By Ashley Powers, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer October 29, 2007
The pairing of the rabbi and the firefighters was a natural one.He had beds. They had been sleeping on asphalt. He had food and showers. They were grateful.
That classic expression of Medvedian know-it-all arrogance comes as no surprise to anyone who listens to his show or reads his books and columns. After all, this is the man who revealed to a stunned nation that Happy Feet, the Oscar-winning, 2006 animated feature about dancing penguins, had a sinister pro-gay subtext. But what may surprise those who attended his talk, which was sponsored by Chabad Lubavitch of the Main Line and supported by Kehillah of Lower Merion and the Jewish Federation’s Center for Israel and Overseas, is Medved’s thoughts on America’s enslavement of blacks. Basically, he doesn’t think it was such a terrible thing.
In a column published on the Townhall website back in September, Medved argued, among other things, that there is no reason to believe that today’s African-Americans would be better off if their ancestors had remained behind in Africa, that the U.S. did not become a wealthy nation through the abuse of slave labor, that the U.S. merits special credit for the rapid abolition of slavery – and that’s just half of it. By the time he lists all six of his reasons why slavery has gotten a bum rap, he reveals a level of ignorance about U.S. history and the economics of the slave trade that is simply astounding. Not to mention morally repugnant. Author and screenwriter Trey Ellis addresses this repugnancy from an African-American perspective in his must read column.
Morally repugnant was how one of the sponsors of Medved’s talk characterized his slavery piece after I brought it to that person’s attention, two weeks before Medved was scheduled to speak. Alas, in the opinion of some sponsors, the train had left the station. One said, you “can’t pull the plug whenever a hired speaker says something that we disagree with after we have committed to the engagement.” Really? I think you can. Of course, it involves the challenging task of letting your inner moral compass, your sense of moral outrage guide your actions, but that is apparently too much to ask of some in our community.
A week later, on October 15, Medved invited infamous anti-Semite Ann Coulter to his radio show, giving her a chance to defend the morally repugnant views she expressed on Deutsch’s television show. Medved treated her with kid gloves. He never forcefully challenged her hateful views of Jews or her warped understanding of the Hebrew Bible, which she refers to as the Old Testament. For example, she continually reiterates that she and other Christians accept the OT, but Medved is either too ignorant or deferential to point out that what many Christians actually accept is a distorted, misinterpreted and mistranslated version of the Hebrew Bible specifically designed to validate Jesus as the messiah and, in the process, invalidate the fundamental covenantal precepts of Judaism. Incredibly, Medved appears to express more solidarity with a fellow right-wing blabbermouth than he does with the Jewish people. Unfortunately, this revelation did not move the sponsors of Medved’s talk to take action either.But can’t we look the other way? After all, Medved is such a staunch supporter of Israel. And Israel needs all the help it can get, right? Wrong. Surely we can do better. Surely we can find knowledgeable, passionate and inspiring speakers to educate us about the Middle East who don’t come with Medved’s despicable baggage. Surely we and the State of Israel are not in such miserable and desperate straits that we need to climb into bed with people like Michael Medved for comfort.
Similar acts of selflessness have been witnessed across the Southland.
At Camp Gan Israel in Running Springs, four Hasidic rabbis have been serving firefighters kosher meals while the blazes rage in the San Bernardino Mountains.
"This is a holy place," Josef Broed, a rabbi in the Orthodox Jewish movement called Chabad, told the Associated Press.
"God is going to watch over our place, and we will survive."
Florida's governor said a prayer he made at the Western Wall spared his state from hurricanes.
Charlie Crist , speaking Sunday at a prayer breakfast at the state's Republican Party convention in Orlando, related how he had placed a note in the Western Wall asking God to protect Florida from hurricanes, according to Shmais.com, a Chabad news service.
"So far, so good," Crist said.
Crist, who governs the state with the nation's third-highest Jewish population, traveled to Israel in May to promote economic ties. He was criticized recently by the Florida chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union for hanging a mezuzah outside his office in Tallahassee.
Ukrainian President Viktor Yuschenko will meet local Jewish leaders to discuss recent anti-Semitic attacks.
Yuschenko on Monday also will meet with representatives of the Ukrainian community and law enforcement generals about a spate of anti-Semitic attacks in Ukraine and the lackluster reaction by law enforcement agencies. There have no been no arrests or successful prosecutions, a member of Yuschenko's administration told JTA.
Yuschenko is expected to make a statement about combating the rise of ethnic hatred and anti-Semitic attacks in his country.
In late September three separate attacks on observant Jews took place in Zhitomir, Sevastopol and Cherkassy. On Oct. 5, the Chabad house in the city of Uzhgorod was set ablaze and robbed.
COOPER CITY - An orthodox Jewish congregation that claims Cooper City's zoning laws discriminate against religious institutions can move forward with several counts of its lawsuit, a federal judge ruled.
Chabad of Nova Inc., filed an eight-count complaint against Cooper City in May claiming that the city's zoning laws are illegally designed to protect the city's tax base by banning all tax-exempt houses of worship from commercial districts.
The city filed a motion to dismiss the suit in June, but United States District Judge Cecilia Altonaga ruled against dismissing at least three of the eight counts on Monday.
Dogs and Rabbis
A religious symbol can make you feel warm and fuzzy or scared and threatened - depending on your associations with it.
I came across two people last week who aim to help others overcome their fears of a pair of disparate symbols: the Muslim head scarf and the Hasidic rabbi's beard.
The first is a college student who is inviting discussion of the hijab worn by some Muslim women.
The endeavor, first reported by Religious News Service, was launched by a junior at the University of Missouri who has proclaimed this Friday as National Pink Hijab Day. The hijab unsettles some people who associate it with extremist Islam.
A pink hijab helps soften the image, said the student, Hend El-Buri, and often leads to discussions about why Muslim women cover their heads. It's not at all about extremism, El-Buri insists. It's about modesty.
"Muslim women want to be judged by their character and intelligence and wit rather than their physical beauty and their bodies," she said. "The hijab gives women a really, really strong sense of identity."
National Pink Hijab Day is aimed at fostering interaction and also is raising money for breast cancer research. This is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and hijab day participants are being asked to donate at least $5 to Susan G. Komen for the Cure, a nonprofit organization dedicated to breast cancer research.
"This is a good way to see that Muslim women care about the same issues," El-Buri said.
El-Buri, who is 20 and grew up in Columbia, Mo., began wearing the hijab in middle school. She found back then that wearing pink attracted friendly questions. She decided to take the concept nationwide with the help of Facebook, the social networking Web site.
The response has been overwhelming. More than 7,000 people have signed up to participate - including Muslim men who said that they would wear pink kufi caps. Many Muslims who do not wear the hijab or the kufi, as well as many non-Muslims, have pledged to wear pink ties or pink ribbons that day as a sign of solidarity.
El-Buri has also prepared a downloadable poster on Facebook that says: "Do you have questions about my hijab? Ask me on Oct. 26!"
The other idea, involving the rabbis, emerges from a question-and-answer column with the provocative headline of "Dogs and Rabbis" on www.chabad.org, the Web site of the Lubavitch Hasidic group.
"Why are religious Jews scared of dogs?" a questioner asks. "Whenever I walk mine past an observant family, all the kids hide behind their mother's skirt in terror. Is there some curse on dogs?"
The columnist, Rabbi Aron Moss, a Hasidic rabbi from Sydney, saw a parallel. "While many observant Jews are scared of dogs," he wrote, "many unobservant Jews are terrified of rabbis."
"There's something in common between dogs and rabbis that makes us both objects of trepidation. And it's not the facial hair."
Moss went on to speculate that it's simply the fear of the unknown. Orthodox families tend not to have dogs, he said. "Perhaps it's a cultural thing, but other than the odd goldfish, pets are rare in observant communities."
But that's no reason for fear, he added. "Both dogs and rabbis are loved by those who know them, and instill fear in those who don't.
Encourage your kids to play with friendly dogs, the rabbi said. And stop and say hello to a rabbi, he suggested. They don't bite.
Limmud FSU 2007 is winding down into its final day. It's been an exhilarating ride so far: three days of what the experts call "informal education" - classes, discussions, interactive art - all centering on Jewish issues and identity.
Limmud isn't exactly about making more Jews, or more Orthodox Jews, or more Jewish marriages. The agenda is hard to formulate because it is a method, not an ideology. Young secular Russians rub elbows with (and even dance alongside) Chabad hassidim, local Jewish intellectuals and Israeli educators in a four-day creative free-for-all of Jewish learning.
Limmud is also frustrating. For almost four full days, as many as 10 sessions can take place simultaneously each hour, reaching upwards of 40 a day. The most dedicated participant can only experience perhaps one-sixth of a Limmud.
Disappointing, but strangely exhilarating.
You walk out of a laughter-filled session on the educational wisdom of the Talmudic sages with the charismatic Avraham Infeld, and you're wondering what other gems you missed. The better the session, the more you wish you could see the others.
This is my first Limmud and my reaction is no different from what I've heard from other participants in other countries. Local Limmud conferences are now held around the globe, including in Canada, Turkey, South Africa, Germany, France, the US, Israel and of course England, where the first one was held in 1981.
But a Russian Limmud, which has successfully attracted 700 participants and fielded 100 volunteers, is something else altogether.
The devastated former Soviet Union Jewish communities, religiously choked under Soviet rule and emptied of most of its population and all its activists when the Iron Curtain collapsed, should not be making a comeback.
Yet young Jews across Russia and Eastern Europe have slowly, tentatively - but with growing gusto and richness - begun to explore the meaning of their Jewish past, often a past that is even for their parents a distant memory.
While Eastern European Jewish billionaire "oligarchs" and American Jewish organizations and philanthropists are part of this phenomenon, supporting educational initiatives, organizations and institutions from Warsaw to Tashkent, they have been responding to the bottom-up awakening that has spread in the FSU in the past few years, unexpectedly taking root like a delicate green growth after desert floods.
The image is not overly lyrical. Russia, and the FSU more generally, is still essentially a spiritual wasteland. Jewish identity here has been defined ethnically rather than religiously even more strongly than in Israel, and most of the young activists at Moscow this weekend were adamant that their newfound excitement with Judaism is "cultural, of course not religious."
The cultural awakening, however, isn't without a religious dimension and the tension inherent in growing religious awareness.
"These days, secular Jewish identity here is in crisis," says educator and presenter Moti Chlenov. "We don't know what to fill it with. In the early 1990s, expressing yourself as a Jew meant going to Israel. Judaism is central to Jewish identity, but still most Russian Jews are secular and really like it."
For Chlenov, Limmud, a British creation that has shown tremendous traction in widely disparate Jewish communities, is just what Russian Jewry needs to work through some of this tension. "Limmud is an attempt to create a meaningful mark on Jewish life that isn't secular, but is outside a religious context."
He corrects himself: "Limmud is even smarter than that," he adds as a pair of elderly Orthodox men walk by. "Religious people have a place here."
TRENTON -- A rabbi who sued Freehold Township because he claimed it was persecuting him over prayer services in his house now says the town is trying to meddle with his religious freedom by defining his home as a place of worship.
Rabbi Avraham Bernstein is expanding his federal lawsuit against the town, saying that a new law it passed defines his house as a place of worship, something area zoning laws do not allow.
For violating zoning laws, Bernstein could face several hundreds of dollars in fines, according to the township's attorney, Duane Davison.
Bernstein has amended his federal lawsuit, arguing that the new ordinance, adopted in late September, is too vague under federal religious protections law and is meant to further empower the town to retaliate against the rabbi for holding prayer services at his house.
"This is a small group of Jews meeting in somebody's home. That's it. If there are a hundred cars pulling up it might be some concern. But these people walk. It's their Sabbath. They can't drive," said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute, a Charlottesville, Va.-based civil liberties group representing the rabbi.
At issue is whether Bernstein, a rabbi with the ultraorthodox Lubavitch Chabad, is allowed to host a minyon -- the necessary 10 men to pray under orthodox Jewish law -- at his home on Shabbat, which lasts from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.
The Monmouth County township says he is violating local zoning ordinances because he is using his home as a house of worship, according to the lawsuit.
The town claims that it tried to work with the rabbi for years, but eventually had to respond to neighbors' complaints about large meetings, according to Davison.
"We defended him for years, but as the activity got more intense at the house, we decided maybe the neighbors had something to talk about," Davison said.
Bernstein, whose home is located across the street from the township municipal building, received a zoning violation in February 2007 and a summons in April. In May, he filed a lawsuit in state court.
He filed another suit in federal court in August, which included the claim that the town was retaliating against him because it "secretly set up a video camera" aimed at Bernstein's home.
But according to Davison, the camera was about 350 feet away and was needed to establish that about 35 to 50 people -- not the smaller groups claimed by Bernstein -- were visiting the home.
Last month, the Freehold Township Committee amended the zoning law to include a definition of a house of worship as "any structure of building that is used as the regular site for traditional services, meetings and/or gatherings of an organized religious body or community."
After unceremoniously removing all of its Christmas trees in the middle of the night last year, the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport this season will dispense with any religious symbols and just celebrate "winter."
A panel that formed after the Port of Seattle Commission removed the airport's 17 red-ribboned trees, decided the new decorations will feature a grove of birches in Dacron snow, hung with crystals and mirrors to reflect low-energy lights, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported.
The port drew international attention last year when its five elected commissioners reacted to a lawsuit threat by a rabbi who wanted to erect a menorah alongside the largest of Christmas trees.
As WND reported, Rabbi Elazar Bogomilsky said, contrary to widespread news reports, that he never intended to have the trees removed. The Jewish leader said he was horrified by the decision, which spurred anti-Semitism and angry accusations. The port returned the trees about a week later after Bogomilsky told officials his organization, the Northwest Friends of Chabad-Lubavitch, a Hasidic Orthodox group, was not going to sue.
This year, however, the port is taking no chances.
"What I was hoping for was something that was cheerful and evocative of the holiday spirit, and as much to do with nature and evergreen trees as they could," Commissioner Pat Davis told the Seattle paper "We wanted to move forward without something that would get us back into any sort of controversy, and I think it is very creative. I hope the public likes it – it will take a while to get used to." The $300,000 airport display – now being assembled in a warehouse – will include foam migrating birds above the birch trees, which will be dusted periodically with non-toxic snowfall to the sound of wind chimes. The port said it rejected the menorah last year because it didn't want other religious groups pressing to have their own symbols' included. The port commission this year convened a 12-member holiday decorations advisory committee of religious, academic, legal and business leaders. The panel agreed in July to have decorations that would "reflect the Pacific Northwest environment and our diverse community, and convey universal values, such as peace and harmony." The installation at airport is expected to begin Nov. 9.
"What I was hoping for was something that was cheerful and evocative of the holiday spirit, and as much to do with nature and evergreen trees as they could," Commissioner Pat Davis told the Seattle paper "We wanted to move forward without something that would get us back into any sort of controversy, and I think it is very creative. I hope the public likes it – it will take a while to get used to."
The $300,000 airport display – now being assembled in a warehouse – will include foam migrating birds above the birch trees, which will be dusted periodically with non-toxic snowfall to the sound of wind chimes.
The port said it rejected the menorah last year because it didn't want other religious groups pressing to have their own symbols' included.
The port commission this year convened a 12-member holiday decorations advisory committee of religious, academic, legal and business leaders. The panel agreed in July to have decorations that would "reflect the Pacific Northwest environment and our diverse community, and convey universal values, such as peace and harmony."
The installation at airport is expected to begin Nov. 9.
ROGERS -- A religious service in a residential neighborhood is causing traffic and parking, problems for neighbors.
City Attorney Ben Lipscomb on Friday sent a letter to Rabbi Mendel Greisman asking he quit holding services in his residence until a conditional-use permit from the city is obtained.
Greisman owns a house at 5402 W. Redbud St. in the Hunter's Run subdivision. The house is listed as the address for the Chabad of Northwest Arkansas, according to the Arkansas County Data Web site at www.arcountydata.com/search.asp.
Churches are allowed in residential zones in Rogers, but only with a conditional-use permit, which Greisman doesn't have. Griesman also hasn't filed for a permit.
Lipscomb said Greisman maintains he is simply host of a Bible study, which most would characterize as different from a church or worship service.
However, Lipscomb said the photos from the Chabad's Web site look like a worship center, and there are reports of between 30 and 40 cars parked in the neighborhood by people attending the Chabad.
"If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck and has webbed feet like a duck, then it's a duck," Lipscomb said.
Greisman did not return a message left at the residence on Friday.
Lipscomb said he realizes there is a need for Greisman's congregation to meet, but the city also has ordinances that must be followed.
Dan Brown, chairman of the Rogers Planning Commission, told a woman during a meeting on Tuesday that the commission has never denied a conditional use permit for a church. Brown was speaking with regard to another issue.
The issue of the chabad came to Lipscomb's attention when someone called the Rogers Planning and Transportation Department to complain about zoning violations.
Kevin Butler, 5407 W. Redbud St., filed on behalf of the Hunter's Run Property Owner's Association a complaint with Lipscomb's office citing, "Zoning violations, excessive vehicle traffic with parking congestion and excessive pedestrian traffic ... as a result of the opening of the 'Chabad House.'"
Hunter's Run is a subdivision with only 18 houses along two stretches of road that together total less than 1,500 feet. Upon entering Hunter's Run, Redbud Street takes a 90-degree turn to the south then takes another sharp curve to the west.
Cars are parked along this entrance, making it nearly impossible for a fire truck to get through if a house at the back of the neighborhood were on fire, Butler said.
Butler said the subdivision has covenants regarding acceptable traffic and parking situations and operating a business in a residence, although Butler said the covenants say nothing about a religious service.
Lipscomb did not set a deadline for Greisman's compliance.
"I didn't feel like we needed to be heavy-handed. We just want them to follow the city's zoning laws and obtain a conditional use permit," he said.
"If that doesn't happen in a reasonable amount of time, we will revisit the issue," Lipscomb said.
AT A GLANCE
Chabad chassidism is a system of religious philosophy teaching understanding and recognition of the creator through the application of the three intellectual qualities of chochmah (wisdom), binah (understanding) and daat (knowledge). The initials of these three Hebrew words form the word "chabad."
Source: The Chabad at the University of Kansas, www.jewishku.com
Chabad Of Northwest Arkansas