Friday, May 30, 2008

Shabbat Shalom! 25 Iyar 5768

From Your Point of View

Since Hurricane Katrina, I've tried to let you know what it is like to live in a place that has seen unimaginable destruction. I've tried to relate the feelings of isolation I and many others here had in the immediate days after Hurricane Katrina when there was no reliable communication to the outside world.

I want to know your perceptions. A few months ago, while conversing with someone, I found out that the gas shortages extended all the way to Georgia.

I hope you will share your thoughts and feelings as you watched the coverage about Hurricane Katrina. It must have made an impression on so many. There are so many, even after 2 1/2 years, that are willing to give up a weeks time to volunteer and help us rebuild our lives.

Thursday, May 29, 2008


Rabbi Noah Farkas received his simcha last weekend. He came to our congregation as a student rabbi after Hurricane Katrina had devestated the Mississippi Gulf Coast and heavily damaged our shul. The next weekend will be his last as our rabbi.

I still remember his first d'var Torah. It was BeMidbar. The Mississippi Gulf Coast was still in shambles. Many in our congregation were still rebuilding or repairing damaged homes. Some had to leave the area because they lost both their homes and their jobs. Thankfully, no one in our congregation lost their lives. Our shul could not be used and we continue to hold services at the meeting hall of a Methodist Church.

He first d'var Torah at Kabbalat Shabbat was on BeMidbar. He spoke of how we were in the wilderness. Our lives had been through an upheaval and the landscape was strange to our eyes. The future was uncertain. I don't remember the exact words he said. The message was clear though: We would climb out of this wilderness with the help of HaShem and each other.

While in the wilderness, Moshe had helpers. There was a tally. The tribes were organized around the Ark for camping and for marching through the wilderness. It was those efforts that made it possible for them to get through the wilderness. It is the co-operation and the faith of all involved that got them through.

It is this co-operation and belief which has gotten our congregation a good distance through the wilderness. Some who had to leave are now back. Our congregation has grown with new members who have moved to the area. Soon, please very soon, I'll be able to announce the groundbreaking for our new shul to be located in Gulfport.

Various Jewish youth groups have taken time to come down to help us rebuild our communities. Last weekend, a group came from Atlanta. Most said they were shocked at the desolation that still exists in many parts of cities such as Biloxi and Gulfport. I was taken aback by the comment. Though we have nade great progress, there are still many years left in the wilderness. The desolation is still apparant. The thing that has kept us going for 2 1/2 years, will keep us going for the next 7 1/2 years or however long it takes. Moshe and the whole of Israel were in the wilderness for 40 years.

The faith, tally, organization, and co-operation with one another kept them focused on where they were going. At times, they became disheartened. They presevered. They marched and camped with the Ark in their midst. After the long journey, they were finally out of the wilderness.

One day, we will be out of the wilderness as well.

Have to Admit

One thing you can't call Hilary is quitter. Unrealistic, shrill, devious: those still apply.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Wiping the Veil From Your Eyes

Some claim that Jews lived in a virtual paradise under Islamic rulers in North Africa and the Middle East. Some claim that Jews and Muslims have lived peacefully side-by-side since the spread of Islam by sword. The "benevolence" of Muslims toward their non-Muslim neighbors included such things as making Jews wear yellow badges and Christians blue ones. Jews were forced to live in ghettos. Non-Muslims lived at the whim of mobs. They faced pogroms which were as devastating as any seen in Eastern European countries. The Meccan army slaughtered Jews in 665ad. The "benevolence" continues to this day.

Much like early Christians, Mohammed was infuriated that Jews refused to accept the teachings of Mohammed. The Koran describes Jews in such glowing terms as the descendants of pigs and apes. Anti-semitism runs rampant in Arab Muslim countries. There are those that will try to explain this hatred resulted from Zionism and the establishment of the Jewish State of Israel. This flies in the face of historic facts.

Solomonia has a great round-up of books in which Jews lived under the "benevolence" of Muslims for the past 1,400 years.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Where Do We Get Such Men?

Rear Admiral George Tarrant asks that question in the movie The Bridges of Toko Ri. He asks it after Navy pilot Lieutenant Harry Brubaker dies after completing a successful mission to destroy the bridges held by the North Koreans. He reflects that Brubaker left a successful law practice, a loving wife, and his children when called to duty. Brubaker.

What touched me was the loyalty of helicopter pilot Mike Forney and Nestor Gamidge. They pulled Brubaker out of the ocean when he had to ditch his plane. At the end of the movie, it was these two men who landed their helicopter where Brubaker had crashed on land. The focus of these two men was on protecting Brubaker. Sadly, none of them survived.

Where do we get such men as Forney and Gamidge? The movie tended to portray Forney as some sort of screwball while downplaying his professionalism while performing rescue duties.

The admiral was focused on the pilot Brubaker when he asked his question. But it applies to all those who serve.

Another movie I watched yesterday was The Great Raid. This was a difficult movie to watch. One of the opening scenes showed Japanese soldiers forcing American POWs into air raid shelters that had been dug into the ground. Once the men were in, the Japanese doused the POWs with gasoline and then set the gas on fire. The POWs who attempted to escape the inferno were mowed down by machine gun fire. The brutality of the Japanese toward POWs was inhumane and atrocious. The way the Japanese treated the civilian population of Manilla was just as brutal.

The movie hinges on whether or not the American Rangers raid on Cabanatuan Japanese POW camp will be successful. The POWs are starving. Many are succumbing to disease. And yet, the POWs remain loyal to one another. Some risk their lives to bring food to those in the "hospital" building. Others smuggle in malaria medication. Even through all the deprivations, the POWs keep their humanity.

Where do we get such men?

Monday, May 26, 2008

Some Gave All

Memorial Day started perhaps as an attempt to heal the wounds of the Civil War. Southern women decorated the graves of northern soldiers who had fallen in the Civil War. Northern women decorated the graves of Southern men who had fallen. The men and women who had fallen in our countries wars are not forgotten.

Some regret that Memorial Day has become a day of crass commercialism and that people observe it with a day at the beach or by having barbecues and picnics. I take a slightly different stance. It is the greatest compliment to the men and women who have died in our countries wars from the War of Independence to Operation Iraqi Freedom that we as Americans continue to be able to live in the pursuit of happiness with equality and justice for all. It is because so many have been willing to give their all that we continue to have a level of freedom unknown to the rest of the world.

Before I go and grill my chicken, hot dogs, and soy burgers, I will remember my Dad who served our country for 25 years. He served twice in Vietnam. He did not fall in battle but I will remember his friends who did. I'll also remember my great-uncle who fell in World War II. I'll remember those ancestors of mine who fell at the War of Independence, the War of 1812, and the Battle of the Little Big Horn.

And then I'll feast in the knowledge that the there was and continues to be "a long grey line" of those who gave all.

Jews in Green has a list of known Jewish soldiers who have fallen in the Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring freedom.

Baruch dayan emet.

Sergeant Steven M. Budeysky, Army, Chicago - unconfirmed - additional details welcome
Captain Robert Michael Secher, Marine, Tennessee
Specialist Daniel Agami, US Army, Florida
Sergeant Howard Paul Allen, Arizona Army National Guard
Airman 1st Class Elizabeth N. Jacobson, Air Force, Florida
Corporal Albert Bitton, US Army, Chicago
Private First Class Colin J. Wolfe, Marines, Virginia
Specialist Benyamin Yahuda, Army, Georgia
Specialist Daniel J. Freeman, US Army, Cincinatti
Sergeant Michael Shackelford, US Army, Denver
Sergeant Alan D. Sherman, Marines, New Jersey
Captain Michael Tarlavsky, 5th Special Forces Group, US Army
Corporal Dustin Schrage, Marine, Florida
Lieutenant Seth Dvorin, New Jersey
Petty Officer Nathan Bruckenthal, Coast Guard, New York - contains information about his Memorial Trust
1st Lieutenant David Bernstein, Army, Pennsylvania
Sergeant Foster Harrington, Marine, Texas
1stLt Andrew K. Stern, Marines, Tennessee
Cpl Mark A. Evnin, Marines,Vermont
Cpl Michael R. Cohen, Marines, Penn
LCpl Mark E. Engel, Marines, Colorado
Sgt Elijah Wong, Army, Arizona (Nat. Guard)
Sgt Aron C. Blum, Marines, Arizona
PFC Jacob S. Fletcher, Army, New York
SPC Jeffery Wershow, Army, Florida (Nat. Guard)
Major Mark Rosenberg, Army, Florida
Major Stuart A. Wolfer, Army, Idaho
1stLt Nathan M. Krissoff, Marines, Nevada
SPC Marc S. Seiden, Army, New Jersey

Soft Breezes

Two and half years after Hurricane Katrina, people are coming back to the warm beaches of the Mississippi Gulf Coast. After restoration of depleted sand and cleaning the majority of debris in the water, the sands and water are as inviting as ever. It is good to see people coming back.

Nothing like a good game of water volley ball to cool you down when the temps are in the high 80s.

Boaters were out in force as well. Looks almost like a traffic jam.

The new Gulfport Yacht Club(the old one destroyed by Hurricane Katrina)provides an imposing backdrop to those enjoying the gentle waves and cool water of the Mississippi Gulf Coast beaches.

Ya'll come on down! The beaches are beautiful. The water cools and soothes.

Sunday, May 25, 2008


Some will try to say that Zionism began in the late 1800's. But that is just the start of modern Zionism. Zionism, the dream of Jews to return the Land began after the fall of the First Temple. But even with the fall of the First Temple, Jews remained on the Land. Zionism is simply the dream and hope of returning to our ancient homeland. Psalm 137 was written after the fall of the First Temple:

Psalm 137 >>
Young's Literal Translation

1 By rivers of Babylon -- There we did sit, Yea, we wept when we remembered Zion.
2 On willows in its midst we hung our harps.

3 For there our captors asked us the words of a song, And our spoilers -- joy: 'Sing ye to us of a song of Zion.'

4 How do we sing the song of Jehovah, On the land of a stranger?

5 If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, my right hand forgetteth!

6 My tongue doth cleave to my palate, If I do not remember thee, If I do not exalt Jerusalem above my chief joy.

7 Remember, Jehovah, for the sons of Edom, The day of Jerusalem, Those saying, 'Rase, rase to its foundation!'

8 O daughter of Babylon, O destroyed one, O the happiness of him who repayeth to thee thy deed, That thou hast done to us.

9 O the happiness of him who doth seize, And hath dashed thy sucklings on the rock!

If I forget thee Jerusalem has been in Jewish prayers and hopes for 2,594 years. Zionism isn't something new. It is something very ancient. And even after the fall of the Second Temple and the Romans attempts to rid the Land of Jewish people, Jews still remained on the Land. Through the Crusades, through the conquest of Islam, through the brutal conquest of the Turks: Jews remained on the Land and kept the faith. And those Jews in the Diaspora remembered Jerusalem and the Land. Attempts at forced conversions by both Christians and Muslims failed. The brutal hardships Jews endured at the hands of "benevolent" Muslims in Arab countries did not shake the faith of Jews.

From time immemorial, Jews have been connected with the Land and the Land with them. Since the time of the Diaspora, the Land remained desolate and bleak.

Jews made pilgrimages throughout the Diaspora and when they arrived in the Land, there were Jews who greeted them in Hebrew.

When Jews were forced to wear outlandish clothing and yellow badges in Arab lands, they did not give up their language nor their faith. Even when forced to live in ghettos worse than any European countries could come up with until Hitler: Jews taught their children diligently about the ways of the Lord. Even with all the degradation and humiliation poured onto Jews by Muslims in Arab countries, they never gave up the hope of "Next year in Jerusalem".

And Jews were expelled from European countries, even with the depth of poverty faced by the Jews already living in Arab countries, the Jews made room and maintained rest stations for those Jews going to Jerusalem, Safed, Hebron, and other cities in the Land. Even the Jews of Yemen, who had lived there for over 2,500 years never gave up the dream. Even when they faced death by mobs of deranged Muslims, saw their homes destroyed, their children stolen from them: they never gave up the belief of "Next year in Jerusalem". In 1949 when the Jews of Yemen were rescued by Israeli government's Operation Magic Carpet many wrote back to those still in Yemen that the Promised Land was being rebuilt.

The first rabbi to seriously propose the re-establishment of Israel as the Jewish homeland was Rabbi Yehudah Alkalay. This Sephradic rabbi had a practical plan to reestablish Israel 20 years before European Zionism was formed.

A Jewish state was desperately needed. Jews, with a few exceptions, faced pogroms from Algeria to the Ukraine. For centuries, Jews faced the ravages of pogroms from Algeria, to India, to the Ukraine. Jews suffered degradation and humiliation of the basest sort. In Western European countries, things did become better until Hitler.

Some try to portray Zionism as racism or colonialism. Those who put forth that idea come from some of the most racist and intolerant countries in the world. Look at Saudi Arabia. Look at Iran. Look at Algiers. Look at Syria. Look at Libya. Those countries treated their Jewish and Christian populations as less than human. Jews were expelled and their land and property stolen. There were more Jews expelled from Arab countries than even the highest estimated number of Palestinian refugees.

Today, Zionism is the new anti-Semitism. People feel very comfortable spouting prejudices when it can be disguised as criticism of Israel.

From the UN to Jimmy Carter, many have compared Zionism to the apartheid of South Africa. In doing so, these organizations and individuals have given legitimacy to the tactics of terrorists. Along with this, the very real apartheid going on in the areas held by the Palestinian Authority is ignored. Christians have been forced out of Bethlehem and are facing ever increasing threats of death in Gaza. The real apartheid exists in countries like Egypt were once ancient Jewish communities no longer exist because the Jews were expelled. Also in Egypt, Christians live in the margins. Many non-Muslims in Arabic countries still live under dhimmi laws. Muslim women, in countries like Saudi Arabia, face many discriminatory laws.

With all of these gross-injustices, why is Zionism singled out? Why is there no focus on the very real and rampant racism inherent in the ideas of Arab Pan-nationalism?

The threat of peace in the Middle East is not the Jewish State of Israel. The threat to peace is not Zionism. The threat of peace continues to be the hatred exhibited by so-called Arab moderates toward Jews. Sadly, people are buying into the idea that it is Israel who is intransigent. You can see it in news reports. Israel, unlike other countries, is condemned when it takes action against the terrorists who hide in schools and lob Qassams and Grad rockets at civilian population centers. Two years ago, there were many who stupidly held "We are all Hezb'allah" signs. What those signs mean is that you agree with the goals of terrorism. It means you think it is okay for terrorists to murder Jews and other "non-believers".

In 1975, a General from Cairo made the following statement:

Once we can convince the Jews--especially the six million in the U.S.--that it is Egypt who is the "moderate" and Israel is "intransigent" and standing in the way of peace," we will have won two hundred million Americans. Who among the two hundred million will be for Israel if the six million American Jews are not?

Sadly, some American Jews do see Israel as being intransigent. Some that come to mind are Norman Finkelstein and Barbara Striesand. I used to think that they were self-hating Jews but have come to different conclusion. Far from being liberated from the ghettos of Europe and Arabian countries, they still live in the slavery of thought and deed that will not allow them to see that Jews, especially those in Israel, have a right and duty to protect themselves and to defend those who are being attacked.

The ancient Zionist dream of the Jewish State of Israel came into existence 60 years ago. Against all the odds, this modern day miracle exists. I believe the problem with many comes from the fact that Jews now have the ability to protect themselves from pogroms which occurred in both Eastern Europe and in Arab countries. It comes from the fact that Jews now have the ability to defend themselves against would be Hitlers such as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The last three verses of Psalm 137 still live in the hearts of many who seek the destruction of Jews and the Jewish State of Israel:

Remember, Jehovah, for the sons of Edom, The day of Jerusalem, Those saying, 'Rase, rase to its foundation!'

O daughter of Babylon, O destroyed one, O the happiness of him who repayeth to thee thy deed, That thou hast done to us.

O the happiness of him who doth seize, And hath dashed thy sucklings on the rock!

There is a terrorist of Lebanon who is being held in an Israeli jail. There are many who clamour for his release. His name is Samir Kuntar.

Like a son of Edom, he did the following:

As police began to arrive, the terrorists took Danny and Einat down to the beach. There, according to eyewitnesses, one of them shot Danny in front of Einat, so that his death would be the last thing she would ever see. Then, he smashed my little girl’s skull in against a rock with his rifle butt. That terrorist was Samir Kuntar.

By the time we were rescued from the crawl space hours later, Yael, too, was dead. In trying to save all our lives, I had smothered her.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would like nothing better than to see the cities of Israel, 'Rase, rase to its foundation!'

These are the enemies of Israel. These are the ones who gain sympathy against the so-called "intransigence" of Israel.

Zionism isn't racism. It isn't colonialism. It is a long-held dream and cherished hope that Jews will be gathered from the four-corners of the world and return to the Land. Since the time Romans expelled Jews from Judah and tried to erase its memory by calling it Palestine, the Land was a back-water. The Jewish State of Israel, in its 60 years existence, has turned it into a growing and thriving land. The Land yearned for its people and the people yearned for its Land.

Jews have kept a continuous presence in Israel (no matter the name conquerors called it) for 5,768 years. As a Zionist, my dream and hope remains, "L'Shana HaBa'ah Ba'Y'rushalayim".

Friday, May 23, 2008

Shabbat Sholom! 18 Iyar 5768

In 2,000 years of the Diaspora, we never gave up the claim to the Land and we never gave up hope. I saw the following at Treppenwitz:

For the Sake of Heaven

I had considered naming this post, "What! Are You Nuts?". There are so many hardships one faces in the decision to convert to Judaism. First, the mind is unsettled. It took me almost 3 decades to realize I needed to do something about those inner promptings. Those promptings consisted of a need to study Judaism, to study Israel, and to study the history of the Jewish people, which I did over the course of those decades. Those prompting became so pronounced that for the last year(about 5-6 years ago) when I attended Mass very sporadically, I literally had to bite my tongue to keep from shouting out loud that all of this was so very wrong.

A Simple Jew has a guest post. He asks Yirmeyahu to reflect on the following:

In Imrei Pinchas, Shaar Toras Adam, 79, Rebbe Pinchas of Koretz taught that a holy spark falls and burns inside a Ger. It compels him to complete his Geirus and actually does not give him any choice in this matter. Only after his Geirus, is the Ger given free choice.

This is so true. A ger really has no choice except to follow the promptings of the spark. You can deny the spark all you want but it will not be quiet. This spark gives you the strength to face rejection by your biological family. It gives you strength to face living the mitzvot. It gives you the strength to face possible rejection by your new Jewish community.

It gives you the strength to carry on when a beloved family member walks out of the room you are in.

It gives you the strength to live by kashrut even when you have to make a three hour trip or order kosher meat through the internet.

The reward for this is not the acceptance of your fellow man. The reward is the peace and tranquility of a mind at rest. The joy of Shabbat starts on Thursday when sings and niggun echo and you find yourself singing snippets throughout and then they burst forth on Shabbat.

The reward comes from the prayers said daily and the hunger for Torah is satisfied.

You see the changes coming over you. Before the mikveh, ridding the house of hametz and cleaning the house for Pesach seems to be an overwhelming task. But after the mikveh, you find yourself thinking more of what it means to be living in slavery. You find yourself reflecting what are some of the things that you need to throw out of yourself in order to move closer to Hashem.

And as that first Shavuot approaches after the mikveh, you know in your heart that you have stood at Sinai and said with all the generations, "We will do and we will hear".

Abraham and Sarah were the first Jewish gers. They are my parents: Shira bat Sarah v'Abraham. Their hospitality and kindness to other gers is a guideline on to how to treat other gers. Gers are only strangers in the sense they are still learning. But since it is a basic tenet of Judaism that all should learn to each one's ability, does this not make all Jews gers?

Each of us approaches Torah as a ger, not knowing how the words in a particular Mishnah, Pirkei Avot, or prayer will affect us. Studying Torah can seem like we are entering a new land and it is the knowledge that so many other gers in past generations and this new generation are entering this new land of discovery that binds us as a community. It is the back and forth of discussing "we will do" that binds us. And each of us has to decide what "we will hear".

It used to bother me that a convert is called a ger. I thought perhaps orphan would be a better word. But the more I study, do, and hear, the less it does. Ultimately, each of us is a ger before Hashem.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

He Would Be a Good Choice

I like the Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal. He was one for the very few bright spots in Louisiana leadership in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. He seems to know how to get things done and to work with people, regardless of political lines.

Rumors have been swirling around that Jindal may be selected as McCain's running mate. The invitation McCain extended for Memorial Day weekend is sure to fuel more.

Jindal would be a good Vice-President candidate. He is young and appealing. He also shows some of the characteristics I feel are essential to all who run and hold public offices: He cares about people. The article linked to said Jindal's lack of foreign policy experience is a draw back. Hey, if Hillary and Obama are okay to be presidential nominees, Jindal is okay for the vice-presidential nominee. Neither Hillary nor Obama have foreign policy experience. And while Obama's youthful enthusiasm are a plus, he doesn't have much foreign policy experience nor legislative experience. His ties to so many radicals such as Ayers are troubling.

And Hillary, despite being the sometimes pillow-mate of President Bill Clinton, does not have any practical foreign policy experience either. And she lacks character traits which would make a good political leader. I come away with the feeling that much like when hr husband was in office, she'll base her decisions on public opinion polls and not necessarily what is good for the country. There have been calls from a wide variety of Democrats for her to step down from her campaign. She has ignored those calls. While I do admire her for that, it does illustrate one fact: Her candidacy is all about her. It isn't a desire to serve the United States that is prodding her along. It her thirst for power. But all the candidates running for president have that same trait.

The problem is trying to figure out which one will be committed to doing what is best for our country even if it goes against the majority of public opinion. It comes down to character.

I like Obama and had seriously considered him. But his ties to radicals such as Ayers have severely dampened that notion. I like how Hillary is thumbing her nose at the Democratic party. But her actions show a lust for power that was evident duirng Bill Clinton's Presidency. And like Obama's, many of her fundraisers have been seen to be, let us say, not so aboveboard on adhering to campaign laws.

Many Republicans do not like McCain. I used to be one of them. But the more I've learned about him, the more I like him. I disagree with his stance on many issues. However, his character makes him the best of all the candidates to serve as the president. I hope he chooses Jindal as his running mate. Jindal has those same traits of leadership. There is another possible running mate that I hope McCain is seriously considering: Joesph Lieberman.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Lie of Al Dura

The images were blasted across the world. A Palestinian boy and father penned down by what from news reports appears to be gunfire from the IDF. Then the boy appears to be shot. The condemnation of Israel was shift and has been unrelenting. And it is all based on a lie. The news reporter and the camera man staged the scene. The boy and his father could not have been harmed by the gunfire of the IDF.

Even in the news footage, after supposedly being shot, one can see his arm moving later.

France-2 news sued Richard Landes for defamation for pointing out that the news footage was staged. French courts have overturned a libel ruling against Richard Landes. The truth has finally come out.

So much hate and deaths have been caused by unscrupulous news people. So many lies about Israel has been reported by the news media. But the truth will come out.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


Jack made the following comment:

Remember that smicha does not always bestow kindness, wisdom or common sense.

I realized my response to him was quickly turning into a post. Thus far, I've been very fortunate in that every rabbi I've encountered, whether in person or through blogging, have all shown kindness, wisdom, and common sense. I can also say the same for the majority of Jews I've met in person and through blogging. Chassid, Modern Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and secular: All have have shown kindness, wisdom, and common sense.

The impact of a rabbi cannot be understated. The years and years of study must be coupled with ahava amo yisrael. Rabbi Dov Lior, head of the Yesha Rabbis Council
is slamming the desicion of Bnei Akiva to invite Meretz Chairman Chaim Oron to a Bnei Akiva convention A rabbi of Bnei Akiva shows that:

Bnei Akiva's secretary-general, Rabbi Benny Nechtailer, said in response, "The Bnei Akiva movement is not afraid of listening to additional voices and opinions from the Israeli public discourse. The Meretz chairman's performance did not harm and even strengthened the committee into making national decisions, calling on the Israeli government to bolster the settlement in the Judea and Samaria and not harm the Golan Heights.

"It should also be noted that the decision to invite guests to take part in the conference was made along with the movement's rabbis. We would like to tell Kiryat Arba's rabbi that the convention held this year was the first to tour the City of the Fathers in Hebron and to pray at the Cave of the Patriarchs."

Former Bnei Akiva Secretary-General Dr. Amnon Shapira, who also took part in the discussions, said that he believed Rabbi Lior's approach was flawed and contradicted Judaism.

"Those who make these claims are trying to push us to the haredi path, where Rabbi Lior's books are banned from seminaries, as are those of Rabbi Kook and Rabbi Soloveichik. In our library one can also find books by Neturei Karta. This is the way of Judaism and this is the way of Bnei Akiva, which has always invited representatives from the Shomer Hatzair Movement and the Working Youth movement, and this year the Meretz chairman."

Jews have survived as a debating society. It started when Abraham began debating with Hashem. Moses debated with Pharoah and with Hashem. And the most common trait is the pleas for mercy on the shortcomings of the people of Israel. The school of Hillel was chosen over the School of Shammai because Hillel followed the principles of leniency. Listening to one another through the generations ties us together. The Catholic Church understood that when it tried to destroy the Talmud by burning the scant available copies and when that didn't work, by editing out parts and changing parts. The Greeks and Romans understood this as well. Throughout the ages, from the time of the Greeks to Hitler's Nazi Germany, the Talmud has been burned in an attempt to destroy it. And yet it and Jews are still alive. There is a fence around Torah to protect and preserve it and yet the fence is flexible enough to allow debate. It is when it is closed off that it can become withered and dry.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Moms Blog?

We work, cook, clean, and we can write! Yeah Moms! Ima on(and off) the Bima hosts Haveil Havalim 166-The Mommy Edition.

Baseless Hatred

it is said that the Second Temple fell to the Romans because of baseless hatred. Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz in The Essential Talmud has this from Bava Metzia 30b:

In discussing the question of why the Second Temple was destroyed when the people at that time led blameless lives and studied Torah, the Talmud comments harshly that "Jerusalem was only destroyed because the law of Torah was delivered there". This perplexing statement is elaborated: the people of Jerusalem were punished because they judged only in accordance with the laws of Torah and did not advocate leniency. This implies that although existing laws bind all men, there are various considerations for tempting the law, in certain cases, with mercy. If those authorized to pass judgment do not act with temperance, their behaviour denotes the onset of destruction. Thus the law--particularly the statues regulating relations between man and his fellow man--is but an external framework containing other frameworks that must also be taken into consideration.

Rabbi Avraham Sherman wrote a 50 page legal decision calling into question thousands of conversions by Rabbi Druckman. Rabbi Sherman has caused pain to many and he did so without even looking into the conversions he is calling into question. One of those who may be affected had this to say:

SHANEY GILBERT, a convert to Judaism who might be affected by the High Rabbinical Court's decision, was preparing for Shabbat when she first heard about Sherman's decision.

"My table was set; my Shabbat candles were ready; and I had some time before sundown," recalled Gilbert. "So I decided to check the news on the Internet. I could not believe what I saw. I started shaking all over. I could not believe that I had been through so much, and now this court could come along years after the fact and take away my Jewish status retroactively. Just like that, without any investigation into who I am."

Gilbert said that the decision was a clear violation of the biblical commandment to love the convert and not to wrong him.

"On the day of their judgment, those judges will be accountable for every tear that I and thousands of other converts shed," added Gilbert

Rabbi Steinsaltz also expounds upon Sodomite Rule:

There is an aggadic tradition that regards Sodom not necessarily as the center of wild and indiscriminate corruption but as a place in which the legislation was evil because of a combination of malice and excessive respect for the letter of the law.

There is just a few weeks to Shavuot when the Megillah of Ruth will be read. Ruth, whose heart and soul made her a convert. Ruth, a Moab, who after her conversion and acceptance of the Commandments was allowed to marry Boaz. At the time, those in Israel could not marry Moabites. Ruth, whose marriage to Boaz would led to King David.

Converts to Judaism have a long road to follow, whether it is through Reform, Conservative, or Orthodox. In some cases, family members of the convert will actually walk out of the room. A convert leaves one world behind and accepts the 613commandments. Thus is at the heart of Rabbi Sherman's desicion. He arbiterially decided without investigation that a thousand or so conversions were invalid. This doesn't even begin to discuss the appropriatness of his desicion to even question those who have already converted. That is a different matter. Do not harm the convert:

"The Holy One, blessed be He, greatly loves the proselytes. To what may this be compared? To a king who had a flock which used to go out to the field and come in at even. So it was each day. Once a stag came in with the flock. He stayed with the goats and grazed with them. When the flock came in to the fold he came in; when they went out to graze he went out. The king was told about the stag and felt a certain affection for him."

"When the stag went out into the field, the king ordered, 'Let him have good pasture; do not harm him; be careful with him!' When he came in with the flock, the king told them, 'Give him water'; he loved the stag very much. The servants said, 'Your majesty! You have such a large flock of goats and lambs and kids, but you never caution us about them; yet you give us instructions every day about this stag!'"

"The king responded, 'The other animals have no choice; whether they want or not, it is their nature to graze in the field all day and to come in to sleep in the fold. Stags, however, sleep in the wilderness. It is not in their nature to come into places inhabited by man. Is it not to a sign of this one's merit that he has left behind the whole of the wilderness to stay in our courtyard?' In like manner, ought we not to be grateful to the proselyte who has left behind his family and his relatives, his nation and all the other nations of the world, and has chosen to come to us?"

After my conversion, I felt as this man:

The following day his neighbors woke up to a very peculiar sight. That very same convert was seen dancing through the streets of Yerushalayim singing “shelo asani goy, shelo asani goy (thanking Hashem for not creating him as a member of the other nations of the world)!”

For I could now say what my heart had long been telling me: I'm a Jew!. I'm home. My home is the Jewish people. My ways are those of the Jewish people and like my Hebrew name, Shira, my heart sings. Ahava Amo Yisrael.

This is what is so damaging about Rabbi Sherman's desicion. His decision has torn the song from many converts. I wonder if he would have made the same desicion for Ruth's conversion.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Shabbat Shalom! 11 Iyar 5768

The Nakba

Recently, Israel celebrated its Independence Day. The progress of this small country has been remarkable and it is a story of resolve and determination. It began as a dream and a hope. Herzl, one of the leaders of the Zionist movement coined the phrase, “If you will it, it is no fairy tale”. His dream and so many of the Zionists is no fairy tale and Israel has existed for 60 years in spite of countries like Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq attempts to destroy it. The Jewish state exists and no amount of revisionism will change the facts of who it came into existence. And that is what The Nakba attempts to do.

Palestinians use the word nakba which means catastrophe to describe their plight. And it has been a catastrophe for them. It is not because of the Jewish State of Israel. The catastrophe has long existed. It existed at the time of the Ottoman Empire ruled present day Israel and Gaza and the West Bank. It is a catastrophe from the way the British ruling under a mandate after the fall of the Ottoman Empire reneged on promises of a Jewish homeland and changed their plans in order to appease Arabs, all for oil.

The catastrophe of the Palestinians exists in the roots of Arab leaders’ declarations to eradicate Israel and by sending in armies to defeat the very small nation. They promised Palestinians that all Jews would be thrown into the sea. The Palestinians were urged to leave by Arab leaders. And they did and have sweltering in refugee camps for 60 years now. They are political pawns because host countries such as Syria refuse to grant citizenship to them. Some Palestinians still refuse to leave refugee camps in Gaza and the West Bank.

In 1960, King Hussien of Jordan stated:

Since 1948 Arab leaders have approached the Palestinian problem in an irresponsible manner….. They have used the Palestinians people for selfish political purposes. This is ridiculous and, I could say, even criminal.

Why are there still Palestinian refugees? And why do the Palestinians have their own UN refugee program? In 1960, Pakistani President Mohammed Ayub Khan stated that his country’s settlement of its 7 million refugees might be an example for Arab countries to resettle the “three-quarters of a million refugees from Palestine”.

After World War II, there were 79,200,000 refugees. It begs the question of why the relatively small group of Palestinian refugees still has their own UN program, the United Nations Relief and Work Agency (UNRWA). Many more Jews (800,000) were expelled from Arab countries after the Jewish State of Israel came into being. Israel absorbed most of them.

UNRWA still does not know the exact number of refugees because many who made claims were actually welfare cases. UNRWA also changed the definition of what constitutes a refugee. It altered the definition to include any one who lived there a minimum of two years before 1948.

The nakba of the Palestinians is not the Jewish State of Israel. They could have had a state in 1948. They could have a state now. The leaders they choose to follow have had one goal in mind: the destruction of Israel. It is a nakba that instead of working to build a viable state, the route chosen has been one of terror. Most of those souls who are in refugee camps are descendents of those who fled at the urging of Arab leaders. Is Israel to continue to pay for the nakba of corrupt and despotic Arab leaders?

Before the first Zionists started buying land from absentee landowners, most of what is now Israel was desolate. It wasn’t until Zionists started building and reclaiming the land that many Arabs sought the prosperity the Jews were creating. The numbers are startling. In 1893, there were 92,300 Arabs in Palestine. After Zionist began reclaiming the land, 213,700 Arabs immigrated to benefit from the good wages and economic opportunities Zionists created.

Today, those in Gaza and the West Bank are still benefiting. Those in Gaza have better living conditions than close-by Egyptian towns. And yes Israel has had to secure its borders. Yes, Israel has had to build a security wall. Yes, Israel attacks terrorists.

The nakba of the Palestinian people is that they continue to hold as heroes those who seek to murder and maim through terrorism. The nakba of the Palestinian people is that so many others around the world support terror groups like Hamas and Hezbollah. These groups seek to murder and maim babes in arms to the elderly. Their Qassams and Grads are aimed at civilian populations and when they strike home and murder a 70 year old woman, it is not the woman’s face you see plastered all over the news. It is the faces of the so-called “brave” and “heroic” “martyrs” one sees. The nakba of the Palestinian people is that it’s leader, Abbas choose to give the highest Palestinian Award to two who committed suicide bombings. The nakba of the Palestinian is not the so-called “occupied territories”, it is that most consider all of Israel to be “occupied”. The nakba of the Palestinian people is that the United Nations gave reorganization to Arafat, whose path of terror is the one that is followed. The nakba of the Palestinian people is that Arafat was awarded the Nobel Peace prize even though he single-handled jeopardized the very real prospect of peace after the Oslo Accords by unleashing the Second Intifada.

The nakba of the Palestinian people is that fools like Jimmy Carter call Israel an “apartheid” state and German Catholic bishops dare to compare the refugee camps in the West Bank to the ghettoes Nazi Germans created.

It is the nakba of the Palestinian people that instead of building up, the path chosen by their leaders has been one of death and destruction.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Habitats Mission

This past week Jimmy Carter, Rosalyn Carter, and Habitat for Humanity have been doing a rebuilding blitz along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. I was hoping that this blitz would alleviate some of the problems with affordable housing. Before Hurricane Katrina, apartments and rental houses could be found for around $400 a month. After Hurricane Katrina, those rents tripled.

The Mississippi Gulf Coast Hurricane Katrina story has largely been ignored by most media. I have the statistics from the Red Cross posted on my sidebar. What they don't show is that in addition to the 65,000 homes destroyed and the 35,000 that had to be demolished, the Mississippi Gulf Coast also lost 20% of its rental apartments and housing. Families and friends opened their doors to those who needed shelter until the FEMA trailers started coming in. Some people had no option but to live in tents until a FEMA trailer was in place. Today, the Sunherald is reporting FEMA trailer parks in Biloxi will be closing June 1.

Each time one of the parks is closed, many have no place to go. From my photography walks along the beaches, I find the number of homeless increasing each time. Many of those still in the trailer parks are the elderly and disabled. Some are drug addicts and alcoholics as well, but their numbers are very small. Those that are in the trailer parks cannot afford $600 a month for housing, if they could, they would have already had some place to go. Many have applied for Section 8 housing. The problem in the 2 1/2 years after Katrina is that many owners of rentals find it more profitable not to go that route and so there are fewer houses and apartments and rental houses available to those that qualify.

In an interview with WLOX, Jimmy Carter stated that those who will be moving into the Habitat for Humanity being built during this weeks blitz will be paying a $600/month mortgage. This is the problem for me, affordable housing before Hurricane Katrina meant finding a place to live at $400 to $500 a month. The $200 and $100 difference may seem slight but for those whose median income is between $25,000 and $30,000, it can be huge.

And what of those, who for whatever reason(mainly lack of education)r? There are few options available.

And Jimmy Carter is very artless in making statements. Just as he chooses words that are extremely insulting, untruthful, and very damaging when discussing Israel, he couldn't help himself in dissing Mississippi:

It's like a reverse cancer," Carter said in an interview with the Sun Herald. "It spreads from one block to another, and eventually, everybody is trying to put their homes in better condition. When we go back six or seven years later, that community has been, in appearance at least, gentrified. That doesn't mean that rents have gone up, but everybody is beginning to say that if Habitat folks who are poorer than I am can have that house looking like a mansion, I'm going to make my house look like a mansion too."

Most people who live in the areas where the Habitat homes are going up take pride in them. They are neighborhoods where people know one and another and help another. And to describe them as close to being slums lacks statesmanship that a past president should have.

The wonderful volunteers who are down here, building side-by-side with homeowners are the true story. They keep coming and they keep giving us a shoulder to lean on. It is their smiling faces and their willingness to tear out sheet rock still saturated with mold 2 1/2 years later that continues to uphold the resolve the people of the Mississippi have shown since August 29, 2005. We looked and saw the destruction and said "We'll rebuild", and we have been doing so together. The volunteers help keep that resolve going. And I thank them.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Nu, You Should Be So Happy

After reading about Spengler's article Why Israel is the Happiest Country at the Muqata and at Solomonia, I had to read it for myself.

The article offers a glimpse as to why, in spite of facing hostile nations, Israelis and Jews throughout their history, continue to sing, to dance, and to celebrate life. Israel does stand alone among the nations as Spengler's graph shows:

Israel, the modern nation, turned 60. Israel, the ancient people, is in year 5768. Why this longevity in the face of threats from Babylonians, ancient Greeks, the Romans, and Muslim and Christian throughout the years? Why this life even after the Holocaust?

In his article, Spengler makes the following observation:

Israel is surrounded by neighbors willing to kill themselves in order to destroy it. "As much as you love life, we love death," Muslim clerics teach; the same formula is found in a Palestinian textbook for second graders. Apart from the fact that the Arabs are among the least free, least educated, and (apart from the oil states) poorest peoples in the world, they also are the unhappiest, even in their wealthiest kingdoms.

The contrast of Israeli happiness and Arab despondency is what makes peace an elusive goal in the region. It cannot be attributed to material conditions of life. Oil-rich Saudi Arabia ranks 171st on an international quality of life index, below Rwanda. Israel is tied with Singapore on this index, although it should be observed that Israel ranks a runaway first on my life-preference index, whereas Singapore comes in dead last.

Even less can we blame unhappiness on experience, for no nation has suffered more than the Jews in living memory, nor has a better excuse to be miserable. Arabs did not invent suicide attacks, but they have produced a population pool willing to die in order to inflict damage greater than any in history. One cannot help but conclude that Muslim clerics do not exaggerate when they express contempt for life.

When Abram's name was changed by HaShem to Abraham, a new nation was born. It was first and foremost based on a love of life. A lot of people look askance at Jewish kashrut laws. Some state that are merely basic hygienic rules that were made when there was no refrigeration. But that isn't the purpose of kashrut. From the sesame seed to a nice, thick rib eye steak, kashrut makes us conscience of what we eat.

It seems ridiculous to some to keep separate sets of cooking ware, dishes, and utensils in order to keep dairy foods separate from meats. But the injunction is there:

The Torah tells us this in basic terms three times (Exodus 23:19 and 34:26 and Deuteronomy 14:21) with the phrase: "Do not boil a kid in its mother's milk." Using these three citations, the rabbis, in later discussions, deduce three meanings for the prohibition on mixing milk and meat.

All of this is to avoid causing animals undue suffering. When Abraham's name was changed, a sanctity for life was bought forth. If we are to be mindful of the pain of animals, how much more are we to be mindful of the pain we cause to others?

It is this love and respect for life that has kept Jews alive through the worst persecutions imaginable. It is the love and hope in HaShem that has kept us going.

If faith makes the Israelis happy, then why are the Arabs, whose observance of Islam seems so much stricter, so miserable? Islam offers its adherents not love - for Allah does not reveal Himself in love after the fashion of YHWH - but rather success. "The Islamic world cannot endure without confidence in victory, that to 'come to prayer' is the same thing as to 'come to success'. Humiliation - the perception that the ummah cannot reward those who submit to it - is beyond its capacity to endure," I argued in another location. Islam, or "submission", does not understand faith - trust in a loving God even when His actions appear incomprehensible - in the manner of Jews and Christians. Because the whim of Allah controls every event from the orbit of each electron to the outcome of battles, Muslims know only success or failure at each moment in time.

I've posted the following joke before:

A new flood is foretold by the world's weather specialists and they say that nothing can be done about it. In three days, the waters will wipe out the world.

The Dalai Lama appears on television and pleads with everybody to turn to Buddhism. That way, they will at least reach enlightenment.

The Pope goes on television and says that the world must accept Christianity in order to attain salvation.

The Chief Rabbi of Israel takes a slightly different approach: "We all have three days to learn how to live under water

For thousands of years, Jews have been having a love affair with HaShem. Shir HaShirim is an expression of that love affair:

My beloved resembles a gazelle or a fawn of the hinds; behold, he is standing behind our wall, looking from the windows, peering from the lattices.

My beloved raised his voice and said to me, 'Arise, my beloved, my fair one, and come away.

For behold, the winter has passed; the rain is over and gone.

The blossoms have appeared in the land, the time of singing has arrived, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.

The fig tree has put forth its green figs, and the vines with their tiny grapes have given forth their fragrance; arise, my beloved, my fair one, and come away.

My dove, in the clefts of the rock, in the coverture of the steps, show me your appearance, let me hear your voice, for your voice is pleasant and your appearance is comely.'

Seize for us the foxes, the little foxes, who destroy the vineyards, for our vineyards are with tiny grapes.

My beloved is mine, and I am his, who grazes among the roses.

This is the hope. That whenever the darkness(whatever form it may take) of winter is lifted, the blossoms will once again appear. And always, "My beloved is mine, and I am his". Nu, you should be so happy.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


These are the following books on my summer reading list:

The Essential Talmud by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
Crossing the Narrow Bridge by Chaim Kramer
The Israel-Arab Reader by Walter Laqueur and Barry Rubin
Everyman's Talmud by Abraham Cohen
From Time Immemorial by Joan Peters

I'm concurrently reading The Essential Talmud and From Time Immemorial. This is in addition to reading the weekly Torah portion and commentaries ranging from those at Orthodox sites to those at Conservative sites. I'm also trying to learn Hebrew. Sounds like a lot. In reality, it energizes me. And yet, at times, I feel as though I'm not really focusing on the direction I aught to be going.

I've been thinking a lot more about the first rabbi that guided me on my journey home to Judaism. She is a Reform rabbi and she saw something I wasn't willing to concede to myself. She suggested perhaps I would prefer to go Orthodox. But I'm still hesitant about it. I suppose it is fear.

Would I be discouraged from studying like I do now? How would I like being behind that curtain, hidden away? And what about clothing?

Like Miriam in her post at A Simple Jew, Question & Answer With Miriam Woelke, I'm a jeans and pants woman.

Like her, for now, I'm content. I like being able to participate as an equal in my congregation's Torah study. I like making aliya. There is something so intrinsic when I stand there and make the blessings and then hear the Torah being read. There is something intrinsic in wrapping myself in the talit as I pray Sacharit. And I do not want to give those up. These are essential to me.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Of Cavemen and Torah

Strange title, isn't it? But bear with me. I was watching Clash of the Cavemen last night. It was pretty interesting and showed and discussed various scenarios of what may have incurred when the first modern homo sapiens, Cro Magnum, started migrating into what is now Europe. The Neanderthals had lived there for close to 250,000 years and adapted impressively to ice-age conditions.

The Neanderthal bodies were practically suited to the harsh conditions. Stocky bodies helped to conserve necessary heat. Expanded chests and shoulders gave the upper-body strength needed for hunting and again were well-suited for ice-age conditions. Their brains were on par with ours.

Cro Magnum and Neanderthal existed side-by-side for approximately 5,000 years. Cro Magnum men did not have the stocky bodies of the Neanderthal. It would seem that based on physical traits alone, the Neanderthals should have been the ones to have succeeded. Instead, it was the relatively puny Cro Magnum, homo sapiens sapiens, who succeeded.

Cro Magnum had tried unsuccessfully to master ice-age Europe. But were unsuccessful in the first attempt. At the time of their first attempt, there were no apparent differences between the tools of Cro Magnum and Neanderthal. The next time around was the charm. What was the big difference this time around? From ancient sites around Europe, there was a marked increase in the sophistication of tools used by Cro Magnum. The Neanderthal tools, for the most part, were unchanged. It was only when sites of Neanderthal and Cro Magnum overlapped that there was an improvement made to the tools of Neanderthal.

Man, according to Genesis, existed in Gan Eden until the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge was eaten. What could have been the knowledge gained by eating this fruit? What monumental leap was made? Man had been using tools for hundreds of thousands of years. Man had been using a primitive language for thousands of years. Man had been using the furs of animals for hundreds of thousands of years. What was the spark that ignited modern humans?

The show, Clash of the Cavemen speculates that around 40,000 years ago, modern man suddenly was able to expand language capabilities. Man could now trade ideas with one another. Man could use language to impart how to weave fabric. Man could now make lunar charts to track the movement of animals that were hunted. Man now made drawings of the animals they hunted. In short, instead of using, man began to create. The show also suggests that for some reason, the brains of modern humans allowed vowel sounds to be spoken. The placement of Neanderthals vocal cords, the lack of the Broca center limited Neanderthals speech. Speech cannot be underestimated.

It is this ability to communicate, to draw, and to create that gave us the advantage over Neanderthal. But what was the spark that made man use it? It is interesting that in Bereshit, it was only after Adam and Eve had partaken of the Tree of Knowledge, that Adam and Eve realized they were naked and sewed clothing for themselves. Self-awareness and the ability to create had been taken.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Shabbat Shalom! 05/09/08

Where Are the "We Are All Hezbollahh" Signs?

Remember these from a couple of years ago?

Hezbollah was just a "charity group" which happens to have enough arms to send hundreds of rockets into Israel and its "charity" spending includes such expenditures as RPG launchers and other weapons. This "charity group" used to be content with just controlling half of Lebanon. The UN troops that were surpassed to have kept Hezbollah from rearming have done a piss-poor job(aren't all UN endeavors the same?)

So now that Hezbollah is in the midst of capturing Beirut, are all those "We Are All Hezbollah" signs going to start reappearing?

It must be very difficult for media outlets such as the BBC to report on these latest acts of "charity" by Hezbollah.

It will take quite a bit of mental gymnastics to report on the actions of the Lebanese Army when it acts against the "charity" group of Hezbollah. After all, Hezbollah will be fighting amidst the civilian population and using that population as human sheilds. Isn't that how all "charity" groups act?.

It is a crazy, mixed up world when terrorists like Hezbollah are equated with charity groups such Doctors Without Borders. People like Jimmy Carter are trying their best to show that Hamas is just another one of those "charity" groups. The reality is, Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Muslim Brotherhood, and others are not "charity" groups. They are murderous thugs who do not care for human rights. They only seek destruction.

The Humor of Truth


Nothing funnier than the truth...
submitted by: BP
Avg. RatingVotes: 273 Views: 13353

In the years before the Balfour Declaration, a member of the House of Lords asked Chaim Weizmann, "Why do you Jews insist on Palestine when there are so many undeveloped countries you could settle in more conveniently?"

Weizmann replied, "That is like my asking you why you drove 20 miles to visit your mother last Sunday when there are so many old ladies living on your street."

submitted by: JEEPS Katz
Avg. RatingVotes: 293 Views: 13028

Reporters CNN Journalist Christianne Amanpour and Former CBS Journalist Dan Rather, and an Israeli sergeant were all captured by terrorists in Iraq. The leader of the terrorists told them that he would grant them each one last request before they were beheaded.

Dan Rather said, "Well, I'm a Texan, so I'd like one last bowlful of hot spicy chili." The leader nodded to an underling who left and returned with the chili. Rather ate it all and said, "Now I can die content."

Christianne Amanpour said, "I'm a reporter to the end. I want to take out my tape recorder and describe the scene here and what's about to happen. Maybe someday someone will hear it and know that I was on the job till the end." The leader directed an aide to hand over the tape recorder and Amanpour dictated some comments. She then said, "Now I can die happy."

The leader turned and said, "And now, Mr. Israeli tough guy, what is your final wish?"

"Kick me," said the soldier.

"What?" asked the leader? "Will you mock us in your last hour?"

"No, I'm not kidding. I want you to kick me," insisted the Israeli.

So the leader shoved him into the open and kicked him.

The soldier went sprawling, but rolled to his knees, pulled a 9 mm pistol from under his flack jacket, and shot the leader dead. In the resulting confusion, he jumped to his knapsack, pulled out his carbine and sprayed the terrorists with gunfire. In a flash, all terrorists were either dead or fleeing for their lives.

As the soldier was untying Rather and Amanpour, they asked him, "Why didn't you just shoot them in the beginning? Why did you ask them to kick you first?"

"What?" replied the Israeli, "And have you two schnooks report that I was the aggressor?!"

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Swept Away

It is incomprehensible to visualize 100,000 dead in Burma after Cyclone Nargis came ashore. As was the case with Hurricane Katrina and most hurricanes, the majority of deaths resulted from the storm surge. Many in the United States criticized the federal government for its seeming lack of response to Hurricane Katrina. While doing so, two important stories were missed. The first was the massive evacuation that occurred before Hurricane Katrina. The metro area of New Orleans, which includes Chalmette, Gentilly, Slidell, and other cities and towns had a population of around 1.2 million people. The Mississippi Gulf Coast had a population of around 400,000. In spite of the way Hurricane Katrina was reported, the majority of those in Mississippi, Louisiana, and the coastal areas of Alabama did evacuate. That was one of the most successful evacuations involving close to 1.6 to 1.7 million people.

The biggest story that was glossed over in favor of reporting inaccurate and misleading ones was the massive rescue efforts by the Coast Guard, the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries, and the Louisiana National Guard. Contrary to what was reported of riot like conditions in the Superdome, of people shooting at rescue workers, the National Guard was keeping order and people were being rescued.

In my opinion, the way the news media portrayed New Orleans actually led to the hampering of relief efforts. If rescue people were being shot at, why should authorities allow in more rescue and relief workers?

Given the conditions after Hurricane Katrina, the response by emergency officials was well within the time frame estimated for water, ice, and food to arrive. Each time we in south Mississippi are warned of a potential hurricane strike, we are told to have on hand enough food and water to last 3-5 days. On the Mississippi Gulf Coast, Katrina hit on Monday, August 29, 2005. On Wednesday, the first trucks loaded with water and ice arrived. Given the road conditions, that was a very good response time. I really didn't expect them until Friday. The only problem with those wonderful trucks loaded with water and ice was their location. We had to go to the trucks and those that had lost everything from their homes to their cars had to find some way to reach the trucks. Volunteers and the military went into those areas and did a good job of providing the water and food needed in those areas.

For New Orleans the focus was on rescuing people and then getting them out of the city. It wouldn't have made much sense to bring in massive amounts of water when the population was being evacuated. The National Guard was rationing food and water but there seemed to be enough. The one thing that still amazes me to this day is that 50,000 rescues were performed and those rescues were completed by the Saturday after Katrina had hit. To me, that is very indication that the emergency response was effective and not the disaster so many have proclaimed it to be.

The cyclones in the Indian Ocean have proved to be deadly. In 1970, Bangladesh was hit and the number of deaths was estimated to be between 150,000 to 550,000. The military junta in Burma is being forced to let aid workers in. The Chinese, unlike when the Burmese monks were staging peacful protests, urged the military junta to "open up". The military junta is unable and unwilling to help the people of Burma.

Words are inadequet and the it defies the imagination to think of those hundreds of thousands of lives swept away in Burma. Marshal Ramsey, Clarion Ledger always seems to be able to capture the feeling of loss:

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Would You Know a Miracle?

This evening at sundown begins Yom Ha'atzmaut. Last night, began Yom Ha-Zikaron. Israel holds its Memorial Day and then its Independence Day. Fresh on the memories of those who died in the War of Independence, the 6 Day War, the Yom Kippur War, the other wars, and those who died at the hands of murdering terrorists, comes the wiping away of the vale of tears and of the joy of being here at this time.

Psalm 126 >>
Jewish Publication Society Tanakh (1917)

1 A Song of Ascents. When the LORD brought back those that returned to Zion, we were like unto them that dream.
2 Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing; then said they among the nations: 'The LORD hath done great things with these.'

3 The LORD hath done great things with us; we are rejoiced.

4 Turn our captivity, O LORD, as the streams in the dry land.

5 They that sow in tears shall reap in joy.

6 Though he goeth on his way weeping that beareth the measure of seed, he shall come home with joy, bearing his sheaves.

Would people today who are so filled with the wonders of modern technology know if a miracle has occurred? We become so used to having modern conveniences around that it takes something like a hurricane to make us realize how easy our lives are. But again, would we know if a miracle has occurred and is still occurring?

What is a miracle? The Merriam-Webster dictionary describes thus:

Main Entry: mir·a·cle
Pronunciation: \ˈmir-i-kəl\
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Late Latin miraculum, from Latin, a wonder, marvel, from mirari to wonder at
Date: 12th century
1: an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs
2: an extremely outstanding or unusual event, thing, or accomplishment

The birth of Israel is a miracle. From the definition above, the birth of Israel in secular and with religious overtones is miraculous.

Today, it has become very fashionable to criticize Israel and throw around terms such as apartheid when doing so. It has become fashionable to try to compare the Palestinian refugee camps to the infamous Ghettos that the Germans created to murder Jews by starvation and disease. It has been fashionable for the past 60 years to ignore the Arab nations deceit in regards to the Palestinian refugees in their midst. It has become fashionable to ignore the fact that more Jews who had lived in Arab countries were violently thrust from those countries when Israel was created. No one speaks of those Jewish refugees because Israel integrated them successfully.

After 60 years, why are their still Palestinian refugees? It has become very, very fashionable to ignore that question. Another question ignored: Why are the Palestinian refugees the only ones given their own UN department? When Pakistan was created, the number of refugees were in the millions. The Palestinian refugees by comparison numbered between 400,000 and 600,000. The Jewish refugees from Arab lands numbered close to 800,000.

If Arab countries are so concerned about the plight of the Palestinian refugees, why do those countries refuse citizenship to the Palestinians?

The miracle of Israel takes many forms. I'm going to start with its very conception in the minds of Zionists. These, for the most part, were secular Jews with strong socialist tendencies. In the late 1890's, these men and women saw the increasing danger of Jews living in Europe and sought to create a homeland in Israel. At the time, the Ottoman Empire still controlled the land and for over a thousand years, the very land itself was neglected as well as the sparse population that lived there.

After World War I, the British took over. Through Balfour, they promised the Jews a homeland. Then they turned around and promised the same thing to the Arab population. And so it went back and forth, the Brits telling the Jews yes and then saying no because the Brits were more concerned about oil in the Middle East than with the lives of Jews. Before and during World War II, the British cut down on the number of Jews allowed to immigrate to the Land. But the British were hardly alone. Country after country, including the United States, refused to open their doors wider to Jews who were desperately seeking a way out of Europe. How many lives and future generations could have been saved if those Jewish refugees would have been allowed entry?

The birth of Israel is a miracle. The United Nations vote was one miracle. The extraordinary and superb defense by the fledgling Israel Defense Force who faced the combined forces of five Arab nations and did so while facing a embargo of weapons is a miracle.

After the war, the greatest miracle began to occur. Jews had their ancient home back. They literally made the desert bloom. They took the Land, which had remained dormant for 2,000 thousand years and have created a nation which is now a leader in technological advances. Many of the components created by Israeli scientists are allowing me to type this post.

Another miracle that occurs even today, is that Israel continues to shine its light even in the face of extreme political bias against it in the United Nations, the European Union, and increasingly by the United States. And it is all based on the egregious and twisted facts about Palestinians. Even while charged with massive amounts of human rights abuses, Israel continues to provide medical care and humanitarian aid to Palestinians.

Today, in the increasing clamour to accuse Israel for all the evils of the world, why are there so few questioning the 25% of Israeli women murdered by Palestinian terrorists? The majority of Palestinians killed by the IDF were terrorists. It is sad that innocent Palestinian women and children were accidentally killed while the terrorists were using them as human shields(a human rights violation that way to many ignore).

The biggest fact that is ignored in the Israeli-Arab conflict is that the Palestinians effectively already have a homeland: Jordan. Palestinians make up 90% of the population of Jordan and this as it should be because Jordan was intended to be the Palestinian homeland.

The miracle of Israel continues to this very day. I cannot help but think of Purim. The most improbable of events saved Jews from annihilation. It is still happening. The Iranians are seeking nuclear weapons in order to 'wipe Israel off the face of the earth'. Nothing much changes after 2,500 years. Every generation of Jews faces a mortal threat. And the wonder is that each and every time, we survive, to live, to dance, to mourn, to sing, and to live our lives.

Monday, May 5, 2008

To Boldly Go

Space, the final frontier... Ah, the dream of going into space. Perhaps sometime in the future, traveling to the moon will be a regular tourist destination. Until then, the majority of us will have to be content with watching the rockets go forth on their missions and watching the space shuttle. But there is a way to have a part of go with the next mission to explore the galaxy.

The Kepler Mission will launch February 2009. Its mission: to seek out earth-sized planets in the Milky Way. By clicking on the Kepler Mission web-site, you can enter your name to be put on a DVD that will be abroad when the Kepler Mission launches.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Not Naming Names

Haveil Havalim - 164: No Name Edition is up.

"Your People Is My People"

Ruth is perhaps the most famous convert in Jewish history. Her most famous descendant is King David. She wasn't even supposed to have been allowed to marry within the Jewish community because she was of Moab. But she did marry and the megillah of Ruth is read on Shavuot.

Shavuot is when all Jews stood at Sinai and the Torah was given and said "We accept and we will":

Even though the Jews' election was merited through the dedication of their ancestors Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and through another choice -- that of their descendants, at Sinai, to accept the laws and teachings of the Torah; and even though the exclusive Jewish club is open to any sincere convert willing to undertake to observe the Torah, the idea of Jewish chosenness has perturbed some non-Jews since, well, since Sinai.

In just a few weeks, it is Shavuot. This is what makes a rabbinical courts decision to nullify thousands of conversions doubly painful.

Treppenwitz brings it up in his post If This Evil is Allowed to Stand.... I left the following comment:

When the issue came up last year, just months before my conversion, I asked the rabbis who made up my bet din about it. It was explained that once a person converted, it was wrong to question them. Once a person accepted the 613 mitzvot and went to the mikveh: a convert was a Jew(there were other things, such as promising that I would do everything in my power to help other Jews in need, etc).

This wiping away the status of thousands of people tears at my heart. I'm still learning but it seems to me that a person's observance is not something that can be quantified by the number of mitzvot performed.

How can strangers, like those in the lower rabbinical court know what is in a woman's heart when she lights the Shabbat candles and accepts the peace and gift of Shabbat?

How can strangers know the uplifting a person feels as the kitchen is prepared for that first Pesach and a feeling of liberation is felt and makes the tedious labor seem like nothing?

How can strangers know what it feels like to bake Challah for the first time?

How can strangers know it is like trying to keep kosher when it is a three hour trip to buy kosher meats?

How can strangers possibly know what it feels like to prepare to build a sukkot for the first time? Or to fast for the first time on Yom Kippur?

Or to really, really feel for the first time when singing V'Shamru, that you are a part of b'nei Yisrael?

I feel as though I can understand the pain of those thousands of converts who have awoken and basically told they are no longer Jews. There are some who will not accept my conversion because it was a Conservative one.

Shavuot is fast approaching. It is said, every Jew stood at Sinai, including future generations, and said "We accept and we will do".

Pictures of Israel and of a bimah led me to say like those at Sinai, "I accept and will do".

Each of the thousands of converts who have been told they are no longer Jews had to say "I accept and will do". The stranger who nullified their conversions cannot possibly know what is in each heart and soul.

My soul cries out from the depths of what this rabbinical court has ruled.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Shabbat Shilissel

Muqata posted aboutShabbat Shlissel in which Challah is either shaped like a key or a key is baked into it. The first Shabbat after Pesach is a reminder to open our hearts to Torah and guides us to Shavuot.

During the Shabbat Ma'ariv, after ahavati, we sometimes add the following:

Torah is a closed book
until it is read with an open heart.

House of Israel, great and small,
open your hearts to the words of Torah.

Torah is demanding,
yet sweeter than honey, more precious than gold.

House of Israel, young and old,
open yourselves, heart and soul, to its treasures.

Torah sanctifies life,
it teaches us how to be human and holy.

House of Israel, near and far,
cherish the etrnal signs of HaShem's love.

Torah is given each day,
each day we can choose to reject or accept it.

House of Israel, now as at Sinai,
choose to accept and be blessed by its teachings.

Shabbat Shalom!

Thursday, May 1, 2008

In Remembrance

The horror of the atrocities committed by Nazi Germany against Jews is fading. Dor l'dor, generation to generation compels us to remember. To remember the names of the 6 million. To remember the shetls that no longer exist. With the help of the Holocaust Center of Northern California I was able to find out the fate of the town my great-grandfather and grandfather came from. There is nothing left. The buildings were destroyed. More than 3,000 of its inhabitants and others from the surrounding country-side were murdered. 2,000 of the murders occurred in November 1941. 1,500 were murdered on a summer day, June 26, 1942. In 1943, 1,000 Jews from Transnistria were murdered. Unlike many who can go back to the "old country", to visit the places their grandparents came from, I and many others cannot. The shetls were destroyed. Ah, but the people, the people, their bodies may have been extinguished but not their memories.

At the Yad VaShem web-site, very brief paragraphs remember the lives of those who perished. One is Varshavskaya Braina. At 55, her life was cut all to short by the rifles of the Ukranians and Germans at Babi Yar. The paragraph doesn't say if she had children or grandchildren. It mentions she was a dentist. It gives her place and year of birth. It gives the date and time of place of her death. But what of the life she lived? What possible menace could a 55 year old dentist possibly pose to the world? And yet, today, some still believe she would be a menace only because of the fact she was a Jew.

I remember Varshavskaya Braina.

And for all of the 6 million, I hope you remember as well:

There's One in Every Crowd

A few days ago, I posted about trying to survive gas prices. For me, driving 55mph has been a success. Filling up every two weeks instead of once a week keeps the pocketbook free to buy food!!!

For the most part, most drivers on the interstate have been courteous. There have been only a few tailgaters. But there was one incident yesterday on my commute home that had me shaking for a good while.

Statistics show most people are involved in accidents within a 2 mile radius of their homes. I almost became one of those statistics last evening.

In the rear view mirror, I could see this psychopath barreling down on me. In the side view mirror, there was another car in the passing lane less than a car length from me. The psychopath was trying to use the right lane to pass the car in the passing lane. This guy had to be going over 80. He did not slow down at all. I could see that I and the other car in the passing lane were about to be wiped out. I had to go into the breakdown lane to avoid having his car rammed into the back of mine.

When I was able to pull back onto the interstate, I watched as the psychopath caused havoc further up. In less than a minute this one psychopath could have caused death and injury to many. Sadly, I've seen drivers like him before and the wonder is that there aren't more accidents.