour view of Tzipi Livni, who “does not know any other candidate whose judgment is better than hers. She does not know any other experienced candidate whose experience does him credit. The fact that her plans are somewhat vague does not bother her.�

Israel Harel argues for the necessity of rooting out Olmertism.

Evelyn Gordon makes the case that Kadima has undermined Israel’s deterrence in several areas.

Yossi Verter and Ari Shavit on Kadima’s September primary to select a new party head, replacing Olmert.

Dozens of Balad Party activists have been summoned for conversations with the Shin Bet and told to sign a specific document. Most have refused, and Shin Bet denies that they are harassing a legal party.

Uzi Benziman reports that all four of Kadima’s candidates for prime minister “pretend to understand better than the other the political-security philosophy that guided Ariel Sharon… each one takes great pains to persuade party members that he and only he (or she) is the real heir apparent.”

Posted on August 28, 2008

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

P(r)aying for a Blessing

This entry was posted in Beliefs, History on by .

On the way out of work yesterday, I was a little dazed — possibly by the sun, possibly by the fact that I’d been sitting in front of a computer all day and suddenly, the world was in three dimensions.

I put on my archaic CD player, started to listen to some Northern State, and just as I started really dancing (I know, I know) I passed a pair of guys on the street who looked more like me than most people do — big beards, bigger sidelocks. They stopped me and asked what I was doing around here.

They didn’t say it in a mean way, the way some people do when you walk into a synagogue and inadvertently sit in a seat that happens to be theirs. They were just curious. When I told them I was a writer, they were overwhelmed — “Oh, a writer! And in English!” and they said that any website called MyJewishLearning was sure to be doing something alright.

And then they asked if I wanted to donate a hundred bucks to their rebbe.

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Posted on August 27, 2008

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Coming to Israel

This entry was posted in History on by .

The Jewish Agency releases a new plan for attracting 1,000 American high-tech professionals to Israel by 2010, but “Just 30 minutes after its unveiling … immigration absorption officials and high-tech bosses criticized the blueprint as unviable and misguided.�

The Kibbutzim in Israel want you to come, but for leisure, not labor – including “holistic workshops …cranial sacral massage, tai chi, shiatsu, watsu (water massage) and yoga� and “pure touristic hedonism.�

The annual survey conducted by Skytrax finds Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion Airport ranked the best airport for the Middle East.

Yoav Orgad observes, “Israel is the only democracy that still does not have an orderly immigration policy. Such a policy is an urgent necessity. Within the framework of such a policy it is not unacceptable to demand of an immigrant, even a Jewish immigrant, that he recognize and accept certain cultural and national norms.�

The rise of the Shekel against the dollar may force a cutback in Birthright Israel trips.

It is only on a visit to Israel that Joel Kocen is able to integrate fully being American, Jewish and loving Israel as one continuum.

Arriving on the same day, making aliyah, are groups from Britain and Ethiopia. Their treatment, though, is very different.

A look at how David S. Wyman author of the Holocaust study “The Abandonment of the Jews: America and the Holocaust 1941-1945â€? used his reputation in that area to help get Ethiopians Jews trapped at a refugee camp in Sudan, into Israel.

Israel has apparently decided to allow the remaining 7,232 members of the Bnei Menashe Jewish community in India to immigrate to Israel, at a rate of some 300 per month.

Posted on August 26, 2008

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Pentateuchs for Prisoners

This entry was posted in Practices, Texts on by .

Recently, we received a letter in the office from a person in jail, asking if we can send him a copy of the Torah. It wasn’t actually for us — MJL does a lot of things, but print media is, unfortunately, not one of them.

Now, I’m a firm believer in teshuvah, the ability to turn over a new leaf. I read William “Upski” Wimsatt’s No More Prisons, and, while I don’t believe literally in the title (neither does the author, I don’t think), I believe that prisoners have as much a right to do teshuvah as the rest of us. This guy’s worth a Tanakh, I thought. And he’s worth making a call over….

I contacted the Aleph Institute, a group that specializes in prisoner relations, which is loosely related to Chabad. The woman I spoke to on the phone was polite, courteous, and curiously firm: He isn’t on their list of Jewish prisoners; he probably doesn’t qualify. “Besides, it’s impossible for him to convert in a prison,” she said. “There’s no mikveh.”

Typical Orthodox arrogance! I thought. In a huff, I emailed Jewish Prisoner Services International, asking if they could rush in and save the day.

Surprisingly, I got a call back from Gary Friedman himself, the chairman of the organization — and, as it turns out, most of the manpower and elbow-grease of the organization, as well. After schooling me on the issue, he pointed me in the direction of this story, which reports that prisoners use Judaism, real or self-professed, to justify everything from special food (“Some like the prison kosher diet better than regular institutional chow — one prisoner says it tastes better, another claims it’s more nutritious, and a third says it helped him lose weight”) to conjugal visits (“based on [the prisoner's] interpretation of Jewish law,” notes the article).

The problem, Friedman told me, is that, according to civil law, “you are whatever religion you say you are.” That means that prisoners can — and many have — declared themselves to be Jewish, while in real life, they’re actually neo-Nazi gang members.

Some inmates devise even more ingenious schemes. In Clallam Bay, Washington, the notorious murderer Roland Pitre Jr., who was born Catholic and never underwent formal conversion to Judaism, leads Friday night services. One man Friedman told me about got a complimentary subscription to the local Jewish paper, culled the names of major donors and philanthropists, and attempted to pull a scam.

Now, that doesn’t mean that our correspondent was a fraud — and I was assured by Friedman that JPSI would do everything in its power to track down the man and institute the process. And I still do believe, when someone says they’re Jewish, they’re Jewish until proven otherwise. But it did caution me to be more careful about my trust…and whom I allow to print my charitable donations. ($1.35 to the Greenpeace girl in front of the building, y’all!)

Posted on August 26, 2008

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Africans, Emigrating to Israel, Shot by Egypt

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NPR reports that refugees from Sudan, Eritrea and Kenya, fleeing the economic and health crises in their own countries, are pouring into Israel. But they must cross the border into Egypt in order to traverse into Israel, and Egyptian border patrols have become increasingly vigilant in recent days, killing five Africans, and possibly several more.

[Jerusalem-based Times of London reporter Sheera] Frenkel says the crackdown over the last six months has been significant. She also says human rights organization she’s spoken to in Israel and Egypt have heard of dozens of other shootings. Frenkel described a day a year ago when Israeli soldiers witnessed a lynching, and another when Egyptian soldiers used rocks, stones and pieces of wood to kill illegal crossers.

It’s a known fact that Israel lacks a certain immediacy, shall we say, in policing the flow of immigrants, legal and otherwise. And of all the countries in the area, Israel is historically the most likely to open its arms to refugees. Curiously, the NPR story makes no mention of how Israel has responded, other than debating the question as to whether to treat the incoming Africans as refugees or migrants.

Posted on August 25, 2008

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

The Jews of India

This entry was posted in History on by .

A recent issue of the Economist had a fascinating review of Edna Fernandes’ new book The Last Jews of Kerala: The Two Thousand Year History of India’s Forgotten Jewish Community.

Mattancheri is Indian Jewry’s most famous settlement. Its pretty streets of pastel-coloured houses, connected by first-floor passages and home to the last 12 sari- and sarong-wearing, white-skinned Indian Jews, are visited by thousands of tourists each year. Its synagogue, built in 1568, with a floor of blue-and-white Chinese tiles, a carpet given by Haile Selassie and the frosty Yaheh selling tickets at the door, stands as an image of religious tolerance. India’s Jews have almost never suffered discrimination, except from European colonisers — and each other.

Despite what some of them claim, Mattancheri’s Jews are not Kerala’s last Jewish community, nor its oldest. In nearby Ernakulam there are about 40 Malabari Jews, of dark, Keralite complexion. Survivors of a community over 1,000 years old, with seven synagogues, now disused, and once extensive landholdings, the Malabaris were the privileged stewards of Kerala’s ancient kings. But they were usurped by the white Jews, who arrived from Europe in the 16th century.

We have an article about Indian Jewry and Indian Jewish food on MJL, which refers to three Jewish communities in India: the Baghdadi Jews of Calcutta, the Bene Israel of Bombay and the Black Jews of Cochin. I Googled around a bit and it seems Cochin is part of Kerala.

The Economist has issues with some of Fernandes’ writing, but admits that she’s illuminated some amazing little stories.

These include the tale of a pair of poor Tamils, who regularly cross India to deliver free vegetables to one of Mattancheri’s aged Jews. They have their eye on her house. In a futile effort to ingratiate themselves to her, one even gets circumcised. They are known in Mattancheri as “Fools Number One and Two�.

And then there is Anil Abraham, a lighthearted young Malabari, who does not want to leave Kerala but fears that he must. He wants “a Jewish wife who will not give me a headache�. (MORE)

Posted on August 25, 2008

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A Vice President, a Sacred Space

This entry was posted in History, Practices on by .

I went home for Shabbat. Home meaning my parents’ house, which despite knowing I shouldn’t — I have an apartment I pay rent on and a wife and kid I come home to — I still I think of when I say the word “home.” I’ve put my parents through a lot of forced changes, from surprising them with the fact that I’d become religious to the time I called up to tell them — from Australia — that my wedding was going to be 12,000 miles further than they might have anticipated. They’ve had to re-kasher their kitchen between 2 and 4 times, depending who you ask.

I’m telling you all of this to preface the fact that, on Friday, my mother (who’s also, I should note, a lifelong Democrat) went on a harsh, Obama-directed rant.

“Why does he think he’s so important?” she huffed. “What, he already chose his vice president, and he thinks he’s too good to tell the rest of us? The news said he’s going to text his followers. On Friday night!! I know I’m not, you know, so religious, but I bet there’s a lot of people out there who are pretty miffed that they’re missing it.”

I mean, seriously. One lone Orthodox Jew swipes the man’s prayer in a PR stunt, and he takes it out on all of us?

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Posted on August 25, 2008

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On the Ground Peace Efforts

This entry was posted in History on by .

“The whole idea of Chefs for Peace is to show that here we are, working in one kitchen, Muslim, Christian and Jew, working with one of the most dangerous utensils, a knife, and we don’t kill each other. Instead we cook with loveâ€?, for their semiannual dinner in Haifa. (Jerusalem Post)

Rabbi Melissa Weintraub talks to Australian radio about Encounter, an organization which she co-founded, which brings non-Israeli “Jewish leaders from across the political spectrum into Palestinian cities and the West Bank.” (ABC Australia)

In the most northern part of the West Bank, the Green Line and the separation barrier are on the same line, separating Gilboa from Jenin. Pragmatic attitudes by local leaders on both sides have produced “economic and social development plans that are based on creating a new cross-boundary reality….an industrial zone that will be built on the Palestinian side of the border. A logistical center and a medical center are planned on the Israeli side� and more. (Jerusalem Post)

Posted on August 22, 2008

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More Magneto Fun

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

Okay, remember when we learned about the Jewish heritage of various comic-book characters yesterday? Now, we’re going to see it in action.

magnetokillcrop.jpg

Okay, admittedly, this is a Friday thing. But, hey, it’s a Friday. And any comic that has the line “Let my people go, ya mook!” is worthy of being included in *my* canon.

Posted on August 22, 2008

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy