Crystal Ball Sees


It seems like we’ve been on the verge of 2004 for ages —
presidential election years always seem to distort the space-time continuum —
but now it’s really upon us, and a lively year it is certain to be.

Congress and the White House are up for grabs, the war on
terrorism is sputtering and political leaders face a host of pressing domestic
problems that they did their best to duck in 2003. In addition, the Middle East
is its usual seething tangle, ready to ensnare policymakers here and around the
world.

Here are a few predictions for the coming 12 months.

• The Presidency: More Up for Grabs Than the Pundits Say

Today’s conventional wisdom is that improving economic news
and Saddam Hussein’s capture have made President Bush all but invincible. Guess
again. Many key indices point to the president’s reelection, but that
conventional wisdom could be upset in a moment by a down tick in the shaky
economy, new terrorist attacks, big new scandals or bad news in Iraq.

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, pulling far ahead in the
race for the Democratic presidential nomination, could become a formidable
candidate if he learns to stop shooting himself in the foot and steers toward
the political center.

Some Jewish voters, concerned primarily about Israel, will
make the long-awaited shift to the Republican side, but don’t look for a mass
exodus to the promised land of the GOP.

• Congress: More Republican, More Partisan

A year ago, the Democrats were plotting strategies for
winning back one or both houses of Congress. Today, they’re trying to figure
out how to limit their losses.

In 2003, the razor-thin GOP Senate margin allowed Democrats
to block a few of the administration’s most controversial domestic proposals
and a handful of judicial nominees. November’s election will likely make it
harder for them to keep that up.

• The Budget: More Red Ink

Lawmakers passed several big tax cuts in the past two years,
then fled the scene of the crime, abandoning 11 of 13 appropriation bills.

In January, lawmakers will have to pass a giant “continuing
resolution” to keep the government running for the rest of the fiscal year.
That pork-filled legislation is the opposite of the fiscal discipline both
parties piously promised.

Then it will be time to deal with next year’s budget. The
fiscal problems that gave Congress such fits this year will be that much more
severe, because they were just put off. Soaring defense costs could lead to
overwhelming pressure for domestic spending cuts.

However, with elections in November, lawmakers may once
again dodge the bullet, putting off the hard decisions until 2005, producing
bigger federal deficits and a bigger burden for the next generation.

• More Hype About Marriage

The Massachusetts Supreme Court decision on gay marriage
will propel so-called defense of marriage constitutional amendments to
political center stage. Conservative Christian groups will pull out all the
stops; gay and civil rights groups will fight just as hard on the other side.

The issue will become even more dominant, because of
politicians eager to divert attention from vexing issues — such as terrorism
and the retirement crisis — and it will continue to divide the Jewish community,
with Orthodox groups supporting the religious conservatives, defense
organizations and the Reform movement backing the civil rights advocates.

• More Movement Toward Public Funding of Parochial Schools

School voucher supporters are close to winning a big
skirmish in their war — a model voucher program for the District of Columbia.
That could ignite a flurry of new voucher proposals at the state and local
levels. The Supreme Court will rule in June on a case that could really open
the floodgates to new programs for parochial school funding.

The Bush administration will also continue using its
executive authority to give grants to religious groups that provide health and
services.

• More of the Same in U.S-Israel Relations

There’s plenty of potential for new U.S.-Israel friction,
but the Sharon government has a powerful protector: Yasser Arafat. As long as
Arafat is back at the helm of Palestinian government, Washington won’t really
turn the screws on Jerusalem, unless Sharon goes too far with his security
barrier and his proposal for “disengagement” from the Palestinians.

Less clear is the impact of a self-proclaimed protector of
Israel in this country: the Christian right. Televangelists and conservative
politicians such as Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) have become avid backers of the
Sharon government and of the idea that Israel should not give up any land to
the Palestinians.

However, many of these new Zionists have been reluctant to
go against a Republican president when he pressures Israel. New conflict over
the fence and Sharon’s proposal could put that new friendship to the test.

• New Jewish Divisions Over Peace

Jewish doves, paralyzed by the resumption of Palestinian
terror in 2000, are coming back to life, but centrist Jewish groups here have
shifted to the right. In Israel, Sharon’s call for removing some settlements
will touch off a furious battle that will spill over onto the American Jewish
scene.

All of that means more polarization than ever in a Jewish
community that will continue to support Israel, but which has very different
visions for the Jewish State’s future.

Establishing Boundaries


For those who look up to the American Jewish clergy, it has not been a good year.
Last week, one of the Reform movement’s most prominent rabbis was suspended from the movement’s rabbinical association for past sexual misconduct.

Shortly after his suspension from the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR), Rabbi Sheldon Zimmerman, widely respected as a Jewish thinker and teacher, resigned as president of the movement’s Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.

The news about Zimmerman came on the heels of several other widely publicized incidents involving Jewish clergy:

A Reform rabbi in Cherry Hill, N.J., faces a possible death sentence for allegedly hiring people to murder his wife in 1994.

A Conservative cantor in the Chicago area was arrested over Thanksgiving weekend for alleged involvement in a prostitution ring.

The Orthodox Union has just received a report investigating its handling of allegations that a New Jersey rabbi working for the movement’s national youth group sexually harassed and molested teens. The report’s findings and recommendations will not be made public until late this month.

The wave of incidents is refocusing attention on an issue that has come into public view only in recent years.

In the past, rabbinic misconduct — particularly sexual misconduct — was rarely discussed publicly. Many advocates for victims complained that rabbinical associations were more interested in protecting their members than the people they hurt.

Today there are stirrings of change. Leaders of the rabbinic organizations say misconduct remains rare, but during the past five years, three of the four denominations have developed new guidelines or modified old ones for addressing misconduct.

In addition, some rabbinic seminaries are raising the issues for rabbis-in-training, both before and after ordination.

It is unclear what overall impact such changes are having, since no one appears to be tracking the issue or monitoring how the new guidelines are affecting the number of complaints or the actions taken against rabbis.

While some believe that recent high-profile cases may encourage victims to come forward, others worry that the pendulum may swing too far.

They worry that fear of false accusations or misunderstandings are leading rabbis to become nervous about even innocently hugging congregants in need of comfort or counseling people behind closed doors.

One result from all the publicity is a growing awareness of the issue, which many expect will lead to less tolerance for misconduct.

“The wall of silence around clergy misconduct is being taken down,” said Susan Weidman Schneider, editor of Lilith, a feminist Jewish magazine.

In 1998, the magazine published an article about women who said they were sexually harassed by the late charismatic Orthodox leader, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach.

Rabbi Debra Orenstein, a fellow at the Wilstein Institute in Encino, Calif., who has been an advocate on this issue in the past, said, “People are less skittish and afraid of saying this happens with rabbis and are therefore more willing to deal with it.”

Rabbinic sexual misconduct is an extraordinarily complex issue.

It ranges from more obvious transgressions, such as sexual harassment and inappropriate touching, to more ambiguous cases in which a rabbi has a seemingly consensual relationship with a congregant or staff person, but which is questionable because of the power dynamics involved.

It is difficult to know how prevalent misconduct cases are or what percentage are reported.

As Rabbi Joel Meyers, executive vice president of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly (RA), put it, “I can never guarantee there are not things that happen that don’t get taken care of.

“Obviously someone has to lodge a complaint,” he said. “My office is not a police force, and we’re not on witch hunts.”

It is also difficult to assess how fairly cases are handled, since rabbinic ethics committees — in order to protect both the accuser and the accused — operate in secrecy.

That secrecy “by its very nature makes it difficult to evaluate the process at all,” said Rabbi Shira Stern, chairwoman of the Reform movement’s Women’s Rabbinic Network.

The Conservative, Reconstructionist and Reform rabbinical associations have created or modified policies concerning sexual misconduct within the past five years.

The Conservative movement’s guidelines, in the works for several years, have not yet been printed and distributed to rabbis but are expected to be completed in June 2001.

The Orthodox rabbinical association has not modified its procedures in more than 50 years, according to Rabbi Steven Dworken, the group’s executive vice president.

But the group’s president, Rabbi Kenneth Hain, said the process may be re-examined if that is recommended in the Orthodox Union’s new report on the handling of the youth abuse case.

The movements vary in how explicit their guidelines are about procedures for inquiry and punitive measures. The Rabbinical Council of America (RCA), which is Orthodox, and the Reform movement’s CCAR made their guidelines available, while the Conservative and Reconstructionist associations gave overviews but would not distribute actual policies.

All the ethics committees request complaints in writing and give an opportunity for the accused rabbi to respond in writing. They then interview both parties and other sources, where appropriate, in order to ascertain what happened and how to respond.

When rabbis are found guilty, the responses range from a reprimand to suspension to expulsion from the association, depending on the misconduct and the assessment of the ethics committee.

Some of the movements require therapy and a process of teshuvah (repentance) in order for the charged to pursue their rabbinic careers.

In addition, the Reform movement informs any future employers of that rabbi about that rabbi’s past transgressions and rehabilitation process.

None of the rabbinic associations could provide data prior to 1995, but since then, three Reform rabbis have been suspended for sexual misconduct and two Conservative rabbis have been found guilty but not suspended.

Both Conservative rabbis were required to undergo therapy and be monitored by the ethics committee, and one was forbidden from taking any rabbinic post other than teaching adult education courses.

Meyers said the RA’s ethics committee is currently wrestling with a case in which a now 86-year-old rabbi is being accused of something he did 30 years ago, raising the question of whether rabbis should be disciplined for transgressions that occurred long ago.

Officials of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association would not disclose how many cases it has reviewed or what disciplinary action it took, and the Orthodox’s RCA said it did not know of any cases of rabbinic sexual misconduct.

Rabbi Baruch Lanner, the Orthodox rabbi accused of sexually harassing and molesting scores of youth in the Orthodox Union’s youth group, was not a member of the RCA, which is composed primarily of congregational rabbis.

Some do worry that the movements’ guidelines may be so stringent that rabbis and other Jewish professionals may not be able to do their jobs.

“At my son’s camp, the counselors weren’t allowed to check them for ticks after they come back from hikes,” said Rabbi Stephanie Dickstein, assistant dean of the Jewish Theological Seminary’s rabbinical school.

“Where’s the line? We’re in a world where touching is so dangerous that people are lonely,” Dickstein said.
Another difficulty in preventing misconduct is identifying the type of personality prone to overstepping the boundaries.

“Confidence, willingness to reach out to people — all the things that make people good rabbis also make them susceptible to inappropriate behavior,” Dickstein said.

“When you realize how much power you have with vulnerable people, sometimes you might be tempted to take advantage.”

The added scrutiny on the rabbinate, and the fear that one misstep can ruin one’s career and reputation, may add more pressures to an already demanding career.

“You have to be so many things to so many people — what I call the multifarious P’s: pastor, preacher, pedagogue, politician, public relations expert, pronouncer, priest, prophet and pal,” said Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin, spiritual leader of the Community Synagogue of Port Washington on Long Island, N.Y., and author of a recent book on Jewish masculinity.

Salkin, who is Reform, urges his colleagues to seek regular therapy and speak more openly with each other about the issues they face.

“I think rabbis stray because they need intimacy, they need affirmation and more than that, it’s what Judaism calls the ‘yetzer hara,’ the not-so-good inclination that’s within us.”

Rabbi Jacob Staub, vice president for academic affairs at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, said most rabbis and prospective rabbis think that “this is someone else’s problem — you have to be bad. But you can be operating from the noblest of motives and from what you think are the best of values, and you still could be tripped up.”

What most rabbis fall into is not “what we’d call pathological or criminal” — sexual harassment, sexual molestation or nonconsensual sex — “but human foible,” said Staub, who coordinates RRC seminars that deal with these issues.

Like the RRC, other rabbinical schools also now offer some seminars in which sexual misconduct and other related issues are addressed.

Rabbi Arthur Gross Schaefer, a law professor and spiritual leader of two Los Angeles-area congregations who has written extensively on issues of rabbinic misconduct, would like to see more.

“We need programs at seminaries and out in the field to remind them that sex and power and excitement are very real. And if you do any counseling at all, emotions are going to be there and, like therapists, we need to be aware of what’s happening and ensure that synagogues remain safe places.”

Community Groups Weigh in on Golan


Bennett Zimmerman, a buttoned-down investment fund manager by day, stood up at the end of an evening’s conversation and removed his shirt to reveal a T-shirt with bold Hebrew letters spelling out Ha’am im HaGolan — The People are with the Golan.

Although negotiations between Israel and Syria on the future of the Golan are on hold, concerned Jews, like Zimmerman, think it’s not too early to weigh in on what promises to be an agonizing debate within American Jewry, no less than among Israelis.

At this point, major local Jewish organizations have not yet spoken out, waiting for resumption of the Israeli-Syrian talks, under American auspices, and the terms of a final settlement between the two governments.

But Zimmerman feels he has to act now to try and forestall what he perceives as a suicidal surrender of vital Israeli territory and interests.

On the other side, delegations of Reform rabbis and lay leaders met recently with Israeli diplomatic officials here and across the country. They expressed full support for the course being charted by Prime Minister Ehud Barak and his government, which looks toward Israeli withdrawal from the Golan as the price for a lasting peace with Syria, the Jewish state’s most intractable neighbor.

Zimmerman is the ad-hoc chairman of the newly formed Friends of the Golan and he and four other members sat down with a reporter recently to lay out their case.

“I agree with what Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin stated that whoever gives up the Golan gives up the security of Israel,” said Zimmerman. “Syria has shown that it really doesn’t want peace, but it looks like Barak’s policy is on autopilot and he is buckling under pressure from President Clinton.”

Education Israel as a Core Requirement?


My daughter flew home for Thanksgiving with two college friends in tow. At the dinner table, the conversation revolved around computers and the antics of the Stanford Band. At some point in the course of that whirlwind four-day visit, Hilary informed me that, though she’s been diligently studying Hebrew since she started college, a Junior Year Abroad at Hebrew University is no longer part of her plans. It’s not that she’s changed her mind about someday returning to Israel, where she spent an amazing summer two years ago. But she’s convinced that, given the stringent requirements of the high-tech major she seems to have settled on, even a semester in Jerusalem would derail her progress toward her degree.

Like most American Jewish moms, I think of myself as both loving and pragmatic. And, so, I fully support Hilary’s decision. When college students make their course of study a top priority, when they march steadily down the path toward graduation and employment, parents can’t help but rejoice. Still, when I heard that Israel was no longer on my daughter’s agenda for the near future, I couldn’t help thinking of a recent breakfast gathering in Jerusalem, where Levi Lauer addressed a contingent from the Jewish Federation’s Golden Anniversary Community Mission to Israel.

Lauer, originally from Ohio, was ordained as a Reform rabbi in 1972. He ultimately moved to Israel, became halachically observant, and assumed the directorship of a respected coed learning center, the Pardes Institute. He’s currently affiliated with Jerusalem’s Melitz Center for Jewish and Zionist Education. Each summer, he jets to California to serve as scholar-in-residence at the Brandeis-Bardin Collegiate Institute. Both here and in Israel, Lauer spends much of his time with young adults. As a parent, he also knows firsthand what it’s like to raise Israeli children to adulthood.

One of Lauer’s central themes is the difference between young Israelis and young American Jews. His own children have lived through the sealed rooms and gas masks of the Gulf War era. And they have gone a dozen times to the cemetery on Mount Herzl to bury friends who died in military clashes or terrorist attacks. They accept being part of a culture where those still too young to shave are required to make life-and-death decisions on the field of battle.

Today’s American Jewish kids are different, both from Israelis and from earlier generations of Americans who had their own wars to fight (or to resist). American young people, says Lauer, “take it for granted that the world is a safe place. They don’t foresee real suffering. They literally believe that anything is possible.

“[As a father], I envy your kids the fact that the hardest decision they’ve ever had to make is what car to buy or who to go out with or what graduate school to apply to.”

But an objective eye could find American Jewish young adults “intolerably pampered.” They are lacking in basic moral education. They’ve never really had to think beyond themselves.

The fact is: Young American Jews need Israel, and Israel needs them. Israelis can teach our kids the value of commitment to a community. As Lauer puts it: “They need to learn the language of their ancestors. They need to share the experiences of real people, not Zionist propaganda.” In exchange, American Jewish young adults can make important contributions to Israeli society.

Beyond studying at Israeli universities, they can — and should — significantly participate in Israel’s daily life. Lauer makes clear (though many who heard his talk failed to grasp this important distinction) that he does not advocate sending American Jews to fight on Israeli battlefields. But he does envision young Americans forming a sort of Job Corps to do the public work for which Israel is currently importing Third World laborers at enormous cost. He can imagine Americans building roads and hooking up Arab villages to Israel’s central power grid. Such labor would teach them the meaning of social interdependence. As a bonus, it “just might lead them to marry someone who’s also Jewish.”

Lauer doesn’t let young Israelis off the hook. Like their American Jewish counterparts, they are developing a tendency to measure their self-worth in terms of intellectual achievement and material gains. Israelis, he quips, “will buy anything that’s electric and lights up — even if it doesn’t work.”

But young Israeli men and women are soon taught by their army experiences that they are not a world unto themselves. Klal Yisrael takes on a whole new meaning for those who, as part of the Ethiopian rescue operation, were asked to “get up in the middle of the night and schlep 14,000 Jews six centuries.” Israelis may grumble about the constant need to look out for their fellow Jews, but they pitch in when the chips are down. Lauer’s message is that, through an extended stay in Israel, young Jewish Americans can absorb the same lesson.

But how willingly would our kids disrupt their busy American lives to make the trip? Here’s where parents come in. Lauer gently suggests that we, in our eagerness to give our youngsters the best that America has to offer, have steered them down the wrong path. He proposes that we start teaching our children, from age five onward, “not to go to UCLA or Stanford but to go to Israel between the ages of 18 and 20.”

Later, perhaps, after they’ve learned from Israelis what it’s like to live in a Jewish society (and, by their own example, have helped teach Israelis the value of American Jewish pluralism), they can

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