Times Uncovers Ebay Sales of Free Movies: Reverse Piracy

Tired of reading about commercial films that you can download for free from some pirate web site? Here is the counter news story from the Times Bits blog. Turns out that you can actually pay for free public domain movies. Of course if you do pay for free content, you will have to confess to this and ask for atonement in the list of your sins on Yom Kippur.
On eBay, Some Profit by Selling What’s Free

While scouring eBay for interesting Christmas presents a while back, I found and bought a DVD of a film made in 1954 about my home town of Doylestown, Pa. After it arrived I went searching for more information about it — and found the entire film, available as a free download from the nonprofit Internet Archive.

It turned out that the eBay seller had simply downloaded the movie file, burned it onto a DVD and stuck it in the mail. And he was doing the same with a wide range of other public-domain material: military truck manuals from World War II, PowerPoint presentations on health matters from government doctors, vaudeville shorts from the late 1800’s.

The seller’s name is Jeffrey; he wouldn’t give his last name because, he said, strange buyers sometimes want to come by his house to pay for things in person. In an interview, Jeffrey said that he spends 20 to 30 hours a week working on his eBay business at his home near Dayton, Ohio. He wouldn’t say how much money he makes, but indicated that it was worth the time he was putting into it.

Jeffrey’s auction listings do say the material is in the public domain, and he acknowledges that it is all out there on the Web for those who know where to find it. But he said some of his customers were people who might not know how to turn a downloaded file into something they could watch on a TV or play on a CD player. Some have dial-up Internet connections that would choke on a 600-megabyte compilation of technical manuals. Others don’t have the time or expertise to search for specific information.

“Some people say ‘I could have gotten this on my own,’ but a lot of my stuff is very difficult to find,” he said.

Other sellers have gotten into the business since Jeffrey started doing this seriously in 1999, so sales are down somewhat. He estimated that there are 10 to 20 people selling public-domain material on eBay, and he said they watched each others’ auctions for clues as to what buyers might want. PowerPoint presentations from government sites, particularly on medical topics, are his latest niche.

Brewster Kahle, the digital librarian of the Internet Archive and a co-founder of the organization, said his group had no problem with people selling material from its online collection in this way. “There’s nobody making a lot of money off of this kind of thing,” he said.

Mr. Kahle added that he would, of course, like to see people making more creative use of the material, as in the case of this mashup of old instructional films and new footage that a couple made to show at their wedding.

I felt a little cheated when I found out that I had paid Jeffrey for a free movie. But at a time when there is so much focus on copyrighted material being ripped from CDs and DVDs and set loose on the Internet, it’s an interesting twist to find people taking non-copyrighted material in the other direction — and making some money from it.

Then there is the simple fact that if the film hadn’t ended up on eBay, I most likely would never have seen it — or given it to my dad, who got a kick out of it.

“I’m performing services much like Lexis-Nexis or any other company that sells data,” Jeffrey said. “Somebody has to do that research.”


An American Political Taboo: You Shall Not Lord Your Piety Over Your Opponent

In American democracy there is a rule. You Shall Not Lord Your Piety Over Your Opponent. To understand how this American taboo used to work in practice let’s take a trip down memory lane.

In 1990 Rudy Boschwitz lost his senate seat in Minnesota when his supporters violated an American taboo. They stepped across a boundary when they sent out a letter to Minnesota’s Jewish community saying that Boschwitz was a better Jew than his opponent, Paul Wellstone. Boschwitz, they said, helped young Jewish singles in Washington meet and marry other Jewish singles. Wellstone, on the other hand, they said, was married to a non-Jew. Vote, they said, for Rudy, the better Jew.

Wellstone put the Boschwitz-letter on TV in his ads. He let the public decide who is a better politician, who would make the better public servant. The voters swept Boschwitz out of office. Why? The Boschwitz camp mixed into the personal religious life of his opponent. They implied that marrying a non-Jew was bad. They insinuated that Boschwitz was more pious than his opponent. A better person.

That violated a commandment of American politics. Thou shalt not judge thine opponent’s personal piety.

In America, the principle is that politicians may compare their policies to their opponent’s on matters important to religious groups. They may compete on political matters that cross over into religious realms.

Another historical example. In 1996 NJ Senate candidates Zimmer and Torricelli duked it out in a Livingston, New Jersey synagogue. Who is a stronger supporter of Jewish interests? Who is a better friend of Israel? Did one of them speak years ago to an audience that harbored a terrorist? Politics and policies, yes. Personal piety, no.

In the South that same year, the father of Cynthia McKinney, a candidate running for a Georgia house seat, said her opponent was a “racist Jew”. John Mitnick, trying to unseat the black congresswoman, says she was a supporter of Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam. Ms. McKinney came close to the line. But the accusation of racism, as odious as it was, was essentially a political charge. And the support or lack thereof of Mr. Farrakhan, that was a political activity.

If Ms. McKinney were to have said that Mr. Mitnick is a bad Jew because he is a racist, she would have crossed the line and violated the rules. If Mr. Mitnick were to have said that Ms. McKinney was a bad Protestant because she supported the Nation of Islam, that would have been a transgression of serious proportions.

This brings us to another historical recollection, to Dole v. Clinton going at each other down the homestretch in ‘96. Dole decided to straddle the fine line. He vehemently invoked the “character” issue. Now that was kosher in American politics as long as it targeted political wrongdoings, shenanigans and schemes. But had Mr. Dole attacked Mr. Clinton’s personal piety, or his family ethics or even his sexual morality, that would have backfired. He’d have lost votes and alienated the public.

Those who violated the rules defied our cultural and political norms and showed their disdain for our values, they earned their losses the hard way.

But now we need to ask, have the rules of the game changed?

We will know the answer soon enough. Let’s go forward now to our coming season of presidential primaries.

If the rules hold, then Huckabee, for instance, is a goner. His Xmas TV ad steps way over the boundary. It screams out, “I am a better Christian than my opponents.” The voters should solidly reject this rhetoric and these holier than thou claims as the primaries progress.

That will be one clear test. Stay tuned. Let’s see if the religious motives of the events of 9/11 and the continual and overt religious rhetoric of the Bush era have changed the rules of the game.

Lower Jewish Presence on the Lower East Side

The AP reports on the demographic shifts of a New York neighborhood:
Lower East Side Matzo Factory for Sale

NEW YORK (AP) — Long after most of its customers left the neighborhood to pursue the American Dream, the last matzo factory on the Lower East Side is moving out, saying goodbye to a part of town that was once home to hundreds of thousands of immigrant Jews.

Streit's, a family-owned matzo-making giant that churns out 16,000 pounds of unleavened bread a day and has been on the Lower East side for nearly three-quarters of a century, is putting the property up for sale.

It hopes to get $25 million for the antiquated six-story building in a part of New York where tenements and sweatshops have given way to fine hotels and condos, expensive restaurants and trendy nightclubs.

"We're doing this with a heavy heart," said Aaron Gross, the great-great-grandson of founder Aron Streit, an Austrian immigrant. "We're America's last family-owned matzo factory."

The red-brick factory will keep producing matzo until the family builds a new one in about a year, probably in New Jersey.

The 32-year-old matzo heir said it is just too difficult to keep manufacturing in the city. The streets are too congested for the company's tractor-trailers, and he gets regular complaints about the loud machines that mix, roll and cut the dough before it is baked in two 72-foot-long steel ovens.

At the turn of the 20th century, the Lower East Side was the very capital of immigrant Jewish life in America, a vibrant neighborhood teeming with Yiddish-speaking shopkeepers, factory workers and pushcart peddlers.

Half a million Jews, many of them fleeing persecution in Eastern Europe, were crammed like herring into the lower Manhattan neighborhood. Among those who once called it home were actors George Burns and Walter Matthau; gangsters Meyer Lansky and Bugsy Siegel; and musicians Irving Berlin and George and Ira Gershwin.

The Jewish population dwindled after World War II as the immigrants' children and grandchildren moved up and out to better neighborhoods, replaced by Chinese and Hispanic immigrants whose influence is evident in the bodegas and noodle shops that dot the neighborhood.

Today, there are around 30,000 Jews living in the area and only scattered reminders of a bygone era, including Katz's Delicatessen, the oldest deli in New York, and the Yonah Schimmel bakery, whose slogan is: "It takes a downtown knish to satisfy an uptown craving."

While many blocks of the Lower East Side are seedy, gentrification has swept the neighborhood since the 1980s. The elegant Beaux Arts structure built in 1912 for the Yiddish-language newspaper The Jewish Daily Forward — which boasted a circulation of 275,000 in the 1920s — has been converted into million-dollar condos. (The Forward says circulation for its Yiddish edition, now a weekly, is down to just 5,000, the English-language edition to 35,000.)

Earlier this month, the 120-year-old Moorish-style Eldridge Street Synagogue was rededicated after a 20-year restoration. But in a sign of the times, the building will serve a dual purpose as an American Jewish history museum and a functioning synagogue.

"After the 1980s, you got this continual increase of property values and rents and it just never stopped or went down again," said Clayton Patterson, a local preservationist. "I think it's tragic. What we're getting now is kind of boring and mundane."

Alan Dell, co-owner of Katz's, said he has no plans to unload the nearly 120-year-old deli famously featured in the fake orgasm scene in the movie "When Harry Met Sally." But he acknowledged an outrageous offer — "stupid money" — could change his mind. "As my father said, `Money can make a blind man see.'"

As for Streit's, "we haven't found a place yet, but we want to stay close to our base in New York City," said Gross, adding that Streit's already has warehouses in New Jersey from which the matzo is shipped.

The factory doesn't appear to have changed all that much since a photograph from a half century ago that shows a group of rabbis in white coats supervising production to make sure it's kosher. Many of the 60 employees have been working there for decades.

Streit's has tens of millions of dollars in annual sales and about 40 percent of the U.S. matzo market. Its chief competitor is Manischewitz.

Customers can still walk up and buy matzo from the Streit's factory, but the retail business has slowed since the 1960s.

"With the rejuvenation of the neighborhood, a different type of person is living there. It's not an ethnic Jewish neighborhood anymore," Gross said, "and the need to be here isn't what it was."

Associated Press reporter Adam Goldman contributed to this story.


Bergen Record: Sketchy Meeting to Discuss the Battle of Teaneck v. Railroad

The story in today's Record raises a number of questions in my mind.

Why hold a meeting that could be construed as "illegal" to discuss the Teaneck v. CSX Railroad struggle? Why not have a formal meeting? Why not have RR representatives there? Is this a media stunt?

Why wait for years to pursue an aggressive response on this issue? Bogota succeeded against the RR years ago.

Poor scheduling by CSX should not result in the pollution of Teaneck by idling trains!

Has someone been paid off by the RR? This is a potential scandal.
Teaneck outlines steps to restrict idling trains

TEANECK -- The township will renew efforts to force a railroad to reduce the number of freight trains that idle inside its borders, officials said Thursday.

During a meeting at the office of state Sen. Loretta Weinberg, D-Teaneck, which included a handful of residents, officials discussed a number of possible steps to curb the idling of CSX Corp. locomotives, including:

# Giving out tickets to train operators, a strategy that worked for Bogota a decade ago.

# Holding Assembly and Senate hearings.

# Reintroducing a bill originally sponsored by Assemblyman Gordon Johnson, D-Englewood, that would raise taxes on the railroad.

# Installing surveillance cameras.

# Pressing the township's case with the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority.

Still, the options available to local officials are limited, given the railroad's protection under federal regulations.

For years, the idling locomotives have been a thorn in the sides of nearby residents, who have complained of the noise and fumes emanating from the diesel engines that can run for hours, even overnight.

"There are so many negative impacts on our community because of CSX," said resident Cindy Balsam.

Mayor Elie Katz, meanwhile, has focused on the potential for terrorist attacks on idling trains only a few miles from New York City.

CSX has said the idling is necessary as trains wait for space at their destinations or change crews.

Teaneck has proved to be an ideal spot for idling locomotives – the township's miles of track include no street crossings, allowing the trains to stop without affecting vehicular traffic.

Officials have tangled with CSX before. In 2005, after a similar meeting, Weinberg requested an Assembly Transportation Committee hearing on the idling trains.

As a result, CSX spokesman William Goetz promised that the company would install measures to reduce the noise and fumes, such as turning off engines that had run for more than two hours during warm weather.

But Katz, whose office is near the tracks, said nothing has changed.

The meeting included Weinberg, Johnson, Katz and council members Elnatan Rudolph, Monica Honis and Jacqueline Kates.

Kates left the meeting early because Katz and the three council members formed a quorum, technically making the meeting illegal.

Kates repeated her criticism that the meeting, which was called by Katz, should have been discussed by council and made more formal.


CNN: Is the Jig Up on the Prosperity Gospel?

CNN reports that a "probe by Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, has brought new scrutiny to the underlying belief that brings in millions of dollars and fills churches from Atlanta to Los Angeles -- the 'Gospel of Prosperity,' or the notion that God wants to bless the faithful with earthly riches.'
  • Story Highlights....
  • In-debt believer gave money to prosperity preachers
  • Now bitter that promised blessings never arrived
  • Supporters say message is biblically sound
  • Critics say evangelists prey on vulnerable to enrich selves
You can be sure that this is not the last we will hear about this...

A Worthy Tzedaka: XO Laptop Helps Children in The Third World

art.onelaptop.kids.eat.ap.jpg Yes I am in on this - as a participant in the Give One Get One program. I think it is a worthy cause and a valiant plan (with a host of problems to be sure). And a 3 year old in Bergenfield likes to carry around her bright green laptop which we hope is indestructible.

'One Laptop' a hit in Peruvian village

ARAHUAY, Peru (AP) -- Doubts about whether poor, rural children really can

benefit from quirky little computers evaporate as quickly as the morning dew in this hilltop Andean village, where 50 primary school children got machines from the One Laptop Per Child project six months ago.

A group of children have breakfast at a public dining room reading information on their laptop in Peru.

These offspring of peasant families whose monthly earnings rarely exceed the cost of one of the $188 laptops -- people who can ill afford pencil and paper much less books -- can't get enough of their "XO" laptops.

At breakfast, they're already powering up the combination library/videocam/audio recorder/music maker/drawing kits.

At night, they're dozing off in front of them -- if they've managed to keep older siblings from waylaying the coveted machines.

"It's really the kind of conditions that we designed for," Walter Bender, president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology spinoff, said of this agrarian backwater up a precarious dirt road.

Founded in 2005 by former MIT Media Lab director Nicholas Negroponte, the One Laptop program has retreated from early boasts that developing-world governments would snap up millions of the pint-sized laptops at $100 each. more ...

BBC: Jewish Lawyer Replaces Stolen Jesus

I suppose we should say, "In GPS We Trust"...

US infant Jesus statue to get GPS

Nativity scene
The statue was stolen from a nativity scene like the one above
A statue of the infant Jesus on display near Miami in Florida is being fitted with a Global Positioning System device after the original figurine was stolen.

The near-life-size figure forms part of a nativity scene in Bal Harbour.

The original vanished three weeks ago, despite being bolted to the ground.

Dina Cellini, who oversees the display, says the statues of Mary and Joseph will also be fitted with a satellite tracking device to deter thieves.

She said: "I don't anticipate this will ever happen again, but we may need to rely on technology to save our saviour."

A Jewish lawyer, Jeffrey Harris, from Cincinnati, who read about the theft on the internet, has donated the new Jesus figurine in the Founders Circle area of the city.

Mr Harris, who celebrates Hanukkah, not Christmas, told the Miami Herald: ''I felt bad. How could someone steal a baby Jesus? Even though I am Jewish, I like the Christmas spirit.''

Bergen Record and Washington Post: Real Christians who don't celebrate Christmas

While rabbis are having apoplexy over Jews who do celebrate Christmas, there are many pious Christians who do not celebrate it -- and for valid reasons.

See the Washington Post and...
Some believers reject Christmas


CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- As Christmas drew near, Pastor John Foster wasn't decorating a tree, shopping for last-minute gifts or working on a holiday sermon for his flock. After all, it's been 50 years since Christmas was anything more than a day of the week to him.

He's one of very few American Christians who follow what used to be the norm in many Protestant denominations -- rejecting the celebration of Christmas on religious grounds.

"People don't think of it this way, but it's really a secular holiday," said Foster, a Princeton-based pastor in the United Church of God. He last celebrated Christmas when he was 8.

His church's objection to Christmas is rare among U.S. Christians. Gallup polls from 1994 to 2005 consistently show that more than 90 percent of adults say they celebrate Christmas, including 84 percent of non-Christians.

That's a huge change from an earlier era, when many Protestants ignored or actively opposed the holiday. But as it gradually became popular as a family celebration, churches followed their members in making peace with Christmas.

The change didn't happen overnight. Through much of the 19th century, schools and businesses remained open, Congress met in session and some churches closed their doors, lest errant worshipers try to furtively commemorate the day.

"The whole culture didn't stop for Christmas," said Bruce Forbes, a religious studies professor at Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa. "Government went on as usual, business went on as usual, school went on as usual."

In researching his book, "Christmas: A Candid History," Forbes discovered that major American denominations -- Presbyterians, Baptists, Quakers, Methodists and Congregationalists -- either ignored the holiday or actively discouraged it until the late 19th century.

That rejection was rooted in the lack of biblical sanction for Dec. 25 as the date of Jesus' birth, as well as suspicion toward traditions that developed after the earliest days of Christianity. In Colonial New England, this disapproval extended to actually making the holiday illegal, with celebration punishable by a fine.

"Some somehow observe the day," wrote Boston Puritan Samuel Sewall on Christmas Day 1685, "but are vexed, I believe, that the body of people profane it, and blessed be God no authority yet compels them to keep it."

Some 322 years later, Sewall might be surprised to see his congregation -- today known as Old South Church -- proudly displaying a decorated Christmas tree outside the church.

"We think it's cheerful and seasonal," said Nancy Taylor, senior minister of Old South, one of America's most venerable congregations, counting among its past worshipers not only Sewall but Benjamin Franklin and Samuel Adams.

Now part of the United Church of Christ, Old South not only has a Christmas tree, but encourages its 650 or so members to exchange Christmas presents -- although the focus is on charitable donations and service, rather than shopping.

"We are the descendants of the Puritans and Pilgrims, but we have loosened up a lot since then," Taylor said. "We have changed and adapted and I think that's part of why we haven't died out."

Like Sewall's successors, the mainline Protestant churches have learned to accommodate Christmas. But the change came from the pews rather than the pulpit.

Christmas benefited from a 19th century "domestication of religion," said University of Texas history professor Penne Restad, in which faith and family were intertwined in a complementary set of values and beliefs.

Christmas became acceptable as a family-centered holiday, Restad said, once it lost its overtly religious significance.

At the same time, aspects of the holiday such as decorated trees and gift-giving became status symbols for an aspirant middle class. When Christmas began its march toward dominance among holidays, it was because of a change in culture, not theology.

"In America, the saying is that the minister follows the people, the people don't follow the minister," Restad said. "This was more of a sociological change than a religious one. The home and the marketplace had more sway than the church."

That's partly why Christians like those in the United Church of God reject the holiday: They say divine instruction, rather than culture and society, should determine whether the holiday is appropriate.

"It's common knowledge that Christmas and its customs have nothing to do with the Bible," said Clyde Kilough, president of the United Church of God, which has branches all over the world. "The theological question is quite simple: Is it acceptable to God for humans to choose to worship him by adopting paganism's most popular celebrations and calling them Christian?"

There is still lingering unease with the holiday in denominations that once rejected it. This can be glimpsed in worries about commercialization and in individual Christians like Phillip Ross.

Ross is an elder at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Vienna, near Parkersburg. Well-versed in the history of Christianity, Christmas and Presbyterianism, Ross knows his church historically objected to Christmas.

On the other hand, Ross is also a father of two, and while he made up his mind to reject Christmas as a teenager, his children's early years included gifts, decorations and a tree.

"I have a love-hate relationship with Christmas," he said. "It seems obvious to me that there's nothing scriptural about it, but that's a hard sell with children."


Japanese take note of Tzvee.blogspot.com

It's nice (I think) to be noticed by the Japanese...

Argentina's Soccer Star and Leading Meshuggenah Maradona Signs a T-shirt for Iran

Argentina's soccer legend has caused a stir, expressing his love for Iran. Iran must be quite lonely in the world if it pledges to publicly showcase in a museum the signed T-shirt that the sports figure is sending them. Al-Alalam reports -
Maradona Bestows T-Shirt on Iran

Buenos Aires, Dec 24--Argentine soccer legend Diego Armando Maradona has met with the Iranian envoy to Buenos Aires and handed Iranian officials an autographed football shirt.

In the meeting with Ambassador Mohsen Baharavand, Mardona said that he would like to travel to Tehran and meet the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

"With all my love for the Iranians," is the dedication that Maradona signed on the T-shirt.

The Argentine superstar said: "I'm with the Iranian people from the bottom of my heart."

The Iranian envoy gave Maradona a special handicraft from Isfahan, the hub of Iranian culture and art.

Baharavand said the autographed T-shirt would be sent to Museum of Presents of Foreign Affairs Ministry to be showcased publicly.

The World Cup winner star counts Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad among his idols.

Tzvee's Bazaar is Open for Business

Arab AntiSemites Attack Tom Lantos

The latest vile racist attack from Dar Al-Hayat out of Lebanon singles out Tom Lantos as its target. I find the rhetoric of the London based writer disgusting. Here is how he proudly announces his topic.

Ayoon Wa Azan (A Kingdom Whose History Raised Doubts) Jihad el-Khazen Al-Hayat

This year has lacked news on happy political events though I personally welcomed Ariel Sharon's stay in hospital so that he pays the price for his crimes, and I also welcomed the trial, not the imprisonment, of the previous publisher of the Telegraph group Conrad Black. However, a news item has made up for plenty of losses as the year is coming to an end. A few days ago I read that Congressman Tom Lantos is facing a challenge in his constituency in California that may put an end to his political career.

If I described Lantos with the most indecent terms of the political jargon, I would not do justice to him. He is a Jewish American of Hungarian origin, but the predominant characteristic is his Israeli inclination which precedes everything else including religion. Lantos, who was elected to Congress as a Democrat fourteen times, is a liberal with respect to all issues except foreign policy, and especially when it comes to his absolute loyalty to the worst type of Israeli radicalism... more hatred...

The entire article reeks of hatred and ignorance. Except of course the mandatory disclaimer that the author sticks in without any context of consequence to support it, "I personally want to see peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis. I do not support any violence or war and I accept President Bush's vision of the two states." I had to laugh. Which one is your opinion sir? Is it the thesis or the antithesis? I think we know.

Rules Don't Apply to Big Bad Bobby Knight

Indiana coach Bobby Knight throws a chair across the floor during
Indiana's 72-63 loss to Purdue on Feb. 23, 1985.

And this bad boy is still around coaching! Sheesh!

Big 12 reprimands Knight

Lubbock, TX (Sports Network) - The Big 12 Conference publicly reprimanded Texas Tech coach Bob Knight for comments he made about the officiating crew after a loss to New Mexico on December 15.

Knight complained vociferously about Lobos freshman Dairese Gary's half- court shot at the halftime buzzer, thinking the shot was not released on time.

The coach called the referees' decision "horrendous," a statement that violated the Big 12 Conference's Principles and Standards of Sportsmanship, prohibiting public comments about officiating.

"The Conference's Sportsmanship Policy prohibits coaches from making any public comments critical of game officials," said Big 12 Commissioner Dan Beebe. "I appreciate the cooperation by Texas Tech and Coach Knight in resolving this issue and moving forward."


YNET: Conference on Orthodox Rabbis Worst Nightmares


'Silent Holocaust.'

That's the kind of rhetoric rabbis use to describe their own failures. They fail to keep Jews in Judaism and then they tell Stephen King horror stories about it.

I have never understood the logic or the rhetoric. Jews with Xmas trees can be described and labeled in many ways. But - 'frightening'!

Voluntary assimilation of Jews and the resulting attrition from Jewish affiliation can be analyzed and classified ad infinitum. But - 'Silent Holocaust'!

Q: Why do the rabbis use this language?
A: Because they can.

YNET story:

'It’s frightening to consider how many Jews put up Christmas trees'

Conference of Orthodox Rabbis opens Monday in Jerusalem amidst grave concerns about Jewish assimilation in Diaspora. Rabbi Yuval Sharlo “gravely concerned about this silent Holocaust.” Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar weeps about division of Jerusalem.

Haaretz: Olmert Wants to Convert More Jews!

For Zionism this is a given: Israel needs more Jews. The loony idea that we need to uphold "standards" and block converts makes utterly no sense. It means that you must believe that 300,000 Russian Gentiles living in Israel is better for the Jewish State than having 300,000 converts to Judaism. That does not compute.
PM Olmert plans to streamline conversion of immigrants
By Barak Ravid and Anshel Pfeffer

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert plans to adopt the Halfon Committee's recommendations on streamlining the conversion system, with the goal of increasing the number of non-Jewish immigrants converting to Judaism, sources close to him said Monday.

But some officials who favor streamlining the process charged that this is merely a cover for further delay, as Olmert is concerned about angering his ultra-Orthodox coalition partners. Olmert has appointed Cabinet Secretary Oved Yehezkel to handle this issue, and in a letter sent Monday to 14 senior officials involved in the conversion process - including Absorption Ministry Director General Erez Halfon, who headed the interministerial committee that wrote the report; Rabbi Haim Druckman, who heads the government's conversion administration; and Major General Elazar Stern, head of the Israel Defense Forces' Personnel Directorate - Yehezkel wrote that the premier "attaches supreme importance to this issue and wants to improve, streamline and expand Israel's conversion system."

The letter added that Yehezkel will soon convene representatives of all the bodies involved in conversion, including government ministries, the Israel Defense Forces and the Jewish Agency, to formulate a plan of action that will then be presented to Olmert.

Officials close to Olmert added that the prime minister accepts the Halfon report's program in principle and intends to adopt it, and that the Ministerial Committee on Immigration will meet in the coming days to do so.

But some officials who favor streamlining the conversion process were unenthusiastic about Yehezkel's letter. "Why do we need additional discussions about the issue?" demanded one. "The [Halfon] committee met for five months until it drafted this report; one could simply adopt its conclusions and be done. It's clear that Olmert is trying to buy time because he is afraid of pressure from the ultra-Orthodox."

The official also noted that the Halfon Committee's report was submitted to Olmert more than four months ago - yet since then, nothing has happened.

An estimated 300,000 non-Jews have immigrated to Israel under the Law of Return since 1990, mainly from the former Soviet Union. However, only a handful have converted - and of these, more have converted through an IDF program for non-Jewish soldiers doing their military service than through a special government program set up four years ago.

One of Halfon's main proposals for speeding up the conversion process is to increase the number of dayanim (religious court judges) hearing conversion cases by recruiting some 40 volunteer dayanim. The regular dayanim, who have dealt with conversions until now, have worked "too slowly," explained one official close to Olmert.

In addition, the report recommends that these volunteer dayanim be people who will "come toward" would-be converts on the issue that has proven one of the biggest bottlenecks of the process - the rabbinical courts' insistence that converts adopt a religious lifestyle.

But Shas, the religious Sephardi party that is part of Olmert's coalition, favors upholding the current strict standard, and therefore opposes increasing the number of dayanim.

Nevertheless, the Prime Minister's Office hopes that a solution to this problem can be found - particularly since Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar "is interested in and supports" the idea, one official said.

The report also recommends making Amar, who has generally been more lenient on conversion than his Ashkenazi counterpart, responsible for solving any problems of halakha (Jewish law) that arise during the process. However, Amar prefers not to take this responsibility, which would entail a head-on clash with rabbis favoring a more stringent approach.

Times: Odd Essay About Activist Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

Rabbi A. J. Heschel is the subject of an odd essay in the Times that leaves the reader with the sense that this major Jewish religious figure was an offbeat man of the 60s with a charismatic personality "that transcends it." I wish I knew what that meant. Actually, I know it means nothing and I really wish an editor at the Times would have caught and removed the phrase. Heschel is deceased. His biographers apparently have elected to transmit to the next generation trivia rather than substantive study and analysis. There is nothing the rabbi can do about that now.

A Rabbi of His Time, With a Charisma That Transcends It
Courtesy of Susannah Heschel Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, bearded at center, and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in a 1968 antiwar protest.
Published: December 24, 2007

In 1965, after walking in the Selma-to-Montgomery civil-rights march with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel was at the Montgomery, Ala., airport, trying to find something to eat. A surly woman behind the snack-bar counter glared at Heschel — his yarmulke and white beard making him look like an ancient Hebrew prophet — and mockingly proclaimed: “Well, I’ll be damned. My mother always told me there was a Santa Claus, and I didn’t believe her, until now.” She told Heschel that there was no food to be had.

In response, according to a new biography, “Spiritual Radical: Abraham Joshua Heschel in America, 1940-1972” by Edward K. Kaplan (Yale), Heschel simply smiled. He gently asked, “Is it possible that in the kitchen there might be some water?” Yes, she acknowledged. “Is it possible that in the refrigerator you might find a couple of eggs?” Perhaps, she admitted. Well, then, Heschel said, if you boiled the eggs in the water, “that would be just fine.”

She shot back, “And why should I?”

“Why should you?” Heschel said. “Well, after all, I did you a favor.”

“What favor did you ever do me?”

“I proved,” he said, “there was a Santa Claus.”

And after the woman’s burst of laughter, food was quickly served. ...more...

What an utterly useless anecdote!


Jews Enjoying Xmas

We enjoyed a few great laughs at the Gotham Comedy club on 23rd St. where we attended a show that is aptly titled, "A Very Jewish Christmas." A night with friends and mostly New York Jews laughing at half a dozen Jewish comics seems to me to be an appropriate activity for the evening. We've been doing this like a ritual for years.


Video: Outrageous Hanukkah Rap Just in Time for Xmas

Not too shabby.

"Ladies MC Jew C and Lil Mitzvah spit the truth about Hanukkah a little too late"

WJW: Potomac synagogue gave Torah-honor to a man who married a non-Jewish woman

I don't know if this is a first for the Conservative movement. The Washington Jewish Week reports that a congregation in the area (Potomac, MD) has taken to honoring with an aliyah to the Torah a man who is about to marry a non-Jewish woman. The circumstances are crucial to the decision as described in the article. We are sure we will hear more about this "delicate" topic.
A delicate balance
Rabbis continue seeking ways to welcome
by Eric Fingerhut
Staff Writer

It seemed like a pretty typical Shabbat service at Congregation Har Shalom one August morning. A bar mitzvah boy marked his rite of passage, and a congregant was honored with an aliyah on the occasion of his upcoming marriage.

But the service wasn't as typical as it appeared. The congregant called to the Torah was marrying a non-Jewish woman, and it was the first time the Potomac congregation had so honored someone entering an interfaith marriage.

Har Shalom Rabbi H. David Rose stressed the ceremony was not a formal ufruf, in which a couple is called to the Torah before their wedding. But he said an honor was in order because the couple had pledged, in meetings with him, to build a Jewish home and raise their children exclusively Jewish.

"This was a member of longstanding," Rose said, and the couple should be "welcomed and complimented" for "establishing a Jewish home. ... We have a job to make Jewish grandchildren and great-grandchildren."

The rabbi reported no negative feedback - and said he would not hesitate to do the same thing again in the same situation.

Rose's decision is not common in the Conservative movement - none of the Conservative rabbis surveyed for this article said he or she had bestowed a similar honor and one rabbi knew of only one other synagogue that had adopted, and later dropped, such a policy. But it is one example of how local synagogues have been handling keruv, or outreach, during the past few years. They are trying to strike a delicate balance between encouraging interfaith couples to be a part of the Jewish community while at the same time not sanctioning or approving of intermarriage. more...


The Times: The Yin and Yang of Jewish Charity

In the same issue of the Times these two articles represent the Yin and Yang of Jewish charitable life.

On the one hand there is a story about two young selfless Jewish men who established an organization to rate the effectiveness of charities.

On the other hand there is a story about corrupt Hasidic Jews who used their charity to help people cheat the IRS.

We Jews are also the most vocal neocons and the loudest liberals (see below).

Yin and Yang.

2 Young Hedge-Fund Veterans Stir Up the World of Philanthropy2 Young Hedge-Fund Veterans Stir Up the World of Philanthrop GiveWell is supported by a charity they created, the Clear Fund, which...it tends to be less a true measure of a charity’s effectiveness than simply a gauge of the charity’s ability to provide data on...December 20, 2007 - - U.S.

Hasidic Rabbi and Assistant Are Arrested in Tax Scheme
The grand rabbi of Spinka, a Brooklyn-based Hasidic sect, was arrested Wednesday with his executive assistant in Los Angeles on charges that they arranged and profited from inflated... December 20, 2007 - - New York and Region

The Nation: Neocon Spokesmen Bad for the Jews

Eric Alterman makes sense in his column in The Nation. He confuses us with the facts, that is, the ranting neocons acting like spokesmen for our community do not represent our people's actual liberal values.
the liberal media by Eric Alterman
'Bad for the Jews'
[from the January 7, 2008 issue]

Today's topic is the paradox--or one of them, anyway--of American Jewish political behavior. No, it's not that hoary old cliché that they "earn like Episcopalians but vote like Puerto Ricans." Rather, it's that they think like enlightened liberals yet allow belligerent right-wingers and neocons who frequently demonize, distort and denounce their values to speak for them in the US political arena.

Don't take my word for it. According to the American Jewish Committee's 2007 survey of American Jewry, released December 11, a majority of Jews in this country oppose virtually every aspect of the Bush Administration/neocon agenda. Not only do they disapprove of the Administration's handling of its "campaign against terrorism" (59-31 percent), they believe by a 67-to-27 margin that we should never have invaded Iraq. They are unimpressed by the "surge"--68 percent say it has either made no difference or made things worse, and by a 57-to-35 percent majority they oppose an attack on Iran, even if it was undertaken "to prevent [Iran] from developing nuclear weapons."

Jews are also impressively sensible when it comes to Israel/Palestine, all things considered. Though barely more than a third think peace is likely anytime soon, and more than 80 percent believe the goal of the Muslim states is to destroy Israel, a 46-to-43 percent plurality continues to support the creation of a Palestinian state.

This wholesale rejection of the Bush/neocon agenda, moreover, is consistent with the way American Jews describe their overall political identity. Jews are more liberal than conservative (43-25 percent) and far more Democratic than Republican (58-15 percent). This preference, significantly, extends to national security issues, often considered a Republican trump card. By a massive 61-to-21 percent margin, Jews say Democrats, not Republicans, are "more likely to make the right decision about the war in Iraq." Regarding terrorism, Democrats win 53-to-30 percent.

As a Jew who shares most of these beliefs, I am tempted to trumpet these numbers as big news, but it's news only if you haven't been paying attention. An examination of past AJC surveys as well as a number of other polls of American Jews demonstrates that Jews have remained remarkably faithful to the values of liberal humanism. These views, however, have been obscured in our political discourse by an unholy alliance between conservative-dominated professional Jewish organizations and neoconservative Jewish pundits, aided by pliant and frequently clueless mainstream media that empower these right-wingers to speak for a people with values diametrically opposed to theirs.

Take a look at the agendas of some of the most influential Jewish organizations, like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the Anti-Defamation League, the Zionist Organization of America and the American Jewish Committee itself; each has historically associated itself with the hawkish side of the debate--and some have done so even when Israel took the more dovish side (the Jewish equivalent of being holier than the Pope). Forget for a moment the argument over whether what some call "the Lobby" is good or bad for America. My point is that it's bad for the Jews.

In large part the trouble lies with the antidemocratic structures of these organizations and the apathy of most Jews with regard to organized Jewish life. Major Jewish groups respond to the demands of their top funders and best-organized constituencies. Most American Jews, however, have little or nothing to do with these groups. According to the AJC survey, while 90 percent of Jews say being Jewish is either "very important" (61 percent) or "fairly important" (29 percent) in their lives, exactly half say they belong to a synagogue or temple. A fraction of this number belong to Jewish political organizations, and the number of major funders is but a tiny percentage of that. As with so much of American life, the far-right minority is better funded and better disciplined than the liberal majority.

Fault can also be found with lazy editors, reporters, producers and the like who invite neocon and other unrepresentative people to speak for Jews and Jewish values. Consider the most prominent Jewish voices in the punditocracy who regularly sound off on Israel, Iraq, Iran, the Middle East, etc. My list includes Irving Kristol, William Kristol, Seth Lipsky, Martin Peretz, Norman Podhoretz, John Podhoretz, Richard Perle, Richard Cohen, Mortimer Zuckerman, Alan Dershowitz, Jeffrey Goldberg, Lawrence Kaplan, Charles Krauthammer, David Horowitz, Jonah Goldberg, David Gelernter, Ruth Wisse, David Brooks and David Frum. Most are Bush apologists, most supported the invasion of Iraq and most are sympathetic to the idea of an invasion of Iran. Not infrequently, leading Jewish pundits mock and ridicule the majority Jewish views. Irving Kristol, writing in Azure, attacks the "political stupidity" of American Jews. Gelernter, writing in The Weekly Standard, complains of Jewish political behavior as "a lesson in self-destructive nihilism."

Given the scare tactics the neocons routinely employ--from their frequent deployment of the intellectually vacuous term "Islamofascism," to Perle and Frum's warning that the nation's only choice is "victory or holocaust"--it is a remarkable tribute to the good sense of American Jewry that it remains a bastion of liberal humanism despite such naked attempts to manipulate longstanding fears and insecurities.

These pundits have every right to put forth their views, of course. It's long past time, however, for the mainstream media to recognize just how out of touch they are with the values of the American Jewish mainstream.

If not now, when?

Video: Huckabee Ad Features Background Cross

Apparently he is not courting the Jewish vote.

TLS: Reich Reviews Greenspan's Memoir

"The Greenspan years - The autobiography of America's central banker - logical positivism and political extortion" - an incisive review in the Times Literary Supplement by Robert B. Reich (Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, a former US Secretary of Labor, and the author of Supercapitalism, 2008) of an excellent book by Alan Greenspan, THE AGE OF TURBULENCE, Adventures in a new world. Reich concludes on a negative note:
Although the second half of his memoir dips into several important areas of public policy, Greenspan barely mentions the crisis in America’s health care system or the desperate state of the nation’s infrastructure, and he gives cursory attention to education. He urges that educators put greater reliance on “market forces” such as vouchers (“I suspect Rose and Milton Friedman . . . were right on track”), and briefly acknowledges that “the cost of education egalitarianism is doubtless high and may be difficult to justify in terms of economy efficiency and short-term productivity”. Greenspan writes that he is concerned about widening inequality, lamenting that the first decade of the twenty-first century has been “marred by a disturbing shift in the concentration of income” and that “two-tier economies are common in developing countries, but not since the 1920s have Americans experienced such inequality of income”. But given his support for Bush’s lopsided tax cuts for the wealthy and his deep aversion to Clinton’s original agenda for poorer Americans, his words seem strangely disembodied, if not hypocritical. Alan Greenspan the empiricist contributed a great deal to America, instigating the longest economic expansion in recent history and rewriting the rules of monetary policy. But Alan Greenspan the Ayn Rand libertarian has caused the nation grave injury.


Kuler: Adobe's Handy Color Scheme Generator

Kuler is the great online Adobe Labs utility that you will want to use to create color themes for your web application. Try it. Adobe rules.


So God. So Jesus. So Allah. End of another year. Still no peace in your homeland?

The Holy Land.

The Land sacred to three great religions.

And the fighting and killing continues.

Makes a humble soul wonder at the end of yet another year.

So God. So Jesus. So Allah. Still no peace in Your homeland? Is it so much to ask?

Strange Times Mag Interview: Francis Ford Coppola the Fascist?

Deborah Solomon, a Romanian Jew, grilled Coppola about his choice to produce a film based on a book by Mircea Eliade. In the seventies Eliade was considered one of the premier historians of religion. I read his "The Sacred and the Profane" my first week as a grad student at Brown in a Religious Studies seminar taught by Barney Twiss. I thought it was profound. In the eighties Eliade was discredited for his Fascist politics. I was sad.

Deborah Solomon was discredited recently for misrepresenting her weekly column as an interview when in fact it is a highly edited and reworked composite of interviews that she conducted. Her column ends now with the disclaimer, "Interview conducted, condensed and edited by Deborah Solomon."

I am sad that she threw out this grenade about Eliade's Fascism and failed to link it in any substantive way to the story that comprises Coppola's film. Francis seems to have fielded the grenade and tossed it aside. But still, this was a bizarre item to hurl at one of the world's greatest directors.

Here is the Times' text.
Questions for Francis Ford Coppola

Independent Streak

After enjoying one of the most celebrated careers in Hollywood, you’ve decided to go the art-house route and make “Youth Without Youth,” a Romanian fable about an age-defying linguist and his lover who is reincarnated as a seventh-century Indian. Is the film intended for a mass audience? No, not at all.

How much did it cost to make? Under $15 million.

Do you care if you earn the money back? No. When I finished “The Rainmaker,” I thought, This is the last movie I am going to do basically as a job for money.

That was your last film, and it was made 10 years ago. You’re right. The clock is ticking.

Your new film is based on a philosophical novella of the same name by Mircea Eliade, the great Romanian scholar who believed archaic religions created a kind of time-outside-of-time. That’s his big book, “The Myth of the Eternal Return.” What I understand of it is that all things come back in some sort of cycle that is regenerative. Or, in the words of the Lion King, it’s the circle of life.

How are you going to be an indie director if you compare your work with “The Lion King”? God, I think you’re right. I am sure the Eliade notion was more subtle. They said about Eliade that he never had a thought he didn’t publish, so there are about 400 books he wrote.

His reputation has been tainted by his politics. He was one of several well-known Romanian intellectuals who reportedly had fascist leanings and supported the Iron Guard in the ’30s. Does that make you uncomfortable? It’s sort of like saying my grandfather was an Italian fascist. In those days, in 1937, or even earlier, all the Italians were fascists. It might have been like the Communist thing in this country. If you were young in the ’30s, and very humanistic, you might have flirted with Communism, and then it came to haunt you.

No, Communism was rooted in a utopian vision, the Iron Guard was rooted in hatred. Well, there were people who felt that the Communist effort in the ’20s and ’30s among our writers was orchestrated by Stalin, but the people who got into it I’m sure got into it for idealistic reasons.

It’s hard for me to talk about this with you, because my father was born in Romania and fled as a child in 1938. That’s like going to Miami and talking about Cuba. Oh, boy, is that tricky.

Yes. Are you religious? I think I am very religious.

You’re an observant Catholic? Oh, no, no, no. I was raised as a Catholic, but I didn’t like the Catholic Church at all. I thought the nuns were mean.

Do you believe in the afterlife? I sort of think that the people I have loved and lost are somehow still there. I can’t believe that something so specific is gone.

If you were given the chance to relive your life, like the hero of your latest film, would you do it? It would be the same life. When I die, I am not going to be there saying, Oh, I wish I had done this, and I wish I had done that. Because I did it.

You must regret some things. Are there any movies you regret making, like “Jack”? “Jack” is sort of fun. I would do “Jack” again. Movie-wise, there is nothing I wouldn’t do again. It’s not possible to make one perfect movie every time. I don’t know of anyone who has done it. I guess Kurosawa has come the closest.

You sound very analyzed. I never went to a psychologist or psychiatrist in my life. Never. You know Italians are a little prejudiced against that kind of thing.

We haven’t mentioned “The Godfather.” Is there anything left to be said about it? I am very proud of “The Godfather,” and it is obviously what I will be remembered for. I don’t care.

Is there something you would prefer to be remembered for? If I have to be remembered for something, I want it remembered that I really liked children and was a good camp counselor.


Huckabee Ad Video: Please go back to your Christian Church

The world is complex and dangerous. We cannot risk a president who puts Santa Claus before politics. We cannot balance the budget with Church bake sales. We don't want a Reverend-in-chief "Christian Leader" in the White House. We want an American Leader. Vote Democrat. Stop Huckabee.

The Church-State Taboo is Dead

I cannot predict what the outcome will be now that the Church-State taboo has been killed off. It has been - and that is a fact.

I suppose it started when Ronald Reagan closed his eyes (as if he was praying) at prayer breakfasts.

George W. has made a mockery of pandering to religious groups (and delivering to them a host of credibility but very little money).

Nowadays you cannot pick up the paper without reading about the "Faith Wars" in the presidential campaign. Or about the Rev. Mike Hucksterbee's slimey insults of Mormons in an article by a Jewish reporter.

Who knows what Mike says to other reporters about the Jews!

I remember the good old days when Church and State were held apart as our founders wanted. Ah yes. That was such a nice time, an idyllic period.

But it's over now. Call it "values" if you want to encode it. But hey, who needs to encode it anymore?

I'll say it's not good for the Jews. It's not good for America. But that's rhetoric - no matter how I would flesh it out.

Let's start reacting as we should. Let's remove the tax-exemption from the Evangelical Churches. That should cool things off quickly.

Rabbis for the Rich and Famous Part II

New Yorker wrote about Aish HaTorah. UPI followed up now with a blurb from the NY Post and a little more about the price tags for their services. UPI sent it out under the "Quirks" news category. To me it is distasteful to say the least.
Service offers rabbis day in and day out
Published: Dec. 16, 2007 at 10:48 PM

NEW YORK, Dec. 16 (UPI) -- For $10,000 per year, busy New York Jews can keep a rabbi on call to meet with them anywhere and almost any time.

The service, offered by the Aish New York non-profit Jewish educational center, has four rabbis on call five days a week who meet with clients in conference rooms and at coffee houses to discuss religious texts, relationships, and sometimes even recipes, The New York Post reported Sunday.

Clients of the Executive Learning Program -- who include Kirk Douglas and executives from finance giants like JPMorgan -- say it helps them get in touch with their religion in a way that their schedule would not otherwise allow, the newspaper said.

In return, the center asks clients to make a minimum donation of $10,000 per year -- though some give as much as $250,000 -- and refer their Jewish friends.

For the less well-heeled, the center offers group study sessions and Shabbat dinners for singles, the Post said.


Times: Satmar in Kiryas Joel Bully a Woman (This is News?)

As I said, this is news? This is part of the essence of their style of religion. They preach a theology of a menacing G-d who brought the Holocaust on the Jews to punish them for their Zionism, socialism and secularism. And they practice what they preach. So?
Kiryas Joel Journal
A Display of Disapproval That Turned Menacing


It was late one night over the summer when the Greenberg family was frightened by a menacing phone call. Then came threats, and then vandalized cars. As the days turned into weeks and the police canvassed the neighborhood, knocking on doors and interviewing potential witnesses, they were met with silence.

This was not the troubled streets of the city, nor were the witnesses fearful of gang retribution. Rather, this was Orange County, and the victims — a husband and wife who are members of the Hasidic sect known as Satmars — said they were being harassed by those in their own insular world here.

The woman, Toby Greenberg, told the police that the root of the harassment was her decision to deviate slightly from the culture of modesty that defines and reinforces this Orthodox Jewish enclave of bewigged women in long-sleeved shirts and ankle-length skirts and bearded men in black hats and long black coats.

According to the police, Mrs. Greenberg said she was singled out because she chose to wear denim skirts, long, natural-looking wigs made of human hair, and stockings without a visible seam — traditionally worn because they show that women’s legs are not bare.

The incidents offered a rare glimpse into the strict social dynamics that govern life in this village of 20,000 people, an hour from Manhattan and not far from West Point. It is a place where television and the Internet are forbidden and women do not drive, restrictions intended to provide a haven from the temptations of the outside world.

Occasionally someone defies the social mores — whether it is a young man frequenting bars in the nearby village of Monroe or a woman dressing inappropriately or flirting. That is when the “vaad hatznius,” the rabbinically appointed modesty committee that enforces the village’s rules of behavior and appearance, intervenes.

“If we find they have a TV or a married woman won’t wear a wig, we will invite them to speak with us and try to convince them it’s unacceptable, or next year we will not accept their children into the school system,” said David Ekstein, the vice president of the village’s leading congregation, Yetev Lev, and one of eight men who make up the committee, hand-picked by Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum, the town’s spiritual leader.

Mr. Ekstein, 62, the president of an insurance company, said that the committee was widely respected for its role in protecting the community, especially children. “There has to be some kind of watchdog,” he said. “But do we have any real power? We’re not a government.”

In the case of Mrs. Greenberg, he insisted, “This had nothing to do with the vaad or the community.” He called the harassment a “chilul hashem,” a desecration of God’s name.

But weeks after the incidents began, the New York State Police started to investigate the case of Mrs. Greenberg, the 25-year-old mother of a young daughter, and her husband, Yoel, who accused the vaad hatznius of orchestrating the harassment. According to the police, leaflets calling the couple immoral and threatening them with expulsion were scattered in the streets and delivered to their home.

In September, the tires of their Chevrolet Impala were slashed and the warning “Get out, defiled person” was slathered in Yiddish in white paint on a window of their Mazda CX-7. That was when Mrs. Greenberg approached the authorities — a rare move in a community that is loath to attract attention from secular law enforcement.

Hella Winston, the author of “Unchosen: The Hidden Lives of Hasidic Rebels,” said that it was not uncommon for women who defy their strictly codified role in such communities to become targets.

Ms. Winston, an assistant professor of sociology at Queens College, said that because these sects can not legally discipline nonconformists, they must resort to public shaming. “Their power is in fear and intimidation,” she said, though “blacklisting children from schools can at times cross the line into threats and violence.”

The efforts to silence the Greenbergs appear to have worked. Reached at her home, Mrs. Greenberg, with worry in her voice, declined to comment.

Kiryas Joel is no stranger to social discord and outbursts of violence. Since its inception in the 1970s, residents considered to be flouting the village’s stringent rules have been victims of vandalism, beatings and arson, as well as expulsion.

A decade ago, a faction of the town’s Satmars sued its rivals in federal court for religious persecution and intimidation. The dissidents claimed they had been assaulted, their cars set on fire and the windows in their homes smashed because they were defying the authorities chosen by Rabbi Teitelbaum. The two sides reconciled only so that Rabbi Teitelbaum would not have to take the witness stand.

On a recent day, villagers on the main commercial street here condemned the vigilantes and the harassment, although they also voiced disapproval of Mrs. Greenberg’s actions.

“People are hot-blooded. They see her on the street and have asked her nicely to stop wearing tight-fitted clothing, but she wouldn’t listen,” said a woman working at Kiryas Joel Shoes, who identified herself only as Sarah. “If she had behaved as she does inside the four walls of her house, it would have been fine, but on the street is different. She turned it into a dirty public thing.”

And although Sarah, a mother of 11 children, did not condone any efforts to drive the Greenbergs from the community, she said: “They’re not after you if you go off a little bit. You really have to do something to bring shame.”

After two months of fruitless inquiries, the police closed the investigation last month. “Pick any ethnic group and people are suspicious at times,” said Sgt. Warner Hein of the State Police. “They don’t want to be seen as cooperating, even at the expense of tragedies in their own community.”


My Top Ten Amazon Kindle Questions

10. Do I get points when I play the page-pong game with the super-sensitive next-page/prev-page levers?
9. Wasn't black and white TV great?
8. How many pages does this book have anyway?
7. Is there any way to straighten out these crooked little chicklet keys?
6. Who sent me these weird screen savers?
5. Where is the stylus for this palm pilot?
4. Isn't that page flicker just adorable?
3. Who needs a mouse anyway when you have a thermometer?
2. Isn't that "experimental" Web thingy just darling?
1. If I turn it upside down and shake it can I start a whole new sketch?

San Diego Union -Tribune: Reform Jews Learn About Worship from Pastor Rick Warren

This story speaks for itself...

Creating Those Connections: Pastor's aim is to cultivate spiritual and personal bonds

December 15, 2007
Christmas is what marketing specialists might call a window of opportunity. People who spend their Sundays doing everything but going to church will find themselves inside sanctuaries on Christmas Eve, drawn by family or tradition or some other holiday force.

SEAN M. HAFFEY / Union-Tribune
Pastor Rick Warren addressed the Union for Reform Judaism Convention in San Diego Thursday night.
Rick Warren knows about these folks. He calls them the “lily and poinsettia people” – because they tend to show up at Easter and Christmas.

So how does a pastor get them to stay?

Warren, who heads the humongous Saddleback Church in southern Orange County, said the key is to get them involved in a small group.

“We believe congregations have to grow large and small at the same time,” Warren said Thursday afternoon via cell phone. He was boarding a plane on the East Coast, where he spoke at a White House meeting on HIV/AIDS, (see related story on E4) and was on his way to San Diego, where he spoke Thursday night at the Union for Reform Judaism's biennial convention.

Saddleback's turnout for weekend services – usually about 22,000 people – is what Warren calls “the crowd.” But the weekly small group meetings – 3,800 of them from Malibu to Carlsbad – are what he calls “the congregation.” “A crowd is not the church,” said Warren, who may be best known as the author of the mega-selling, spiritual how-to book, “The Purpose-Driven Life.”

He added: “We don't really feel like people are in the congregation until they're in small groups.”

Warren urges clergy to use the crowded moments – like holiday services – to get the word out about other programs. Saddleback's small groups range from Bible studies to stress management sessions. People can plug into the groups via the church's Web site.

Despite America's penchant for traveling alone, dining alone and even bowling alone, Warren argues that people are hungry for relationship.

“We have a pandemic of loneliness,” he said. “We weren't meant to go through life by ourself.”

A few hours later, at the San Diego Convention Center, Warren shared his advice on building community with several-thousand leaders of Reform Judaism in North America.

“There are some principles that apply regardless of our faith, if it's Jewish or Christian,” he told the convention. The biennial meeting of the largest branch of Judaism in the U.S. began Wednesday and continues through tomorrow in downtown San Diego.

One of Warren's principles: “Just be nice to people. Smile.”

Warren was joined on the stage by two successful Southern California rabbis – Laura Geller of Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills and David Wolpe of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. He spoke for a few minutes at the podium and then settled into chairs alongside the rabbis for a kind of living-room chat about strengthening congregational life.

Among the ideas they shared:

  • Allow people to tell their stories. “Ultimately, what we need to do is deepen relationships,” said Geller.
  • Think like a visitor. “We have to look at everything from an outsider's viewpoint,” said Warren, who spoke of simplifying worship terms.
  • Make strangers feel welcome. Go up and talk to them. Use greeters from a range of ages at each service (with kids greeting visiting kids and seniors greeting visiting seniors).
  • Cultivate your music programs. “Nothing moves people like music,” said Wolpe.
  • Encourage conversations. Geller's synagogue emphasizes opportunities for people to meet together one-on-one to get to know each other better.

Warren told the audience of arriving in Southern California in 1980 to start a church. He was fresh out of seminary, with “no building, no members and no money.”

Twenty-seven years later, Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, will have 14 services for Christmas, drawing an estimated 45,000 people.

“The congregation that really loves people, you have to lock the doors to keep people out,” he said.

Biblical & Religious Dolls are Selling Out! Idolatry, Heresy or Just Cute?

After the recent scandal over the Muhammed Teddy Bear, the news of Christian religious dolls and talking action figures selling out in stores for the holidays presents a stark contrast and a special irony for students of comparative religion.

The Star Tribune reports:
Talking Jesus doll sales are on the ascent
By JOHN EWOLDT, Star Tribune

Jesus is selling out.

Out of Wal-Mart and Target, that is. The 12-inch, $20 Jesus Messenger of Faith talking action figure has become a holiday hit of biblical proportions. Online mega-retailers Wal-Mart.com and Amazon.com are sold out. Target.com's supply is likely to disappear within a few days.

The response has been "unbelievable," said Josh Livingston, spokesman for Valencia, Calif.-based One2believe, which also sells talking Moses, Mary, David, Esther and Noah action figures. The company has sold more than 20,000 dolls in the series, with Jesus far and away the most popular.
Also of note, the P31 dolls... [or the Eshes Chayil dolls in Hebrew]...
P31 are a new exclusive collection of high-quality dolls, based on the biblical teaching of Proverbs 31. P31 dolls were specifically designed to provide a Bible-based, Christian alternative to other secular toys on the market, and to encourage young girls to pursue biblical womanhood.... three different P31 dolls: Abigail, Elisabeth and Leah. It is our prayer that the Lord would use these dolls as a means to encourage the girls of today to become Proverbs 31 women of tomorrow!

Not to overlook, are the local East Coast Teaneck distributed Gali Girl Jewish dolls for Jewish girls... Although not biblical, they are cute!

Shalom Auslander's Foreskin

Funny, shocking, multi-layered, ironic, confused, conflicted, self-hating and yet not a prick. That's how Phillip Roth's Portnoy character came across to many of us. A character who stumbles and yearns and progress and grows and yet never even begins. Hapless and misguided by the wrong values, yet not obnoxious.

Auslander's attempt to create an equivalent protagonist for the current generation of American Jews in his new book Foreskin's Lament is a failure. He crafts a mean-spirited little prick of a character whose main preoccupation is to connect his sins -- straying from the laws of the Torah -- with God's punishment of his parents and of the New York Rangers and, heaven forbid, of his new born son.

Forgive me for using the term "prick" but I do so because that is the most evocative term that Auslander can muster to describe his putative relationship with the ribbono shel olam, with G-d, who he addresses with that honorific time and time again.

Let's cut through the rather tedious caricatures of an Orthodox adolescent daring to eat treif on shabbos while shopping with a shikse. Does anyone think this trite stuff has shock value or makes for an interesting vehicle for fictional characterization? Yikes. A number of publishers at the New Yorker and elsewhere do think that.

When one chapter of this book appeared in the New Yorker I was momentarily dazzled. The premise was comical in a way -- that the hero and heroine would walk 14 miles in their Shabbos clothes from Teaneck to Madison Square Garden to watch the Rangers away-game on the jumbotron. But this was no Seinfeld episode. This was no Roth misadventure. The humor evaporated when this became just another tiresome chapter in a protracted "lament".

Okay now. Is the lament fictional? I hope so. I hope Auslander has tried to craft an obnoxious superficial ass of a character. 'Cause that is what he ends up with.

Here are a man and woman in Shalom's world who don't have the patience or courtesy to have a bris for their son. They have him circumcised to avoid the wrath of the "prick" in heaven. But no bris. No care for community, for tribe, for family, for mother. These two are the epitome of the self absorbed, neurotic, obnoxious, nauseating characters of contemporary fiction.

Now finally, all told, Auslander is either a genius who has the ability to craft purely distasteful and unappealing Judaic protagonists whose conflicts revolt us without the least bit of humor or wit. And this in turn crafts an intentionally tepid and repetitive critique of the vacuity of popular contemporary religious thinking, meant to mock the self-seriousness of our would-be media theologians.

Or there is the other possibility, namely that Shalom is adept at selective self reflective and deprecating memoir writing - I hope this is not the case -- a talent which reveals him to us as one of the leading obnoxious "pricks" of his generation of Jews and writers -- with little insight and less intellect than anyone would want to imagine.

Ultimately does this book have any positive redeeming value? For me, yes. This was the first book that I read on my new Amazon Kindle. I got used to the device, practiced turning pages and bookmarking passages and was able to begin forming my critical opinions about that invention. Accordingly, for me, reading Foreskin's Lament was not a total waste of time. [The Village Voice is not as kind in their review.]

New Yorker on Torah for Sale: Executives Only Need Apply

Funny how these nonprofit Jewish-education rabbis only go to the executive suites to teach Torah to millionaires. I guess these men of the "Fire of the Torah" do not reach down to warm up the lower paying corporate cubicles.

From the New Yorker,
Pinstripes Dept.

by Lizzie Widdicombe

Rabbi Stuart Shiff, one of six New York rabbis employed by Aish HaTorah, a nonprofit Jewish-education organization, carries two pieces of equipment: a BlackBerry and a book of the Torah. Weekdays, he treks to businesses around the city on behalf of Aish’s Executive Learning Program—for a voluntary donation (average: ten thousand dollars), bosses who are too busy to go to shul can have a rabbi meet them at the office. “Studying the Torah took my mind off the stress,” Lisa Shalett, the C.E.O. of Sanford Bernstein, says in an Aish brochure.

“What this program does is it blows away all the excuses,” Shiff explained recently, in one of Aish’s conference rooms in midtown. “We have almost a postal carrier’s motto: nothing stops us.” It was 9:30 A.M. on the day before Hanukkah, and Shiff—who was wearing a black velvet yarmulke—had a meeting with Seth Horowitz, the former chief executive of Everlast, the boxing-supply company (which he had just sold for a reported hundred and sixty-eight million dollars). Horowitz, who is thirty-one, started studying with Shiff eighteen months ago. “I just needed to talk to someone,” he said, turning off his iPhone. “I’ve gained so much knowledge. This is the beauty of the program—the rabbi comes to your office, you discuss the Torah, and you talk about life.”

They had been reading Genesis 37, where Jacob arrives with his sons in Canaan. “ ‘Jacob settled in the land of his father’s sojournings,’ ” Shiff read. “Now, there’s an interesting extrapolation in the rabbinic commentary. It says vayeshev—that Jacob wanted to dwell. The extrapolation is that he wanted to have a life of ease. He didn’t want to have pressure or issues.” Then disaster happens: Joseph, Jacob’s favorite son, is sold as a slave into Egypt. “It’s a very strange thing here,” Shiff said. “All Jacob wanted was some peace and quiet. What’s so wrong with that?”

Horowitz leaned back in a swivel chair. “It’s kind of the opposite of what we’re here for? Free will? Our opportunity to choose between good and bad?”

Shiff’s exegesis abounded with business-world metaphors: in prison in Egypt, Joseph mistakenly puts “all his trust in his network,” but he later rises to become “like the vice-president” of a company. Shiff had an appointment at eleven, at Bear Stearns. He arrived in a cluttered corner office where an executive in pinstripes was yelling into a telephone. A secretary sat nearby. She explained that although she was not Jewish, she enjoyed listening in on Shiff’s weekly visits. “I love everything about the Jewish faith,” she said. “I think it has a lot of wisdom.” The executive hung up the phone. “Basically, I’m a quasi disbeliever,” he explained. “I like talking to the rabbi, because I challenge him on a lot of the stuff. I like to ask my questions, which are mostly about the rigidity of religious beliefs. I’m probably his worst patient, if you want to call me a patient.”

“Maybe we can talk a little bit about Hanukkah,” Shiff said.

“O.K.,” the executive said. “Seven candles?”

“Eight! We light eight candles to commemorate a miracle. What’s the miracle we’re commemorating?”

“I don’t know.”

“They found oil in a temple that was desecrated by the Syrian-Greek army,” Shiff began. He got as far as the eight days, and the executive interrupted. “Where did they get the idea in the first place? That’s my question—who wrote the book?”

“The Maccabees,” Shiff said. “It’s history.”

“Yeah,” the executive said. “History I can buy.” They discussed the Jewish calendar (it’s both lunar and solar), and got around to Hanukkah presents. “I didn’t have them when I grew up,” the executive said. “I don’t think you should have them.”

Shiff said, “It’s probably better that way.”

When the session was over, Shiff got on the No. 6 train and headed uptown, to meet his twelve-thirty—a neuroscientist at Mount Sinai who was looking to the Kabbalah to illuminate his findings on postpartum depression. (At his last session, the client had become fascinated by the decree, in Genesis, that “in sorrow thou shalt bear forth children.”) “We go everywhere,” Shiff said on the train. “We go to J. P. Morgan, Bear, Bloomberg, Goldman—and everybody is so different. It’s not about conforming to anything. That last guy, I think sometimes he thinks he’s not living up to my expectations of him. But I don’t have any expectations. My whole job is helping him to stay connected. We like questions.” ♦


Wall St. Journal Exposes a Kidney Donation Cult

Give a kidney for Christ! Is it a cult? Um yes, by any standards known to me. It crosses way over the line from what could be described and praised as good deeds and altruism to what should be reined in and curtailed as risky actions motivated by compulsion and religious coercion. The Jesus Christians are a publicity-seeking fund-raising sideshow in the world of religious cults.

Here is the top of the story.
For Religious Group, True Charity Begins On Operating Table. Sect's Kidney Donations Pose Dilemma for Doctors; A Member's Mom Objects
December 13, 2007; Page A1

Ashwyn Falkingham wanted to donate one of his kidneys but didn't know anyone who needed one. With the help of a Web site, he met a woman in Toronto who was seeking a transplant. The two were a medical match, and he traveled from his home in Sydney, Australia, to Canada for final testing and, he hoped, for the surgery.

It's a "simple thing that can help someone," says Mr. Falkingham, now 23 years old.

But it wasn't simple, largely because Mr. Falkingham is a member of a tiny religious group calling itself the Jesus Christians. The group's 30 members, who eschew many of society's conventions, have embraced kidney donation: More than half have given a kidney.

They describe the act as a gift of love that implements Jesus's teachings. But critics, particularly parents of members, call the group a cult and charge that members are under undue influence of its charismatic leader. more...

I'm not clear on why the WSJ thinks it has a horse in this race. They have no particular expertise or insight into medicine, religion or ethics.