September 24, 2007

(Reb Yudel)

Bob Dylan Yom Kippur sighting, 2007

An email I received today:
Since you have a web page on the subject, here’s a sighting if you’re interested -

Bob Dylan on Yom Kippur/Shabbat 5768 (Sep. 22 2007) in Atlanta, GA -

He had a show that night at an arena just outside of town and ours was the Chabad shul most convenient to his hotel.

He had the 5th Aliyah (he had asked for one) and left after Yizkor.

His Rabbi in California called my Rabbi the day before to make arrangements and was very specific.  He said, and I quote verbatim what I was told by one who was present during the call, that “he hates people” and wanted to be left utterly alone.  He didn't want anyone coming up to him and saying anything... not "Welcome," not "Shabbat Shalom," nothing.  Not even the Rabbi was to come up and say hello.  He wanted 3 reserved seats out of the way in the back for himself, his road manager and personal manager (though some say one was a bodyguard).

But he asked for the Aliyah nonetheless and wore a large black knit ski/pimp hat instead of a kippah.  There was no way the cat didn't stand out in the crowd.  When he had his Aliyah you could hear a pin drop, but he muttered so softly that only the guys on the bima could hear him.

Some details that only a Jewish Dylan fan would appreciate:

    •    He was seated in the midst of Israelis, none of whom had a clue who he was.

    •    Dylan’s Hebrew name as he gave it on the bima is Zushia ben
Avraham, not Shabtai Zisel.  Why the difference, I don’t know... either the latter has been wrong all these years or he changed it, but what he said was absolutely clear to everyone who heard him.

    •    When a Mi Sheberach was made after his Aliyah, he gave the names of four kids.  The Gabai asked, “Any other children?”  He said, “I have a lot of kids, just go ahead.”

I told my Rabbi, “If he ever comes on a different Shabbat or Yom Tov and you invite him for a meal without inviting me as well, you and I are through.”  He laughed and said, “I’m told he only comes to shul on Yom Kippur, so don’t hold your breath.”
(Reb Yudel)

My kid is a propaganda prop for the Cheney administration... but it could be worse!

So Jews are answering Malcolm Hoenlein's charge and bussing kids (including my 11th grader) to protest the Iranian leader. This would be a bit more meaningful if Hoenlein et al weren't unrepentant enablers of Iran's de facto major Middle East ally, President Bush. Because while the death of 3,500 American soldiers and tens if not hundreds of thousands of Iraqis will soon fade away, Iran's success in filling the vacuum created by George Bush will endure for some time.

As Peter Galbraith observes:

George W. Bush had from the first facilitated the very event he
warned would be a disastrous consequence of a US withdrawal from Iraq:
the takeover of a large part of the country by an Iranian-backed
militia. And while the President contrasts the promise of democracy in
Iraq with the tyranny in Iran, there is now substantially more personal
freedom in Iran than in southern Iraq.

Iran's role in Iraq is pervasive, but also subtle. When Iraq drafted
its permanent constitution in 2005, the American ambassador
energetically engaged in all parts of the process. But behind the
scenes, the Iranian ambassador intervened to block provisions that
Tehran did not like. As it happened, both the Americans and the
Iranians wanted to strengthen Iraq's central government. While the Bush
administration clung to the mirage of a single Iraqi people, Tehran
worked to give its proxies, the pro-Iranian Iraqis it
supported—by then established as the government of Iraq—as
much power as possible. (Thanks to Kurdish obstinacy, neither the US
nor Iran succeeded in its goal, but even now both the US and Iran want
to see the central government strengthened.)

Since 2005, Iraq's Shiite-led government has concluded numerous
economic, political, and military agreements with Iran. The most
important would link the two countries' strategic oil reserves by
building a pipeline from southern Iraq to Iran, while another commits
Iran to providing extensive military assistance to the Iraqi
government. According to a senior official in Iraq's Oil Ministry,
smugglers divert at least 150,000 barrels of Iraq's daily oil exports
through Iran, a figure that approaches 10 percent of Iraq's production.
Iran has yet to provide the military support it promised to the Iraqi
army. With the US supplying 160,000 troops and hundreds of billions of
dollars to support a pro-Iranian Iraqi government, Iran has no reason
to invest its own resources.

You really should take the time to read the rest of this dispiriting piece.

Anyway, I don't think demonstrations do much good. But hats off to those who, however vainly, tried to protest this folly years ago.

September 23, 2007

(Reb Yudel)

How George Bush became the new Saddam: The view from Canada

Patrick Graham reports from Iraq for the Canadian newsweekly Maclean's:

Arriving in Baghdad has always been a little weird. Under Saddam
Hussein it was like going into an orderly morgue; when he ran off after
the U.S.-led invasion of March 2003 put an end to his Baathist party
regime, the city became a chaotic mess. I lived in Iraq for almost two
years, but after three years away I wasn’t quite ready for just how
deserted and worn down the place seemed in the early evening. It was as
if some kind of mildew was slowly rotting away at the edges of things,
breaking down the city into urban compost.

Since 2003, more than 3,775 U.S. troops have been killed in Iraq, while
nearly 7,500 Iraqi policemen and soldiers have died. For Iraq’s
civilian population, the carnage has been almost incalculable. Last
year alone, the UN estimated that 34,500 civilians were killed and more
than 36,000 wounded; other estimates are much higher. As the country’s
ethnic divisions widen, especially between Iraq’s Arab Shia and Arab
Sunni Muslims (the Kurds are the third major group), some two million
people have been internally displaced, with another two million fleeing
their homeland altogether. Entering Baghdad I could tell the Sunni
neighbourhoods, ghettos really, by the blasts in the walls and the
emptiness, courtesy of sectarian cleansing by the majority Shias. The
side streets of the Shia districts seemed to have a little more life to

One of the terrifying aspects of the war is the monumental failure of
analysis and action on the part of America’s political, military,
journalistic and even business elites.

That problem may be systemic—the result of a “fact-based” America
confronting a society it did not understand and simply making up an
alternate reality, guns ablaze.

So far, the Republicans have done an
impressive job at failing in Iraq. Soon it may be the Democrats’ turn
to fail, albeit in a different way. It’s a shame because Iraqi
political parties are perfectly capable of doing that on their own.
Indeed, they seem to be going out of their way to compete with the
Americans on that score.

Read it all

(Reb Yudel)

Publishers Weekly: reviews Life in the Present Tense: "a treasure trove of wisdom"

Publishers Weekly reviews Life in the Present Tense: Reflections on Family and Faith by Rifka Rosenwein

Before her life was cut short by cancer at age 42 in 2003, Modern
Orthodox writer and editor Rosenwein had been a beloved columnist for
seven years for the New York Jewish Week, reflecting once a
month on child-rearing, careers, love, holiness and Jewish tradition.

With equal parts humor and heartache leaping from the page in the
columns written after her cancer diagnosis, Rosenwein deals with aging
parents, challenging modern schedules, timeless holy days and the joys
of raising her three children. The columns address the quotidian
concerns of a suburban Jewish family as well as more global issues: the
fear and sadness after 9/11 and the sense of anxiety that some American
Jews have about Israel....

...this is a treasure trove of
wisdom from one of American Judaism's most beloved and lamented voices.
Rosenwein's husband, Barry Lichtenberg, provides a touching afterword,
and novelist Tova Mirvis (a former intern of hers) the foreword.

September 21, 2007

(Reb Yudel)

Senate voting against political speech: A betrayal of trust

Half the Democrats joining the Republicans in condemning citizens for coming out against the war in a newspaper advertisement? Thanks for reminding me why I almost voted for Nader. Rather than helping the Democrats, I donated to Political Action: Democracy in Action. Herewith the next MoveOn television ad:

September 9, 2007

(Reb Yudel)

Krauthammer & the NeoCon Mind

Matthew Yglesias (September 08, 2007) - Looting Then And Now (Foreign Policy) reads Krauthammer today, and in 2003, and concludes:
Such is the war in Iraq as seen through neocon lenses. Mistakes are always in the past. The current policy is always working. When the mistakes are being made, those who point out the mistakes are tarred as near-treasonous. Then, after another year or two of pointless, futile bloodshed, it's conceded that mistakes were made in the past. But now we're right on track. And the liberals, once again, just don't get it
(Reb Yudel)

My Podhoretz Problem (and ours)

Andy Sullivan links to what may be the key paragraphs in the New York Review of Books takedown of Podhoretz:
When Podhoretz grew up in Brooklyn, the common assumption was that Jews were rich and Negroes were persecuted. This was not how things looked to Podhoretz on the playground of his local public school, where poor Jewish boys like him were regularly being beaten up by Negroes: "There is a fight, they win, and we retreat, half whimpering, half with bravado. My first experience of cowardice." Negroes, he goes on, "made one feel inadequate. But most important of all, they were tough, beautifully, enviably tough, not giving a damn for anyone or anything.... This is what I envied and feared in the Negro...." And then there were the effete snobs, "the writers and intellectuals and artists who romanticize the Negroes, and pander to them," and "all the white liberals who permit the Negroes to blackmail them into adopting a double standard of moral judgment...."

The key to Podhoretz's politics seems to me to lie right there: the longing for power, for toughness, for the Shtarker who doesn't give a damn about anyone or anything, and hatred of the contemptible, cowardly liberals with their pandering ways and their double standards. Since Podhoretz, himself a bookish man, can never be a Shtarker, his government must fill that role, and not give a damn about anyone or anything. And not only the US government, but Israel too.

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(Reb Yudel)

Dawkins rebutted... more or less

From The Valve:

Only Dawkins, or perhaps his psychiatrist, can say why this subject seems to make him so angry; but he should be advised that the intemperate hostility he exhibits towards his subject is counterproductive.  I’ll eat my shiny peaked cap if this book persuades even the most hesitant half-Fascist to renounce his beliefs.

September 5, 2007

(Reb Yudel)

182 non-Jewish students at Yeshiva & Stern Colleges?

That's the implication of a JTA report about Jewish college attendance which sites a Reform Judaism magazine guide to college:
Not surprisingly, Yeshiva heads the guide's list showing the 20 colleges with the highest percentage of Jews -- 93.5 percent of its undergraduates are Jewish.
Only 93.5%? Back in my day, there were fewer undergrads at Yeshiva.... but I thought it seemed 100% Jewish. What gives?
(Reb Yudel)

Solomon Schechter, z'l

Looks like the Conservative movement couldn't pull it off. Metropolitan Schechter announced last week that a major donor pulled out (after losing his shirt in a failed hedge fund? Just speculating.) and this particular experiment in non-Orthodox Jewish education will have reached its end.

I'm rather late to the game of bemoaning the Conservative movement's failures (Milton Steinberg was eloquently and vehemently denouncing it back in the 1940s) but there do seem to be some important lessons that should be learned:

* If you want to start a High School, name it after someone who can write a seven-figure check, not someone who was American Judaism's Great British Hope a century ago.

* If you're relying on pledges from millionaires, make sure they keep their money in the bank, not a hedge fund.

* If you're relying on millionaires, you're probably making a major mistake. Unlike billionaires, millionaires suffer financial reversals. (For one thing, billionaires start hedge funds that take money from millionaires). Millionaires, however, tend to underestimate the reserves of people who are not themselves millionaires; who might in fact be, even, on scholarship.

Alas, the grand old days of Jewish fundraising -- when everyone was squeezed until they hurt -- are now only history. Today, the only polite squeeze is the tuition bill.

This has been a problem for more than 15 years now; I remember in the early '90s feeling the lost opportunity when the UJA's Operation SomethingOrOrther -- Exodus I think it was -- divided up the campaign target of several hundred million dollars into "fair-share" local obligations. Then San Francisco Federation exec Brian Lurie called the major donors into his office, told them the goal -- and they all wrote out their checks and went home. Low overhead is fine and good, but something is lost when retail shnoring is left to the various "help the poor in Israel" telephone operations in Brooklyn and Monsey.

* There's no upside in having the "Conservative" in your brand -- unless you value exclusivity over mass Jewish education.

More later. Anyone who wants to organize an "independent" minyan in Teaneck, leave a note in the comments section.