Tuesday, July 05, 2005


Please take a quick moment to stand against terror and for Israel by signing
the following petition to George Bush.

To: George Bush
On August 15, 2005, the Israeli government, under pressure from the United States, is planning on handing over the city of Gush Katif, Israel, located in the Gaza Strip to the Palestinian Authority.

9,000 jewish people currently live in this city and are being expelled from their homes. The land is being taken away from the jewish residents with absolutely nothing in return other than the Palestinian Authority's threat that terrorist attacks will continue until Israel concedes land. There has been very little media coverage in the US. The little coverage the media has given has been inaccurate. As I write, the Palestinians are stockpiling supplies such as food, weapons and the like. The last time the Palestinians stockpiled supplies in this fashion was before they attacked Israel during the Oslo War. They are obviously preparing for some kind of initiative.

The Palestinians believe that they are gaining Gush Katif in response to their "martyrdom". Gush Katif is strategically located and once the PA has control over it, Israel will become many times more vulnerable to terrorist attacks.

Please speak out against the atrocities taking place in G-d's holy land. By signing this petition, you are taking a stand against terror and against terrorist threats and ultimatums.

Link to petition

Company can ID that song that's driving you crazy

Ever had trouble naming that tune you heard on the radio or in a club?
Now, if you can't track down someone who can tell you what it was, you can try something new: 411-SONG.
You call a toll-free number on your cell phone and play the music you're trying to identify for 15 seconds. (Warning: Don't mix driving and song identification.) The program then contacts you via text message, whether it can make the ID or not.
Sorry, but humming a tune won't work.
But the service can distinguish between different performers' versions of the same tune to match audio "fingerprints" from its database of more than 2.5 million popular recordings.
The database doesn't include classical music or jazz.

Costs 99 cents each

A Chicago Sun-Times reporter tried the service with four songs -- two well-known and two somewhat obscure, and 411-SONG scored correctly three out of four times.
It nailed Johnny Cash's "I Walk the Line," Dr. Hook's "Cover Of The Rolling Stone" and Deanta's "The Rocky Reels" from a Celtic collection. But, oy vey, mon, 411-SONG missed a song from a well-reviewed Hasidic reggae album by Matisyahu.
The service charges 99 cents for each tune it correctly identifies. In the near future, 411-SONG plans to introduce a flat-rate unlimited service.
411-SONG also offers ringtones to download at $2 to $3 each.
Cingular, T-Mobile, Verizon and Sprint PCS customers can use 411-SONG. Only Cingular customers now can link directly from the text message to buy ringtones. Users of other services have to go online if they want to buy ringtones -- or the tracks themselves.


Hareidi Students Will Only Improve Matters

MK Eli Yishai, who heads the Sephardic hareidi Shas Party stated on Monday that a Central Bureau of Statistics report predicting a quarter of the schools’ student body will be hareidi Orthodox by 2009 is not a cause for fear, but delight.

Yishai explained “when a quarter of students in Israel will begin learning in hareidi institutions, the level of violence and crime in the education system will decline. It will only be natural that a student in the hareidi network will adhere to the values and traditions of the Jewish People”.



Monday, July 04, 2005

Chaos at National Wholesale Liquidators in Boro-Park

A Heimishe woman shopping at National Wholesale Liquidators in Boro-Park caused quite a ruckus. The woman had purchased over $300 worth of merchandise which took well over ten minutes to completely ring up. She then proceeded to hand the cashier a check to pay for the items she had purchased. When the cashier explained to the woman that there was a store policy that they did not accept checks, the woman went wild and claimed that her check was different because it was a business check. The cashier repeated to the woman the store policy of no checks whatsoever. The woman proceeded to hold up the line and not let anyone else check out until she could speak to the owner of the store. At this point, other patrons, which had been waiting patiently up until now, began screaming that their five dollar purchase was not worth having to put up with all this. As a manager of the store approached to see what the problem was, the other patrons continued cursing loudly and left the store. The Heimishe woman still refused to move. Heshy Rubinstein, the Head of Security at National Wholesale Liquidators, approached the many patrons that were leaving and tried to calm them down. He then proceeded to the Heimishe woman to see what he could do for her. The woman did not want to hear anything, she just kept on saying that she wanted the owner there right away. After Heshy explained to her that the owner had over fifteen branches and was not on hand at the time, she insisted to speak to the manager. When she did not like what the manger had told her, she asked her kids to bring back all of her bags and began to unpack everything right there. She then told the cashier that she would only buy the items that she needed and would never return to the store again. After finally paying for her stuff, the woman left and on her way out told another Heimishe woman not to shop there because they mistreat their customers.

Israel warns of assassination danger

Israel's president warned Monday that Jewish extremists opposed to this summer's pullout from Gaza and part of the West Bank could assassinate Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

President Moshe Katsav issued the warning as settler leaders tried to rein in extremists by issuing a code of conduct for opposing the pullout, and a court extended the detention of a Jewish youth filmed in Gaza stoning a Palestinian who was already unconscious.

As the mid-August start date for the evacuation nears, opponents — many driven by religious beliefs — are readying more extreme measures to try to stop it. Protesters, most of them Orthodox Jewish teenagers, have blocked main highways several times. Police have reported foiling plots to sabotage water and electricity supplies.

"They are definitely likely to try and carry out extremist acts ... like killing the prime minister," he said.

Many Orthodox Jews believe no government has the right to relinquish any part of the biblical "promised land," which includes the West Bank and Gaza. Some rabbis who guide the settlers have urged soldiers to disobey orders to take part in the evacuation and are suspected of tacitly endorsing violent opposition.

Katsav urged settler leaders, particularly rabbis, to temper their calls. He said it was likely extremists would misunderstand statements by some rabbis that the pullout endangers Israel's existence.

"Some misguided individuals may come and say 'I need to save the state of Israel because the rabbis say Israel is in danger'," Katsav said.

Rabin's killer, Yigal Amir, cited rabbinical rulings as his justification for shooting the prime minister.

Protests turned violent last week when a small group of extremists took over buildings in Gaza, clashing with security forces and Palestinians. Extremists also scattered spikes and oil on the main Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway and blocked highway intersections.

In one Gaza incident that raised an outcry, Israeli teens attacked a Palestinian youth, throwing rocks at his head as he lay unconscious and bleeding. TV cameras showed one of the attackers shouting, "let him die."

Shimshon Sitrin, an 18-year-old West Bank resident who is the prime suspect in the case, was brought before a court in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba on Monday, and a judge extended his detention by six days.

Sitrin's father, Shaul, defended his son, telling Army Radio the case was a conspiracy of the Israeli media.

"When a Jew acts in self defense he is called a killer, or they say he is carrying out a lynching. The ones who are carrying out a lynching here are the media, and no one else," he said.

Settler leaders met in Gaza on Monday to draw up the code of conduct for opposition to the pullout. Last week's violence crossed "a red line," said pro-settler lawmaker Effie Eitam, who initiated the charter.

"Attempts to physically harm people, to target roads are unacceptable," Eitam told Israel Radio. "They are forbidden both by the law and by Jewish tradition, and they do not help the struggle."

The code calls on settlers to refrain from "acts of provocation or revenge against Palestinians," the Maariv daily reported.

In another development, a Hamas spokesman said the Islamic group has decided not to join Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas's government. Sami Abu Zuhri said the Islamic group made the decision late Monday, turning down an invitation from Abbas.

Israel opposes a role for Hamas in the Palestinian government before it lays down its arms, but Abbas prefers to co-opt the militants rather than confront them.



Sunday, July 03, 2005

Robberies in Williamsburg over the last week

There has been a large amount of robberies over the last week in Williamsburg houses. The perpetrator enters through a basement door and then burglarizes the house. Williamsburg Shomrim have asked people that live in Williamsburg and have a basement, to secure their basement doors in order to avoid any problems.

The Miracle Worker

Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski

It's the unlikeliest of hugs.

One set of arms extends from an elderly Hasidic rabbi with a sugar-spun beard, clad in a frock coat and velvet yarmulke. His appearance is more reminiscent of prewar Eastern Europe than modern-day Western Pennsylvania.

Completing the embrace is a young addict, with pained, tired eyes that belie his age. We don't know his name or his demon of choice.

It could be alcohol or heroin or pain-killers or something else. The particular substance doesn't matter. Not really, anyway.

What matters is that like the hundreds of patients here at Gateway Rehabilitation Center in Center Township, Beaver County, the man has been given another chance at sobriety, another chance at life.

"That was the first time I heard you speak," the man tells the rabbi, tugging on his baggy jeans and subconsciously checking to make sure his stubbed-out cigarette is still tucked behind his ear. "Thank you so much," he says, softly but without shame.

Hugs for Dr. Abraham Twerski come by the dozens here during his monthly visits to the nonprofit drug and alcohol treatment center he founded in 1972.

They come in the security line at the airport and in the aisles of the grocery store. They come from strangers in the streets of countries as far away as Japan, Finland and Brazil. They come from recovered addicts in all walks of life -- surgeons, politicians, journalists and construction workers.

Even women have found a way to hug Twerski without violating the religious principle that forbids him from having co-ed physical contact with anyone other than his wife and daughters.

"Abe!" shouts a heavyset black woman dressed in pink hospital scrubs in the Gateway lobby, where a portrait of Twerski hangs in the corner he refers to sarcastically as "the shrine." She clasps her arms across her chest and sways side-to-side as Twerski does the same, standing a few feet away.

"You never have to worry about me getting in trouble because I don't have any anonymity," Twerski says.

He wouldn't have it any other way.

More than 30 years after entering the wrenching field of chemical dependency, it's the human contact that sustains Twerski, and in turn, has improved the lives of thousands of people on the brink of self-destruction.

By now, it's a familiar, but no less remarkable story. No matter how many times you hear it, though, it still sounds more like a fable than reality.

It's the story of a rabbi -- descended from the 18th-century Baal Shem Tov, Master of the Good Name, the mystic founder of the Hasidic movement -- who became a psychiatrist specializing in drug and alcohol addiction.

Twerski, 74, is a world-renowned expert on substance abuse, religious scholar and beloved spiritual guru.

In addition to establishing Gateway, which has been named as one of the 12 best treatment centers in the country by Forbes magazine, he served for 20 years as the clinical head of psychiatry at St. Francis Hospital.

"Dr. Twerski is the person you would go to talk to in tough situations," says Dr. Ben Taitelbaum, 66, of Squirrel Hill, Twerski's childhood friend who worked alongside him at the now-defunct Lawrenceville hospital. "Not only was there medical and psychiatric expertise, but there was a certain wisdom there that made him a great resource."

Twerski has recorded this wisdom in 50 books, some translated into several languages, with titles like "Getting up when you're down," "Living each day," and "When do good things start?" a collaborative effort with Peanuts comic strip creator and friend Charles Schulz. His latest book -- "From pulpit ... to couch ..." -- will be released this month.

His lectures on stress, self-esteem and faith still draw standing-room-only crowds. He appears in eight videotapes and publishes a weekly advice column called "Dear Rabbi" in a Jewish newspaper.

But Twerski's real accomplishment is the nearly 45,000 people he estimates that he has helped to usher from the dark, desperate depths of addiction to sobriety. To illustrate this point, he pulls out a file folder stuffed with thank-you letters, some yellow and creased, others more recent, from former patients.

"It's been over seven months since my last drink and you know I feel great," one woman writes.

Card after card bears the same basic message of recovery and overwhelming gratitude.

Twerski closes the folder and removes his lunch from the refrigerator.

Because he follows strict kosher dietary laws, he prepared the cholent -- a Jewish stew of meat, beans and potatoes -- at home in New York and carried it with him on the airplane for his brief stay in Pittsburgh. He heats his meal in the microwave, pours himself a cup of water from his Thermos and reclines in his desk chair.

Focus on Twerski's deeply etched face and the ancient aroma of his meal and you could be in a rabbi's study in turn-of-the-century Poland.

Indeed, Twerski set out to model himself after his father, a Hasidic rabbi who immigrated from Russia to escape persecution in the 1920s and landed in Milwaukee. Hasidism is one of the most staunchly traditional, insular sects of Orthodox Judaism that stresses the mercy of God and encourages joyous religious expression through music and dance.

The middle child of five boys, Twerski watched people flow in and out of his father's study for counseling at all hours of the day.

"Our house became Grand Central Station for people with problems," he says, pulling at his wispy sidelocks and pushing his yarmulke back on his balding head. "Even judges would sometimes tell their litigants, 'Take the case to Twerski.' That's what I was modeling myself after."

Twerski was chosen by his father to take over the pulpit. But the meteoric rise of clinical psychiatry and psychology after World War II meant fewer people were turning to their clergymen for counseling.

"I spent my first three years as a rabbi presiding over weddings, bar mitzvahs and funerals," Twerski says. "That's not what I wanted to do. I did not want to go through life being a performer of rituals. It seemed nobody wanted what I had to offer."

So the natural-born counselor opted to attend medical school at Marquette University School of Medicine and became a psychiatrist to do what he had wanted to do as a rabbi.

A 1959 Time article described how Twerski juggled his religious obligations in the secular world of medicine. For example, he had to wear a "snood-like surgical mask" to cover his beard, which posed "a sanitary problem" and wore a cotton prayer shawl instead of the customary wool to avoid setting off a static spark that could ignite the anesthetic in the operating room, the magazine recounts.

While completing his residency at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's Western Psychiatric Institute, he met a woman named Isabelle who piqued his interest in alcoholism. The daughter of an Episcopal priest, Isabelle was an alcoholic who had been rejected by her family and turned to prostitution. She had been through detoxification more than 90 times before committing herself to a state hospital for a year.

"I wondered what would motivate this woman to make this drastic change," Twerski says. "I had never heard anything about alcoholism. They didn't teach it in medical school or psychiatry."

Isabelle came out of the hospital sober and stayed that way with the help of Alcoholics Anonymous and its 12-step process of recovery, which emphasizes taking a moral inventory, admitting wrongs, accepting the will of God.

Her story intrigued Twerski so much he decided to attend an AA meeting. He was amazed by the sense of parity and interdependence among recovering alcoholics he couldn't find anywhere else, even in religion.

"Once you walk through the doors, who you are and what you have doesn't make a difference," Twerski says. "For the first time, I saw a place with real equality, and I was impressed."

Twerski's only experience with chemical dependence was the narcotic Demerol he took for a few days 20 years ago while recovering from an intestinal infection, yet he continues to go to Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous meetings. The 12 steps can do more than help people beat addiction -- they provide the tools for character and spiritual development that we all could benefit from, he says.

"Everybody has character defects, but only people in AA and NA have to face those defects and make amends," Twerski says.

Twerski finishes his lunch with a cup of coffee with kosher milk powder and a few pieces of rugelach. He slips on his black hat, recites the grace after meals in Hebrew and then sets out across the Gateway campus to talk to a group of men -- most of them in their 20s and 30s -- from the Tom Rutter House, one of the center's residential halfway houses.

With his almost otherworldly presence, Twerski commands the attention of the room, finding a way to relate to these recovering addicts.

"Whatever I do, I do it one day at time," he begins his lecture, reciting the basic tenet of the 12-step program.

The topic today, like most days, is self-esteem.

Twerski talks for about 45 minutes without the help of notes and almost without pause. He segues effortlessly from anecdote to affirmation to inside joke. He peppers his talk with surprising colloquialisms like "ain't" and "damn." He shares advice with the men about how to beat their addictions and tells them, above all, to believe in themselves.

"Do you know what a raw, uncut diamond looks like when it comes out of a mine?" Twerski asks.

Several men lean forward. Others nod their heads.

"It looks like a piece of dirty glass," he says, answering his own question.

Inside everybody is a diamond, Twerski says.

"You may be telling yourself: 'I don't look like a diamond. I don't feel like a diamond," he tells his audience. "But you know what this place is? It's a diamond-polishing center. If you stay with us, we'll show you how to work the 12 steps to find the beauty inside the rock."

After his talk, he is surrounded by men eager to introduce themselves. Every handshake becomes a hug.

Twerski considers Gateway to be a monument to Isabelle -- a lasting testimony to the basic good he sees inside of everyone.

He opened the center in the quiet woods of Beaver County almost 35 years ago to fill the void he saw in the region for substance abuse treatment. St. Francis had a program for detoxification and in-hospital AA meetings, but no facility existed to provide alcoholics with the guidance they needed to stay sober.

"It was pretty revolutionary in this area to start a rehabilitation center when he did," said Sharon Eakes, former vice president of treatment at Gateway, who worked at the center for 25 years.

Eakes describes Twerski as tough, but not judgmental; brilliant, but unfailingly human.

"Abe has touched a lot of lives," Eakes said. "He is both deeply spiritual and deeply in this world, and that's a rare mix."

Gateway weathered the financial storm created by the onset of managed care and now has a network of 20 program locations spread across Allegheny, Beaver, Erie and Westmoreland counties, as well as eastern Ohio. The center's reach even has extended overseas to Jerusalem, where Twerski helped to establish a rehab center for drug-related convicts.

Gateway offers detoxification, inpatient and outpatient services for teenagers and adults. On any given day, the center is in contact with about 1,800 in need of help.

Clearly, not every patient can be a success story. Some relapse and return before they become sober. Others fail altogether.

The center's latest study found that 42 percent of 249 randomly selected patients reported being continuously abstinent for three years after treatment.

"The hardest part of my job is when you lose someone," Twerski says, rubbing his heavy-lidded eyes. "To me, it's like somehow or other I wasn't good enough, that I let him down."

Twerski now lives in Monsey, N.Y., with his second wife, Dr. Gail Bessler-Twerski, whom he met at a convention of Orthodox Jewish psychotherapists. They also have a home in Efrat, Israel. His first wife of 43 years, Goldie, died of breast cancer in 1995, making sure to leave behind notes in their house that encouraged her husband to remarry.

Their daughter, Sarah, is a transplant nurse at UPMC Presbyterian Hospital in Oakland. All three sons live in Brooklyn, N.Y. Isaac is a metallurgic engineer; Ben is a psychologist; and Shlomo is a tax attorney.

Although he no longer makes his home in Pittsburgh, Twerski still returns to Gateway a couple days every month to lecture and encourage patients, staying at a hotel near the airport when he visits.

"This is a place you can't run away from," Twerski says.

Retirement is just a figure of speech for the rabbi-cum-psychiatrist who spends his days answering e-mail requests for help -- typing methodically with two fingers at a time -- and drafting his newspaper column and books. His "Sober Thought For The Day" appears daily on the Gateway Web site. He still lectures about five times a year and travels extensively.

Every morning, Twerski attends religious services and studies the Talmud, the collection of ancient rabbinic writings on Jewish law and tradition.

When he isn't learning or writing, he enjoys cooking, watching an inning or two of baseball and spending time with his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. If you ask him how many children there are, he will answer "not enough" to put the kibosh on the evil eye.

But aside from family, religion and the occasional leisure distraction, Twerski remains wholly dedicated to his role as a healer -- although some may call him a miracle worker.

Indeed, Twerski says miracles happen every day at Gateway.

"There's just a limit to how many things can be coincidence," he says, although to him, it is God's hand, not his own, that is creating the miracles.

Twerski may not see himself as blessed with extraordinary powers, but he understands the magnitude and nature of his legacy.

"I want to be remembered like the guy who discovered the diamonds in the uncut stones," he says. "That's what makes it all worthwhile."


Symbolic fences ease Sabbath for Orthodox Jews

Yaakov Watkins stands outside his Eruvmobile, an Oldsmobile used to patrol Denver eruvs, or Orthodox Jewish enclaves, in search of maintenance issues. He uses the pole to untangle strings marking the boundaries.

Life isn't easier at the Kasztls' house because of where their laundry room is, which kitchen appliances they own or how much maintenance their floor coverings require.

It's easier because of where their house is located.

This Orthodox Jewish family lives in one of Denver's three eruvs, or well-defined enclaves, that have been created to ease Orthodox Jews' lives during the Sabbath.

Carrying anything, be it a book or a baby, anywhere except in one's home or yard is defined as work by Jewish law and is prohibited from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. Thousands of years ago, rabbis decided that a yard could be defined as an area large enough to include many homes as long as they were properly enclosed and became one community.

The eruv was born.

Living in one isn't required, nor does it release Orthodox Jews from the broader prohibition against work on the Sabbath, which means they may not drive, turn on lights or cook.

"When I grew up in Denver, there were no eruvs, and we survived, but it sure is nice to have one," said Ben Kasztl.

Kasztl, a real estate agent who helps other Orthodox families find homes, has lived in the East Denver Eruv for eight years. He and his wife, Chava, have two young daughters.

"My wife loves it because it gives us so much freedom," he said. "If you have an infant, you end up stuck at home during Sabbath. Living here has opened up whole new opportunities for us."

Hundreds of cities around the United States and the world have eruvs, including New York, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Miami, Los Angeles and Minneapolis.

Like Denver, many have more than one because they have more than one Jewish neighborhood.

Denver's oldest eruv was founded in 1993 near the East Denver Orthodox Synagogue at 198 S. Holly St. A second was established in the mid-1990s in west Denver near Congregation Zera Avraham, 1560 Winona Court, and a third was founded about two years ago in Greenwood Village near Ahavas Yisroel-Aish HaTorah, 9550 E. Belleview Ave.

An estimated 6 million Jews live in the U.S., about 73,000 of them in Colorado, according to a survey by the American Jewish Committee in 2002.

It's difficult to determine how many of them are Orthodox Jews, but Yaakov Watkins estimates that Colorado has at most 7,000. Watkins is director of the East Denver Eruv and helped established the one in Greenwood Village.

"We're not creating a place that's 'Jews only,"' he said, "but rather a place Jews can be. Jewish people tend to live in certain neighborhoods, and we put up an eruv around where people already live. We have a clear cultural identity and are used to living in a close-knit community."

The fences around an eruv are symbolic and unobtrusive. They incorporate buildings, overhead wires, poles and other objects in the landscape.

Each week, Watkins drives and walks the boundaries of the East Denver and Greenwood Village eruvs, and calls a repair crew if one is needed. Eruv residents can call a hotline to check its status or have notification sent to them via e-mail.

Location within an eruv can add as much as 10 percent to the value of a house in some cities. In Sharon, Mass., for example, homes inside an eruv were valued at $25,000 more than nearly identical homes located outside, the Boston Globe reports.

Demand isn't as strong in Denver. Said Watkins: "Theory says (being located in an eruv) would make a house more valuable, but, in reality, paint job A or paint job B could be a bigger factor."

Because Orthodox Jews don't drive on the Sabbath, Kasztl said, how close a home is to a synagogue may have more impact on its value.

"The furthest someone is going to walk to synagogue is probably a mile and a half," he said.

"If the house is farther than that, it's not going to work for a Jewish family."

The economic impact of an eruv is more obvious for businesses that cater to Orthodox Jews, Watkins said. "I was getting so many phone calls from people looking for businesses that I started to feel like a mini chamber of commerce."

In addition to aiding Orthodox Jews in the practice of their faith, Watkins believes, the eruvs strengthen community.

"The bottom line of an eruv is that it allows us to get together on Sabbath," he said.

"And by defining the boundaries of our community, we are bringing that community together."

Three hotels near the East Denver Eruv now also are doing their part to serve the community. Two of them donate maintenance help to the eruv, and all provide special touches that appeal to the Jewish guest.

"The Orthodox community gets overlooked a lot, so we wanted to go out of our way to accommodate them," said Stephanie Simons, guest-services manager at Staybridge Suites, 4220 E. Virginia Ave. "It's an important sector of business for us, so we make sure they can celebrate their faith and stay here."

Simons estimates that about 20 percent of the hotel's guests are Jewish. Several rooms have timers that turn on the lights during the Sabbath, and manual door keys are available for Jews who observe the restriction on electricity use during Sabbath.


The new anti-Semitism - It's not anti-Semitism, but it could become that

"Smearing as anti-Semitic those who stand up and speak out in behalf of human and civil rights for the long-oppressed, dispossessed, and exploited Palestinian people does not make it so. Anti-Semitism, bias against and hatred of Jews on the basis of race and/or religion, is a social problem in the USA, but it is not the problem that anti-Arab and anti-Muslim bias is. Hate crimes against Arabs and Muslims, like vandalism and arson attacks on mosques and Islamic centers, are far more frequent occurrences and represent a far more serious problem than hate crimes against Jews and Jewish places of worship."

In Britian, Christian Zionist leaders are striking out at church leaders and writers who defend the human and civil rights of Palestinians and question the theology of Armageddonism. Two have lambasted the Rev. Stephen Sizer, Vicar of Christ Church, Virginia Water, Surrey, and author of Christian Zionism: Roadmap to Armageddon? Some outspoken champions of human rights here in the States have also been attacked by Israel-firsters, but the situation is changing.

A deplorable ignorance of and inability to understand the complexities of Jewish life and culture, coupled with the constantly reinforced image of European Jews as history’s most sympathetic victims, and a wholly laudable desire to prevent another unspeakable crime like the Nazi holocaust, leaves a great many Americans vulnerable to the mythology and propaganda with which ardent Zionists routinely seek to mask criminal excesses committed in the name of Israel’s security. Similarly, many American Christians seem to be unaware or functionally incapable of internalizing the knowledge that Islam, like Christianity and like Judaism, is one of the three Abrahamic faiths, all of which worship the same God though they refer to that God by different names (Allah, God, and Yahweh). Moreover, among many church leaders at every level, the term "interfaith dialog" seems to be little more than a term of art signifying a long-standing commitment to Jewish-Christian relations, to the effective exclusion of all other faith communities. ("Interfaith conversation" would better describe a genuinely inclusive effort to communicate across the boundaries of faith traditions.) Worse, when questioned or challenged, church leaders who are committed to a special and distinctly preferential relationship between Jews and Christians are quick to cite “the Judeo-Christian tradition” and suggest that anti-Semitic bias motivates those who hold more inclusive views, even when those views are based explicitly upon the New Testament teachings of Jesus and the norms of international law and U.S. laws requiring that all people, regardless of race, religion, or national origin, be afforded equal treatment and basic human rights under the law. Those church leaders, like many ardent Zionists, Christian and Jewish alike, seem to be incapable of comprehending that intelligent, educated, and informed citizens might quite reasonably choose to oppose the excesses and crimes of Zionist organizations and criticize certain policies and actions of the government of Israel - especially those that make a mockery of international human rights law - and yet not be guilty of anti-Semitic bias or hatred of Jews.

As the late, great Israel Shahak pointed out, Zionism is not easily understood, in large part because Zionists take pains not to be easily or readily understood outside a purposefully insular, determinedly parochial, and politically reactionary culture:

The usual treatments of Zionism, whether by enemies, friends, or apologists, are usually vitiated by two interconnected errors. The first is lack of discussion of the related historical background. Although the Jewish situation in the nineteenth century is almost always discussed, especially the second half of that century, the immediately preceding period is usually ignored. This is a great mistake because the 19th century was a time of rapid change for Jews. . . . It was then that all essential aspects of Orthodox Judaism developed—from the rabbinate (which did not exist before) to the very clothes worn by ultra-orthodox Jews. The influences of the Jewish mode of life persisted, together with the beliefs that were created or crystallized during that period. To a greater or lesser extent, these influences continue to the present time. In fact, they are increasing and have greatly influenced the Zionist movement.

The second common error in treatments of Zionism is forgetting that Zionism is a Jewish movement [emphasis in the original], the first objective of which was to influence Jews. Other aims, such as expulsion or enslavement of Palestinians and the domination of the whole Middle East, are basically for a Jewish reason. . . . Zionists ignore them when speaking or writing in languages other than Hebrew.

. . . Zionism presents a façade of “secular” or “western” values while perpetuating many characteristics of Jewish society of the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries.

Zionism cannot be understood by concentrating only on Zionist actions in Palestine and the whole Middle East. Their worldwide purposes have been profoundly influenced by early periods of Jewish history which cannot be ignored. . . . Zionism as a Jewish movement is a reaction against progressive changes in Jewish life starting about 100 to 200 years before Zionism’s beginnings. “Reaction” or “recidivist movement” means a movement which, after [emphasis in the original] political and social change of essentially a liberating and progressive character, tries “to put back the clock” by attempting to revitalize the pre-change situation.

. . . [A] linguistic cultural barrier, almost absolute in 1774, continues even now in Zionist policies. It is apparent in the efforts to revive . . . a distinctly parochial “Jewish” culture. Reinforced by overwhelming military power, it is effectively antisepticised against serious interaction with any other culture. A notable, political consequence of this parochialism is the predilection of Israeli apologists for many Israeli policies to claim that normal, negative, international reactions are a matter of “us” against “them.” Or, in language more characteristic of Zionist political polemics, that these negative reactions are motivated by “anti-Semitism.” It is in this spirit that the United Nations General Assembly is often described as “anti-Semitic.”

. . . Many motives behind Israeli politics that so often bewilder the superficially informed, confused, western “friends of Israel” are explicable once they are seen as recidivist, or reactionary, in the political sense of the word. (Shahak, I. "Zionism as a Recidivist Movement: Origins of its Separatist Aims." -- Anti-Zionism: Analytical Reflections. Brattleboro: Amana Books. 1989, 280-289 passim)

Smearing as anti-Semitic those who stand up and speak out in behalf of human and civil rights for the long-oppressed, dispossessed, and exploited Palestinian people does not make it so. Anti-Semitism, bias against and hatred of Jews on the basis of race and/or religion, is a social problem in the USA, but it is not the problem that anti-Arab and anti-Muslim bias is. Hate crimes against Arabs and Muslims, like vandalism and arson attacks on mosques and Islamic centers, are far more frequent occurrences and represent a far more serious problem than hate crimes against Jews and Jewish places of worship. False, politically-motivated charges of anti-Semitism, which are more and more widely perceived as what they are, only further complicate the interfaith conversation and place the entire Jewish community in the unenviable position of the boy who cried "Wolf!" There is evidence of a perceptible shift in public opinion, driven in large part by growing public disgust with the chaos and death in Iraq and the transparently manipulative dishonesty with which the slavishly pro-Israel neoconservative cabal in the Bush administration, with the active assistance of Big Media and the complicity of many Democratic Party leaders, stampeded the nation into an illegal and unnecessary war in and occupation of that country, an occupation that is hideously expensive, stunningly brutal and destructive, and disastrously counterproductive. That shift in public opinion is not occurring in a vacuum. When asked privately about the role of the American Jewish community in U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, many Americans who have never in their lives publicly uttered the word "Zionism" quietly indicate, in no uncertain terms, that they understand quite well the inordinate influence that "Jews" have over U.S. policy. And they are not happy about it. That sentiment is illustrative of the danger Zionist leaders have persistently courted with their claims to be the exclusive spokespersons for and about all people and things Jewish, not to mention their efforts to silence or marginalize all dissenting views or their arrogant assumption of extraordinary influence as the unofficial arbiters of race relations in this country. With a growing perception that its leaders have over-reached at the expense of other groups in a manner that has put those other groups, and indeed the entire nation, at serious risk, any minority group, no matter how influential and powerful, runs the risk of generating increasingly serious ill-will.

It is literally true that selfish political sagacity is ultimately suicidal, destructive of all those enduring qualities that insure planetary group survival. And as Tanya Reinhart noted in her 30 March 2004 article in Yediot Aharonot, "Under military rule, Israel has become a leading force in the destruction of the very protections that humankind has established, out of World War II, for its own preservation, protections that we too may need one day, as history has already shown us."



Friday, July 01, 2005

Mayor disputes claims on housing

Just days after a prominent rabbi was handcuffed, arrested and charged with aggravated assault on a police officer, Mayor Charles Cunliffe pleaded Thursday night for people to tone down the rhetoric.

It didn't take.

Minutes after Cunliffe preached patience and understanding at Thursday night's Township Committee meeting, the Lakewood Improvement Association, a new civil rights group, made its public debut with charges of housing segregation and preferential treatment for the Orthodox Jewish community.

Each claim was disputed by Cunliffe, but that didn't stop association members from repeating them.

"This isn't about Jew vs. black, black vs. white," said the Rev. Kevin Nunn of Spirit of Truth World Vision Outreach in Asbury Park. "It's about right vs. wrong."

Nunn and other members of his ministry told Cunliffe that housing developments discriminate against non-Orthodox residents. Cunliffe responded that private developments are run by for-profit developers and are not governed by the same rules as public housing projects.

The Rev. Steven Brigham of Lakewood Outreach Ministry Church told the committee that a group of minority boys were kicked off the basketball court next to the Lakewood Community Center last week when a group of Orthodox boys came to play. Brigham said the Orthodox boys told the minority boys they had a permit to use the court.

The Orthodox boys, Brigham said, also had a key that allowed them to turn on the lights over the court. Once they did, six police cars arrived and officers told the minority boys to leave, Brigham said.

"I see this as discrimination," Brigham said. "There's laws being created in this town to segregate."

Cunliffe told Brigham that as a member of the clergy, he should not say untrue statements like that. Cunliffe then directed police Capt. Robert C. Lawson and Township Manager Frank Edwards to investigate the claims.

Edwards said he'll talk with Tom Ross, who runs the Fourth Street Community Center, today. Cunliffe noted many township fields require permits and that the soccer team he has coached has been removed from a Lakewood park for not having a permit.

"Give us the evidence," Cunliffe said. "We'll look into it."

A short parade of speakers criticizing the township came after Cunliffe asked people not to prejudge Rabbi Yosef Bursztyn's arrest until a full investigation is completed.

Bursztyn was charged on Tuesday with assaulting Officer Erik Menck on Sunday night. Menck was giving a warning to Bursztyn's niece on Forest Avenue when Bursztyn drove by and stopped, police said.

Bursztyn, after being told by Menck to back away from Menck's car, later reached into the car and grabbed Menck's shirt, police said. A struggle ensued and eventually Menck brought Bursztyn to the ground and arrested him.

On Monday night, hundreds of Orthodox Jewish residents rallied in front of the police station to decry the arrest.

"I know both men," Cunliffe said. "We have two good people, but something happened. I don't know what happened. You don't know what happened. Can we give the system a chance to work?"


Court's ruling on Decalogue split

A sharply divided U.S. Supreme Court this week wrestled with whether religious symbols can be permissible on government property, splitting two decisions over the constitutionality of displaying the Ten Commandments.

In separate 5-4 rulings, the court struck down posting the Decalogue in two Kentucky county courthouses, while allowing the display of a six-foot granite monument of the tablets on the grounds of the Texas Capitol amidst other historical markers.

While she was pleased with the Kentucky ruling that the display of the Ten Commandments unconstitutionally promoted religion, Bettysue Feuer, Cleveland-based regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, was disappointed in the Texas decision.

Even if displaying the sacred tablets is deemed constitutional, she asks, which Ten Commandments should be displayed? The Jewish version differs from the Commandments accepted by Christian faiths.

"Now we have a huge policy issue," Feuer says. "We all feel our version is the right one. Of course the Bahais, Hindus and atheists don't believe any of them are right."

Furthermore, presenting the religious symbol as merely one of many important documents and monuments denigrates the religious value of the Ten Commandments, she says.

In the two Supreme Court decisions totaling 150 pages, different majorities, with Justice Stephen Breyer as the swing vote in each ruling, found the Kentucky display had an overtly religious purpose and motivation, while the Texas monument did not. In each decision, the court invoked the constitutional principle of government neutrality toward religion.

It was the first time the Supreme Court had ruled on the Ten Commandments issue in 25 years. In 1980, the justices barred posting them in public schools.

The justices stressed the context and intent of each display in the rulings, which hinged on whether or not posting the Ten Commandments violated the First Amendment's prohibition against "establishing" or promoting a religion.

Liberal and conservative Jewish organizations found something to applaud in the decisions. While most Jewish groups oppose the public display of the Ten Commandments as a violation of church-state separation, these organizations were pleased that even in allowing the Texas monument, the justices said government must not promote religion.

Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, said in a written statement that the decisions affirmed "government neutrality toward religion at a time when, as Justice (David) Souter acknowledged, the religious community appears to be increasingly divided in American public life."

However, Marc Stern, general counsel for the American Jewish Congress, noted that the ruling meant that groups wanting to promote a religious message will simply cloak that intent in a secular purpose.

"It's going to require them to be circumspect in their intent, which is not a bad thing, but will lead to some hypocrisy," said Stern.

Orthodox Jewish groups, which support posting the Ten Commandments, said in a written statement that they were satisfied the rulings recognized that a proper expression of religion had a rightful place in the public arena. However, Rabbi Abba Cohen, Washington director and counsel for Agudath Israel of America, disputed the notion that public display of the Decalogue promoted religion.

"It strains the imagination that displays of the Ten Commandments in courts can be viewed as an establishment of religion," he said. "All such displays simply seek to acknowledge the Commandments' historical significance for the rule of law."

Some local Jewish leaders complained that the narrowly drawn decisions provided limited guidance, guaranteeing more litigation on the subject.

"This makes it more difficult for the lower courts," notes the ADL's Feuer.

The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations said it welcomed the rulings, which rejected extreme positions in favor of the "sensible approach" of neutrality. "It is a very good day for the Constitution in general and for religious liberty in the United States in particular," the organization said in a statement.

The OU joined with other Orthodox organizations in filing an amicus brief in support of the Texas monument. While the Orthodox groups' brief also backed the display of the Ten Commandments in the Kentucky case, it did acknowledge that the "evidence of religious favoritism" by public officials might "constitute impermissible endorsement of religion."

Nathan Diament, OU director of public policy, said, "As representatives of the faith to whom the Ten Commandments were initially given on Sinai, we have a deep appreciation for the role these principles have played in the development of a just and moral society. To entirely eliminate their display from the public square on the basis of their religious source would be a misguided attempt to oust religion from its critical role in American life."

In the Kentucky case, McCreary County vs. ACLU, Justice David Souter, writing for the majority, noted that the intent behind the display of the Commandments is crucial to its constitutionality.

Some displays of the Ten Commandments, including the one of Moses carrying the tablets next to images of Confucius, Mohammed, Augustus Caesar and Napoleon in the frieze on the Supreme Court building, are legal, he pointed out. But the two Kentucky counties originally stressed Christian values in the Ten Commandments when they hung them in the courtrooms.

After the American Civil Liberties Union sued to have the Decalogue removed, the counties added other exhibits, such as the national motto of "In God We Trust," to show "America's Christian heritage." Later, when a federal court ruled against that display, saying it promoted religion, the counties added historical documents such as the Bill of Rights.

"The secular purpose required has to be genuine, not a sham, and not merely secondary to a religious objective," Souter wrote in the decision striking down the Kentucky display.

In the Texas case, Van Orden vs. Perry, Judge William Rehnquist, writing the plurality opinion, acknowledged that there must be a division between religion and government. "Of course the Ten Commandments are religious, but simply "having religious content or promoting a message consistent with a religious doctrine does not run afoul of the Establishment Clause."

While joining in the Texas judgment, Breyer wrote his own opinion, describing the case as "borderline." Because the monument has been displayed for 40 years without challenge, he said most people clearly did not find it promoted religion. Rather, the public understood the granite tablets to be part of a "broader moral and historical message reflective of a cultural heritage."

Justice John Paul Stevens, writing a dissent in the Texas case, said that the monument was not a passive acknowledgement of religion, as the majority opinion stated. "This nation's resolute commitment to neutrality with respect to religion is flatly inconsistent with the plurality's wholehearted validation of ... the message that there is one, and only one, God," he said.

Steven R. Shapiro, legal director of the ACLU, said in a statement that he was gratified that the Supreme Court recognized the Ten Commandments as an inherently religious text. While the organization disagreed with the court's conclusion in the Texas case, Shapiro said, "a majority of the court has now clearly reaffirmed the principle that government may not promote a religious message through its display of the Ten Commandments."

The ACLU of Ohio was not prepared to comment on the two cases, said spokesman John Durkalski. Attorneys are still carefully studying the implications of the rulings on other Ten Commandments cases that the civil liberties group is litigating. The ACLU has sued over a display of the Ten Commandments in a Lucas County (Toledo) courtroom.

However, the day after the Supreme Court's rulings in the Ten Commandments cases, the ACLU claimed another victory on the issue. The Supreme Court declined to review the lower court rulings in two Ohio cases brought by the ACLU that involved the Ten Commandments.

The Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled last year that Ohio Valley/Adams County school officials must remove monuments displaying the Decalogue from the grounds of public high schools. The same court also ordered a Richland County judge to remove posters of the Ten Commandments hung in his courtroom. The Supreme Court action means the Sixth Circuit rulings stand.

John Hexter, area director of the American Jewish Committee, found the mixed signals of the Supreme Court rulings on the Texas and Kentucky cases to be puzzling.

In his dissent in the Kentucky case, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that the authors of the Constitution did not intend to ban religion from public life. "Nothing stands behind the court's assertion that governmental affirmation of the society's belief in God is unconstitutional except the court's own say-so."

Hexter took issue with Scalia's pronouncement that there was nothing unconstitutional in the state favoring religion generally. "This leaves out a whole lot of people who are doubters and who are protected under a secular system. Or, it tends to favor one religion over another."

-with reports from JTA

Liberal and conservative Jewish organizations found something to applaud in the decisions.


Orthodox Jews attack two gay pride parade marchers

An ultra-Orthodox Jew stabbed and wounded two marchers in the annual Jerusalem gay pride parade Thursday, the most serious in a series of incidents involving opponents of the gay and lesbian gathering.
Opponents tried to stop the march by throwing a stink bomb at the starting point, but several thousand marchers paraded through the center of Jerusalem anyway, braving shouts and insults from protesters, most young ultra-Orthodox Jews.
''Homo sex is immoral,'' read a sign carried by one protester. As the parade neared a main downtown intersection, the attacker jumped into the first group of marchers and stabbed a middle-aged man. Blood from his chest seeped through his shirt as he sat, dazed, at the side of the road before an ambulance came to take him to a hospital, where he was said to be seriously wounded.
The man, who was not immediately identified, was marching with his two teenage daughters.
The attacker stabbed another victim, wounding him slightly, before being apprehended, Israel Radio said. A number of others were arrested, the radio said.
The march proceeded despite the violence.
''It took many years for Jerusalem to have the gay pride parade,'' said one participant, 39-year-old Moshik Toledano, ''but once it happens, it makes no difference if the ultra-Orthodox come here and try to stop it.''
Organizers called off an international gay festival set for late summer because of Israel's planned pullout from the Gaza Strip and part of the West Bank.



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