Police, people of color and a Jewish dream of justice


Last week, we watched in horror and dismay as violent event after violent event unfolded, each amplifying and recontextualizing the one before it. By Friday morning, July 8, five Dallas police officers were dead, three black men had been killed by the police (including the Dallas shooter), and countless families were broken and traumatized.

On Friday evening I was in the streets marching, chanting our movement’s simplest, yet most elusive assertion, “Black Lives Matter.” As a black person and a Jew, I was asserting the value of my own being — attempting to claim agency over my own body and the bodies of those who look like me in the face of racism and violence.

I usually find these marches and rallies empowering, but on this night I was deflated and sad. As we marched through the rapidly gentrifying streets of New York City, I couldn’t stop watching the faces of those people, especially white people — presumably many of them Jewish — who sat in outdoor cafes sipping wine or coasting by in the backseats of taxis. Some cheered or raised a glass, others gawked mutely; some were obviously annoyed at the minor disruption to their day. I joked darkly to a Jew of color who was marching with me that all of our signs should just say, “If you’re standing there, reading this, then you are part of the problem.”

On Sunday I joined a group of Jewish people of color, organized through Jews For Racial & Economic Justice, or JFREJ, to process and hold space for each other after a week of pain.

Many of those in the room with me have been active in the fight to pass the Right To Know Act , a piece of legislation before the City Council here that would help address the very issues that have brought our nation to this terrifying moment. It would create more trust and mutual respect between communities and the police by requiring officers to identify themselves with a business card when they stop you on the street, thus allowing you to follow up if you believe you were stopped or searched in a discriminatory or illegal manner.

It would also provide a remedy for unconstitutional searches by requiring officers to inform people when they have the right to refuse a search.

As I looked at the demoralized faces in the room, I understood why the week left us all so drained and depressed. For decades people of color have protested against discriminatory and violent policing. And while there have been some meaningful victories over the years, we have yet to win the true accountability that we need to secure our full civil rights and dignity. Ever since the death of Garner in my city — in some ways ever since the beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles 25 years ago — we’ve had the proof right in front of us, on our screens. We thought this new phenomenon — ubiquitous cameras providing new evidence of an enduring injustice — would shock the nation into action, but it hasn’t. We have organized and marched and rallied, thinking it would move the nation to value our lives and reform its policing. But it hasn’t.

All across America, local community groups are working to pass bills and make policy reforms such as the Right To Know Act. Each effort tries to address some small piece of the problem of racism and police violence — to chip off some tiny piece of the iceberg and make some progress. Our movement is growing, but not fast enough. Unless the Jewish community and everyone who is now watching from the sidelines gets involved, we will be sharing these tragic videos for years to come. Now is the moment to say “never again — not one more.” Now is the moment for white Jews to join us in the streets, to call your legislators, to donate your time and money. To invest in a future where we never have to enter Shabbat with the echoes of gunshots in our ears.

The only way we can ensure a future in which black lives matter and the police are trusted and respected by all is if white Jews, and all Americans, actively participate in the campaigns for racial justice and police accountability being waged all across the country by local organizations, especially those led by people of color. We can win, but only by creating movements too powerful to be ignored. In this struggle there is no neutral ground — if the Jewish community isn’t part of the solution, then it is part of the problem.

Like those people watching us march past them, most Americans don’t see this as their problem to solve. As Jews, we know what it means to fight for our survival while those around us do nothing. And as a Jew of color, I am tired of feeling abandoned by my friends and my larger Jewish community when they sit on the sidelines rather than fighting for my safety and full humanity.

Though  these weeks have been painful, I am still filled with hope for change and certainty that we will win. All I have to do is look at the community I am lucky enough to work with — the powerful, brilliant Jews of all races who are struggling for racial justice every day. They remind me of the most potent parts of our tradition: those that call us to strive for justice even in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. We won’t give up — we will pass bills like the Right to Know Act. With Jews at my side, I will be out in streets fighting for justice. Will you be there with me?

White supremacist David Duke planning congressional bid


White supremacist leader David Duke is gearing up to run for Congress, saying his decision was bolstered by the killing last week of five white Dallas policemen at the hands of a black gunman.

Duke, a former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, told the Daily Beast on Tuesday that he plans to challenge incumbent Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., saying he has “very seriously set up an exploratory committee” and expects to make a decision “in a few days.” The ballot deadline is July 22.

Speaking about the Dallas killings, Duke said: “I don’t take any satisfaction in the fact that I was right, but I have been right. Unless European Americans stand up, they are going to lose everything they care about in this country.”

 

Duke has asserted publicly that Jews control the Federal Reserve Bank, the U.S. government and the media. He ran for the U.S. Senate in 1990 and for Louisiana governor in 1991, losing in a runoff election to Edwin Edwards.

He has endorsed Donald Trump for president and compared himself to the presumptive Republican nominee.

“I’ve said everything that Donald Trump is saying and more,” Duke said, according to the Daily Beast. “I think Trump is riding a wave of anti-establishment feeling that I’ve been nurturing for 25 years.”

In February, Duke endorsed Trump on his radio program, telling his listeners to volunteer for and vote for Trump.

In an interview days after the endorsement on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Trump told host Jake Tapper: “Just so you understand, I don’t know anything about David Duke, OK? I don’t know anything about what you’re even talking about with white supremacy or white supremacists.”

Trump disavowed the endorsement hours after the “State of the Union” interview, for the second time in three days, after refusing to do so on the program.

Scalise, who has served in the U.S. House of Representatives since 2008 and is now the majority whip, reportedly once called himself “David Duke without the baggage.”

Are we better than this?


If you weren’t whiplashed, heartsick, nauseated, outraged and exhausted last week, you weren’t paying attention.

Within the span of 24 hours, we were pummeled by horrifying images and unbearable grief — nothing as awful as personally enduring it, but real and real-time enough to scar our spirits, and to put “reality” TV in its infantilizing, counterfeit place.

The killings in Louisiana, Minnesota and Texas were a shared national tragedy. But so far that common trauma has failed to cauterize the wound that created it and that it created. These miserable days since then have united us in our experience of anger, but we remain divided by our experience of race. We cannot agree who the victims and villains are. We demand solutions, but we are polarized by our accounts of the problems. We want justice and we want law and order, but we are split by our explanations for their absence.

When he arrived in Warsaw for the NATO summit, after two Black men had been killed by cops in Baton Rouge and Falcon Heights but before five cops had been killed by a Black sniper in Dallas, President Obama went to a podium to draw a connection between the shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile and the severity disproportionately meted out to Americans of color by our criminal justice system.

Those disparities, he “>say that “the reason there’s a target on police officers’ backs is because of groups like Black Lives Matter.”

To some, “this” is a list that did not start with Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Walter Scott, Sandra Bland, Laquon McDonald and Freddie Gray, and that now includes, but does not conclude with, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.

To others, like talk radio host and former Illinois Congressman Joe Walsh, “this” is a cue to “>it, you know how it goes. Former New York Police Department detective Harry Houck shouts that race isn’t a factor in tail-light stops; defense attorney Paul Martin shouts back, “You’re not living on the same planet we are.” Political commentator Van Jones says, “the statistics don’t lie” about the criminal justice system’s bias against blacks; Houck counters that minorities commit a majority of crimes and “the statistics bear that out, and you don’t want to face that…. Many police officers put their lives on the line for minorities every day, and to say that police departments are systematically racist is a ridiculous statement.” Jones tries to calm the waters: “There’s something called unconscious bias.” Houck retorts, “That’s a new narrative, I know — you guys made that up just recently in the last six months.” On TV, apparently, we are not better than this.

On July 7, as the wrenching video live-streamed by Diamond Reynolds went viral on Facebook, as we watched her four-year-old daughter Dae’Anna witness her mother’s boyfriend die, as we saw the gun and heard the voice of the cop who killed Castile, as their literal terror became our virtual terror, a second drama shared the nation’s screens.

On Capitol Hill, FBI director James Comey was grilled by the House Oversight Committee about not recommending criminal charges against Hillary Clinton. Democrats, though relieved by his decision, fumed about the fodder his press conference and testimony gave Clinton’s opponents to claim she is unfit for office. Republicans, fuming about his decision, wanted Comey to say, as Donald Trump “>responded, “Look me in the eye and listen,” and gave no ground.

Watching the hearing on TV while, at the same time, watching the Sterling and Castile videos on social media, I was struck by how Comey bridged the two stories. It was Comey who had irritated Democrats and others last October by suggesting that rising crime rates might be attributable to cops’ reluctance to get out of their cars for fear that they would be unfairly depicted in viral videos. “A chill wind,” he “>twice within a few days, leading White House press secretary Josh Earnest to counter, “The evidence that we’ve seen so far doesn’t support the contention.” Undeterred, Comey “>pushback.

I wonder how much of that resistance is substantive, and how much is tribal. When Donald Trump says he is not shackled by political correctness, what he means is that if you hold him accountable for his racism, he will try to bully you for upholding America’s highest ideals. But there are times when the ways we pursue our ideals can surface uncomfortable tensions between them.  This is especially true, and especially troubling, in the case of race and justice, and it is not racist to say so. But the fear of that accusation can make it hard to talk about them honestly. Even if the partisan climate were less toxic, even if the business model of the media were not to inflame and monetize civic conflict, solving our race and justice problem will take more than the political leadership to put the right policies in place. Finding common ground on moral issues requires moral leadership.

Last February, Comey gave a “>another he gave last year at the University of Chicago Law School, the one in which he first mentioned the “chill wind,” Comey wrestles with some of America’s most intractable problems. I don’t know if he’s right about the way ubiquitous videos may undermine policing, and neither does he; he’s careful to offer it as a conjecture, though one informed by widespread anecdotes in the law enforcement community. But I would rather have his speculation and his moral leadership than the demagoguery of the Rudy Giulianis and of the Trumps whom they support.

I will miss Obama’s moral leadership. If Clinton succeeds him, I hope her passion for policy, beneficial as that is, isn’t the last step she takes toward the pulpit the presidency provides.  

Imagine if Clinton and Comey, together, were to lead the nation to common ground on race and justice. That’s just a dream, I know. But what could be the best answer to, “Are we better than this?” is this:

“I have a dream.”


Marty Kaplan, who recently won the Los Angeles Press Club’s 1st Place for Commentary at the 58th Annual Southern California Journalism Awards, holds the Norman Lear Chair at USC Annenberg. Reach him at martyk@jewishjournal.com.

The Dallas shooter wanted to stay in an anti-Semitic militant group


Investigators may never know with certainty what combination of factors led Micah Xavier Johnson to methodically fire upon police officers in Dallas. Five white officers were killed in the attack, which came during a  peaceful rally protesting the shooting deaths of young black men by law enforcement in other cities.

Johnson has been variously portrayed as a follower of the Black Lives Matter movement who was pushed to the edge by recent police shootings; a loner who not only was unaffiliated with various black nationalists organizations but was even shunned by them, and a disgruntled veteran who left the military under a cloud of suspicion for sexual harassment.

Reports now say he was linked as well to several black power and other confrontational groups, some of which are labeled as anti-Semitic.

According to local reports, Johnson was a member of the New Black Panther Party’s Houston chapter for about six months a few years ago. He “liked” the group on Facebook and, according to The Daily Beast, he attended multiple NBPP protests and events.

The Southern Poverty Law Center calls the NBPP, which is not connected to the original Black Panther Party, a “virulently racist and anti-Semitic organization whose leaders have encouraged violence against whites, Jews and law enforcement officers.” The Anti-Defamation League says it is the “largest organized anti-Semitic and racist Black militant group in America.”

The Daily Beast also reported that Johnson was “loosely affiliated” with several other groups, including South Dallas’ Muhammad Mosque No. 48, which is run by members of Louis Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam — which both the Southern Poverty Law Center and ADL labeled an anti-Semitic hate group. He had also liked Facebook pages related to Elijah Muhammad, an early Nation of Islam leader.

Here’s a quick primer on the New Black Panther Party, which is easy to confuse (in name only) with its 1960s namesake.

The original Black Panther Party doesn’t like the new group.

The Black Panther Party, formed in the 1960s to promote black nationalism, has said the NBPP has “hijacked our name and … our history.” In fact, in 1997 the now-defunct Black Panther Party won an injunction against the NBPP that prohibits the group from using the Black Panther name. It continues to use it anyway.

While the group is “tiny” compared to its non-related predecessor, the ADL notes that it has successfully recruited members and garnered significant media coverage in the past.

The Black Panther Party likely objects to the NBPP’s direct calls to kill, like the ones issued in the wake of the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown. After Martin was killed by George Zimmerman in 2012, the group issued a $10,000 reward for Zimmerman’s “capture.” When Brown was fatally shot in 2014 by a police officer, Darren Wilson, in Ferguson, Missouri, the group’s then-leader, Malik Zulu Shabazz, directed protesters to chant that they wanted Wilson dead.

New Black Panther Party critiques of white power often turn into anti-Semitism.

The NBPP’s main ideology focuses on wresting power back from whites in general. But as the ADL explains, the group’s positions are tainted by racism and frequently anti-Semitism.

“Members of the group have blamed the Jews for killing Jesus; claimed that the Talmud teaches that ‘Black people are cursed,’ and promoted the anti-Semitic notion that Jews were ‘significantly and substantially’ involved in the transatlantic slave trade,” the ADL’s 2014 report on the group reads.

It blamed Jews for 9/11.

A month after the terrorist attack, at a news conference that was broadcast on C-SPAN, Shabazz blamed “Zionism” and NBPP officer Amir Muhammad said thousands of Jews knew about the attack in advance.

Zionism also features prominently in the group’s 10-point platform as a symbol of “robbery of the Black by the capitalist.” According to the ADL, the NBPP’s former Boston chairman released a song in 2009 called “Zionist Money” that likens Zionism to terrorism. In 2002, Shabazz led chants of “death to Israel” outside the B’nai B’rith building in Washington, D.C.

The Black Lives Matter Network, a grassroots movement that sprang up in reaction to a string of shooting deaths of young black men by police, bristles at the notion that Johnson or fringe groups like the NBPP in any way share their goals or ideology.

“Black activists have raised the call for an end to violence, not an escalation of it,” Black Lives Matter leaders said in a statement one day after the Dallas killings. “Yesterday’s attack was the result of the actions of a lone gunman. To assign the actions of one person to an entire movement is dangerous and irresponsible. We continue our efforts to bring about a better world for all of us.”

Black fathers matter, too


I shudder in rage whenever I see one of those videos showing police brutality. We all do. When a black man gets killed in a confrontation with a police officer, the rage only increases. America has a long and painful history with slavery and racism that makes us extra sensitive to issues of racial discrimination.

Anything that smacks of racism makes us scream. When a grand jury in 2014 decided not to indict a white officer for the fatal shooting of a black man in Ferguson, Mo., we screamed. After several days of riots, the movement Black Lives Matter was born.

This is a movement of unbridled passion, anger and frustration directed primarily at law enforcement. I understand the intensity of the sentiment.

At the same time, I also understand that unbridled passion comes at a price. For one thing, it can blind us to facts that don’t support our preferred narrative.

For example, a new study published this week in The New York Times concluded that, while blacks are “more likely to be touched, handcuffed, pushed to the ground or pepper-sprayed” by law officers, when it comes to the most lethal form of force — police shootings — the study finds no racial bias.

The author of the study, Harvard professor Roland G. Fryer Jr., called it “the most surprising result of my career,” since it contradicts the “mental image” of police shootings so many of us have in the wake of recent tragedies.

Even the killing that launched Black Lives Matter is up for debate. As Heather MacDonald reports in her book, “The War on Cops,” the testimony of a half-dozen black observers at the scene had “demolished the early incendiary reports that Wilson attacked Brown in cold blood and shot Brown in the back when his hands were up.”

Witnesses and physical evidence, MacDonald writes, “corroborated Wilson’s testimony that Brown had attacked him and had tried to grab his gun.”

This is not to downplay actual instances of police brutality and racial discrimination against blacks, which are real, horrible and unacceptable, whether fatal or otherwise. Rather, it’s to point out that we all pay a price when we don’t keep things in perspective.

Virulent anti-cop rhetoric doesn’t just hurt cops, it hurts everyone, especially blacks.

In the wake of the Ferguson protests, MacDonald writes, “Officers working in inner cities routinely found themselves surrounded by hostile, jeering crowds when they tried to make an arrest or conduct an investigation.”

Put on the defensive, “the police began to disengage from proactive policing…[and] criminal summons and misdemeanor arrests for public-order offenses plummeted.”

So, instead of a boon to black lives from the falloff in discretionary policing, “a bloodbath ensued, and its victims were virtually all black.” Evidently, when the police back off, blacks pay the greatest price.  

If the goal is to reduce violence against blacks, protest movements like Black Lives Matter would be wise to go beyond the single-minded focus against renegade cops. By all means, let’s address the issue of racism in law enforcement, but let’s not ignore other serious issues—such as, for example, the vexing reality of black-on-black crime.

According to a report by the New Century Foundation, “Since at least 2002 and up to 2013 (the latest data available), murder was the leading cause of death for black men, ages 15 to 34. Their murderers are almost always other black men.”

The report cites statistics from the Department of Justice showing that, “from 1980 to 2008, 93 percent of black homicide victims were killed by blacks.”

The point is, if black lives matter, we ought to have hard conversations about all the factors behind those lost lives. Among the many factors is the issue of family life.

In Chicago, one of the worst cities for black-on-black shootings, MacDonald writes:

“About 80 percent of black children in Chicago are born to single mothers. They grow up in a world where marriage is virtually unheard of and where no one expects a man to stick around and help raise a child.”

Before President Obama leaves office, I hope he will go to his beloved Chicago and reiterate the tough love he shared in a 2008 speech to a black congregation:

“Too many fathers are M.I.A., too many fathers are AWOL, missing from too many lives and too many homes,” he said. “They have abandoned their responsibilities…and the foundations of our families are weaker because of it.”

We shouldn't oversimplify the problems affecting black youth, but we should also have the honesty — and courage — to put all the issues on the table.


David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

5 police officers killed, 7 injured in ambush at Dallas rally against police brutality


At least one sniper killed five Dallas police officers and wounded another seven in a racially charged attack that ended when police used a robot carrying a bomb to kill him, the city's shaken police chief said on Friday.

The incident began on Thursday evening at the end of a protest over this week's killing of two black men by local police in the United States.

The shooting sent protesters running in panic while swarms of police found themselves under attack by what they believed to be multiple gunmen using high-powered rifles at ground level and on rooftops.

During lengthy negotiations with police, the gunman said he had wanted to kill white people and white police officers and was angry about the recent shootings. He cited the “Black Lives Matter” anti-police-violence movement, but also said he was not part of a larger organization, said Dallas Police Chief David Brown.

“We had an exchange of gunfire with the suspect. We saw no other option but to use our bomb robot,” Brown told reporters at City Hall.

This week's killings of black men by police officers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and outside Minneapolis were the latest in a long string of similar, controversial killings that have led to almost two years of national protests over race and justice. The latest deaths are both being investigated by federal authorities.

“The suspect said he was upset about Black Lives Matter,” said Brown, who is black. “He said he was upset about the recent police shootings. The suspect said he was upset at white people. The suspect stated that he wanted to kill white people, especially white officers.”

U.S. media identified the suspect as Micah X. Johnson, a 25-year-old resident of the Dallas area, citing unnamed law enforcement sources.

Quinyetta McMillon, who had a child with Alton Sterling, the black man slain by police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, earlier this week, condemned the Dallas attack in a statement.

“We wholeheartedly reject the reprehensible acts of violence that were perpetrated against members of the Dallas Police Department,” McMillon said. “Regardless of how angry or upset people may be, resorting to this kind of sickening violence should never happen and simply cannot be tolerated.”

A Twitter account describing itself as representing the Black Lives Matter movement sent the message: “Black Lives Matter advocates dignity, justice and freedom. Not murder.”

With Thursday's attack, 26 police officers have been shot and killed in the United States so far this year, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. That is up 44 percent from the 18 officers slain in the same period in 2015, the group said.

Some of the largest police forces in the United States were on high alert on Friday, following the attacks in Dallas, with departments in New York and Boston ordering officers to patrol in pairs.

PANIC IN THE STREETS

The shots rang out as a protest in Dallas was winding down, sending marchers screaming and running in panic through the city's streets.

It was the deadliest day for police in the United States since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington.

Shooters, some in elevated positions, used rifles to fire at the officers in what appeared to be a coordinated attack, Brown said.

“(They were) working together with rifles, triangulating at elevated positions in different points in the downtown area where the march ended up going,” Brown told a news conference.

A video taken by a witness shows a man with a rifle crouching at ground level and shooting a person who appeared to be wearing a uniform at close range. That person then collapsed to the ground.

Reuters could not immediately confirm the authenticity of the video.

A total of 12 police officers and two civilians were shot during the attack, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said. Three of the officers who were shot were women, he said.

One of the dead officers was identified as Brent Thompson, 43. He was the first officer killed in the line of duty since Dallas Area Rapid Transit formed a police department in 1989, DART said on its website. Thompson joined DART in 2009.

Rawlings told CBS News the people in custody, including one woman, were “not being cooperative” with police investigators. He said the assailant who was dead was being fingerprinted and his identity checked with federal authorities.

Brown declined to say how many people were involved in the attack, saying, “We're going to keep these suspects guessing.”

There was no sign of international links to the attacks, U.S. officials said on Friday.

Experts on extremist groups said such attacks are not necessarily carried out by an organization and are often the work of individuals. Black groups have not been linked to any recent violent attacks in the United States, they said.

“Most extremists are not card-carrying members of any groups whatsoever,” said Mark Pitcavage, an expert on extremist movements with the Anti-Defamation League. “Especially in this internet age, it is easy to get involved in an ideology without joining a group.”

'DESPICABLE ATTACK'

President Barack Obama, who was traveling in Poland, expressed his “deepest condolences” to Rawlings on behalf of the American people.

“I believe I speak for every single American when I say that we are horrified over these events and we are united with the people and police department in Dallas,” he said.

Obama said the FBI was in contact with Dallas police and that the federal government would provide assistance.

“We still don't know all of the facts. What we do know is that there has been a vicious, calculated and despicable attack on law enforcement,” he said.

The Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area is one of the nation's most populous and is home to more than 7 million people.

The Dallas shooting happened as otherwise largely peaceful protests unfolded around the United States after the police shooting of Philando Castile, a 32-year-old black man, on Wednesday during a traffic stop near St. Paul, Minnesota.

The day earlier, police in Baton Rouge shot dead Sterling, 37, while responding to a call alleging he had threatened someone with a gun.

Over the last two years, there have been periodic and sometimes violent protests over the use of police force against African-Americans in cities from Ferguson, Missouri, to Baltimore and New York. Anger has intensified when the officers were acquitted in trials or not charged at all.

Dallas is a pioneer in training its police officers in de-escalation techniques, Rawlings told reporters, saying the department had the lowest number of police-involved shootings of any large American city.

'THE END IS COMING'

The suspect in the Dallas standoff had told police “the end is coming” and that more police were going to be hurt and killed.

Police said they were questioning two occupants of a Mercedes they had pulled over after the vehicle sped off on a downtown street with a man who threw a camouflaged bag inside the back of the car. A woman was also taken into custody near the garage where the standoff was taking place.

Mayor Rawlings visited the wounded at Parkland hospital, the same hospital where President John F. Kennedy was taken after he was shot in Dallas in November 1963.

Presidential candidates Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton canceled planned events following the attack.

“Our nation has become too divided. Too many Americans feel like they've lost hope,” Trump said in a statement. “This is a time, perhaps more than ever, for strong leadership, love and compassion.”

Clinton said on Twitter: “I mourn for the officers shot while doing their sacred duty to protect peaceful protesters, for their families & all who serve with them.”

THE FEDERATION RESPONDS

The Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas added its voice to the many groups that spoke of their horror and indignation following the attack.

“We are shocked and horrified by the attack on our Dallas Police this evening, and our thoughts and prayers are with those recovering and the families of those mourning the senseless deaths of their loved ones,” the Federation wrote on Facebook. “Cowards used this opportunity to fire upon those very officers charged with maintaining order and protecting the protesters. The cycle of violence sweeping our country is both senseless and reprehensible; may calmer heads prevail across our country.”

-Reuters with additional reporting from JTA

Jewish groups mourn police, urge reform after Dallas shootings


Jewish organizations are voicing anguish over the violence in Dallas that claimed the lives of five police officers during a peaceful demonstration protesting the recent shooting deaths of two unarmed black men by police in Minnesota and Louisiana.

Officials say the police officers were killed by sniper fire during a protest Thursday evening. One suspect, who died during a police standoff following the shooting, has been identified as Micah Xavier Johnson, 25, an Army reservist who served in Afghanistan.

The Dallas Holocaust Museum Center for Education and Tolerance, which is located near where the shootings occurred, had to close Friday as the investigation continued and pathways were cordoned off. The museum’s spokespeople expressed sorrow for the deaths of the police officers and the two African-American killed in the week’s earlier incidents.

“We deplore acts of violence and hatred in all forms and urge our community to come together to embrace civil discourse.  We value every life,” a museum release read. “We also feel great sorrow for the two shooting victims for whom the peaceful protest was being held and those protesters who were wounded.”

The Anti-Defamation League condemned the killing of the five police officers “in strongest terms.”

“We have reached out to the Dallas Police Department to convey our condolences and offer support,” Roberta Clark, ADL Dallas regional director, said in a statement. “At this early point in the investigation, the motive for this odious attack is unknown and it would be irresponsible to jump to conclusions or cast blame. We must let the investigation run its course.”

“In the aftermath of this attack on law enforcement and the recent police shootings of black men in Minnesota and Louisiana, we appeal to the public to remain calm during this challenging and difficult time,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, the ADL’s CEO. “Violence should never beget violence. Solutions will be found only when we work together peacefully and engage in constructive dialogue.”

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs also condemned “in no uncertain terms” the killings of the five police officers.

But its president, David Bernstein,  also responded to the Dallas incident with a direct call to transform the “adversarial” relationship between communities and law enforcement nationwide.

“Far too many African-Americans, particularly young men, have fallen victim to police violence leaving an indelible mark on communities and families,” Bernstein said. “The spate of horrific police shootings shows that many police departments must undergo serious culture change, and see themselves as not only enforcers of the law but members of the community as well. We have a long way to go as a country.”

‘Suspicious’ fire that killed Jewish lawyer in Dallas may have been revenge


The “suspicious” fire that killed a longtime civil rights lawyer from a prominent Jewish family in Dallas reportedly may have been revenge by a client or former client.

Ira Edwin Tobolowsky, 68, was found dead in his garage on Friday morning in a blaze that fire officials are calling “suspicious in nature,” according to The Dallas Morning News.

Tobolowsky’s body had been doused with some kind of fuel and set alight, the Dallas ABC affiliate WFAA reported Monday, citing unnamed sources. The case has been turned over to Dallas Fire-Rescue’s arson investigators. Investigators reportedly believe a client or former client may have taken revenge. Tobolowsky’s law partner, Faith Burk, told WFAA that he had recently been involved in contentious litigation.

Tobolowsky comes from a family active in the Dallas Jewish community. Among his well-known family members are his cousin, state District Judge Emily Tobolowsky; actor Stephen Tobolowsky, who has appeared in films such as “Groundhog Day” and on television; and University of North Texas professor Peggy Tobolowsky, a lifetime trustee of the Dallas Jewish Community Foundation, according to The Dallas Morning News.

Tobolowsky was a father of three; his son’s wedding reportedly is scheduled to take place in two weeks.

Other family members were home at the time of the blaze. Paint and other accelerants were stored in the garage leading to the explosive fire, according to Fox4.

Following the determination that the fire was suspicious, the Sheriff’s Department increased security for a District Court judge, Eric Moye, due to fears that there may be a connection between a civil lawsuit in his court and Tobolowsky’s death, according to reports.

 

Texas police officer resigns after video shows him toppling teen


A Dallas-area white police officer seen in a viral video tossing a bathing suit-clad, black teenage girl to the ground resigned on Tuesday from the McKinney Police force, local broadcaster Fox 4 and others cited his lawyer as saying.

McKinney Police Corporal Eric Casebolt had been placed on administrative leave pending an investigation of how he responded to the disturbance on Friday in the city about 30 miles north of Dallas, an incident that has raised fresh questions about racial bias in U.S. policing.

Watch the full video. Story continues below.

In the video, Casebolt is seen shouting obscenities at black youths in a multiracial crowd, shoving a black teenage girl, briefly pointing his gun at black youths and throwing the girl in her bathing suit to the ground, burying his knees in her back.

The seven-minute video, viewed 9 million times on YouTube as of Tuesday morning, shows officers responding to the incident, which police said started when scores of young people attended a party with a disc jockey at a community pool and refused requests to leave.

Hundreds of people rallied in McKinney on Monday night demanding the firing of Casebolt. He has not spoken publicly about the incident and was not available for comment.

George W. Bush headlines largest Israel Bonds event since ’51 launch


Former President George W. Bush headlined the largest Israel Bonds fundraiser since the organization was inaugurated in 1951.

The event in Dallas on Monday evening drew 1,500 people and raised more than $60 million, Israel Bonds said in a statement, adding that it was the largest since the launch at Madison Square Garden in New York.

“President Bush spoke about his first visit to Israel, calling it one of his most meaningful experiences,” the statement said.

Israel Bonds’ national chairman, Fred Zeidman, a Texas-based lawyer and Republican fundraiser, joined Bush at the event. Zeidman for decades has been close to the one-time Texas governor.

Ebola cases in the United States


Nine cases of Ebola have been seen in the United States since the beginning of August. A Liberian man who died Oct. 8 in a Dallas, Texas, hospital was the first person diagnosed with the virus on U.S. soil.

The latest case is a doctor in New York City who was diagnosed on Oct. 23 within a week of returning from treating people in Guinea, one of the three worst-hit West African countries.

The following are details of cases of the hemorrhagic fever seen in the United States:

NEW YORK DOCTOR

Dr. Craig Spencer, 33, returned to the United States on Oct. 17 via Belgium after working for Doctors Without Borders charity in Guinea. He tested positive for Ebola on Oct. 23. His fiancée and two friends are under quarantine until Nov. 14.

NURSES

Nina Pham, 26, a nurse at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, where she helped treat Liberian patient Thomas Eric Duncan. She was diagnosed four days after Duncan died. On Oct. 24 officials declared Pham free of the virus and she is released from the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, where she had been treated since Oct. 16.

A second nurse at the same hospital who treated Duncan, 29-year-old Amber Vinson, also tested positive for the virus. On Oct. 24 the Emory University Hospital in Atlanta where she was being treated declared her free of the virus. She was released from the hospital Oct. 28.

Vinson flew from Ohio to Dallas the day before reporting symptoms, raising concerns about possible spread of the disease, which someone can get through contact with bodily fluids. Ohio has not reported any case of Ebola.

NBC CAMERAMAN

Ashoka Mukpo, an American freelance television cameraman working for NBC News in Liberia, was flown out of the country for treatment at Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha.

Mukpo, 33, was declared free of the virus on Oct. 21 and left the hospital the next day. “Recovering from Ebola is a truly humbling feeling. Too many are not as fortunate and lucky as I've been. I'm very happy to be alive,” he said in a Twitter post this week.

The NBC crew who worked with Mukpo also returned to the United States and were ordered into quarantine after violating their voluntary confinement.

LIBERIAN IN DALLAS

Duncan was visiting Dallas when he began feeling ill and sought treatment at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital on Sept. 25. He was initially discharged with antibiotics, despite telling a nurse he had just come from Liberia. On Sept. 28 he returned to the same hospital by ambulance after vomiting outside the apartment complex where he was staying. Duncan died in an isolation ward 11 days later.

EMORY PATIENT

An unidentified American who contracted Ebola in Sierra Leone began treatment at Emory University Hospital on Sept. 9. The patient, who has asked to remain anonymous, was discharged on Oct. 19, the university said.

THREE MISSIONARIES

Three Americans contracted Ebola while working for Christian missionary organizations in Liberia and were flown to the United States for treatment. All have recovered.

Nancy Writebol contracted the virus in July while working for a SIM USA hospital with her husband, David, who was not infected. She was treated at Emory and discharged on Aug. 19.

Dr. Kent Brantly also was treated in isolation at Emory after contracting Ebola while working for Christian relief group Samaritan's Purse. He was released on Aug. 21.

Dr. Rick Sacra, a Boston physician who was working for SIM USA, arrived in the United States on Sept. 5 and was treated for three weeks at Nebraska Medical Center. 

Compiled by Susan Heavey and Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Grant McCool and Lisa Shumaker

Preparing for the worst: A conversation with Cedars-Sinai’s director of epidemiology on Ebola


Ebola.

The dreaded word is all over the news and causing a flurry of activity at hospitals across the nation as officials scramble to prepare for the possibility of new cases of the West African disease in the United States. So far, just three cases of Ebola have been diagnosed on U.S. soil, all linked to patient Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian who contracted the disease in Africa and died at a Dallas hospital Oct 8. However, with the debacle over two nurses who cared for Duncan contracting Ebola, and the search for possible exposures extending from Texas to Ohio, and to multiple domestic flights and a cruise ship, medical facilities are not taking chances.

To date, Los Angeles County has no suspected or confirmed cases of Ebola, according to the county’s public health department. Nevertheless, government agencies and local hospitals such as Cedars-Sinai are training staff and establishing protocols on how to respond to any new cases of the virus, should they appear.

The Jewish Journal asked Dr. Rekha Murthy, director of the epidemiology department at Cedars-Sinai, to explain how the hospital is taking on the challenge of Ebola preparedness, and whether the public should be overly concerned about the disease.

 

Jewish Journal: How is Cedars-Sinai preparing for Ebola?

Rekha Murthy: Cedars-Sinai is preparing on multiple fronts. We have taken steps to enhance our early detection system for suspected or confirmed cases of Ebola. For example, we are asking all of our patients if they have traveled to Ebola-affected countries in Africa in the last 21 days or if they have been in close contact with someone who has. In addition, we are training our staff on proper procedures for caring for such patients, including how to put on and take off personal protective equipment. Should we receive a patient with signs or symptoms of Ebola virus disease, we will offer that individual the safe, compassionate care that we offer to all Cedars-Sinai patients and ensure that our patients, visitors and staff are safe.

 

JJ: What kind of training or guidance has Cedars-Sinai received from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)?

RM: We are developing our protocols while monitoring the guidance of multiple health organizations, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, the California Department of Public Health and the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

 

JJ: What kind of space and personnel has Cedars-Sinai committed to dealing with a potential Ebola outbreak?

RM: We have identified an isolation unit where a patient with Ebola would receive care, and we have formed a dedicated Ebola Response Team of physicians, nurses and other health care providers.

 

JJ: If an Ebola case is detected, how will you ensure medical staff caring for the patient does not contract the disease?

RM: In addition to doing hands-on demonstrations with our nurses, physicians and clinical partners, we have filmed a video demonstration of the best practices for putting on and taking off the personal protective equipment. the training also emphasizes proper disposal methods for contaminated linens and supplies.  We also will follow the CDC’s recommended “buddy system” in which health care workers observe and check each other during the putting on and taking off of personal protective equipment.

 

JJ: What is the protocol for dealing with family members and other people who have had contact with an Ebola patient?

RM: Should we admit a patient who is suspected of having Ebola or who has been diagnosed with Ebola, we will work with the state and county departments of health as well as the CDC and follow their guidance regarding quarantine procedures.

 

JJ: How concerned is Cedars-Sinai about Ebola?

RM: Ebola virus is a serious disease that has caused a lot of suffering around the world. However, the influenza virus is much more widespread here in America, especially in the upcoming months of the usual flu season, and is preventable with flu vaccine. So it is much more likely that Angelenos would catch the flu, not Ebola virus. We are encouraging all our patients to protect themselves and get a flu shot this year — especially children, as this year’s flu appears to be targeting children.

 

JJ: How worried should members of the public be about Ebola?

RM: Ebola virus is a serious disease, so I understand the concern. However, there is virtually no risk of developing Ebola virus unless you have had close contact with sick Ebola patients with symptoms such as fever, vomiting and/or diarrhea. Transmission of this virus occurs only through direct contact with bodily fluids of patients who are ill with Ebola or from objects such as needles or syringes that have been in contact with these fluids. Unless you have been in contact with Ebola patients or have traveled to the affected countries in Africa or had intimate contact with someone who has been in contact with Ebola patients, there is no need to worry.

 

JJ: Are you seeing an increase in patients coming to the hospital concerned about Ebola?

RM: No. That said, we are aware of the widespread concern in our community and our country. We are dedicated to patient safety, which always has been our highest priority at Cedars-Sinai.  

 

JJ: What are the symptoms of Ebola that people should be looking out for?

RM: There is virtually no risk of developing Ebola virus unless you have had close contact with sick Ebola patients or have traveled to Africa in the past 21 days. If you have a fever and have traveled to Africa in the past 21 days or have had close contact with sick Ebola patients, seek medical care immediately.

 

JJ: When should someone seek medical attention if they think they have Ebola?

RM: Immediately. If possible, call your health care provider ahead of time to let them know about your symptoms and that you are seeking care.

Second Texas nurse with Ebola had traveled by plane


A second Texas nurse who tested positive for Ebola after caring for a patient with the virus had traveled by jetliner a day before she reported symptoms, U.S. and airline officials said on Wednesday.

The worker at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas had taken a Frontier Airlines flight from Cleveland, Ohio to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport on Monday, the officials said.

The woman, identified to Reuters by her grandmother as Amber Vinson, 29, was isolated immediately after reporting a fever on Tuesday, Texas Department of State Health Services officials said. She had treated Liberian patient Thomas Eric Duncan, who died of Ebola and was the first patient diagnosed with the virus in the United States.

The circumstances under which Vinson traveled were not immediately known. But the latest revelation raised fresh questions about the handling of Duncan's case and its aftermath by both the hospital and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

At least 4,447 people have died in West Africa in the worst Ebola outbreak since the disease was identified in 1976, but cases in the United States and Europe have been limited. The virus can cause fever, bleeding, vomiting and diarrhea, and spreads through contact with bodily fluids.

“Health officials have interviewed the latest patient to quickly identify any contacts or potential exposures, and those people will be monitored,” the health department said in a statement.

During the weekend, 26-year-old nurse Nina Pham became the first person to be infected with Ebola in the United States. She had cared for Duncan during much of his 11 days in the hospital. He died in an isolation ward on Oct. 8.

The hospital said on Tuesday that Pham was “in good condition.”

News of the second nurse's diagnosis follows criticism of the hospital's nurses of its initial handling of the diseases, in a statement Tuesday by National Nurses United, which is both a union and a professional association for U.S. nurses.

The nurses said the hospital lacked protocols to deal with an Ebola patient, offered no advance training and provided them with insufficient gear, including non-impermeable gowns, gloves with no taping around wrists and suits that left their necks exposed.

'PILED TO THE CEILING'

Basic principles of infection control were violated by both the hospital's Infectious Disease Department and CDC officials, the nurses said, with no one picking up hazardous waste “as it piled to the ceiling.”

“The nurses strongly feel unsupported, unprepared, lied to, and deserted to handle the situation on their own,” the statement said.

The hospital said in a statement it had instituted measures to create a safe working environment and it was reviewing and responding to the nurses' criticisms.

Speaking early Wednesday on CBS “This Morning,” U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell declined to comment on the nurses' allegations.

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said at a news conference Wednesday that the second infected nurse lived alone and had no pets.

He said local health officials moved quickly to clean affected areas and to alert her neighbors and friends. A decontamination could be seen taking place at her residence.

EARLY WAKEUP

Residents at The Bend East in the Village apartment complex were awoken early Wednesday by text messages from property managers saying a neighbor had tested positive for Ebola, and pamphlets had been stuffed beneath doors and left under doormats, said a resident, who asked not to be named.

Other residents were concerned enough that they were limiting time spent outdoors.

“Everybody thinks this won't happen because we are in the United States. But it is happening,” said Esmeralda Lazalde, who lives about a mile from where the first nurse who contracted Ebola resides.

Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital is doing everything it can to contain the virus, said Dr. Daniel Varga of Texas Health Resources, which owns the hospital. “I don't think we have a systematic institutional problem,” he said at a news conference on Wednesday.

At the same briefing, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, the county's chief political officer, said authorities were anticipating additional possible Ebola cases.

“We are preparing contingencies for more, and that is a very real possibility,” Jenkins said.

The CDC said in a statement that it was performing confirmation testing of Texas' preliminary tests on the new patient.

CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden said Tuesday the agency was establishing a rapid-response team to help hospitals “hands on, within hours” whenever there is a confirmed case of Ebola.

Frieden has come under pressure over the response and preparedness for Ebola, but White House spokesman Josh Earnest said U.S. President Barack Obama was confident of Frieden's ability to lead the public health effort.

REINFORCEMENTS

Burwell, in a series of television interviews on Wednesday, said officials were adding staff to ensure the hospital in Dallas followed procedures to prevent transmission of the virus.

She said there would be round-the-clock site managers to oversee how healthcare workers put on and remove the protective gear used when treating Ebola patients.

In addition to extra CDC staff on site, two nurses from Emory University, in Atlanta, which has a specialized hospital that has treated other Ebola patients flown in from West Africa, were in Dallas to train staff.

Obama was due to hold a video conference Wednesday with British, French, German and Italian leaders to discuss Ebola and other international issues, the White House said.

Prospects for a quick end to the contagion diminished as the World Health Organization predicted that Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, the three worst-hit countries, could produce as many as 10,000 new cases a week by early December.

Additional reporting by Jim Forsyth in San Antonio, Susan Heavey and Doina Chiacu in Washington D.C. and Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; Writing by Jonathan Kaminsky and Curtis Skinner; Editing by Mohammad Zargham, Doina Chiacu, Bernadette Baum and Jonathan Oatis

Investigators rush to find out how Ebola struck Dallas nurse


Health investigators were racing on Monday to figure out how a nurse in Texas contracted Ebola even though she used protective equipment when treating a Liberian who died of the disease in Dallas last week.

The inquiry, reported by the Dallas Morning News, underscores the increased scrutiny hospital officials face over whether safety precautions taken by medical staff are sufficient and as nurses groups demand better training to avoid becoming infected with the deadly virus.

The newspaper, which did not name the public agency leading the inquiry, said the nurse whose infection was reported on Sunday could have been exposed to Ebola when two invasive procedures were performed to try to keep Thomas Eric Duncan alive: kidney dialysis and intubation to help him breathe. Both procedures have a high risk of causing transmission.

Officials said the worker at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas had used protective gear during treatment, including gowns, gloves, masks and shields as recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Meanwhile, Louisiana's top law enforcement official said he would file a temporary restraining order to prevent the personal items of Duncan, who died on Wednesday, to be buried in a local landfill, even after being incinerated.

Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell said material collected from Duncan and the Dallas apartment where he was staying was taken to Port Arthur, Texas on Friday to be processed at the Veolia Environmental Services incinerator. From there the incinerated material would go to a hazardous waste landfill in Louisiana.

“There are too many unknowns at this point, and it is absurd to transport potentially hazardous Ebola waste across state lines,” Caldwell said in a statement.

The infected worker, a woman who officials have not named, is the first person to contract the disease in the United States. She had close and frequent contact during the 11-day treatment of Duncan.

The current Ebola outbreak is the worst outbreak on record and has killed more than 4,000 people, mostly in West Africa's Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. Duncan, a Liberian, was exposed to Ebola in his home country and developed the disease while visiting the United States.

The new case prompted President Barack Obama to order federal authorities to take additional steps to ensure the American medical system is prepared to follow correct protocols in dealing with Ebola, the White House said on Sunday.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on Sunday the nurse's illness indicated a professional lapse that may have caused other health workers at the hospital to be infected as well.

Reporting By Terry Wadel; editing by Andrew Hay

50 years after JFK, family of Jack Ruby feels the pain


We were sharing a pastrami sandwich and pickles at a Los Angeles landmark: Canter’s Deli on Fairfax. I was 24; she was nearly 50 years older, with a piercing voice as loud as her flaming red wig.

Her name was Eva Rubenstein Grant, and she was a little-known nightclub manager the morning of Nov. 24, 1963, when her brother Jack Ruby left the apartment they shared in Dallas and blasted his way into infamy by fatally shooting Lee Harvey Oswald. It was history’s first live televised murder.

Eva worked and lived with her younger brother and spent the rest of her life defending him against various allegations. “I swear on my life, my brother was not three things,” Eva told me, her voice rising. “He was not a homosexual; he was not with the communists; and certainly not with the underworld!”

I listened with fascination to Eva on that day in 1977. (Years later, she was perfectly portrayed in a TV movie by Doris Roberts, the high-decibel mom on “Everybody Loves Raymond.”) “But Mrs. Grant,” I said, “Jack had ties to the ‘syndicate,’ as you call it, as far back as your childhood in Chicago.”

“Look,” she replied in exasperation. “We would see these people in the neighborhood, and we’d ask, ‘How’s your mother? How’s your sister?’ But that doesn’t mean Jack was connected with them! I grew up with a bunch of boys who turned out to be no good. Who knew!?”

It was a quintessentially Jewish response, albeit delivered in Eva’s hybrid Chicago-Dallas accent. And the Rubensteins were a staunchly Jewish family, a fact that may have played a role in Ruby’s killing of President John F. Kennedy’s alleged assassin.

Ruby was born Jacob Rubenstein in 1911 to Polish-Jewish immigrants Joseph and Fannie. They were a volatile couple; Joseph was a mean and abusive drunk, while Fannie suffered from mental illness and was committed to an Illinois state hospital at one point.  

Their eight children had their fair share of tzuris, both before and after the parents separated. Jack and three siblings were made wards of Chicago’s Jewish Home Finding Society and placed in foster homes for various periods of time during the 1920s.  

Despite the dysfunctional world of the Rubensteins, the parents kept a kosher home, holidays were observed, the boys received some Hebrew school training and went with their father to synagogue.

Jack idolized Jewish boxing champion Barney Ross, who later described him as a “well-behaved” youth. But others recall his hair-trigger temper and street brawls, especially when taunted by the non-Jews in his mixed Jewish-Italian neighborhood.

Ruby biographer Seth Kantor writes, “In his mid-20s, he was part of a Jewish pool-hall crowd that attacked the …  pro-Hitler German-American Bundist meetings. In his mid-30s, as an Air Force private, he beat up a sergeant who had called him a Jew bastard.”

At the end of World War II, Eva moved to Dallas and began managing nightclubs and restaurants. Jack got an honorable discharge from the Air Force in 1946, then joined Eva in Texas in 1947, the year he and brothers Earl and Sam all legally changed their last name to Ruby.

As a young man in Chicago, Ruby reportedly ran errands for Al Capone’s cousin and henchman Frank Nitti. A former Dallas sheriff once testified that Chicago Mafia figures told him Ruby was sent to Texas to run nightclubs that were fronts for illegal gambling operations. According to evidence uncovered by the House Select Committee on Assassinations in the 1970s, Ruby was later linked to mobsters Carlos Marcello and Santo Trafficante, who the panel considered prime suspects in a possible mob conspiracy to assassinate President Kennedy.

Whatever he was doing behind the scenes, Ruby became known as a nightclub owner, and at some point he began attending services at Congregation Shearith Israel. Rabbi Hillel Silverman, who was the synagogue’s spiritual leader from 1954 to 1964, says, “He didn’t come regularly, but he came to say Kaddish for his father. He came to minyan one day with a cast on his arm. I said, ‘Jack, what happened?’ He said, ‘In my club, somebody was very raucous, and I was the bouncer.’ ”

Silverman (whose father, Morris, edited the Conservative movement’s siddur, and whose son Jonathan is an actor known for “Weekend at Bernie’s”) is now 89 and still leading High Holy Days services every year in the San Diego County community of Vista. His memories of Ruby remain precise. Sometimes he was peaceful and calm, but he was unpredictable,” Silverman told me recently. “He could be very volatile and belligerent at times.”

“He came to my home once with a bunch of puppies and said, ‘Take one.’ I didn’t really want a dog, but one of my kids did, so we ended up with a puppy.  Then we went to Israel one summer, and I had no place to put the dog. I went to Jack’s nightclub, and the dog stayed there for a month. So Jack Ruby was my dog sitter,” the rabbi recalled, laughing.

But there was no laughter in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963. “The day of the assassination, we had our regular Friday night service, which became a memorial service for the president. Jack was there. People were either irate or in tears, and Jack was neither. He came over and said, ‘Good Shabbos, Rabbi.  Thank you for visiting my sister Eva in the hospital last week.’ I thought that was rather peculiar.”

Two days later, Silverman spoke to his Sunday morning confirmation class, expressing relief to the students that Lee Harvey Oswald was not Jewish, or else “there might have been a pogrom Friday night here in Dallas.” He then switched on the radio and heard that a “Jack Rubenstein” had killed the alleged assassin.

“I was shocked,” Silverman said. “I visited him the next day in jail, and I said, ‘Why, Jack, why?’  He said, ‘I did it for the American people.’ ”

I interrupted Silverman, pointing out that other reports had Ruby saying he did it “to show that Jews had guts.” The elderly rabbi sighed. “Yes, he mentioned that. But I don’t like to mention it. I think he said, ‘I did it for the Jewish people.’ But I’ve tried to wipe that statement from my mind.”

Another one of  those close to Ruby who has tried, unsuccessfully, to block out most of the past is his nephew “Craig” Ruby. (He asked that I not give his real first name). His early memories are pleasant. “Uncle Jack would come to the house two or three times a year for Jewish holidays. He’d have a shot of whiskey with my dad, and most of the time, he’d give us each a silver dollar.” More impressive to Craig was Ruby’s flashy wheels. “He got a new car every other year, and he always had a nice two-door sports coupe.”Craig enjoyed going with his father to visit Ruby at his nightclub in the afternoon, before the doors would open. 

Like millions of Americans, Craig watched the stunning murder of Oswald live on television, and soon afterward, he and his mother heard the name of the gunman. “Did you ever hear the expression ‘the color drained from her face’? I literally saw my mother’s face go from flesh to green,” he recalled. At age 12, that was a little freaky to watch.”

The FBI arrived that evening to interview Ruby’s brother and sister-in-law, and later stationed agents outside the house after a bomb threat was called in.  

Half a century after the fact, Craig is still bitter over the dramatic effect his childless uncle’s act had on the extended family. “My dad sold off his business in order to pay for Uncle Jack’s lawyers, leaving us nearly destitute.” Given his last name, Craig was an easy target for bullies during his junior high school years in Dallas, although he remembers one gym coach who’d known Jack telling the students to leave Craig alone.

Worst of all, though, was facing Uncle Jack himself. “One Sunday, my dad insisted we go to see Jack in jail. Outside, a police car’s siren started up, and my uncle was standing there with this incredibly intense, wild-eyed look on his face, and he yelled, ‘You hear that? You hear that? They’re torturing Jews in the basement!’ That particular experience was traumatic enough to where talking about it right now, 50 years later, is turning my gut into a knot.” 

Rabbi Silverman, who later testified before the Warren Commission, also vividly remembers his jailhouse visits. “In prison, he deteriorated psychologically. One time I walked in, and he said, ‘Come on, Rabbi, duck underneath the table.  They’re pouring oil on the Jews and setting it on fire.’ He was quite psychotic.”

As a broadcast journalist, my initial connection to Jack Ruby’s eccentric family was through his sister Eva, who I convinced to appear on ABC’s “Good Night America” program in 1976. (The previous year, the show had made headlines by airing the Abraham Zapruder  film of the JFK assassination on TV for the first time).  

I visited Eva several times at her Beverly Boulevard apartment in Los Angeles, where she once gave me the last piece of stationery from Jack’s Carousel Club.  She introduced me to her brothers Earl, who owned a dry cleaning store in Detroit, and Sam, who lived in the L.A. suburb of Sylmar. Sam showed me the one picture he had of their immigrant parents, as well as the rusting car Jack drove to the Dallas police station the morning he shot Oswald. In 1991, Earl allowed me to rendezvous with him in Dallas on the day he retrieved Jack’s gun, which he won after a decades-long legal battle. I later exclusively showed the weapon on television for the first time since 1963, shortly before it was auctioned off for $220,000.

 The brothers also downplayed Jack’s ties to the mob. Sam leaned in close and lowered his voice, confiding, “These guys would come into Jack’s club, and you had to be nice to them, ya know.” Ironically, however, when Earl chose a place for us to meet in Dallas the day he was given Jack’s gun, he picked an Italian restaurant better known for its links to the Mafia than for its lasagna.

Some conspiracy theorists believe Ruby was ordered to silence Oswald by his organized-crime contacts. Others, who think the murder was an impulsive act, point to Ruby’s fury over an anti-Kennedy advertisement in a Dallas newspaper the morning of the president’s visit. It was paid for by a right-wing Jewish activist named Bernard Weissman, which Ruby thought put Jews in a bad light.

We will never know for sure. What Craig Ruby knows for certain is that he did not mourn his uncle’s death from cancer in 1967. His family had moved to Chicago by then. “I remember getting off the school bus on a cold January day, and saw a headline on the newsstand — ‘Jack Ruby Dead In Jail.’  I literally felt a weight lift from my shoulders. And I thought, ’Thank God it’s finally over.’ I was 15.”

As for having a connection to one of the darkest moments in American history, Ruby’s view has not changed in 50 years. “I wish to God it hadn’t happened to us.”


Steve North is a broadcast journalist with CBS News who’s been reporting on the Kennedy assassination since 1976.

Have we forgotten what Bar Mitzvahs are all about?


[UPDATE] The Bar Mitzvah, re-examined


The egregious, licentious and thoroughly awful video that is circulating ‘celebrating’ a Bar Mitzvah contains so much that is offensive that it requires restraint to hold oneself to three ways in which this display slaughters the spirit. Still, in the face of excess what could be more appropriate than abstinence? So here are only three of the worst things about this travesty:

1. To turn a ceremony of spiritual maturation into a Vegas showgirl parade teaches a child sexualization of spirit. Apparently nothing in our society militates against the narcissistic display of short skirted dancers ushering an adolescent into unearned stardom. If it is fetching, it is worthy. A beat justifies all else, and the rapt attention of an (dare I hope incredulous?) audience, is its own justification. Here is a spectacle on the order of throwing Christians to lions — that is, toss belief into the arena of appetite. Everything is fair game if the show is good enough. The usual phrase set above the ark in a synagogue is “know before whom you stand.” Perhaps it is time to change it to “Flesh Vincit Omnia.” Rockette Ruach.

2. I am leery of being too maudlin but really, our ancestors struggled and suffered and fasted and prayed so Sammy could cavort? There is an historical outrage here. The Bar Mitzvah (which is a stage a child reaches, not the name of a ceremony) is important because one becomes responsible for the mitzvot, not because one poorly approximates a pubescent Justin Timberlake. Bar Mitzvah means something and however beautiful his religious ceremony may have been, and however sincere the Judaism of his family (I don’t know and cannot judge) it is drowned out by the cymbal crash of hip grinding libertinism. I think of some of the teachers of my youth who taught that the tradition they bore was sacred and demanded reverence. When one of us did our jobs in worship the way he instructed us, Mr. Weiss would slip us a Ludens cough drop. We coveted those cough drops because they were the sign of a sacred duty done well, acknowledged by someone of genuine authority coupled with kindness. I shudder to think of what Mr. Weiss would make of Sammy, who was doubtless slipped a BMW, or perhaps (in a concession to age) a diamond studded Magen David necklace in tribute to his accomplishment.

3. Poor Sammy. I say this with no irony. What remains to him of the small triumphs of life? When he struggles with math and earns a ‘B’ when before he could never do better than a ‘C’ will they purchase an island to mark the occasion? Will he take Air Force One to his prom? This young boy been so extravagantly recompensed at 13 as to make all future victories hollow. Alexander the Great, it is said, grew depressed when he realized he had no more worlds to conquer. And since Sammy’s extravaganza would probably have been too grandiose for Alexander to entertain for the mere conquest of the Persian empire, what of Sammy’s next achievement? His marriage had best take place on Mars or it will make no impression.

Achh. I know I sound like an old curmudgeon. Watching this I thought the adjective ‘godless’ has rarely been more apt. I cannot help recalling the wise words of AJ Heschel — self-respect grows each time we are able to say ‘no’ to ourselves. This video is a “YES” to a child from all the people in his life who should be teaching him “no.” And that kind of education has consequences far beyond Sam Horowitz and his dancing Bar Mitzvah girls.

This piece originally appeared on washingtonpost.com.

Wolpe is the Rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles and author, most recently, of “Why Faith Matters.”

Bar mitzvah video boy’s mom: ‘He’s got friends at Neiman Marcus’


For most boys reaching bar mitzvah age, donning a prayer shawl is exciting enough. But Sam Horowitz of Dallas knew he wanted more.

Horowitz, the star of a newly viral bar mitzvah video (the bar mitzvah actually happened last year), donned a sparkly white suit for the occasion and descended from the ceiling inside a massive chandelier in the lavish ballroom of the Omni Hotel in Dallas.

Sam first came up with the idea after seeing the Cheetah Girls in concert at age seven, according to his mother, Angela Horowitz. The performers descended from the ceiling at the American Airlines Center in Dallas. “He said right then, ‘I wanna do that at my bar mitzvah.’ And he held me to it.”

The bedazzling entrance required no small amount of engineering. A stuntman descended in the chandelier with him, a requirement of the production company, according to Horowitz. The surrounding dancers, expressing their passionate bar mitzvah joy in flapper-style minidresses, were local talent, including cheerleaders for the Dallas Mavericks.

According to Angela, this is the first of many times Sam expects to see his name in lights. “Sam wants to be famous in the entertainment industry,” she said. “He loves to sing and dance. He’s a really passionate kid.”

Sam already has an agent and has appeared in several commercials and on “Barney the Dinosaur.”

Horowitz also emphasized the family’s prominent role in Jewish philanthropy. Indeed, in Sam’s bar mitzvah invitation video, set to the pop hit “Call Me Maybe,” he can be seen dancing in front of the JCC of Dallas, endowed by his grandparents, Steve and Carol Aaron.

So what’s next for Sam? He’s heading to New York City Fashion Week in three weeks. “He loves fashion,” says his mom. “He’s got friends at Neiman Marcus.”

Rabbis to Boy Scouts: Lift ban on gay members


More than 500 rabbis and cantors urged the Boy Scouts of America to drop its ban on homosexual members when the youth group’s National Council convenes in Dallas this week.

Representatives of the Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist movements signed the letter, which was coordinated by the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism and sent to the BSA leadership on Tuesday night.

“Many of us are former scouts, the parents of scouts or children who aspire to scouting, and admirers of the mission and purpose of the BSA,” the religious leaders wrote. “Each of us, however, opposes the BSA’s discriminatory policy that excludes gay scouts and leaders.”

A spokesperson for the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism said it did not know if any of the signatories were Orthodox.

Some 1,400 leaders from the National Council are scheduled to have their final vote Thursday on changing the long-standing ban on openly gay boys in the scouting movement.

The National Jewish Committee on Scouting has been vocal in calling on the BSA to drop the ban.

In their letter, the rabbis and cantors expressed their dismay that the current proposal would lift only the ban on gay youth and called on the BSA to end the exclusion of homosexual adults as well.

My Single Peeps: Kristina L.


Most Jewish parents don’t name their child Kristina, but Ukraine — when it was still the former Soviet Union — was very secular. “So my parents just gave me what was the cool, European name of the moment, not wanting to give me some very traditional and typical Russian name like Tanya or Svetlana.” When she was 9, her family went through Jewish immigration. There was a five-month process where they lived in Italy and Austria, before landing in Los Angeles. She didn’t speak a word of English. They lived in a tiny apartment off of Fairfax Avenue, while her mother worked to support her father in medical school. 

Kristina, now 32, went to UC Santa Barbara, where she was pre-law. “Santa Barbara is a very fun place to go to school, a very fun place not to go to class. Then 9/11 happened and I changed my major to political science. I thought I was going to be Christiane Amanpour and hide in the bushes in the Middle East and report on war crimes.” After working for a news station, she realized the road to becoming a reporter would be too difficult, “so I decided to go into PR instead. I started working for a PR agency in Santa Barbara, and then I moved to L.A. and went through the PR agency world.”

She’s a hard worker — and others noticed. She was recruited by a startup, ShoeDazzle, which became very successful. She was then recruited by Match.com to run the company’s PR. After some time, the constant traveling to Dallas grew exhausting. “I decided it wasn’t a fit for me, and with a lot of encouragement from friends, I [started] my own agency. My parents were freaking out that I was giving up a really good salary, job security and working for a big company, in a shaky economy. I had my first client within a month. That was five months ago. Now I have a pretty full roster of clients and flexibility to go to yoga in the middle of the day if I feel like it. I love what I do. It’s a lot of fun. I work with a lot of different clients in a lot of different industries — one of them is a dating Web site called 3 Day Rule founded by two female matchmakers.” As I write that down, I realize she just PR’d her way into my article. Well played, Kristina.

Kristina likes her men well read. “I tend to date people who are entrepreneurs. They have a certain drive that I relate to. Having a good personality is important. Chemistry is the most important. It doesn’t matter what qualities you put down, but it comes down to a spark.” I say, “You haven’t mentioned looks.” She laughs. “I’m 5-foot-7, so definitely tall. I never thought about descriptors. I’ll know it when I see it. When I’m in a relationship with someone, we’re best friends. You can support each other and kick each other’s ass — in a good way. I’m very supportive. I try to make sure the other person feels really good. I’m also really fun. No one’s ever been bored dating me.

 “I do want kids, but I don’t need them tomorrow. Probably in the next five years. If I have to think about things that are most important — it’s not work, even though I enjoy work. It’s not hobbies — those can come or go. It’s relationships with the people around you. The people in your life are the most important. I would move for a relationship to another state. I wouldn’t move for work.”


Seth Menachem is an actor and writer living in Los Angeles with his wife and two children. You can see more of his work on his Web site, sethmenachem.com, and meet even more single peeps at mysinglepeeps.com.

 

Giving a boost to Jewish life in the South


As Allie Goldman’s plane was making its descent on the blazing 97-degree Midland/Odessa airport in west Texas, the landscape dotted with oil dykes looked foreign to the Dallas native even though it was the same state.

But Goldman’s work schedule for the weekend was familiar: Leading Sabbath eve services with the small youth group at Temple Beth El Midland, running an Israel education program with the religious school and holding a meeting with the congregation’s education board to discuss how to utilize its new full-time rabbi.

“I’m sitting with 50- and 60-year-olds in this room, and for me, at 23 years old, it’s amazing,” Goldman told JTA. “I’m the expert because I’ve worked with many other congregations.”

Goldman is one of nine fellows from the Institute for Southern Jewish Life trolling the South to provide professional Jewish educational resources to small Jewish communities that don’t have them.

The two-year fellowship program started nine years ago to reach out to isolated Jewish communities in the American South. Without the Jewish population and knowledge base of larger urban areas, the communities often have religious schools run by all-volunteer staffs, including parents with little or no formal educational training.

The fellows, who work with communities on a standard curriculum of Jewish learning, split their time among 72 congregations and 59 schools in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.

The program works with adults and students at Conservative, Reform and Orthodox synagogues, as well as unaffiliated. The fellows lead youth group events, children’s services, yoga Havdalah services and confirmation classes.

The Institute for Southern Jewish Life also employs a circuit-riding rabbi for small congregations.

Though about half of the nine fellows grew up in the South, they say working with small communities has been an eye-opening experience—in some cases, exposing them to Jewish cultural rarities like matzah ball gumbo.

For Lauren Fredman, who grew up in the small Jewish community of Salt Lake City, Utah, before moving to Denver, Colo., the small communities have a familiar feel. Among the things she’s done on the fellowship has been to design an adult education program for Temple Sinai in New Orleans, La.

“People came up to me after and said, ‘I can’t believe I never knew this. I learned so much,’ ” Fredman said.

In Jackson, where the Institute for Southern Jewish Life is located, the fellows also are involved in local Jewish and civic life. Many teach in the city’s synagogue and volunteer in an afterschool tutoring program. They attend the institute’s annual conference to train Southern volunteer religious educators, and they use each other for support and advice.

Sarah Silverman of Houston, Texas, became a fellow because she always knew she wanted to be a teacher but believed she was too young and inexperienced coming out of college. The program hasn’t been all easy, she said.

“I gave a d’var Torah on the power of sight and how seeing can make you feel a certain way,” Silverman said. “A blind congregant didn’t appreciate what I was saying. I still get upset when I talk about it. It was challenging to know I had upset someone.”

But she turned it into a learning opportunity to better figure out how to give presentations.

At Temple B’nai Israel in Hattiesburg, Miss., the local fellow leads programs for the youth group, the religious school and tots.

The synagogue’s rabbi, Uri Barnea, said that “She brings new ideas, new programs, and new methods of teaching that enhance our own activities and perspectives on Jewish education.”

Dallas man steals foot from Jewish corpse


A Dallas man stole a foot from a corpse in a Jewish cemetery.

Daniel Wayne Staley, 18, will be charged with abuse of a human corpse, the Dallas Morning News reported. Staley, who was out on bail for threatening to blow up a Dallas-area office building in March, was being held last Friday in Dallas County Jail.

Staley suffers from schizophrenia and refuses to take his medicine, his mother told the newspaper.

Early last Friday morning, Staley approached police officers, showed them the foot and told them he had taken the foot from a “Jew girl.” He took the police officers to the Tiferet Israel Agudas Achim Cemetery and showed them the grave he had dug up. The corpse was of someone who died in 1941, according to the newspaper.

Police do not believe the action was a hate crime.