Anywhere else, the desecration of 20 Jewish graves might have registered as a blip, another anti-Semitic act in an otherwise tranquil place with a miniscule Jewish population.
But here in New Zealand, the incident has shaken up a nation that prides itself on openness —and sparked an intensive round of national soul-searching.
The vandalism itself took place the day I arrived in Auckland for a two-week assignment. The days that followed brought predictable rounds of outrage from government officials and community leaders. Auckland Mayor Len Brown said the attack was “abhorrent,” according to the New Zealand Herald, the nation’s largest daily. “This kind of vandalism has no place in our city…The council and the local board are taking steps to improve the environment in this cemetery and prevent further such attacks.”
What I didn’t expect was outraged editorials in Kiwi newspapers in small municipalities far from Auckland, or multicultural protests against right-wing violence in response to the desecration.
Sarah Silverman isn’t the only funny Jewish lady making suggestive political videos for Obama.
Now comes Lena Dunham, creator of the buzzy HBO show “Girls,” with a video about her first time…voting.
“You want to do it with a great guy,” Dunham says. “You want to do it with a guy who brought the troops out of Iraq.”
Unlike the Silverman videos, which were produced by the Jewish Council for Education and Research, a super PAC, the new Dunham video is out from the Obama campaign itself.
The mildly suggestive video has drawn some criticism from Republicans online. In a widely quoted tweet, Breitbart contributor wrote: “How could a president with two, young blossoming daughters release an ad as disgusting as this[?]”
The Jewish Press set off a firestorm last week when it published An Open Letter to Sarah Silverman by Rabbi Yaakov Rosenblatt. The Orthodox author criticized the comedian’s politics, vulgar presentation style, and the fact that she remains childless. As a linguist, what I found most interesting about this article was the language. By looking closely at the Hebrew and Yiddish words used by the author and commenters, we can learn a lot about Orthodox Jews in America.
In my research, I have found that Orthodox Jews use many Hebrew and Yiddish words when speaking to other Orthodox Jews, but they avoid or translate those words in their speech to outsiders. In the letter to Sarah Silverman, Rosenblatt uses only one, a word most Americans know: kosher. He talks about God, not Hashem, and Orthodox rather than frum.
Many articles in the Jewish Press use more distinctive language. For example, Mordechai Bienstock writes: “We can be truly ourselves in all of our pursuits, expressing the wonderful individualistic neshamahs [souls] Hashem [God] has granted us through the application of our special natures in the physical world, what the Ba’al Shem Tov and his disciples discovered as the basis for avodah b’gashmiyut [serving God through the physical world].”
Even Rosenblatt uses Hebrew and Yiddish words in his other articles in the Jewish Press, for example, in an article about internet filters: “Our frum [religious] community”, “Kiddush Hashem” (sanctifying God’s name), and “Halacha Chabura” (study group about Jewish law).
With so much attention on the Jewish vote in this presidential election, the Forward this week asked readers to register their thoughts in three successive polls. We don’t pretend that this web-based exercise is as valid as whatever Gallup or CNN does in the field, nor is our analysis up to Nate Silver’s standards.
But even though ours was not a scientific survey — more a chance to read the minds of readers outside our usual newsroom bubble — the results pretty much confirm the conventional wisdom.
Forward readers agree far more heartily with President Obama’s foreign policy opinions than with Governor Romney’s.
They care most about the economy and health care.
And they say that Jewish issues will affect their voting decisions, but only so much.
Israel’s political map is about to upended when Netanyahu and Liberman go on television at 2 p.m. Eastern time to announce a joint Knesset run. They’re apparently not merging their parties but forming a joint list. The aim is to ensure that Bibi ends up with the largest Knesset bloc after the January 22 elections, guaranteeing that he can form the next government. A Haaretz poll last week showed that if Ehud Olmert enters the race atop a new list that includes Tzipi Livni and Yair Lapid, he would outscore the Likud by one seat, 25-to-24, and win the first shot at forming a coalition. An earlier Jerusalem Post poll showed the Olmert superlist doing even better, beating the Likud 31-27. News 1 reports today that Bibi and Liberman could jointly grab 40 seats, guaranteeing that they bury even an Olmert superlist.
The kink in the plan is the religious vote. Liberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party puts a very high priority on a secularist agenda. Haaretz reports today that the joint Bibi-Liberman list is expected to give high priority to Liberman’s secularist agenda, and might even reach out to bring Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party into a governing coalition. But the Likud relies heavily on religious voters who won’t like that. There’s a good chance that some of them will flee to the settler-based national-religious bloc, which appears to be running under a new banner that will join the Bayit Yehudi-NRP party with the National Union, reducing the Knesset strength of the Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu list. It’s possible, though, that some will break toward Shas, particularly now that Arye Deri is returning (sharing power with Eli Yishai, who remains no. 1 on the Knesset list but hands over the party chairmanship to Deri).
So the 60,000 shekel question becomes: Can Haim Ramon engineer a center-left coalition that brings back Olmert atop a new list uniting him and Livni with Lapid and Mofaz’s Kadima, and work out a platform that allows them to join after the election with Ramon’s old friend and fellow dove Arye Deri? Can the various personalities bury their egos and feuds and join together to restore the peace process and two-state solution before it dies forever?
Fear spread across Israel’s illegal immigrants from Sudan last summer. As the Forward reported, it has seemed in recent days like the Interior Ministry’s deadline was looming and they would soon be imprisoned. In August he announced plans to jail all Sudanese illegals without trial starting on October 15 and was expected to get underway any time now.
But today, it emerged that his threat had received no authorization from the government, and is therefore illegal. Today, in response to advocacy groups representing the illegals with a petition in the Jerusalem District Court, the state revealed that no official decision was taken on the arrest of Sudanese citizens in Israel.
“At this time, the Immigration Authority has yet to receive any order pertaining to the incarceration of Sudanese infiltrators,” the State Attorney wrote. “Should such a decision be made in the future it will be stated publically by the authority, 30 days before going into effect.”
So what was going on here? Did the Interior Ministry carelessly overlook the need to get authorization for his planned round up? Unlikely. At the Forward we suggested as early as June, even before Yishai’s imprisonment promise, that he was bluffing with his tough talk on illegals, making threats that he knew Israel couldn’t keep. And it would appear that for the populist value of the statements and/or to deter other illegals from coming to Israel, he made such unfulfillable threats.
One question which remains: Why didn’t others in government, some of whom where deeply unhappy about his threats as the Forward reported in June, pull the rug from under him and save Sudanese in Israel several months of panic?
When Jack Lew was appointed chief of staff to President Obama in January, many in the Jewish community wondered how he could observe Shabbat in such a demanding position.
Luckily, Lew has the most powerful man in the world to keep track of time as the sun starts to dip low in the sky on Friday afternoons.
“I saw the president on many occasions on Friday afternoons look at his watch, and ask: ‘Isn’t it time for you to get going?’” Lew said, “or, ‘Why are you still here?’ The president was not checking the clock “because he doesn’t think I can keep time,” Lew said. Rather, the extra care on this issue reflects the President’s wish “to remind me that it’s important to him, not just to me, that I be able to make that balance.”
Lew, who is Orthodox, revealed the details about his keeping Shabbat in an extraordinary interview with the Forward that touched on his need to observe the Jewish holy day.
“And he’s respected that time and again,” the chief of staff said of Obama.
What do you think about the presidential election? We want to hear your opinions on a number of topics, so answer today’s question. We’ll have a new question waiting for you each night this week and a final roundup blog post on Friday.
In our second question, we asked readers which issues matter most to them in the upcoming election. Respondents ranked health care and the economy as the issues that were most important to them. Lagging behind in third place was Israel.
After Monday’s debate, many took note of the way in which Mitt Romney shifted his foreign policy towards what constitutes the center on Syria, Afghanistan, and Iran. It was as if the previous ten months or so had never happened, with The New York Times editorial page suggesting that Romney now “does not actually have any real ideas on foreign policy beyond what President Obama has already done, or plans to do”. His relative moderation also led some, including The Forward’s Gal Beckerman to ask, “So Romney seems to have ditched the neocons tonight. Where was Dan Senor’s influence?”
Senor’s name has been thrown around a good deal during this campaign. As a senior foreign policy advisor to the Romney/Ryan ticket, it was suggested infamously and rather insidiously by Maureen Dowd that Senor was in fact a “neocon puppet master”, moving the lips of his candidates. Aside from the obvious problem with her imagery, Dowd (and indeed Gal’s) statements are based upon a fundamental misconception: that Senor is a neoconservative at all.
This false impression of Senor derives in the main from two things we know about Senor’s career, such as it is. The first is that he has been a very strong advocate not only for Israel and its absolute right to defend itself but for the military option to prevent Iran from going nuclear. The other and more significant one perhaps (since the former is the consensus view in the United States) is Senor’s association with the liberation of Iraq as spokesman for L. Paul Bremer, who as head of the Coalition Provisional Authority in effect ran the country in the year after the liquidation of the Ba’athist regime.
What do you think about the presidential election? We want to hear your opinions on a number of topics, so answer today’s question and then check back Wednesday evening for the results. We’ll have a new question waiting for you each night this week and a final roundup blog post on Friday.
Last night we asked for your take on the candidates’ views on the Israel/Iran conflict as they expressed them during the final debate. Twenty-one percent of respondents completely agreed with Governor Romney’s stance and 35% completely agreed with President Obama’s.
When I heard that the rabbi of a Chabad house on a university campus was in trouble for providing alcohol to students, I assumed that I didn’t need to hear any further details to understand what the story was.
That led me to write this post. I approached the subject with prejudice and without a firm grasp on the facts.
The story I thought I knew was that Rabbi Dov Hillel Klein has been rightfully banned from the campus of Northwestern University for providing alcohol to underage students. Of course, I said at the time, there are worse places to drink on any American campus. But I also said that it was hard to sympathize with Klein because he had still provided alcohol to underage students.
Since then, I investigated further and found that reality did not exactly agree with the conclusions I initially jumped to.
First, Klein appears to be a saint. I spoke to several Northwestern students last week from every corner of the school’s Jewish community – and beyond – and found that Klein is universally loved and respected. He goes to athletic games and school events of every kind, especially when it’s an opportunity to support a student he knows well. One recent alumna told me that she still considers Klein to be her rabbi. He’s also a volunteer chaplain for the Evanston, Ill. police department and he’s the person who is responsible for making sure that kosher food is available to Northwestern students.
With brazen defiance, just a day before he is due to meet with the European Union’s high representative for foreign affairs Catherine Ashton, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went over the Green Line and defended building there.
“United Jerusalem is Israel’s eternal capital, we have a full right to build in it,” he declared today in Gilo, a Jerusalem neighborhood build on land that Israel conquered in 1967.
Netanyahu has been under strong international criticism, including from Ashton, for a plan which became public last week to build 797 new homes in GIlo.
Standing not far from the site of the new homes he said: “We have built Jerusalem, we are building Jerusalem and we will continue to build Jerusalem. This is our policy and I will continue to back building in Jerusalem.”
Netanyahu was doing what the Israeli right loves the most, namely showing that he’s a strong leader who won’t be bullied from his Zionistic credentials (which are seen as synonymous with pro-settlement credentials) by even the most powerful of world leaders. And yes, if you think it has the whiff of election posturing to it you would be right. But which elections?
Monday night marked the final presidential debate of 2012. For those voters sad to wait another four years to hear their favorite talking points, we’ve captured the best reactions from the Twitter-verse on the action from Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla.
Foreign policy was the issue of the night, expected to draw many comments on Iran, Afghanistan and Libya. However, there was a surprise name-drop early on and cheers to anyone who had Mali in their country office pool.
President Barack Obama had the first good zinger of the night, telling Mitt Romney that the “1980s are calling for their foreign policy back.” However, not everyone was amused, including Commentary magazine’s Seth Mandel
The final debate is over — the last one ever for Obama and for us this election cycle — and it’s time for some flash judgment.
Israel, Israel, Israel: As anyone could have predicted, Israel was mentioned a lot. As “true friend.” As “greatest ally.” I think I counted 6 mentions by the president to 3 from Romney. My favorite was Obama pointing out that “the largest military exercise with Israel in history happened this very week.” But what I could not have predicted was Obama’s extended riff aimed at the Jewish gut, or more precisely the cheek of your nana living in a retirement community in Boca Raton. He had Yad Vashem in there. He mentioned the children of Sderot. And he made sure to not give Romney any, er, daylight, to make his usual “Israel under the bus” argument. When he was done, all Romney could offer to distinguish himself was that he would try and indict Ahmadinejad for genocide incitement.
It’s good to be the chief: Obama seemed to dominate this one, and he was helped largely by the fact that, as he reminded Romney at one point, he has “actually executed foreign policy.” All of the references to real decisions he has made, to conversations with secretaries of defense, to being the commander-in-chief, were calculated to making Romney look small (aside from also happening to be true). It gave Obama an upper hand that he did not squander.
Agreed: Remarkably, Romney spent much of the debate agreeing with Obama’s foreign policy approach. Another a few minutes and he might have endorsed him! From Egypt to drones, again and again, Romney said he supported Obama’s policies. The difference he proposed to bring to the office was to have a stronger, more forceful tone in the execution. To my ears, this distinction sounded hollow. What does it mean practically to just project more toughness? Do you used more superlatives in your speeches? How does it help get things done? Obama seemed to hit a nerve when he said that it sounded like Romney wanted to follow the president’s policies, but just speak more loudly.
Etch-a-sketch a-shak’n: Another clear objective of the president tonight was to use the foreign policy conversation as another opportunity to define Romney as inconsistent. Obama did this again and again, pointing to the zig zagging policy prescriptions voiced by Romney over the course of the last year. And Romney seemed to oblige by presenting tonight yet another face. Anticipating that Obama had a claim on toughness locked down through the killing of Osama bin Laden, Romney attacked the president from…the left. At times, he sounded like John Kerry. He argued that the president hadn’t used enough soft power – improving civil society, working on girl’s education, speaking to the peaceful nature of the Muslim world. “We can’t kill ourselves out of this mess,” was Romney’s practiced line. It sounded like just another shake of the etch-a-sketch. Though it’s possible that others didn’t hear it that way.
Europe? The environment? China?: While we’re thrilled at the Forward that the Middle East and Israel got so much attention, it was disappointing to see such a limited range of subjects discussed. The environment was not seriously brought up once in all these debates and it’s quite a global issue. Or what about any part of the world that is south of the equator? Even those issues that were touched on were done so in a very perfunctory way. The moral and legal dimension of using drones was never explored, for example, once it was established that both candidates agree that they are good policy. The predictability of the questions helped contribute to the staleness of all the debates, I thought, whether the moderator was forceeful or not. The heat instead came from the two men pushing each other and their seeming visceral dislike for one another. Thankfully the debate format gave the space for these fisticuffs to occur.
Thanks for indulging my quick take. If you’d like, participate in our own snap poll on the question of Israel and Iran.
And that’s where I draw my red line, folks!
This late in the campaign, everything is about swing states – and the foreign policy debate was largely about Florida, where moderate Jews could well decide who gets the state’s 29 electoral votes.
On those grounds, on the basis of issues important to Florida Jews, President Obama won this debate, but in a bizarre, looking-glass sort of way in which the candidates seemingly exchanged personalities. Mitt Romney sounded like Obama: reasonable, measured, and knowledgeable about foreign policy. Barack Obama sounded like Romney: making strong rhetorical points with little attention to detail.
On Israel, for example, it was Obama who struck first, citing his support of the Iron Dome defense system, and using the phrase “stand with Israel” numerous times. Romney, meanwhile, sounded like a Democrat: arguing for peace talks with the Palestinians, and a measured approach to Iran.
So too on the emotional issues likely to resonate with the bubbes and zaydes of Palm Beach County. Could anyone have predicted that President Obama would invoke the holocaust in his discussion of the State of Israel? And yet that’s what he did, noting that on his trip to Israel, he visited Yad Vashem (the holocaust memorial, he explained to the non-Jewish voters who happened to be watching the debate too), whereas Romney went to fundraisers.
What do you think about the presidential election? For the next three days, we want to hear your opinions on a number of topics. First up, the latest presidential debate. Answer these two questions now, then check back Tuesday evening for the results. We’ll have a new question waiting for you each night this week and a final roundup blog post on Friday.
Politico’s Steve Friess has a fascinating story online today about the longstanding personal feud between two of Nevada’s “most prominent Jewish figures,” hotelier Sheldon Adelson and Rep. Shelley Berkley, who’s running for the Senate seat being vacated by Republican family-values guy John Ensign. It’s a gripping look at how Adelson operates — the intensity and relentlessness of his personal grudges, his obsessive hatred of unions and Democrats and the lengths to which he’s willing to go to get his way.
One twist that’s particularly intriguing: Berkley, one of the most hawkish pro-Israel Democrats in the House, would bring a rare across-the-aisle voice into the Senate for Adelson’s hard-line Middle East views. But that doesn’t seem to matter — Sheldon’s got it in for Shelley, and nothing else matters, including the causes he claims to hold dear. Here’s Friess:
On the morning of October 18 last year, like the rest of Israel I anxiously awaited the return of Gilad Shalit. The deal had been made and the arrangements were set, but we didn’t know what kind of a young man would return. What his health would be like, his psychological state, his social abilities after half a decade in captivity.
I remember thinking while watching him re-enter his house in Mitzpe Hila in the Galilee: What kind of a future awaits him back in his childhood home? I had spent a lot of time talking to Israeli prisoners of war from the past, and judging from their experiences I feared that Shalit’s future could look more than a little bleak. I penned this piece on the subject.
But Shalit has surprised us all. In an indicator of a level of independence few expected to see, he wasn’t with his family to celebrate the anniversary yesterday — he was in the US travelling with friends. He hasn’t exactly got a normal life, but as close as could possibly be expected — his reintegration in to his community and society has been remarkably smooth. He has found a dignified way of being in the public eye — writing on sports for Yedioth Aharonoth — without marketing or taking advantage of his experience. I spoke to his father about the process a few months ago.
So what has made for this smooth return for Shalit’s smooth return? Part of it is just a matter of indescribable personality traits. But there are some clear external factors.
On Thursday night, Israel Prize Winner Rabbi Daniel Sperber gave a lecture at the Jewish Center in New York City on “Why Modern Orthodoxy is True Orthodoxy.”
Sperber, a Talmud scholar at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, provided a thorough history of Orthodox Judaism before noting the differences between modern Orthodoxy and ultra-Orthodoxy, emphasizing that modern Orthodoxy is willing to view Halacha as a “constantly developing entity and it is willing to face challenges.”
Sperber, devoted a large portion of his lecture on the evolving role of women in Orthodox Judaism, saying that only the modern Orthodox establishment accepts and supports these changes “that are taking place now in our society,” which are “completely rejected by our more ultra-Orthodox brethren.”
Sperber closed his speech by saying true orthodoxy regards Halacha as something “which is constantly growing, constantly reevaluating the situation, constantly readapting itself to changes in society.”
Annette Schabes, who travelled from Englewood, NJ to listen to the speech, empathized with Sperber’s views on the changing role of women. “I think that as long things are done within the framework of Jewish law, there’s no reason why one cannot take a more active role within ritual practice.”
The event was part of an annual lecture series sponsored by The Yavne-Shapiro Program in Torah and Jewish Ethics in cooperation with Bar-Ilan University. Thursday’s lecture was the first in the series given outside of Israel.
There’s a Silverman involved in the latest pro-Obama ad, but it’s not the one you’re thinking (or hoping) it is.
Sarah Silverman’s sister, Rabbi Susan Silverman, who lives in Israel, co-produced “Israelis on Obama.” The piece features a number of Israeli talking heads (mainly defense officials, political scientists, and intellectuals) praising Obama’s financing of Israel’s Iron Dome defense system, and his sanctions policy against Iran.
Schlep Labs (also known as the Jewish Council for Education Research, put it out as a quickie response to Mitt Romney’s accusing Obama of not backing Israel strongly enough in Tuesday night’s presidential debate.
We’ll admit we’re a bit disappointed — not necessarily by the video’s message, but by the lack of production values as compared to the PAC’s previous ads. I guess we’ve been spoiled by all that free exposure to Silverman’s raunchy humor and Adam Mansbach’s clever writing.