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Be careful: Fake Google Docs emails are circulating the internet


If someone invites you to edit a file in Google Docs today, don’t open it — it may be spam from a phishing scheme that’s been spreading quickly this afternoon. As detailed on Reddit, the attack sends targets an emailed invitation from someone they may know, takes them to a real Google sign-in screen, then asks them to “continue to Google Docs.” But this grants permissions to a (malicious) third-party web app that’s simply been named “Google Docs,” which gives phishers access to your email and address book.

For more information on how to protect yourself, visit theverge.com.

Israel’s infamously fax-heavy government to get email, join 21st century


Years of public complaints about the slow-moving Israeli bureaucracy seem to have finally reached someone in charge — maybe they were being sent to the wrong fax number.

On Sunday, Israel’s Cabinet passed a measure that will require all government ministries to allow documents to be submitted by email. The proposal — designed to replace the current system of faxes and desperate dashes to government offices during work hours — was spearheaded by Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel as part of a “Digital Israel” initiative, which seeks to bring Israeli bureaucracy into the 21st century.

According to the proposal’s timeline, government offices will be given email addresses within 90 days, and those email addresses will be published for public use within 120 days.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu applauded the bill on Sunday, hailing it as a simple measure, “but one which will make it much easier for Israeli citizens because from this decision on, citizens will be able to contact government ministries by email and not by fax. The time has come; this is clear.”

Fax, mail and in-person document handoff will still be accepted. But for the first time, Israel will allow its citizens to communicate with the government through the now three-decades-old technological innovation that is email. The initiative also calls for Israelis to be able to submit documents through cellphone apps.

Announcing the proposal on Sunday, Gamliel said it is “no less than a service revolution and another step that will significantly ease the lives of Israeli citizens, who have until now been required to submit documents to government offices via snail mail or fax, and often to physically appear at the offices during limited hours, to deal with issues that could be solved simply by sending an email from a computer or cellphone.”

While Israel is known for its high-tech industry, the public sector has been slow to adopt the Startup Nation’s zest for innovation. The latest World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Report, ranked Israel 98th out of 140 countries for the burden of government regulation. The World Bank’s most recent Ease of Doing Business Index rated Israel 53rd out of 189 countries.

The country’s old-fashioned bureaucracy is on display during Israeli elections, which are still conducted with small paper slips that are marked with the Hebrew abbreviation for each party. Voters pick a piece of paper from a table, and then place their chosen slip inside a cardboard box.

The government isn’t the only sector that has fallen off the technological cutting edge. Israeli banks and other private enterprises also rely heavily on fax machines and in-person visits.

According to the Jerusalem Post, Israeli lawmaker Staff Shafir, who proposed a similar bill in the last Knesset, said: “I hope that in the coming months, Israel will enter the new millennium and make it easier for its citizens to receive services in both the private and the public sectors.”

‘Further Bibi lore’ – summary of newly released Hillary emails


Another batch of emails from Hillary Clinton’s personal server at the time she served as Secretary of State were released on Monday.

Combing through the many emails, we found some interesting conversations relating to Israel and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu among others. Some of the emails, most recently from 2012, were deemed classified.

Among the achievements Hillary touts in speaking to a Jewish audience is the ceasefire she brokered between Hamas and Israel after Operation Pillar of Defense in November of 2012. “In an email dated Nov. 21, 2012, Sid Blumenthal writes, “Congrats on the ceasefire. Hope it holds. “It is what it is.” Bibi refuses a partner for peace, but has encouraged one for war. The logic, in the particular syllogism of the region: the enemy of my enemy (Abbas) is also my enemy but also my friend. Will make a good chapter in “Six (Seven, Eight…) Crises.””

At some point in the many email conversations with Blumnethal Hillary blamed “trolls” for issues with her blackberry. “There’s something about our calls that inspires the techno trolls. My berry went nuts and just started working again. I will call you tomorrow,” Hillary wrote in an email dated January 21, 2012. The same email contained a quote by Netanyahu telling The Jerusalem Post’s editor, Steve Linde, that “We have two main enemies…. The New York Times and Haaretz.” To which Hillary replied, “Further Bibi lore.”

Sid also called Netanyahu’s protest to the United States over comments by senior American officials critical of any Israeli attack on Iran part of “Bibi’s campaign (the part not funded by Adelson)” against Obama.

In one email, Hillary and her senior adviser Philippe Reines mocked a Stephen Walt column claiming pro-Israel Jews were suborning the NY Times Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren. “Had you seen this?” Hillary asked. “My people control the banks too,” Reines replied. “Really?” she asked mockingly.

Reines, who’s Jewish, also sent Hillary and staff on July 16, 2012, (the 25th of Tamuz) a translation to the “Ma Nishtana” questions, attributing it to Jordan Za[in] Wiener, the son of Anthony and Huma  – “one very special Jewish child who I know will go on to practice and further our rich traditions” – at his first Seder.

Note: Anthony Weiner tweeted that his son’s second name is “Zain”

An interesting email is one that is forwarded by Clinton donor Haim Saban from former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert after Hillary was treated for a blood clot in January 2013: “If you have a chance please pass my deep personal wishes to the secretary of state Clinton. I really was worried and concerned about her health and happy to know that she is out of hospital. Love you. Ehud.” Saban forwarded Olmert’s wishes to Huma Abedin: “When you see the secretary, pls co[n]vey Ehud’s best wishes to her. We are all relieved she got released from the hospital,and I’m cc’ing you Hillary, just in case you do get to your BB. All the best in the new year to yo[u] all and your families.”

 

“Pls respond to both,” Hillary advised Huma.

State Department refers 305 Clinton emails for review


The U.S. State Department has so far identified 305 emails from Hillary Clinton's private server used while she was secretary of state to be reviewed for potentially classified information, the agency said in a court filing on Monday.

It said the emails referred for review came from a sample of about 20 percent of the Clinton emails screened to determine if they can be released publicly.

Last December, Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic Party nomination in the 2016 presidential election, handed over about 30,000 emails she sent and received while America's top diplomat.

Clinton's use of her private email while secretary of state from 2009 to 2013 came to light in March and drew fire from political opponents who accused her of sidestepping transparency and record-keeping laws.

The FBI was looking into the security of the federal records and classified information contained among Clinton's emails. The U.S. government considers federal records to be government property.

The Justice Department has said the FBI investigation began after a government watchdog said at least four emails out of a sample of 40 he inspected contained classified information, including two that contained information deemed “top secret,” the highest classification level.

Clinton has said she did not send or receive any secret information using that account.

The government forbids the sending of classified information outside unsecured networks because it could harm national security if intercepted.

After months of pressure, Clinton last week gave the FBI her private email server and a thumb drive of work-related emails from her tenure.

Asked about the additional emails being reviewed by intelligence agencies, State Department John Kirby told a media briefing on Monday: “It's a healthy thing.”

“It doesn't mean that all 300 are going to end up at some level of (classification upgrade). I suspect some will and I suspect some won't,” Kirby said.

You’ve got mail: Government to assign email addresses to all Iranians


Iran is to assign all citizens an individual email address which the communications minister said on Monday would aid interaction between state authorities and the people.

It was unclear whether the move would add to regulations on Internet use imposed by a conservative Islamist leadership wary of secular cultural influences it blames on the West.

President-elect Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate who takes office next month, has called for less state intervention in people's private lives, including less filtering of the Internet and a loosening of media controls.

More than half of the Islamic Republic's 75 million people use the Internet, official figures show. But authorities have tried to limit access with tools including a filter that blocks many websites on the grounds they are offensive or criminal.

State authorities in March blocked software used to get around the filter. Many people said they experienced unusually slow Internet speeds ahead of the June 14 election, a phenomenon critics saw as an apparent attempt to make it harder to organize pro-reform candidate rallies via social media.

Communications Minister Mohammad Hassan Nami did not say whether the national email addresses would be mandatory or how they might affect Iranians' use of their own private addresses. But he said the official addresses must be used for electronic communication with government agencies.

“For mutual interaction and communication between the government and the people, from now on every Iranian will receive a special email address,” the semi-official Mehr news agency quoted Nami as saying. “With the assignment of an email address to every Iranian, government interactions with the people will take place electronically.”

The email addresses, using the “mail.post.ir” domain, will help maintain citizens' privacy, he said. Data centers are to be set up throughout Iran to support the new system.

Officials have also announced plans to switch Iranians onto a domestic Internet network which would be largely isolated from the World Wide Web. Rouhani's view of this move is not known.

Reporting by Yeganeh Torbati; Editing by Jon Hemming and Mark Heinrich

Heartache: an email from Rabbi Sharon Brous


It has been a devastating couple of days in Israel and Gaza. 

I believe that the Israeli people, who have for years endured a barrage of rocket attacks targeting innocents and designed to create terror, instability and havoc, have the right and the obligation to defend themselves. I also believe that the Palestinian people, both in Gaza and the West Bank, have suffered terribly and deserve to live full and dignified lives. And I happen to agree with the editors of The New York Times that the best way for Israel to diminish the potency of Hamas — which poses a genuine threat to Israel — is to engage earnestly and immediately in peace negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. 

But most critically at this hour, I believe that there is a real and profound need for all of us to witness with empathy and grace. Take a breath. We are deeply entrenched in our narratives of good and evil, victim and perpetrator — and we are scared. Over 1 million Israelis will sleep in bomb shelters tonight and rockets have nearly reached Tel Aviv. So it’s tempting to dig in our heels, to diminish the loss on the other side of the border, even to gloat. This is not the Jewish way. However you feel about the wisdom and timing of Israel’s response to the Hamas threat, the people of Israel need our strong support and solidarity. At the same time, supporting Israel’s right to protect and defend itself does not diminish the reality that the Palestinian people are also children of God, whose suffering is real and undeniable. 

Let us pray that this conflict comes to an end quickly, and that we soon see a return to negotiations and a real, viable and sustainable peace.

L’shalom,
Rabbi Sharon Brous


Rabbi Mordecai Finley is the spiritual leader of Ohr HaTorah and Professor of Jewish Thought at the Academy for Jewish Religion, California Campus.


More on the compassion controversy: 

Rabbi Ed Feinstein: All the families of the Earth


A living Judaism demands an exquisite balance between inside and outside, concern for our own and concern for the other, particularism and universalism. From era to era and generation to generation, the balance point shifts. But as long as Jewish life holds fast to both, it thrives. In our time, the balance has broken. Perhaps this is the residual effect of living in the shadow of the Holocaust — a symptom of our collective PTSD. Instead of an active tension, we are left with severe polarization. Jews today turn inward and resent the suggestion that they are responsible for the world. Or they turn outward and reject the value of Jewish identification. One side interprets Judaism exclusively in universalist terms; for them, tikkun olam — repairing the world — is the only mitzvah. The other holds that Jewish concern is entirely internal; for them the only world, and the only repair, is mitzvah. Such polarization will suffocate Judaism.

Rabbis Daniel Gordis and Sharon Brous are among the contemporary Jewish intellectual heroes struggling to resuscitate contemporary Judaism by reviving the balance. That is what makes their controversy so painful to witness. Gordis inveighs against Brous’ concern for the other, and charges that her loyalty to her own is insufficient. In his eyes, her sensitivity to the suffering of Palestinian children somehow displaces her commitment to his own children and the children of Israel. This attack only deepens the polarization.

Read the rest of the story at timesofisrael.com.


Rabbi Ed Feinstein is senior rabbi at Valley Beth Shalom.


More on the compassion controversy: 

Rabbi Sharon Brous vs. Rabbi Daniel Gordis: Betrayal or compassion?


When Rabbi Sharon Brous first read an essay by Rabbi Daniel Gordis, a colleague and former teacher, accusing her of betraying Israel, she was shocked and angry, she said. Nevertheless, her initial instinct was to refrain from feeding the publicity machine.

Gordis’ article, ” target=”_blank”>e-mail Brous had sent to IKAR, the Los Angeles spiritual and social justice community she founded and leads. In her three-paragraph e-mail, Brous stated that Israel had a right to defend itself against rocket attacks targeting innocent civilians and designed to create terror. She also urged people to retain their humanity and empathize with the Palestinian victims.

Gordis, executive vice president of the Shalem Center think tank in Jerusalem and winner of a National Jewish Book Award, wrote that Brous’ “radical universalism” and extreme balancing of the Arab and Jewish narratives left him to conclude that “her Jewish world and mine simply no longer inhabit overlapping universes.” 

“Why can we not simply say that at this moment, Israel’s enemies are evil? That they’re wrong?” he wrote.

A day later, Brous decided to respond when the hate mail began to pile up — profanity-laced letters, e-mails and Facebook posts calling her a Nazi, a terrorist sympathizer, a self-hating Jew. 

“Danny essentially gave people permission to believe that I was an enemy of the State of Israel. Not that Hamas rockets were the danger, but the danger was American rabbis who have compassion on Palestinian children,” Brous said in an interview this week.

Gordis then posted another column in rebuttal on Nov. 26, reiterating his ideas and offering some points of remorse.

“I understand that Rabbi Brous has received no small amount of hate mail following that first column; my disgust for anyone who would do that knows no bounds,” he wrote.

Other leaders, many from Los Angeles, weighed in with articles. The exchange, much of it reprinted in these pages, with more on jewishjournal.com, has garnered hundreds of comments. 

Gordis declined to be interviewed for this article, saying his columns expressed his thoughts.

Brous and Gordis have known each other for more than 15 years. Brous said Gordis inspired her as a Talmud teacher in her first year at the Zeigler School of Rabbinic Studies at the University of Judaism (now American Jewish University), where Gordis was a founding dean. After Gordis moved to Israel in 1998, Brous said she has visited him whenever she traveled there.

Gordis, in his essay, spoke of the great respect he holds for Brous and said he e-mailed Brous before publishing his essay. 

Brous said Gordis ignored who he knows her to be.

“My sense was that Danny knows me well; he knows how much I love Israel; he knows the character of my Judaism, and for him to write something so outrageous, he must be very scared and very concerned about his own safety and his family’s safety,” she said. 

Since moving to Israel, Gordis has written several articles that provoked confrontations with other rabbis. In 2003, he launched an attack on Jill Jacobs, then a rabbinic student at the Jewish Theological Seminary, for her criticism of Israeli policies. In the past two years, he has enraged many young rabbis by accusing seminaries and rabbinic students of losing a sense of belonging to the Jewish people and Israel. 

Those confrontations have often taken a personal tone, as did this one.

Gordis wrote that Brous’ words left him feeling that she had abandoned his children — his son is currently serving in the Israel Defense Forces. He parenthetically added that Brous used to babysit for his children — a remark with implications of gender, age and authority differences.

“In hindsight, there are phrases I should have worded differently. I should have said that as the father of a son on the border, her column ‘felt like a betrayal,’ ” he wrote in his Nov. 26 rebuttal. 

“It was Rabbi Ed Feinstein’s More on the compassion controversy: 

Rabbi Mordecai Finley: Peace and protection


I have tried to figure out why Rabbi Sharon Brous’ thoughts left me empty when I read them. As Rabbi Daniel Gordis has written, there is nothing objectionable in them. In fact, as I read her e-mail word-for-word many times, I found that I agreed with her completely regarding empathy for Palestinians. I have uttered nearly those precise words, word-for-word. 

I think what disturbed me was what she left out, her exhortation on what to feel, and her timing. 

Here is a small example of the first: “I believe that the Israeli people, who have for years endured a barrage of rocket attacks targeting innocents and designed to create terror, instability and havoc, have the right and the obligation to defend themselves. I also believe that the Palestinian people, both in Gaza and the West Bank, have suffered terribly and deserve to live full and dignified lives.”

This seems to be a nuanced expression of two sides of an issue — on one hand, on the other — but what exactly is the issue, at least in passing? There is no ethical statement here. I know that my friends on the  left are not reticent to offer ethical critique when it is due, but why not here? These words make it sound as if two groups of people have suffered from a natural disaster, unnamed. 

What is left out is the ultimate source of Israeli and Palestinian suffering. Many of us believe that while various Israeli governments have made mistakes, some of them wretched, the ultimate source of Palestinian suffering, since the attempt to eradicate the Jewish state in 1948, has been implacable hatred. 

Another example of what is left out:  The idea “that the best way for Israel to diminish the potency of Hamas — which poses a genuine threat to Israel — is to engage earnestly and immediately in peace negotiations with the Palestinian Authority” is a strategy that is at least questionable. 

This seems to imply that success of the negotiations, which would supposedly diminish the potency of Hamas, is entirely up to Israel. What if the Palestinian Authority (PA) refuses to negotiate earnestly? And what if the PA does sincerely give up the right to return, does agree to border adjustments, etc., and this does not diminish the potency of Hamas, but rather strengthens Hamas (as it likely will, in my opinion)? Those who call for the eradication of the Zionist Entity enjoy a great popularity. What if Hamas wins the next round of elections in the West Bank?

I would agree that a long-term strategy is to engage in earnest and immediate peace negotiations, realizing that the PA must also negotiate earnestly (why is the condition that PA must negotiate in earnest left out?). And we must realize that even earnest bilateral negotiations with the PA might not bring around Hamas, and its supporters — the Muslim Brotherhood and the theocratic thugs in Tehran, to name a couple. 

My second problem with the words of Rabbi Brous is her exhortation on what to feel. We are told that it is critical to witness with empathy and grace. By implication, we are told to escape our “deeply entrenched narrative” and not diminish the losses on the other side, and not to gloat. 

This is not moral advice on what to do; this is advice on how to feel, on what attitude to have. We asked to be balanced in our feelings, to see things from a universalist approach, as Rabbi Gordis has described it. To paraphrase a recent post by Rabbi Michele Sullum in support of Rabbi Brous, the universalist approach is the perspective required of the angels. When the Egyptians are drowning at the Sea of Reeds, God rebukes the rejoicing angels, saying that the Egyptians are God’s children, too. 

I don’t have children in Tsahal, as does Rabbi Gordis, but our daughter lives on a moshav — a cooperative agricultural settlement — about seven miles from the border of Gaza, in the hard-hit Eshkol region (she will be inducted into the Israeli army soon). She was on the moshav until the last day of shelling, when she took the bus up to Tel Aviv to military headquarters for further classification. The bus blown up by Hamas was only about 10 blocks from her.  

When they are trying to kill my daughter (really, and as a symbol for all Israelis), I wish for our leaders to acknowledge our dread, the crushing fear in the core of our being that one of those mortar shells will land on one of our children. When they are shooting at the children of Israel, I need a Miriam, a Moses to address my emotions, not God’s recommendation to the angels. Remember: God does not rebuke Miriam and Moses for rejoicing that God has destroyed the Egyptian army. God did it for them. That rejoicing is enshrined in our daily liturgy. Universalism has its honored place in our tradition. So does attachment and concern for one’s people. There is a time for each. 

There is no joy or gloating in Zion, no dancing in the streets, or in any part of the Jewish world that I can see, at the death of Palestinians. There is the simple relief that many of those who have been trying to kill Israelis have been killed themselves.

There is a resolute will to fight terror and not tolerate Israeli citizens living under the threat of terror. Here is how I feel:  I am enormously grateful to and proud of the bravery, skill and conscience of the Israeli military forces, air, sea and ground, who have dealt a heavy blow to Hamas in defense of our people, all the while trying as much as is humanly possible to minimize civilian casualties 

Third:  The timing of the exhortation on how to feel, for empathy and grace, made me cringe. I will tell you what is obvious:  There were people trying, God forbid, to kill our daughter. It felt horrible. Our nephew is in Tsahal; he was on the border. They were trying to kill him, too. And Tsahal was trying to kill those who were trying to kill our daughter. Those who were trying to kill our daughter often place their rocket launchers among civilians. I feel sorry, very sorry, for those civilians.

My sadness for them is not greater than the dread that they would kill our daughter. Those innocent Palestinians should blame Hamas, not Israel, for placing their rocket launchers in civilian areas and shooting them at my daughter (my daughter here symbolizing all my people in Israel. They are my family). I wanted to kill those firing mortars at our daughter with my bare hands. I was ripped with dread and anger. During the bombings, I was nowhere near able to witness with empathy and grace. Was I really supposed to?

Now that there is a cease-fire, I feel deep empathy for the suffering of innocent Palestinians (though the celebrating and gloating sicken me). They are victims of Hamas, too. But while the rockets were being fired, that instruction for empathy left me empty.


Rabbi Mordecai Finley is the spiritual leader of Ohr HaTorah and Professor of Jewish Thought at the Academy for Jewish Religion, California Campus.


More on the compassion controversy: 

Israeli security inspects some Arab visitors email accounts


Israel has begun inspecting emails of some Arab visitors and expelling those visitors who are deemed a threat to the country.

Israel airport security officials are asking these visitors to log on to their email accounts so officials may conduct a security search for any incriminating activities, according to The Associated Press.

The inspections have targeted Arab visitors in an effort to root out any individuals with histories of pro-Palestinian activism.

At least three Arab-American women have been expelled in recent weeks after their email accounts were searched, according to the AP.

The report indicates that Israel has become stricter in its security policies following clashes with international activists who continue to attempt to break Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Israel has used social media to identify and prevent activists from boarding flights to Israel.

Jews looked past worries to embrace Obama


For some Jewish voters, the strangeness of Barack Obama was like a recurring dream: unsettling and then settling in, and then, suddenly, revelatory.

Ari Wallach described breaking through to elderly Jews in Florida who had resisted voting for the son of the man from Kenya, the tall black man with the middle name “Hussein.”

“It wasn’t only his policy on Israel and Iran, on health care,” said Wallach, whose ” target=”_blank”>Great Shlep,” an effort to prod young adults to get their Jewish grandparents in Florida to vote for Obama. “His biography feels so Jewish, it feels like an Ellis Island archetype. People felt more comfortable when I talked about where he came from, it resonated so deeply surprisingly among older Jews.”

For months, polls showed Obama languishing at about 60 percent of the Jewish vote, a critical chunk short of the 75 percent or so Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) garnered in 2004. But exit polls from the Tuesday election showed Obama matching those results, garnering about 78 percent of the Jewish vote against 22 percent for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), his Republican rival.

Wallach credited the campaign’s late-campaign blitz of Jewish communities, joined by groups like his own, for converting the candidate from stranger to standard bearer for a Jewish ethos.

It was an uphill battle, starting with rumors that Obama was a hidden Muslim, that he wasn’t a genuine, born American. The subterranean campaign soon burst through semi-legitimate and then legitimate forums; Obama was not a Muslim, these conservatives and Republicans said, but he might have been raised a Muslim and later had radical associations.

The ” target=”_blank”>reject the RJC ads, said it was vindicated.

“Tonight, American Jews resoundingly rejected the two-year, multimillion dollar campaign of baseless smears and fear waged against him by the right wing of our community,” J-Street’s director, Jeremy Ben-Ami, said in a statement. “Surrogates and right-wing political operatives in our community stopped at nothing in their efforts to sway Jewish voters against Obama. With exit polls showing Barack Obama’s share of the Jewish vote equal to 2004 levels, it is absolutely clear that their efforts failed.”

Some Democrats said McCain, once popular among Jews because of his willingness to reach across the aisle, hurt himself in the community by choosing the deeply conservative and relatively inexperienced Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate.

An American Jewish Committee poll commissioned in September found that 54 percent of American Jews disapproved of the Palin pick, compared to just 15 percent who disapproved of Obama’s decision to tap Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.).

But Obama’s appeal to Jews might have been most deeply rooted in shared values, said Mik Moore, Wallach’s partner in JewsVote.org.

“Folks just wanted to be with us, with the more progressive candidate; it’s where their heart is,” he said.

Rabbis for Obama seen as a first in American politics; Michelle Obama’s rabbi cousin signs up


CHICAGO (JTA) — Saying it is their duty to “fight for the truth and against lashon hara,” more than 400 rabbis have joined to back Barack Obama’s presidential bid in what is believed to be a first-of-its-kind effort.

Rabbis for Obama, officially unveiled last week, is a grass-roots organization formed when two Chicago-area rabbis came to the Democratic candidate’s campaign wanting to help counter rumors that they feel have been spread about the senator.

“What makes this unique is the lies and smears” were “targeted to the Jewish community,” said Rabbi Sam Gordon of Congregation Sukkat Shalom of Wilmette, Ill., citing the e-mails that falsely claimed Obama was a secret Muslim and educated at a madrassa. “Those of us who knew him felt we had to respond.”

“These attacks that he’s not supportive of Israel are just not true,” said Rabbi Steve Bob of Congregation Etz Chaim in Lombard, Ill.

Jonathan Sarna, the Joseph H. & Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History at Brandeis University, said he believes Rabbis for Obama is a first in the Jewish community.

“I certainly can remember many newspaper ads that rabbis would sign” backing a candidate, Sarna said, but “I can’t remember another organization with this kind of title.”

Given the increased mix of religion and politics that the United States has seen in the past 20 to 30 years, he added, it is much more likely for such a group to spring up now than it would have been early in the 20th century.

Bob said that he and other members of the organization are interested in publicly speaking — under the Rabbis for Obama banner — on behalf of the Democratic candidate across the country and are currently discussing how to become more involved in key swing states.

The letter the rabbis signed states that the group backs Obama because “he will best support the issues important to us in the Jewish community.” Among the prominent Los Angeles rabbis who signed are: Rabbi Elliot Dorff, rector of American Jewish University, Rabbi Richard N. Levy, director of the school of rabbinic studies at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion; Rabbi Laura Geller, senior rabbi of Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills; Rabbi Leonard I. Beerman, founding rabbi of Leo Baeck Temple; Rabbi Reuven Firestone, professor of Medieval Jewish and Islamic studies at HUC-JIR Los Angeles; Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater, spiritual leader of Pasadena Jewish Temple & Center; Rabbi Susan Laemmle, USC dean of religious life; Rabbi Dan Moskovitz of Temple Judea in Tarzana and Rabbi Ron Stern of Stephen S. Wise Temple.

In addition to writing that the Democrat is “inspired by Jewish values such as tikkun olam and the pursuit of justice,” it states that Obama’s “longstanding, stalwart support for Israel is a testament to his own principles” and that “attempts by some to use Israel as a wedge issue against him — unjustifiably — is dangerous in that it politicizes the pro-Israel position” and has “completely distorted Senator Obama’s record.”

“We are fully aware that a smear campaign against Senator Obama has been waged in the Jewish community, and we feel it is our duty as Jewish leaders to fight for the truth and against lashon hara,” reads the missive, using the Hebrew term for evil gossip.

“Senator Obama has been viciously attacked using innuendoes, rumors, and guilt by association, and we urge our fellow American Jews to judge Senator Obama based on his own record and the clear statements he has made about his personal beliefs and principles.”

A Republican Jewish leader found that passage of the letter particularly objectionable.

“It’s irresponsible and unprofessional as rabbis to give a hechsher in accusing us of lashon hara,” said Matt Brooks, the executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC).

Brooks said the reference to “guilt by association” seemed to be referring to the RJC’s criticism of Obama’s links to his longtime pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, and some who have been listed as Obama’s foreign policy advisers — two topics that Brooks believes are fair game in the debate over Obama’s record.

Rabbis are listed by their hometowns rather than their synagogue affiliation because, Bob said, the signatories wanted to make it clear they were speaking for themselves and not their institutions. He said none of the rabbis had any intention of discussing their endorsement from the pulpit or writing about it in their synagogue bulletins.

“We’re not doing this as rabbis of synagogues,” he said. “We’re doing this as private citizens” who are rabbis.

Membership includes rabbis from every denomination, although one independent observer said he noticed only a couple of Orthodox rabbis on the list. More than 300 rabbis were part of the group initially, and Bob said another 125 signed on since it became public last week — including Michelle Obama’s rabbi cousin, Capers Funnye.

The Democratic Party and the Obama campaign have made a special effort during the campaign to reach out to faith groups, but Jewish Democratic operative Matt Dorf said the organization and its missive is better seen as part of another strategy.

The Democratic goal is to reach persuadable Jewish voters through the testimony of people in “positions of influence” in the Jewish community — rabbis, Jewish members of Congress and other well-known Jewish figures such as former New York Mayor Ed Koch.

Dan Shapiro, the Jewish outreach director for the Obama campaign, said his team is “delighted to have leaders with credibility” in the Jewish community come forward to “make a difference.”

One rabbi familiar with politics welcomed the rabbinical group.

“I endorse Rabbis for Obama and I endorse Rabbis for McCain,” said Rabbi Steve Gutow, the executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. “I believe religious people ought to be engaged in the public world.”

Anti-Defamation League national director Abraham Foxman, who has been critical of mixing religion and politics, said he was OK with the group. Rabbis don’t have to give up their rights, he said.

As long as they’re not endorsing candidates from the pulpit, Foxman said, “I don’t have a problem with it.”

Not all rabbis feel comfortable with publicly endorsing a candidate.

“I feel my personal political views are personal,” said Rabbi Steve Wernick of Temple Adath Israel in Merion Station, Pa., a suburb of Philadelphia.

A complete list of signatories can be found at rabbisforobama.com.

Dating today is a menage a tech


Dating used to be so simple and straightforward. And yes, romantic! You’d be at a party and spot someone across the room. Your eyes would meet. You’d

glide toward each other, exchange repartee and, after dancing the night away, head back to your place for a good old-fashioned kiss goodnight.

After a few dates, you’d get involved, become an item, and then move in together. It was just the two of you. The happy couple. Alone. Together.

No more. The world has changed and so has dating. Today, when we date someone, it’s no longer just the two of us. No. Now, it’s always a threesome: you, him and that all-intrusive technology. It’s what I call a “Ménage à Tech.”

The ménage à tech is prevalent in every stage of dating. First, you log in to Internet dating sites. After perusing a gigabyte of singles, e-mailing and instant messaging for weeks, you actually find someone you want to hook up with … and arrange a date. Aha, romance is on the way!

You meet at Starbucks. Your eyes scour the room filled with people on their laptops until you see a familiar face. It’s your virtual date waiting for you. And in reality, he even looks like his photo! Smiling, you walk to the table, remove your earbuds and exchange hellos. You like each other and make a date for Saturday night.

That’s when your ménage à tech escalates. Your date takes you to a romantic, candle-lit restaurant. During dinner, his hand slips under the table. You shiver just thinking about him tenderly brushing your thigh. But alas, the touch never arrives. No. He’s text messaging! And checking e-mails on his Blackberry!

Still, he’s such a hottie. So when he invites you back to his place, you accept. But once there, does he cuddle up with you on the couch or snuggle in front of the fireplace? Uh-uh. He plops you down in front of his computer to show you his favorite YouTube videos, his myspace friends and check his eBay auctions! This guy is a heartbreaker.

After an hour of cyber play, he finally gets romantic. Mmmm, it’s heaven. So you keep dating. There are more dinners, movies and picnics … always accompanied by his trove of technology tools. Your ménage à tech is in full swing.

Then, on your one-month anniversary, he surprises you with a beautifully wrapped gift — his and her iPods. Terrific! Now you can listen to music together — separately!

Next, you move in together, but in the evenings — instead of sharing a bottle of wine, reading poetry or taking an amorous bubble bath — you both go to your individual computers. He has to backup some files, burn some CDs and download some upgrades. You have to upload some photos, publish your blog and post your podcast!

You’re living together, but spending your nights facing the back of each other’s computer screens. Your romance is at an all-time high — lots of memorable evenings with Dell and Mac. Instead of love letters, there are e-cards; instead of moonlight walks, there are tours on Google Earth. And instead of passionate love-making, it’s Berry-interruptus.

As the relationship continues, you’re spending more and more time on your own computers — and soon, you’re surreptitiously surfing Internet dating sites again! One night, you unwittingly “wink” at each other on www.LoversWithoutLaptops.com. Oops! You break up, and then the cycle starts again. You meet someone on the Internet and begin another ménage à tech.

Stop … please … don’t! Technology is wonderful, but it’s killing romance!

My recommendation? In addition to the hands-free law for cell phones while driving, I suggest a tech-free law for couples while dating. So turn off your phones, close your laptops and reboot your love-life.

And the next time someone answers the call of technology when you’re on a date — mute his ringtone, log him out and delete his hard drive!

Marilyn Anderson is the author of “Never Kiss a Frog: A Girl’s Guide to Creatures from the Dating Swamp” (Red Rock Press, 2003). Her web site is www.neverkissafrog.com.

Bearing witness a world away from L.A.


Two weeks ago, The Journal published an essay by Janice Kamenir-Reznik, founding president of the nonprofit Jewish World Watch, as she and two other JWW leaders departed for a two-week trip to Chad to visit Darfur refugees. As a coalition of about 60 Los Angeles-area synagogues, JWW’s mission is to educate and advocate on issues of genocide and egregious violations of human rights. It also works to provide relief to survivors of genocide.

In Chad, women in the refugee camps face danger of assault and rape by the Janjaweed marauders — as well as other rebels and even some Chad locals — when they venture out to collect firewood. To reduce this risk, JWW has been raising funds to provide two refugee camps — Iridimi and Touloum — with solar cookers. These low-cost aluminum-covered cardboard instruments are manufactured in the camps, are self-sufficient and have proven effective in keeping the women safer.

To evaluate their program, Kamenir-Reznik, Executive Director Tzivia Schwartz-Getzug and Solar Cooker Project director Rachel Andres traveled first to N’Djamena, the capital of Chad, to meet with officials from UNHCR, the U.N. refugee agency. They then traveled with humanitarian workers, as well as Chadian environmental and refugee advocates, as they visited the Iridimi and Touloum camps, where more than 10,000 cookers are now in use. They met with tribal leaders and with more than 100 women who use the cookers. They listened to stories of hardship and triumph over unimaginable tragedy. The following are excerpts from e-mails the travelers sent home while en route:

N’Djamena, Oct. 15

The average life expectancy here is 47 years old, I can tell you that I have not seen one older person anywhere! I am 45 years old, and because of sheer luck or fate I was born in Los Angeles, as were my husband and my children, and based on life-expectancy rates in the United States, I should have many more years of life to experience. But the children here, the smiling beautiful children in their school uniforms, waving to us on a street corner — what chance do they have?

— Tzivia Schwartz-Getzug

N’Djamena, Oct. 16

While “touring” N’Djamena, Derk [Rijks, the solar cooker project founder] wanted to give a message to someone who happens to live in the poorest section of town. We were dropped off …[and] walked along an endless river of garbage: plastic bags, trash, bugs, empty containers, a few goats roaming, small fires burning … words can’t describe the smell and sight. On one side of us was the garbage with children walking across it and even wading into it, and on the other side were dung huts where families live in 10 x 10 hovels. There were a few children roaming about, some barefoot, as well as a woman braiding another woman’s hair, a skinny dog sniffing around for something to eat and finally the home of Martine.

Martine is a beautiful, poised, sweet woman who was so gracious and pleased to see us. It was putting this beautiful face and sweet personality to the reality of this slum-like living that was completely devastating. The realization that people were living, literally, on top of this trash dump hurt to the core of my being. This country and its people are supposed to be in good shape compared to Sudan … and we haven’t even arrived at the refugee camp yet.

— Rachel Andres

Iridimi, Oct. 18

Today we visited the Iridimi refugee camp, where our Solar Cooker Project was launched 18 months ago. The sense of being, literally, a world away, finally holding the hands of the women working to manufacture the solar cookers and speaking with the Sudanese refugees about how our project has impacted their lives for the better is something I will never forget.

Iridimi itself reminds me of how I picture the “neighborhood” where our

Post-Trip Speaker Series Dates

Nov. 2

Who: Rachel Andres
When: 6 p.m.
Where: Temple Israel of Hollywood, 7300 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles

Who: Janice Kamenir-Reznik
When: 7:30 p.m.
Where: Temple Adat Elohim, 2420 E. Hillcrest Drive, Thousand Oaks

Nov. 3

Who: Janice Kamenir-Reznik
When: 8:45 a.m.
Where: Valley Beth Shalom, 15739 Ventura Blvd., Encino

Who: Tzivia Schwartz-Getzug
When: 9:30 a.m.
Where: Adat Ari El, 12020 Burbank Blvd., Valley Village

Nov. 5

Who: Janice Kamenir-Reznik
When: 7:30 p.m.
Where: Temple Isaiah, 10345 W. Pico Blvd, Los Angeles — co-sponsored by Temple Beth Am and Temple Emanuel

ancient Israelite ancestors lived in Egypt. Low mud-brick buildings, some thatched-roofs, little vegetation, and roaming donkeys — truly a biblical scene resulting from contemporary inhuman behavior.

We began our day with an incredible meeting — we were ushered into a room of 20 “elders” of the camp, sitting on mats, dressed in long white gowns and tall turbans. These are the leaders of the Iridimi camp, and they were invited to meet with us to discuss the project. I have to say that I was terribly intimidated by this group, as I’m sure they have never seen three white Jewish women from Los Angeles (who, while trying to dress appropriately for our guests, ended up looking like Golde, Tzeitle and Hava!), let alone engaged in peer-to-peer conversation with them! But they were gracious, respectful and expressed extreme gratitude for the work we have done for their benefit and for the benefit of their families.

The other surprising thing was their willingness to listen to our “moderator,” Marie Rose, who, with Derk, now heads Tchad Solaire, the local organization formed to run the project. Just as we watched these men “shoo” the three women leaders of the camps to the back of the room, they listened as Marie Rose led the 2-hour long discussion, answered their questions and engaged them in sometimes difficult conversation. Finally, we three Jewish feminists took great pride and pleasure in witnessing the young Madame La Presidente des Refugies speak up from behind the rows of men and express her opinions about the usefulness of the project and her disagreement with some of the opinions expressed by the men. I believe we are witnessing a real cultural change, both in terms of empowerment of women in this society, as well as a grudging acceptance by the men. But isn’t that just history repeating itself?

My last thought is about kindness. As I sat on the dirt floor of two different “homes” this afternoon, I witnessed a kind of dignity and kindness that I will never forget. How do people who have lost so much — family, community and property — continue to offer to the stranger who enters their home whatever little food or shelter they have? Without a second thought to their own needs, these participants in our evaluations opened their homes to us, provided us with food and drink and gave us entry into their lives.

yeLAdim


Mighty Glad to See You!

It was great seeing so many of you at the Israel Independence Day Festival on May 7 (we hope you enjoyed the fans). Be sure to check out our yeLAdim page on June 30, as we will be printing many of the essays you wrote for our 20th anniversary!

Kein v’ Lo:

Parental Spying?

There’s been a lot of talk in the news about people listening to other people’s phone calls, and some people say parents need to check what their kids are doing online and who they are chatting with — because not everyone on the Internet is telling the truth. Should parents be allowed to do that?

The Kein Side:

  • A lot of kids don’t talk to their parents, and the parents want to make sure their kids are safe from drugs, alcohol, bullies and other things that can hurt them.
  • It is your parents’ house, and you have to live by their rules — when you have your own house, you can have your own rules.

The Lo Side:

  • Parents need to trust their kids — otherwise how will the kids ever learn to be responsible for themselves?
  • It is invasion of privacy to listen to their phone calls and look at someone’s things when they aren’t there.

We want to know what you think. E-mail your thoughts to kids@jewishjournal.com, with the subject line: Parents.

We’ll publish your opinions on a future yeLAdim page.

Pages & Picks

This month’s pick is the very cute “Kvetchy Boy” by Anne-Maire Baila Asner — the latest from Matzah Ball Books.

Kvetchy Boy joins his friends Noshy Boy, Shluffy Girl, Klutzy Boy and Shmutzy Girl in bringing Yiddish expressions to young Jews (don’t worry, each book includes a glossary of words) and teaching everyone about being a better person:

Even at his birthday party, Kvetchy Boy kvetched and kvetched.

“This ice cream made my cake soggy. I hate soggy cake,” said Kvetchy Boy.

“But Kvetchy Boy,” said Noshy Boy, who loves to eat. “The cake tastes even better that way.”

Kvetchy Boy didn’t agree.

If you haven’t seen your favorite Yiddish expression yet, don’t worry — there are more books on the way, including some for grown-ups like “Mrs. Mitzvah” and “Bubby” and “Zaida Kvelly.” You can even buy T-shirts with the different characters on them!

For more information, visit

Tribe


Back when I was working at a newspaper in New York, my editors and I tried to come up with a teen-sounding headline for a story on voting for our new teen section.

“How about ‘Gettin’ Out the Vote’?” my editor offered.

As if dropping a “g” off the end of the word is all one needs to do to appeal to teens.

I knew then, and I know now, that to really speak to teens, you just have to be one.

Adults can affect any sort of teenish language they want; they can claim to understand how the teenage mind works, to get the issues teens are thinking about. But teens know a fake when they see it.

That is why The Jewish Journal has decided to hand this page over to teenagers. Once a month, we will choose columns, feature articles or news stories submitted by teens in grades 9-12.

As you can see on this page, Natalie Goodis, a junior at Marlborough High School, has inaugurated the page with a column about how her experience in Eastern Europe and Israel changed her.

Here’s your chance. Write an article about what a teenager has to weigh when deciding whether to date only Jews. Send us your thoughts on evolution vs. creationism. Tell us about what you think about Ariel Sharon, about this country’s hurricane response, about your grandmother. Describe an event at your school that moved the whole student body to action.

The topics are up to you; the voice is yours.

We hope the monthly page is just the beginning. We want teens to talk to us — to have some input into what their peers should be writing about. That is why we are creating a Jewish Journal Teen Advisory Committee. (How would that look on a college resume?) The committee will meet several times a year to determine what topics you want covered in these pages, and to get your feedback on where things should go.

Being a teenager is intense. It is when you form your values, you solidify lifelong relationships, you choose a path for your future. Most teens are profoundly aware of just how pivotal these years are, and a lot of teens have something to say about it.

If you’re one of them, we’re waiting to hear from you. This is your chance to help more than 100,000 Jewish adults get a glimpse into your world.

Action Items:

  • Articles: First-person columns, feature articles or news stories of up to 800 words — submitted as an attachment to an e-mail.
  • Jewish Journal Teen Advisory Committee: Send your name, age, school and up to 200 words on why you should be on the Jewish Journal Teen Advisory Committee.

Ground Rules

Kids Page


Share the Fun

Have you been having fun this summer?

Our rabbis say that we should give up to 10 percent of what we own to tzedakah (charity) every year.

What percentage of your fun can you give to another person?

Dr. Doolittle I Presume?

In this week’s Torah portion Balak, the sorcerer Bilam discovers that his donkey can talk. Here are some more places you can find talking animals:

Unscramble the names of the books below and match them to the picture of which talking animal can be found in its pages:

H C I O C N E R L S FO A N R I N A

__ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __

__ __ __ __ __ __

L I A C E N I O N W L A D E R D N

__ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __

T A U S R T T T I L E L __ __ __ __ __ __

__ __ __ __ __ __

A R O C L T E S H T B E W

__ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __

__ __ __

My Amazing Summer Contest

Send me your stories and pictures of an amazing thing you did this summer. First-, second- and third-place stories will be published on this page, and winners will also receive prizes. Deadline is Aug. 26, 2005.

E-mail your story to abbygilad@yahoo.com.

My son, Amit, spent a week of his summer on the Tole Mour, above, sailing around the Channel Islands and learning about marine biology.

 

Sins the Rabbis Left Out


The writers of the machzor were pretty comprehensive in listing the multitude of sins we commit as a community over the course of the year. Some of them — such as foul speech, unscrupulous business affairs, sexual immorality and fraud — are remarkably relevant today. But the authors couldn’t have envisioned some of the temptations offered by contemporary society.

So here are some modern infractions for which you might need to atone:

For the sin of forwarding dumb jokes via e-mail;

And for the sin of forwarding e-mails which insist that you forward them or suffer the consequences.

For the sin of watching shows where people vote other people off the show;

And for the sin of watching shows where mothers admit to stealing their daughters’ boyfriends.

For the sin of cutting people off on the freeway;

And for the sin of flipping off the person who cuts you off on the freeway.

For the sin of talking on your cell phone while driving.

And for the sin of having cell phone conversations in public during which you broadcast graphic details about your love life or medical symptoms.

For the sin of using the Internet at the office to work on personal business.

And for the sin of neglecting to exit the ESPN Web site before your boss walks into your cubicle.

For the sin of buying things you don’t need because there’s a really good sale.

or the sin of paying $3 for a $1.50 cup of coffee.

For the sin of talking during High Holiday services;

And for the sin of rating the rabbi’s sermon as though it were an Olympic sporting event ("I’ll give it a 6.5").

For the sin of leaving a whole package in the cupboard with just one cookie in it (you know who you are).

And for the sin of using family members’ exploits as fodder for newspaper articles (I know who I am).

For all these sins, forgive us, pardon us, grant us atonement. — NSS

‘On_Line’ Takes Byte Out of Cyberspace


While obsessing over an ex-girlfriend in 1997, Jed Weintrob, then an Orion vice president of interactive media, turned to the Internet for distraction. “I got hooked peering into the lives of strangers,” said Weintrob, a self-described Jewish “techno geek.” “It was both calming and mind-blowing to log on and see Jenni on Jennicam.org who was also awake at 4:30 a.m., but in the end it was also kind of alienating…. You’re watching this person do the most intimate things, yet you’re never going to know them or touch them.”

It’s a sentiment echoed by John Roth (Josh Hamilton), the Internet-addicted lonely-heart in Weintrob’s acclaimed directorial debut, “On_Line.” Like Lynn Hershman Leeson’s “Teknolust,” the gritty but stylish film is among the first to probe relationships in cyberspace.

Weintrob shot his actors in separate rooms connected by Web cams so they felt like they were alone with their computers.

The message is that “we all need human contact, so eventually you have to get off line,” he said.

Weintrob, 34, first learned about the importance of human connections growing up in a close-knit Manhattan Jewish family where Israeli relatives often crashed on the couch. His introduction to the Web (and to cybersex) was the early PC model he received for his bar mitzvah.

Sex ed part II was researching “On_Line,” co-written with fellow Harvard alumnus Andrew Osborne; one inspiration was the man who learned of his wife’s infidelity by reading her Web journal.

“He never spoke to her again except via e-mail,” Weintrob said. “That started me thinking about the intimate things people were willing to reveal online and how messed up that could make you in real life.”

The fictional Roth evolved as Weintrob wondered what would have happened had his heartbreak-induced Web addiction escalated. “We’ve all felt desperate and depressed, and that the computer is our only friend,” said the director, now dating a nice Jewish girl from Long Island. “But as personal as it feels, it’s completely impersonal.”

“On_Line” opens June 27 in Los Angeles. For moreinformation, visit www.onlinethemovie.com .

E-mailer at the Bat


I’m a sucker for a slugger in a baseball hat. So I got caught looking at Alex, the hottie at my weekly Sunday softball game. He works for a nonprofit, volunteers at a local hospital and drinks at St. Nicks. And he has the greatest laugh.

Wise to the rules of both softball and dating, Alex threw out the first pitch. Last Monday morning, I arrived at work, booted up my Dell and heard those three little words every girl dreams about: “You’ve got mail.” Just seeing his name in my inbox made me smile. Cheeks a flush, heart a thumpin’, I opened his message.

“Hey Carin, saw you had some trouble at the plate yesterday. Wanna hit the batting cages? I’ll help you find your sweet spot. Alex”

His note is flirty and funny and screams “Let’s play ball.” I shoot off a teasing reply, and he writes right back. This back and forth, give and take, take me I’m yours, goes on for endless innings. I’m throwing heat, but he’s hitting deep. Right into the gap. The more he writes, the more I realize how charming and cheery and clever he is. By closing time, he’s batting 1.000 in the kibitz column. If Alex is this good at e-mail, I can only imagine how good he is at dinner. And dessert.

In modern relationships, cyberflirting is key. Forget diamonds. Forget pearls. E-mail is a girl’s best friend. You can edit, erase, write and rewrite your notes until you sound as casual as the dress code at the Snake Pit. And with e-mail there’s less risk. No money down, zero-percent financing. You can get to know someone from a safe distance and at a slow speed. It’s ideal for that comfortable, commitment-free courtship. Especially with a free agent like Alex, who’s hesitant to sign on with one team. He might call once a week — twice if you count a drunk dial. But he’ll e-mail everyday.

In fact, he’s in constant contact. And we’re not just talking reheated rabbi jokes and fun religious forwards. He’s always checking in, just saying “hi” and seein’ what’s up. And those feisty one-liners. Wow. He keeps my inbox happy and knows just how to hit the send button. With all this e-mail exchange, I assume my Boys-Batted-In stat is on the rise.

But just when it seems Alex and I will be typing happily ever after, he pulls the mouse pad out from under me.

Wednesday morning, I sent Alex a g’mornin’ shout out. Two days, five hours and three Cuervo shots later, I still hadn’t heard back. No reply. Nothing, nada, gornischt. I check my inbox obsessively. Again and again and again. But like Olympic Stadium during an Expos game, it’s completely empty.

How did this happen? I remember single life in the good old days. Guys always refused my offer to go Dutch, and the dilemma du jour was “Why hasn’t he called?” Now that I finally learned that a watched phone never rings, I’m thrown another “Men Are From Mars” curveball.

E-mail. The choice of a new generation.

Maybe my note didn’t go through. Maybe he hasn’t checked his e-mail. Maybe he checked his e-mail, but didn’t write back. Maybe he’ll never write back. Maybe he doesn’t like me. Maybe no one will ever like me. Maybe I’ll end up single, alone and spend the rest of my days in the alter-kacker anonymous chat rooms.

Or maybe I should just chill.

Enough with this mishigoss. The problem isn’t that Alex hasn’t responded. It’s that I don’t know how to respond to him not responding.

We girls tend to overreact, creating tsuris where there isn’t any. Especially when our flirting average dips below the Mendoza line. Well ladies, there’s no crying in baseball. We’ve got to learn to deal, get our game faces on. An unreturned call or unanswered e-mail doesn’t have to mean the end, roll credits, fade to black. Most likely, the guy is busy with work, seeking some space or looking for a challenge. Men start writing when we stop waiting. Men start chasing when we start running. So this single slugger started sprinting.

I’ve stayed clear of my compose button. I focused on friends, fun and a few other good men. And when I came back from this morning’s staff meeting, there was an e-mail from Alex.

“Sorry I’ve been MIA. Had a big proposal due, but am finally caught up. Cages this weekend?”

Now that Alex is back in the lineup, it’s time to bring in my closer and nail down that date. I’ll be getting to first base in no time.

Junk Mail


There is no Editor of cyberspace, and that’s too bad. The latest e-mail craze to spread like the Melissa virus through the cc: box of various e-mails is the report of a man named Joseph Farah.

Farah is an Arab-American journalist who has cashed in on some Jewish Americans’ willingness to believe exactly what they want to believe. His report, called “Myths of the Middle East” has ricocheted from e-mail to e-mail. It has arrived at our offices dozens of time, usually preceded by the sender’s imploring, “You MUST read this!” or “Bet you don’t have the GUTS to print THIS!”

Farah’s “Myths” passes itself off as a set of “courageously” told “truths,”which, taken together, purport to prove that there is no Palestinian people, no Palestinian claim on land in the Middle East and no Muslim claim on Jerusalem.

Let’s forget for a minute that no serious Israeli leader believes this hooey. Better to look at who Joseph Farah is. He is a writer for a range of garden-variety outlets of the Christian far right. As Gershom Gorenberg reported in The Jerusalem Report (12/12/00), a Columbia Journalism Review piece on Farah documented his past as a former publisher of the ultra-conservative Sacramento Union and founder of the Western Journalism Center, which promoted dark theories on the death of White House deputy counsel Vincent Foster.

On Farah’s WorldNetDaily, you can read his similarly insightful pieces on how President Bill Clinton ran an international crime syndicate from the White House, why guns reduce crime, and the evil of Steven Spielberg, whom Farah calls “a capitalist pig.” Cc that.

You can also peruse his article, “Jerusalem: The Burdensome Stone,” in which Farah cites chapter 14 of Zechariah “in the standard fashion of Christian fundamentalists who see Israel as a sign that the End is near,” writes Gorenberg. WorldNetDaily is full of links to works that envision a Middle East in which Israel rebuilds the Temple and Jews convert in vast numbers to born-again Christianity on the eve of the Second Coming.

It is sad and true that the same people who would slam the door on Farah if he came peddling his wares in person eagerly forward his Internet “scholarship.” The Palestinian problem is real, and Joseph Farah’s mythologies can only make it worse.

Do You Believe


For a small donation, you can now e-mail your prayers to a site in Jerusalem where they will be placed into the Kotel, the Western Wall, on your behalf.

With a powerful computer, scholars in Israel have revealed the secret codes embedded in the text of the Torah — codes predicting the Holocaust, the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, as well as calamities yet to come.

A local religious group touts the healing benefits of scanning pages of mystical texts, regardless of whether one can read the words or understand their meaning. Just having a set of the text in my home, an adherent urges, will bring blessings to my family.

How seductive is magic? Hidden knowledge, secret powers, special access to the inner workings of the universe — who can resist? It is an addiction that plays upon a deep sense of powerlessness and frustration with a complex world. I doubt my ability to navigate this world, so I turn to signs, omens and secret incantations to bring success and happiness. I doubt the presence of God in a world of AIDS, drive-by shootings and moral lunacy, so I look to secret codes for reassurance and guidance. But at what cost?

In turning to secrets and signs, do I not surrender the power of my intelligence, my judgment, my reason? Do I not surrender my capacity to imagine and create a better life, a better world?

This week’s Torah portion, which is about the lure of magic, breaks the narrative flow describing the desert journey of the Israelites and takes us to Moab, one of the nations in Israel’s path.

The king of Moab, terrified by the advancing Israelites, realizes that his only chance is to enlist the power of a well-known wizard, Balaam, to render them vulnerable. There ensues a remarkable negotiation. The king believes in the power of magic to destroy his enemies, and in his ability to buy this power. He believes in the multitiered cosmology of paganism. On the lowest level , human beings — pitifully weak and vulnerable. Above, rule the gods, who control the forces of nature. But above the gods, there is another level — the mysterious forces of ultimate fate. The only chance human beings have of shaping their own destiny is to employ secrets of these upper powers to manipulate the gods, forcing them to do human bidding.

This is the essence of magic — the manipulation of the forces of destiny through secret knowledge, spells and rites. So the king sends a bribe, contracting the wizard to curse Israel. But this is no ordinary wizard. In fact, he is no wizard at all. Balaam is a true prophet, who continually insists that he is only a conduit for the one, sole power in the universe — the God of history. This God works His will in history and will not be manipulated or bought.

In this remarkable exchange between the king and the wizard, the Torah has placed the contest between magic and monotheism. Magic is a form of slavery, confirming a sense of human powerlessness in the face of mysterious forces of destiny.

The God of the history takes us out of bondage, empowering human beings to shape our own destiny, to seek the Promised Land, with His gifts of intelligence, conscience and imagination.

When, at last, a final, huge bribe persuades the wizard to accompany the king, he stands over the Israelite camp, and out of his mouth come, not curses, but blessings: “Ma tovu ohalecha ya’akov” — “How good are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel!”

God will neither be bought nor manipulated. God is not amenable to secrets. But God has shown us the way to turn curses into blessings whenever we are prepared to listen.

Ed Feinstein is rabbi at Valley Beth Shalom in Encino.