One of the most dynamic aspects of modern print journalism is the presence of a “public editor,” a designated staff member who engages with readers around issues of the newspaper’s integrity. In her latest revealing column, New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan responds to readers’ critiques of the recent reporting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And in so doing, she reminds us of the perils to democracy of bringing ethnic partisanship to bear when engaging in media critique.
Sullivan rightly points to the tendency by each “side” to want to see its own interests promoted via the media. Referring to the complaint the Times often receives that a given news article lacks “context,” there is a revealing line by Sullivan. Paraphrasing a senior news editor, Sullivan writes: “The Times does not hear this complaint…from readers who are merely trying to understand the situation.”
When I hear this incisive observation, I’m reminded of groups like Honest Reporting, whose website tagline squarely reveals that it is less devoted to making sure the media is “honest” overall than it is about “defending Israel from media bias.”(Ditto for the Palestinian side, whose advocacy arms — such as The Electronic Intifada — are at least more straightforward about their mission.)
The question which flows from this is what determines which Jews and which Palestinians (and their respective Diasporas) become “partisans,” as Sullivan puts it, and which members of these respective communities seek to position themselves above the fray, and in pursuit of objective analysis (however elusive) and perhaps of overall justice?
Members of the Israeli government have renewed a push to create a Basic Law enshrining Israel as “the nation-state of the Jewish people.” This time, the effort is being spearheaded by Prime Minister Netanyahu. Although his is meant to be a “softer” version of previous similar bills, it’s still highly problematic for a number of reasons.
Israel’s Basic Laws are meant to serve as the basis for an eventual constitution. In the years immediately after the establishment of the state, Israeli leaders could not agree on whether to write one up, much less what it should look like. In 1950, the Harari proposal was adopted. The Knesset would pass a series of “Basic Laws” as necessary, and each would be issued as a separate chapter, to be combined into a single constitutional document whenever the time came. In 1995, the Supreme Court gave the Basic Laws constitutional status — which means they’re higher than regular laws and are meant to guide the adoption of further laws and practices in the country.
The most obvious problem is that enshrining Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people makes constitutional the second-class status of Arab citizens. Netanyahu’s bill does mention democracy and individual rights, but (unlike the Declaration of Independence) it does not refer to the equality of all Israel’s citizens. By tying Israel’s identity only to one people, it gives them constitutional privileges no other community can have access to.
Ibrahaim Wassim pays respects to Jewish victims’ families in Jerusalem / Yossi Zamir, Tag Meir Forum
Mirrors covered with drapes, pictures stripped from the walls, and the out-of-style black-and-white modernism of North American Orthodox homes — the shiva (mourning) house of Rabbi Moshe Twersky of Har Nof was overcrowded and warm.
On the men’s side, the mourners were seated on low stools as prescribed by tradition. The condensed sea of black and white undulated in silence, waiting for a male relative to speak before they offered condolences. On the women’s side, Rabbi Twersky’s widow, Miriam — in heavily New York-accented but accurate Hebrew — spoke without pause of her late husband to a group of teary-eyed, similarly black-and-white clad women.
The tragedy and horror of Tuesday’s crime in which two Palestinian men, armed with a diverse weaponry, butchered Jews in the midst of prayer has left all those who follow the Israeli-Palestinian conflict asking: Just how religious is this conflict?
Experts are predicting and op-ed writers are pronouncing that this is a “turning point” in the conflict, shifting its gears into a more religious drive. Israel’s President, Reuven Rivlin, told reporters, “We don’t want to see ourselves as Jews being in a war with Islam — a religious war is a disaster from every perspective.” Ultra-nationalist Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman (unfairly) accused P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas of trying to turn the conflict into a religious war. The Israeli mainstream media, too, has raised this possibility. Nahum Barnea, Israel’s premier journalist for Yedioth Aharonoth stated dramatically that, “A thousand fighters will not be able to extinguish a fire with God as the fuse.” Ben Caspit, another prominent Israeli journalist, made the same point: “The true danger…is that the wave of terror will turn into a true religious war.”
But as I approached the Twersky’s shiva house in the rain-soaked evening, I saw an Arab man walking out the door with an entourage. His name was Ibrahaim Wassim, and he had come to pay his respects to the victims’ families. He was the deputy head of the Palestinian-Israeli village in the north called Baka el-Garbiyye. He told me that they had come, a delegation of Arab citizens of Israel, because he didn’t want “the extremists to drag us into this.” Har Nof’s residents, too, had sent busloads of community members to the Druze police officer’s funeral, the fifth victim of last Tuesday’s violence. The last thing Wassim said to me was, “We came in the rain and in difficult conditions because we have the same grandfather who commanded us to live together.”
Israeli emergency services cleans the sidewalk at the scene of the Jerusalem attack / Getty Images
Four ultra-Orthodox Jews at prayer and one Druze policeman, murdered by two Palestinian young men armed with knives, axes and a gun. The heart grieves for the families of the victims and the suffering of the injured.
This past week’s slaughter was the latest development in an escalation of violence in Jerusalem that dates back to the summer, with the kidnapping and murder of three Israel youth in the West Bank, followed by the kidnapping and murder of a Palestinian teen in East Jerusalem. Most of the world ignored the fires burning in East Jerusalem until the flames spread across the Green Line. Two terrorist attacks on the city’s light rail, one attempted assassination of a right-wing activist, several attacks outside Jerusalem, and a horrific synagogue massacre later, the world has woken up to what is turning into a conflagration that threatens to engulf the entire city and beyond.
Following July’s gruesome murder of a Palestinian teenager in East Jerusalem, Israel caught the Israeli culprits and launched legal action against them. This is rule of law. Following this week’s attack, Israel quickly began meting out collective punishment against the families and communities of the Palestinian culprits, including demolishing homes, threatening action against family members, and blocking off neighborhoods. This is not rule of law; this is occupation law, imposed by means that are patently immoral and illegal under international law and under U.S. law (and that should be illegal under Israeli law), and that have proven ineffective and even counter-productive in fighting terrorism.
Some are suggesting that since this week’s heinous attack targeted a synagogue, the crisis in Jerusalem is now transmuting into a religious war. That framing is simplistic. Palestinians in East Jerusalem, unlike their West Bank and Gaza brethren, have always had means and opportunity to attack Israelis; they have done so rarely, and to the extent that such attacks have been rationalized, it has not been in religious terms. Notably, this most recent attack was committed by Palestinians who appear to be associated, at least loosely, not with Hamas but with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), an avowedly secular terrorist organization.
What do American students hate more: ISIS or Israel?
Media personality Ami Horowitz took to the University of California, Berkeley campus to find out — by way of a strange experiment.
Hint: It involves flags.
The students’ vitriolic reaction to the Israeli flag, as compared to the ISIS flag, is striking. A few caveats, though:
First, it seems likely that many of the students just don’t know an ISIS flag when they see one — it’s much newer and much less recognizable than the Israeli flag.
Second, the video is clearly edited — probably selectively.
Third, some students may have avoided confronting Horowitz when he was waving the ISIS flag simply because he seems totally loony — they think ISIS is beyond the pale of what any reasonable person might support, so it’s just not worth engaging. The fact that they don’t stop to argue or yell expletives at him doesn’t mean they view ISIS more kindly.
All that said, this video is still pretty eye-popping.
Eric Lichtblau and his new book, “The Nazis Next Door.”
It’s not often that a museum director gets booed on his own stage.
Yet that’s what happened to David Marwell in the auditorium of the Museum of Jewish Heritage in downtown Manhattan, when an event on New York Times reporter Eric Lichtblau’s new book, “The Nazis Next Door,” went sour.
The $15 afternoon event on November 9, which played to a busy house, was structured as a conversation between Marwell and Lichtblau. It soon devolved into an unmannerly three-way colloquy with an angry audience.
They fought a bit over the relative culpability in the Nazis’ crimes of the German scientists brought to the U.S after the Second World War. But the point that drew the loudest audience shouts was an obscure dispute over what impact General George Patton’s anti-Semitism had on conditions in the displaced persons camps in Europe following the collapse of the Nazi regime. Marwell thought that Lichtblau overstated Patton’s role.
“When he said Patton’s views infused and characterized the treatment of DP’s throughout the postwar period, I said, ‘Eric, you simply can’t say that,” Marwell told the Forward. “And that’s when I got the boos.”
Marwell said it was the first time he had ever been the target of an angry audience’s shouts in his 14 years as director of the museum.
Every year, residents of the small German town of Wunsiedel are forced to deal with thousands of neo-Nazi activists marching in their streets.
Rudolf Hess, who was Hitler’s deputy, was buried in the Bavarian town in 1988. Since then, it has been a pilgrimage site for neo-Nazis.
Wunsiedel residents tried it all. They protested and complained. They pushed courts to rule against the marches.
In 2011, the town church even ordered the removal of Hess’s body from the local cemetery and it was cremated — but to no avail. Neo-Nazi pilgrims were still coming and marching through the streets.
This year, residents decided to take a different approach — one involving trickery.
They turned the Nov. 15 march into an “involuntary walkathon.” Without the marchers’ knowledge, for every meter walked, 10 euros (about $13) was donated to a program that helps people leave neo-Nazi groups.
Only when the neo-Nazis were already walking did they find out that local business and residents were sponsoring the Exit Deutschland program. The marchers were welcomed with signs thanking them for their contribution to the struggle against neo-Nazism — and mocking them for being duped.
The sign at the march says: “If the Führer only knew!” / Facebook
A six-year-old Israeli boy kisses his mother on his first day of school / Getty Images
My daughter’s pre-K is right opposite Jabel Mukaber, where the terrorists who attacked a Jerusalem synagogue yesterday lived. The children were in class watching a video when I picked up my little girl. The pre-K teacher, so poised and in control most days, was visibly shaken. “Don’t take the road by the traffic circle, take the other one, be careful of stone throwers.” I always take the road she is referring to. It’s the quickest way to get from my son’s school to my daughter’s.
“Please roll down the windows, Imma,” my children always ask from the backseat. I always do, and did yesterday, with reluctance. Routine is the only thing that saves us, Israelis often say. Routine, mixed with a bit of denial and a strong dose of naivete is what keeps a lot of us going at a time like this. My son is six and asked what the noise was outside my daughter’s pre-K. Firecrackers or gunshots, I wasn’t sure. Lots of chanting. And when I hurried them off the swings and slides to get into the car, a safe space where I could be in control, we saw tear gas sprayed up into the hills. While my daughter was complaining that we had to leave the park sooner than she wanted, my son persisted: “Imma, what is going on?”
Is this the moment when I have to have The Talk? It’s the Middle Eastern version of “where do babies come from?” that most parents put off, dodge or ignore. In these parts, the question is “where does this fighting come from?” I want my son to feel safe and secure, but I also want him to be informed.
Within hours of today’s terrorist attack on the Kehilat Bnei Torah synagogue in Jerusalem’s Har Nof neighborhood, Israeli singer Amir Benayoun had already written, produced and released a new song about the killing of four Jewish worshipers by Palestinians.
The popular musician, who sings in Hebrew and Arabic, has a history of responding to political events. In 2010, Benayoun released a song called “I’m Your Brother,” in which he accused human rights activists in Israel of being the enemy for criticizing the Israeli state and its army. In 2013, he initiated a first-of-its-kind concert at the Cave of the Patriarch in Hebron. And in February of this year, he wrote a song attacking Obama’s policies on Jerusalem titled “Jerusalem of Hussein,” a play on the famous song “Jerusalem of Gold.”
Today’s new song is titled “Jewish Blood.” You don’t have to speak Hebrew to understand the gist of it — the mournful melody says it all — but you can read the lyrics in English below:
In the wake of the terrorist attack that claimed four lives in Jerusalem’s formerly peaceful Har Nof neighborhood, some are speculating that the bloodbath may have been meant as revenge for the murder of Palestinian teen Mohammed Abu Khdeir by Jewish extremists in July.
The father of Yosef Haim Ben-David, the main suspect in the Abu Khdeir murder, prays in the same complex of synagogues where today’s attack happened, Maariv reports (Hebrew). The report suggests that the killers may have been aiming for Ben-David’s father, or the closest they could get to the inner circle of the Jewish extremist.
The location of the Ben-David home seems to have been well known. Footage of the area was broadcast on Channel 10’s “Hamakor,” in the context of a program focusing on the Abu Khdeir murder, just last week. On social media, some are now pointing fingers at that program’s Raviv Drucker, blaming him for divulging the location and leading the killers to Har Nof.
Drucker has responded, saying that the synagogue where the attack took place was hundreds of meters away. He also wrote a blog post last week about his decision to run the story about the murder at such a tense time, despite receiving many requests not to broadcast it.
The Kehilat Bnei Torah synagogue is just 200 yards from the Ben-David home, according to the Telegraph.
Following the Abu Khdeir murder, the Haredi website Kikar Hashabbat also ran a profile on Ben-David, mentioning that his father serves as the head of the Kollel in Har Nof, as well as a rabbi in the Katamonim neighborhood.
The theory that today’s attack was meant as revenge for the Abu Khdeir murder is still just speculation. But, if true, it might go some ways toward explaining why the killers chose to perpetrate this attack specifically in a synagogue, and in this normally-calm neighborhood in particular.
Shortly after putting forward this theory, Maariv redacted its article, removing any mention of the Channel 10 broadcast and other details, and citing a gag order.
A Yachad tour overlooking the South Hebron Hills at the southern tip of the West Bank / Yachad
In a historic move on Sunday, the Board of Deputies of British Jews (BoD) voted overwhelmingly to admit Yachad into the umbrella organization.
Yachad was set up in 2011 to build support within the British Jewish community for a two-state solution. Its work involves both education and grassroots advocacy. Securing 135 votes in support, against 61 “no” votes, Yachad reached the two-thirds majority required for inclusion according to the constitution of the BoD.
The BoD is the British Jewish community’s official representative body. “Deputies” are voted in by their synagogue members, and from within the deputies a leadership structure is then elected, which includes amongst other positions a president and number of vice presidents. It is from this process that the BoD earns its title of being the democratically elected body of the British Jewish community. (Note that the community also has the Jewish Leadership Council, made up of the chairs and chief executives of communal organizations, more similar in nature to the American Jewish community’s Conference of Presidents.)
In more recent years, the BoD has created a provision for community organizations to be represented, recognizing that not everyone identifies with the community through a specific synagogue. Through this provision, Yachad applied to become a member organization.
It goes without saying that Yachad is delighted with the outcome. Having been established just over three years ago, Yachad has amassed a significant body of support within the community for its work. Our supporters want to have a seat at the community table — that’s why the application was submitted. It was in fact our supporters themselves who encouraged us to apply.
The Binding of Isaac
It’s a question that has puzzled believers, scholars and philosophers for millennia: Did Abraham really intend to kill his son Isaac?
On November 16, Jewish New Yorkers had a chance to decide the question once and for all, when Abraham was put on trial for child endangerment and attempted second-degree murder. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they absolved the father of monotheism of any wrongdoing.
It was a celebrity court case like any other, complete with a packed courtroom, a much-adored defendant, two hotshot attorneys and a highly controversial verdict.
But unlike, say, the O.J. Simpson trial, case no. 5775 was argued in a synagogue, and the crime with which it concerned itself took place over 3,000 years ago.
The trial, held at the historic Reform Temple Emanu-El, was presided over by New York federal judge Alison J. Nathan, who admitted to “having some serious doubts about my jurisdiction here.” Over 1,300 (mostly Jewish) New Yorkers paid $36 for the privilege of serving on the jury to judge their forbear.
Students walk past a statue of a former Princeton president on the school’s campus / Getty Images
A faculty petition recently appeared in The Daily Princetonian calling for the university to divest from companies operating in the West Bank. The Center for Jewish Life, Princeton’s Hillel, quickly responded with a letter stating that the CJL is “taking the best, positive strategic approach to defeat this action.”
As a Jewish undergraduate at Princeton, the CJL is a very important community to me. I go there every day, and most of my experiences are overwhelmingly positive. I am consistently impressed by the dedication of the CJL staff to their students.
I view the CJL as my home on campus, and so I was particularly surprised by the CJL’s letter. Because I am an observant Jew who cares deeply about Israel and opposes the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, I was upset by the letter’s implication that such opposition is an unquestioned assumption in our community. Along with many other Jewish students, I signed an open letter to the CJL and Hillel International, explaining my discomfort with the CJL’s stance.
Our letter did not take a stand on the issue of divestment itself. Rather, we asked for the CJL to refrain from taking a unilateral position where there is no consensus in our community. I do not oppose people speaking out against the faculty petition. The counter-petition signed by many faculty members and a petition created by Tigers for Israel, an Israel advocacy student group, are both legitimate and worthwhile. What I do oppose is the CJL, an organization meant to represent all Jews on campus, making a statement about Israel as if it were unanimous. This complex issue calls for ideological diversity and discussion, not a top-down initiative to “defeat this action” that alienates students.
Israeli lawmakers have voted for a bill intended to prevent the free distribution of Sheldon Adelson’s Israel Hayom newspaper — a media outlet that is considered to be a virtual mouthpiece of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Adelson, the controversial founder and owner of the newspaper, made headlines last week when he said: “Israel isn’t going to be a democratic state — so what?” That comment triggered a new round of criticism on Adelson’s involvement in Israeli politics, and his role as Netanyahu’s de facto media patron.
“Mr Adelson is not here,” said opposition Labor party lawmaker Eitan Cabel said while celebrating the bill’s advancement. “However, his spirit is here in this plenary.”
But it wasn’t only Netanyahu’s political enemies who voted for a measure that — if it clears hurdles to final passage — could effectively silence Adelson.
Many members of his ruling coalition also voted for the measure. That was a sure sign of the increasing fragility of the government, especially coming just days after environment minister Amir Peretz quit in a huff over the budget.
So what allowed the bill to pass even though it takes aim at a prominent and highly public ally of Netanyahu?
The Ministerial Committee for Legislation usually decides the government position on each bill — and orders all governing coalition members to vote accordingly.
But this time, it took the step of granting ministers the freedom to vote as they please.
The results were eye-popping — and worrisome for Netanyahu.
The vote in favor of the bill was 43-23. Ten members of coalition party Yesh Atid voted in favor as did 12 out of 14 parliament members of Yisrael Beiteinu, the party of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.
Now, the bill will move on to a Knesset committee. If the bill eventually passes, it would be more than a black eye for Netanyahu. Some insiders in his Likud Party say it could lead to the collapse of the coalition because of the infighting that it could spark.
Judge Richard Posner inappropriately opined on Jewish law in a 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling last week, which held that Northwestern University was justified in disaffiliating with Rabbi Dov Hillel Klein, a Chabad campus rabbi accused by the University of serving alcohol to minors. The rabbi maintains that Northwestern violated his constitutional rights, denied him due process, and discriminated against the Jewish faith, since he was serving moderate amounts of alcohol for religious purposes. Illinois state law permits serving alcohol to minors “in the performance of a religious ceremony or service.”
The court ultimately concludes that Northwestern did not violate a federal ban on race discrimination by excluding the rabbi, claiming that even if the rabbi proved he was discriminated against, the relevant statute only forbids discrimination “on the ground of race, color, or national origin,” not religious observance.
But in a deeply troubling part of his decision, Judge Posner tries to sound more like a theologian than a civil judge, citing self-selected articles found through “Google” and “Wikipedia,” which claim that, according to Jewish law, “drinking an alcoholic beverage is not mandatory; one is allowed to be drunk simply on ‘happiness.’”
Still from CCTV footage of the West Bank killing / Youtube
I hate to say I told you so. But the fatal shooting of two Palestinian teens in the West Bank this summer? Not faked. Not “Pallywood.” Not even close. It was exactly what it appeared to be.
On May 15, four Palestinians, three of them children, were shot in the town of Bitunya during a demonstration near the Ofer Prison. Two of them, Nadim Siyam Nawarah and Muhammad Mahmoud Salameh, both 17, died of their wounds. CCTV footage of the shootings clearly showing both boys collapsing after being mortally wounded went viral around the world and was immediately met with conspiracy theories, first by bloggers and then by current and former high-ranking Israeli officials, that the shootings had been staged.
In some versions, as promoted by Rabbi Kenneth L. Cohen, director of the Vine and Fig Tree Project, a religious pro-peace organization, as well as many other prominent commentators, the boys were said to not have fallen “correctly” or in a manner “consistent” with their having been shot. Having seen many films of shootings while doing research on war crimes, I questioned the validity of such arguments in a previous blog post, noting that people fall in a variety of ways after being shot and that the footage was in no way “inconsistent” with the young men having been shot in the upper torso.
Soon after the initial conspiracy theory of staged shootings made its way around the internet, even more involved and unlikely conspiracy theories began to be promoted by prominent officials. On May 22, former Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren, speaking on CNN, not only said that the boys had fallen in a manner inconsistent with their having been shot but stated that they may have never died in the first place. This, despite numerous interviews with the young men’s parents and the doctors who tried to save their lives and a plethora of footage of their funerals on Youtube.
(JTA) — Looks like there’s another so-called War on Christmas, and this time it’s the Muslims, not the Jews, who are being blamed.
The decision by a suburban Washington school district to continue closing for Jewish and Christian holidays — but not label them as such on the school calendar — has ignited a firestorm from right-wing bloggers and commentators.
On Tuesday, the Montgomery County Board of Education voted to remove the religious designations after local Muslims had complained that the district observes Christmas, Easter, Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah, but does not offer vacation on any Muslim holidays.
“School Dumps Christmas to Appease Muslims” was how Todd Starnes of Fox News Radio framed the headline.
Describing the issue as “a new battleground in the war on Christmas” and “bad news for you Jews and gentiles out there,” Starnes implied that the holidays will be eliminated rather than just not identified on the school calendar. (“That means no more Christmas, no more Easter and no more Yom Kippur,” he claimed, later noting that the school board “opted to eliminate all religious holidays.”)
In a similar vein, The Blaze wrote “School District Bans Christmas, Easter and Jewish Holidays From Calendar Following Debate Over Muslim Request.”
The Examiner, which accompanied its article with a still from the film “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” headlined it “Christmas, Easter, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur stricken from school calendar.”
While the outraged headlines may indicate otherwise, the decision seems to have pleased no one, least of all the local Muslim activists. One activist, Zainab Chaudry, told the Washington Post that the school board was willing to ““go so far as to paint themselves as the Grinch who stole Christmas” to avoid granting equal treatment for the Muslim holiday.
“They would remove the Christian holidays and they would remove the Jewish holidays from the calendar before they would consider adding the Muslim holiday to the calendar,” she said.
A #Drive4alAqsa meme, part of the “car intifada” campaign / Twitter
The past few weeks have seen widespread incitement to violence among both Palestinians and Jewish Israelis. There have been stabbings, harassments, shootings, stone-throwings, hit-and-runs. And now, there’s the “car intifada.”
This campaign, which is drawing significant media attention, calls on Palestinians to run over Israelis with their cars. As the latest hit-and-run attacks by Palestinians make the rounds on social media, the buzz surrounding this phenomenon is adding a new aspect to the perennial speculation about the next wave of violence to hit the region: Will the third intifada be motorized?
In three incidents over the past few weeks, Palestinians rammed their cars into pedestrians. Four of them were killed and over 20 were injured. On Monday, in two separate incidents, Palestinians stabbed four Jewish Israelis. Two of them were killed.
Facebook pages and tweets popped up, using the term “car intifada” and the Arabic verb “daes,” which means to run over. Hashtags, cartoons and memes were created, some of them anti-Semitic in nature. Many directly and indirectly call on Palestinians to use their cars as weapons.
A music video by two Palestinian residents of Ramallah, called “Run Over, Run Over (the Settlers),” has also been making the rounds on social media. It urges Palestinians to run over settlers and soldiers.
Well, here’s something you don’t see every day. The Israeli Embassy in Tokyo has launched an anime web series to encourage Japanese tourists to visit the Holy Land — and it’s kind of amazing.
“Israel, Like!” is an unusual blend of hasbara and manga — I hereby dub it “hasbaranga” — featuring two Japanese sisters, Saki and Noriki. As they tour different parts of Israel, they get to know each area’s special attractions.
The goal of this unexpected media initiative is to “use anime to reach the Japanese audience, especially youth, and display the Israel beyond the conflict,” Israel’s ambassador to Japan, Ruth Kahanoff, told Ynet. Ronen Medzini, the embassy’s spokesperson, added: “The main goal is to showcase the lighter and original aspects of Israeli society.”
The lighter aspects — check. The weirder aspects? Again, check. I actually found the inaugural episode (there will be seven total) strangely riveting. Allow me to walk you through some of the oddest moments.
So why is Rabbi Barry Freundel, who made national headlines when he was arrested on charges of secretly taping naked women in his synagogue’s ritual bath, included in this year’s Forward 50?
Friends wanted to know. Readers commented on Facebook. Some were simply curious; others posed the question as a challenge.
Does he really belong? Well, yes.
I appreciate the question; it’s a fair one. The Forward 50, a project which began under the auspices of Seth Lipsky, the English Forward’s founding editor, bills itself as a list of the 50 American Jews who have most impacted our national Jewish story in the last year. Most of the people are included for their positive contribution — a brilliant television show, an incisive novel, a creative nonprofit enterprise, a courageous political stand, a new restaurant, a new museum, a scientific breakthrough.
Honestly, as time-consuming as this project is every year, it is one of my favorite tasks at the Forward. It allows us to look for the good in our fellow Jews, an essential antidote to the ceaseless pressure of the news cycle, where missteps and misdeeds often attract the most attention. We work hard to probe beyond the obvious, to broaden our geographic and ideological reach. The accolades are often given to those with whom I may personally disagree, but no matter. Impact is our driving criteria.
Which is why Freundel deserves his place on this year’s list.