Judaism’s greatest lesson: Behavior matters most


If I were asked to identify the greatest Jewish teaching, the most important lesson to be learned from all of Judaism, I would argue that, aside from ethical monotheism, it is that behavior matters more than anything else, and certainly more than feelings.

As the Talmud tells us, “It is not the thought that counts, but the deed.”

This is truly a Jewish idea. I first realized this many years ago when a non-Jewish middle-aged caller to my radio show sorrowfully related to me that he thought he was a terrible son. He explained that for the previous 10 years he had been the sole financial and emotional support of his ailing mother — and sometimes, he confided to me, the burden was so heavy that he wished she would finally succumb to her illnesses.

When I told him that I thought he was one of the most wonderful sons I had ever had the honor of speaking to, he thought I was mocking him. He couldn’t believe that I was serious. But I was. I explained to him that it is completely irrelevant what he sometimes feels or wishes. What matters is how beautifully he has acted toward his mother all these years.

This should be the guiding principle of our views on virtually every subject.

Charity

The Torah commands us to tithe our income. Neither the Torah nor later Judaism ever cared whether our heart is in it. We are commanded to give whether or not we feel like giving. Tzedakah — which is translated as “charity,” but it is in fact the feminine form of “justice” — helps the needy. And people who are in need prefer to receive $100 from one who feels religiously obligated to give, rather than than $5 from one whose heart prompts him to give $5.

Self-Esteem 

The self-esteem movement has largely been a moral and emotional disaster. It was produced by people who, among other mistaken ideas, believed that feelings were more important than actions. Thus, no matter how little children may accomplish, they are still to be rewarded with medals, trophies, lavish praise, etc. The result is that they deem how they feel about themselves as being of greater importance than how they act. 

In a math competition with students from other industrialized democracies, American students came in last. But they came in first in self-esteem about their knowledge of math. And the prominent criminologist and professor of psychology, Roy Baumeister, has often noted that no group has higher self-esteem than violent criminals.

Social Justice

“Social justice” is a politically loaded term. Nevertheless, I will deal here only with the intent of those committed to “social justice” — to helping people who are less well-off than we are. 

We have here another prime example of the relevance of the Jewish teaching that behavior is what matters: Making social policies that work is what matters. Too often, social justice policies are enacted because they make their proponents feel good because they think they are doing good, not because they actually do good. To give but one of many examples, everything I have read confirms what common sense suggests: Lowering standards for college admission for blacks has done far more harm than good for black students. But proponents don’t seem to care about that; what they care about is feeling that they are helping a historically persecuted group.

Happiness

In decades of lecturing, writing and broadcasting on the subject of happiness, my two central premises have come from this Jewish teaching that behavior is what matters most. The first premise is that if we act happy, we are far more likely to feel happy. The second is that we all owe everyone in our lives not to inflict our unhappy feelings on them. With few exceptions, no matter how we feel, we have a moral obligation to act with a happy disposition.

Sex

The rule that one should not rely on feelings to determine one’s behavior even applies to sex with one’s spouse. That is why the Talmud actually lists the number of times per week/month/year a man owes his wife sex. The same holds true for wives. If a woman is married to a good man whom she loves, in general she shouldn’t allow her mood alone to be the sole determinant of whether she has sex with her husband. It is far better for her, for her husband and for their marriage to have sex even on some occasions when she is not in the mood. Of course, it is his obligation to then try to get her in the mood, but she should allow him to at least try to do so even on occasions when she is not in the mood.

Judaism 

Judaism itself is built on this behavioral paradigm. We don’t fast on Yom Kippur only if we are in the mood to do so. A Jew doesn’t observe Shabbat only if he is in the mood to do so at sunset on Friday. One simply does so, and if done well, religious feelings follow.

You want to raise good children? Communicate to them that how they feel is of no concern to almost anyone in the world. But how they act is of concern to everyone they will ever meet. 

Dennis Prager is a nationally syndicated radio talk show host (AM 870 in Los Angeles) and founder of PragerUniversity.com. His latest book is the New York Times best-seller “Still the Best Hope: Why the World Needs American Values to Triumph” (HarperCollins, 2012).

Madoff’s Redemption


If you’re an active member of the Jewish community — and perhaps even if you’re not — there’s almost no way to properly digest the Bernie Madoff scandal. It’slike a quadruple shot of cheap vodka that you drink quickly on an empty stomach. You feel disgusted and drunk at the same time.

First, of course, there’s the alleged scale of the swindle. Fifty billion? You can cut that by 80 percent and it would still be an obscene number.

More than dry numbers, though, there’s the sadness we all feel for the tens of thousands of disadvantaged people — Jews and non-Jews — who will now suffer because the organizations that usually help them have been ruined, not to mention the many individuals and families who have lost their life’s savings overnight.

Then there’s the fear of the uncertain — what all this will mean for the future of fundraising and Jewish philanthropy in an already depressed economy, and to what extent the scandal will fuel the fires of anti-Semitism, as well as turn off many Jews to their faith.

Finally, just to add a touch of the surreal, we have a suspect who apparently immediately confessed to his crime. How often does a white-collar criminal who can afford the best legal advice tell the authorities who have come to arrest him that his financial empire is all “one big lie” — and that he has been engaged for years in a fraudulent Ponzi scheme to the tune of $50 billion?

Well, never.

Put all this nasty brew together, and you have a Jewish community that’s reeling with anger, shock, sadness and shame. We can’t speak fast enough to catch up with our emotions. We almost wish the guy would have kept his mouth shut and had his $900-an-hour lawyer give us the usual “my client will vigorously defend himself from these outrageous charges” response — so that at least we would have been broken in gently.

Instead, we got mugged with a sledgehammer.

One of the dangers of being overwhelmed with so much criminal havoc is that we will lose all perspective when trying to draw conclusions. We may feel, for example, that because the crime is so big, our conclusions must also be big.

But let’s remember that there are many things in this story that are not so big.

Bernie Madoff, for one. Here is a gonif who preyed on the weaknesses of his own people and stole money not just from the wealthy, but from charitable organizations. How much smaller can you get?

How many Bernie Madoffs are there in the Jewish community? The truth is, for every Madoff we hear about, there are probably a million honest Jews we never hear about. Madoff may be a disease, but he’s not an epidemic.

Every day, thousands of deals are made in our community, one Jew trusting another Jew and no one getting ripped off. We don’t hear about these, precisely because no one gets ripped off. There’s no doubt we ought to do more due diligence at all levels of Jewish philanthropy, and I’m sure that as a result of this scandal, we will. But let’s not kid ourselves: For as long as there are human beings, trust will play a central role in the affairs of men.

Trust serves as a convenient shortcut for making decisions, but it also serves a deeper human purpose — it strengthens our emotional bonds. It gives us a chance to show loyalty and faith in other people, and when it is reciprocated, we feel a deeper connection.

Complete Madoff CoverageFrankly, what worries me most is not that we will see more Madoff-level crimes of betrayal in our community, but that we so easily ignore the millions of little offenses we regularly inflict on each other. Those little offenses may not rise to the level of illegal behavior, but they have the cumulative power to corrode the human bonds that tie our families and communities together.

I’m talking about the little lies, the hurtful gossip, the verbal abuse, the arrogant looks, the inconsiderate gestures. How many thousands of instances are there every day when one of us will hurt someone — maybe by using hurtful language or breaking a promise or giving a family member the silent treatment? How many numerous opportunities are missed every day to help another person — maybe by bringing soup to a sick neighbor or simply saying something nice to our mothers?

Madoff’s “swindle of the century” is a tragic ethical breakdown for our community, and we should all help to pick up the pieces. At the same time, the scandal can also serve as a wake-up call to remind us of the myriad ethical obligations we have in our own lives and within our own communities.

Our rabbis and educators can lead the way in answering this call. They can start by making it clear to their congregants and students — many of whom will become our future leaders and financiers — that nothing is more important in Judaism than the way we treat one another. Yes, God loves it when we go to shul or study the Talmud or have a “spiritual experience” or contribute to the shul’s building fund. But God loves it even more when we make it our priority to follow the Jewish laws and principles of how we should properly interact with other people.

This is the Judaism of ethics — the only Judaism that every Reform, Reconstructionist, Orthodox, Conservative, Humanist, Chasidic, Renewal, Egalitarian, Ultra-Orthodox and gay rabbi on the planet will unite behind.

It’s the Judaism that Bernie Madoff shunned, but that the aftermath of his scandal may reawaken.

Imagine that. Instead of the Messiah coming down to redeem us, a sleazy villain shows up on Chanukah and shocks us into reasserting that great Jewish ideal of learning how to live an ethical life.

If you ask me, that sounds a lot easier to digest.

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is founder of OLAM magazine, Meals4Israel.com and Ads4Israel.com. He can be reached at dsuissa@olam.org.

Let’s confront, I mean, let’s talk


Men will do anything — and I mean anything, from changing their phones, emails and even primary residences, to joining the army during wartime — rather than
confront a woman. By “confront,” I mean, “talk directly to.” They just don’t like it.  

Orthodox youth not immune to high-risk lifestyles


A few weeks ago, Joel Bess gathered his group of 15 teenage boys and took them to the funeral of a 21-year-old who had died of an overdose. Like the teenagers, the youth who died was Orthodox and didn’t fit the yeshiva mold and wound up on a path of high-risk behavior.
After the funeral, Bess — the son of a prominent rabbi who spent his teenage years and beyond in a whirl of self-destruction — asked the boys to write their own epitaphs on pictures of blank tombstones.
 
“I wanted them to think about how people would remember them and what they would say about their lives,” said Bess, who is now 29, a father of three and has a strong relationship with his own father.
 
Bess knows how hard it is not to fit in, to fall and then to muster the strength to move toward health of body and soul.
 
“Almost all my friends ended up dead or in jail, and I’m trying to prevent that with these kids,” he said.
 
He has been meeting weekly with the boys for about nine months through Issues Anonymous, a group he helped found.
 

My son, the plumber. Amen.

 
On a hot abandoned Granada Hills playground surrounded by waves of wheat-colored brush, Rabbi Mayer Schmukler looks around and sees the future. Rather than the overgrown jungle gym and dusty rows of red Little Tikes cars at the site that once was the North Valley JCC, he sees a soccer field, a refurbished pool, maybe tennis courts behind the new dorm buildings.
 
Last year, Schmukler, a Chabad-trained rabbi, brought 15 boys to this eight-acre site to pilot JETS — Jewish Education Trade School. This year he’s got 35 boys praying, studying Torah and training to be carpenters, plumbers, chefs and elevator repairmen.
 
Schmukler is keenly aware that a Jewish vocational school faces some deeply ingrained prejudices.
 
“Everyone feels that if a Jewish kid has to become a plumber it’s a sad situation, that really he should be a lawyer or an accountant, or a rabbi,” Schmukler says.
 
But some kids aren’t cut out for academic rigor. Leaving them in a mismatched environment often leads them toward self-destructive paths to failure.
 
“We take kids that maybe have low self- esteem and show them they are good at something — or we make them good at something — and show them they can make it in this society,” said Schmukler with a smile that never leaves his eyes or his mouth, hidden though it is in his untamed beard.
 
JETS doesn’t take the most hard-core cases. Boys have to be drug-free for 12 months to get into the program, and there is mandatory drug testing every two weeks.
 
But some of his kids come from broken homes, or have emotional, learning or behavioral challenges. Most of them live on campus in classrooms converted into dorms.
 
JETS, an independent nonprofit, employs teachers, social workers, dorm counselors and a psychologist. Students get personal counseling, and classes in ethics and time management and organization as well as high-school equivalency preparatory classes.
 
It was the combination of industry and ethics that won Schmukler a California Regional Consortium for Engineering Advances in Technological Education grant and award from the National Science Foundation in May 2006.
 
Most of the trade classes are offered at College of the Canyons, an accredited community college in Santa Clarita that provides work force training.
 
Last year, the boys built a skateboarding ramp. This year, they’re building a house, from computer modeling to reading the blueprints to carpentry, plumbing, electricity and the finishings.
 
Some of the classes, such as cooking, take place at JETS. The school is building a state-of-the-art kosher kitchen, and hopes to open a kosher culinary school to the public.
On Shabbats when they stay in, boys prepare meals for each other. They have also taken trips to the Grand Canyon and Northern California.
 
Schmukler’s approach to discipline is to help the boys self-motivate. Smoking, for instance, is not prohibited. But boys can only smoke alone, and only in designated spots that might be a half-acre from the action. There is no wake up call in the morning — boys need alarm clocks to rouse themselves. Free time is scheduled up with classes in kickboxing or karate, and a whole set of bikes and the old JCC gym facilities are available to the guys.
 
Schmukler has bigger plans for the campus, and he is a strong fundraiser. He worked for years as the development director for Chabad’s Russian program, where he first set up teen centers in West Hollywood. JETS has an annual budget of about $1 million, and Schmukler works his connections well. He’s already raised $5 million for the purchase of the campus and got an adjacent parcel donated.
 
Schmukler is also giving space to the JCC for offices and some programming, and is working out further arrangements with them. He says he wants JETS to be a center for Jewish unity, especially because no one can forget the 1999 rampage by Buford O. Furrow, who wounded five people at this JCC and then killed postal worker Joseph Ileto.
 
“Because of that I really believe something positive has to come from here,” Schmukler says. “Judaism is positive, and if you open up with something positive, we’ve won.”
 
For more information, visit www.jetsschool.org or call (323) 228-5905.

 
— JGF

Issue Anonymous is one of several new programs that have emerged in the last few years to serve the Orthodox community, giving kids, their parents and local high schools more resources and options than have ever been available in Los Angeles.
 
At Issues Anonymous, the boys can express themselves freely — which they did on the blank tombstones.
 
“To our beloved son, we loved you and we wish we could have been there for you,” one of them wrote.
 
“He died on the road to recovery. He meant well and he tried hard. Had he lived longer he would have made some big differences. He will be missed by the select few that he touched.”
“We loved you, and we will miss you. You were a good friend, son and brother. You really were nice and smart.”
 
And then simply, “I hope I rest in peace.”
 
For these youths, the introspection and repentance of Yom Kippur is a full time, ongoing pursuit.
 
For nearly two decades, it has been an open secret in the Los Angeles Orthodox community that some kids are turned off by religious observance and high academic standards, and they end up turning to truancy, alcohol, unsafe sex or drugs.
 
Once on that path, many of the boys feel let down or pushed out by their schools, families or both. They feel hated by the community, and especially lost because they don’t feel they belong anywhere else. They call themselves screw-ups, and worse.
 
Some of them take a high school equivalency exam — or not — and get sent off to Israel or to yeshivas outside of Los Angeles. Some land in rehab, in jail, on the streets — or dead.
They are Sephardic, Ashekenazic and Persian. Their families are Chasidic and Modern Orthodox.
And to those who know them well, they are loveable boys who just need someone to believe in them.
 
“I think the community needs to embrace these kids with love,” says Debbie Fox, director of Jewish Family Service’s Aleinu Family Resource Center, who brought Bess in to start Issues Anonymous when four mothers approached her looking for help.
 
“I know that people are afraid that the kids will influence others. But that doesn’t mean we don’t create a place for them,” she said. “It means we need to look at how to balance things and how to do things safely and acknowledge that they are part of our community. We cannot sacrifice these kids — and they’re really beautiful kids.”
 
Los Angeles’ Orthodox community now offers some organized solutions for these boys — though none have been put forth for girls, even while most observers agree that, too, is needed.
 
The Jewish Educational Trade School (JETS), a vocational boarding school for boys who weren’t cut out for the academic rigor of yeshiva, started meeting last year at the North Valley Jewish Community Center. This year 35 boys spend part of each school day studying Torah and high school equivalency, and part of their day learning trades, such as elevator or air conditioning repair, or construction.
 
But JETS doesn’t take in the hard-core boys. Students have to have been drug-free for at least a year, and they are tested regularly.
 
Boys who are currently using drugs are welcome at Issues Anon and Aish Tamid, an organization Rabbi Avi Leibovic founded six years ago to provide a welcoming environment and support services.
 
Leibovic’s latest venture is Pardes/Plan B, a program that combines Torah study, outdoor adventure, counseling and high-school equivalency preparation. The program started in mid-September and, so far, the reports are positive.
 

Pardes: School, But Not
 
Pardes meets at Congregation Shaarei Tefila on Beverly Boulevard, where the boys pray every morning. Then they go out on a trip — hiking, bowling, boating — all the while imbibing bits of wisdom from their teacher, Rabbi Ari Guidry, and a social worker who has had years of experience with this population in New York.
 

“The rabbi is awesome,” says Aharon (boys names have been changed to protect their privacy). “He’s not like a typical rabbi. He knows how to treat us — like the humans that we are.”
Aharon has always been a good student and hopes to go to college; he is excited about the academic subjects being taught by End Result, an organization with great success in running classes in juvenile detention centers.
 

Aharon’s mother is glad he chose Pardes.
 

“Pardes is not going to be top-notch academic experience, but for me it is much more important that his soul is intact,” she said. “I believe that this year he can work on himself; he can set his own spiritual compass to know in which direction he needs to go to find true happiness in life.”
 

She is one of the mothers who approached Fox last year to start Issues Anon, after she realized that Aharon was doing drugs, taking the car out in the middle of the night when he was 14 or 15, and messing up in school.
 

“Anything I tried to do in terms of controlling him and where he was going and what he was doing didn’t work,” said Aharon’s mother, who also attends a parent support group offered by Aish Tamid.
 

Leibovic, a 33-year-old YULA graduate who can personally relate to what these kids are going through, was one of the first in Los Angeles to try to organize programs for this population. He started with post-high school young men and then expanded to the younger set.
 

Aish Tamid has Shabbat programs, career fairs, study groups and the popular Teen at the Bean, a weekly discussion and study session at the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf on Beverly Boulevard.

 
Mostly, Leibovic, a father of six and a full-time attorney, has made himself and a growing staff of social workers and counselors available to the boys and their parents at all hours, giving individualized guidance about everything from rehab centers to family therapy to finding employment.
 

Leibovic is still trying to find funding for Pardes. Young men who have been through Aish Tamid programs donated a van worth $22,000. Pardes only has enrolled a half-dozen students.
Leibovic is hoping eventually to fill the van with 13 kids. He said he knows of about 10 kids in need who aren’t in any program, but are still holding out to get into one of the local yeshivas, which historically haven’t dealt well with these kids.
 

“There is no way that any one school can cater to all of the students we have in our community,” said Rabbi Avrohom Stulberger, dean of Valley Torah High School. “A school’s job is to be as broad as possible and needs to see themselves as embracing and accommodating as they can be. But as good as a school can be, there is no way we can do it all.”
 

While high school principals are grateful for programs like Pardes and JETS, they know there is work to do in making such programs acceptable to the boys and their families.
 

“I think there is still a stigma in the eyes of the children about going to these schools,” said Rabbi Dovid Landesman, principal of YULA. “We have to work on the psychology to make kids accept that these schools are more suited to their needs, because I really think both of these schools [Pardes and JETS] are a bracha to the community.”
 

Issues Anon: Steak and Free Expression
 

Yossi has managed to stay at YULA through his senior year, with an inclusion aid to help him through Attention Deficit Disorder. He started smoking marijuana at summer camp after 10th grade, and then he started popping his dad’s Atavan and Valium.
 

“I really messed up my whole 11th grade year, but I was on drugs so I didn’t care,” he says.
He fights with his father, but has a close relationship with his mother. She got him into rehab, which allowed him to stay in school. Yossi’s been clean 90 days.
 

He attributes much of his success to Issues Anon, the Jewish Family Service Wednesday night group that Joel Bess runs with social worker Howie Shapiro.
 

“This is the one thing I look forward to every week, and it’s really helped me a lot,” says Yossi, at a recent dinner at La Gondola.
 

The boys were there to celebrate milestones — some had just started school, some were chalking up months of sobriety, some were just happy to still be getting up in the morning. (All of them were grateful for the glistening heaps of ribs and giant sized steaks on their plates.)
 

Some of the boys wear kippahs and some don’t, some have spiky coifs or buzz cuts, and several of them sport large Jewish stars around their necks and pants sagging well below their hips.
Regular meetings start with the boys jotting down an issue, all of which are then read aloud, without revealing the source, and discussed. The guys give each other advice about how to get through their issues.

 
Tonight, many of them note their sobriety counts — a year and half, 90 days, two months — “and I better start feeling some of those changes promised,” one of them quips to Bess.
“I threw out all of my stuff two weeks ago,” another announces, to the applause of the group.
“Damn, you should have given it to me,” another jokes.

 
“My mom kicked me out again,” a boy says quietly.

“Cool! Are you sleeping at my house tonight?” his friend asks hopefully.

 
Behind the jokes, the cursing and goofing off, the kids are there for each other.
“If you see these kids sitting in the back of the classroom goofing off, you get one impression,” says Shapiro, the social worker. “But when you hear them talking about what they don’t get from their parents or how they fell through the cracks, it’s really amazing the depth with which they can describe what they are feeling and what they need. But the school administration and the parents don’t see that depth. They just see the GPA and the drug use.”

 
The kids in the group have become close friends and relate easily to Bess, who runs a division of an infomercial company and has a hip style the kids are comfortable with. They call him or knock on his door at all hours, and he welcomes them.

 
“I feel like I can do things now. Before I wasn’t able to do anything,” says Zev, who has been clean for a year and half and is being schooled at a private home in the valley.
Zev is one of many siblings from a Chasidic home. He has an abusive father and a supportive mother. When he was only 9 or 10 years old, he got his first taste of weed in shul on Simchat Torah.
 

He’s 15 now but looks a lot older, with a scraggly beard, big eyes that hold your gaze, and a quiet voice.
 
He is a leader — several boys say it was Zev who got them started on drugs. Now, at Issues Anon meetings, they turn to him for support in staying sober. And it was Zev who instituted the idea of starting each meeting with gratitude — going around and saying something positive about your week, or your life.
 
Tonight, Yossi is proud of 90 days sober. And like the other boys around the table, his goals are basic.

 
“I just don’t want to f*** up anymore,” Yossi says. “I want to get my life together and to be able to go through stuff without relapsing. I just want to be able to function like a normal person.”
 

www.aishtamid.org (323) 634-0505
www.jfsla.org/aleinu (323) 761-8816

Never Been Mugged


This piece was excerpted from the writer’s “Maneuvering Between the Headlines: An American Lives Through the Intifada” (Other Press, 2005).

Over time I have learned to drive to a few locations in Jerusalem, but I am never sure when I start out if I indeed will reach my destination without getting lost, circling, poring over maps and asking person after person for directions. I have succeeded in mastering the twists and turns of Tel-Aviv, but driving into the hodgepodge of Jerusalem is as daunting as facing the illogic of Boston’s one-way streets after the comforting geometric symmetry of Manhattan.

In the door pocket of my car I have one road atlas of Israel, one map of the streets of Tel Aviv, one map of the Galilee and, at last count, no fewer than five of Jerusalem. I am always apprehensive of taking the wrong road, and winding up where I might be perceived as an unwelcome intruder.

One day my apprehensions were borne out in a way I couldn’t have predicted. All my life I have seen myself as a civil libertarian, a liberal, a peacenik. In sum, a Democrat. But my behavior proved me no better than the most hypocritical old salon communist.

I had driven to the capital to attend an evening meeting, but was delayed in traffic. Night had fallen and I was late. A double outsider, I was frightened of crossing the invisible borders of the “unified” city into intifada territory where, with my poor mastery of direction, I felt I might be an easy target.

I suddenly recalled advice given to me by a fellow American also based in Tel-Aviv: When in doubt in Jerusalem, leave your car in the guest parking lot at the old Hilton Hotel at its periphery and hop into a cab.

With relief, that’s what I did. Opening the back door I slid into the first cab of the taxis lined up waiting to collect passengers at the hotel entrance. I was just sitting back in the seat, starting to relax, when — through his accent — the driver revealed his nationality.

“Blease,” he repeated my destination back to me, “Hillel Street.”

In the mouth of a native Arabic speaker the English “P” turns into a “B”.

I froze, managed to mumble, “I forgot something,” then fled the cab.

Half panicking, I accosted the astounded hotel doorman and pleaded with him, “Get me another taxi.” I groped for words. “I want a driver with, with–” I searched for a euphemism.

Finally I blurted it straight out: “Find me an Israeli driver.”

Even as I stammered the words, I felt waves of shame rising. I was ushered into the next cab in line, obligingly driven by a Jew.

I kept my eyes focused on the ground, but I felt the dark stare of the Arab upon me as he stood idle beside his idling motor. Humiliation aside, he must have hated me for his lost fare. But however he judged me, it could be no harsher than my own verdict on myself.

My years of so-called convictions hadn’t proved strong enough to hold up a feather when it came to reality. I was too chicken to take a 10-minute drive in a registered taxi through western Jerusalem with an Arab driver at 8 p.m. And I was only going from the Hilton to Hillel Street — not from Jenin to Ramallah.

They say a liberal is a bigot who hasn’t yet been mugged, but my anxiety anticipated the unthrown stone. Unassisted, I put the dagger in the driver’s hand. By my blatant action and blunt words in those brief seconds, I did more damage to the cause of co-existence than I could ever counterbalance by a lifetime of dues to the Association for Civil Rights.

It’s no justification protesting that it was the prudent thing to do, an excusable overreaction, that “you never know,” or that I have a responsibility to my family as well as my ideals. For when I heard that driver speak and saw his dark eyes in the rear-view mirror, I was light years away from any convictions. When push came to shove, I was handed the opportunity to show where I stood, and I did. I failed the taxi test.

And I am doubly damned. For I know that, presented with the same test, I might again refuse the ride, again feel relief as I got out.

I can no longer whitewash my true colors. I, too, am a casualty of the occupation and the intifada it caused — and for that I ask the driver’s pardon. I used to just be waiting for peace. Since that abortive ride, I am also waiting for my conscience to give me peace.

 

Thanks, but No Thanks


As far as I know, there are no such things as federal laws pertaining to dating. Oh, sure, there was that book “The Rules,” a few years back, but those weren’t federal laws; those were simply man-made, or rather, woman-made rules or suggestions. As to why there are no federal laws governing dating — that’s a no-brainer.

Men, for the most part, make the laws. And men, no doubt, realized that if there were actual laws governing dating behavior, no way would there be even one-eighth the necessary jail cells available to hold all the men who regularly violate said dating laws. Hence, no dating laws.

Of course, every now and then one encounters a dating law violator of the female persuasion. Which brings me to my recent date with “Alison.”

Admittedly, I would never have pegged Alison as the date lawbreaking type. Attractive, intelligent, sensitive, good sense of humor and, most importantly, seemed to really like me. Our meeting on an online singles site led to very encouraging e-mail, followed by phoning and, finally, the all-important first meeting — lunch, my treat, good chemistry; ending with her suggesting that I call her to set up date No. 2. So far, so good.

Of course, that was back in the good old days, before Alison and my relationship took several sudden and (at least on my part) unexpected turns toward The Dark Side. The afternoon following our lunch, I called Alison, reached her voice mail, and left a message thanking her for a lovely lunch, saying how much I enjoyed meeting her and that I was very much looking forward to our next date, which we could arrange when she called me back.

I’m big on courtesy and appreciation, both giving it and receiving it, and was a bit disappointed that I hadn’t already gotten a “thanks for the lunch/nice meeting you” e-mail from Alison. But I realize not everyone thinks like I do, otherwise the world would be even scarier. I’ll probably get that thank you when she calls me back, I reasoned.

As it turned out, it’s a good thing I’m not a wait-by-the-phone-for-a-return-call kind of guy. Because she did not return my call that afternoon, evening, the following day or even the day after that. Unless, God forbid, something terrible happened to her, thereby immobilizing her, it slowly dawned on me that People magazine would most likely not be reserving photo space for us in their Lovers of the Year issue.

Any reasonable man in this situation would have simply gotten the silent message loud and clear, written Alison off and moved on to greener, more appreciative pastures. But this is me we’re talking about. I felt the need to let her know that although I got the message (or lack thereof) that she was not interested in meeting again, I felt it was discourteous on her part to a) not e-mail a “thank you for lunch, it was nice meeting you but I didn’t feel the magic, good luck” kind of acknowledgment, and b) to have ignored my call after she invited me to call.

This, finally, motivated Alison to respond, and I quote: “While it is obvious you know nothing about me, your missive revealed so much about you. You are a pompous, pathetic man. Grow up.”

OK, that did it. I immediately crossed Alison’s name off my Chanukah card list. But in truth, I was baffled. Perhaps I delude myself in thinking that most people, and especially women, have a certain degree of humanity, sensitivity and consideration. And perhaps this is payback, with Alison having reversed the traditional male-female roles, with her taking on the male role of the love ’em and leave ’em cad, and me becoming the female who needs to communicate feelings. I’d rather, though, think of it this way — most people I meet are sensitive, appreciative and caring. So when I encounter one who does not have those mensch-like qualities, it only serves to make me appreciate the others all the more. Of course, when I become King of the Universe, dating laws will require thank-yous and immediate, considerate responses. Too bad, Alison. You could have been my queen.

Mark Miller has written for TV, movies and celebrities, been a professional stand-up comedian, and a humor columnist for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate. He can be reached at markmiller2000@comcast.net

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Bird’s-Eye View


 

One day, Rabbi Shimon Ben Elazar was riding his donkey along the coastal road. He was enjoying the beautiful scenery and reviewing in his mind the wonderful study session he had with his rabbi at Migdal Eder, when he encountered a man who was extremely ugly.

“How ugly you are,” said the startled rabbi. “Are all the people in your city as ugly as you are?”

The man responded calmly, “What can I say? Go to the artisan who crafted me and tell him that his handiwork is ugly.”

Upon hearing that, Ben Elazar realized that he had gravely sinned and begged the man to forgive him. But the man refused to forgive him until Ben Elazar spoke to the Creator. The rabbi ran after the man a long way until they came to a town. The town’s people called out: “Welcome, rabbi.”

The man asked the people, “Whom are you calling rabbi?”

The people pointed to Ben Elazar.

“If this is a rabbi,” said the man, “let there be no more rabbis among the Jews.”

Eventually the man forgave the rabbi after a public apology, and Ben Elazar had learned a humbling lesson.

I have always understood the reply of the man as one of acceptance: “This is who I am, this is how God created me, I am not as lucky as you, but you have to accept me.”

But today I read his words from a totally different point of view.

He is not talking with self-pity but with pride, and he does not regard the rabbi as better, wiser or luckier. The man Ben Elazar encountered drew upon the wisdom of Job who said, in reference to the weak and the poor: “Did not He who made me in my mother’s belly make him? Did not One form us both in the womb?”

What the man was telling Ben Elazar was that they were equals, that they were peers and that the same Creator who created the rabbi in his image also created also the “ugly” man. So who is a truer image of God?

The message is a universal one and it is directed to all mankind. How much better would the world be if we looked at people and thought first of what we have in common with us instead of analyzing how they differ from and are therefore inferior to us?

We are human beings, created in the image of God; we talk and communicate, smile and cry, laugh and get depressed. We feel pity at the sight of a helpless animal and frustration when we can do nothing to help. When we realize how similar we are, the road is open for understanding and for appreciating the unique gifts and talents of every human being.

In this week’s parsha, we read about the purification process of the leper. According to the rabbis, the sin of the leper is the sin of judging the fallacies of others and making them known to all, and most of us, like Ben Elazar, are guilty of engaging in this kind of judgment. The leper is rejected and alienated in order for him to experience, even for a short while, the pain he afflicted upon others by judging and rejecting them. When his process of purification is completed, the Torah commands that “the priest shall order two live clean birds … to be brought for him who is to be cleansed. The priest shall order one of the birds slaughtered … and he shall take the live bird … and dip … in the blood of the bird that was slaughtered … and he shall set the live bird free in the open country.”

This ceremony is shocking and powerful. The bird is an analogy to the neshama, the soul. The slaughtered bird is the person who was offended by the leper, as our sages have taught us that insulting someone in public is tantamount to murder, and the same follows for gossip and calumny.

The live bird, representing the leper, is dipped in the blood to signify that he is stained by that sin. It is sent free in the open country to tell the leper that on one hand he is now cleansed and free to join the community, but that on the other hand he should always remember his past actions and avoid such behavior in the future. He is also told that once he spread the word, it is very difficult to retrieve it and undo the damage, since it is like a bird that can fly freely everywhere.

Let, then, the clean bird of our soul fly free and unstained in the open country, and let it see, from a bird’s-eye view, only the good and positive in our fellow human beings.

Haim Ovadia is rabbi of Kahal Joseph Congregation.

 

Elder Rage: What I Know Now


For 11 years. I begged my obstinate elderly father to allow a caregiver to help him with my ailing mother, but he adamantly insisted on taking care of her himself. Every caregiver I hired to help him said, “Jacqueline, I just can’t work with your father — his temper is impossible to handle. I don’t think you’ll be able to get him to accept help until he’s on his knees himself.”

My father had always been 90 percent wonderful, but that raging temper was a doozy. He had never turned his temper on me before, but I’d never gone against his wishes either. When my mother nearly died from my father’s inability to care for her, I had to step in and risk his wrath to save her life — having no idea that in the process it would nearly cost me my own.

Jekyll & Hyde

I spent months nursing my mother back to “health,” while my father, who was nice to me one minute, would get mad about some trivial thing and throw me out of the house the next. I was stunned to see him get so upset over the most ridiculous things, even running the washing machine could cause a tizzy, and there was no way to reason with him. It was so heart wrenching to have my once-adoring father turn against me.

I took my father to his doctor and was astonished that he could act completely normal when he needed to. I couldn’t believe it when the doctor looked at me like I was the crazy one. Much later I found out that my father had told her not to listen to anything I said, because all I wanted was his money. (Boy do I wish he had some.)

My father had never laid a hand on me my whole life, but one day he choked me for adding HBO to his cable package, even though he had eagerly consented to it just a few days before. Terrified and devastated, I frantically called the police who took him to a psychiatric hospital for evaluation. I was stunned when they quickly released him, saying they couldn’t find anything wrong with him. Similar incidents occurred four times.

I couldn’t leave him alone with my mother, because she’d surely die from his inability to care for her. I couldn’t get the doctors to believe me, because he was always so normal in front of them. I couldn’t get medication to calm him, and even when I did, he refused to take it and flushed it down the toilet. I couldn’t get him to accept a caregiver, and even when I did, no one would put up with him for very long. I couldn’t place my mother in a nursing home — he’d just take her out. I couldn’t put him in a home — he didn’t qualify. They both refused any mention of assisted living and, legally, I couldn’t force them. I became trapped at my parents’ home for nearly a year trying to solve the endless crisis — crying rivers daily, and infuriated with an unsympathetic medical system that wasn’t helping me appropriately.

What’s Wrong?

You don’t need a doctorate to know something is wrong, but you do need a doctor who can diagnose and treat it properly. Finally, I stumbled upon a compassionate geriatric dementia specialist who performed a battery of blood, neurological and memory tests, along with PET scans. He ruled out the numerous reversible dementias, and then you should have seen my face drop when he diagnosed stage-one Alzheimer’s in both of my parents — something that all of their other doctors missed entirely.

What I’d been coping with was the beginning of dementia, which is intermittent and appears to come and go. My father was still socially adjusted to never show his “Hyde” side to anyone outside the family. Even with the beginning of dementia, it was amazing that he could still be extremely manipulative and crafty.

Alzheimer’s is just one type of dementia, and there’s no stopping the progression nor is there yet a cure. However, if identified early, there are medications that can slow the progression and keep a person in stage one longer and delay full-time care.

In addition to slowing the dementia process, the doctor also prescribed anti-depressants, which made a huge difference in my parents’ moods. My father also received anti-aggression medication, which smoothed out his damaged impulse control. Once their brain chemistries were properly balanced, I was better able to implement behavioral techniques to manage the changing behaviors. Then, I was finally able to get my father to accept a caregiver, and with the use of adult day health care for them, and a support group for me, everything finally started to fall into place.

One out of every 10 persons by the age of 65 gets Alzheimer’s, and nearly one out of every two by age 85. Had I been shown the “10 Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s,” I would have realized a year earlier what was happening. If this rings true for you about someone you love, I urge you to reach out for help sooner than later.


Ten Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s

1. Recent memory loss that affects job skills

2. Difficulty performing familiar tasks

3. Problems with language

4. Disorientation of time and place

5. Poor or decreased judgment

6. Problems with abstract thinking

7. Misplacing things

8. Changes in mood or behavior

9. Changes in personality

10. Loss of initiative

Jacqueline Marcell is an author, radio host, national speaker and advocate
for eldercare awareness and reform. She wrote “Elder Rage, or Take My Father…
Please! How to Survive Caring For Aging Parents” (Impressive Press, 2001). Visit

Commitment’s Price


These days, many women complain about the epidemic of males who run in terror from the thought of a committed relationship.

But there are plenty of guys out there who are eager to commit. I know, since I just found one.

Like many people searching for love, I found Ken through an online matchmaking service. As soon as I clicked on his profile and photo, I knew that any guy with a face that honest and eyes that sincere wouldn’t steer me wrong.

After a bit of research, I had it on good authority that Ken didn’t smoke, drink, bet the mortgage at the racetrack or chase women. He didn’t care if a woman looked like Jennifer Lopez or Kathy Bates. He was just a sincere guy looking for a little honest love in his life.

There was only one thorny issue: What would my husband say about all this?

Clandestinely, I offered to meet Ken. We took a walk around the neighborhood and hit it off. I invited him home to meet the family, but warned him that my husband might not go for this arrangement.

I realized that Ken’s manners could appear a little crude and urged him to be on his best behavior. Yet despite my admonitions, Ken behaved badly during his trial run with the family. It did not help that one of his first acts as a guest in our home was to appear in the living room, chewing on a pair of underwear that he had lifted from the laundry.

“He’s just nervous,” I said, trying to excuse the inexcusable. “Besides, he’s an orphan. It’s not his fault that he didn’t have anyone to teach him the finer points of social etiquette.”

“Next thing you know, he’ll be chewing up the furniture,” my husband said. “Let’s send him back.”

“No!” the children shouted in unison.

This was the only thing they had all agreed on since the night I suggested they eat Corn Pops for dinner. They thought Ken’s manners were charming, probably because he made their own behavior look classy in comparison.

We overruled my husband, but our victory came at a price. As Ken began to feel more comfortable, he revealed a kinkiness that I would never have imagined.

He lapped water from the toilet, filched snacks from the garbage, including things too repulsive to mention, and jumped on the kitchen table when our backs were turned and ate all the cheese off our just-delivered pizza. These boorish behaviors made a black mark on Ken’s record.

“I’m sure he’ll learn to behave eventually,” I said, doubting whether this was really true.

Ken may have been cute, but based on what we could glean of his intelligence, he was unlikely to ever qualify as a Fullbright scholar. One day, I came home to find that my husband’s prediction had come true: Ken had tunneled through one of the living room couches, his face still full of couch stuffing. I wondered: Could this relationship be saved?

Reprimands did no good. If we shouted, “Ken, drop that calzone, right now!” or “No making woo woo in the shoe!” he seemed genuinely contrite, if not a little confused. His expression seemed to ask, “Did you think I’d sit here reading the Wall Street Journal? I’m just a beagle, for God’s sake!”

This explains why for years I flatly refused my kids’ pleadings to acquire a canine companion. I envisioned cleaning up messes throughout the house, pitching good shoes into the trash that the puppy had chewed and trying to stop his insane barking at the mailman.

Essentially, I envisioned the very life I am living now. We’ve had fish and turtles and still have a hamster that has enjoyed surprising longevity, given our previous adventures in pet ownership. However, I fear that one day soon we will arrive home to discover the hamster has died of a heart attack while running on his wheel, terrorized by our new puppy, who thinks the rodent is lunch.

Under the force of my kids’ grinding, incessant pleas (a specialty of the house), I buckled. In a moment of insanity, I agreed to hunt with my youngest son on the Internet, clicking on dozens of doggie profiles. We immediately had to dismiss several inappropriate candidates.

“Hairball came to us with a bit of an attitude problem, but with a lot of work, he’s sure to become a reasonably lovable companion,” was one honest description of a terrier. Just what I needed: another personality with attitude.

One handsome lab came with this caveat, “Shaquille is recovering from a mastectomy and is fearful of children. Takes antidepressants daily. Would do best in a quiet, adult-only home.”

Most of these darling doggies were not destined for our family, including a skateboard-riding Lhasa Apso that nipped at young children; Leroy and Estelle, a pair of yappy Chihuahuas that had to be placed together or they would commit suicide, and an aged rottweiler named Boo recovering from a broken leg. All things considered, Ken seemed the best of the bunch.

True, since he joined the family we are down by one couch, three shoes, two pizzas and an unquantifiable pair of socks and underwear.

But at least he wasn’t afraid to commit.


Judy Gruen writes the popular “Off My Noodle” humor column, available on her
Web site, www.judygruen.com. She is also
a columnist for Religion News Service.

Israeli Tourists ‘Ugly’ No More


Leafing through travel books on Turkey at Tel Aviv’s L’Metayel (For the Traveler), veteran sojourner Ronen Lazar suggests how to curb the phenomenon of the "ugly Israeli" — the obnoxious Israeli tourist.

"There should be a law forbidding Israelis from going overseas for at least six months after they get out of the army," Lazar says.

He’s not altogether serious, of course, but as a veteran traveler at 31, he’s been pretty much all over the world, and has learned to stay away from young, wild Israelis traveling with, and in, packs.

Says Irit Gekler, 23, a clerk at L’Metayel who’s toured the Far East and Europe: "You see them swaggering around like they’re dealing with inferiors in some Third World country. They even treat adults like slaves. Older Israeli travelers don’t act like that all."

In recent years there have been horror stories coming out of the Greek Islands about bands of young Israeli tourists getting into fire extinguisher fights in hotel corridors, throwing watermelon rinds over the balcony, burning a bed — and defiantly cursing hotel employees who tried to get them to stop.

A sign at the entrance to a hotel on a Thai island reads: "ISRAELI NATIONALITY (sic) is not welcome to stay in this hotel, because they are problem makers. We cannot accept their behavior."

This is also the unwritten policy of several other hotels in the Far East and on the Greek Islands.

The signature of the "ugly Israeli" used to be the missing faucets in the sink of their hotel rooms. Now it’s literally the signatures of Israelis who’ve spray-painted their names on mountain ranges in the Rockies, in Thailand — even, according to the Yediot Aharonot newspaper — on a prison wall at Auschwitz.

Clearly, things have gotten out of hand. No other nationality is known for the kind of intolerable behavior associated with young Israelis. So L’Metayel has started a program called "Israel’s Good Will Ambassadors." Posters reminding travelers that they represent Israel abroad can be seen at Ben-Gurion Airport, travel agencies and other stopping-off spots en route overseas. Israelis at these places can pick up free packets of cheery postcards with "thank you" written in several languages — including, of course, Hebrew.

"Leave a thank you … because when you go overseas, you are Israel’s image," reads the recommendation.

The public service program, which is backed by numerous public and private bodies including the Foreign Ministry, tourism companies and public relations agencies, has begun teaching good traveling manners to youth groups going on Holocaust study visits to Poland. Reports are that these groups are much less rowdy than others.

The obvious question is whether the campaign might impress only Israeli travelers who already are appreciative, respective, neat and generally civilized overseas, while the "ugly Israelis" will shine it on. "That’s always a possibility," says Lazar, "but even if only the good travelers pass out the postcards, the people overseas will know that there are at least some good Israelis."

End the Preoccupation


Israel advocacy on campus has become a front-burner enterprise for the American Jewish community. Attacks by anti-Israel campus activists, including a fair number of Jewish students and faculty, demoralize and often intimidate most Jewish students who are ill-equipped to counter these efforts to delegitimize Israel. It is a mark of the Jewish community’s growing concern that more than 25 national organizations are now involved in training campus activists to defend and promote Israel and thereby inspire Jewish students to feel a sense of pride in themselves and the Jewish State.

But as well-intentioned as the efforts of the growing coalition of Israeli advocacy organizations are, I believe that if we win this battle we will have lost the real war, which is not for Israel’s security but for the hearts and minds of this generation of young American Jews.

Let me explain. In the post-Six-Day War euphoria, most of us could not see what growing numbers of Jewish college students have come to believe and even Israelis on the political right are now admitting: We have been blind to the corrosive effects — as well as the demographic threat to Israel’s democratic and Jewish identity — of the decades of what even Ariel Sharon has called "the occupation," however unwanted it may have been and however intransigent most of the Arab world has been about coming to terms with the reality of Israel and ending the suffering of the Palestinian people.

Arguing, as so many Israel advocates do, that Israel’s behavior is less immoral or problematic than that of her neighbors, or even other democracies at war, is factually correct, but is not likely to restore a sense of boundless Jewish pride in the almost 90 percent of college-age Jews who attend universities in North America.

Most of them are, indeed, as Natan Sharansky characterizes them, the Jews of silence — not simply because they are not up to winning the campus debates with Israel’s enemies but because they have largely tuned out. Most of these students, from my experience with thousands of them, would like to have a sense of pride in Israel but feel a profound sense of sadness and frustration at the continued suffering of the Palestinian people and the less-than-equal treatment of Arab citizens in the Jewish State — however much better their lot may be than those in neighboring Muslim countries — and a sense of acute shame when their Israeli brothers and sisters sometimes behave with less-than-the-highest moral rectitude, even if better than most others under similar circumstances.

It is indisputable that Israel is held to an unfair double standard on campus and throughout the world. Jewish students more than any others expect more of Israel than of any other country — surely a measure of positive Jewish identification — and are concomitantly more troubled when Israel does not live up to these often unrealistic expectations.

The campus debates between Israel’s advocates and detractors will have no impact on what actually happens in the Middle East — only Israel and the Palestinians can determine that — but how these debates are conducted will have a profound impact on the future of Jewish life in America because the war is not really for Israel but for the hearts and minds of the overwhelming majority of this generation’s college-age Jews. Of course the base and egregiously false charges against Israel must be answered, but most of these young Jewish adults will not feel a sense of pride in being Jews by being armed with the best debating points, or even when they fully understand the extraordinary events of recent Jewish history. They will want to understand their remarkable history and know how to respond to these attacks only if they have a sense of deep pride in being Jews.

Rather than simply teaching Jewish students how to win the debates with Israel’s detractors or even to promote the many positive features of Israeli culture, it’s time for our community to help them reframe the war of words and to directly confront our Arab and Palestinian cousins on campus and tell them clearly what both we and they need to hear.

A Proposed Conversation

Here are five arguments we should be making to pro-Palestinian advocates:

1. Israelis Want a Palestinian State. There are many countries that want to see a resolution of the brutal and tragic conflict between Israel and the Palestinian people for geopolitical reasons, but the two communities in the world that most want it for existential reasons are the Palestinian people and the Israeli people. Very few Arab countries seem to be very eager to actually have a Palestinian state — if they were they might have established one when Jordan and Egypt occupied the West Bank and Gaza — and outside of Israel there is arguably little interest in the Middle East for a democratic state of Palestine. Such a state would constitute a threat, simply by its existence, to many of its neighboring regimes if it were to join Israel as one of the precious few democracies in the region. If you want to make the best possible case for Palestine, we have some suggestions for you.

2. Drop the Anti-Semitism. Clean up your act. Do you really hope to win support for the Palestinian cause by proclaiming, as you now do, that the only people in the world not entitled to national self-determination are the Jewish people? Spain and Italy and Argentina can legitimately be states with a predominantly Christian character, Egypt and Saudi Arabia and Indonesia can legitimately be states with a predominantly Muslim character, but the Jewish people alone are not entitled to a state in their homeland with a predominantly Jewish character? The behavior of every nation should be the subject of discussion, but why should any nation’s existence be the subject of discussion? Why is it that Israel, the homeland of the Jewish people, is the only country in the world about which anyone could conceivably begin his or her criticism with the words, "I believe Israel has a right to exist, but…."? Do you really think that presenting yourselves as racists and anti-Semites will build sympathy for the creation of a Palestinian state? Enough is enough.

3. Don’t Insist on a Judenrein State. End your argument — even if only for tactical reasons — that all of the Jewish settlements must be dismantled as a precondition for a peace agreement. With hindsight (except for the clear vision of a few, like Hebrew University professor Yeshayahu Leibowitz, who understood it immediately after the 1967 war), growing numbers of Israeli Jews now acknowledge that the settlements were probably a mistake and maintain that they would be prepared to dismantle most of them in exchange for a real end to the hostilities. While evacuating these settlements, which will come at a terrible price for Israeli society, may prove to be necessary for a resolution of the conflict, do you really want to maintain that the only way that a state of Palestine can come to an accommodation with Israel is if it is Judenrein like Saudi Arabia, or that an independent Palestine can’t be counted on to protect its Jewish citizens — or even non-citizens — living there? Why not take the high moral ground?

4. Don’t Be Afraid of Self-Criticism. Think about engaging in a little self-criticism, not only because it is called for but because it is a sign of strength, not weakness. One can open the pages of Ha’aretz and find more trenchant criticism of Israeli policy, including its treatment of the Palestinians as well as its own Arab citizens, than some of the outrageous attacks and tactics that too often characterize your end of the shouting match between us. The real problems in Israel may well be even more serious than you imagine and we all need to discuss them, though the Israelis seem to be doing a better job of that right now than anything you — or we — are doing here. There are reasons why we hear so little criticism of the Palestinian leadership from the Palestinian people, but there is nothing stopping us on campus from setting a better example.

5. Recognize That Palestine Needs Israel. If you are serious about having an independent Palestinian state you will have to make a critical decision and a public commitment, namely to acknowledge, as we do, that just as it will be next to impossible for there to be a safe and secure State of Israel without a safe and secure State of Palestine, there will never be a safe and secure State of Palestine without a safe and secure State of Israel.

Israel is not planning to disappear and no nation would — or should — acquiesce to the creation of another state on its border bent on its destruction or that cannot or will not prevent its own citizens from attacking that nation. Israel, then, will defend itself militarily, and the results of a response to an existential threat would be devastating for all in the region.

All of us who support a safe and secure Israel and the creation of a safe and secure Palestine must support the security of both if we are serious about the security of either. Most of us are prepared to advocate for an independent state of Palestine in order to end the suffering and trauma of Israelis — Jewish and Arab — and to end the suffering and trauma, as well as to restore the political dignity, at long last, of the Palestinian people. Those of you who, like us, support the establishment of an independent State of Palestine have to declare, do you want Palestine, or do you want blood and vengeance and no Jewish State of Israel? If the latter, you have lost any moral claim for your cause and there is really nothing more for us to discuss. If the former, you will have a powerful claim to our support.

Only if we proudly and forthrightly represent ourselves, as we should, as a community that will — out of both our own vital self-interest and our Jewish moral imperative — help to build support for a Palestinian state that is seriously prepared to live in peace with Israel and thereby help to end the suffering of the Palestinian people, will we win over this generation of young Jews, not to mention the political leadership of America that is also coming of age on college campuses. In the end, the moral high ground is the only secure ground on which to stand.

This essay originally appeared in The New York Jewish Week.

Michael Brooks is executive director of the University of Michigan Hillel.

Limits Needed to Set Path for Youths


A few weeks ago, three students at Milken Community Jewish High School in Los Angeles were expelled for making a sexually explicit video of themselves that was eventually seen by members of the student community. Many parents and teachers in the Jewish community have expressed confusion at how educated Jewish students at a school like Milken did what they did.

But to think that what happened at Milken is isolated to the particulars of the parent-child relationships of the families involved is myopic — and too easy. To be sure, such behavior is not widespread in our children’s communities. But we can be relatively certain that for every incident brought to light, many more are hidden in the shadows.

Parents and teachers — really all adults — owe it to those three teenagers to take some responsibility for what happened. Those teenagers grew up in the society we created.

We are the adults. They are the kids. We owe it to them to enter the darkness of our confusion and investigate the source of what happens in our midst. We must ask whether what happened is indicative of other things gone awry.

Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapira, the rebbe of Piaseczno, in early 20th century Poland, wrote a book of educational philosophy called, “Chovat Hatalmidim” (“The Student’s Obligation”) to address the problem of young Jews leaving the yeshivot for the tempting world of modernity. He shared our problem: How do we teach children to be their best selves amidst a culture of overwhelming power?

His diagnosis of the problem is as follows: “Today’s youth consider themselves grown up before their time … they have come to see themselves as grown up and independent — in their opinions and in their desires — though their mind is still upside down and their desires unripe and bitter…. This trait causes harm [because] it causes the child to see any guide, teacher, or educator as a foreign overlord who has come to rule over him with a strong hand, and to strip him of his independent mind and will.”

Relationships between parents and children, teachers and students, adults and youth, this generation and the next are complicated. Each of us wants to nurture teens, to help them navigate the complex web of ideas and emotions that define adolescence. Helping them is hardest when it means risking our children’s friendship so we can keep being their parent.

I remember having a fight with my father when I was 15 years old. As happens in most parent-teenager relationships, it was not unheard of for us to have a disagreement turn heated and eventually end with us yelling at each other.

But this fight ended differently. At the end of this fight, I got so upset at something my dad said (sadly, today I do not even remember what it was he said or even what we were fighting about), I told him, “screw you.”

What happened next I do remember: My father started to kick me out of the house. I managed to apologize quickly enough to avoid eviction, but my dad made it very clear to me that if I was going to speak that way, I was not going to stay in his home.

“You may speak to your friends that way, but you will not use that kind of language with me. I am your father. I am not one of your friends.”

“That’s right!” I screamed, “you’re not my friend.” I said these painful words with all the self-righteous accusation I could muster, hoping to win the argument by making my dad feel that he had failed me. His response was one I never expected and have yet to forget.

“That’s right,” he said. “I’m not your friend. But I am your father. You should feel lucky that you have a father and not just a friend.”

I believe Rabbi Shapira would have agreed. Now, so do I. I was growing up too fast, and though I craved someone who would make me feel understood, what I needed most in that moment were limits, even at the cost of friendship.

I saw my father as “a foreign overlord” (and tried to treat him like one), but I did not need another person with whom to be lost. I needed someone who knew who he was, against whom I could begin to see the contours of my own self becoming.

But to say that I needed a father, not a friend, was also a false distinction, a straw man I made up to win a petty argument. True friends — like our parents — must teach us, love us and help us to grow not by accepting who we are but by sensing something of our essence, our hope, something of who we can be and lifting us beyond ourselves. They succeed not by shying away from a fight, but by being willing to risk what is for what can be.

Parenting this way is painful and tiring. The midrash teaches that words of critique are like bees — they hurt the one who is stung but kill the one who stings.

I love my sons from a place of indescribable depth and they know it. When I rebuke one of them, I feel it for days. I simply hate it. It takes a heavy toll I bear with me as I walk on the street.

I am not alone — it is a burden we must all help to bear: parents, grandparents, teachers and God. But we must do so because we are neither our children’s parents nor their friends if we fail to tell them when they are wrong.

“As children become adolescents, even the best parents struggle as their teenagers are influenced by their peers and the popular culture we adults are creating for them. A few weeks ago, three Jewish teenagers learned that it was unacceptable to make a sexually explicit film of themselves. They learned our society has limits about what is acceptable to do with our bodies at a young age in public. They should have known better. But could it be that they were only doing what our society never told them was wrong?


Rabbi Daniel Greyber is executive director of Camp Ramah and the Max and Pauline Zimmer Conference Center.

Teachable Moment


The rabbis of the Talmud tell us that we are created with yetzer hatov (good inclination) or yetzer harah (bad inclination). And, like Harry Potter and the evil Lord Voldemort, they’re engaged in a never-ending battle. And have been since birth.

Indeed, with apologies to John Locke, the 17th-century philosopher who claimed that human beings are born a blank slate to be imprinted upon by family and society, I can tell you that my four sons emerged from the womb fully wired with good and bad proclivities and with essentially the same personality, and personality quirks that they possess today.

And while they didn’t arrive with an instruction book — only a no-exchange, no-return policy — they did come equipped with free will, giving them the ability to make decisions regarding their actions. Of course, not necessarily decisions that further their best interests, decisions that require harnessing, suppressing or redirecting their bad inclination.

But that’s our job as parents — to help our children make sound choices, control their bad inclination and become solid Jewish citizens.

“I thought your job was to make us happy,” Jeremy, 14, says.

“No, our job is to educate and civilize you,” I answer.

“You can’t tame us,” Danny, 12, protests.

“Maybe we should be reading ‘The Training of Wild Animals’ instead of ‘The Good Enough Parent,'” my husband, Larry, says.

Here’s my unscientific take on parenting: Kids are hard-wired at birth. We can do myriad things to mess them up — and a few things to improve them. But mostly they learn through example. Our example.

I also believe that kids are not innately bad, despite the fact that our family used to sing “Bad to the bone, bad to the bone, B-B-B-B-Bad to the bone” to Danny as an infant to calm him down.

Kids certainly act mischievously. In preschool, one of mine, who shall remain nameless, would check to see that his teachers weren’t watching and then slug his archenemy classmate. Kids also act selfishly, refusing to share their toys or snacks. And they act meanly, by boasting, teasing, hurling hurtful adjectives at each other and forming impenetrable cliques.

But I’ve also seen my sons spontaneously befriend a shy or less-popular classmate. I’ve seen them berate other children for their prejudiced or nasty behavior. And I’ve seen them collect food and clothing to give to the needy.

In my experience, when kids exhibit abnormally unkind or otherwise egregious behavior, it usually signals some kind of emotional or learning issue that needs attention rather than punishment.

Additionally, despite its name, the bad inclination is not an entirely bad thing. In one midrash, Rabbi Samuel bar Nachman even calls it “very good.” He says, “Without the yetzer harah, no man would build a house, take a wife, beget a family or engage in work.”

It energizes us. And without it, no person would appreciate or do good things.

And so, our goal is not to eradicate, but rather to monitor and master the bad inclination, which is not dissimilar to what psychologist Carl Jung calls the shadow, the unpleasant and negative side of the personality that we keep hidden.

But there’s nothing hidden about the bad inclination this time of year. For during this penitential period, which begins on the first of Elul and extends through Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we are commanded to scrutinize our behavior over the past year, especially confronting those instances in which our unattractive, antagonistic and animal nature prevailed.

“Have you done anything this year that you’re not proud of?” I ask my sons.

“A few years ago, I pushed a kid’s head against a brick wall,” Danny volunteers.

“What about this year?”

“I can’t remember.”

This is not an easy exercise for children. It’s even more difficult for them to ask forgiveness from people they have injured or harmed and from God for any promises they have broken.

But that’s how moral growth takes place, by confronting these issues step by step, year by year. And Judaism has granted us this phenomenal, what educators call, “teachable moment.”

Does it mean anything to kids that on Rosh Hashanah we are given an initial ruling — life, death or undecided? That we have 10 days to kick our good inclination into high gear and, through repentance, prayer and mitzvot, avert an adverse decree? And that if we are successful, we are inscribed in the Book of Life at the close of Yom Kippur and essentially given a year’s reprieve? No, probably not.

But this is an opportunity for kids to begin to reflect on their admirable and less-admirable actions. It is an opportunity for them to vow to live more virtuously.

As Mark Twain once observed, “There is a great deal of human nature in people.”

We Jewish parents have always known this. It’s the good and the bad news.


Jane Ulman and her husband live in Encino and have four sons.

He’s No Robert Redford


An Irish multimillionaire pining for a London teacher offered her husband $1 million to divorce her in a real-life "Indecent Proposal" that has scandalized London’s Orthodox Jewish community, according to a May 4 report in London’s Sunday Times.

Brian Maccaba made the offer to Alan Attar after he allegedly became infatuated with his wife Nathalie Attar, an instructor at Beth Yosef preschool, which is funded by a nonprofit chaired by Maccaba.

Australia’s Daily Telegraph reported that Maccaba, who is married, became interested in Nathalie Attar soon after she arrived at his $3.8 million home in North London to teach his children.

In a handwritten letter sent to the couple, Maccaba referred to Nathalie Attar as his "true soulmate" and the money as a "golden key" that would "set her free" and give the husband "a bachelor’s freedom again … to be a playboy in the south of France for a while."

Nathalie Attar was so shocked by the letter that she took it to Rabbi Dayan Lichtenstein, a senior rabbinic judge with the Federation of Synagogues’ beit din, for advice.

The 30-something couple rejected the computer executive’s offer.

A Jewish court cleared Maccaba of sexual harassment allegations and said that he had not acted inappropriately, according to The Sunday Times. But the letter has now become Lichtenstein’s main piece of evidence in a defamation suit filed against him by Maccaba, alleging that the rabbi has damaged his personal and professional life.

Maccaba’s suit alleges that the rabbi referred to him on two separate occasions as a known adulterer who pursued "young Jewish newlyweds" and who "has been involved in numerous affairs with married women within the Jewish community."

A spokesman for Lichtenstein denies the claim that the rabbi had made any slanderous comments.

Friends of Nathalie Attar told The Sunday Times that she was so distressed by Maccaba’s alleged behavior that the couple has since left London for Israel.

Ethics and Ironies


At least Ann Landers admitted when she was wrong.

And while she may have used a pseudonym, Esther Pauline "Eppie" Lederer claimed only to offer one woman’s point of view — no more, no less.

Times, alas, have changed, and along with them, The New York Times, whose Sunday Magazine’s readers are offered the judgments of "The Ethicist." The bearer of that grandiose title also has a name — Randy Cohen — but his designation is clearly meant to imply gravitas.

Cohen is generally sensible and very often quite funny. On Oct. 27, though, he goofed badly. And, what is worse, he seems unwilling to own up to his error, not an encouraging sign for any honorable man, much less still The Ethicist.

The question in question came from a woman who had closed a deal with an Orthodox Jewish real estate agent. She became offended, though, when the otherwise "courteous and competent" man declined to shake her hand, explaining that touching a woman other than his wife violated his religious code of conduct. The offendee wanted to tear up the contract they had signed, and sought the columnist’s advice.

"Sexism is sexism," Cohen responded, "even when motivated by religious convictions." And, invoking Brown vs. Board of Education to argue that "separate is by its very nature unequal," he advised his supplicant to rip away.

Had he bothered to inquire, The Ethicist would have discovered that the Jewish religious prohibition at issue in no way "render[s] a class of people untouchable," to use his words; it rather disapproves of a behavior. And it does so in a decidedly egalitarian manner. Both men and women are equally bound by Jewish law to refrain from affectionate physical contact with members of the other gender to whom they are not married. Many Orthodox authorities consider even a handshake to be included in the prohibition.

With that stricture, halacha expresses not sexism, but rather respect for both men and women — respect, that is, for the power of sexuality that Judaism reminds us is an integral part of the human condition.

That power, according to Jewish thought, when properly used is a deeply holy thing. Allowed free reign, though, it is an equally destructive one.

In our sex-saturated — and in fact, as a result, sexist — society, men and women eschewing handshakes to avoid any semblance of misplaced sexuality might seem a bit much to many. But that says something only about our base and cynical times, not about deeper, timeless truths. And a good case could in fact be made that the morally confused times in which we live require us to exercise more caution than ever in the realm of physical contact between the sexes. A cursory familiarity with current events should suffice to reveal how easily "casual" interactions can devolve into less innocent, even abusive, ones.

Cohen, of course, may not see things that way. But even he, one imagines, would admit that imposing unwanted physical contact is wrong. And so, as one reader of Cohen’s column wryly noted: "’Touch me or you’re fired’" would seem "a perfect example of sexual harassment" — hardly ethical by any measure.

While hope springs eternal, The Ethicist, at least so far, refuses to budge. Responding to some who contacted him, he pronounced: "That the origins of [the halachic prohibition] seem benign make it no less sexist and no less contrary to the values of an egalitarian society." Creating "separate spheres for women and men," he insists, remains "a manifestation of sexism."

Asked if his gender-blindness extended to endorsement of unisex restrooms and dressing rooms, he admitted that "there are a few cases where gender distinctions might be justified."

In other words, according to The Ethicist, it all depends on what he happens to feel is ethical.

Cohen makes no claim to speak for Judaism — he was raised Reform but takes a "resolutely secular approach to ethics," as he explained in an interview — and indeed does not. But an ethical ideal to which he clearly subscribes is tolerance. And that should include tolerance of others who choose to subscribe to Torah, not Cohen.

Just imagine The Ethicist’s ideal society. Men and women who, out of religious principle, eschew physical contact with members of the opposite sex would effectively be barred from pursuing their livelihoods. But society would be purged of sexism, real or imagined, and all would be well with the world — at least in Cohen’s eyes.

And so we are left with the irony of an intolerant Ethicist. And one, in fact, who embraces decidedly unethical behavior.

For in his quest for some illusory absolute egalitarianism, Cohen did, after all, counsel a questioner to tear up a contract she and her business partner had just signed.


Rabbi Avi Shafran is director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America .

What’s In a Name?


I check surnames. It’s a reflex, and I can’t help it. If you’re like most Jews I know, you do it too. You can’t help but wonder, for instance, if some of the people at the center of the latest financial scandals are Jewish or not. We kvell at Shawn Green and cringe at Andrew Fastow, although it’s hard to figure just what being born Jewish had to do with Green’s batting average or Fastow’s alleged misdeeds.

But still, I check.

Andrew Fastow, former CFO at Enron? Hmm. Fastow. Yes, Jewish.

L. Dennis Kozlowski, former CEO of Tyco? Hmm, could be but — no.

Mark Belnick, the ousted general counsel of Tyco? Maybe … have to check.

Then there is Gary Winnick, founder and chairman of bankrupt telecommunications group Global Crossing, who testified this week before Rep. L. Billy Tauzin’s (R-La.) House Energy and Commerce Committee. The committee wanted to know whether Winnick knew his company was in financial trouble and failed to alert investors while selling millions of dollars worth of his own stock in the meantime. According to The Financial Times, Winnick grossed $512 million since 1999, a period in which Global Crossing has lost $9.2 billion and eliminated 5,020 jobs.

Winnick has been charged with no crime and has denied any wrongdoing. “Global Crossing’s bankruptcy,” Winnick told the committee, “based on the facts known to me, is a result not of any fraud, but of a catastrophe that befell an entire industry sector.” Winnick’s lawyer says his client’s stock sale was proper and approved by Global’s counsel.

Reading Gary Winnick’s name splashed scross the national papers hits especially close to home. Three years ago to the day that I write this, the cover of The Journal featured a photograph of Winnick and this headline: “Gary Winnick Steps Out Front: ‘The Wealthiest Man in Los Angeles’ is driven to succeed and to give to the Jewish community.” In it, Tom Tugend reported that Winnick’s fortune of $6.2 billion made him Los Angeles’ richest citizen, according to The Los Angeles Business Journal. The story documented Winnick’s rise as the grandson of a one-time pushcart peddler on New York’s Lower East Side to financial whiz at the side of Michael Milken to visionary leader in the telecommunications industry.

More pointedly, it reported on the billionaire’s seemingly inexhaustible charity: a $5 million-pledge by the Gary and Karen Winnick Family Foundation to erect exhibit galleries at the Skirball Cultural Center, Hillel center endowments at three East Coast universities and a children’s zoo at the Los Angeles Zoo. His pledges and donations to The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, Birthright Israel, Chabad and at least 54 other groups totaled $100 million over the past three years. The Foundation’s largest single donation is the $40 million pledged to the Simon Wiesenthal Center for construction of the Winnick Institute in Jerusalem, to be designed by Frank Gehry.

All this largesse, the lion’s share of it directed toward the Jewish community, set an example for others of similar wealth to follow.

Now, of course, in the court of public opinion, Winnick is being held up as an exemplar not of philanthropy, but of 1990s greed. Though he’s worth considerably less than $6.2 billion these days, he still built a home worth an estimated $60 million to $90 million, and he may never provide satisfactory enough answers for the people whose financial worth evaporated along with Global Crossing’s.

I’m assuming this is a source of anguish to Winnick, whom I don’t know and have never met. He must know that, in light of Global Crossing’s reverses, a good many people will forever see his philanthropy, his words of contrition, his offers of recompense, as utilitarian ploys to win favor, to buy back his good name.

He is now in a place where others, including some from this community, have traveled before. How does one emerge from such a fall? The answer, surprisingly, may come from Winnick himself.

Speaking three years ago of the criteria by which he chooses philanthropies, Winnic told The Journal: “I must believe in the cause, and I demand accountability from the recipient.”

Accountability. The lack of it is what lay at the heart of the numerous financial scandals that have rocked the stock market and shaken investor confidence. It is at the heart of the endless post-boom congressional hearings at which former CEOs put on their best Easter Island faces and can rarely, if ever, account for what was taking place in the companies they headed.

There are signs that Winnick does expect accountability of himself. Heads of charitable organizations to which Winnick pledged contributions, contacted this past February by The Journal, said they were in receipt of the monies or fully expected the pledges to arrive. His offer to replenish depleted employee retirement funds by $25 million was unprecedented in the current climate of CEO duck-and-run. Having set an example with his giving, Winnick can now set one with his candor.

This would be a good thing, because employees and stockholders are not, according to Jewish tradition, the only stakeholders in our business behavior. God also calls us to account for our actions. When we die, the Talmud says, the first question God will ask each one of us is, “Nasata v’netata be’emunah” — “Did you conduct your business affairs with honesty?”

In an article on Jewish law, Rabbi Eliezer Breitowitz elaborates: “Business ethics is the arena where the ethereal transcendent teachings of holiness and spirituality confront the often grubby business of making money and being engaged in the rat race …. It is the acid test of whether religion is truly relevant or religion is simply relegated to an isolated sphere of human activity.”

Justly or unjustly, Gary Winnick is undergoing that acid test quite publicly.

AMBER: The U.S. Moral Alert


At least once a week, we hear reports of missing children. Some are found alive and others, tragically, dead.

Some become names on the missing list and remain a mystery.

The heartbreak is great, and families never truly recover from the trauma. For years, we have been aware of this problem, and no real answers have been found.

Recently, we find a great number of children committing crimes of great magnitude — cruelty, impressive and unsurpassed. Imagine reading trial reports of youngsters beating their father to death with a bat.

It has also been suggested that a lot of missing children are really runaways, running from abusive parents and schools. The recent investigations and convictions have intensified the concern of all of us. To whom do we turn, and what are we to do?

It was in the fall of 2001 that the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children launched the AMBER (America’s Missing Broadcast Emergency Response) plan nationwide. It is designed to assist cities and towns across the United States in creating their own emergency alert plan. It is now being adopted by more and more cities.

In February 2002, the Emergency Broadcast System adopted rules for missing children. It became a standard for alerting the public about missing children. This system follows support for the AMBER Alert initiated in October 2001.

The AMBER Alert is the missing child response program that notifies the public when children are kidnapped. There are 53 modified versions of the program, and 16 states have adopted statewide plans. Recent kidnappings in California and the recovery of missing children is attributed to the success of the AMBER Alert program.

I believe that this is a wonderful concept, and should be encouraged throughout the United States. It would accomplish a great deal. Most of all, it would save lives.

However, on the other hand, I strongly suggest a different kind of moral supplement to the AMBER Alert — a plan that alerts us to respond to the growing moral decay of our country.

Instead of the AMBER plan being a system to just find missing children, there should be a system that doesn’t let the child get lost in the first place. Perhaps the AMBER plan could also incorporate an "America’s Moral Broadcast Emergency Response."

When a responsible citizen sees a family member, an elected official or even a clergyman engaging in abusive behavior, he should have an emergency number to alert authorities who will intervene before an abduction or abusive behavior takes place.

There are times I wonder why we always glorify safe recovery, when we should be instituting preventive laws. The old saying of "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" can work in conjunction with the AMBER Alert. Instead of putting out fires, it is wiser to find the arsonist. With all our worries about terrorist attacks, we seem to be forgetting our own home-grown terrorists.

Maybe it is high time for all of us to make a personal AMBER Alert. We need to check the morality of our leaders in government, schools and religious institutions, and call an emergency response and rectify the wrongs and help those in need. If we did that, what a great world we would have.

Rabbi Eli Hecht is vice president of the Rabbinical Alliance of America and past president of the Rabbinical Council of California. He is the director of Chabad of South Bay in Lomita, which houses a synagogue, day school, nursery school and chaplaincy programs.

Hate Israel, Not Jews


It was on full display last year at the global anti-racism conference in Durban, South Africa, but the "demonization" of Israel has reached a fever pitch during the past month with the surging death toll in the Middle East, say Jewish observers.

Even as Holocaust Remembrance Day is marked this week, anti-Israel critics worldwide increasingly are employing Nazi and Holocaust imagery and analogies to describe the Jewish state’s behavior toward the Palestinians.

At the same time, Western Europe — particularly France — has seen a rash of attacks on synagogues and other Jewish institutions, prompting one French Jewish leader to compare the current situation to Kristallnacht.

All of which seems to prove the adage coined by the French writer and philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre: "Words are loaded pistols."

Pro-Israel advocates say they accept the fallibility of Israel and the right to criticize it. However the line between anti-Israel sentiment and anti-Semitism blurs when the world seems to hold Israel to a higher standard than all other countries.

"I wouldn’t have a problem if the Fourth Geneva Convention were convened to discuss Rwanda and Northern Ireland and Kashmir and the Middle East, but why is it that it’s been convened only twice in its 53-year history — both times to discuss Israel? That’s anti-Semitism," Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), said, referring to a set of human rights guidelines passed after World War II.

Veiled beneath today’s vitriol for Israel, Jewish observers detect a form of anti-Semitism of the we-don’t-hate-Jews-just-the-Jewish-state variety, which was first formally enshrined when the United Nations equated Zionism with racism in 1975. Likening Israelis to Nazis is particularly nefarious, advocates say, and goes hand in hand with the Holocaust denial pervasive in the Arab world.

"To open the world for new crimes against Jews, you either have to say the Holocaust did not exist or to minimize or trivialize it by saying that the victims are really the victimizers," said Rabbi Michael Melchior, Israel’s deputy foreign minister. "This is total demonization of the state of Israel, and, therefore, of the Jew. Whether they be an Israeli Jew or a French Jew."

In some cases, the rhetoric is purely political, aimed at damaging Israel’s image. For many of those who blindly mimic the rhetoric, it’s ignorance of history. But for a sizable portion — especially many in Western Europe — it is a way to ease the conscience, said Holocaust historian Michael Berenbaum.

"It’s some measure of solace for Europeans that Israel seems to be in the morally compromised position, because it relieves them of the residual guilt they have for the Holocaust," said Berenbaum, a professor at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles and the former director of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Research Institute. "It’s a way of getting even with Jews, whom they think have lorded the moral depravity of the Europeans over their heads."

The current movement can be traced to the 1960s, Foxman said, when some in the Arab world embraced the Holocaust denial propagated by unreformed Nazis.

"The idea was, if the only reason Jews were given Israel was because of the Holocaust, then if this is a hoax, they don’t really deserve it," Foxman said. Over time, he said, Arab and Muslim Holocaust deniers have generally become even more zealous than neo-Nazis. Then came the "Zionism Is Racism" equation, a U.N. resolution that remained on the books until it was rescinded in 1991. U.N. officials, including Secretary-General Kofi Annan, have described that period as a stain on the world body’s record.

Nevertheless, it was feared the Arab world was angling to resurrect the equation at the U.N.-sponsored World Conference Against Racism, late last summer in Durban. In fact, the denunciations of Israel there were broader and more visceral. Israel and the Middle East overwhelmed all other issues, as Israel was branded an "apartheid state" guilty of "genocide," "ethnic cleansing" and "war crimes."

As Irwin Cotler, a Canadian politician and human rights lawyer, said in Durban, "In a world in which human rights has emerged as the secular religion of our time, Israel, portrayed as the worst of human rights violators, is the new anti-Christ."

Most disturbing to Jewish observers was not that Arab and Muslim delegates were ganging up on Israel, but how easily so many otherwise compassionate activists from around the world jumped aboard the bandwagon.

In light of the now-renewed rhetorical offensive against Israel, Foxman said, "Durban was the dress rehearsal to see if this kind of anti-Semitism could sell. And with all these well-meaning people there who would have laid down their lives for others, no one was willing to stand up for the Jews."

With Israel’s siege of Palestinian cities, refugee camps and the Ramallah headquarters of Yasser Arafat, Israel has been barraged with Holocaust denials, Nazi comparisons and blood libels that circulate globally via the Internet.

On March 7, according to the ADL, the director of the Palestinian News Agency, Ziad Abd-al-Fatah, said: "What they are doing now to our people is a ‘Holocaust’ in every sense of the word, while what happened to them was not a ‘Holocaust,’ since researchers doubt its veracity and the testimonies are also doubtful."

On March 21, Algerian diplomat Mohamed-Salah Dembri told the U.N. Commission on Human Rights in Geneva that "Kristallnacht repeats itself daily" against "the ghettoized Palestinian people."

The fusillade has also come from beyond the Arab world.

On March 26, Portuguese writer Jose Saramago, who won the 1998 Nobel Prize in Literature, was quoted as describing the Israeli blockade of Ramallah as "in the spirit of Auschwitz" and "this place is being turned into a concentration camp." On April 5, the Kuala Lumpur-based newspaper, The Star, quoted Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad saying Israelis needed to be stopped, like the Bosnian Serbs.

Not many are speaking out against the incendiary rhetoric.

One notable exception, though, was the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Jakob Kellenberger. On March 26, in his address to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, Kellenberger said: "It would be misleading to think that recent or present-day international crimes surpass the evils that humans have historically inflicted on humans. Does anyone really believe that the suffering caused by current conflicts around the globe surpasses the ravages of World War II and the atrocities that accompanied it?"

Still, rebuttals seem few and far between.

"I’m concerned that people have not stood up," Berenbaum said, "but maybe what I’m saying is that I’m also concerned that I haven’t stood up.

"I’m equally concerned that perhaps we haven’t made our point over many years about the Holocaust, which allows for this ignorance and God-awful abuse of history."

To more forcefully counter this "demonization" of Jews, Melchior announced in January plans to create the International Forum for Combating Anti-Semitism. The blue-ribbon panel of non-Jewish figures should be in place within six months, he said.

Why non-Jews?

"Anti-Semitism undermines the basic fundamentals of democracy and decency, and anyone who cares about those two things should fight against it," Melchior said." As someone once said, anti-Semitism is a sickness that non-Jews have, but which Jews die of."

We have to start taking seriously what they say, because they mean what they say."

The Years of Persecution


As the decades pass, why does the Holocaust retain, and even expand, its grip on the consciousness of the world and of its scholars, writers and filmmakers?

Argues Professor Saul Friedländer of UCLA, it is not because the extermination of 6 million Jews marked a major turning point in world history, as in the sense of the French or Bolshevik revolutions, or even the Great Depression.

Rather, the Holocaust, in its most profound sense, forces mankind to face the ultimate questions: What is the nature of human nature? What are the limits of human behavior?

The agonizing questions recur implicitly throughout the first volume of Friedländer’s “Nazi Germany and the Jews: The Years of Persecution, 1933-1939” (HarperCollins, $30).

While maintaining a rigorous scholarship, much of it based on fresh documentation, the distinguished historian of the Holocaust never loses sight of the human factor — the response of the victim, the attitude of the German bystander, and even, when possible, the mental processes of the Nazi hierarchy.

Friedländer, a professor of history at both UCLA and Tel Aviv University, documents just how unprepared German Jews were for the trials ahead. On the day of Adolf Hitler’s accession to power, the chairman of the Central Association of German Citizens of the Jewish Faith wrote in the organization’s newspaper: “German Jews will not lose the calm they derive from their tie to all that is truly German. Less than ever, will they allow external attacks, which they consider unjustified, to influence their inner attitude toward Germany.”

Even so keen a mind as Martin Buber’s could pronounce two weeks later that “as long as the present condition holds, there can be no thought of Jew-baiting or anti-Jewish laws, only of administrative oppression.”

In the months and years ahead, Jews were excluded from Germany’s professional and cultural life, step by small step, until the first watershed year, 1935, and the promulgation of the Nuremberg Laws “for the defense of German blood and honor.”

The minutiae of these laws, with their “scientific” distinctions of quarter, half and full Jews, makes for mind-bending reading even 60 years later — as witness the following Kafkaesque ruling:

“A full-blooded German who converts to Judaism is to be considered as German-blooded after that conversion as before it; but in terms of the racial belonging of his grandchildren, he is to be considered a full Jew.”

The Nuremberg Laws were welcomed by most Germans (and even some Jews), who thought that by designating the Jews as an officially segregated minority, some of the physical “excesses” against them might be controlled.

“The majority of Germans,” writes Friedländer, “although undoubtedly influenced by various forms of traditional anti- Semitism and easily accepting the segregation of the Jews, shied away from widespread violence against them, urging neither their expulsion from the Reich nor their physical annihilation.”

In this interpretation, Friedländer differs from some Holocaust scholars, notably Harvard historian Daniel Goldhagen. In his recent book, “Hitler’s Willing Executioners,” Goldhagen posits that the German people were driven, for hundreds of years, by an “eliminationist” Jew hatred that welcomed the Final Solution.

The reality was more complex, maintains Friedländer. While there was hardly any active, and little passive, opposition to Hitler in the 1930s, most Germans were unenthusiastic about the disorder introduced by Nazi brutalities, fearing civil instability at home and possible economic boycotts abroad.

Of course, the promulgators of the Nuremberg Laws, foremost Hitler himself, saw the new edicts as part of a process to completely disenfranchise the Jews and push them out of Germany.

What drove Hitler and his hard-core followers was, as Friedländer describes, “redemptive anti-Semitism.” The term refers to Hitler’s maniacal conviction that the world was dominated by international Jewry and that the German and “Aryan” races could only be “redeemed” by a struggle to the death against the Jews.

This “redemptive” obsession runs in a constant line through Hitler’s thinking and action — allowing for occasional tactical deviations — from his first political statements, in 1919, to his last will, written just before his suicide in 1945.

Just how Hitler came by his “apocalyptic” vision is still not clear. Friedländer traces its ideological paternity to Richard Wagner’s Bayreuth circle, which was continued by the composer’s son-in-law, the Englishman Houston Stewart Chamberlain, and by the German journalist Dietrich Eckart, whom Hitler recognized as his mentor.

“Nazi Germany and the Jews” has been greeted by historians and reviewers as the new standard reference on the period. In an interview, Friedländer talked about his own background and the special responsibility of an author writing about the Nazi era and the Holocaust.

Born in Prague in 1932, Friedländer was hidden in a French monastery during the war years. His parents sought refuge in Switzerland but were turned back and later perished in Auschwitz.

He emigrated to Israel in 1948, studied in Tel Aviv, Paris and Geneva, and has published nine previous books on the Nazi era and Holocaust.

Writing on so emotional and tragic a subject as the Holocaust, the professional historian must take exceptional pains “to keep to a rigorous scientific standard,” Friedländer says. “One must check oneself continuously so as not to fall into the trap of making facile interpretations.”

Friedländer is concerned about the misuse of the Holocaust by some Jewish institutions and organizations, which exploit the Shoah “in a simplistic and emotion-arousing way to push their self-serving agendas,” he says.

Even within the academic world, Friedländer fears some “slippage in standards,” but he is encouraged by the emergence of a new generation of “very serious and professional” scholars, particularly in Germany, Israel and the United States.

However competent such younger researchers, they cannot re-create the personal memories retained by Friedländer and his contemporaries.

“We are the last generation to have lived through some of the actual events and to have acquired the knowledge produced in subsequent decades,” Friedländer says. “It is enormously difficult to retain the image of the immediately experienced moment and meld it with the later-acquired knowledge.”

He is now fully engaged in writing the second volume, which will take his history from 1939 to 1945. He will use the same approach as in the first volume, meshing the perspectives of the decision makers, their followers and their victims.

His task will be even tougher in the second volume, says Friedländer, because he will have to go beyond Germany to encompass all of Europe and, indeed, all the world.

In addition, he will have to absorb and interpret the excellent research that seemingly comes out every day, not to mention an immense amount of new and original documentation from the former Soviet Union.

“It is an immense challenge to order this material and keep the structure from becoming utterly chaotic,” he says. “However, I have the advantage of having dealt with this subject all my life and can thus draw on a considerable fund of knowledge.”

By keeping to a strict writing schedule, which usually starts at 5 a.m., Friedländer hopes to complete the second volume by 1999.

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