New Punims in Sports Hall of Fame

Freestyle swim champion Jason Lezak of Irvine and fellow Californian, hot rodder Kenny Bernstein, have been elected to the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame for 2006.

In all, four Americans, one British Australian and one Brazilian are among the chosen athletes, with a New York sports writer rounding out the seven inductees.

Youngest of the group is Lezak, who won four medals, including two gold, in the 2000 and 2004 Olympic Games. He is the world-record holder in the 50- and 100-meter freestyle.

Bernstein of Forest City is the six-time National Hot Rod Association champion and in 1972 became the first driver-owner to break drag racing’s 300-mph barrier.

Tenpin bowling champ Marshall Holman of Medford, Ore., is the winner of 22 major Professional Bowlers Association championships and the first bowler to top $1.5 million in career earnings.

The only woman in the group, Adriana Behar of Rio de Janeiro, is Brazil’s beach volleyball star. She and her partner won silver medals in the 2000 and 2004 Olympics and ranked as the world’s number one team in 2000, 2001 and 2004.

Two great champions of the past, Al Singer and Albert Rosenfeld, were also elected.

Singer of New York won the world lightweight boxing crown in 1930 with a first-round knockout of reigning champ Sammy Mandell. Singer, who died in 1961, won 61 of his 72 pro fights, 25 by KO.

Rugby legend Rosenfeld started his playing career (1909-24) in his native Australia, but won the bulk of his laurels with England’s Huddersfield Club. His record of 80 tries scored in a single season remains unbroken and he was an original member of the Rugby League Hall of Fame. He died in 1970.

The seventh inductee is Ira Berkow, New York Times sports feature writer and columnist for the past 24 years. He won the Pulitzer Prize for his series “How Race Is Lived in America: The Minority Quarterback,” and also wrote biographies of Hank Greenberg, Casey Stengel, Bill Bradley and others.

The International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame Museum is located on the campus of the Wingate Institute for Physical Education and Sport in Netanya, Israel. Since 1979, it has inducted 315 athletes and sportspersons representing 24 countries.


The Nation and The World


Bin Laden Points The Finger

Al-Qaeda denied involvement in the assassination of Lebanon�(tm)s former prime minister, saying Israel could be the culprit. An Internet statement signed by a previously unknown group, the Al-Qaeda Organization of the Levant, rejected a claim of responsibility for Monday�(tm)s car bombing of Rafik Hariri�(tm)s cavalcade in Beirut. Israeli officials backed international assessments that Hariri was targeted for opposing the Syrian occupation of Lebanon.

Farewell, Femme Fatale

Mossad�(tm)s most famous hit woman has died. Sylvia Rafael, who was jailed in Norway for her part in a botched 1973 assassination, died of leukemia in her native South Africa over the weekend. She was 67. Rafael immigrated to Israel as a young woman and was recruited by Mossad while working on a kibbutz, soon becoming one of the spy agency�(tm)s most accomplished field agents. Operating under cover as a Canadian freelance photographer, she led the hunt for the Palestinian masterminds of the massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. A year later, her team shot dead a Moroccan waiter in the Norwegian town of Lillehammer, mistaking him for the chief of the Black September terror group. Rafael was sentenced for five years. Her prison term was shortened because of her poor health, and she eventually married her defense attorney and resettled in South Africa. Her body is to be brought to Israel for burial.

Chirac Says No on Hezbollah

French President Jacques Chirac refused to add Hezbollah to the E.U.�(tm)s list of terrorist organizations. Chirac reportedly rejected the request about the Shi�(tm)ite fundamentalist group during a meeting Monday with Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom. The European Union is expected to hold an initial discussion Wednesday on the Israeli request, but France�(tm)s position is considered crucial in the matter.

ADL Raps Divestment Plan

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) criticized the Presbyterian Church (USA) for continuing to consider divesting from companies that do business in Israel. ADL officials said such consideration shows the movement has chosen the Palestinian side in the Arab-Israeli dispute, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported. The criticism was leveled this weekend after the Rev. Jay Rock, the denomination�(tm)s coordinator for interfaith relations, spoke to 150 members of the ADL�(tm)s national executive committee meeting in Palm Beach, Fla.

Members of the church voted last summer to use its $8 million portfolio to try to force Israel to withdraw from territories the Palestinians want for a future state. A church committee is expected to deliver a report next year suggesting specific companies as divestment targets.

Jewish Group Backs Judicial Filibuster

The American Jewish Committee (AJCommittee) reaffirmed its support for the U.S. Senate�(tm)s right to filibuster judicial nominations.

“The Senate�(tm)s centuries-old rule providing for the use of the filibuster gives voice to minority viewpoints and encourages consensus on appointments to the judiciary,” the AJCommittee�(tm)s board said in its resolution. Changing Senate rules “would eliminate this incentive for bipartisan cooperation, eroding our system of checks and balances and diluting the Senate�(tm)s role to provide ‘advice and consent�(tm) on the president�(tm)s judicial nominees.”

The Senate is considering changing the rules to force all judicial nominations to face a straight vote and not be subject to filibuster. The majority party now requires 60 votes to block a filibuster.

DNC Picks Jewish Vice Chairwoman

A Jewish activist was elected vice chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC). Susan Turnbull, who serves on the board of the National Jewish Democratic Council, has worked with Hillel and was the DNC�(tm)s deputy chair before her election Saturday. The Republican National Committee elected Ken Mehlman, the Jewish campaign manager of the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign, as its national chairman last month.

Convicted Rabbi Gets One Count Dropped

A court dismissed one of the counts against a U.S. rabbi who had been convicted of molesting two teenage girls at a New Jersey yeshiva. On Feb. 10, an appeals court in New Jersey threw out one of the charges against Baruch Lanner for endangering the welfare of a child between 1992 and 1996, when he was the principal of a New Jersey yeshiva. Despite the ruling, Lanner still faces sentencing Feb. 23 for his conviction for endangering the welfare of another girl and for one count each of aggravated criminal sexual conduct and criminal sexual conduct. The case rocked the Modern Orthodox world because Lanner was a longtime leader of the National Council of Synagogue Youth, an Orthodox youth group.

No Hope for the Lovelorn?

The most popular Jewish singles site on the Internet was down most of Valentine�(tm)s Day. Visitors to JDate received a message saying the site was down and apologizing for the inconvenience.

London Mayor: No Sorry Forthcoming

London�(tm)s mayor refused to apologize for comparing a Jewish reporter to a Nazi concentration camp guard. Politicians and Jewish groups had asked Ken Livingstone to apologize for comments last week to Oliver Finegold of the London Evening Standard. In refusing, Livingstone said he had been subjected to a 24-year hate campaign by the Standard and its sister paper, the Daily Mail.

Cough, Cough

Israel’s smoking rate dropped to its lowest point ever, according to a new survey.

Only 23 percent of Israeli adults smoke, compared with 42 percent in the 1970s, 37 percent in the early 1980s and 29 percent in the 1990s, the Jerusalem Post reported. The smoking rate in Israel is slightly higher than in the United States, but lower than in Europe.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.


Back to Center for YU?

Will Richard Joel — elected Dec. 5 as Yeshiva University’s (YU) new president — redirect the flagship institution of modern Orthodoxy from its rightward move of the past several decades back toward the center?

That’s a question being asked in the halls of YU and throughout the community at the culmination of a long and difficult search process for a successor to Dr. Norman Lamm, who has guided the institution since 1976.

During that time, the level of talmudic instruction, and learning, at YU has risen dramatically. At the same time, though, the school’s role as a bridge between the Orthodox world and the rest of the Jewish community has diminished as YU focused inward.

Now, in a religious environment that has become more polarized, much of the future of modern Orthodoxy depends on the path taken by the new president. It is a moment ripe with religious and sociological import.

While it is too early for answers, it appears that Joel, 52, who for the past 14 years has served as president and international director of Hillel, the Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, will seek to make YU a more open, tolerant and spirited school, albeit gradually, with a renewed vision of academic excellence.

Joel said his skills for the new posts include “taking institutions where people look askance at my capacities, and being able to empower them.

“Ultimately,” he added in an interview this week, “the success of the president of the institution will not be based on how I shine but on how others shine, and I am pretty good at lighting Chanukah lights.”

Joel’s background and views have emphasized inclusion, dialogue and creative tension in his Hillel work, dealing with all stripes of religious and secular Jews. That makes some on the right of the religious spectrum at YU nervous, if not fearful, while pleasing those who believe YU’s mission of synthesis between Torah and secular studies has been expropriated by the rabbinic faculty.

Joel had spent much of the time leading up to the election in New York, meeting individually and in groups with key faculty, students and lay leaders of YU, outlining his goals and seeking to assuage the fears of those who worry that he lacks rabbinic credentials, or is too liberal, or both.

His message has been less about religious politics and more about raising academic standards, paying more attention to the needs of students, and unifying the many strands of YU, consisting of undergraduate and graduate schools, including the Albert Einstein Medical School and the Benjamin Cardozo Law School. He has said that his hashkafah (religious outlook), was formed by Lamm, who has written extensively about the values of modern Orthodoxy.

Joel becomes the first YU president who is neither a rabbinic nor academic scholar. His lack of rabbinic authority was a major point of contention with some affiliated with the rabbinic school, the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS).

Two of the rabbis, Michael Rosensweig and Mayer Twersky, were invited by RIETS chairman Julius Berman to address the RIETS board, made up of more than 40 people, before the vote last Thursday evening. (The meeting took place after the board of trustees of YU elected Joel by a vote of 30-2.) The rabbis offered impassioned speeches as to why YU should be led by a rabbinic scholar, and voiced concern that YU could become a more secular school, like Brandeis University or Bar-Ilan in Israel.

Yet Joel seems undaunted by the fact that some of the faculty and lay leaders at YU’s rabbinical school opposed his becoming chief executive officer of RIETS. “I am just filled with yir’ah [awe], and I am grateful to the ribbono shel olam [Master of the Universe] to be worthy of such a position,” Joel told the campus newspaper, Commentator, after the vote. “I’m thrilled to lead this wonderful team, to keep building something special.”

Some rabbis were strongly resisting the break in YU tradition of having a Talmudic scholar and academic intellectual at the helm of the institution. They also opposed separating the positions of president of the university, CEO of RIETS and rosh yeshiva (head of the yeshiva) of RIETS.

In past meetings with Joel, which were described as tense and difficult, some of the rabbinic faculty voiced deep concerns and predicted that splitting the leadership of RIETS and the university would spell doom for YU.

Others dismissed their complaints as overly worrisome and reflective of the wide gap between the rabbis and the rest of the university.

Some observers say that Joel, a reluctant candidate who has said he was perfectly happy with his tenure at Hillel, had become increasingly interested in the YU post because he feels he could breathe fresh life into the institution.

Joel is only the fourth president in YU’s long history; founded in 1897, it became a college in 1928. He will assume the position in spring.

The Joel candidacy did not come about easily. Over the last 20 months as candidates and potential candidates have been named, withdrawn, discouraged or discarded, it became increasingly clear that no one individual was suitable to fit the Lamm mold of Torah and academic scholar, with additional skills as an administrator and fundraiser comfortable with people.

In wooing Joel over the last several weeks, the lay leadership of the school either lowered the bar or came to grips with reality, depending on one’s point of view.

Leaders said they came to agree that their first goal was to find the best possible person to head — and drive — YU, rather than a spokesman or academic model for modern Orthodoxy.

Why Joel?

In interviews with key lay and professional leaders of YU and Hillel, and other parts of the community, the portrait that emerges of Joel is one of a committed and passionate leader who excels at inspiring a sense of teamwork and pride in students and faculty.

“Richard is never content with mediocrity, and that’s a wonderful quality,” said Steven Bayme, national director of Contemporary Jewish Life for the American Jewish Committee, who has known Joel since they were both working at YU in the mid-1970s. Bayme taught history at the time and Joel was director of alumni affairs.

“His track record at Hillel is encouraging,” Bayme said, “in that he turned it around, infused it with spirit and was a superb manager of people. He also had a magnetic effect on leading philanthropists, a key ingredient for a successful university president.”

Joel’s challenges, insiders say, will include providing greater balance within the school, strengthening the secular faculty and restoring ideological vibrancy to modern Orthodoxy and its belief in the importance of living in two worlds.

This is certain to create tension among some of the rabbis and their students, as YU and its student body have been perceived as moving closer to the more authoritarian form of Orthodoxy in recent years on issues like the status of women, attitudes toward non-Orthodox Jews and encountering modernity.

Partly as a result of this shift, Rabbi Saul Berman and others founded the organization Edah in the past five years, with the slogan “the courage to be modern and Orthodox”; Joel has been associated with the organization. A new Orthodox rabbinical school, Chovevei Torah, was created in Manhattan by Rabbi Avi Weiss, seeking a similar mission of encouraging open intellectual inquiry and expression in a halachic framework.

These institutions probably would not have been formed had YU maintained the direction it took prior to the illness and death of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik (known simply as The Rav), who was the intellectual leader of the modern Orthodox movement and who espoused the values of secular and religious studies.

In practical terms, Edah is seen as a threat to YU by the RIETS faculty, and there was much discussion on campus in recent days as to where Joel, whose temperament and ideology seem aligned with Edah, would stand on the organization and its goals. Joel reportedly told the RIETS that he would disassociate himself from any organization RIETS objects to.

In the interim, Lamm will stay on as rosh yeshiva. Widely respected for his religious and secular scholarship, Lamm has enjoyed a long tenure that will be remembered most for his saving YU from financial bankruptcy in his first days at the helm and increasing its endowment from $8 million to holdings worth about $1.4 billion.

During his presidency, enrollment at YU and Stern College doubled, and he became a voice of moderation in the religious wars that were waged, within YU and throughout the Jewish world, on issues ranging from homosexuality to the question of who is a Jew.

Even critics would admit that Lamm has overseen tremendous growth at YU, while even supporters would acknowledge that he has paid less attention to internal and administrative problems in recent years and tolerated the move to the right among the rabbis. According to Bayme, YU, like modern Orthodoxy itself, has become “institutionally vibrant and ideologically weak,” noting that while synagogues and schools are flourishing, the growth has come at the expense of allowing “the dominant voices” to come from “the more ultra-Orthodox” segments.

That is why the machinations at YU are being watched so closely recently in many segments of the Jewish community as the school’s forces of tradition and modernity — once said to be in synthesis — struggle for its future.