Thursday, May 28, 2009

We'll Be Dancing!

Tonight Congregation Beth Israel will be in our new synagogue! We will dance our Torahs in and our first services will be for Shavout. Shavuot is one of my favorite festivals because it has such special meaning for me. I've chronicled my journey into rejoining my tribe.

The Megillah of Ruth will be read. Like her, I and thousands of others have said, "Your people will be my people, and your G-d my G-d". She, I, and thousands of others have stood at Sinai and said "We will do and we will obey".

It has been at times, a struggle for our congregation. Since Hurricane Katrina, some of families have had to move away because they lost jobs, homes, or both. Through it all, we have remained a strong community committed to supporting one another and celebrating bar mitzvahs, bat mitzvahs, and the festivals together . We have persevered. We now will celebrate as a community the completion of our new home.

Chazak, Chazak, V'nitchazeik !!!

I know these are the words said at the completion of reading each of the Torah. It seems appropriate to say them today.

Trickle Down Economics

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

No Justice

The Supreme Court has made another infamous ruling. It further erodes the protections against excesses and abuses of our rights. Each one of us, those who have never committed a crime and those who have, need to be worried.

The new ruling affects our 6th Amendment rights:

Amendment VI

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.

At stake is the right to the accused to be represented by counsel. The case involves a man who was appointed a public defender:

At a preliminary hearing, a judge ordered that a public defender be appointed. The timing is in dispute, but at some point Mr. Montejo was read his Miranda rights again and agreed to accompany detectives to locate the murder weapon, which he had indicated that he had thrown into a lake.

During the trip, he wrote a letter of apology to the victim’s widow, using paper and pen provided by the detectives. Only upon his return did Mr. Montejo meet with his lawyer, who was furious that his client had been questioned in his absence, and was further incensed when the letter was admitted as evidence at trial.

This descision also infringes upon our 5th Amendment rights. There are numerous laws, such as the PATRIOT Act, certain laws passed during the war on drugs, and another passed a couple of years ago which infringe upon our 4th, 5th, 6th, and 8th Amendment rights. These are not rights that are there just to protect those who have been accused of crimes. They are there to protect everyone's rights. They were framed into our Constitution because of the excesses of British colonial rule. Are we willing to give up those precious rights which protected us from the excesses of a power-hungry government?

Justice Stevens sums it up best:

Mr. Montejo’s Sixth Amendment right to legal representation, as well as his Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination, were damaged by the ruling, Justice Stevens said.

“Such a decision can only diminish the public’s confidence in the reliability and fairness of our system of justice,” he said.

I disagree with Justice Scalia:

That 1986 ruling has not only proved “unworkable,” Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the majority, but its “marginal benefits are dwarfed by its substantial costs” in that some guilty defendants go free.

I tend to think like John Adams:

"The reason is because it's of more importance to the community, that innocence should be protected, than it is, that guilt should be punished".

Friday, May 22, 2009

Shabbat Shalom!

This week's Torah portion is B'midbar. B'midbar is the wilderness. Since Hurricane Katrina, Congregation Beth Israel has been in the wilderness. We've been wandering for only close to 4 years but we are so close to being home. Tonight is the last night we'll have Kabbalat Shabbat services in the hall at Beauvior Methodist Church.

Next Thursday, we dance our Torahs into our new home. Friday, especially appropriate since it is Shavuout, we will hold our first Kabbalat Shabbat services in our new synagogue. We will no longer be in the wilderness.

Don't Panic!!

Along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, we are closely monitoring a low which is slowly becoming better organized.

A lot of us feel some apprehension, me included. The scars of Hurricane Katrina go deep. But for now:

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Mazel Tov Angie and Steve!

My nephew was married this weekend. Angie gave me the honor of taking their wedding photos. Both of them were so nervous before the ceremony. Her is one I took of Angie going toward her future:

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Last Line of Defense

The last of defense for protection of our rights: The ACLU and Criminal Defense Attorneys. Congress has been extremely busy passing laws during Bush's presidency which infringe upon our 4th, 5th, 6th, and 8th Amendment rights. The Supreme Court, in the past few years, made decisions which further eroded our protections from the government.

Does anyone care?


A link to the missing link.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


A week or so ago, I published a post called For the Common Good. It didn't generate any comments here but at Weather Underground received over 200. One of those comments was the adage of give a man a fish, he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish, he can eat every day. There's a lot of truth in that adage. It does ignore the components that need to be in place before one can teach another to fish. The person being taught needs to have a place to cook, in reasonable health, the tools necessary to catch a fish, a place to keep the fish, clean and unpolluted waterways were fish can thrive, and a way to get to the fishing spot.

In 2006 when budget hearings were being held, Congressman David Price made the following plea:

Mr. Speaker, colleagues will remember the biblical story of the prophet Nathan coming to the might King David. Nathan told David a story about a rich man who had many sheep but who took the one little ewe of a poor man to feed a visiting friend. David flew into a rage at the rich man and proclaimed that anyone who would do such a thing deserved to be put to death for abusing his power and showing so little compassion. And Nathan said to David, "You are that man". This story should lead us to look into the mirror: Are we in danger of becoming "that man"? The Republican budget removes support four housing, education, Medicaid, community development, and small business lending. It raises taxes on the poor. And it does all this so the Republicans can afford new tax cuts for the wealthiest among us. If there was ever a moral issue before this Congress, it is that one.

When my son was younger, I taught him to fish. He learned well and was soon catching more and bigger fish than I.

The thing is, I, and many like me, who come from backgrounds were opportunities were limited have benefited from programs that have taught us to fish. Funding for public education, programs such as Section 8, food stamps, public transportation and other similar programs have given many the option of learning to fish. Once basic needs were taken care of, programs such as Pell Grants enabled us to learn to fish. Many, like me, now pay taxes so that others can learn to fish.

To be able to learn to fish in order to support oneself is the basic premise of so-called entitlement programs. They are an investment in our country's future. These programs make it possible for many to pass on newly learned skills and thereby lend a helping hand to others.

It takes more than a pole to teach a person to fish. It takes roads, clean water, shelter, transportation, teachers, clothing, etc.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Good to Be Last

Mississippi ranks last in about everything from education to health. For once, I'm glad to see Mississippi at the bottom. As of today, there are only four states that do not have any confirmed cases of swine flu, Mississippi is one of them.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A Belated...

Happy Birthday to this week's host Haveil Havalim 216: 40th Birthday. Just think Jack, in just 10 years, you too can receive ads from AARP!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Shabbat Shalom!

Congregation Beth Israel will have a simcha tomorrow! Another bat mitzvah!

Caught My Eye

I've never thought about the required for Star Trek.

Also, some of misgivings I share.

Baruch Dyan Emet

Jackson Mississippi Mayor Melton died a couple of days ago. He had a heart attack shortly after losing his bid for re-election. He's had heart problems. Once again, Marshall Ramsey of the Clarion-Ledger is poetic:

Thursday, May 7, 2009


I was going to call this post "Death in the Neighborhood" but that might be a tad melodramatic. One of the best things about working where I do is that I have 3 windows. During the day, I can glance up and see what's going on the 'hood. I get great enjoyment from watching the birds. On day, there be a great flock of grackles. Another day, a beautiful white egret against a deep blue sky.

There are a lot of birds that nest close by. The osprey are less than a quarter of a mile away. There's a pair of little birds that nest in a camellia bush. Mockingbirds, grackles, woodpeckers, and other birds nest in the pecan and live trees close by. Marsh wrens, red wings, great blue herons, sea gulls, and pelicans are close by as well.

The other day I watched as a brave mockingbird defended his nest against not one, not two, but three crows. It was a dogfight extraordinaire. He was successful.

Today, I happened to glance up and saw one of the ospreys. It was being chased and harried by one of the grackles. Grackles are not known for being aggressive and are usually gregarious and social. As the osprey, came closer, I realized why the grackle was so desperate. Clutched in the osprey's talons was a very tiny shape and I realized it was a hatchling.

The grackle continued to chase the osprey and he was joined by his mate. There was nothing they could do. For the next 10-15 minutes, when I would look up, I would see the two grackles aimlessly flying and trying to do something.

The osprey has a mate and hatchlings of his own to protect. But it was like seeing friend hurt friend. The neighborhood has calmed down for now. The grackles have returned to their nest and the osprey is off to find more prey.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

For the Common Good

This past week, the Torah portion was Acharei Mot-Kedoshim. There are so many things in this parasha that promote the common good and general welfare of all. In it are various mitzvah such as:

Thou shalt not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD.

Hillel, a very famous Sage, addressed it this way:

"That which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary. Go and study it."

I sort of gave the punch line to this parasha, for if we are to love our neighbor as our self, how do we go about it?

One of the most striking instructions for me is this:

And when ye reap the harvest of your land, thou shalt not wholly reap the corner of thy field, neither shalt thou gather the gleaning of thy harvest.

And thou shalt not glean thy vineyard, neither shalt thou gather the fallen fruit of thy vineyard; thou shalt leave them for the poor and for the stranger: I am the LORD your G-d.

Not only are we to help provide for the stranger and the poor, but the above implies that we must do it in such a way as not to cause embarrassment to those in need. This brought to mind the EBT cards that have now replaced food stamps. Not only are we in the United States, through our government leaving the corners of the field for the stranger, we are also doing in it a way that will not cause embarrassment. Some may argue that it shouldn't the function of the government to provide such things as food stamps, housing, and medical care to those who can't afford it. I feel that in addition to our various donations to various charities and causes, taxes can and should be used for social programs tho help those in need. I've written before that the label given to these programs of Entitlements should be changed to Investments.

Thou shalt not oppress thy neighbour, nor rob him; the wages of a hired servant shall not abide with thee all night until the morning.

This verse reminds of two things: The Civil Rights Movement and the rise of labor unions. Even after the Civil War, blacks were still oppressed. It took the bravery of blacks in places like Selma Alabama who were joined hand-in-hand with a few whites to break the injustice and cruelty of the inherent racism so prevalent in the South.

At the turn of the last century, the conditions American in which workers lived and worked were atrocious. The labor unions helped to rectify this injustice.

Blacks and workers both faced, beatings, false imprisonment, and death by those who wished to keep their neighbors oppressed. It took a strong central government and justice system to lift the oppression.

There is one other section from this parasha:

Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment; thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor favour the person of the mighty; but in righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbour.

In short, justice should be blind. Justice should not favor the poor and it should not show deference to the rich. It should be an equal playing field for the lowest beggar to the richest person. The United States provides an attorney to those who cannot afford it. It tries its best to ensure that justice is blind.

A lot of the programs that the United States has in place is for the common good of the nation as well as the general welfare. For a long time, some of these programs have been considered Socialistic and/or Communistic. Some feel that the Civil Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act are in violation of our Constitution. I feel their are an affirmation of the notion that "all men are created equal".

Some argue that it isn't the place of our government to provide these social programs and that those in need should rely on themselves, family, churches, etc. Again, I feel that all of the social programs provide for the common good and general welfare of all Americans.

Monday, May 4, 2009


The flower looks innocuous enough, doesn't it? However, it is my nemesis. Each spring I go through turmoil and all caused by those flowers. Some years the allergy symptoms are so bad, I lose my hearing. I did this year. I'm rejoicing today because I could hear well enough that I didn't have to ask others to repeat themselves 5 gizillion times. It was so bad Friday, some had taken to writing what they were trying to tell me.

Enough about me. If you are suffering from allergies, the regular flu, or other maladies, here's a remedy: Haveil Havalim 215-One Topic Edition.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Shabbat Shalom!

Anne Frank Banned!

This year, UNESCO is holding its "World Book Capitol Day" in Beirut Lebanon. The Dairy of Anne Frank has been banned. Others banned include:

Even a partial list of books banned in Lebanon gives pause: William Styron's "Sophie's Choice"; Thomas Keneally's "Schindler's List"; Thomas Friedman's "From Beirut to Jerusalem"; books by Philip Roth, Saul Bellow and Isaac Bashevis Singer. In fact, all books that portray Jews, Israel or Zionism favorably are banned.

Writers in Arabic are not exempt. Abdo Wazen's "The Garden of the Senses" and Layla Baalbaki's "Hana's Voyage to the Moon" were taken to court. Syria's Sadiq Jalal al-Azm was prosecuted for his "Critique of Religious Thinking."

Censorship is carried out by the Sûreté General, which combines the functions of the FBI, CIA, and Homeland Security. It does not post a list of banned works, much less answer questions. However a major book importer, in an email, provided a list of banned films and the reasons given by the Sûreté. Here are some: "A Voice From Heaven" (verses of Koran recited during dance scenes); "Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" (homosexuality); "Barfly" ( blacklisted company Canon); and "Daniel Deronda" (shot in Israel).

All of Jane Fonda's films are banned, since she visited Israel in 1982 to court votes for Tom Hayden's Senate run. "Torn Curtain" is banned: Paul Newman starred in "Exodus." And the television series "The Nanny" is banned because of Fran Drescher.

According to Beirut newspaper L'Orient, any one of the recognized religions (a system known as "confessionalism") can ask the Sûreté to ban any book unilaterally. The Muslim Dar al-Fatwa and the Catholic Information Center are the most active and effective. (The latter got Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code" banned.) Even works by self-proclaimed Islamists such as Assadeq al-Nayhoum's "Islam Held Hostage," have been banned, and issued only when re-edited in sympathetic editions (in Syria).

Censorship is a problem throughout the Arabic-speaking world. Though a signatory of the Florence Agreement, the Academy of Islamic Research in Egypt, through its censorship board al-Azhar, decides what may not be printed: Nobel Prize winner Naghib Mahfouz's "Awlad Haratina" (The Sons of the Medina) was found sacrilegious and only printed in bowdlerized form in Egypt in 2006. Saudi Arabia sponsors international book fairs in Riyadh, but Katia Ghosn reported in L'Orient that it sends undercover agents into book stores regularly.

It is troubling that many books and movies that have are about Jews and the Shoah are banned. It is troubling that shows and movies that have Jews in them are banned. It is troubling that any books are banned at an event sponsored by the United Nations, especially and event that is supposed to celebrate freedom of expression. Jews have cooties?

H/t: Soccer Dad