Thursday, May 31, 2007

Sonny Liston, The Sequel:

by: Schvach Yid

Well, they’re back. The old guard is headed for the ring again - Shimon Perez and Ehud Barak.
You remember that the current champ, Kadima, was founded by one of the same crowd, Ariel Sharon, and that Yitzhak Rabin, may he rest in peace, said something to the effect that Israel had to give peace a chance – some philosophy from a man who certainly knew that Israel’s military victories were the only factor that obviated a sequel to the holocaust. The stage was set years before by Menachem Begin, who grandiosely proclaimed ‘everything is negotiable’. Truncated memories.

Since Israel’s declaration of statehood, the Arabs have been playing rope-a-dope games with Israel. Israel, it seems, just doesn’t get it. Peace is not, and never has been, on the negotiation table. There never has been a negotiation table. Unlike the government of the former North Vietnam in the 1970’s, there isn’t even a negotiation to establish the physical plan of a proposed negotiation table. Get it? The Arabs want Israel out. Period. No peace. No Israel. Yitzhak in kever. Yishmail basks in the sun.

Along with this is the popular opinion of the international community. It goes something like this. Jews are white (not true) and therefore, so is Israel (not true). Israel isn’t Asian, it’s European (not true). The Arabs, on the other hand, are brown skinned (some) third worlders. They are Asian, and therefore in need of help (a preposterous assertion). You know, they’re poor (I should be so impoverished), dirty (not true), illiterate (absolutely not true). And most of all, Israel is a throwback to European colonial imperialism, an oppressive anachronism that just shouldn’t be. The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, on the other hand, is not supposed to be viewed as some oppressive anachronism of European imperialism, in spite of the fact that it is.The UN and the EU both love Jordan and the Jordanian royal family. And just whom do the Hashemite rulers of Jordan oppress? Well, let’s see. The Palestinian Arabs, for one, and Israel, for another.

Israel, I’m sorry to say, does its little part to support the war of opinion and propaganda that’s waged against it. I think it has something to do with that insufferable Israeli penchant for feeling superior and for condescension. Yup, the Israelis love to toot their horn. Don’t you remember that public relations debacle launched by Israel on American TV, something like: ‘let Israel do your thinking for you, we’re smart’ (I can’t quote that TV commercial, but it was class A offensive, and wrong; thankfully, I saw it only once). It’s self destructive, but makes for a good momentary fix, an attempt at avoidance of their real problem - the prospect of annhilation. The problem is, the moment is now in its sixth decade, and there’s no longer a place to put the fix.

What now? That’s the dilemma. Israel needs a change of strategy, and has none, while its Arab neighbors, and the rest of the international community wait, like scavengers licking their chops.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Queen of Judaism

by Schvach Yid

In Judaism, estrogen frequently trumps testosterone. It seems that every time women bench candles, I don’t get to put on tefillin the following morning. But men get to put on tefillin, and women don’t, one might retort. Okay. Take the kabbalistic view. STAM is a frequently applied acronym for Sefer Torah, Tefillin, and Mezuzah which constitute the 3 instruments of holy parchments on which the soferim (scribes) convey HaShem’s revelation, and from which we borrow kiddusha. These are assigned, according to some kabbalistic teachings, an obvious connotation, whereby the sefer torah is analogized to the female genitals, and tefillin, which are two in number and are carried in a bag, and the mezuzah are likened to the male. Judaism, with its emphasis on tznius (modesty) is not too loud about this teaching, but the analogy is obvious. After all, the sefer torah suggests in its appearance the female. It is an honor for a man to be called to the torah, and this honor goes exclusively to men. The one who receives this aliyah (ascent) spreads apart the two scrolls of the sefer torah, kisses the exposed parchment, and thanks Gd by reciting a brocha (blessing). To call a woman to the torah suggests homosexuality, which is forbidden by torah. Additionally the sefer torah is deemed to be the means by which Gd’s Divine Presence, the Shechinah, makes itself manifest. We are taught by the sages of Kabbalah that the Shechinah is HaShem’s female attribute which rests over the aron kodesh in which the sefer torah reposes.

So too is Shabbos analogized to a female, a bride, and one’s wife is analogized to a queen, and let's not omit that most important aspect of a Jewish woman's significance - it is through her that Judaism is inherited. The Jewish woman is literally the generator of new Jews, and not in the sense of functioning as a 'baby machine'
as some would rudely put it.

Halacha certainly does subordinate a wife to her husband in the matter of divorce, but otherwise, the family and home are hers, from the public doorway to the very private bedroom and everything in between. As far as I know, the wife rules the life of her family, the husband relegated to the role of a ‘gofor’. The wife, his queen, determines what is needed by her family, and hubby is obligated to come up with the cash needed to provide. The man’s central role in schul is not so much a matter of male dominance over female displacement, but rather constitutes compensation for his lack of standing in his wife’s home – his subordination to his wife’s prerogatives in the life of their family. This extends to all aspects of their shared domestic life, right into the bedroom. Work, the effort to earn one’s living, is a function of one’s family life which is directed by the wife, not the husband.

The husband’s relegation to schul is reminiscent of the gag from the old TV series ‘The Honeymooners’, where Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton were required to leave their homes (apartments) and retreat to their Lodge, with fez’s on their heads (not yumulkas), in order to feel like men.

Mikveh is another misunderstood aspect of living a life of torah. Women aren’t condemned to the mikveh any more than are men, who are required to immerse in the mikveh after every seminal emission. It's not that women are dirty but rather that marital relations require a tikun, in the form of mikveh, which is equally binding on both women and men. It’s the emission, whether menstrual or seminal, that counts. The husband has an additional tikun to make, in the form of davening Tikun Hatzot post midnight.

So what’s all the accusation about? Baby boys get circumcised and baby girls don’t? Thank Gd; baby girls have nothing to circumcise! Or perhaps it’s that only newborn boys are the recipients of the Shalom Zachar, a celebration by the men to welcome a newborn son into the kehilah, celebrated on the first Shabbos following his birth (not true – you should have seen the bash given by the Chabad House I attend to welcome a baby girl born this past week).

Perhaps it’s because women don’t get to deliver the derush in schul or get called to the torah. Schul isn’t the point. A community is permitted to sell its schul in order to raise funds to build a mikveh. It’s the home and family that count in Judaism, the place where the queen rules. Perhaps it wasn’t until the Jewish community’s abandonment of the frum life, in favor of emulating the larger Western society, that the schul became a synagogue or temple, which were given precedence over a Jew’s life at home, where the Jewish man is subordinate to his wife, as the ‘centerpiece’ of Jewish life.

The point is, in Judaism, the woman is no footstool. Her ot (sign), the benching of candles, out does his, and he takes that to schul.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Like, Hellooo…

by: Schvach Yid

I wish someone would explain the Middle East to me. In Lebanon they’re at each other’s throats again, and guess who’ll catch a not so humble pie in the face as a result. Of course, Israel will. And just what are Palestinian refugee camps doing in Lebanon, or on Israel’s West Bank (that’s right, Israel’s - Israel won the 1967 war, remember)? Why do Palestinian refugee camps exist at all? Why are the Palestinians refugees? They’re all easy to answer. Because the Palestinian Arabs were invented to exist as refugees!

Has anyone ever heard of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan – the Palestinian Homeland, as in the Palestinian State of Jordan? Jordan’s indigenous population is variously reported as ranging somewhere between 50% and 80% Palestinian Arab, depending on the source of information (very reliable, eh?). What’s the problem? How about the Jordanian royal family; you know, those devil-may-care above-it-all guys installed by Britain sometime during the 1920’s, when Great Britain chose to partition approximately 3/4 of its mandate of Palestine for the purpose of creating a national model (monument?) in the Middle East of England’s monarchal government, in the form of the Kingdom of Transjordan. Twenty some-odd years later the Yishuv asserted its interest over England’s with the establishment of the Jewish State of Israel, but Israel, ie., the Jews, has paid dearly ever since for England’s narcissistic exercise in nationalistic pride. The current Kingdom of Jordan is a throw back to the European nationalism that led to global European colonization and ultimately to the First and Second World Wars. It’s been more than half a century since the sun has set on the British Empire, but not in the Middle East, where the last foreign vestige of Britania’s rule of the waves persists in the form of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, and the Jordanian royal family.

And what of the worth of the Jordanian royal family, and specifically of the King of Jordan (oh oh, shades of Romanov)? They’re basically the Hiltons with well behaved kids. The British royal family, on which the Jordanian counterpart is based, could probably take a lesson from those polite Middle Easterners. I doubt the Arabs of England could stand up to the Jordanian royals in the realm of comportment.

And what about Jordan’s daddy royal, the son of Jordan’s dearly departed uber-royal - the late ‘great’ King Hussein of Jordan? Pixie kings, father and son, whose gaming hands offer the façade of peace makers,, while all the time seeking only self-interest and self-perpetuation (remember Jordan’s stand in the first Iraq war waged under the administration of daddy Bush?).

I have a good idea. That pixie king of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, the king of the Hashemites (who derive from Arabia, not the Levant) should update his royal resume, pack his pricey goodies, and move to the land of pixie kings and princes – Monaco. He’ll fit right in. He could even role play James Bond as he hangs out in the casinos and at the Monte Carlo Grand Prix (I wonder if he can peak one eyebrow as Sean Connery did?). Religion? So he’s not Catholic, just wealthy. In Monaco, that’s probably good enough, and I assume he already possesses a working knowledge of French. He’ll have a grand time, and the Palestinians can have Jordan. Voila! No more Arab terrorists, because now, the former terrorists would be considered special operations forces of the State of Palestine’s military, and no excuses! Israel could then fight a real war against its enemy, without the diplomatic horse baloney. Whatchya think?

Tomorrow’s erev yontuf. Hag Sameach!

Friday, May 18, 2007

by: Schvach Yid

It’s only the middle of May. We’re halfway between the Ides of March and my favorite holiday. Ruminations abound thanks to Yo Yenta’s blog about the election of Sarkosy, and with a liberal sprinkling of French (syntactically correct, I assume – she even knows fou) invoked thoughts of the not quite yet forthcoming celebration of revolt and revolution. It’s two months away and I’m foaming at the mouth. No, not one of the Jewish festivals on which occasion we greet one another with ‘Hag Sameach’. Nope! It’s the National Holiday of France, Bastille day.

I love Bastille Day, the celebration of July 14, 1789 when the everyman got to kick aristocratic keester by storming the French prison, The Bastille, to free his imprisoned compatriots, thus asserting the rights of the everyman over the prerogatives of kings (there’s only one King, and no mere human has any business usurping His place – right?). This event of human freedom somewhat conjures up the memory of the Haganah (or was it the Irgun?) attacking the old Turkish prison in Acco during the last stages of Britain’s Mandate over the Yishuv, an event depicted in the film version of ‘Exodus’.

Bastille Day, a great temper tantrum turned into a national observance, yielded chaos, which in turn brought ‘The Directorate’, which gave France Maximilien Robespierre’s ‘Reign of Terror’ and the famed guillotine. I abhor capital punishment and murder. The failure to show rachmonas and provide tzedakah were no excuse for separating heads from aristocratic necks. Robespierre’s sequel to Bastille Day provided only one favorable legacy – the legend of the Scarlet Pimpernel. The original literary piece wasn't published until 1905, and contains a hefty contribution to the annals of Jew hatred. I know of three cinematic treatments of this great classic (sans Jew hatred), and in each there occurs a great moment of revelation – Madame Blakeney’s discovery of the Scarlet Pimpernel’s true identity as her husband, the ostensibly limp-wristed fop, Sir Percy Blakeney. And of course, now is the time we Jews commemorate our great revelation from the Aybischter at Mt. Sinai, the giving of the Ten Commandment, the Aseres HaDibros, Shavuos.

So come Shavuos, we’ll all eat dairy. And this coming July 14th, do yourself a favor and take the day off. Pack a picnic basket. A bottle of wine (maybe French, but mevoshel), some semi-soft Normandy cheese (Camembert, Brie, Pont-L’eveque - kosher equivalents of course), and a loaf of bread(a baguette, the name of which reminds me of the name of Barak in the Book of Judges, which recalls the triumph of Jael over Sisera – talk about revolt – which in turn invokes the image of Eugene Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People– go Figa!). And bring your own knitting. You never know when you’ll run into a show. Hag sameach!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Methods of Manipulation for People With
Difficult Personalities

by: Schvach Yid

Well folks, it’s back to my former place of employment, that university campus somewhere in
America’s Bible Belt. The university has its own police department , and each year the cops
organize a little fete for the newly arrived students. The students are assigned the task of staging a public demonstration, 1960’s style I suppose, complete with picket signs. They’re required to snake their way across campus, chanting something or other, while the police – the university’s finest – march beside them, ostensibly in a mock show of keeping the peace, but in fact, putting on their display of authority. Talk about creating a hostile work environment, not to mention the delusional self-defeating nature of this exercise. The students, if anything, are not involved in a demonstration - there’s no rebellion to be found here – but the opposite, they are in an exercise of compliance with a requirement that has been imposed on them. And universities are supposed to be smart. Michael Moore, along with his camera crew, should catch this act. I can just picture the raves at
Cannes. Shades of old Bull Connor (get it –shades?).

Mom and dad shell out Gd knows how much moola so that the benefits of a university education might accrue to their kids and what do their kids get? – put in their places! And you should see this spectacle, every year, college-aged youngsters who have arrived on campus to study and succeed in life are marched around like prisoners in an exercise yard, as though they are the enemy. To ‘protect and serve’ might as well be changed to ‘comply or die’. Go ahead guys, put that on your license plates.

As I watched this annual disgrace, I harped back to a street scene I viewed from my parents’ living room window when I was in college. There, a mere two stories below on the sidewalk, I beheld an instructive sight. Two youths, I guessed of late high school age, had decided to use a parked car as their personal set of monkey bars. Along came a third youth of the same age, in a huff, who took issue with the two acrobats. Bingo – a fight, but thankfully, not much of one. Two against one, but no one got pummeled. Along swaggered the shop steward of machismo, spiffed up wannabe dandy style, walking a huskie (Alaskan, Siberian, what am I, a Westminster Kennel Club expert?). He intercalated himself between the two warring factions. Good move! He faced the lone pugilist, his back to the pair of provocateurs and spoke. The two sides continued to exchange assaults, but the one man Peace Corps blocked all the attempts of the lone protester to land a punch, while permitting his two opponents to land with success every punch they threw. Bad move! After a minute or two of this street theater the foursome plus dog parted ways. Evidently, no one was really hurt, except for the insult.

What does all this have to do with a Jewish blog? Are you kidding? Can one conjure up an analogy? Of course one can. How about Israel. Have you ever known or heard of a sovereign nation that is required to bow so low in obeiscence as is the Jewish State of Israel? Has any other nation in modern times ever been so isolated and set upon? Israel is hardly sovereign.It has been sculpted by its detractors as a terminal dependent , the world’s national welfare case, by international intent and design. The fact is the non-Jewish world can’t accept Jews or the Jewish State as winners. So be it. The hat in hand belongs on the kopf, and there’s no need to ask permission.

The behaviors of Israel’s leaders seem to play into the hands of the Jew haters, so here’s some advise from a blogger who knows absolutely nothing about foreign policy matters or international relations. It’s ‘policy decision making for dummies’. Here goes. First, when you fight, always fight to win. Second, when you win, keep whatever you gain. Three, don’t isolate your own constitutency. The Jewish State is for Jews. Want to call this bigotry? Fine. We’re bigots. Up theirs! I mean, really! You’d think that that international women’s coffee klatch held years ago by/at the UN would have had something else to raytz about other than Israel. Or Nelson Mandela, upon finally achieving his personal freedom (talk about not giving in) would have turned his political attention to fields other than Israel. Or Desmond Tutu. Go ahead, label me. Label us. But Israel, to kick Jews out of the West Bank in order to appease the international community of nations, from which Israel has been so obviously and blatantly excluded, is a policy decision worthy only of the dumbass who shoves an ice cream cone into his forehead. An ice cream cone into the forehead makes one look something like a unicorn. Unicorns are not Jewish. Israel is.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

A Death in the Family:

by: Schvach Yid

So, I’m slow on the uptake. I know it, but still, I love those moments of unexpected revelation. Not religious revelation mind you, only the likes of Moshe Rabbeinu are priviledged as the recipients of those. No, I refer to the plain old everyday stuff of common information. One day I wondered about a rabbi with whom I had been slightly acquainted. He was an old man, weak in voice and movement, a gentleman in his physical appearance. I last saw him at a Jewish book fair sometime in the early to mid 1990’s. I doubt he knew my name, but he certainly recognized me. He bolted straight, yanked his elbows just as straight, and with jerking movements of his hands so as to add the exclamation of a desperate gesticulation said ‘what do you want; why don’t you leave us alone already?’.

This Jewish gent, a leader of the local Jewish community, was none other than Rabbi Moshe Cahana, the one-time head of the Irgun’s intelligence operation in the Yishuv, Britain’s former Mandate of Palestine, the soon to become Jewish State of Israel. Providing one can locate a copy, just turn to page 108 of Menachem Begin’s autobiographical work ‘The Revolt’ (Nash Publishing, NY, 1977 revised) and Chaptzem read: ‘Of course our underground is open’, Cahana is reported to have said, ‘the darkest spot is right under the lamp’ (in this work he was called Meir Cahan/Alex). On the occasion of the book fair, I had run into someone when I encountered Rabbi Cahana. Upon hearing his remonstration I recited this quote to my acquaintance. The rabbi smiled and left me alone. Thank Gd!

What’s the big deal? Well, I just learned about Rabbi Cahana’s death – in 2004. Don’t you love it? I do! I love being on top of things. Three years late, minus one month. I’ve always envied people who seem to imbibe infogossip. They always seem to know it all, and they always appear to be right. Not me. This, I suppose, is the down side of leading a reclusive life.

Rabbi Cahana had significance, a Jew who loved Yiddishkeit and his fellow Jews. I remember his eulogy of a congregant who died suddenly and unexpectedly (in other words he had dropped dead, the result of long standing obesity). His words extolled the man’s virtues as a member of the Jewish community, and provided great comfort to his grieving widow. When any congregation was in need of a rabbi for any function, he was always eager to provide – a real mensch. He fought for Israel, married a holocaust survivor who became a known artist within Jewish circles, and spawned a son who is now a rabbi . Belated as this post is, the memorialization of this great Jew can never be out of place. ‘Behold, neither slumbers nor sleeps the Keeper of Israel. No kidding!

Sunday, May 13, 2007

I’m Glad Gaffe Isn’t Spelled Gaugh:

by: Schvach Yid

In a recent blog entitled ‘LA is Burning’, Tzvi Fishman, the writer of the ‘From Hollywood to the Holyland’ blog on Arutz Sheva (www.Israel National extolled his readers to ‘leave your shiksas and dogs’ and move to Israel. Why not hang a sign at the club that reads ‘Shiksas and dogs not welcome!’? Boo, Reb Fishman! The following day a woman calling herself ‘Shiksa’ and writing from LA responded in the comments section of the blog.

Now then, Moment Magazine, in its June 2006 issue, did a cover piece on the etymology

of this offensive term, which according to that article, derives from the Hebrew ‘shekketz’ meaning abomination (and perhaps taken from the same Hebrew root as ‘shikor’, meaning drunk, and as well as the Hebrew for ‘lie’). The lady who responded to Reb Fishman’s gaffe is no abomination, certainly not to the Jewish community. She stated in her comment that she is Christian and her husband Jewish, and that it is she who insists on providing their child with a Jewish upbringing, which includes a Jewish education and benching Shabbos candles. Evidently her Jewish husband has no appetite for Yiddishkeit. She has, and in light of her commitment to Judaism, she should probably be considered a ‘Daughter of Israel’, to use Reb Fishman’s phrase from his blog site. At least give her an award - and compliments , plenty of compliments. We Jews need all the friends we can get. This lady sounds precious - I hope she makes it official by converting to Judaism. A Jewel, I tell you. Maybe she'll take her Jewishly declining hubby to shul and arrange for the gabbai or rabbi to provide him with an aliyah. He’ll feel better about himself – emes! Let him toss out his beloved roll of duct tape and pick up a Chumash. Duct tape belongs around aluminum, not around a Yiddishe kopf. Kol hakavod, yasher koach, hazak v’brochot, and much more to this lady in LA.

I can’t say enough good things about her or wish her well enough. I could go on and on forever about this woman’s effort to bring Judaism into the life of her child – I mean it. Do you know how many Jews blow wind at our – their – religion. I knew a Jewish woman who, in the course of a conversation with me, piped in about Judaism as ‘that crap!’. No, I wasn’t selling; I never do. She would have nothing to do with it. She spoke and behaved like the recipient of the Shtetel Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award. One could have sworn (oops, sorry!) that she had spent her life in the tracks of an IB Singer story. But no. Judaism – foy! The commentator to Reb Fishman’s blog is the other side of the coin, a non-Jewish Jew. I think we should start a Jewish Hall of Fame and induct her as the charter honoree, no kidding. I hope she converts. The Kabbalists have written plenty on the subject of ‘lost souls’ and on the transmigration of souls. The birth of a non-Jew who then acquires a Jewish neshama has long been taught by these sages. What, one might ask, has happened to the neshamot of all those Yiddin whose lives were lost to Jew-hating mass violence? Can’t one suppose there’s a good reason for the tendency of some non-Jews who insist on their pursuit of Yiddishkeit? This lady in LA should not be doubted, and certainly not rejected, by us.

Talk about gaffes, several weeks ago David Halberstam was killed in an auto accident. Halberstam is an honored name in Chassidic circles, but I doubt this Halberstam was a chassid. He was well known as a journalist and writer, and had appeared on TV discussions and Interviews on numerous occasions. I first learned about his death courtesy of C-SPAN. Brian Lamb, the founder of C-SPAN, memorialized his colleague with a retrospective of Halberstam’s life and work. It began with a video of him in a discussion with 2 or 3 other notables, the
author David McCullough among them. David Halberstam was shown having one of those silly, spontaneous, effusively giddy logorrheic moments that most of us, I suppose, commit, and through which all who are around us at that moment suffer. He talked about two baseball players (don’t ask me who they were – I know zilch about sports), and proceeded to do his impersonation of the rhetorical skill of one of the two who was Black. Shut up Halb! Like all such flights of good judgment, this one stank. I think every one of us has had these transient episodes of brain death. I have, and I’ve always emerged from them with regret. I listened to this retrospective TV spectacle, felt embarrassed, and flipped to another channel. Who had decided/induced/obligated C-SPAN to memorialize this otherwise significant news contributor and analyst by displaying this segment of his clothesline? I wondered if C-SPAN had been obligated to do this. Paranoia kicked in. Paranoia is what I do best – it’s my version of free association. I thought of the news coverage of the murder of Bill Cosby’s son, supposedly by a drug dealer, a Russian. I wondered if the culprit was Jewish. More paranoid ruminations quickly followed – the 1991 Crown Heights
riot. Black dignitaries congregated for the press sporting Malcolm X baseball caps including, if I recall correctly, the then serving mayor of New York, His Honor Mayor David Dinkins. The mayor of the city had ostensibly chosen sides. Also, if I recall correctly, at the time Bill Cosby showed up on an episode of Ted Koppel’s Nightline, wearing the same head gear. A Lubavitcher chassid had been reported killed in the riot, his young son was shown standing over his recumbent stricken father. Had the loss of Cosby’s son been an act of revenge? Was the decision to show this embarrassing film clip of Halberstam’s gaffe based on vengeance?

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Hitting the Nail on the Head:

by: Schvach Yid

Shmuley Boteach hits the nail on the head with his comments entitled ‘Spreading Jewish Radiance’, which appeared in the Opinion section of the Jerusalem Post’s on-line edition, dated May 6, 2007. And thanks to Yo Yenta for introducing this article on her blog site (, in which Rabbi Boteach of ‘Shalom in the Home’ fame (which appears on the TV cable channel TLC) tackles the dual issues of conversion to Judaism and of the Catholic Church’s centuries old campaign against Judaism. First he considers the matter of conversion to Judaism which, he concludes, is necessary because of the declining birthrate of Jews (okay, I’m guilty) and, he feels, is the right thing to do – that the world Jewish community should now actively seek converts. Oh, I dunno. I’m a live and let live kind of guy. To actively seek, instead of readily accepting would be converts on the basis of his/her own initiative is perhaps, well, too un-Jewish. Besides, don't we realize how futile it is to try to convince someone to abandon the faith of his youth in exchange for some other belief? I don't think salesmanship has been very successful at this in the past - other pressures were necessary. I like the thought of non-Jews independently discovering the beauty of living a Jewish life. Those who want to – good; the others – laz im gehn! – they too are entitled, and as Rabbi Boteach points out, Judaism is not the true religion. Any religion that teaches belief in HaShem is valid.

The rabbi then goes after the current serving pope’s proposal of reinstating an old Latin mass which offers a prayer concerning the conversion of Jews to Catholicism, and which moreover, denigrates Judaism. Need I say it? Shades of Mel Gibson! Can you imagine, and from a German pope at that! Gott es willen (for Gd's sake ). It’s just what we need, a return to the ‘good old days’ .What might we expect from a Spanish pope … We, the recipients of HaShem’s revelation and commandments are supposed to be spiritually deficient? Has the leadership of the Catholic Church ever read the ‘Old Testament’? From where do they suppose stems their belief in the Almighty? And what about their scripture - no, not Catechism, I mean the ‘New Testament’? It’s about a Jew and his family and followers, in Eretz Yisrael. Whom do they suppose wrote it, Rudyard Kipling? Why do they suppose we reject it? Since we are the authors of much, if not all, of it don’t they even suspect we know what we’re doing in regard to it? I think that just a modicum of consideration on their part would be appropriate. They might demand from us an explanation of the horrendous history we Jews have suffered (much of it at their hands) if not for Judaism's rejection of the Christian messiah, to which I would retort: 'Have you ever read Deuteronomy?' If Gd was miffed with Pharaoh for diverting the service we owed Him, then how much more (to invoke the rabbinic ditty) would Gd be angered by our creation of a deity taken from among ourselves? We created another golden calf, but this time it wasn't fashioned from the lifted jewellery of Egypt. This time it was one of us! (upon writing this article the image of two construction worker thugs at my former place of employment flashed to mind - one had grown a moustache like you-know-whose and, upon seeing me walking down the hallway, called my name and began to shochel).

Yasher koach to Rabbi Boteach for writing about these issues which are so vital to Jews around the world.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

The G Word:

by: Schvach Yid

I wonder why non-believing Jews remain Jews (other than the halachic and theological position that a Jew is always a Jew, regardless). Don’t they know what it’s about? Haven’t they ever read the Chumash? We frequently want those situations in life which are mutually exclusive. We want to be Jewish, but not Orthodox, not frum, perhaps fearful of a self perception as ‘religious extremists’ – a most unpalatable label in the current age of politics. Many of us also demand to be viewed as politically and socially ‘liberal’, shunning the associated requirement to sacrifice anything (what do those Jewish liberals think? Liberal means generous, but at one’s own expense and not at someone else’s; the age of Elizabeth Holtzman is long over!). Lastly, despite our adamancy of emulating the non-Jewish world (a long standing tradition within the Jewish community), we refuse to abandon Judaism on the one hand, and yet refuse lives of Torah and mitzvot on the other. I am somewhat convinced that this conflicted approach to many a Jew’s religious identity stems from the average everyday Jew’s abhorrence at viewing him/herself as the ‘G’ word – goy! I am almost certain that, but for the perversion of that otherwise legitimate and non-derogatory Hebrew biblical designation for ‘nation’ – since perverted into a pejorative, – that non-believing Jews would flock in droves from Judaism to the dominant religion of whatever society in which they live. Perhaps this is the reason ‘goy’ was made into a pejorative. The drive to emulate those who emulate us, in a biblical sense, (or better yet, to displace us) – to emulate the emulators – is absurd. To be told or pressured to abandon our lives as Jews in order to pursue another religion which, at best, is nothing more than a surrogate of the real thing of which we are the recipients, is analogous to telling the members of an orchestra to leave the stage or pit, and stand outside on line, in the rain, with everyone else, to purchase a ticket to attend their own performance. It’s a ludicrous proposition. Yet I don’t think the non-observant Jewish world understands this. We see this in
Israel with its adoption of American commercialism and the contempt with which many Israelis view traditional religious orthodox Jewish life. What keeps Jewish identity among the non-religious going is not the draw of the ‘world of our fathers’ – as the old book title puts it. Relatively few of us live the lives of our antecedents; yet, what at first appears to constitute an obvious pull among those who refuse to observe, or even acknowledge, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Pesach, may more accurately be attributed to the bigotry of rejecting the self perception of being a ‘goy’. It’s a legitimate Hebrew word straight from Tanach. When we daven Tachanun
we call ourselves 'Goy Echad' and 'Goy Kadosh'. How it became derogatory I don’t know. It’s this consideration of the G-word that induces so much of the Jewish community to reject Yiddishkeit, as though that rubric is beneath them. It’s a shander.

Here’s a not altogether sensible digression. Years ago, when I visited New York (my home town), only a few years following my move to parts elsewhere, I was surprised to find that the ‘GG’ subway line had been relabelled ‘G’. The MTA’s long time-honored tradition of naming the local subway lines with double letters and the express lines with single letters had been replaced with a one letter moniker for each subway line. The GG line was the one that took me from my home to wherever, and back again, over 3 decades worth, before I transplanted myself from the City of New York to the American Bible Belt. The new sight left me scratching my noggin.

Why is it that so many of us, easily the majority, reject shomer Shabbos, shomer kashrut, derech ha’tznius, taharas ha’mishpacha, and the rest of an observant Jewish life? Don’t we know that Yiddishkeit is everything to the life of a Jew? Years ago Marcel Marceau appeared as the invited speaker at the National Press Club luncheon. The event was carried by C-SPAN. Marcel Marceau made his name and fame as a mime. Mimes don’t speak; he did. Toward the end of his presentation Marcel Marceau did a very Jewish thing – he tried his hand at profundity. He informed his audience that although he was born a Jew, he was the recipient of a Catholic religious education. He then referenced the ‘Seven Deadly Sins’ (not Jewish), and informed his audience that dishonesty is not among them. Why, he asked rhetorically? Because sometimes one has to lie. Parsha Kedoshim tells us otherwise: HaShem commands ‘lo t’shahkroo’ - ‘you will not lie’ (read the Rashi). No falsehood to one’s fellow person (I regard dishonesty as a supreme act of contempt toward the person or persons to whom one lies, not to mention a betrayal of oneself – who wants to go through life as a liar?). At the least Judaism takes a dim view of lying, as though one must be out of one’s mind to lie, hence Hebrew’s word for drunk 'shikor' – (and Yiddish’s word for drunk – 'shikah') – is almost identical! This is a part of the beauty of Judaism’s teachings that Jewish self-deniers miss, in favor of emulating the emulators. Before one eats one washes and benches hamotzi. The one reciting the brocho eats a piece of the bread immediately, then distributes bread to everyone else seated at the table. One’s obligation to the Aybischter comes first, for the host as well as for the guests. Many non-Jews, as well as many uninformed Jews, think this is rude. Uh, uh!

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Knock knock:

by: Schvach Yid

It's the old joke. The doorbell rang. There they stood, two people, a man and a woman, like a matching pair of bookends, a copy of the Watchtower magazine between them (I wish it had been Jimmy Hendrick’s 'Along the Watch Tower' instead – on that we could’ve agreed). He and I looked at each other. I knew I had grimaced. He apparently attempted to squelch his uptown proclivity but evidently couldn’t. He began his con while she remained silent for the whole brief visit. ‘Do you think evil will always be with us?’ he asked. ‘Yes’ I answered – get it?. ‘Why?’, he continued. I remained silent. ‘Can I read you a scripture?’ he continued. ‘NO!’ I retorted. I bid them farewell, and closed the door. Doesn’t he know what a mezuzah is? Doesn’t he know where it’s placed on a doorpost and what it means? Doesn’t he know it’s Shabbos? I could have quoted the appropriate phrase from Tanakh to him, but didn’t : Isaiah – ‘I bring peace and create evil’. Why bother, and it was Shabbos to boot. I wonder if he knows what rude means.

Just what is religious proselytizing about, anyway? Why do Christians do it us? Are they saying,’we can’t become you, so you must become us?’ Wouldn’t they just love to trade places with us, I mean ‘scripturally’ speaking? And why have they spent the past one and a half millennia chasing us? Could this be an acculturation of the narcissistic personality disorder, you know, the abusive wannabe mentality?

This same scene played in front of my door several years ago. On that occasion it was matching male bookends. Again, only one of the pair spoke (perhaps the other was a trainee). I stood there as he took all the line he wanted. I told him I’m Jewish (no, not like Louis Black tells his audience he’s Jewish). More stuff from the proselytizer. He told me how his ‘savior’ was the greatest, or last, prophet to the Jews. He then turned to a page in his bible (he came prepared) and proceeded to read ‘a scripture’, as he called it. In response I told him to turn to the last paragraph of Deuteronomy – ‘ And never again did there arise in Israel a prophet like Moses whom Gd knew face to face…’ Hazak and goodbye!

I just don’t get it. A person can’t be what he isn’t. A person is whatever that person is (the Chumash – ‘I will be what I will be’, and Popeye the Sailor – ‘I am what I am!’). This is one of the beauties of Judaism. Of all the religions I’ve either encountered or have heard of, only Judaism has this live-and-let-live approach to life. It is not the ‘true’ religion (despite the fact that the Aybischter is ‘One’ – the creator of the Universe); it’s the religion of the Jews, the descendents of Jacob - Israel– Beit Yisrael (see R’ Adin Steinsaltz’s book ‘We Jews’). Any proselytizing bible basher should have picked this up on his/her way through the first five books of the ‘Old Testament’.

Back to my former work place and my former boss’ lord and master (forgive this reference to the Sitra Achra, but it’s instructive). There he stood in his lab, pontificating to one of his post-doctoral fellows about his adopted religion, Christianity. This biochemist had come to America as a young man to do his post-doctoral fellowship (in the lab of a renowned Jewish biomedical researcher – see the earlier blog ‘…Sisyphean…’) located in a celebrated university on the west coast, but it wasn’t until he accepted a faculty appointment at a university in the Bible Belt (my last place of employment) that he chose to convert. He made every effort to convince himself that he’s the real McCoy, and in true narcissistic fashion was abusive (and bigoted) about it. Now, decades older, he had a cadre of his own fellows and students, and there he stood, a professor on his own turf, lecturing to his only European (to be read ‘Western and White’) post-doctoral fellow about his own religion. The post-doctoral fellow was a Christian descended from generations and centuries of Christian family members; his boss, the diminutive professor of earlier blogs, was new to this aspect of the Western band wagon, and he presumed expertise on the subject. The whole thing is self defeating. Jewish teaching comes to the rescue. You are what you are! Change is not necessarily good, despite the politically correct mantra to the contrary. And what’s wrong with what you are? As long as you don’t hurt anyone, nothing!

Thursday, May 03, 2007

The Psychophant:
by: Schvach Yid

I last worked as a laboratory technician in a University-based academic biomedical core laboratory. Core labs function to provide lab resources, such as cell lines, to the research labs of other faculty members , as well as to carry out various aspects of projects on behalf of those research labs. My former boss’ lab was changed several times as the infantile faculty members engaged in an ongoing dispute about space allocation, and so the department heads chose to play musical labs with the combatants until they fatigued and fell silent. Anyway, one of the labs assigned to my former boss was taken over in part by another faculty member- the space was to be shared. The door locks were changed. I, as a technician, was granted access. My boss evidently was not. One fine day he demanded I leave my keys with him overnight so he could enter the newly shared lab, stating he needed to stay late and do some bench work, and that he hadn’t bothered to pick up his newly assigned keys from the campus police office. He hadn’t the time, he added. Two years later, he still hadn’t acquired his own set of keys, he said (having never been asked). In the six years I knew him he advanced from a newly hired assistant professor to a fully tenured full professor. During that time, it seemed as though everyone around him met with disaster. His post-doctoral fellows had to rely on other faculty members to acquire the necessary recommendations for new positions elsewhere. During this time he dated and married a fellow faculty member located half a hallway away (his first marriage – he was in his upper 50’s; never mind the history he flaunted in the lab, personal JPEG’s included). Her Ph.D. student , a graduate of Harvard (this institution is no Harvard) flunked her dissertation defense, and had to start her degree from scratch in another department. They dropped like flies while he blossomed. Everyone except his Ph.D. student, a middle aged adult and career officer in the military, long out of school, who accomplished the fabulous feat of successfully completing a Ph.D in one of the biomedical sciences in 4 years (a time limitation imposed by the military, or so he said). I knew of no other graduate student in that institution who did the same, except for one student in the combined MD/PhD program, and he was exceptional. My former boss’ student was no wunderkind of academia. He used to come to me, a lab tech, for help with solving cell dilution calculations – a high school biology problem that uses junior high school level math – and he accomplished what a Harvard grad could not! During this time, while his colleagues and employees were meeting with disaster, our boss managed to become wealthy, in a research faculty sort of way; he had been awarded grants galore, and he now held sway. My boss wanted to expand his lab space. Abracadabra, hocus pocus the faculty researcher next door lost her faculty position (he, in clairvoyant fashion, had earlier predicted she would in what seem to me to have been a boastful manner), and wound up elsewhere in the world. She was, without a doubt, the brightest of the departmental members, having earned her undergraduate degree from an ivy league university as a math major and having served on the editorial board of a professional peer reviewed journal (a major one). Of all the professors of every rank, it was she who got the boot. My former boss thereupon took over her lab space, an entire lab adjoined to his via a connecting door. How lucky; I should have such mazel. He borrows my keys once, and thereafter never asked for them again, while piping up unsolicited remarks that he still had not picked up his set of keys from the campus police office. A keyless faculty member who made a point of saying so. Lamah? Perhaps because each departmental faculty member was provided with a pass key to all the labs (not to each others’ offices) so that any of them could access any lab in case of an emergency – a fact, not speculation, this was established procedure. I never checked if any of my assigned keys functioned as a pass key, but my former boss’ prediction about his lab neighbor’s demise, together with his version of a conquest of space, has left me paranoid, as has the letter of receipt I received from the department’s administrator when I resigned my job and surrendered those keys – she recorded the wrong key numbers on the receipt. Please don’t tell me she’s dyslectic. Lot’s of losers, both faculty and staff, and he a first class winner, as was his student - a street thug of a person, a class A refugee from the school yard. Everyone feared him, including the boss. A rather beefy looking graduate student once delivered a package to him, a simple crossing of the hallway. This other student approached with fear and trepidation, his voice cracking and torso arched backward to place added distance between his head and the thug-student. Other than studenthood they had tattoos in common – my boss’ student had the first upper case Greek letter of his fraternity branded into his upper arm and also tattooed onto his leg; the fearful one had a tattoo very much like the insignia worn on the tunics of German solders of the second world war, an eagle with its wings spread straight to its sides and a knob beneath, where the German insignia had displayed a swatstiker. The tattoo was displayed above one of his ankles.

My former boss’ student never missed a chance to display to one and all just who was the real boss in the lab. He would charge up to the professor in the hallway in a threatening way and with raised voice for all to see and hear assert ‘I thought I told you this won’t do; if I wanted you to change my evaluation I would have told you to’ – the student shouting at his dissertation advisor over the student’s first evaluation. My old boss was accommodating and apologetic, in the hallway, in front of others: ‘Now, now, now’ he choked in clichéd response, ‘it has to be done this way’, and the student led the way into the professor’s office, like sequential volumes of 'Sociopathy for Dummies'. Or on a second occasion, while my former boss was in conference in his office with a visiting faculty member, this same student stormed into his mentor’s office and ordered our mutual boss to solve for him – yup, that’s right – a cell dilution calculation (in fact earlier that same day, he had demanded and received help from me for the same purpose). The boss answered that he was having a conference, and so the student shouted ‘never mind – do it now, and mean now!’, slamming a paper in his hand onto the boss’ desk. In response, the boss slowly swiveled his chair away from his guest so as to position himself squarely with his desk, then slowly reached for his reading glasses, placed them on his face, and silently obliged the student. The visiting faculty person sat petrified. I was passing by my boss’ office and just caught the scene, the door held ajar, the student holding it open with one leg as he berated our boss, as though this bit of theater were staged. The next morning I reported to the boss in his office, as was my established routine. He looked up at me, silent and pathetic, reading glasses perched above his nose, both lenses of which now bore innumerable scratches running in multiple directions. Not a word was spoken. My former boss was no wimp. He’s an androgen-drenched macho man, built like a walking side of beef, with hands the size of racquetball rackets and arms as thick as my neck, chest hairs exposed for the world to view and jeans so tightly fitted that in order to sit he had to open the button and let down the fly (for real) - his standard habitus while in his office. For him to have picked up the phone and requested help would have been laughable. And so there he sat, humbled and humiliated by his academically-dependent student, a worm squashed between boot and pavement, and probably deservedly so in light of my paranoid suspicions.

Then there was the mock lab meeting – the first lab meeting I attended in that lab (I would only attend one more, never again to be told about or invited to attend future meetings). An hour or so earlier the student walked up to me, a printout of a journal article in his hand. ‘I’m glad you told me I don’t read enough’ he said to me (not true). He then informed me another lab located at my former graduate school had published ‘his’ dissertation research. ‘Isn’t that a coincidence’ he said to me. The accusation was obvious. The title of the reseach paper was uncomfortably close to the student's dissertation topic, and one of the co-authors, I finally realized, was an investigator some of whose papers I had consulted a few years earlier while working in a different lab and on a completely different topic. I had, on that occasion, e-mailed him with a question. I had a bad habit of holding on to old e-mails, and that author was on the faculty of my former graduate school
to boot. But which of these two scam artists had done it, if anything had in fact been done? Was it the boss who may have sought to unload himself of this domineering and bullying street-savvy hemorrhoid, or was it
the student, in an attempt to pull off a sympathy ploy? The meeting that followed was a sham. The student had a color printout of the ferral research paper; the rest of us, including the boss, had black and white copies. The boss initiated: 'I 'm quite proud' of the student, he said. The student ruled! Surprise!

No information about the substance of the student’s dissertation came forth from either the boss or the student. Just nonspecific yap from the boss: ‘Oh, this has nothing to do with your work’ the boss said as he perused the paper. It was all theater; a fishing outing. I piped in: ‘They used a different cell line’. The student grinned in apparent mock glee, as though conveying a silent approval; speech was evidently beneath him. ‘Nothing to do with it’ was my boss’ reply to me'. 'I haven’t had time to study this paper’ my boss continued; the student jumped in and parroted his statement. More nonspecific musings from the boss, with no specific information about the student's work. The student remained silent. A lot of baloney - they were dealing three card Monte, and I was the designated chump! Did the student’s accusation stick? Probably.

This sycophantic macho man doffed his hat plenty to his lord and master mentioned below in the blog ‘The Sysiphean Existence of Jews’. My old boss was at first sponsored and mentored by his elder Indian colleague (many of my bosses employees were Indian, as is his wife whom he met at work). But something ran afoul. Yes, the stench of something rotten wafted through the lab. At my job interview , years ago, while he was a newly hired associate professor, my former boss told me about a ‘friend of his’. His ‘friend’, a middle aged man like himself, he said, had picked up a young woman in her 20’s and oops! – baby! He carried on, slamming his beefy fist onto the top of the desk: ‘those f***ing women, those goddam f***ing women, all they want to do is f***, and they don’t use anything, and they get pregnant, and they don’t leave you alone, and they want more’ on and on and on. Some job interview! The poor friend of his. 'We can talk about this ', he continued, ‘we’re both men’ (oy!, that word again). I asked him if his ‘friend’ had ever seen the baby. ‘No, who wants to see the baby’ was his answer (mind you, this was my job interview). He continued. He told me how he had to give his house in Hungary to his lord and master, the Indian professor mentioned above and in a previous blog, and how he had to evict his own parents who had occupied the house (his mother was at the time in her 80’s; his father in his early 90’s). Maybe I’m not so paranoid. A couple of years later his diminutively statured lord and master deigned to make an appearance in my former boss’ lab. He addressed me. He bragged about 'his' condominium’ located in a, by then, familiar sounding city in Hungary. 'You wouldn’t believe my condominium in Hungary'. On and on about his condo. My former boss stood there, chin stapled onto his chest, fingers shoved into the corresponding pockets of his tightly molded jeans, wrists flexed so that the back of each hand faced downward. ‘That’s enough’ my boss whispered. ‘Alright, that’s enough, I’m warning you, that’s enough’ - his drooping ego on display. The homunculus beamed. This was my former boss’ first bout of humiliation that I witnessed, a few years before the military student showed up in the lab to pick up and run with that baton. But in between, a few months into my then new job, what should appear in the lab (like the old Soupy Sales gag of opening the door and, each time, catching a pie in the face) but a 20 something year old woman pushing a baby in a stroller and accompanied by a female age peer. ‘Where’s the boss’ (actually, she demanded him by name)?!! I reticently replied ‘not here’, whereupon she stomped her way to the desk, picked up a pen, wrote a note on a yellow post-it, folded it in half, placed it on the desk, and then pushed the baby in the stroller toward the lab’s door, friend in tow. I doltishly asked ‘What’s your name’? She gave me a look! The friend looked livid. Out the troika went. The 20 something year old woman pushing the stroller, the one who demanded the boss and who wrote the note, had light colored hair and light colored eyes, as did the baby. My former boss has jet black hair and dark eyes, so unless his 'friend' is a heterozygous carrier for those two genetically recessive Mendelian traits, or himself is light haired and light eyed, the 'friend' is off the hook, right? My former boss, a Ph.D. bedecked biologist should have known this piece of 9th grade biology and should have properly advised his 'friend' - ergo, pack up the panic and meet the baby (fatherhood, anyone?). Am I paranoid or what? Dessert anyone? Well, not quite. My old boss is on top with position, influence, and cash, albeit at a modestly rated academic institution. Uncle Remus should sing about my former boss. Nothing stops him. Psychophant? Nah!

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Taking the Bait:

By: Schvach Yid

On a recent trip to the web ‘I was reminded’ (to borrow that ditty of rabbinical derush) of the existence of May Day. Now that that undeserving memorial day is over ‘I am reminded’ of my first trip to Israel. It just happened to have been a May 1st. I had no idea; in fact, I had never thought about it, having heard about that inauspicious observance (do I protest too much?) on TV as a youngster, and then instantly forgetting about it. But there I was on Rehov Kaplan in Tel Aviv on a May 1st, with a group. The Sachnut (Israel’s government agency for aliyah and absorption) is located there, and so was I. Red flags a-flappin’ in the breeze displayed atop every lamppost in sight. What? What the hell is this all about? Then I was informed by the group leader – May Day, I learned, but not in the traditional manner. No havruta, no pilpul. Communism in the Jewish Homeland? Foy! My mistake was this. I wanted to visit Israel, which until that time I never had, and I had heard so much about it, mostly from my Conservative Movement Hebrew school, where the principal and most of the teachers were Israeli, and who fed us a constant dose of aliyah propaganda. But who wanted to betray and leave America? Yet as an adult in my early 30’s I decided the time had arrived for a visit. What to do? I thought I needed permission, so I went to the Aliyah Desk (a function of the Sachnut, but who knew) where I was invited (more likely conscripted) to visit Israel as a guest of Tour V’aleh. My only expense would be a reduced priced roundtrip airfare; food and lodging gratis. Schlecht? Off I flew with Tour V’aleh, but first I needed to provide letters (or forms) of recommendation. They were stupid enough to require them, and I was stupid enough to comply (letters of recommendation to visit Israel?; in retrospect I’m left with the feeling there’s probably nothing more superfluous than Israeli bureaucracy – they learned it from the British, you know). Once feet were firmly planted on terra hakadosh (huh?) the ‘fit hit the shan’. Tour V’aleh was a commie organization (actually, it wasn’t until that night that the revelation was given, at a group meeting). Oy veh! I’m ruined! Schvach the pinko! Those red scam-aholics got me! Joe McCarthy is risen and I’m history (get it?)! It was time to scram and recalibrate. Thankfully the whole thing was only seven days or so. I spent most of it on my own, visiting all the Jewish holy places and tourist sites, and bumping into people I hadn’t seen since as early as high school (starting on the flight over). Ta ta to the Potemkin crowd (I don’t know which side they were on since I’ve never seen the flick). I certainly had taken the bait, but I didn’t swallow, I swear.

By the way, as I wrote this I turned on the radio to hear some music, and Smetana’s ‘Moldau’ was playing – one of the works from which Israel’s ‘Hatikva’ was lifted (the other is Gliere’s ‘Russian Sailor’s Dance’ from his ballet ‘The Red Poppy’). I savor these moments of coincidence, as though the Aybischter is jabbing a finger in my ribs, telling me he notices.