Wednesday, August 30, 2006
I joined Chabad emissaries, who provided aid and assistance to scores of families afflicted by terrorism, whether in lethal Katyusha rocket attacks or loved ones, sons, brothers and fathers killed and wounded in fighting against Hizbullah in Lebanon.
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
By Jessica Ravitz
The Salt Lake Tribune
Salt Lake Tribune
PARK CITY - They may be too young to read a Torah scroll. Years away from being able to carry one. Some of the younger kids, they can't even remember what to call the thing.
But Monday evening, as Temple Har Shalom's religious school students - preschoolers to sixth-graders - paraded around their synagogue to the sounds of Israeli folk music, what they knew or didn't know hardly mattered.
"The goal is to give everyone a positive Jewish experience," Rabbi Joshua Aaronson said.
With the help of parents and teachers, Aaronson engaged dozens of kids in a Simchat Torah celebration, the Jewish holiday to honor the completion of a yearlong cycle of Torah reading. The Torah, or first five books of the Hebrew Bible, is Judaism's holiest object. And the holiday, which officially began Tuesday evening and ran through Wednesday, is considered one of the most joyous in the Jewish calendar. It is the last in a series of holidays that fill the month.
Carefully and slowly, Aaronson unrolled one of the scrolls, holding one of the two wooden staves - another adult stood fast with the other - and winding his way around the room. The children, who clamored to come close, were assigned to hold up the long stretch of parchment. "You've got a very special responsibility right now," Aaronson reminded them.
With column upon column of ancient text unfurled before them, the children looked around in wonder.
"Whoa, look at all this Hebrew stuff," muttered one boy.
"I know, this would take years to write," said another.
Not years, necessarily, but plenty of time. A Torah scroll is handwritten by a certified scribe, called a "sofer," who must adhere to strict guidelines. The words, according to traditon, were dictated to Moses by God about 3,300 years ago, soon after the Exodus from Egypt. The content contains the stories and laws central to Jewish life.
"Who knows the last word of the Torah?" called out Aaronson.
"Amen?" ventured one girl.
"No," Drora Oren, the temple administrator, smiled. "It's 'Israel.' "
Aaronson read the last verse of Deuteronomy before the adults rolled the scroll back to the beginning and invited Oren, who's from Israel, to read the top of Genesis. Afterward, the children were invited to help dress the synagogue's two scrolls, with a protective velvet covering and other ornaments, before they were replaced in the ark.
Besides the religious value, many Torah scrolls carry a deep history. One of Temple Har Shalom's scrolls was commissioned for the synagogue, but the other is a remnant from the Holocaust.
That Torah scroll came from the town of Holesov in Moravia, the historical, eastern region of the Czech Republic. It, like many other scrolls, had been collected by Nazis for use in a planned museum about the extinct Jewish people. Nineteen years after German troops surrendered in Prague, 1,564 Torah scrolls - which had been stored in a Prague synagogue-turned-warehouse - were transported by railroad to London's Westminister Synagogue.
Since that historical 1964 transport, the largest Torah scroll shipment known, most of the scrolls have been sent to communities throughout the world where they remain on permanent loan.
At Utah's largest synagogue, Congregation Kol Ami in Salt Lake City, children had their own Simchat Torah celebration Tuesday night before the adults took over. Cantor Laurence Loeb led the evening service, singing prayers in a "name that tune" fashion. Congregants laughed and raised their hands as they recognized songs which ran the gamut from "London Bridge Is Falling Down," to "Arrivederci Roma" and "A Bicycle Built for Two."
Musicians from The KlezBros, a Salt Lake City klezmer band, took stage and played as congregants stood for Israeli folkdancing, singing, clapping and the shared honor of carrying a Torah scroll.
Meanwhile, over at the Chabad Lubavitch celebration at Bais Menachem in Salt Lake's Sugar House neighborhood, men tossed back shots of vodka and whiskey and sipped on bottles of Michelob Ultra. Drinking on Simchat Torah, while nowhere commanded and not a part of most Jewish celebrations, has become tradition in some circles - a part of the festivities.
"Oh, yeah. The rabbi is lit," laughed Alysse Eisen Silk, as Rabbi Benny Zippel's voice boomed from the men's side of the room. In Orthodox Judaism, men and women are separated in synagogue sanctuaries and while dancing.
Some of the women cradled babies, socializing in corners. Israelis chatted away in Hebrew, exchanging laughs. Two older Russian women sat together, sharing observations in their native tongue.
As the singing and dancing heated up, and the night went on, most everyone stood from their seats to join in.
Among them was Silk's 5-year-old daughter, Shayna (Yiddish for "beautiful"), who - despite being up well past her bedtime - could not sit still. She jumped around to the music, clutching in her arms a stuffed-toy Torah in bright colors of red, yellow and blue.
She danced and danced some more, following the crowd as it moved out into the main foyer and later outdoors. And even if little Shayna didn't fully understand why she was doing what she was doing, the girl was enjoying her Judaism - celebrating what the Torah has given to her people, and what it will someday mean to her.
Contact Jessica Ravitz at email@example.com or 257-8776. Send comments about this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.
A period of holidays
Tishrei, the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar, has more Jewish holidays than any other month. It begins with the 10 holiest days or "Days of Awe," a time for serious reflection that links Rosh Hashanah - the Jewish New Year - and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Four days later, Jews switch gears, allow themselves to relax and begin celebrating three more consecutive holidays: Sukkot, Shmini Atzeret and Simchat Torah.
l Sukkot: The Hebrew word means "tabernacles" or "huts." It is an agricultural holiday celebrating the harvest in Israel. Before the holiday, Jews are instructed to build a "sukkah" - a temporary dwelling symbolizing the tents or booths Jews lived in during their 40 years of wandering in the desert. Among the traditions, people eat meals - sometimes even sleep - in these structures, which are decorated with leaves, branches, fruits and vegetables. A special prayer is recited over four varieties of plants, including the "lulav," palm branch, and "etrog," citron. To some, the "sukkah" also serves as a reminder, in the aftermath of years of persecution and exile from other countries, that Jews should not become too rooted in one place.
l Shmini Atzeret: The eighth and final day of Sukkot includes a prayer for rain. It falls at the beginning of Israel's rainy season.
l Simchat Torah: One of the most joyous Jewish holidays. Literal translation: "Rejoicing in the Law." It marks the time when Jews finish the yearlong reading cycle of the Torah scroll, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible. Observance includes the final reading of the Torah, the last verse of Deuteronomy, and a rolling back of the scroll to read the very beginning of Genesis. While other joyous Jewish holidays, such as Hanukah and Purim, celebrate victories over enemies, this one is free from negative associations. Celebrations include dancing, singing and, in some cases, lots of drinking. Simchat Torah celebrations were especially coveted by Russian Jews in the 1960s and 1970s, when this holiday marked the only day Soviet authorities allowed - at least to some extent - Jews to gather in front of synagogues and publicly display their commitment to Judaism.
Source: "Jewish Literacy," by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin
The Torah scrolls,
Judaism's holiest objects, carry religious and historical significance
l There are exactly 304,805 Hebrew letters in a scroll, making up an average number of 245 text columns.
l A scroll is considered a living document and its materials, including the ink, must be natural. The text is written on parchment pieces, made from the skin of a kosher animal, which are sewn together with thread made from animal sinews.
l Completely unfurled, a scroll might run half the length of a college football field.
l A full-size Torah scroll can weigh 20 to 30 pounds.
l A scroll is handwritten by a certified scribe called a "sofer." A new scroll takes an average of one year of full-time work to complete. If flawed, a Torah is deemed invalid for use. Only a "sofer" can make repairs.
l Torah scrolls damaged beyond repair must be buried in a Jewish cemetery.
l When properly preserved, a scroll can last hundreds of years.
l A new scroll costs anywhere from $20,000 to more than $40,000. A used, kosher scroll sells for as little as $7,000. Torah scrolls are listed on a registry to protect against theft and resale.
l The Nazi regime collected and stored many Torah scrolls, and other religious items, with plans to use them in a museum about the extinct Jewish people.
l Israel serves as a clearinghouse for most recovered Torah scrolls.
l Heard, but not confirmed: About 10 Torah scrolls were found in Iraq and smuggled out of the country.
Source: Rabbi Ariel Asa, a "sofer" based in Atlanta
MEMBERS OF NEW YORK-BASED ZAKA,
a rescue and recovery organization that's headquartered in Israel, traveled to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Their assignment included retrieving Jewish bodies (of which there were six), and visiting the flooded Congregation Beth Israel to rescue the synagogue's six holy Torah scrolls. Isaac Leider carries one of the scrolls through the waist-high waters. None of the scrolls - a few believed to be more than 250 years old - was salvageable. The Torah scrolls were temporarily buried, and a formal burial will take place next week in the Jewish cemetery in Baton Rouge, said Matis Zahav, executive director of ZAKA in Brooklyn.
A rescue effort
Scrolls in Utah
l Congregation Kol Ami, Salt Lake City: 10 scrolls, most of which came from the former synagogues of Congregation Montefiore and B'nai Israel. Although their history is not recorded, these scrolls probably are more than 100 years old. One of the two newer Torah scrolls, completed in 1990, was commissioned by Manny Pepper, now deceased, who purchased the scroll in memory of his wife and daughter.
l Chavurah B'Yachad, Salt Lake City: One scroll, acquired after the military closed bases in the 1990s and got rid of religious objects. The scroll required some repairs, and the Torah scribe who tended to the scroll said that based on writing and style, it was probably written in Germany in the late 1890s or early 1900s.
l Chabad Lubavitch, Salt Lake City: Two scrolls, one on permanent loan from Rabbi Benny Zippel's late father's synagogue in Milan, Italy. The other scroll, a donation, was rescued from the former Soviet Union, when - during Communism - religious practices were forbidden.
l Sha'arei Tefila, Salt Lake City: One scroll, brought to Salt Lake City by Rabbi Ari Galandauer from Montreal. Although the exact details are unknown, the scroll was created in Europe, well before the Holocaust.
l Temple Har Shalom, Park City: Two scrolls, one newly commissioned by the synagogue. The other was a remnant from the Holocaust, found in Prague among 1,564 Torah scrolls stored in a synagogue-turned-warehouse.
Source: Synagogue leaders and rabbis
Teaneck, NJ (PRWEB)
August 29, 2006
On Labor Day, Ben Yehuda Press will celebrate its second year of publication with a “Literary Hootenanny” with readings from its recent and forthcoming books.
Ten books will be featured -- a number that in Jewish tradition constituting a "minyan," or quorum.
Titles range from theology to memoir, from poetry to fiction. They represent a spectrum of Jewish views, including Jewish Renewal, Orthodox, Atheist and Agnostic, and a variety of locales, including medieval Cairo, early 20th century New York City, post-war Berlin, and a near-future America.
"The Jewish experience is broader than any one denomination, location or publishing niche," explained Larry Yudelson, founder and editorial director of Ben Yehuda Press. "Our success in signing this stellar roster of authors shows our commitment to providing a forum for all the voices in the spectrum, and indicates that our broad focus fills a real gap in the Jewish community.”
Scheduled to read from their Ben Yehuda Press titles are:
Shefa Gold, author of Torah Journeys: The Inner Path to the Promised Land (Oct. 2006). Destined to be a classic of Jewish renewal, Torah Journeys finds in Torah a challenging path for personal growth. Scheduled for October publication, Torah Journeys has received advance praise from Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, Matthew Fox and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, among others. This is the first book by the pioneer of Jewish chant, who has recorded several CDs. (Shefa Gold will also be presenting from her book on Tuesday evening, Sept. 5th, at the 92nd St. Y in Manhattan).
Burton J. Visotzky, author of A Delightful Compendium of Consolation: A fabulous tale of romance, faith and adventure from the Cairo Geniza (2007). The first work of fiction by the popular Jewish Theological Seminary professor of midrash, and author of 8 previous non-fiction works.
Isidore Century, author of From the Coffeeshop of Jewish Dreamers: Poems Selected & Poems for the Parsha. Wise, witty, and wistful poetry with a kick, by a poet who “didn't know he was Jewish” until he read his own poetry.
Lawrence Bush, author of Waiting for God: A Baby-boomer Searches for Spirituality (Spring 2007). Lawrence Bush is the editor of Jewish Currents, and the author of American Torah Toons.
Yori Yanover, author of The Cabbalist's Daughter: A Novel of action, adventure, comedy and Messianism (2007). Yori Yanover is the publisher of the paper Grand Street News, and author of Dancing and Crying, the well-received book about the last years of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
Nicolette Maleckar, author of The Lilac Tree: A coming-of-age romance in postwar Berlin (April 2006). Nicolette Maleckar is a prolific writer of romances who makes her home in the mountains of West Virginia.
Lilah Green, author of Potato Chips, Men and Other Demons (2007). An endearing, engrossing story of a religiously committed Jewish woman lawyer who is tempted by the possibility of romance with an exciting non-Jewish man. This is Lilah Green's first book.
Hank Rosenfeld, author of Stars and Gripes: The Life and Times of Irv Brecher – Oldest Living Comic Screenwriter Tells All (2007)
Barry Lichtenberg, editor of Life in the Present Tense: Essays from the Home Front by Rifka Rosenwein (Fall 2006). A compilation of Rifka's columns which first appeared in the pages of the Jewish Week.
Henry Foner, editor of A Song with Social Significance: Memoirs of an Activist by Dorothy Epstein (October 2007). The story of a trailblazer of the union movement.
Ben Yehuda Press, founded in 2005, publishes books of Jewish interest, including poetry, theology, Torah study, literature, history, scholarship and fiction.
The readings will begin at 3pm on Monday, Sept. 4th, Labor Day, and will take place at 430 Kensington Rd., in Teaneck, NJ.
Members of the press are invited to RSVP at 201-833-5145 to arrange interviews with the authors.
By DAVID VAN BIEMA
It was an obligation Tammy Cohen had fulfilled regularly, but never quite so fabulously. For years the 44-year-old New Yorker, like generations of Jewish women before her, had immersed herself monthly in a mikvah, or ritual bath. The act, which marks the seven-day juncture after menstruation when the Orthodox Jewish tradition considers a woman ready to resume marital relations, was indisputably meaningful to Cohen, but some of the facilities she had been using were uninspiring. The pool, she says, looked "like someone had dug a hole and put some plaster in it"; its rabbinically mandated rainwater sometimes bore someone else's hair. Cohen sighs, "You just wanted to get in and get out."
Not so tonight. Descending a grand spiral stair at the newly opened Jacques and Hanna Schwalbe Mikvah on Manhattan's wealthy Upper East Side, Cohen was met by an attendant offering fine towels from Israel. Then it was on to a prep room fragrant with vanilla-scented candles, floored in Chinese tile, furnished in red cherry and featuring an eight-jet Jacuzzi — rather than the standard shower — for pre-immersion cleanliness. The mikvah itself, beneath a mosaic of a blue sky and white clouds, was pristine. Cohen's eyes widened. "It's spectacular," she gasped. "I feel like I'm at the Four Seasons."
After a period of relative eclipse, mikvahs are getting their total makeover. For almost two thousand years, in keeping with a passage from the Bible's book of Leviticus, traditional Judaism required its womenfolk to submerge themselves in "living" water — from an ocean, spring or rainfall — fulfilling purity rules and marking the rhythm of marital life. The baths were a staple of traditional Jewish life before World War II. After the Holocaust, however, a majority of Jews in the U.S. and elsewhere liberalized their practice, abandoning Orthodoxy's many rabbinic obligations as pass�. The mikvah was a case in point. Even within Orthodoxy, says Rivkah Slonim, author of the mikvah book Total Immersion, many Jews, including the baths' builders (who were inevitably male) "felt that they belonged to the old country and didn't have a future." The result were mikvahs that would test any faith: "They were horrid: small, sparse and unfortunately, sometimes very dirty," she says. By the 1960s fewer than 200 survived in the U.S., and those were embattled: a feminist critique that ritual purity denigrated female sexuality seemed like "the last nail in the coffin," Slonim says.
It turned out merely to be a low-water mark. Orthodoxy has thrived, confounding its critics, and mikvahs found a patron in the late Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, head of the orthodox Chabad-Lubavich movement (chabad.org), which campaigns for the retrieval of less traditional Jews. Seeing a potential selling point, says Slonim, Schneerson, a savvy marketer, "started to push beautiful mikvahs," and encouraged female proprietors who might care to make them more inviting.
The results can be found in or near almost any major American city. The website mikvah.org reports 395 mikvahs in operation, 118 of them built since 2000. Locations extend from Anchorage (where at least one practitioner previously found herself competing with moose at a local lake,) to Tampa and, as of July, in New York's super-rich summer camp, East Hampton. Where once a woman could have expected nothing more than mikvah, shower, a bench and a clothing hook, today a Jacuzzi seems to be the starter amenity. Mikvah Mei Menachem in Mequon, Wisc., for instance, features Roman columns and post-bath strawberries or chocolate truffles. At Mikvah Shulamit in Plantation, Fla., the immersion fee is a standard $20, but at the adjoining Contour Day Spa, a patron can drop significantly more experiencing hot stone massage, hydrotherapy, or even a botox consultation from the resident M.D.
If this seems a bit much, Samuel Heilman, an expert on Orthodoxy at Queens College of the City University of New York, notes that "more and more Orthodox women are solidly middle class. Why shouldn't the mikvahs live up to the standard of everything else in their lives?" The luxe boom also coincides with a belated embrace by some notable mikvaphobes. While Reform Judaism rejects the idea of immersion on a monthly basis, it does support it as a conversion rite or a symbolic celebration of life changes such as a divorce or recovery from an illness. In Newton, Mass., the Mayyim Hayyim Living Waters center, founded by author Anita Diamant (The Red Tent) and catering primarily to the non-Orthodox, reports 2,600 immersions in two years. Feminists, meanwhile, have also come around. One of the "National Partners" at a Mayyim Hayyim conference was the Center for Jewish Women's and Gender Studies.
But it is the Orthodox for whom the revival is most meaningful. Though critics have long associated the idea of female uncleanliness as a form of rabbinical sexism, some see the new and improved mikvah as a sign of respect. "There's great power here," says Slonim. "As a celebration of a woman's cycle, as part of a sacred rhythm of intimacy and fertility, and on the communal level of women taking care of each other. It's marvelous."
Cohen agrees. Having submerged three times while intoning a short prayer, she returned to the prep room in a fluffy white robe, droplets still on her cheeks. "I'm looking forward to seeing my husband," she said. But on the other hand, she laughed, "It's such a pleasure to hang out here. Who would want to go home?"
Rabbi Yossie Nemes
New Orleans: As today is the one-year anniversary of Katrina we reminisce about the passed year. Pre-Katrina Greater New Orleans was a city of 1.3 million inhabitants, amongst them 12,000 Jews, half of whom have not returned. The life of every single New Orleanian was shaken to the core and changed forever by Katrina.
We remember levees breaking and 80 percent of the city inundated by water. We remember the 1,700 that passed away. We remember the members of the Jewish community, mostly elderly, who passed away during, or immediately after, the storm.
We remember being exiled from our homes and being scattered throughout the country at a moments notice. We remember losing our homes to which many of us are still unable to return. We remember losing our jobs or at least three-four months of income. We remember confronting, upon our return, a situation far worse than we imagined.
Looking forward, the challenges of rebuilding New Orleans are still quite overwhelming.
At the same time we look back at this year as a most remarkable one. We witnessed unity and kindness the likes of which are very rare. We witnessed the heroic search and rescue. We witnessed friends and neighbors risking their lives to help others.
We witnessed the support, moral and financial, of the communities to which we evacuated. We witnessed a family like camaraderie with all who returned. We witnessed meaningful assistance from Jews throughout North America. We are experiencing a unique energy known only to pioneers ready to rebuild despite all odds.
I would like to share with you one of our Post-Katrina programs, which is very illustrative of our situation in New Orleans. This program also reminds us that one act of goodness and kindness can start a chain reaction that can literally help many hundreds of people.
We reopened our flooded Chabad Jewish Center for Yom Kippur. Of course we had no walls as they were gutted, no carpets, and no furniture. With almost no groceries and certainly no kosher food available, how do you feed the people before and after Yom Kippur?
A very kind woman from Kendall, Florida, called me a couple of weeks before Yom Kippur and offered to do something that will help people directly. So I told her that we were getting together for Yom Kippur and I have no idea how to feed everybody.
She asked me how many people we expected. Knowing the situation on the ground I said thirty. This wonderful lady hired a Florida caterer to send pre and post Yom Kippur meals. This was the only fresh kosher food available within hundreds of miles in any direction.
Eighty people came; half locals who managed to find a place to sleep, and half FEMA, Red Cross and rescue personnel. Amazingly there was enough food and even some left over’s. After a very uplifting Yom Kippur, tinged with the sadness of all those present being away from their families – there was not a single child in Shul – we put the leftover food in our administrators freezer.
The day after Yom Kippur I was supposed to go back to New York to be with my family for Shabbat and Sukkot. My noon flight was delayed for three hours. I was “forced” to remain for Shabbat in New Orleans. Looking back I can see the obvious divine providence of getting stuck in New Orleans.
Upon my return from the airport, I gathered together, after many calls, ten men and one woman for Friday night services. The woman, Sarah Chaya, came and warmed the food in our only appliance to survive Katrina, an oven. She somehow got paper goods and fresh vegetables and we had Shabbat dinner and a Shabbat lunch though we fell short with the minyan on Shabbat morning.
During the Friday night meal, people said this was very nice “we knew we had to be in New Orleans, we did not know, however, we would be with friends and have a kosher Friday night meal.” It was decided to have Friday night dinners every week.
Since October, every single week, we host Friday night and Shabbat dinners which are open to all. These dinners attract a diverse group and have grown to well over a hundred people attending each weekend and are still growing.
As people find themselves without family and friends, we have become their new family. Though it began as a practical need, people don’t have kitchens in which to cook, many people have told us that the dinners, and the socializing, are their source of strength and support during these difficult times.
In conclusion, I thank Hashem for all the kindness and miracles He has shown our family this year. I thank my fellow New Orleanians who have become our extended family.
Finally, I thank the Jewish community of North America for your prayers and your support. Whether you sent thirty dollars or thirty meals, you have triggered a Category Five surge of kindness which has flooded New Orleans and is surely inundating our entire land.
I dedicate this article to all who donated to Katrina relief, such as to the Chabad, UJC and OU funds, and to the many that helped directly.
Rabbi Yossie Nemes lives with his wife and children in New Orleans, in an apartment, while their home is being rebuilt.
The calendar is full of holiday information, educational messages and an array of beautiful thematic Jewish artwork.
Chabad prints 10,000 copies to be distributed to the entire Jewish community. If anyone in the community would like a calendar, e-mail email@example.com or call 503-977-9947 with your name and address, preferably by Aug. 31.
The Jewish calendar is an important part of the Jewish tradition.
Today, the entire world uses the Gregorian calendar. Still, the Jewish calendar is used along with about 40 other calendar systems throughout the world.
Established by Pope Gregory in 1582, the Gregorian calendar was influenced by the Jewish calendar. Its main purpose was to replace the older Julian calendar of 45 B.C.E. Over time, the celebration of Easter had drifted away from its springtime position and its proximity to Passover. In Christian theology, the two celebrations are linked.
The Gregorian is a solar calendar based on the tropical year of the sun and the seasons. Unlike the Jewish calendar, it ignores lunar cycles.
Since many Jews today plan their lives according to the Gregorian calendar, they rely on the calendars they receive from organizations such as Chabad to know when to celebrate Passover, Sukkot or the High Holidays, and all the festivals central to Jewish life.
Monday, August 28, 2006
Yesterday, I was surfing the web and happen to come across a biography of Rabbi Menahem Mendel Schneerson (a.k.a "The Rebbe"). Though I do not hold the same opinion, many Jews, including some non-Jews regard Schneerson as a messianic figure, even twelve years after his death. While I am not included in that group of Jews, and nor am I a believer in their philosophy of Judaism, I am curious to learn more about this man who is so amazingly revered throughout the world. This is also stemmed in the fact that that Rachel and I have many friends who "go to Chabad" and that we have professional relationships with a few Chabad Rabbis.
Schneerson became an ordained Rabbi in the early 1920's in the Ukraine and then later become educated as an electrical engineer through the University of Paris, commonly known as The Sorbonne. That is perhaps one of the most interesting career transitions that I have ever heard. What was his motivation? What are the similar skill sets to be a rabbi and an electrical engineer? I have yet to be able to find a lot on this in the scholarship about his life, but am confident through a little bit of prodding, I can certainly find out.
As much respect as I have for their movement, I do not ever see myself becoming a Lubavitch Jew. In practice, it is just so out of touch with the vision of Jewish life that Rachel and I have for ourselves and our sons. That being said, I will continue to try and learn as much about Rabbi Schneerson as I can. While I can not believe entirely in what he espouses (on political issues, we would more than likely agree more than we would disagree), I can still learn a lot from the story of his life and his ability to lead so many devoted followers.
In his recently published Healing Night: The Science and Spirit of Sleeping, Dreaming and Waking, Naiman writes, “It’s a shame to confuse the metaphor of darkness and evil with night. Our disturbed relationship with night is ultimately rooted in our discomfort with and denial of the dark side of our own senses.”
“The Hebrew notion of ein soff, or endlessness, refers to the infinite sea of darkness from which light and all creation emerges,” he writes. “From the Jewish perspective, the new day does not start with dawn but with dusk and darkness.”
Both of Naiman’s parents were Holocaust survivors; his family arrived in the United States when he was seven months old. “My parents,” he says, “and I think this is true for lots of survivors — loved night. It was the end of suffering for the day.”
In his work, Naiman has illuminated his parents’ “deep regard for sleep” and connected research on sleep and dreams to his Jewish upbringing. There are over 200 references to dreams in the Talmud, which, he says, considers sleep a gift from God.
The “deep wisdom of Judaism” is related to two directives from God during the time of Abraham, says Naiman. One is “go forth” and the other is “rest,” or Shabbat. “The piece that’s missing,” he says, “not only for Jews, but for everybody in civilization today, is the balancing factor of go forth then stop and take a rest.”
Naiman says he thinks the concept of “go forth” became the seed of the Industrial Revolution, noting that the two most commonly traded commodities in the world today are oil and coffee — two different kinds of fuels. Coffee, he says, was introduced by the Arabs in the 1500s, in Safed, in what was then Palestine.
All-night prayer vigils began with the advent of coffee, which made its way to Jerusalem and then into southern Europe. “Jews became very prominent trading coffee,” notes Naiman.
In the pre-industrial era between 1500 and 1830, people had very different sleep patterns. The common pattern, says Naiman, referring to Roger Ekirch’s At Day’s Close, was retiring to bed at dusk, waking in the middle of the night for prayer, contemplation or to make love, and going back to sleep. “It was considered a very sacred time,” says Naiman. For Jews, this concept of tikkun chatzot, or midnight service, refers to the “sweetest hour,” he says. “In the middle of the night the gates of heaven are visible; the permeability between earth and heaven is much greater.”
Today, the overabundance of light at night does not easily allow us to “slide into sleep,” he says. “We awaken primarily because we have not ventured deeply enough into sleep. We remain too anxious to completely let go, hovering too close to the surface of our waking consciousness.”
The Talmud recommends a 30-minute daily nap, but, says Naiman, “what happened with industrialization is that we stopped napping. We began working like machines. Because we were so overtired, we overrode middle-of-the-night waking. We’ve industrialized sleep.”
Ironically, he says, our opportunities to rest during the work day are called coffee breaks. When patients ask him how much sleep they need, Naiman asks how much rest they get during the day. Most people, he says, confuse rest with recreation, but true rest involves deeply restful states while awake, such as those achieved by people who are accomplished at meditation.
There is a widespread view today that sleep quantity and quality diminish with age. It may be the other way around, says Naiman; perhaps we prematurely age as a result of poor sleep.
Dreaming is another part of the sleep puzzle. Quoting the Talmud, Naiman says, “A dream unexamined is like a letter unopened.” The Talmud suggests that every dream can have at least 24 different meanings, but he says this is not meant to encourage an exhaustive search for every interpretation: “It is meant to remind us that dreams come from a very different world than the one we spend most of our waking hours in.”
There is a lot of press today about sleep deprivation, says Naiman, but “we are at least as dream-deprived.” Many medications, such as aspirin and Tylenol, mild tranquilizers such as Valium, heart drugs and beta-blockers inhibit melatonin and therefore dreaming at night.
“What concerns me most is that virtually all anti-depressant medications suppress dreaming,” says Naiman. “I’ve come to believe that the major cause of the clinical depression epidemic in the U.S. today is not dreaming.”
“That’s my interpretation of ‘whoever sleeps for seven days without dreaming is considered wicked,’ which it says in the Talmud. It’s not a moral thing.” People deprived of sleep start to hallucinate after a few days, says Naiman, continuing, “We have to dream.” For example, he says, “schizophrenics hallucinate wildly, and it’s dream material breaking through into waking consciousness.”
Another detriment to sleep is that we drink inordinate amounts of alcohol in our culture, reducing the REM (rapid eye movement) part of each average 90-minute sleep-dream period, which, says Naiman, stems from our basic rest and activity cycles that occur throughout the day.
Most dreaming takes place during the second half of the night. If you restrict people from dreaming, says Naiman, there is a period called reduced REM latency that pushes dreaming into the first half of the night, causing both sleep and dream deprivation.
“One of the most characteristic patterns associated with clinical depression is reduced REM latency,” says Naiman. “I think of depression as being a psychological fever. I think of anti-depressants in the same way as taking an aspirin or Tylenol to cut our fever. By pushing dreams away we’re treating the symptoms. My belief is that depression is an essential call for deep rest.”
Depressed people react to this need by trying to withdraw socially, says Naiman. But, he says, everyone needs to balance Shechinah, or the feminine face of God, which includes rest and receptivity, with the masculine principles of activity and drive. There has been a “squelching of the feminine” in our lives, he says.
“When the world is all lit up our attention is drawn to it,” says Naiman. “When we allow ourselves to be in darkened space, we close our eyes, we dim the lights at night, we become introverts. We’re excessively extroverted in our world today.”
Naiman says the average person is afraid of spending 10 minutes alone in the dark. “We’re back to Shabbat. It’s an act of faith to stop working for a day, to trust the world and not manage everything.”
There’s an understanding in Judaism about the difficulty of transitioning from waking, active life to sleep, says Naiman. “Prayer, either personalized or ritualized prayer, is very useful in this conscious intention of letting go of the ego,” he says. “It has to happen when we nap, or else we won’t fall asleep; it has to happen when we go to sleep at night.”
By LORRIE LYKINS
Published August 27, 2006
ST. PETERSBURG - The Chabad Jewish Center has outgrown its current storefront location and wants to build a synagogue in the Tyrone area. Its target: the Azalea Community Garden on 22nd Avenue N.
Rabbi Alter Korf, which has led the center on Central Avenue for the past two years, said he is sensitive to the fact that the community garden would have to give way to development. The city owns the garden on 22nd Avenue N between 78th and 79th streets.
"We certainly don't want to see people's hobbies cut short and we are working with the city to ensure that the garden can be moved," he said.
The three neighborhood groups that represent property owners closest to the community garden - the Azalea Homes Community Association, the Jungle Terrace Civic Association and the Jungle Prada Neighborhood Association - first heard of the Jewish center's interest last week from City Council member Rick Kriseman.
"The congregation of the Chabad identified the parcel of land on 22nd Avenue N as a site of potential interest and contacted me," said Kriseman, whose district includes the garden and surrounding neighborhoods.
Kriseman said that after he referred the group to the appropriate city departments, he contacted leaders of the community associations to let them know of the interest.
Karl Nurse, president of the Council of Neighborhood Associations, thinks that was a good move. Nurse said he wishes city development issues were handled this way more often.
"Historically, what has happened is that we hear about it after the deal has progressed to the point that designs have been drawn and the ball is rolling," he said. "When we can get neighborhoods involved in the discussion on the front end it's a good thing."
Paul Traxler, who is president of the Jungle Prada Neighborhood Association, said he isn't all that familiar with the community garden, but tends to be in favor of the sale.
"I don't know much about it. I've driven by it and haven't always liked the way it looked," Traxler said during a neighborhood meeting Wednesday.
For rest of story please go here
Friday, August 25, 2006
When Rabbi Yossie Rappaport came to South Jersey, he didn't realize how many people of the Jewish community hadn't been reached yet. So, this Labor Day, to try to get a few more members of the Jewish community together before he leaves South Jersey for home in Brooklyn, he will be helping to start the first Jewish summer festival held in Williamstown.
"It's for the whole family," said Rappaport. "Young and old alike."
The main attraction, said Rappaport, is the full-kosher barbeque at Tall Pines, where the festival will be held. Kids activities are also available at Tall Pines such as miniature golf, hayrides and different sports. Jewish arts and crafts will also be featured.
Chabad of Gloucester County and the Jewish Federation of Cumberland, two outreach programs, are assisting in providing this festival to Jews. The Chabad's goal, which has centers all over the world, is to reach out to fellow Jews, explains Rappaport, and educate about heritage and history; that is the purpose of this Jewish festival.
A main attraction that is on the agenda this year, said Rappaport, is a shofar demonstration. The shofar is a ram's horn used as a musical instrument on Judaism's high holy days. Being so close to Rosh Hashanah, said Rappaport, the shofar demonstration will show children, as well as adults, how the shofar is made. "It's very educational," said Rappaport. "We thought it would be a very appropriate thing to show people how it's done."
Rappaport said this is the second main activity held for the Jewish community, the first being Chanukah on Ice at Hollydell Skating Center in Washington Township.
"This is the second project aiming to bring out the people of the Jewish community," said Rappaport. "We always have things we are cooking."
Rappaport said there is a sizable Jewish community in South Jersey, namely Gloucester County, that yet to be reached, especially in Washington Township, Woodbury and Mullica Hill.
"Nobody really knows how many people are out there," said Rappaport. "A program like this, especially for people with children, is a way to get people out."
Rappaport was recruited just for this reason. Originally from Syracuse, N.Y., Rappaport was asked to come to the South Jersey area to reach out to Jews in Gloucester County by his uncle, Rabbi Shmuel, who heads up the Chabad of Atlantic County. Rappaport's cousin is the head of Chabad in Cape May County and another of his uncles's is in charge of Chabad of Vineland. Rappaport has spent the whole summer here.
The Jewish festival will be held on Labor Day of this year from noon to 4 p.m. The charge is $20 per family.
"If someone would like to come, they're more than welcome. We're not going to turn anyone away," said Rappaport.
For information, call 856-794-4866 or e-mail Rappaport at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thursday, August 24, 2006
Alex was one of more than 2,500 Russian children brought to Israel over the course of several years by the Chabad movement. Following the explosion of a nuclear plant in Chernobyl, Ukraine in 1986, the Chabad movement embarked on a major campaign to remove Jewish children from the disaster area, and brought them to Israeli in a series of flights.
Alex arrived on the seventh Chabad flight, and was brought to the Israeli town of Kfar Chabad in 1991 at the age of 6. He lived there for five years, until his mother arrived from Russia and took him into her custody. She was unable to care for him properly, however, and lived with him in Bedouin tents and the like. Finally, after he was found abandoned one day, Alex was placed in the care of a loving family from the Galilee city of Carmiel. His adoptive mother, Tziporah, said that he was a very caring boy, and was a loving younger brother to her four other children.
Alex will be buried at 6 PM this evening (Thursday) at the Military Cemetery in Carmiel.
This week, Alex became the 119th Israeli soldier to be killed in the recent war in Lebanon, when his unit was on its way back from an anti-Hizbullah mission in the Har Dov region of southern Lebanon. The unit found itself in a two-decades-old minefield, and two mines went off, killing Alex and wounding three others. The mishap was due to faulty navigation or a misunderstanding of the guidelines; the commander of the unit, who himself was wounded in the same incident, had assumed the position only four days earlier.
An IDF officer later said that the minefield is "part of Israel's defenses against Hizbullah, and appears on our maps." He explained, however, that it is likely that over the years, some of the signs and/or fences around the area had become misplaced or come into disrepair. An investigation is underway.
IDF forces continue to man outposts in southern Lebanon, waiting for an international peacekeeping force to be deployed there. As of now, several countries that had pledged to take part in such a force have not come through, waiting for answers from the UN as to their precise authorities. A final decision may be made on Friday in a meeting between representatives of the countries and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
A total of 140 Katyusha rockets were fired at the Golan Heights during the nearly five weeks of war, causing no direct damage but much damage to tourism.
Decorated with pictures of the Fuhrer and swastikas, the owners of the diner say they plan to turn it into a franchise.
However, Jonathan Solomon, the Chairman of the Indian Jewish Federation said: “This signifies a severe lack of awareness of the agony of millions caused by one man.”
More than 5,500 Jews currently live in the country, the vast majority of whom (4,300) are based in and around Mumbai.
Between 100 and 200 live in the Kharghar district where the restaurant has opened. There’s also a synagogue there.
Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg of Chabad in Mumbai told TJ: “Those who live in the area are upset. They are standing outside the restaurant and protesting about it.”
He added: “This is new in India, the people don’t have enough knowledge about who Hitler was or what he did. They don’t realise he was against them as well.”
The street leading up to the restaurant, which is named Hitler’s Cross and is situated in the financial hub of the city, is lined with posters depicting a large red swastika.
A huge portrait of the Nazi leader gazes out from the front of the diner.
The interior, meanwhile, is decked out in the colours red, black and white, evocative of the flag of the Third Reich
Manager Fatima Kabani insisted: "This place is not about wars or crimes, but where people come to relax and enjoy a meal."
Owner of Hitler’s Cross, Punit Shablok added: "We wanted to be different. This is one name that will stay in people's minds.
”We are not promoting Hitler. But we want to tell people we are different in the way he was different."
However, Jonathan Solomon said: “"We are going to stop this deification of Hitler.”
Now, almost two centuries later, life is imitating satire. The twisted intrigues invented by Perl to highlight the Hasidim’s fear of critical inquiry into their closed world is today playing itself out on the ultra-Orthodox street, from Jerusalem and Bnai Berak to New York, Antwerp and Montreal. This time, however, the fearsome book is neither satire nor polemic, but a serious work of scholarly inquiry by Israel’s leading historian of Hasidism.
“Neehaz ba-Svakh: Pirkei Mashber u-Mevucha be-Toldot ha-Hasidut” (“Caught in the Thicket: Chapters of Crisis and Discontent in the History of Hasidism”), written by David Assaf, chair of Tel Aviv University’s Jewish history department, appeared in Israel just three months ago, but it has already generated fierce controversy. Indeed, although the book, which is in Hebrew, can be ordered from the publisher, it cannot be easily obtained in bookstores. According to reliable sources, who insist on anonymity, several tri-state area dealers of Orthodox books, as well as a few in major Canadian and European cities, are stocking limited copies of Assaf’s explosive book “under the counter” — selling them only to their trusted elite clientele, contingent on a strict promise that the transaction remains a secret.
As is so often the case with controversial literature, those who claim to be most offended are usually the ones buying, reading and simultaneously trying to repress the books in question. Indeed, raucous exchanges about Assaf’s work have sprouted on a variety of Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Internet sites and blogs, in both Hebrew and English. The interlocutors on these blogs include some distinguished Hasidic scholars and librarians, as well as average readers. The complaints range from the rude (“Assaf’s book is like a fart in a cowshed: barely noticed and soon forgotten”) to the ridiculous (“Look how low Merkaz Zalman Shazar [Assaf’s publisher], named for the President of Israel who was himself a Hasid of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, has fallen”). But the most common critique is an ad hominem attack on Assaf’s personal integrity and level of religious commitment. “For those people like David Assaf, the things we call Yiddishkayt he has no understanding of because he is not a frummer yid,” one commenter wrote on Mentalblog.com. Or, as another more succinct writer, who happens to be a respected Hasidic librarian, put it, “[Assaf] is a vile creature blinded by hate.” So, what’s all the fuss about?
The purpose of Assaf’s book is to revisit and clarify some of the most shocking episodes in the history of Hasidism, events that have been deliberately suppressed or extensively distorted for apologetic purposes by Hasidic historiography. The book consists of seven chapters, each of which examines in great depth some very embarrassing oddities of Hasidic life — some of which have long been known to historians of Hasidism. But Assaf has now clarified them by extricating the kernels of historical truth not only from Hasidic hagiography but also — and this seems to have gone right over the heads of his Orthodox critics — from Hasidism’s enlightenment, or enlightened opponents, who often distorted the same events for their own purposes.
The chapter that has created by far the most Internet chatter concerns the conversion to Christianity in 1820 of Rabbi Moshe Schneerson, the youngest son of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Lyadi, venerated founder of Chabad/Lubavitch. In it, Assaf offers a complete history of the efforts at distortion and repression by Lubavitcher apologists, horrified by the conversion of their founder’s son, and by their enlightened opponents, who could not have been more delighted by it.
Let’s begin with the Hasidim. Although this tragic episode has not been unknown to historians, neither has it exactly been part of the standard official history of this most high-profile of Hasidic dynasties. In fact, the sixth Lubavitcher rebbe, Rabbi Joseph Isaac Schneerson, in his published chronicle of Chabad history went so far as to deny that the conversion ever took place. According to Schneerson’s hagiographical account, Rabbi Moshe was compelled to engage in a theological disputation with the Catholic priest of his town, in which he was of course victorious, and then was forced to flee for his safety. Rabbi Moshe, according to Schneerson’s account, spent the remaining years of his life as a lamed-vovnik — the classic anonymous saint of rabbinic mythology — and was buried anonymously in the Ukrainian shtetl of Radomysl.
As Assaf demonstrates, this fanciful tale has no historical basis whatsoever. Instead, Assaf concludes that Rabbi Moshe’s conversion is best explained as a result of the well-documented, though unspecified, mental illness from which he suffered since childhood. And he offers proof. As he explains, while searching the Belorussian State Archives in Minsk, historian Shaul Stampfer recently came across a treasure trove of documents verifying Rabbi Moshe’s apostasy — including a letter of intention to convert that was addressed to the Catholic Priest of the Belorussian town of Ula (where Moshe served as rabbi), and his actual baptismal certificate, dated July 4, 1820. For the skeptical, Assaf includes reproductions of these documents in his book and adds that it is almost certain that shortly after his conversion to Christianity, the rabbi was consigned to St. Petersburg’s famed mental hospital, Obuchovskaya, where he died.
While the story of Rabbi Moshe’s apostasy may be the lightning rod for much of the indignation provoked among Chabad apologists, the most vulgar document published by Assaf is quite clearly the tale recounting the “fall” of the famed founder of Polish Hasidism, Rabbi Yaakov Yitzhak Horowitz (1745-1815), popularly known as the khoyze, or seer, of Lublin. What is known is that sometime during the celebration of Simchat Torah in 1814, the severely inebriated seer fell, or more likely jumped, out the second-story window of his room above the Hasidic shtibl where he held court. Like the affair of Rabbi Moshe’s conversion to Christianity, Hasidic hagiography has managed to transform what was either a drunken mishap or a deliberate suicide attempt into a mystical affair signifying a failed attempt to hasten the messiah’s arrival.
But Hasidism’s critics would have nothing of such fanciful explanations. What really happened, according to a Haskalah rendering of this sad episode in a hitherto unpublished and uncensored version of Sefer Nekiyut U-Ferishut (“The Book of Cleanliness and Abstinence”) preserved in Perl’s archives — which Assaf has now published for the first time — the seer of Lublin became so drunk that he had to leave his Hasidim so he could “crash” for a while in his upstairs bedroom. At one point during the night, he got up to urinate — out of the window, of course — and with his “holy scepter in his hand” he fell into the septic pool that lay beneath. Later that night, two Hasidim who went out to “use” the cesspool found their holy master there, holding on to his erect penis — a pre-Cialis phenomenon that they could interpret only as a sign of the seer’s prophetic powers. (Or as mockingly described in this version: “They approached him, turned him over and found that his bris had remained faithful to him and steadfast in his hand, and thus proclaimed: ‘Aha! Let this be a miraculous sign to the House of Israel. So the word went forth from Lublin that Rabbi Isaac was among the prophets.”). The rabbi never recovered from his injuries and died later that year, not surprisingly on the fast day of the Tisha B’Av.
Assaf judiciously rejects both the apologetic, messianic explanation of the Hasidim and the satirical, polemical misuse of the khoyze’s drunken fall by the Maskilim. Instead, he proposes that this was the second suicide attempt by Rabbi Horowitz, who was famously prone to long periods of depression. Based on clearly authentic Hasidic sources, Assaf reveals that many years before his 1814 window jump, the khoyze tried to throw himself off a mountaintop near the town of Lizensk and was saved from certain death only when his hiking companion, Rabbi Zelke of Grodzitsk, grasped his gartel in the nick of time. (Could the midair gartel suspension of the khoyze have inspired bungee-jumping ? Assaf leaves this question to future generations of Hasidic historians.)
Many Americans were shocked earlier this year by the revelations of intense intra-Hasidic violence that accompanied the battle for leadership of Satmar Hasidism between the respective followers of rabbis Aharon and Zalman, after the death of their father, Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum. But next to Assaf’s chapter on the violent persecution of Bratzlaver Hasidim of the mid 19th century, perpetrated mainly by rabbis David Twersky of Talne and Yitzhak Twersky of Skver, contemporary Satmar skirmishes appear quite tame. In addition to their anti-Bratzlav activities, Assaf recounts the general tendency of the Talner and Skverer Hasidim to use intimidation and a variety of violent means, including death threats, rock throwing, home invasions and hostile synagogue takeovers, to “conquer” a string of shtetls in the southern Ukraine in the mid 1860s. The violence got so bad that the tsarist government was finally compelled in 1868 to issue a law prohibiting Hasidic rebbes in the Ukraine from extending their leadership beyond their own towns. But as Assaf documents, the persecution of Bratzlaver Hasidim continued even after the Holocaust, in Jerusalem and Brooklyn in the 1970s and ’80s.
The other chapters are profiles of a number of complex and troubled Hasidic rabbis, some of whom ended up leaving the fold. Assaf has also published for the first time a number of explosive manuscripts that have languished, unexamined, in both European and Israeli archives for almost two centuries. The very last, and most moving, of his seven chapters includes the full text of a shocking letter sent in 1910 by the deeply depressed young rebbe of Shpikov, Yitzhak Nachum Twersky — scion of the most distinguished Ukrainian Hasidic dynasty, which included the rebbes of Tchernobyl, Skver and Talne — to a Warsaw writer, Yaakov Dineson. On the eve of his marriage to the Belzer rebbe’s daughter, whom he had never met, the despondent young Twersky was clearly desperate, if unable, to escape his “tiny and ugly” Hasidic world:
“I send you my portrait…as I wanted you to see and comprehend the terrible dissonance and distance between my inner life and my outer world….I despise the people around me, loathing their way of life…I have good taste and love beauty but I am obliged to wear the clothes of the uncivilized: A long silk kapoteh down to my feet, and a shtreimel of tails — that is our badge of shame….And what a terrible thought to think where I am now going. To a ‘harem’ in the town of Belz….Coerced to marry a woman from there, my gloomy life here with all its black darkness will seem bright by comparison.”
As it turns out, Rabbi Twersky’s marriage to the Belzer rebbe’s daughter was a happy one, and he not only remained in the hasidic fold but also became a revered rebbe in his own right; however, many of the other Hasidic lives discussed in Assaf’s remarkable book proceeded far less blissfully.
Assaf is not satisfied with verifying and clarifying the obscure scandals and crises of Hasidic history; equally important are the incredible lengths to which the internal chroniclers of Hasidic history have gone to censor, repress or recast these scandals. Assaf’s book effectively constitutes a double-barreled assault on the apologetic narrative of Hasidic historiography and the exaggerated misuses of these embarrassing episodes by modernizing Jewish historians to discredit Hasidism entirely, both of which have molded the lives of Hasidic rebbes according to false stereotypes.
The real importance of Assaf’s research is the extent to which it complicates the hitherto regnant accounts of Hasidic history, both the romantic and the polemical. By examining the inner demons and doubts that tormented a variety of hasidic leaders, torments that evoked a wide spectrum of responses, from conversion and suicide, to alienation and despair, Assaf enriches our understanding of the hasidic world. far from disdaining his subjects, assaf succeeds finally in humanizing them by cutting through the apologetic mythologies of the hasidim and the polemical mockery of their opponents and demonstrating the natural frailties of even the most pious and revered of men.
Allan Nadler is a professor of religious studies at Drew University.
Monday, August 21, 2006
STAR-TELEGRAM STAFF WRITER
FORT WORTH -- Dan Alon still remembers the roar of the crowd when he and his Israeli teammates marched into Olympic Stadium in Munich, Germany, 34 years ago.
He also remembers the rat-tat-tat of machine gun fire days later, when Palestinian terrorists stormed their quarters in the Olympic Village and took several of his teammates hostage.
Eleven athletes eventually died. The events brought a brief halt to the 1972 Olympics and shocked the world.
Today, Alon travels the world, sharing his experience. He spoke recently in Fort Worth.
"Some people say that God leaves survivors so they can tell stories," he said. "I believe I am one of those survivors."
For many years, Alon never spoke about the incident, he said. That changed after the release of Munich, the film directed by Steven Spielberg that chronicles the Sept. 5, 1972, attack and Israel's covert-operations response.
Rabbi Dov Mandel, director of Chabad Lubavitch of Fort Worth, which sponsored Alon's visit, said Alon's story will benefit people, including younger generations.
"It's important for everyone, no matter what their age is, to remember what happened that day," Mandel said.
The Olympic experience, Alon said, should have been one of the proudest moments of his life. Instead, it became one of the darkest.
In 1972, Alon was 27 and a fencer for Israel's national team. He said he was in heaven, wearing blue and white and walking into the stadium.
Those games were supposed to be special for Israel, he said. Before then, the Olympics had last been in Germany in 1936, when Adolph Hitler was in power.
Alon's mother and his father, a European champion fencer, fled to Palestine in 1938, where Alon was born. Years later, Alon became Israel's national fencing champion, qualifying for the Olympics.
"It was a big privilege for all of us," said Alon, now 61. "We arrived at the Olympic Village, and we were housed in three tiny houses with two floors. On the second floor, one of the rooms had a balcony."
Alon won a few matches in Munich, but he didn't medal.
On the evening of Sept. 4, still caught up in the Olympic experience, he and most of the team went to see Fiddler on the Roof. Then they went back to the village and fell asleep, he said.
At 4:30 a.m., members of Black September, a Palestinian terrorist group, broke into the village and stormed the Israeli quarters. Two people were killed there, but Alon and four others eluded the masked men.
Later, he and the others would learn that the other athletes intentionally steered the terrorists away from their building.
"We could hear the machine guns, and one coach and an athlete were shot," he said. "Bullets began to fly through the walls."
Alon said he and a roommate, a 17-year-old fencer, and three other athletes huddled in a room. They could hear the terrorists talking. Out a window, they spotted a gunman wearing a white hat.
"One of us spoke fluent German and could hear the negotiations with the terrorists," Alon said. "The terrorists were saying that the Israeli athletes would begin to be killed if their demands weren't met."
A bold plan
Alon and the others improvised a plan.
One of the athletes was a sharpshooter and had a gun. He took aim but couldn't keep the gun steady.
Instead, Alon and his roommates decided to jump from the balcony and take their chances running the short distance to the German police officers.
"We took our shoes off. It took about 15 minutes for five people," Alon recalled. "The first man took off, and someone started shooting. My turn finally came. I jumped then turned around to look at the [gunman]. He looked at me but didn't fire."
All five of those athletes escaped. Two of their teammates died at the home. Late the next day, nine more died after a botched assault by German police at the airport where the hostages and terrorists had been taken.
After the deaths, Alon and the other survivors attended a memorial service sponsored by the International Olympic Committee. The games were interrupted briefly, but they continued the following day. The Israeli team withdrew.
That didn't bother Alon. He said the games had to continue or the terrorists would have accomplished their mission.
Alon went back to their quarters and collected everyone's belongings.
"Everything was covered in blood," he said. "There were children's books and other stuff that athletes had purchased to take home. It was a sad day for me."
Alon gave up fencing but took it up again years later. He's now a businessman and fencing coach in Tel Aviv.
He said he recently spoke to children in Phoenix who were competing in a Jewish sports festival.
"Just like I was educated about the Holocaust, they need to know about what happened in Munich," he said.
Occupation: Businessman and fencing coach
History: Member of the Israeli national team at 1972 Olympics. Many of his teammates were taken hostage and killed by the terrorists.
For the past two weeks, Yossi Berktin and Pinchas Taylor, a couple of young single Jewish men from Morristown, N.J., have been wandering the streets of Santa Cruz County, searching for a connection, hoping to rekindle that old flame called heritage.
"It's kind of like a blind date," Berktin said of their methods, which involve stopping people on the street and sparking conversations with strangers about religion and urging fellow Jews to reconnect with faith and prepare for coming of the messiah.
"Making people aware that the world is building toward something," Berktin said. "It's not just random. There's a goal or a purpose in the world."
With their long beards and sideburns, Berktin and Taylor could blend right in Santa Cruz, but their outfits — the black fedoras and sport coats of Hasidic Jews — give them away.
The duo are emissaries from Chabad Lubavitch, a branch of Hasidic Judaism whose members embraces modernity and tolerance for all Jews even as they abide by orthodox Jewish law. The duo will walk for miles to spread their message, but never on the Sabbath.
"The Jewish people were often hunted down in hate, hunted down to be killed. We are sent to hunt them down in love," Taylor said.
Berktin and Taylor are a couple of modern-day schlichim, messengers sent out to areas with few Jews to spread the religion. In the old days, schlichim were often a young couple expected to establish a Jewish community in an unfamiliar town.
Every summer Chabad-Lubavitch sends emissaries, young unmarried senior rabbinical students from New York, all over the world to educate people about Hasidic Judaism. Before they return to their studies, Berktin and Taylor will encourage Jewish people to strengthen their faith and religious practices and to connect with the Jewish community of Santa Cruz. Their goal is to illuminate the ways in which Jewish wisdom, knowledge and understanding can be integrated into everyday life.
Though they encourage Orthodox Judaism, Berktin and Taylor aim to reach out to all Jewish people, regardless of their way of worship.
"I like to compare it to a buffet table. Our intention is to give you everything and you can take what you want, to your taste," Berktin said.
Berktin and Taylor are working with Chabad Rabbi Yochanan Friedman of the Santa Cruz temple, Chabad by the Sea.
"He offers Hebrew school, Sunday school, camp in the summer time, weekly classes covering Jewish ethics, law, and so on," Berktin said. "We're here to hopefully expand his horizons, educating people that don't know about Chabad. Some people are afraid to go if they're not Orthodox."
Berktin and Taylor have a few methods for finding Jewish people in a strange town, such as searching for businesses with Jewish names, but they also rely on people coming to them. Often, Taylor said, people who are Jewish are surprised by what they hear about their heritage.
"Some Jewish people, for some reason, grew up with zero Judaism," Taylor said "Our goal is to get them to do a mitzvah, to do something practical and Jewish. Now, some of the people that we met, they get that flick of inspiration, that desire to get more involved."
The men Berktin and Taylor meet are given a tefillin, two boxes of Jewish prayer connected by a long black strip of leather.
The tefillin is wrapped around the left arm if you're right handed and vice versa. The prayer boxes are placed on your heart and head — representing emotion and intellect. Women are encouraged to light Shabbos on Friday night to welcome the Sabbath.
In addition to these practices, Chabad-Lubavitch encourages Jewish people to strengthen their daily practice and realize the godliness that is part of everyday life.
"We take the fire and light other lamps," Berktin said. "Then they become a source, instead of a wick. We're changing the world, one mitzvah at a time."
Contact Sara Williams at email@example.com.
If you go
WHAT: Chabad by the Sea.
WHERE: 406 Mission St.,
Suite B, Santa Cruz.
* Torah: Hebrew for 'lesson,' the Torah is the Hebrew Bible.
* Orthodox Judaism: Strict belief in, acceptance of and adherence to Jewish laws, ethics, and the 613 mitzvahs.
* Hasidic Judaism: A lighter form of Orthodox Judaism, accepting of ritual laxity.
* Shabbos: Hebrew for Sabbath, the day of rest, beginning Friday at sundown and ending after nightfall on Saturday.
* Mitzvah: Hebrew for 'commandment.' The Torah names 613 mitzvahs.
Sunday, August 20, 2006
But not every company is like that. Some do have moral courage. Yesterday, two companies risked Islamic anger by remembering American teenage victim of Islamic terrorism, Daniel Wultz (more about him here, here, and here). According to The Jerusalem Post, last night,
A moment of silence in his honor was also observed before tip-off of game 5 of the NBA's Eastern Conference semi-finals between the Miami Heat and the New Jersey Nets.
The South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported:
During the Miami Heat's basketball playoff game against the New Jersey Nets on Tuesday night, a moment of silence was held in Daniel's honor, as the Heat was his favorite team. His photo was shown on the overhead scoreboard.
"Basketball was Daniel's passion," public address announcer Mike Baiamonte said. "He was a big Miami Heat fan. The Miami Heat send condolences to the Wultz family."
When Danny Wultz was struggling to stay alive, the Miami Herald also reported that Miami Heat players sent the dying 16-year-old basketball fan signed paraphernalia to cheer him up in his fight.
We salute the NBA and the Miami Heat for their strength and courage in recognizing Danny Wultz in this age of political-correctness-uber-alles, not to mention ultra-kowtowing to Islamists.
Linda Maurice, whose daughter went to school with Daniel Wultz, has a touching op-ed about her anger not just over his murder, but--a point we've made--the lack of American media coverage (until now, after his death).
The Sun-Sentinel reported that hundreds (The Jerusalem Post: over 700) turned out for Wultz's funeral, yesterday. Danny's father's and rabbi's eulogies:
"Fathers are supposed to guard and protect their sons," he said. "Daniel, you protected me with your beautiful body. I'm so sorry, baby. I didn't mean for it to happen." . . .
"I can tell you the murderer who killed [Daniel] died on the spot a coward," he said. "Daniel fought for 28 days. He was my hero." . . .
"Daniel's last words were, `I want to live,'" said Rabbi Yisroel Spalter of Chabad Lubavitch, one of two rabbis Daniel would call via speed dial on his cell phone during happier times in South Florida. "Let us celebrate his life."
For months, from Purim through to today, with brief intervals for Holocaust Remembrance Day, Remembrance Day, and Tisha Be'av, Jerusalemites have been treated to a never-ending parade of festivals, open-air concerts, fairs and more festivals.
And we're not even close to the finish line.
The organizers - whether Ariel, the municipal auxiliary; the municipality; or any of the other public or private producers - have turned almost every corner of the city into a cultural venue, constantly discovering new hotspots and venues.
And they are also trying out new, more successful and more interesting combinations - such as the festival opening next week at the Khan Theater, entitled, "Jerusalem Mosaic: Summer Nights."
Even among the many new artistic performances, this one stands out. First of all, this festival is a stage intentionally created for local, mostly young, artists, who come to live, study and perform in Jerusalem. This is no small feat, since most of this summer's performances featured artists from Tel Aviv or other parts of the country.
Hazira, the local theatrical scene created in the city back in Teddy Kollek's days, was established expressly for this purpose. Over the years, it has also learned to make room for foreign artists, too.
The multi-location festival will open at the Khan Theater and then will appear in pubs, cinemas, halls and jazz clubs in different locations all over the city.
The festival is multi-faceted, including music, dance, theater, story tellers and an interactive evening, featuring ethnic and Jewish music, authentic instruments.
The festival will continue at the Khan for three consecutive nights, opening on Tuesday August 22 with virtuoso musician Yuval Avital heading an international ensemble of musicians, actors and dancers presenting an evening of three-dimensional art. Avital, who spends most of his time in Italy, will also be accompanied by Israeli actors Niko Nitai and Salva Nakara and musician Wissam Gibran in a program in which, according to the promotional materials, "Artists of different creative backgrounds will combine and create together, discovering new and diverse forms of creative communication."
On the second day, Jerusalemites will have the opportunity to meet composer Andre Hajdu, heading his ensemble "Ha'oman 18" in a new program, "Migdal Poreah Ba'avir" ("Castles in the Air), an unusual blend of Mishnaic stories and texts presented through original music composed on the basis of Western classical music.
Ha'oman 18's previous show, based on songs and stories in the Chabad tradition, was a spectacular success, so expectations for this new show are very high.
"Voices of Judah," by composers and performers Peretz and Mark Eliyahu, a father and son duo, also promises to be very interesting. The Eliyahus specialize in the renaissance of classical and traditional Persian Jewish music. Their original music explores famous Hebrew texts such as Tehillim "Psalms), using traditional and authentic instruments from the region of Persia, Azerbaijan and Afghanistan. One such instrument, the Kamacha, on which Mark Eliyahu plays with great virtuosity, is considered to be one of the most ancient instruments in Asia.
"Twenty-five Stairs" is the name of the program scheduled to be presented on the third night and featuring singer-perfomer Esti Keinan-Ofri. Keinan-Ofri will be accompanied by her ensemble, "Kol, Ud V'tof" ("Voice, Oud and Drum") in an evening of songs and poems from both the Jewish and the Muslim Moroccan traditions, an artistic way to explore the commonalities between the two religions and nations.
The Mosaic Festival will be performed in the Khan Theater Compound from Tuesday August 22 through Thursday August 24, to be followed by performances in the Smadar Cinema, the "Yellow Submarine," and Artel, Syndrome, Mike's Place, and Marakia.
For further information call 678-3378 or visit www.hazira.org.il
Seniors in our area looking to sit around and schmooze over a lunch of bagels and lox now have the opportunity to do so on a monthly basis. The new Schmooz Club — named after the Yiddish expression "to get together and talk in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere" — answers the call to provide social interaction and education on topics of interest for seniors in the Poconos.
The program is run by the Stroudsburg-based Chabad Lubavitch of the Poconos and a division of its Jewish senior group the Senior Chai Society, the Schmooz Club is seeking members to join in and meet and to identify issues that seniors want to know more about.
Although affiliated with Chabad, the club's purpose is not targeted at discussing religious issues. This is a standalone group from the spiritual and religious, where people interact.
The club meets at noon around the first day of each month on the Hebrew calendar and are held centrally, just minutes from downtown Stroudsburg. Future locations may vary. The cost is $7 to cover lunch and membership is free of charge.
For information about the Schmooz Club, contact Rabbi Mendel Bendet at 570 420-8655 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Jewish Forward, January, 1993
August 1991 Riot in Brooklyn, New York
Early one evening during the riot in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn in August 1991, I stopped in at the 71st precinct station and chatted briefly with Captain Mescolotto, an executive officer who had been called back from vacation to help deal with the mayhem in the area. We spoke as the riot’s third day was turning into its fourth night.
The precinct halls were jammed with uniformed men and women; outside, in the parking lots and along the streets, police vans and cruisers were densely parked, their windows taped against anticipated attack. Similar vehicles could be found a few blocks away, smashed and burned, turned over on their roofs. In those areas near the center of the hasidic community of Crown Heights, there were also hundreds of cops decked out with riot helmets and plexiglass body shields. By the look of it, the forces in blue had secured the neighborhood.
But with each passing day, Jewish residents and their leaders had been increasing the volume of their complaints. The city, they said, was failing to protect them, the rioters were being allowed to rampage unchecked, too little force was being brought to bear, too few arrests were being made, the police were clearly under orders to hold back, law and order were cowering in the face of a mob that only grew wilder as it sensed its full power to intimidate.
I myself had watched the previous day as black rioters hurled rocks and bottles at a throng of Hasidim while policemen stood between the two groups, holding the line but doing nothing to stem the attack. The police were taking the lion’s share of the casualties in these confrontations, but whenever the issue of inaction came up, Mayor David Dinkins and the then police commissioner, Lee Brown, offered tight-lipped denials of any restraining orders and insisted they were doing everything within their power to restore peace to the neighborhood.
Perhaps Captain Mescolotto, who had arrived on the scene only that morning and was still dressed in civilian clothes, had not been fully briefed on the official line by the time I talked to him. Perhaps that was why, when I asked how his officers felt about being restrained, he answered, “They’re flipping out.” What held them back?, I pursued, mentioning that in addition to the TV and press cameras I had noticed a couple of kids among the rioters carrying video cameras. Captain Mescolotto then said of his colleagues, “A lot of them feel that they’re paying the price for Rodney King.”
Rodney King had already become a household name in America by that time, although less apocalyptic in its resonance than now. The famous video tape of the arrest and brutal beating of King by a group of white Los Angeles policemen had been broadcast repeatedly on national television, and while the officers who beat him had yet to stand trial for using excessive force, they had already been convicted in the public mind.
The footage of the prone black man being clubbed and kicked by white men in uniform while others stood by confirmed the traditional historical narrative of race in America, the story of black victimization by white power. And that view of things was only fortified when the men who beat King were eventually acquitted by a white and Hispanic jury in suburban Simi Valley, California, even as the riots that followed the verdict seem to have appalled and frightened Americans as much as the verdict itself.
Analogies between the Rodney King case and the situation in Crown Heights would surface again this past fall as New Yorkers attempted to make sense of a Brooklyn jury’s decision that Lemrick Nelson, Jr., a seventeen-year-old black, was not guilty in the murder of Yankel Rosenbaum, a young Orthodox Jew who had been set upon, beaten, and stabbed by a mob of up to twenty young black men on the first night of the Crown Heights riot a year earlier.
After all, the two cases seemed similarly airtight; and just as a predominantly white jury in Los Angeles had exonerated whites against all the apparent evidence, so in Brooklyn a predominantly nonwhite jury exonerated a black against all the apparent evidence. But the comparisons quickly became strained and were ultimately misleading. For if what happened in Los Angeles fit the conventional public understanding of American race relations, the story of Crown Heights turned convention on its head.
That is why Captain Mescolotto’s frank remark was so telling. In evoking Rodney King, Mescolotto was saying, essentially, that whenever blacks began to riot, the reaction of official America and also of the mainstream press would be: here goes another explosion of racial tension, and an explosion of racial tension means that blacks have been pushed to the wall; that some terrible racist incident has caused a battered minority to explode in rage; that we must deal with the event even-handedly, expressing our sympathy with the cause of the rioters and being careful above all not to anger them further.
But there was no cause being championed in Crown Heights, unless one counts lawlessness and anti-Semitism as causes. Nor was the riot, strictly speaking, a minority riot, but rather a rampage by some of the neighborhood’s 180, 000 strong black majority against a Jewish minority of 20, 000. Most importantly, it was a riot not by victims of racism but by racists, an attack on Jews because they were Jews. Blacks shouting anti-Semitic slogans, and explicitly proclaiming themselves the proud reincarnations of Hitler, sought to destroy and/or drive out their Jewish neighbors by force.
In this respect, the event was unprecedented in American history. So deep is the American predisposition to perceive blacks as the victims of racism that when they explode in the role of racists, we lack even the vocabulary to describe it.
In order to give their purpose a name, the rioters themselves summoned up the Nazis; their victims, analogously, reached back in time and across the Atlantic for a word to describe what was happening to them: pogrom. The terms are not altogether inappropriate. In recent years, political anti-Semitism has flourished in the black community.
According to a new study by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), blacks are twice as likely as whites to hold strong anti-Semitic views. Other studies have shown (although the ADL report disputes it) that black hatred follows an inverse pattern to that in the general population, increasing in direct proportion to education and wealth rather than the other way around.
Be that as it may, while Jews speak to one another about black anti-Semitism, it is shockingly rare for white leaders of any creed, let alone for blacks, to speak directly to blacks about anti-Semitism in their extended community.
One exception is the literary critic, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. of Harvard, who published an op-ed piece in the New York Times this past summer, arguing forcefully that the ultimate damage done by black anti-Semitism is to the political culture of blacks themselves. For his pains, Gates was lain basted by other blacks and received at least ten death threats, and no significant public support.
Derrick Bell, a black professor who left Harvard Law School over its alleged racism, angrily told the Times that “blacks should be very careful about criticizing each other because whites love it so much when they do.” The consequences of this attitude and of the situation it has bred were on display in Crown Heights in August 1991.
If anti-Semitism is entrenched among the black elite, it has also clearly trickled down through all sorts of media the black radio and press, rap lyrics, the teachings of black Muslims and academic Afrocentrists like Leonard Jeffries of City College, and the speaking appearances on campuses of Kwame Toure and Louis Farrakhan as well as through the defensive support these black racists receive from high-profile black activists and clergymen. The most conspicuous anti-Semite plying his trade in the summer of 1991 was Jeffries, whose relentless slurs against Jews enjoyed enormous attention in the press during the first weeks of August. When he was criticized, many mainstream blacks rushed to Jeffries’s defense or kept silent.
Black newspapers like the Amsterdam News and the City Sun; the black radio station WLIB, long an open-air forum for anti-Semitic ranters; and some of the black activists who would later figure significantly in Crown Heights Al Sharpton, Colin Moore, C. Vernon Mason, Sonny Carson, Lenora Fulani all went to bat, expressing their approval of Jeffries’s “scholarship” and denouncing his critics as race baiters. This, then, was the immediate background to the riot.
Not only was anti-Semitism in the ether, it was gathering steam as a loud and increasingly mainstream black movement when a station wagon from the entourage of Menahem Schneerson, the Lubavitcher rebbe, careered out of control and crashed onto a Crown Heights sidewalk on the night of August 19, crushing to death a black child, seven-year-old Gavin Cato, and leaving his seven year old cousin, Angela Cato, badly injured.
The violence erupted immediately. When the driver of the station wagon, Yosef Lifsh, stepped out of his car with the intention of helping the children he had hit, he was set upon by angry black bystanders who beat and robbed him before the police could reach the scene.
Moments later, an ambulance from the jewish-run Hatzolah service arrived. Police, seeking to remove the object of the crowd’s anger, directed the crew to take away Lifsh and his passengers. Before the Hatzolah vehicle was out of sight a city ambulance had arrived to begin the gory and laborious task of removing the Cato children from beneath the car, but Lifsh’s attackers were enraged at the decision to place him in the first ambulance.
Crying racism, the growing crowd was worked into a lather by a provocateur, described by witnesses as “tall and bald headed, ” who chanted ”Jews, Jews, JEWS.” When the gathering dispersed, smaller groups ran off in different directions, smashing cars and hurling rocks and bottles at passers by and homes.
Shortly, a mob came upon Yankel Rosenbaum, a twenty nine year old Australian ultra-Orthodox Jew not a Hasid, as the papers still insist on calling him who was in New York to conduct historical research at the YIVO Institute. Rosenbaum was beaten and stabbed by attackers who shouted “Get the Jew” and “Kill the Jew” before fleeing as police arrived on the scene.
Chasing after the scattering assailants, officers nabbed several suspects, including Lemrick Nelson, Jr. They brought him to Rosenbaum, who lay wounded on the hood of a car, and the dying man identified Nelson as his attacker. The police also reported finding a bloody knife and three bloody dollar bills in one of Nelson’s pockets, and DNA testing later established that this blood corresponded to Rosenbaum’s.
Nelson was arrested and taken to the 71st precinct, where, according to the sworn testimony of detectives, he confessed to stabbing Rosenbaum. In the meantime, Rosenbaum was taken to Kings County Hospital, where two of his wounds were treated while a third went unnoticed and continued to bleed. He died shortly after midnight.
Except for one article in an obscure Trotskyitc publication which hailed Rosenbaum’s murder as a “revolutionary act, ” the killing of a Jew in Crown Heights was not championed by anyone at the riot as a boon for black activism.
But Sharpton and Carson and the other demagogues who flocked to the neighborhood over the next days to capture the spotlight as leaders of the “protest” wasted no breath mourning Rosenbaum. Nor did they lament any of the other injuries, fire bombings, looting, and property damage that followed his murder. Instead, they quickly conjured up their own version of events, according to which Gavin Cato’s “murder” at the hands of the Jewish driver was the latest in a series of racial assassinations that included the killings of young black men in Howard Beach and Bensonhurst. By the time of Sharpton’s speech at Gavin Cato’s funeral, the list had expanded to include “the four girls who got killed in Birmingham one morning” during the 1960’s civil rights movement and “brother Malcolm X .”
Separating themselves cunningly from the rioters, but never condemning their violence, Sharpton and his on again off again partner, the lawyer Colin Moore, moved into high gear with a call for the arrest of Lifsh. Even though more than twenty similarly accidental vehicular deaths had occurred in Brooklyn since 1989 without a single arrest several involving local Hasidim run down by blacks Sharpton’s pressure led Charles Hynes, the Brooklyn district attorney, into convening a grand jury.
The jury found no cause for an indictment, but that did not stop Sharpton, even on the evening of Lemrick Nelson’s acquittal, from continuing to demand a full investigation of the Lifsh case. T
Throughout the three days and four nights of rioting in Crown Heights, and over the days of nonviolent marches that followed, no black leader stood up to denounce the anti-Semitism expressed by the rabble or the rabble rousers. Signs with messages like “Hitler didn't do his job” bobbed over commemorative banners for Gavin Cato.
On the sidewalks, young blacks taunted Hasidim with the teachings of Leonard Jeffries and Elijah Muhammed, the late leader of the Nation of Islam: “You came from Russia and Poland where you slept in caves. You sold slaves.”
Seeing my reporter’s notebook, one rioter stopped to shout: “Write this down. Jews are murderers. The black Hitler is coming this time.” Al Sharpton’s rhetoric peaked at the Cato funeral: The world will tell us he was killed by accident. Yes, it was a social accident .... It’s an accident to allow an apartheid ambulance service in the middle of Crown Heights. It is an accident to think that we will keep crying and never stand up and call for justice .... What type of city do we have that would lie on our children and allow politics to rise above the blood of innocent babies? Have we lost all our moral fiber? ... Talk about how Oppenheimer in South Africa sends diamonds straight to Tel Aviv and deals with the diamond merchants right here in Crown Heights. The issue is not anti-Semitism; the issue is apartheid .... All we want to say is what Jesus said: if you offend one of these little ones, you got to pay for it. No compromise, no meetings, no kaffe klatsch, no skinnin’ and grinnin’. Pay for your deeds .... It’s no accident that we know we should not be run over. We are the royal family on the planet. We’re the original man. We gazed into the stars and wrote astrology. We had a conversation and that became philosophy. We are the ones who created mathematics. We’re not anybody to be left to die waiting on an ambulance. We are the alpha and omega of creation itself .... We will win because we’re right. We will win because we’re strong. God is on our side.
Sharpton, who wears a medallion of Martin Luther King, Jr. around his neck, did well by this speech. Newspapers reported the diamond merchants slur, but not a peep was heard from within the black community. No doubt the speech failed to provoke an outcry because it was not surprising, and it was not in the least bit new. It was simply another statement of the going poison of anti-Semitism and Afrocentrism, pitched to the righteous cadences of classic civil rights oratory, a standard issue compression of lies, bigotry, and nationalist swagger.
When I interviewed Sharpton the next month, he was proud to point out that no violence had ever occurred while he was leading a march in Crown Heights, that no pro-Hitler signs had ever appeared in the ranks that followed him. This was true.
But his claim that he had been turning black rage into nonviolent channels was absurd. He abandoned the neighborhood as soon as the fire had gone out in the furnace and there was no apparent advantage to be had in stirring the ashes. Had he and his colleagues stayed away in the first place, the rioters, by all accounts a disorganized, uncoordinated crew of unemployed young men, many of whom did not even live in the neighborhood, might well have scattered the morning after the accident.
On the third day of the riot, at the time that I was speaking to Captain Mescolotto, Mayor David Dinkins was a few blocks away meeting with members of the black community, urging them to “Increase the peace, ” and getting nowhere. Stepping out of a meeting with the Cato family, he was greeted by a barrage of bottles and stones from a crowd that had gathered in the street; he had to retreat into the building before his guards could secure safe passage to his limousine.
That night, the mayor increased the police. By the next evening, force and arrests had checked the uprising. Three days and four nights had gone by. It took another three weeks before Dinkins under pressure not only for his apparent inaction during the riot but also for having seemed to equate the racial murder of Yankel Rosenbaum with Gavin Cato’s accidental death - called Rosenbaum’s killing a “lynching.”
The New York Times article which reported that fact went to great pains to explain why the mayor had not spoken sooner: Although the mayor has condemned the murder of Mr. Rosenbaum again and again, his words have always been clearly aimed at keeping the peace. The mayor was forced to walk a fine line, with black protest leaders like the Rev. Al Sharpton crying for the arrest of the driver who killed the boy, and Jewish leaders calling for the arrests of more members of the crowd who attacked Mr .Rosenbaum.
The article then went on to quote from Dinkins’s speech at the Cato funeral (he did not attend Rosenbaum’s): “Two tragedies. One a tragedy because it was an accident. The other a tragedy because it was not.” The perception shared by the mayor and the press that the situation in Crown Heights was two sided, and that both sides required equal respect and equal consideration, bears examination. A staple of mayoral rhetoric, this notion serves a general public desire for a nostalgic view of black-Jewish relations.
Even today, in the wake of the Nelson verdict, there are those in addition to Mayor Dinkins, they include Jesse Jackson, the editorialists of the New York Times, and even leading spokesmen of the non-Orthodox Jewish community who define the problem as one of an interrupted “dialogue, ”a tragic rupture in the black-Jewish alliance to which both sides are understood to have contributed substantially.
In the ongoing search for the “root causes” of the rioting, he still hears little mention of anti-Semitism. Mayor Dinkins, it should be stipulated, seemed determined to do the right thing in Crown Heights. His failure to confront the anti-Semites forcefully was not a function of indifference, malice, or as some have charged racial prejudice. He failed to denounce black anti-Semitism not because he is black, but because he failed to see it. He virtually acknowledged as much in a speech following the Nelson verdict this past November at the Jewish Theological Seminary:
Now I've already spoken repeatedly in the strongest terms about this shameful, inexcusable crime, and of my utter sadness that it was committed by individuals who belong to the one segment of our mosaic that should know in the most personal way just how monstrous a crime lynching is the African American community. But some people are just too tied to the politics of the past they see everything through an ethnic prism and this, brothers and sisters, is the real enemy: not you and I, but this idea of “us” and “them.”... So far, so good; but then it turned out that by “us and them” the mayor had in mind not the black anti-Semites but those who had charged him with responding inadequately to the riot: Some people look at this large and very complicated picture and they see only two things: the mayor is African American and the rioters are African American and they conclude that, therefore, the mayor must have held the police back.
In gross contrast to his kid glove handling of the black demagogues who stoked the rioters for days on end, Dinkins was here attempting to play turnaround with his Jewish critics. For raising questions about his role in Crown Heights, they were being racially divisive: "There is not a single shred of evidence that I held the NYPD back and there never will be. And every time this utterly false charge is repeated, the social fabric of our city tears just a little bit more. It must stop."
To make matters worse, Dinkins warned of a backlash by black lawmakers against Jewish politicians; a warning which some found it hard to distinguish from a threat. But one can accept that Dinkins did not act as he did because he is black, and still argue that as mayor he did not move with appropriate swiftness and force to quell the rioting, or to discredit the claims of the race baiters behind it.
By failing to do so, Dinkins essentially granted immense credibility to those who preached to blacks against Jews. He caved in to them physically by not ordering a police crackdown, and then he caved in to them rhetorically by accepting their terms of discussion.
Those let down by Dinkins in Crown Heights were not only Jews, and not only the city’s white middle class - he had already let Asians down by standing aside during a black boycott of Korean grocery stores the year before - but most blacks as well. Alter all, the rioters in Crown Heights represented only a tiny percentage of the community, and their support within it was far from universal.
At least as often as a black person came up to me to denounce Jews and justify the riots that August, another would come up to me to express neighborly feelings for the Jews and to denounce the riots. These working and middle-class blacks were every bit as terrified as their Jewish neighbors by what was going on in the streets. They had homes and families and jobs; they had their heritage and their religion.
Yet every time they picked up a newspaper or turned on the TV, or just looked out their window, they saw the word “black” identified with the forces of lawlessness and hate. Nobody was offering an equally powerful alternative voice to those forces, not even the mayor of the City of New York.
As the Nelson jury reached its verdict this past November, the city asked for a delay of several hours before it would be announced. Crown Heights and the area around the Brooklyn court house were then flooded with police, in anticipation of black unrest in the case of a conviction. And perhaps there would have been disturbances, although Nelson’s trial had in fact never been taken up as a cause by anyone.
He had spent fourteen months in jail, unable to raise the $150, 000 bail, and aside from his family there was never any significant presence of supporters in the court. Even so, Mayor Dinkins’s response to the not guilty verdict was once again muted, especially when compared with his outright condemnation of the Rodney King verdict last summer.
”It is always difficult when a terrible crime has been committed and no party is found guilty, ” the mayor said. “It somehow leaves one’s sense of justice unfulfilled.” Once more the mayor’s words were too little, too late (as they would be again when he first opposed and then welcomed a federal investigation into the case). Angry Hasidim poured out of the courthouse and marched across the Brooklyn Bridge to City Hall, chanting “No justice, no peace.” There was some scattered violence in Crown Heights that night, perpetrated by both Hasidim and blacks, but as the Hasidim like to point out, nobody expected them to riot, and they did not.
The Hasidim of Crown Heights are no Gandhis. They tend to be openly critical of blacks, and their criticisms often smack of bigotry. Moreover, their uncompromising rejection of modern liberal society in favor of anachronistic, separatist ways makes them alien not only to their black neighbors but to just about everyone else, including the majority of their fellow Jews.
It does not, however, prevent them from being fundamentally law abiding. At once anti-individualistic and radically exclusive, the Hasidim are seen by many as, in the words of one local police officer, “pretty basically un-American.” But since when is it un-American to live by the words of that most American of poets, Robert Frost, “good fences make good neighbors”?
To the Hasidim, it is in the American spirit to live as they please, free from persecution. As far as they are concerned, they were minding their own business in August 1991 when they were attacked and the city failed to protect them.
Everything else that might be said, either about the riot or about them, is false or beside the point. Their spirituality and their isolationism have not, however, prevented the Hasidim from becoming a formidable thorn in Mayor Dinkins’s side. They have filed a class action suit against the city, enumerating their claims of inadequate protection during the riot and pointing to the erasure of a month’s worth of 911 emergency phone tapes which they had sought in evidence. In response to mounting criticism, the mayor spent much of November making conciliatory gestures toward Jewish leaders, but these were often tainted by a growing testiness.
He was particularly embittered when a few fliers were distributed among the Hasidim protesting the Nelson verdict, displaying his picture beneath the legend, “Wanted For Murder.” In smaller type, the fliers explained: During the rioting, looting, and assaults in Crown Heights on the night of August 19, 1991, Mayor David Dinkins instructed the N.Y. Police Dept. not to take any action, but to allow the rioters to “vent their rage.” We therefore indict Mayor David Dinkins as an accomplice in the murder of Yankel Rosenbaum.
The accusation was plainly over the top: the quotation cannot be attributed to the mayor or substantiated by any known evidence, and Rosenbaum’s murder took place before any city policy on the riot could have been formulated. Still, as violent reactions go in such charged situations, the flier seemed a relatively mild example of rhetorical excess. If such “Wanted” posters had been the grossest manifestation of rage by South Central Los Angeles blacks after the Rodney King verdict, their designers would probably have been hailed for their creative channeling of anger.
Ironically, it was Dinkins himself who kept the image of the fliers alive.The work of unidentified agitators, the fliers had been roundly repudiated by Jewish leaders when the mayor brought them up again in a special televised address on the eve of Thanksgiving. With pain in his voice, he declared: “The poster identified me by name and by picture .... In burying a seven-year-old boy and a quiet Bible scholar, did we bury decency too?”
By harping relentlessly on the most marginal and absurd charge against him, the mayor plainly sought to paint all his critics as hysterical provocateurs and racists and to place them on the defensive. When he told his Thanksgiving audience that “A few members of the clergy have forsaken the prayer book for the press release, ” he was not speaking of the black reverends who encouraged the Crown Heights riot, but of the Jews who would not let him forget it.
Still, Dinkins admitted for the first time in the Thanksgiving speech that ”errors in judgment” had been made in the police response to the riot, and he said, “When a mistake is made .... I am accountable because the buck does stop here at this desk.” He also acknowledged for the first time that black anti-Semitism played a role in Crown Heights, although the effect of his remark “Hatred, of any kind, whether it is black anti-Semitism or Jewish racism, cannot be tolerated” was blunted by equivocation.
David Dinkins was elected in 1989 as a “racial healer, ” after campaigning against his predecessor, Edward I. Koch, in language not so different from that of the “Wanted” poster he now decries. He is currently at the beginning of his bid for a second term, and the issues that will come back to haunt him in this campaign are the same issues that he stood on in his first campaign: law and order, and racial equality.
He has been accused of acting according to a racial double standard; if he means to regain the confidence of the city’s voters he will have to show the courage to fight the divisiveness that comes from the black community as fiercely as he does that which is turned against it. Simple political arithmetic dictates that in order to win, Dinkins must retain the Jewish support he had in 1989.
A “study” published two years ago by the New York African American Institute at SUNY Albany (the same outfit that sponsored a notoriously anti-Semitic speech by Leonard Jeffries in July 1991) contends that Jews are racists because they voted for Dinkins in smaller numbers than for previous Democratic candidates. But the statistics published in that same report show that Jews voted for Dinkins in larger percentages than any other group of white voters, and that without the Jewish vote he would have lost the election.
Dinkins has been mindful of this, and he has gone out of his way to appear solicitous of Jewish concerns. But the test of the mayor is not what he will say to Jews. It is what he will say to blacks about the black racism, the anti-Semitism, and the lawlessness that were so frighteningly manifested in Crown Heights and that were then tolerated and for too long justified by the mindless application of a false paradigm of black victimization.
A week later, Dinkins came under fire again when he leaped to judge as a bias crime the beating by Crown Heights Hasidim of a black burglary suspect. The quickness and emotion of his response stood in contrast to his delayed reaction to recent Jewish anger and injury.