Friday, May 30, 2008

Jews in Europe, the Arab World and the Mufti

My son was listening to a publicly funded local leftist radio station here in New York. I will not soil my keyboard by typing its call letters. As usual, the 21st century version of "The Jewish Question" was being discussed.
"I am very sorry about what happened to the Jews in Europe", said one of the panelists with a tone of well rehearsed sympathy. "But it is not the fault of the Palestinians. We should not pay for what the Nazis did."
A comprehensive look at World War Two history exposes the falsehood of this argument. The British and the French were the dominant colonial powers in the Middle East at a time of nascent Arab nationalism. In Syria, Iraq,Yemen and Egypt were Jewish communities with centuries of history. As in Russia, the Jews kept a low political profile. The Jewish middle class in countries like Iraq and Syria was an easy target for lower class resentment and frustration.
In the Middle East as well as in Europe, the Nazis did their homework before engineering a takeover. In the Ukraine, the Nazis granted a sham independence as they did in Europe from the Balkans to the Baltic republics. Baathism, the ideology of secular Arab nationalism was strongly influenced by national socialism and supported by pro Nazi elements in Arab society.
Independently of Zionism, the climate of Jew hatred cultivated by Germany created serious dangers for Jews living in Arab countries. It should be noted that the long history of a Jewish presence in the Arab world made settling in what was then Palestine look like an impractical adventure. The Farhud (which translates as violent disposession) was an Arab pogrom against Jews in Baghdad on June 1 and 2, 1941. It has been compared to an Arab counterpart to Kristallnacht. The Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin Al Husseini has a well known role in advocating and assisting in anti Jewish actions in Europe. His hatred was not confined to Ashkenazim. He advocated the same treatment of Jews in Arab countries that he supported in Europe. The history of Jews in the Arab world of the 1940's was one of declining political fortunes punctuated by outbreaks of violence. The dispossession of Jews in the 1950's in Egypt bore strong legal and practical resemblance to Nazi expropriations. There were Jews in Tunisia and Morocco who suffered under anti Jewish restrictions.
The reason that Israel is populated not only by Ashkenazim but also by Sephardim and Jews from Arab lands and Jews from the Arab world is two fold.
There is a yearning for the Holy Land that unites Jews of all If the Mufti were a lone crackpot broadcasting on Berlin radio his role could be minimised. But the Mufti was an organiser in a mass movement. He did not work alone. both he and the Germans who were active in Iraq and other Arab countries were tapping into latent trends in Arab society. Additionally, pervasive violence, discrimination and dispossession drove Jews not only from Europe but Arab lands as well. War is never waged without rewriting and editing history to justify it. Those who have resolved to destroy Israel seek to bury and falsify its history. It is essential to expose not only their falsehoods but their motives as well. The sly assertion that the final solution stopped at Europe's shores should be treated with the contempt it so richly deserves. Israel must defend not only its land and people, but its history as well.'ath_Party

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The video at the top of this post is from You Tube It is in German with English subtitles. It is about the Mufti of Jerusalem, may his name be erased

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Walmart Trying To Hold Down Food Prices(At What Cost?)

(Fortune Magazine) -- With gas, grain, and dairy prices exploding, you'd think the biggest seller of corn flakes and Cocoa Puffs would be getting hit by rising food costs. But Wal-Mart has temporarily rolled back prices on hundreds of food items by as much as 30% this year. How? By pressuring vendors to take costs out of the supply chain. (For more information, please click on link above.)
Wal-mart would be in twenty-seventh place on a list of world economies if it were a country. It is in a position to use its size and economic clout to set economic trends and business terms for suppliers. Much of the shift to American consumer goods being manufactured in China has been spearheaded by Wal-mart. Labour practices include keeping worker's hours down to a part time level to avoid paying employee benefits, hefty charges for medical insurance against meager salaries and making workers put time in off the clock. The company invests millions of dollars in policing workers to prevent any discussion that might lead to the formation of a union. Wal-mart's effect on small towns in which it has opened outlets has been catastrophic, destroying local economies that were years in formation. A documentary that must be seen is"Wal-mart:The High Cost of Low Prices." It is a comprehensive look at the effect that Wal-mart has on workers, communities and the economy at large. It is readily available through a Google search and can be downloaded.
Illegal immigration and outsourcing to developing countries have a strong dampening effect on the wages of the American worker and ultimately the stability of the American currency . Wal-mart cultivates a folksy home town image that belies its total lack of loyalty to the American worker. The world economy is a network of delicate balances. People in Mexico want to come to America to find opportunities lacking at home. Widening the circle of Mexicans enjoying consumer goods could create high paying jobs that would increase the Mexican tax base, lower the incentive for illegal immigration and raise the quality of life in Mexico without impacting negatively the wages of American labour. There are figures kept on market saturation for various products. There are for instance far fewer automobiles per thousand people in India and Mexico than there are in the United States and Canada. Targeted investment could raise the number of automobile drivers, computer owners and families with televisions. There is a car set to be marketed in India that sells for $2500.00 that is geared to the particular needs of that vast market. Its manufacture will create thousands of jobs that pay well and do not depress the value of American wages. Enforcement of immigration laws should be combined with sensible investment in developing countries that does not involve outsourcing American jobs.
It is good that Wal-mart is holding down prices. But one must ask what price is attached to such savings. There are large corporations that use their size to provide opportunities and benefits to their workers that are beyond the reach of smaller companies. Starting with large purchases, one should ask how employees are treated before giving a company business. If you know that a local business is kind to its staff, make that a winning proposition by taking your business there.
The percentage of American workers belonging to unions has gone down, but work conditions and remuneration have not improved. Some organised way of guarding worker's rights and living standards has to be considered. Unions could be part of the solution . Consumers who vote with their wallets could be another part of a coordinated strategy to protect the position of American labour. Additionally, small retailers should find ways to pool their economic resources so they can compete effectively with the retail giants.
America is facing major economic challenges in the next four years. An ersatz patriotism consisting of displaying an American flag made in China will not take us very far. We have to care about each other. This means voting with our wallets for the companies both big and small that care about their workers.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Israel :Black Sheep Or Faithful Shepherd?

Yet again, Israel has been among the first arrivals at the scene of a natural disaster. On May 8, Israeli rescue teams were among the first to arrive in the hermit republic of Myanmar. In Turkey and Armenia, Israeli rescue teams were there to help out in earthquake rescue work. In Rwanda, Israelis set up field hospitals to cope with the medical needs of tens of thousands of refugees in the aftermath of the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
Much of Israel's expertise has come as a tragic byproduct of her own war with terrorism. Digging survivors out from buildings blown up by terrorists was done by Israelis in Kenya and Rwanda. Setting up tent cities for homeless refugees was learned in Israel's past history of absorbing thousands of Jewish refugees who fled to Israel soon after its founding.
Sadly, there are Iranian civilians who are dead today as a result of the Iranian government's decision to refuse Israeli aid in the aftermath of an earthquake in their country. Even with hundreds dying by the hour, the Islamic Republic of Iran would accept no aid from the "Zionist entity". The Israelis have developed technology for rescue from collapsed buildings that involves inflating a balloon beneath the rubble and pushing it off of those trapped beneath.
By comparison, Greece and Turkey, historically warring neighbours have a common experience with earthquakes. A factor in the improved relationship between the two countries is the united front they presented in coping with disasters. There is no telling how many lives have been saved because tensions between these two adversaries were reduced to manageable levels. The Greeks and Turks should be lauded for their success in extracting some peace from the natural disasters occurring in their countries.
The United Nations, which started with such high hopes in 1945, presents a sordid contrast to the Israel, which has brought an epidemic of rape, abuse and molestation in countries
as far flung as the Congo, Bosnia and Cambodia where it has set up refugee camps (see link)
The United Nations, ever quick to criticise Israel has done virtually nothing to stem the epidemic of abuse by its troops of helpless refugees under their care.
Per capita, the United States and Israel lead the world in their response to both man made and natural disasters. These two free countries are as ready to criticise themselves as any of their adversaries. Yet they are a role model to the world in matters of helping those in need.
It is a light to the world when tragedy brings out the goodness in human nature. In the past, international sports have helped build bridges among feuding nations. Disaster aid provides far more practical benefits to its participants Greece and Turkey have shown how a common purpose can ignite the warmth of friendship. The nations of the world should compete in giving. When the heart is ready, the hands will find a way.
Copyright 2008 by on text only video from you tube

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Verrazano Bridge Prayer

After thirty years in New York City, I have yet to visit the Liberty Island, upon which stands the Statue of Liberty. I am as much fascinated by its split between New York and New Jersey. Although the courts have awarded much of the island to the State of New Jersey, I join many New Yorkers in smugly noting that Lady Liberty faces New York City.
I frequently pass through Grand Army Plaza and Prospect Park as well as Eastern Parkway. Both Prospect Park and Eastern Parkway are gems of urban planning designed by Frederick Law Olmsted. So great is their beauty to me that I am sometimes grateful when a red light gives me the opportunity to study some detail of Olmsted's work.
It has been a long time since I passed over the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, which connects Brooklyn to Staten Island. Many times I have seen its graceful span lit up in the distance, fed by the various roads leading up to it.
What is so odd about the Verrazano is the manner in which it connects two disparate weather patterns. More than once I have left pouring rain on Staten Island to see dry weather in Brooklyn.
Even in a car, the strong winds over the Verrazano Straits can be fearsome to commuters. In stormy weather, the upper level is often closed.
At one time, my vehicle of choice was a 50cc moped. Under ideal conditions it can travel at New York City Highway speed limits. Traveling on a highway at 50 miles an hour can be very frustrating to people behind you in cars who are accustomed to going seventy miles an hour.
Fear of triggering road rage is one of the reasons that I upgraded to a larger motorcycle.
One winter evening, I crossed the Verrazano on my moped. The expansion joints alone are always unpleasant to traverse. I never get used to the slight wobble on my bike as I pass over them. That night I was more watchful than usual for black ice, the invisible patches of ice on roads that can cause even automobile drivers to lose control. The further I got onto the bridge, the stronger the wind became. Soon, I felt the wind pounding on my clothes and helmet. My fear grew as the wind actually started pushing my moped out of my lane of traffic. I compensated by leaning into the wind. It felt as though an invisible wall were holding me upright. A serene calm took over me as I realised the gravity of the situation. It was almost as if I were riding next to myself, describing the wind and how to safely navigate it. The last time I had felt such stillness was when I was caught in a strong undertow on a Cape Cod beach in Massachusetts. On the shore, my father waved a bath towel at me with desperate urgency as life guards rowed out to meet me. It was only from their frightened faces that I derived any sense of panic.
The thought occurred to me that the wind presented a serious danger. Underneath my helmet, I prayed that the wind would stop. It seemed that the wind only got stronger. Thoughts of Jonah on the high seas flashed through my mind as I negotiated with the wind.
"G-d lessen the wind." I prayed. "G-D LESSEN THE WIND". I shouted in what was really a whisper amid the traffic. The wind kept pushing at me, fraying my sense of calm and distorting my sense of time. Finally I said in desperate resignation "G-d please lessen the wind. Lessen the wind or strengthen me against it". My calm returned as I approached the token booth and the highway behind him.
"Thank you G-d". I said as I picked up speed on the highway. The words of my prayer echoed in my mind then and now. "G-d, lessen the wind or strengthen me against it."
Today, when I look at a problem, I look at the elements that are beyond my control. Then I look at what strengths I possess to deal with the situation. Whether I am dealing any sort of difficulties, my desperate words on the Verrazano Bridge still echo today. "G-d lessen the wind, or strengthen me against it.".
Copyright 2008 by Photo by M Borowick found on creative commons search engine

Monday, May 26, 2008

Suspending Disbelief: Good For a Joke, Bad For A Campaign

What has been most disturbing in major media coverage of the Obama campaign is the suspension of disbelief. Talk radio and the blogosphere are notable exceptions to this blind faith in Barack Hussein Obama. A candidate should be vetted, or thoroughly checked out not only for disqualifying elements but also friendships, interests and character traits that might shed light on his or her future performance. Obama is getting kid glove treatment, with no examination of communist radicals who influenced and befriended him during his political ascent. (see link)
Many people pass through a radical phase in their political development. "The God That Failed" is a collection of accounts by former communists of their enchantment and subsequent disillusionment with communism. Obama, when questioned about Reverend Wright, Rashid Khalidi or Weather Underground member Bill Ayers seems unable to speak persuasively of their contribution to his political evolution. His repudiations seem to be not an outgrowth of maturation but of expediency. He reacts defensively when questioned about his former(?) acquaintances.
We seem to have forgotten Spiro Agnew, Nixon's Vice President who was forced to step down, not for his conduct as Vice President but because of alleged misconduct as governor of Maryland. Had he been more thoroughly investigated prior to his nomination for Vice President, a lot of trouble could have been spared.
Although there have been investigations of Obama's financial ties, they are pushed to the back pages of the newspapers and to talk radio. Shopping for the truth about Obama is like buying a Beatles album or a pair of jeans in Moscow back in the seventies. Indeed in typical Muscovite style, Democrats talk regularly about regulating talk radio for "fairness".
Gordon Lightfoot in his song "The House You Live In" sang "Be known as a man who will always be candid on questions that do not relate." On questions that do relate, Obama is far from candid.
Obama's political ally, Jimmy Carter laid the groundwork for much of today's political instability by facilitating the fall of a friendly government in Iran. He thereby created a beachhead for terrorism in the Middle East and the world. At this dangerous time in America and the world's history, I see no reason to suspend the disbelief that every candidate should face as he asks to lead our country. Obama prefers speeches. He does not welcome questions. The American people deserve better.
Copyright 2008 by

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Please click above for a comedy skit from You Tube about Barack Obama.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Homage to Catalonia

Picasso's Guernica

On a ride from Jerusalem to Hebron, I was able to tell my children about ethnic groups with distinct languages and cultures that did not have their own currency, stamps or independent government. Italy until 1861 was a collection of kingdoms and states, some of which had as their languages tongues separate and distinct from Italian. Piedmont in the North of Italy and Sicily in the south had their own languages , as did Sardinia, where a language very similar to Corsican is spoken. Corsica belongs to France. Some would say it's occupied by France. Sometimes the Corsicans will blow up a post office to let the French know that they are miffed, but attacks on civilians are almost unheard of.
One of the most aggrieved European regions with a claim to peoplehood is Catalonia. Located in the north of Spain, this region of approximately six million people sided against Franco in the Spanish Civil War from 1936 to 1939. Even before this political faux pas, the relationship of Catalonia to the rest of Spain resembled the relationship of Kosovo to Serbia. The Franco government effectively banned any public use of Catalonian in government, the press or broadcast media. For almost forty years , the language went underground.
Francisco Franco groomed a hand picked successor, King Juan Carlos, who upon Franco's death promptly set in motion a transition to democracy. Two years after Franco's death, even Dolores Ibarurri the icon of the communist movement in Spain returned from exile to adoring followers. Juan Carlos also legalised the use and teaching of Catalonian. Today, the regional legislature in Barcelona, the Generalitat, conducts its business in Catalan as do government offices and schools. There is no demand today for independence and a people whose suffering in the Spanish Civil War was so hauntingly portrayed in Picasso's "Guernica" painting now functions peacefully within Spain. Picasso had vowed never to bring his painting back to Spain until democracy returned. Both democracy and "Guernica" are now back in Spain. Although the Basque region was far more violent in its opposition to Spanish hegemony, it too has been won over to regional autonomy . The strategy initiated by Franco's beloved student bore fruit. The north of Spain is now at peace.
The implications of Spain's bargain with its formerly restive north have implications in other parts of the world. It is possible to differ passionately, to recover from a bloody war and to arrive at a modus vivendi. Catalonia and the Basque regions, even when they shed Spanish blood in persuit of their aims did not resort to the means employed by the Arabs against Israeli children in the school in Maalot or the Sbarro restaraunt in Jerusalem. History has shown that trees watered with innocent blood grow crooked. The "Palestine Authority" is vivid testimony to this.
The Spanish, Catalonian and Basque peoples, now all part of a united country deserve the world's respect and emulation for the manner in which they have written a new and tranquil chapter in their history together. May their years of peace be many and may their example be contagious.

Copyright 2008 by

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Video above is from Sopa de Cabra, a Catalonian rock band that sings in the Catalan language. The video is compliments of You Tube

Friday, May 23, 2008

Breaking the Fast

During the first days of the counting of the Omer, I always chafe at the restriction on listening to music, looking for leniencies that allow recorded music or a capella. The restrictions commemorate a plaque in which the disciples of Rabbi Akiva died by the thousands due to needless hatred. My personal view is that citizens of a nation are like cells of a body As a body, we are the same entity that was struck with a plague, even if we are as individuals chronologically younger. Seen on that level, it is I (we) who have been afflicted and not they (the disciples of Rabbi Akiva). I tend to see withdrawing from music as reaching for an inner silence as a preparation for reflection rather than some kind of affliction or punishment. (I'm taking away your CD's !!)
On a practical level, avoiding music for any length of time gives me a serious case of music withdrawal. On Lag'B'Omer, I always like to break the musical fast on some songs that have been running through my head. Today, I was listening to Nexhat Osmani of Albania and Ricardo Arjona of Guatemala.
Ricardo Arjona was born in Guatemala in 1964. This multi talented gentleman has been a schoolteacher and a basketball player, who until recently held a record for the most points scored by a Guatemalan player. He is also a winner of two Latin American Grammy Awards. His musical style reminds me of some of the Italian pop music of which I was fond as a teenager. His fame extends across the Spanish speaking world. I like to believe that it is the blood of my Spanish Jewish ancestors that is stirred by his and other music in that beautiful language. Music in Spanish leaves me flooded with thoughts of the souls lost to our nation due to forced conversion. It is for this reason that music in Spanish seems appropriate today on Lag'B'omer, a respite in a period in which we commemorate and try to heal estrangements within the Jewish people. Aside from today's musical celebration, the theme of mending broken friendships and ending needless arguments is an important theme during this time on the Jewish calendar. As Lag B'Omer gives way to Shabbat, it is worth while to carry the lessons of this season into the rest of the Jewish Year. May there soon be among the Jewish people and the nations of the world a season of eternal peace and healing. Shabbat Shalom

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Wartime Jugoslavia, A lesson For the Jewish People

Draza Mihailovic Marshal Tito

Svoju zemlje srce, a war memorial video

When I think of the tragedy of Jugoslavia during World War Two I take it as a lesson to the Jewish people in the Holy Land and abroad. I chose two pictures above, those of Draza Mihailovic, leader of the Chetnik army fighting the Nazis and Josip Tito, the leader of the Communist Partisans who fought the Nazis also. History records both armies as having fought each other so bitterly as they fought the Nazis that it seriously undermined the war effort in Jugoslavia. In the end , Jugoslavia suffered 1,700,000 deaths in the war. Their were mutual accusations of collaborating with the enemy. As the victor in the fight between the two armies, Tito's communist version of the war's history became official. After the fall of communism and the dissolution of Jugoslavia, history is now treating Mihailovic far more kindly. It can safely be said that people of good will joined both armies for worthy purposes, and ended up carried against their will into fratricidal disputes.
In Crown Heights, we have two civilian patrols. There is no question that both have saved lives and property, both through direct intervention and in a deterrent capacity. Despite common aims, they are locked in a seemingly intractable dispute that almost impossible to sort out. Other such arguments abound not only in Crown Heights but among Satmar in Williamsburg as well The bitterness of the divide between secular and religious in Israel itself is a prominent feature in Israeli politics even as we face a fierce enemy that wants to push us all into the sea.
I am proposing peace talks between Jews. In Auschwitz, with shaven heads and identical striped uniforms, there was no visual means to distinguish between one kind of Jew and another. A kind look, a shared crust of bread or scrap of blanket was what established one's decency as a human being. I am trying to fast forward that spark of truth and clarity to the present. The lesson of Jugoslavia resonates in my soul because of my ancestors from that part of the world. I am sharing my feelings during the days between Passover and Shavuot, when we reflect upon the needless hatred among Jews that brought a plague upon Rabbi Akiva's disciples. This seems to be an auspicious time to share a plea for peace and unity. May the remaining days of this time between Passover and Shavuot, the counting of the Omer be a time of love, unity and healing.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Feminism in Islamic Fashion?

Raising girls in America has given me a senstitivity to issues of women's rights, both in the Jewish community and the greater society. When it is your own wife or daughter that must deal with rude comments and creepy taxi drivers, problems of women in our time are no longer abstractions to me.
I remember as a child visiting Montreal with my family. A woman was running to catch a bus. She looked frantic and helpless as her legs banged against a narrow tubular skirt. At first I thought she was disabled, and then realised that her impediment was sartorial and not orthopedic. Back in the mid 70's , platform shoes were all the rage. There was a wide gender gap between men and women in their popularity. Most men thought they looked hideous, which proved that there exist in fashion other aims than attracting men's attention. In the sixties, there were high spiked heels that always looked like they would break . One thing both platform and spiked heel shoes have is a history of causing back problems as well as terrible injuries to the ankles and feet. Both types of shoes inflict an oppressive drag on the mobility of their owners. We criticise the Chinese for binding the feet of women. Though our modern shoe styles do not usually inflict permanent damage, they share a common denominator of limiting moblility.
Men can engage in a full range of physical activities while wearing current fashions. Women in skirts and dresses face modesty issues when riding bicycles , engaging in other sports activities, or even sitting on their front steps.
My work takes me frequently to neighbourhoods with large populations of Jews, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Indians. I shop for Indian music and moves near a large mosque at the edge of a Jewish neighbourhood. Especially in the current climate, there is a focus in the media on the most extreme and misogynistic mutations of Islamic fashion. In Flatbush, I almost never see the burqa or any other form of complete face covering. It is, however common to see married women and older girls in the Pakistani community covering their hair.
I noticed both men and women wearing an outfit that had the same basic shape for both. Men wore very subdued colours. Women wore pastel shades that are not as bold as those favoured in western attire. I noticed that the clothing affords girls a complete range of mobility in any physical activity from running to bike riding as well as reasonable modesty. In the summer, the loose fit in both men and women affords a degree of protection from the heat. The name for this garment, whether worn by men or women is a shalwar kameez. My daughter in law has told us that something similar was popular among Yemenites.
Clothing has many functions, not the least of which is showing allegiance to a group. Indeed, even the shape and creases in a black hat on an orthodox Jew can signify to which Jewish community he is loyal. It is for this reason, especially after 9/11 that there might be a reluctance to dispassionately evaluate fashions from the Islamic world.
I look at the world with thousands of years of Jewish history as a reference point. Though today, Christians tend to be less antagonistic to Jews than Muslims, there was a time in our history when Muslim Turkey under Islamic law gave us refuge from the Spanish Inquisition. I view our current age as a sliver of time in a continuum . Seeing the changes of fortune in Jewish history, I look for the Unseen Hand. It is in this light that I view fashion almost as a dispassionate outsider.
It may seem unpopular to say this, but I believe that Islamic fashion in the form of the shalwar kameez could find common ground with Orthodox Judaism and feminism. I am just one blogger with a tiny circulation, but I am putting my observations out into the cyber ether. For the sake of the world in which my wife and daughters live, I am speaking my heart.
Copyright 2008 by Magdeburger Joe Pictures and link are from Wikipedia. Man and woman in left hand picture are Muhammed Ali Jinnah of Pakistan and his sister Fatima

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Changes in the 71: News From Crown Heights

According to , Inspector Frank Vega, commanding officer of the 71st precinct is due to be transferred in about a week. Many in the Jewish community have accused him of politicising the handling of disputes between African Americans and Jews. Attacks on Jews that seem to have a clear bias motive are reportedly seldom recognised has having a component of bigotry. Conversely, there has been allegations of partiality against Jewish parties in physical alterations involving those who are not Jewish. Most importantly, the process of recording criminal incidents in the 71st precinct has been marred by accusations of misclassification of offenses and loss of reports. It is hoped that future management of the 71 will not be subject to such perceptions in the community.
Crown Heights is a community where harmonious coexistence is a work in progress. No one can pretend we are an oasis of tranquility. Indeed, there were eleven homicides in this precinct in 2007. Dialogue at the leadership and grass roots level has facilitated the perception that we face common problems that require unity and resolve. Law enforcement is a very important component of the economic and social health of the Crown Heights community. For the economic growth in our neighbourhood to continue, there must be a safe environment in which to live and do business. Education and activities for youth are important in directing youth who might be at risk towards constructive pursuits.
There are many in the media and among the "activists for hire" who would preach to the people of Crown Heights. It would be preferable to study this community. Unlike many who pontificate and demonstrate, we are here after the TV crews go home. We have no interest in endangering our children by creating a hostile climate. We seek to define ourselves according to affirmation of values rather than the denigration of each other. Those who live here are building alliances for the common good that transcend what are heated political rivalries on the national level.
This is an amazing community facing daunting challenges. It is a work in progress about which volumes could be written. The next inspector has an opportunity to write a stirring chapter in the history of our much discussed neighborhood. We welcome him and wish him success.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Notes From Barnes and Noble

In my Trotskyist days back in junior high school. I learned a lot from the older comrades. Some had been Socialist Workers Party members back in the fifties. I respect them even now for a willingness to adhere to unpopular opinions in an unimaginably hostile climate. I look at being a Marxist as being a sort of childhood disease which when cured imparts a valuable immunity to political folly. The folly of our times is not permitting the legal dissent of extremists. It is when we start to believe them.
One of the recurring themes in the Socialist Worker's Party and Young Socialist Alliance offices was class bias in the media. According to them, the news pages of a newspaper were an extension of the editorial pages. According to them, the choice of news stories and manner of their presentation had an inherent class bias. A class outlook in the Trotskyist view is as innate to news coverage as blood type is to blood. It is a factor to be recognised in reading history or watching the news.
A secret of ideological combat is taking the truths mastered by one's adversary and incorporating them into one's own world view. The Trotskyists I knew were right on target in diagnosing the bias in media. It was only years later that I met people who had lived in the USSR under Trotsky before his exile and knew of the world for which he strived.
I always used to enjoy going to bookstores with my parents. Today I prefer used books, which give me a feeling of faceless connection to a book's previous owner. My parents used to take us to Paperback Booksmith. I'm not sure if it still exists. A trip to a wisely stocked bookstore today gives me the feeling of walking in my parents footsteps when I go there with my own children . Most of my children do not know their grandparents , having been grown up after their passing.
My last deja vu experience in Barnes and Noble was not of my parents but of my former comrades from my Trotskyist days. On the ground floor are display tables of the most recently published books. I ended up buying a book on the history of the English language "The Mother Tongue, English and How it Got That Way. " I spent thirty annoying minutes in their Starbucks trying in vain to get formerly free wireless internet. I was unable to a story from there with their store as an inspirational backdrop. Prominently displayed in their their featured offerings were two books by Barack Hussein Obama. Also displayed was a title , "The Real McCain, Why Conservatives Don't Trust Him And Indepoendents Shouldn't".
There was a prominence given to Democrats, of whom Obama was the clear favourite. Those conservatives who made the display table seemed to be "spoilers" who might well subtract from Republican support in the November election. I could not fault the general selection of the store or the willingness to order titles not in stock. The sales staff was helpful and seemed to enjoy their work. But the display tables seemed to have been put together by someone who was as much a campaign strategist as a bibliophile.
I mention my observations with no rancour. Barnes and Noble has a right to showcase whatever titles it sees fit. I also have my bias. I will continue to shop with enthusiasm at B&N. They may not showcase my book choices, but they carry them.
The wisdom of my Trotskyist former comrades continues to resonate as I read the coverage of the 2008 campaign . I continue to maintain the "Audacity of Hope" that Mr. and Mrs. Barack Hussein Obama will make enough gaffes between them to enlighten the American electorate.
As David Duchovny says on X Files, "The truth is out there." I believe it is not lost in outer space but on the upper shelves.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

News and Opinion From Crown Heights

There were three more attacks on Jews on Shabbos, May 17 and 18, one of them involving a knife. According to sources involved in neighbourhood security, verbal abuse during the attack indicated a bias motive. One attack which occurred Friday night involved a verbal argument that became physical. Despite the fact that the Black man in the dispute had admitted throwing a punch, only the Jew was detained. He was also released after intervention from concerned community members .In the second incident at the corner of Eastern Parkway and Albany Avenue, Jews returning from synagogue on Saturday afternoon were pelted with pieces of concrete. The third incident involved an African American man who rode his bicycle into a crowd of Jews on purpose. In the altercation that ensued, he pulled a knife. A police officer standing nearby refused to intervene.Since it is widely known that observant Jews do not handle or carry money on Shabbos, robbery appears highly unlikely as as a reason for any of the attacks
The inflammatory news coverage of the beating of an African American youth should be considered as a possible motive for a rise in "retaliatory" attacks against Jews. It need not be assumed that an altercation between Jews and African Americans is racially motivated. There was a rush to judgement in the case involving an African American police officer's son. When the District Attorney and the media present a sensationalised and biased picture of volunteer patrols, innocent people pay for the hostile climate that is created. An African American taxi driver and a teenage African American girl were aided by the same patrol that is now being villified in the press. This information has been virtually ignored in the media, creating an excuse for those inclined toward violence to vent their hatred of Jews.
I remember well the incitement of Al Sharpton during the Crown Heights riots in 1991. There are those in the media and political world who pay periodic lip service to their alleged fondness for Jews who are often no less guilty of incitement. I can say after twenty five years that the news media provides a very distorted picture of the neighbourhood I live in.
There was a demonstration Friday shortly before Shabbos against anti Jewish hooligans and indifferent politicians. The three attacks against Jews on Shabbos show a need for a more resolute and responsible handling of law enforcement in Crown Heights. The overwhelming majority of Crown Heights residents strive for peaceful coexistence. Those who attack physically attack innocent citizens should be removed from the streets. Those who incite them for political reasons should be removed from office.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

A Note From Crown Heights About Compstat

Compstat was a cornerstone of the famous drop in the crime rate under the Giuliani administration. Crime was charted geographically and statistically. Resources were allocated where they were needed to address developing crime trends. Precincts with a poor showing were called to task. The program saved many lives and made New York a much more desirable place to do business.
The system is prone to abuse. How a crime is classified and if it is recorded are decisions that are made at the precinct level. The suggestion has been made more than once that these judgements are being made to make the precinct look better. It has been alleged that the real crime picture is not so rosy.
While watching a police officer write a ticket, an idea occurred to me. Traffic tickets are numbered and inventoried. It is a rarity for a police officer to start writing a ticket and to void it. They are watched very closely.
I feel that crime reports should be written on similarly numbered tickets. At the scene of a crime report, a crime victim should get his own pink copy of the initial report. He should have the option of contesting the classification in an administrative hearing. The agency in control of statistical and informational compilation should be independent of the precinct in which the crime occurs. It could be called the Crime Statistics Compilation Bureau or something similar.
It should be city wide, and not beholden to any one precinct.
Such a proposal would eliminate a great deal of distrust in city neighbourhoods that currently is widespread. It might also change the crime statistics, making them more precise. This could save lives, and solidify the gains in the ongoing war on crime. There would probably be areas that would show no significant change in statistics. It would relieve the police of burdensome clerical work as well as help the police allocate their resources more effectively. As a separate governmental entity, it would have an incentive to respond to feedback from both citizens and police.
The police deserve enthusiastic support from the citizens they protect. Any distrust is unfortunate and detrimental to the mission of the NYPD. If however this distrust exists, it should be addressed. I believe that an independent agency administering Compstat is a good place to start
Copyright 2008 by Magdeburger Joe

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Bush Hits Sore Spot In Knesset Speech

President Bush addressed the Israeli Knesset and condemned the philosophy of appeasement saying “Some seem to believe we should negotiate with terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along."
The Democratic reaction was swift and furious. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called of Republican presidential candidate John McCain to repudiate President Bush's alleged swipe at Barack Hussein Obama, who Bush did not even mention by name.
Obama himself critcicised the Bush speech as an obvious dig at him, characterising it as "a false political attack".
It seems that Obama has a guilty conscience. There are plenty of critics of the war in Iraq who could reasonably be called appeasers. The chorus of Democratic condemnation of Bush's speech is a clear message to the American people that Obama might well fit that description.
As laughable as this episode might be, there is a sinister undertone. It is quite reasonable for the candidates to discuss philosophical and tactical differences in their approach to diplomacy and war. Indeed, the public needs to be informed about differences between parties and candidates.
For Nancy Pelosi to call upon McCain to disassociate himself from Bush's speech is totally uncalled for. The ideas expressed in the speech belong in a public forum. Thankfully, McCain stood firmly by the President . The Democrats are vulnerable on national security issues. It seems that they want to dampen any discussion in that area of government policy.
The Democrats want to focus on the economy. Though presidential policies can have a quick and profound effect in the military sphere, economic policies can be for the President like an old man planting an apple tree, who most likely would not be around to see the tree bear fruit. Many of the economic problems today such as the epidemic of mortgage foreclosures and our mushrooming foreign trade deficit have been years in the making. The temptation to engage in demagoguery when talking about the economy is hard to resist. A coherent economic policy takes a level of consensus and cooperation that does not seem likely in the near future.
The military and economic spheres are closely connected. The world would be a far different place if the Shah of Iran had not been overthrown during the Carter presidency. The military and diplomatic blunder of failing to stand by the Shah continues to haunt us today with the fallout of regional, political and economic instability.
When a doctor is examining a patient and the patient yells, he knows he has found the sore spot, and he knows how to proceed. The Democrats just yelled. I think the Republicans know what to do

Here is Bush's speech Judge for yourself
Comments only Copyright 2008 by Magdeburger Joe of and

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Al the Gardener

The recent news of Albert Einstein's letter at auction brings to mind a personal anecdote shared with me by my old friend Chaim A of blessed memory.
When I was a single young man almost thirty years ago, new to Crown Heights, I had many conversations with Chaim, sitting in the Ess and Bentch restaurant where the Jewish museum now stands. He was an educated old man who shared with me an informed view of the world before my birth. He spoke a beautiful Yiddish, and had a New York accent of the sort that bespoke a well rounded education in the New York public schools of the thirties. The Lubavitcher Rebbe gave him a blessing to make shidduchim. (marriage matches) Mine was one of his shidduchim. At the time of his passing, he had seen two children from that match, who are now both married.
Chaim provided many stories that provided a human dimension to much of the history I had read as a teenager. He recalled for instance scuffles between Jewish boys and the followers of Father Coughlin, a radio preacher of fascistic and anti-Jewish leanings who developed a mass following in 1930's America.
One of the stories he told me concerned a girl with whom he became acquainted in university back in the 1940's . During her college years she would return to the home of her Greek immigrant parents in New Jersey. She was probably the first in her family to ever make it to college. She was grateful for her parent's sacrifices and worked hard to succeed in her studies.
On one visit home, her father picked her up at the train station in his beat up pickup truck that he used for work. As he loaded his daughter's bags into the back of the truck, he told her,"I got to stop on the way home to talk to a friend of mine. He's a genius. He knows all about growing vegetables. "
The immigrant father and his young American daughter drove home from the train station, passing through areas more and more thinly dotted with housed and giving way to fields of planted vegetables. As the father was driving, he saw an old man with wild hair and rumpled clothing in one of the fields by the side of the road. The father slowed down his pickup truck and pulled over to the side of the road.
"Here he is!!!" said the young girl's father This is the guy who taught me all about growing vegetables. You gotta meet him!!"
The girl and her father got out of the pickup truck. The pleasure of meeting his good friend lent a spring to the step of the Greek farmer. "Al !! Good to see ya! This is my daughter. She's back from college. Mary, this is my buddy Al. He's taught me a lot about growing the vegetables. Look at that zucchini. And those tomatoes. Boy I tell you, this guy is a genius."
Mary looked on in speechless amazement as she watched her father talk with his friend, whose accent and distinctive appearance left little doubt about his identity. During a lull in the conversation, the girl interjected with deferential embarassment.
"I'm very sorry about my father", she stammered . He has no idea who you really are, Dr. Einstein".
Dr. Einstein, or "Al" smiled at her embarassment and replied, "Your father is a very smart man, he knows a lot about growing things."
Mary left New Jersey with a valuable glimpse of a man placed on a pedestal of genius who in his private life never lacked teachers. Dr. Einstein the teacher always remained Al the gardener. Even in areas that lent no lustre to his public persona he had a desire to learn and exchange knowledge.

***************** ******************* *********************
Ben Zoma says:
Who is wise?
The one who learns from every person...
Who is brave?
The one who subdues his negative inclination...
Who is rich?
The one who is appreciates what he has...
Who is honored?
The one who gives honor to others...
(Talmud - Avot 4:1)

Story only Copyright 2008 by Magdeburger Joe of and Quotation from Ethics of the Fathers Chapter 1 Einstein videos from youtube

Neville Chamberlain Quotations (Does he sound like a liberal democrat?)

How horrible, fantastic, incredible, it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas-masks here because of a quarrel in a faraway country between people of whom we know nothing.

In war, whichever side may call itself the victor, there are no winners, but all are losers.

We should seek by all means in our power to avoid war, by analysing possible causes, by trying to remove them, by discussion in a spirit of collaboration and good will.

************** *************** ********************

This is the British Prime Minister who preceded Winston Churchill. He went to Munich, and came back with a proud announcement of "peace in our time" concluded with "Chancellor Hitler".
This peace was paid for with territorial concessions at the expense of Czechoslovakia. History records that Hitler ended up taking not just the Sudetenland, but all of Czechoslovakia as well. This was then a prelude to the fall of Europe to Nazism.
***************** ************** *************************

An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last. (Winston Churchill)

What lessons does the history of Europe on the eve of war have for us today?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Washington Post Covers The Obama Campaign

According to an article in today's Washington Post, volunteers for the Obama presidential campaign are running into a grass roots racism that is highly disconcerting and largely unreported.
'I'll never vote for a black person,' ", and "Hang that darky from a tree!"are among some of the more offensive remarks reported .Documentary film maker Rory Kennedy (of the Kennedy political clan) reported one reaction from a white voter that summarised a common note in the undercurrent of white opposition to Obama. "White people look out for white people, and black people look out for black people."
The only reliable test for the attitudes of the American electorate is the actual vote count on election day. In the series of primaries and caucuses across America, Obama has almost secured the Democratic nomination. Some of his older voters probably remember being required by law to sit at the back of the bus. That it is possible for an African American to be president is something of which our country should be proud.
The article focused on some of the most raw manifestations of bigotry. It neglects to mention that Obama victories in one primary after another would not be possible without the support of millions of white voters. It also ignores the support Obama gets among African Americans of well over 90%. It appears that the need to transcend issues of race might also exist in the African American communities at least as much as among white voters.
Racism is a disease of thinking that can afflict African Americans as well as whites or Asians. In New York where I live, there are common areas where all are equally safe. There are areas where Blacks are not safe. And there are areas where whites are certainly not safe. A part of living in the city is knowing where you have to be on high alert, and where you can relax. I routinely ride dollar vans in Brooklyn. Their existence is a text book example of the underground economy filling a need not well filled by government. I had one incident where a driver refused to move unless I got off the van. For the sake of my fellow riders , I got off, but there was no protest on my behalf. More than once I saw a tee shirt that had a captioned picture of O.J. Simpson before his criminal trial. The slogan underneath read ""Guilty or innocent, he's still my hero."During the Crown Heights riots, I had my windows broken along with many other Jews. These incidents do not dominate my thinking. They do however educate me about racist thinking. No one of any race should have to look at their skin and realise that it has become the uniform of an enemy.
I am concerned about the marked differences in voting habits between Black and white voters. Something tells me that the need to transcend race as an issue in voting behavior does not only apply to white voters. I do not count on the Washington Post to give balanced coverage to this real undercurrent in American politics. For their own reasons, they seem to be lobbying for an Obama victory by playing on white guilt. The picture presented by the major networks and newspapers has become too different from reality. It is for this reason that talk radio is gaining widespread support,and the readership of the major newspapers is evaporating into the blogosphere.
For prejudice to take the leap from snobbery to hatred, there must be fear. Fear of crime, fear of gentrification, fear for one's job security all play out in different contexts, spawning different forms of bigotry among different ethnic communities. We need to listen to each other. Instead of assembling the most virulent displays of bigotry among white voters, the Washington Post could facilitate dialogue and a more nuanced understanding of the American electorate.
The Washington Post ignores the shift in America's racial attitudes that have given strength to Obama's campaign. Numbers don't lie. The delegate counts tell a story. Newspaper circulation statistics tell a story too. The Washington Post and the New York Times have suffered a big drop in circulation. Before the internet and before the rise of talk radio, people had no choice but to trust the major newspapers and the major networks. Those days are over. People have a choice.
We vote for president every four years. When we go to the news stand, we vote every day. And that is an election to watch.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Dignity of Labour, Living Wage and a Hechsher Tsedek

In many ways, Israel is paying for mistakes made by the Zionist movement years before the founding of the Jewish state. America is repeating some of these concerns and it concerns me. When I walk through Brooklyn and parts of New York , I frequently see help wanted signs in Spanish without an English translation.When I point it out to people, they shrug their shoulders and ask rhetorically , "Would YOU work at those wages?" The same conversations take place in Israel concerning Arab labour. A large part of difficulties in the Holy Land are with Arabs who were brought in to do work that should be considered noble. They later on became a permanent and hostile presence in our midst. Some of the secular Zionists emphasised the dignity of labour, and the importance of every type of honest work. Masonry and other construction trades are skilled professions that are a stronghold of Arabs who harbour no deep love for Jews. Let's be blunt. Not every Jew is cut out to be a rabbi or a doctor. The Mishna deals in good part with agricultural trade.
I have worked in places where I found out that my co-workers were illegal. They were hard workers and decent people confined to a poorly paid section of the labour market due to their lack of English language skills. These people put all their spare money into remittances to far away families in South America and even Asia. The hardship of being away from their families is to me unthinkable. In America, they serve the function of driving down the cost of hourly labour. It would be far kinder to promote consumerism, economic and infrastructural development in their home countries than to use these immigrants to push down the cost of labour in America. Greedy bosses and politicians building a base of liberal voters for future elections seem to be promoting this flood of chaotic legal and illegal immigration. There are countries in Europe that birth rates that are below replacement level. Their aging population finds that it needs enough workers paying into the system to support pensioners. The only solution they have been able to find is to import workers. Arab North Africans have in France, Belgium and many other European countries become an angry minority that has no interest in joining the European cultural mainstream.
The lessons are obvious for America and for Israel. Raising large families has an economic benefit in keeping a system like Social Security solvent. Well paid workers can spend more time with their families. Workers who are cheap replacements know it and resent it. If you are going to hire an immigrant, pay him wages that would attract a citizen. A connection to the world through a steady stream of immigration is something Israel and America share. Both countries, however are tied together by their respective national languages that enable citizens to transcend significant ethnic divisions and build a sense of common peoplehood. There is nothing dishonourable in setting some parameters to our concept of nationality.
A birth rate that will replenish and increase the population in America and Israel is crucial to the survival of both countries. It is considered to be in the national interest to stabilise crop prices such as corn and raw materials such as crude petroleum, iron and copper. Labour is a commodity too. It is in the national interest here and in Israel to protect the value of labour.
Outside the orthodox Jewish community has come the hechsher tsedek movement. The idea is that the treatment of workers should be a factor when purchasing anything from clothing to food. I worked years ago for a kosher food wholesaler who employed almost no Jews in positions involving physical labour, paying pennies above minimum wage and demanding long hours of work. It was hard and demanding work. The irony was not lost on me that management was dependent upon orthodox Jews for its customer base but employed almost no Jews of any sort outside of management and clerical staff. To this day, almost twenty years later, I will not use that food from that company in my home. Because of their oppressive labour policies and family planning laws involving forced abortion, I avoid buying goods from communist China whenever possible.
An orthodox Jew who has created jobs, especially if he is running a large factory or plant has the opportunity to contribute to creating an ideal society. I have worked for people who consult their faith in the treatment of their workers. I consider myself fortunate to be currently employed by such an individual.
The proper attitude a worker to an employer should be that of striving for his or her success as it were one's own. Class warfare has no place in a Jewish value system.
The problems of at risk children cannot be separated from an economy in which husband and wife must work to tread water. Family values means protecting the economic well being of the family. Advocating for the well being of workers and the concept behind a hechsher tsedek movement should have a prominent place in orthodox Jewish values.
My grandfather worked for years in a cement quarry. He was a bricklayer and cut stones by hand to build a house for his family. With a fourth grade education, his innate sense of decency precluded any espousal or practice of bigotry. I speak of him proudly in my home as a role model of what a Jew should strive for. We should not need to look outside the orthodox world to validate the dignity of labour. It is a Jewish concept. And its time has come.
Copyright 2008 By Magdeburger Joe of and,. Picture by Ben Shahn of blessed memory

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Obama and Hamas Presidential aspirant Barack Hussein Obama is really on a roll. James Earl Carter, our nation's 39th president and Jane Fonda now have to make space on the campaign bandwagon for a new supporter of the surging campaign for an Obama nation. Ahmed Youssef , a top political adviser to Hamas has given his unequivocal endorsement to Barack Obama "We like Mr. Obama, and we hope that he will win the elections," Mr Youssef said in an interview with John Batchelor of WABC and the World Net Daily
"I hope Mr. Obama and the Democrats will change the political discourse. ... I do believe [Obama] is like John Kennedy, a great man with a great principal. And he has a vision to change America to make it in a position to lead the world community, but not with humiliation and arrogance," said Yossef in his interview from Gaza City.
Predictably, Obama has condemned John McCain for running a smear campaign in an interview with Wolf Blitzer of CNN.
“I’ve said it’s a terrorist organization and we should not negotiate with them unless they recognize Israel, renounce violence, and unless they are willing to abide by previous accords between the Palestinians and the Israelis. So for him to toss out comments like that I think is an example of him losing his bearings as he pursues this nomination. We don’t need name calling in this debate." Mr Obama said in his interview with Blitzer on CNN.
Unfortunately for Obama, Youssef is quoted as saying in the Batchelor interview as follows " I understand American politics and this is the season for elections and everybody tries to sound like he's a friend of the Israelis ... so whatever [the] Israelis didn't like they will take from all those candidates."
It is completely legitimate to look at the friends of a candidate in deciding for whom to vote. Obama has a disturbing habit of distancing himself from embarrassing company only when the glare of publicity becomes too costly in potential votes. It is common and proper for candidates to promise that they will stay away from negative campaigning. In the past, this has meant refraining from personal attacks on the candidate and his family. It is troubling that a look at Obama's list of supporters provokes such a defensive response from Obama and his campaign. The American people deserve a comprehensive treatment of Obama's political record and associations.
Hamas is an organisation that is extremely conservative in its attitudes towards sexuality. It derives its political platform from the Koran, which is vehemently anti homosexual. Despite this , they are supporting a candidate who has taken public positions in favour of gay rights, hardly an issue that would be popular among Hamas supporters. Additionally, according to Islamic law, as the son of a Muslim father, he is according to Sharia or Islamic law a Muslim. Since he is practicing Christianity, that might make him an apostate according to at least some interpretations of Sharia .
Why is Hamas so willing to overlook Obama's support of what is according to them an abomination? Why do they overlook the possibility that he is really a Muslim who left the faith?
What would they get from an Obama presidency? If it will help destroy Israel and kill Jews, anything can be forgiven, even if it is against the Koran.
Copyright 2008 by Magdeburger Joe of and

Shabbos Thoughts of the Animal Kingdom

During shabbos, one of my children raised a question that has been asked many times before.
"Why can't we have a dog?" Since the family is split on the issue, we have by default remained bereft of a canine presence. Many(though not all) orthodox families frown on dog ownership. It deepens my appreciation of human nature to see the spectrum of emotions and temperament refracted through the prism of species that are not human. Dogs have guarded, guided and assisted their owners for thousands of years. But owning a dog in the city imposes responsibilities upon its caretaker and the stress of close quarters.
My wife mentioned a point that resonated with me for most of Shabbos. She expressed the opinion held by some that non kosher species of animals can model undesirable traits to the people among whom they live. I asked her for a specific example. She pointed out that non kosher animals will reject their own offspring if it has been handled by a human, but kosher animals will continue to nurse their young to maturity. Having owned rats, mice and gerbils, I know that you are not supposed to touch the baby animals before they are weaned. This is also true of birds that have fallen too soon from the nest.
As the hours of shabbos passed, my wife's words continued to echo in my thoughts. I have thank G-d a few children, some of whom are now married. The topic of "at risk" children is on everyone's mind. The world is a far tougher place to raise children than when I was young. The problems of drugs, depression and promiscuity that plague the "outside" world are hitting religious communities as well.
There is a midrash that says that animals would provide instructive lessons to people even if the Torah had not been given. Ants model cooperative behavior, cats model modesty and dogs loyalty. Reflecting upon nature provides many metaphors for enhancing our lives. As a child, I considered the dog to be a member of our family. The idea of learning from an animal is not at all strange to me.
My thoughts shifted back to years of fatherhood. They shifted to my hopes and fears for my children. Is my door open? Is my heart open? Some children fall from the figurative nest. Do we pick them up and bring them home? Or do we reject them.? Some who claim to be children of Abraham have answered that question in chilling fashion with disownment and honour killings .
Spring is unfolding around us. The branches that are sprouting fresh leaves. The trees of the city bear a years new nests. Eggs are hatching and some birds are falling before their time. My wife's words give meaning to the sounds and sights of spring. They shape the whole vibrant picture into a personal metaphor.
As a teenager, I saw the Berlin Wall when visiting the city of my father's birth. The communist government spared no expense in setting up a high tech prison wall with mines and free fire zones. Many had been shot and killed trying to escape. Behind the wall was drab and austere city, clean yet dour. For years before Islamic honour killings became a common topic of conversation, there was the Berlin Wall. To me, the lessons are obvious. Honour killings and countries that seal their citizens behind borders that resemble prisons are unwilling to face the ugliness that drives their people away. Instead of creating beauty, they imprison their population, creating a grudging loyalty grounded in fear.
Outside my door, the sounds of the city mask the sounds of nature in the trees above. Every spring, the eggs of the city's birds hatch. By fall, they have left empty nests behind them. The sun of a long shabbos afternoon is approaching the tree tops . Thinking of Berlin, many years ago, and thinking of birds fallen from the nest, I watch my children play.
Copyright 2008 By Magdeburger Joe of and

Friday, May 9, 2008

A Song for May 9

This year, May 9, follows right after Israeli Memorial Day and Israeli Independence Day. It is a time to think of the gifts and sacrifices of those to whom Tom Brokaw spoke of as "The Greatest Generation". Mark Bernes was a famous Jewish singer from Odessa, a city by the Black Sea with a cosmopolitan reputation. The video above, Tsyomnaya Noc and the video below have disturbing wartime images. Tsyomnaya Noch is a famous love song produced during the war years that speaks in the voice of a soldier longing for his beloved. The images below are from the siege of Leningrad, which lasted over two and a half years. To this day Tsomnaya Noch remains a beloved classic in the Russian language. Let us hope that the suffering of the sort portrayed in both videos will give way to a peaceful world

Thursday, May 8, 2008

On Lubavitch and Boycotts

To the right of my desktop is this week's copy of Mishpacha magazine. I am in the middle of yet another one of their fascinating articles. According to, I should boycott them because of criticisms of Lubavitch by a Rabbi Belsky that appeared in last week's Mishpacha English edition.
I read Rabbi Belsky's criticism. I live in Crown Heights and am exposed to a a spectrum of Lubavitch opinions. Though I am independent in my Orthodox Jewish orientation, Rabbi Belsky's opinions bother me. There are many who proudly describe themselves as Lubavitch who bear no resemblance to his description of a cultish bunch. Though extremist behavior needs to be understood and criticised, I wonder why Rabbi Belsky has painted his picture of Lubavitch with such a broad brush.
I am nevertheless troubled by the calls for a boycott of Mishpacha. Newspapers and magazines often become a flag of political loyalty instead of a source of information. I travel in circles where most of my friends share my political and religious opinions. One way I can go beyond my immediate circle is at the news stand. Mishpacha and Yated Neeman, (to choose two examples) represent strains of opinion not often voiced in my circle of friends. By reading their coverage of Torah and current events, I gain a sense of the opinion prevailing in the communities they represent. When I boycott them, I objectify and distance myself from other Jews.
Lubavitch did a great deal of work disseminating Torah teachings underground in the former Soviet Union. I have observed that this crucial contribution, at the cost of many lives has been systematically ignored by many historians and authors outside of Lubavitch. The Soviet authorities did similar violence to historical integrity in their treatment of history for reasons that were likewise political. I mention this simply to point out that orthodoxy outside of Lubavitch needs to listen to Lubavitch history and opinion.
There is a time and place for boycotts. For print media, such measures should be an extreme last resort. I do not believe such conditions exist now. I do not need a Hamas suicide bomber to tell me that we are one people. Many Jewish heads in Auschwitz were shorn of both fashion haircuts and long side curls. The generation that survived Auschwitz and Treblinka is sadly leaving us with the passage of time. I intend to honour their memory by striving to create a Jewish unity in love that they only experienced in torture and degradation. I am boycotting factionalism. I am boycotting needless hatred. Am Yisrael Ani ohev otchem !!! Am Yisrael, I love you!!
Copyright 2008 by Magdeburger Joe of and

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Good News From Crown Heights

A suspect has been apprehended in the attempted rape of a young African American girl in Crown Heights , Brooklyn. The story reprinted from the website is printed below in its entirety. The site is a fine site for information about the Jewish community in Crown Heights that is often lost in the superficial and sometimes biased coverage found elsewhere. Many people talk about integration, racial harmony and coexistence. It is studied and debated from afar. In Crown Heights , real people make it happen. It's a work in progress by people who live here and want it to work. With all of its big city stress, it's a fine place. I'm proud and glad to live here.

By Aliza Karp

* On Thursday evening May 2nd, a girl was walking from the subway station and forced at knifepoint to enter an apartment building. * Leonid Chaim Yavich frightened off the assailant and called 911. "At first I chased the criminal," said Yavich. "I realized I could not catch him, so I went back and waited with the girl. * Yavich was a member of a Crown Heights patrol group known as Shmira.

On Thursday evening May 2nd, a girl was walking from the subway station and forced at knifepoint to enter an apartment building where she was taken to the top of the stairwell. She screamed for help as the perpetrator began to prepare for a heinous crime. The building, in Crown Heights, is home to a mixture of predominately Black residents, and a few Chassidic Jews. The screams were heard by a Chassidic man living on the top floor.

Well aware that he would be intervening in a scenario outside of his own culture and therefore could be risking his own life, he took his phone in hand and ventured out to trace the screams. Announcing first "Are you in need of assistance?" Leonid Chaim Yavich frightened off the assailant and called 911. "At first I chased the criminal," said Yavich. "I realized I could not catch him, so I went back and waited with the girl. She was hysterical. The police came quickly. A detective called me the next day to confirm the details. He was very emotional when he told me that I literally saved the girl." Both the assailant and the victim were Black.

Until recently, when he had to step down for family reasons, Yavich was a member of a Crown Heights patrol group known as Shmira. Shmira has worked together with the police to keep the Crown Heights neighborhood safe for decades. Their goal is security. They assist all segments of the multi-cultured Crown Heights community. "Despite my desire to help a person in distress, if not for my years of training and experience with Shmira, I would have hesitated to act in such a precarious situation in the middle of the night," admits Yavich.

Jewish community leaders are wondering if the rescue of a black girl by a Shmira member will change the perspective of Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes who has recently compared Shmira to Bloods and Crips - violent gangs that threatened area of Los Angeles in the 60's and 70's. "Here we have a clear case of a potential rapist operating at knife point and a Black victim who was saved because of Shmira.

We expect Mr. Hynes to give praise when praise is due and show support for Jews who protect the community. Shmira Patrol is an asset to Crown Heights' entire multi-ethnic composition," commented Rabbi Leibish Nash, senior Member of the Board of the Crown Heights Jewish Community Council.

"While others may sit in their mono-ethnic neighborhoods and talk of love and unity – we in Crown Heights live side by side with our neighbors in our culturally diverse atmosphere. Our day to day life has long been cited as a model to the world as to how different peoples can co-exist harmoniously.

Unfortunately we do have incidents - in a big city they can be expected - but we know from experience that even those rare and tragic incidents are manageable. Shmira has been an integral part of keeping the peace in their program of working together with the NYPD. This latest example this past Thursday that certainly saved one 17 year old Black girl from being violated at knifepoint will surprise no one who lives here."

The general media was quick to pick up on the story of alleged attack on a black male by Chassidic youth. It is yet to be seen if the media will consider it newsworthy to print about a Chassidic man saving the dignity and sanity and possibly the very life of a black girl.

A suspect has been apprehended and Javitz has received a Subpeona to appear in front of a Grand Jury on Thursday May 8th. It is hoped that once there are charges, that the general media will praise the Jewish man who risked his life to save a black girl with at least as much coverage as they condemned the Jewish youth who allegedly skirmished with a black youth.

In an Emergency always call Crown Heights Shmira at 718-221-0303 (Including Shabbos and Yom Tov, do not hesitate to call!).

Shmira is asking community residents to support Shmira and its dedicated work. Please send your tax deductable donation to:

Crown Heights Shmira
383 Kingston Ave.
Suite # 44
Brooklyn NY 11213

To Donate by credit card call the Shmira Hotline at 718-221-0303

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Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Crown Heights Shmira Stops An Armed Robbery and a Rape

The Crown Heights Shmira, or security patrol has been in the news a lot lately. In a widely reported story, the son of a New York City police officer blames an incident in which he was allegedly beaten and sprayed with mace on unidentified members of Shmira.
In an infamous statement reported in the New York Jewish week, Brooklyn District Attorney Charles (Charlie)Hynes likened the Shmira patrol to the Crips and the Bloods, two infamous street gangs.
Hynes,who is elected to his position by popular vote has been accused by some of pandering for votes by racing to judgement against the Shmira patrol, and even threatening the rare step of convening a grand jury with sweeping subpoena powers.
Two recent incidents where African American crime victims were aided by Shmira complicate considerably efforts to portray Shmira as a lawless street gang. The first incident occurred around midnight on April 22, on Maple Street between Albany and Troy Avenues. Members of Shmira noted that a car service driver was carrying two passengers, one of whom had a gun to the head of the driver. The driver, fearful for his life managed to push open the door next to him and to jump out of the car. Shmira members grabbed him as his driverless car collided with parked vehicles. The priority of Shmira was to remove the driver from danger. With this objective, they brought him to the 71st Precinct, where with fortunately minor injuries he gave a report to police.
The second and more recent incident took place on the night on May 2. A young African American woman was coming out of the subway alone. She was forced at knifepoint to accompany her attacker to an apartment building when she was forced into a stairwell. She screamed for help as the attacker attempted to remove her jeans. Among the residents of the building, which is racially mixed was a member of Crown Heights Shmira. Hearing her screams, he grabbed his cell phone and traced the source of the screams. As he did so, he yelled,"Are you in need of assistance?" The assailant was frightened off, with the lone Shmira member in persuit. Realising that he could not catch the criminal, he returned to look after the victim, who was hysterical. The Shmira member quickly called 911. The police arrived quickly and took a complaint in the still open investigation. A detective who called the Shmira member the next day thanked him for arriving in time to save the girl from further harm.
New York City has five Boroughs. Each Borough has a District Attorney, of Which Charles Hynes is one. Hynes has the dubious distinction of heading the District Attorney's office with one of the lowest conviction rates in the state. New Yorkers struggle with a violent crime problem which seems to be rising again after a long standing downward trend under former Mayor Rudolf Giuliani. Stories involving racial tension have proven to be a time tested way of mobilising an apathetic electorate. Unfortunately, playing the crowd as Hynes does so adeptly does little to lighten the burden of beleaguered Brooklynites. Shmira has proven to be active in addressing these problems, as can be seen from the above noted incidents. Treating them as a street gang will provide little support to those who must return from Brooklyn subway stations.
Brooklyn police and people deserve a District Attorney who is fighting crime and not playing an audience. There is a real fear of rising crime that is gripping our city. Let's work together to fight it together.
Copyright 2008 by Magdeburger Joe

Monday, May 5, 2008

Israel's 60th Anniversary. May It Be Yet Happy

I look with a mixture of intense emotions at Israel's upcoming 60th anniversary. The refuge provided for Jews fleeing countries where they were in danger, the miraculous victories with G-d's help and against all odds are high points in the modern history of our Holy Land.
But I read with sadness of the expulsion of Jews from Gush Katif, and their horrible treatment of its former residents since then. These are people who had brought millions of shekels in taxes and foreign exchange into the Israeli economy. These are people who we now see in sad and bloody retrospect contributed immeasurably to security in the Holy Land.
I recoiled in horror from a headline in the Jewish Herald that Ehud Olmert has made progress , G-d forbid in reaching an agreement with Syria in which Israel would cede the Golan Heights to Syria.
In many synagogues, a prayer for the welfare of the State of Israel is said every Shabbos.
My prayer is this. May G-d protect our Holy Land. May He watch over its people and its soldiers who stand in its defense. May G-d watch over its Torah Scholars and those who defend our land with their prayers. We thank you G-d for the miracles that you have shown and through which you have defended us. We thank you for the righteous among the nations that have stood with us against vilification and treachery. Save us G-d from our enemies and from our government.May a day speedily come when such tearful prayers not be offered. May a day come that we stand not divided into our own foolish will by political party and level of piety. May the day speedily come when we stand divided according to your will behind tribal flags.
This prayer is said with love for You, G-d and for the land you have given us as well as each other. It is said with sadness that we have been forced to take lives in our defense and with greater sorrow that we face an enemy that sacrifices its own children.
May this day soon be a day of true joy. May we act in the future according to Your will so that we no longer need be rescued from ourselves as well as our enemies. We thank you for this anniversary and for every day in our Holy Land, which we see as a gift from You
Copyright 2008 by Magdeburger Joe

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Jews From Arab Countries in Israel

A recurring refrain in Arab attacks on Israel is that Arabs are being made to pay for Europe's sins against Jews. Israel has a large population of Jews from Arab countries, who could answer such accusations forcefully. Jews did not come from Arab countries to Israel in a calm and ordered manner. "Farhud" is the Arab word for pogrom, and it was a recurring theme in the Middle East of the 1940's, before the founding of the State of Israel. Jewish refugees from Europe were joined by one million Jews forced out of Arab countries between 1948 and 1955. In Egypt, Iraq, Syria and other Arab countries, Jews suffered from social and statutory inequality.I have since coming to New York met a Tunisian Jew who was on a forced labour battalion, a man whose mother wore a yellow star in Morocco, and the son of a man who survived the pogrom in Hebron in 1929. There is no doubt in my mind that such stories could fill a thick book with a picture of the Jerusalem Mufti visiting Auschwitz on the front cover.
Also overlooked by Israel's leadership is the linguistic and cultural familiarity that Israel's Jews from Arab countries have with Muslims and Christians in the region. There are nuances to communication style that are lost in translation between predominantly Ashkenazic negotiators and their Arab counterparts. Jews from Arab countries have much to contribute to diplomacy and governance.
Together, Ashkenazim and Sephardim as well as Jews from the Arab world can represent Israel's cause with far greater effectiveness than is currently the case. Some of Israel's finest intelligence coups involved effective use of the knowledge of Arab Jews. When an Arab spokesman issues a specious statement about European Jews colonising "Palestine", he should get a stinging rebuttal from a Sefardi member of Israel's ethnic rainbow.
Together as one, Israel can with G-d's help advocate for an defend itself much better than it does at this time. At this critical time in its history, Israel needs all of its people, and all of their knowledge
Copyright 2008 by Magdeburger Joe

Friday, May 2, 2008

Jews Fighting Israel, History Repeats Itself

In a sickening display of treachery, a group of British Jews piously proclaimed that they would not be celebrating Israel's 60th anniversary. The letter gave a one sided account of Arab displacement by Jews that totally omitted any mention of Jews who were displaced from Arab countries in almost identical numbers.
The letter concludes "We cannot celebrate the birthday of a state founded on terrorism, massacres and the dispossession of another people from their land. We cannot celebrate the birthday of a state that even now engages in ethnic cleansing, that violates international law, that is inflicting a monstrous collective punishment on the civilian population of Gaza and that continues to deny to Palestinians their human rights and national aspirations."
It totally omits mention of the fact that Jews left countries in which they were treated as enemy aliens after centuries of living there. Iran, Iraq and Yemen for instance had Jewish communities going back 2000 years that were uprooted by governments that routinely accused them of Zionist sympathies. Additionally, it assigned to them a legally binding subordinate or "dhimmi" status.
Jewish refugees who streamed into Israel in the late 1940's were absorbed by a government that was fighting for it physical existence against enemies determined to destroy it. Arabs who fled what is now Israel during hostilities in the region have since then been kept in a physical and legal limbo of refugee camps. Their legal status in Lebanon, Jordan and other countries in the region has been that of aliens.
Greece, Turkey and Germany all had comparable situations of conflicts with neighbours in which they ended up receiving civilian refugees of their own ethnicity. Like Israel did in 1948, they absorbed and integrated large numbers of refugees into their societies, where they live as citizens with their neighbours and not in refugee camps.
There is ample precedent in international law for a state providing a haven to members of its own ethnic group. The concept, known as "jus sanguinis" predates the foundation of the State of Israel by centuries. The signatories to the letter to the Guardian should be ashamed of themselves for their tendentious and willful omissions of facts and legal precedents.
During the 1932 elections in Germany, there was a group of right wing assimilated Jews known as the "Verband Nationaldeutsche Juden" who supported Hitler and were dismissive of his stated hostility to Jews. They maintained that it was the "Ostjuden" or Polish Jews living in Germany who were giving them a bad name. By 1938, during Kristallnacht, members of the Verband Nationaldeutsche Juden quickly found out that they were no different from Polish Jews living in Germany as far as the Nazis were concerned.
In our generation, we have Jews in full costume going to Iran to meet Ahmadinejad and praise Arafat. We also have Jews such as those who signed the disgraceful letter in the Guardian.
They deserve the same contempt as the Verband Nationaldeutsche Juden of the 1930's. They should examine a full and fair history of events in the Middle East before publicly supporting such an unfair and inaccurate letter as was printed in the Guardian over their names.

Copyright 2008 bt Magdeburger Joe Thankyou to