Category Archives: MUSINGS

Musing: Two NYT Articles about Israel Say it All

Two recent articles in the New York Times conveyed as informative a picture of Palestinians and Israel as might be imagined.  One, on August 4,  profiled the “culture of conflict” nurtured by West Bank Palestinians, focusing on Arab teenagers’ delight in throwing large stones at Israel soldiers and Jewish residents of nearby communities, and younger boys’ games imitating their elders’ activities.

“Children have hobbies,” one teen, Muhammad, is quoted as explaining, “and my hobby is throwing stones.”

When a 17-year-old, arrested for his stone-throwing, was released in June after 16 months in prison, the article reports, “he was welcomed like a war hero with flags and fireworks, women in wedding finery lining the streets to cheer his motorcade.”

The second Times piece, the next day, described how, in its headline’s words, “Doctors in Israel Quietly Tend to Syria’s Wounded.”

Most Syrian patients “come here unconscious with head injuries,” said Dr. Masad Barhoum, the director general of one of the hospitals, the Western Galilee Hospital in Nahariya. “They wake up after a few days or whenever and hear a strange language and see strange people,” he continued. “If they can talk, the first question is, ‘Where am I?’ ”

“I am sure,” he added “there is an initial shock when they hear they are in Israel.”

A 13-year-old girl, who had required complex surgery, was interviewed “sitting up in bed in a pink Pooh Bear T-shirt.”  Her aunt, who had managed to locate her and was happy with the treatment her niece had received, told the reporter that they hoped to return to Syria later this week.

“Asked what she will say when she goes back home, the aunt replied: ‘I won’t say that I was in Israel. It is forbidden to be here, and I am afraid of the reactions’.”

The two pieces, taken together, really say it all.

Musing: Message for a Maniac

New York’s tabloids and international news services alike took note of a New Jersey court appearance by Nazi admirer Heath Campbell, who named his first-born ‘Adolf Hitler’ (yemach shemo – although Mr. Campbell neglected to add that phrase to the name) and has had all four of his children removed from his home in the wake of violent incidents there.

The proudly fascist dad, who is seeking to have his children returned to him, appeared in court in an authentic World War II Nazi uniform, complete with medals, knee-high boots and an armband sporting a swastika.

“I want my children back,” Campbell told the Daily News.

And I want my grandparents back.  My uncles, aunts and cousins too.

Musing: The Spelling Champ Who Wasn’t

As most everyone knows by now, the ethnic Indian 2013 Scripps National Spelling Bee champion, 13-year-old Arvind Mahankali, won the final bee by correctly spelling the word knaidel, the Yiddish word for a dumpling.

What only a privileged few – now including you – know is that, back in 1989, a 10-year-old Jewish girl, whose last name at the time was Shafran (she has moved on in both locale and life, and is today a mother several times over and a beloved teacher in Milwaukee), came close to winning the spelling championship of Rhode Island and moving on to the national contest. But she erred.

The word she misspelled was “mistletoe.”

Musing: They’ve Uncovered Our Secret Weapon

Mehdi Taeb, who is close to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, recently revealed that the Jews are the most powerful sorcerers in the world today, and that they have used their powers to attack Iran.  While Iran has so far prevailed, he explained, the full force of Jewish sorcery has not yet been brought to bear.

“The [Jewish] people,” he confided, “believe that it is possible to…  even…  control G-d’s decisions, by using sorcery methods… ”

Don’t know about sorcery, but prayer and repentance have indeed long demonstrated the potential to merit Divine assistance.

Musing: Different Paths, Equally Righteous

The verse that opens the haftarah-reading this Shabbos, from the prophet Amos, refers to the Jewish people as being as dear to G-d as “the children of Kush” – a kingdom of black people.

“Just as a Kushite differs [from others] in [the color of] his skin,” comments the Talmud (Moed Katan, 16b), “so are the Jewish people different in their actions.”

The Chasam Sofer’s interpretation of that comment (he apparently had “the righteous” in place of “the Jewish people”) is well worth pondering.

His words:

“It is well known that every Jew is required to observe all the mitzvos.  But there is no single path for them all.  One Jew may excel in Torah-study, another in avodah (service, or prayer), another in kindnesses to others; this one in one particular mitzvah, that one in another.  Nevertheless, while they all differ from each other in their actions, they all have the same intention, to serve Hashem with their entire hearts.

“Behold the Kushite.  Inside, his organs, his blood and his appearance are all the same as other people’s.  Only in the superficiality of his skin is he different from others.  This is the meaning of ‘[different] in his skin,’ [meaning] only in his skin.  Likewise, the righteous are different [from one another] only ‘in their actions’; their inner conviction and intention, though, are [the same,] aimed at serving Hashem in a good way.”

Musing: Full Circle for a Firebrand Feminist

A long article in The New Yorker chronicles the life and death of radical feminist  Shulamith Firestone, who angrily rejected her Jewish heritage and whose name in the 1960s became synonymous with the jettisoning of traditional mores.

Ms. Firestone died last August at 67, after increasingly exhibiting signs of schizophrenia over the final decades of her life, during which she survived on public assistance and the kindness of others.  She eventually became a recluse, living in a East Village tenement and refusing visitors.

The article, by the Jewish feminist journalist and author Susan Faludi, includes a deeply moving image, recounting how a spurned visitor to the shut-in recalled hearing “a torrent of Hebrew coming from inside” the tenement.  “Firestone,” the article explains, “was reciting Jewish prayers.”

Musing: Obama’s Ode to Jewish History

The parts of President Obama’s remarks after disembarking in Israel that the media seem to have focused on were his declarations about how similar the United States and Israel are, and his insistence, once again, of the “unbreakable bond” between the U.S. and Israel.

To this set of ears, though, the most striking, and important, words he uttered were the following ones:

“More than 3,000 years ago, the Jewish people lived here, tended the land here, prayed to God here. And after centuries of exile and persecution, unparalleled in the history of man, the founding of the Jewish State of Israel was a rebirth, a redemption unlike any in history.”

Many Arab teeth were surely set on edge by that clear and deliberate statement.  And Mr. Obama had to know that they would be.

All of us who care about Israel’s well-being and about Klal YIsrael need to stop a moment and acknowledge not only the import of the president’s words but his courage in uttering them.


Musing: When Hatred Deserves the Worst Label

The Jewish Journal of Los Angeles recently posted the offering of one Liami Lawrence, in which he celebrates the new Israeli government’s lack of “fat men in their black coats” who “write out blank checks for their rabbis and yeshivas” – yeshivas, he continues, whose students “sit back and pretend to study… and make babies.”  He insinuates that charedim in Israel don’t pay taxes, that they “force” women to sit in the back of the bus in charedi neighborhoods and that their behavior can be characterized as “schnorring, lying and cheating.”

Often, and rightly, bemoaned is the use of terms evocative of Klal Yisrael’s worst enemies in personal or political discourse where it has no place.  Taking a hard line on defense or the budget should not render anyone open to being called a Cossack or a Nazi.

But then there are cases where, were a word replaced with “Jew,” the yield would be something recognizably Streicherian.

Mr. Lawrence’s eruption qualifies, I think, for that distinction.  And the Jewish Journal bears responsibility for spreading the hatred here.