Sunday, May 29, 2005

An orange ribbon

Thanks to Joseph Norland for this orange ribbon graphic in solidarity with the residents of Gush Katif and northern Samaria. May they go from strength to strength.

For all those who asked: I'm fine after a brief bout of minor illness. I've been busy with higher priorities than blogging, if you can believe that. All else being equal, that's generally a good thing.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Tomorrow: Resistance campaign to intensify

Israeli opponents of the disengagement plan are stepping up their resistance campaign tomorrow, launching a coordinated program of nonviolent civil disobedience.

A grassroots organization calling itself Habayit Haleumi ("the national home") plans to block traffic at intersections across the country Monday evening. Details are available at its website. I've translated the instructions for the event:
Moving to a resolution!
"Testing the tools" Monday 7 Iyar / 16.5.05

We're not waiting for the day of the uprooting; we're starting the struggle now:
  • To strengthen the stand of the residents of Gush Katif
  • To take the initiative in the campaign and stay a step ahead of the uprooters
  • To disrupt the organization of the uprooting forces

  1. The date: Monday 7 Iyar (16.5.05) at 17:00
  2. Each activist should find at least 10 activists prepared to join him (the more the better). All the activists should meet at an intersection chosen by the group / its leaders.
  3. The group members should be divided between those prepared to be arrested and those not prepared.
  4. It's important to make clear that even those who don't want to help block the intersection should come to man it, create a "supportive environment" and film everything that takes place there.
  5. Before entering the intersection, all participants shall bind their hands with orange ribbon, think about the disaster that the citizens of the state must be spared, and enter the intersection slowly, sit down in the middle of it with hands raised to declare that they are not violent, and stop the country!
  6. Make sure that there are as many cameras as possible at the intersection: video, stills, digital, cellphones, etc.
  7. Take care that some of the event is documented from a distance to preserve the pictures.
  8. Each activist should take with him the pocket card with instructions for an arrestee, and an "arrest bag". Recommended supplies: Tallit and tefillin, two sheets, two topsheets, towels, underwear, change of clothes, flip-flops for the shower, books to read or study (this is the time to make up work...), toiletries (toothbrush, toothpaste, soap), small radio, phone card.
  9. Be arrested with joy! Remember: an arrest is a victory!

More details on their organization and its plans are available at the site. It's gonna be a hot summer.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Israel(ite) independence riddle

Tonight, the state of Israel celebrates 57 years of existence as a sovereign, united state. (For a sampling of the many things Israel has to celebrate, please see today's Jerusalem Post editorial.)

Question: Between the time they entered the Land of Israel and the destruction of the First Temple, for how many years did the Israelites exist as a sovereign, united state (or kingdom, to be more precise)?

Tune in next week for the answer.

As the Yom Ha'atzmaut greeting goes: Moadim l'simcha v'ligeula shelema - May we have a joyous festival and see the completion of our redemption.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Further reading on media bias

Media Backspin and Mediacrity have both picked up my recent report on Jeff Jacoby's talk about media bias against Israel.

Both blogs focus primarily on that issue, and are recommended reading for anyone interested in Israel's media coverage.

Thanks, guys!

Women and communal Torah reading - VI

(Previous posts on this topic can be found here, here, here, here, here, and here.)

According to its website, Kehilat Yedidya plans a study Shabbat on the topic of women's Torah reading:
In an effort to continue Kehillat Yedidya's current discussion regarding women's Torah reading, there will be follow-up Shabbat Iyun (in Hebrew) on May 21, 2005, Parshat Behar with Rabbi Elisha Ancselovits at 11:00 immediately following kiddush.

Rabbi Elisha Ancselovits holds an M.A. in Jewish Studies (Modern) from Touro College and studied Medieval Jewish History at Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies. He received Smicha (Yoreh Yoreh and Yadin Yadin) from Yeshiva University. He has published a number of articles in Israeli journals, including "Shiput Atzmi Klapei Hashem," Amudim (5750), and "Ma'amad haHeresh baHalakhah: Ha'arakhah Mehudeshet leor haMetziut," Tekhumin (5751). He leads the halakhah kollel in Yeshivat Maale Gilboa, and teaches Halakhic Thought and Meta-Halakhah there and at Midreshet Ein haNatziv. He also teaches the Kollel Gemara shiur at Pardes.

I don't live nearby and won't be able to attend. I hope some other public-spirited blogger can report about it!

Sharansky's curious new project

Bloghead and the Jerusalem Post report on Sharansky's next move: He'll be joining the Shalem Center for one year as a "distinguished senior fellow". There he plans to research and write "a book on Israel's role as the nation-state of the Jewish people."

(He denied early reports that he plans to lobby Washington against disengagement. What did I tell you?)

On the one hand, Sharansky and Shalem are a natural match. Sharansky is essentially a political conservative in the American sense, a supporter of individual liberty with respect for the traditions of society, along with a strong national defense. It's win-win: Sharansky gets the chance to think, interact with intellectuals and write another book, while Shalem (like the Jerusalem Report before them) benefits from a prestige boost and (perhaps) improved access to the corridors of power.

But why the sudden need for Sharansky to write in defense of the Jewish state? Is the Jewish state currently so endangered intellectually that only Sharansky can save it? Would someone who rejects the legitimacy of the State of Israel even be open to Sharansky's views on the subject? I doubt it.

Shalem authors have already explored this topic in substantial intellectual depth. In 2000, Shalem director Yoram Hazony published The Jewish State: The Struggle for Israel's Soul, which examined the intellectual history of the idea of a Jewish state. He and others have further explored the legitimacy of the nation-state and the Jewish state in essays in the Shalem journal, Azure: here, here, here, here, here, here and here - and there are more, mostly by Hazony.

Of all the topics Sharansky could address, why this one? Why one which Hazony has already made his specialty? What qualifies Sharansky to contribute uniquely to this topic?

Speaking practically, what would make his book more powerful than Myths and Facts, or Dershowitz's book, or Netanyahu's book?

Netanyahu's book, of course, was itself ghostwritten by Hazony. Sharansky's last book was cowritten with American-born political consultant Ron Dermer. Is that what's really going on here? Is Sharansky allowing others to use him as a prominent mouthpiece for their ideas? That might explain Sharansky's curious choice to deliver his lecture on Herzl last month in English, even stumbling over some of "his own" words. The event was sponsored by the Shalem Center.

I like Shalem, and I like Sharansky. I respect and admire them and their supporters. But I can't for the life of me understand the logic behind this project. And I can't help but be suspicious.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

"What a beautiful field" - ADDeRabbi's got pshat!

Rabbi Shimon says: one who is walking on a path and is repeating, and he interrupts his repetitions and says, “What a beautiful tree! Or, what a beautiful plowed field!”, the Torah treats it as though he owes his life. (Pirkei Avot 3:7)

Through a careful reading of the text of this familiar mishna, ADDeRabbi explains what it really means.

I'm persuaded.

Cynics about Shoah business

On the right: Cosmic X

On the left: Larry Derfner

On passing 10,000

With just over a month until my first blogoversary, Biur Chametz has just recorded its 10,000th visitor. That may be modest by the standards of many, but it's satisfying enough to me.

If only I knew how many of them didn't just stumble upon the site in search of practical information on chametz. Oh, well.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Surviving in Siberia

For Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Memorial Day, I bring you some material on a little-known subject: The many thousands of Jews who fled east from Poland, escaping the Nazis into the clutches of the Soviet Union. There, many were exiled to Siberia, where they survived the war in labor camps.

Many Jews mistakenly believe the Soviet Union was on the good side in World War II. Clearly, Jews were better off in Soviet labor camps than Nazi concentration camps, and many Jews were saved by fleeing to the USSR. Others were liberated by the Soviets from the Nazi camps at the war's end. But while the Soviets were no Nazis, they were plenty brutal towards their captives. About all that can be said in the Soviets' defense is that they were equally brutal towards all their citizens.

From the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum:
Between 1939 and 1941 nearly 300,000 Polish Jews, almost 10 percent of the Polish Jewish population, fled German-occupied areas of Poland and crossed into the Soviet zone. While Soviet authorities deported tens of thousands of Jews to Siberia, central Asia, and other remote areas in the interior of the Soviet Union, most of them managed to survive. After the German attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941, more than a million Soviet Jews fled eastward into the Asian parts of the country, escaping almost certain death. Despite the harsh conditions of the Soviet interior, those who escaped there constituted the largest group of European Jews to survive the Nazi onslaught.

Saved By Deportation: The Unknown Odyssey of Polish Jews (a documentary):
In 1940, a year before the Nazis started deporting Jews to death camps, Joseph Stalin ordered the deportation of approximately 200,000 Polish Jews from Russian-occupied Eastern Poland to forced labor settlements in the Soviet interior. As cruel as Stalin's deportations were, in the end they largely saved Polish Jewish lives, for the deportees constituted the overwhelming majority of Polish Jews who escaped the Nazi Holocaust.

Run East: Flight from the Holocaust, by Jack Pomerantz and Lyric Wallwork Winik (a book):
Beautifully told, Run East provides remarkable detail in this powerful picture of a part of the Holocaust that has remained relatively unexplored--the world of European Jews who escaped to what was then the Soviet Union, only to be used by the Soviets, sometimes as laborers in Siberia and sometimes as soldiers fighting on the eastern front.

No, the Soviets were not our saviors or even (usually) our allies. But, despite themselves, they saved many Jews from the Nazis. Including some of my forebears.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Klezmatics interviewed

Ben Bresky of Israel National Radio interviews trumpeter/composer Frank London of The Klezmatics this week on his hour-long show, The Beat with Ben Bresky.

The Klezmatics toured Israel over Pesach with Israeli musician Ehud Banai; I attended one of their energetic concerts over Chol Hamoed.

The interview includes in-depth discussion of the difference between American and Israeli klezmer, the definition of Jewish music, and their recent albums and collaborations. Aside from assorted Klezmatics pieces, the playlist includes Banai's Hebrewman and a back-to-back play of Mordechai Ben David's Yidden and the Eurovision hit whose melody it rips off.

Listen to the stream or download it before it disappears (especially if you don't listen to recorded music during the Omer).

Hat tip: Blog in Dm.

The Tories - good for the Jews

Stuart Polak, head of Conservative Friends of Israel, sets out the Jewish case for supporting Britain's Conservative Party.

A shame they have no chance to win.

Natan disappoints - II

Joel Rosenberg in National Review Online massively overplays the impact of Sharansky's resignation from the Israeli cabinet.

Sharansky's influence in Israeli politics is already long spent. His party barely survived the last elections and then happily merged with Likud. The man deserves a great deal of respect and admiration for his personal and political courage, but he no longer has a constituency in Israel. Having already resigned from the Knesset, his resignation from the cabinet leaves him with no public post. He's not even an opposition legislator.

The timing of this resignation is also curious. Why didn't he resign the moment the plan was approved overwhelmingly by the cabinet? It was clear by then that he could no longer stop it. What's new this week that suddenly warrants his resignation? If he is so firmly opposed, why have we hardly heard his voice lately?

The comparison to Sharansky's 2000 resignation over Camp David is misguided. Sharansky then had public opinion behind him, with Barak having already alienated his supporters and with widespread opposition to the depth of his proposed concessions. Today, like it or not, public support for disengagement remains high. Perhaps not insurmountably high, but high enough. And support in the Knesset is insurmountably high.

Barring drastic events, there is no conceivable scenario at the moment in which Sharon's government could fall. There is no indication that Netanyahu, Shalom or Livnat are prepared to risk political suicide to lead the anti-disengagement rebellion. Without them, Sharon is safe.

Cynics observe that Sharansky is presumably fed up with being ignored at home, preferring to lecture to rapturous audiences abroad and sell his book. The resignation will permit him to collect honoraria.

The Jerusalem Post reports that Sharansky "will lobby against the disengagement plan next month when he travels to Washington for a series of speaking engagements, public appearances and meetings with senior American officials." With all due respect, it's the Israelis who need to be persuaded, not the Americans.

I'd like to see Sharansky join the active opposition to disengagement. But I confess I expect to be disappointed.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Jeff Jacoby on U.S. media bias

In a rare public appearance in Israel, Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby spoke last night in Beit Shemesh on the topic of American media coverage of Israel. (Thanks to Soccer Dad for tipping me off!)

For veteran media-watchers like me, Jacoby didn't offer any new insights. But I was glad to finally have the opportunity to hear him speak in public. Which he did very well, I might add.

Not being a journalist myself, I didn't take notes. Regardless, I'll try to summarize from memory:

Contrary to what many Jews assume, he rejected the suggestion that antisemitism has any role to play in reporting on Israel (at least in the United States). Rather, he explained, the way journalism works accounts for why the media get so much of the Middle East story wrong - and almost always to Israel's detriment.

What's going on? The main factors (he brought numerous examples to illustrate his points):

  • Ignorance. A reporter is expected to be able to show up anywhere in the world without prior knowledge, conduct some interviews via translators, and file a story. This is not adequate with a story as complex as the Arab-Israeli conflict. Knowing neither the language nor the history, they fall back upon the accepted media cliches.

  • Access. As Jacoby summarized in this column, Arab governments have great practice at threatening journalists who tell the "wrong" story. Conversely, no one has ever felt endangered by being critical of Israel. If you value your life, you'll ignore stories embarrassing to the Palestinians.

    In addition, to report from the Palestinian areas, they are dependent on local "fixers", Arabs who show them around and put them in touch with sources. Many of these are directly or indirectly employed by the Palestinian Authority; others know that they won't last long if journalists they work with get the wrong message.

    Similarly, Israel's free society makes it a convenient place for journalists to work. Any media organization which opens a Middle East bureau will locate it in Israel. This contributes to the heavy overreporting of news from Israel, compared with the entire Arab/Muslim world from Morocco to Pakistan. And, since journalism anywhere in the world is mostly about reporting bad news, that means plenty of negative stories coming from Israel (and now, since the American invasion, also from Iraq).

  • Pack behavior. Journalists have something of a fraternal spirit. They hang out at the same hotels and bars and maintain a camaraderie. It can be hard to break that by reporting differently from the pack. No one likes to stick out. Editors are likely to question a reporter who submits reports which tell a different story from the rest of the media. No one will raise an eyebrow at stock phrases such as "the cycle of violence" or implications that both sides are equally at fault.

  • Ideology. The U.S. media are predominantly left-wing, and today anti-Israel sentiments in the U.S. are overwhelmingly found on the political left. It can be very frustrating to American Jews, but some of the most hostile attitudes to Israel are expressed on left-wing National Public Radio, while the strongest support for Israel comes from conservative media such as Rush Limbaugh.

  • Israeli media. When so much of the Israel media is itself critical of Israel and sympathetic to the Arab position, it's hard to fault American journalists who do the same.

In response to questions, Jacoby denied that business considerations influence reporting, at any respectable organization. He also noted the limitations of the influence of the media; despite the rampant bias, Americans consistently lean 3-to-1 in favor of Israel. Recently, with increasing media diversity and the decline of the mainstream media, it becomes harder to maintain a uniform storyline as the public has access to new sources of information (Internet, cable TV, etc.). The mainstream media are paying more attention to their errors, and journalists at some papers are now held accountable for corrections made to their reports.

Journalist Jonathan Rosenblum was in attendance and contributed some remarks in the question period. Jeff agreed with him that antisemitism may be at work in the European media, which is far more hostile to Israel than its American counterparts. Otherwise, it's hard to explain some of the virulence, especially in Britain.

Googly-eyed ads III (aka Messianic Connections)

I hit these Google Ads today on Out of Step Jew. See what happens when you write too much about Christians and Jews?

(Previous posts in this series: Sell Your Settlement, Gaza Strip Singles)

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Post-Passover post of posts (5765)

In case you missed anything in the holiday rush, here is an index to all of this year's Pesach posts:

This should be the last of this year's posts which actually relate, albeit indirectly, to the title of this blog. I've disabled the disclaimer until next year.

Post-matza post-mortem

For the first Yom Tov of Pesach, we had a guest who only eats handmade shmurah matzah, the whole week of Pesach. That is, that's the only kind of matzah he eats, not the only food he eats. A very expensive custom, to be sure. He's a modern Orthodox YU graduate (decades ago) and says his family follows minhag haGra (the Vilna Gaon's tradition).

For the last Yom Tov of Pesach, we stayed with a family which only eats machine-made shmurah matzah, out of concern that handmade matzah is less reliably produced and thus runs a risk of containing chametz. The family is chassidic, of the black hat, gown and sash variety.

Then we visited relatives who eat only handmade shmurah matzah for the mitzvah on seder night, but prefer machine-made matzah the rest of the week. They are of the misnagdish sort (non-chassidic) - black hat and suit without gown or sash.

And I? I'm modern Orthodox, non-chassidic, but not from YU. I have no proud family tradition. I'll eat whatever tastes best.

Generally I prefer machine-made shmurah matzah for halachic and cost reasons, but handmade for taste reasons. Machine-made is also better for spreads, lasagnas and pizzas, and it's far easier to find whole slices to make hamotzi with.

On second thought, I do have a family tradition: My father also eats whatever matzah tastes best. When I was growing up we ate plain-old machine matzah; now that he can afford it he goes for handmade shmurah.

So don't let anyone sell you the story that chassidim prefer handmade matzah and misnagdim machine-made. It's far more complex than that.