You are a felon

“You are a felon.”  Those were the words texted by one high school kid to another after the boy bragged via text about raping an unconscious 16 year old girl in Steubenville, Ohio.  The phrase was echoed again on Sunday when the verdict was handed down – guilty.  “You are a felon.”  It is a powerful phrase, an accurate phrase and we are undeniably caught in its crosshairs.

The case came to light through social media – images of a passed out girl being dragged from one party to the next to be violated.  Real time text messages gave a moment-to-moment account of the atrocity witnessed by countless teens.  One of the rapists sent a text describing his victim as “a dead body.”  Yet the girl’s level of intoxication ended up at the center of the trial – the determining factor in whether this was rape or not.  “How drunk was she?”  And somehow, even asking that question sounds stomach-turningly similar to “what was she wearing?”  The text says it all, “a dead body.”

When I read that phrase, “a dead body,” images instantly flashed through my mind – snippets of scenes I’ve seen on screen a million times.  Rape scenes, sex scenes, violence passed off as sex – a limp body beneath a thrusting male.  It was all too familiar.


Aimée Lagos is an award winning writer and director, a storyteller, an activist and an entrepreneur dedicated to a life of adventure and raising her daughter with her soulmate.

Tigers outfielder arrested after shouting anti-Semitic remarks

Detroit Tigers outfielder Delmon Young was arrested outside of a New York hotel for allegedly attacking a group of men and making anti-Semitic remarks.

Young was arrested early Friday morning outside of the Hilton in Midtown Manhattan, where he was staying before a series with the New York Yankees begins on Friday night.

According to the Associated Press, a group of tourists staying at the hotel were approached by a panhandler wearing a yarmulke. According to the New York Post, Young yelled anti-Semitic epithets at the group. Young also reportedly shoved one of the men, who sustained minor injuries.

Young faces a misdemeanor aggravated harassment hate crime charge. He was taken to the hospital after the incident, as he was believed to have been intoxicated, New York Police Department spokesman, Detective Joseph Cavitolo, told the Detroit Free Press.

He told the newspaper that it was unclear whether the alleged victim was Jewish.

Young endured a 50-game suspension in 2006 for throwing a bat at an umpire. It is unclear whether he will be allowed to play in Friday’s game.

Drunk with excitement over Mel Gibson’s Maccabee movie

Chanukah has come and gone, and Jewish parents everywhere can breathe a sigh of relief. It’s comforting to know that 5772/2011 will likely be the last year that we have to tell our kids the story of the Maccabees without the help of Mel Gibson. Last September, in an announcement that honored its four founding siblings — Hirsch, Aaron, Jacob and Szmul Wonskolaser — Warner Bros. proclaimed that it would finance Gibson’s next project: “The Judah Maccabee Story”! Gibson, who famously quipped (during a 2006 DUI incident), “The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world,” apparently less-famously followed that with, “and I want to make movies out of all of them.”

My initial reaction was that a rabid anti-Semite was an odd choice to tell a quintessentially Jewish story. But then Robert Downey Jr. weighed in. At the presentation of the American Cinematheque Award in October, the Oscar-nominated actor made an impassioned plea. “Unless you are without sin … let him work,” exhorted Downey, cleverly paraphrasing a famous Jew in his pal’s defense. I have always turned to Reb Downey for spiritual advice, so his words gave me pause. Perhaps I was being rash. I am very sensitive to perceived anti-Semitism; this I concede. Maybe Gibson just likes to say nutty things when he joyrides with a bottle of his favorite tequila. Or maybe he has undergone a change of heart. I decided I would reserve judgment.

Imagine my shock when a friend who works at Warner Bros. secretly e-mailed me the first page of Mel’s screenplay for his film. I had misjudged! If the movie’s opening is any indication, Gibson’s approach is balanced, historically accurate and celebratory of Jewish bravery during trying times. I hope you will agree, and that we as a community can get behind this project. Go get ’em, Mel. Tell our story!

Gibson says he hopes to get “DIRTY JEW-DAH” into movie theaters “by Kristallnacht 2012.” See you there!

Joshua Malina is an actor who co-starred on “Sports Night” and “The West Wing.” He can be seen on ABC’s “Scandal” starting April 5.

IKAR successfully pushes revision of LAPD’s car impoundment policy at DUI checkpoints

Following six months of advocacy work by the congregation of IKAR, Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officials announced that they would no longer impound unlicensed drivers’ cars at sobriety checkpoints, a victory for undocumented immigrants who cannot obtain drivers licenses under state law.

Effective immediately, if officers stop unlicensed drivers at checkpoints — which are designed to curb drunk driving, not penalize undocumented immigrants for driving without licenses — the unlicensed driver can call a licensed driver to the scene to take control of his or her vehicle.

“This is a really small but significant step for relieving the burden” of the immigrant population, said Wendy Braitman, a member of IKAR’s Minyan Tzedek team, a social action initiative, referring to the consequences involved with car impoundment: Vehicles are often held for up to 30 days and are costly to retrieve.

Braitman added that this is “an issue that none of us in the Jewish community knew anything about, because it really doesn’t impact us,” but she maintained that it is nevertheless significant.

LAPD assistant chief Michel Moore said the decision “was meant to begin improving the way impounds are done regarding unlicensed drivers. This is part of a larger issue,” he said. “We’re looking at the way we do impounds not only at DUI checkpoints but also at regular traffic stops.”

Still, unlicensed drivers who are stopped will receive a citation, as they did prior to revisions of LAPD’s protocol.

IKAR, working with LA Voice Pico, a coalition of religious organizations, schools and neighborhood organizations, welcomed LAPD’s announcement during a press conference on March 14 at LAPD’s downtown headquarters.

This is “a great moment for IKAR, for our city, and a great step toward a hopefully more expansive policy of enfranchising the marginalized immigrant community in our city,” wrote IKAR’s Rabbi Lizzi Heydemann in a recent e-mail. “This policy is an improvement because it takes us closer to a world in which people are treated with equality and fairness.”

– Ryan Torok, Staff Writer

Alcohol Aftermath

On Purim, the Talmud commands us to drink until we "don’t know the difference between ‘Blessed be Mordechai’ and ‘Cursed be Haman.’"

Obviously, the talmudic rabbis never heard of "Just say no."

But the commandment to drink till we’re drunk is problematic, especially in a holiday that, some critics say, already celebrates sexual subjugation, murder and intermarriage.

It is problematic in a religion that advocates, as the Apocrypha states, "Moderation in all things."

And it is problematic in a society in which 10 percent of the population, Jews included, suffer from alcoholism, drug addiction or both.

Drinking permeates the Purim story: from the beginning, where King Ahasuerus hosts a weeklong feast for his officials and servants with "royal wine in abundance," (Megillah 1:7) to the end, where the Jews celebrate their victory and proclaim the 14th of Adar as an annual "day of feasting and gladness." (Megillah 9:17) A declaration that, according to some rabbis, prompted the talmudic dictate to drink to excess.

"I would argue that in this day and age, the commandment to drink till we’re blitzed ceases to have the force of mitzvah," says Rabbi Paul Kipnes, who leads Congregation Or Ami in Calabasas, and who runs a program in the Los Angeles area for Jews in recovery from alcohol, drugs and other addictions.

But with or without the force of mitzvah, intemperate drinking is an accepted part of the Purim celebration and, many would argue, warranted. After all, without the two wine feasts arranged by Queen Esther and attended by King Ahasuerus and Haman, the miracle of Purim would never have happened.

At the first wine feast, Esther lays a trap for Haman by extravagantly flattering him. At the second, she reveals Haman’s plot to kill the Jews to King Ahasuerus. The king then orders Haman to be hanged on the gallows that Haman originally built for Mordechai.

Conversely, others would argue, myself included, that drinking triggers all the trouble in the first place.

After the week of feasting, when "the heart of the king was merry with wine" (Megillah 1:10), Ahasuerus orders his queen, Vashti, to parade naked, wearing only her crown, before him and his guests so he can show off her beauty. Vashti refuses and is banished, or, according to some sources, executed. This precipitates an all-points bulletin inviting beautiful young maidens to "audition" for the suddenly vacant position of queen — and makes way for Esther’s entrance.

It is also wine that later solemnizes the plot, when King Ahasuerus and Haman sit down to drink (Megillah 3:15) to seal the decree ordering the annihilation of the Jews.

"There is nothing wrong with drinking," Kipnes explains, "except when it becomes a raison d’etre or leads to people getting hurt."

"But," he adds, "Purim is one of three occasions where Jews who have gone down the path of alcoholism admit to getting drunk for the first time. The other two are Passover and b’nai mitzvah."

That’s not surprising as drinking pervades the Jewish calendar year — from multiple cups at Purim to four cups at Passover to one cup every Shabbat. It’s also present at Jewish life-cycle events — including wine given to anesthetize babies at the brit milah.

But ironically and erroneously, we Jews have a reputation for not getting drunk. In the 18th century, the philosopher Immanuel Kant wrote that Jews don’t get drunk because they "are exposed through their eccentricity and alleged chosenness to relax in their self-control." This is reinforced by the well-known Yiddish proverb, "The shikker is a goy."

Additionally, we Jews have a propensity for denial, for refraining from airing our dirty laundry in public, thereby serving to mask the addiction problem both in our homes and in our communities.

But the problem exists. And for us parents, license to drink heavily, even once a year, is not a message we want to give our children.

Not when, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, boys first try alcohol, on average, at age 11 and girls at 13.

Not when half of all teenage deaths result from driving under the influence of alcohol and about half of all teenage suicides involve alcohol use.

And not when the Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse reports that binge drinking is the number one substance-abuse problem on today’s college campuses, leading also to an increase in AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, unwanted pregnancies, date rape and other assaults.

Purim, this ostensibly frivolous and farcical holiday, celebrates the triumph of good over evil. But it does so by giving the message that drinking is the way to have fun, and by espousing behavior that is dangerous, demeaning and contrary to Judaism’s commandment of shmirat haguf, preventing bodily harm.

And there’s nothing good about that.