Quebec party that wanted to ban kippahs loses in elections

The separatist Parti Quebecois government, which campaigned on a divisive charter that roiled the Quebec Jewish community, was beaten soundly in provincial elections.

In Monday’s vote, the Liberal Party won 70 seats in the legislature and will form the next government. The Parti Quebecois, which was in power for 18 months, was reduced to 30 seats from its current 54, and former Premier Pauline Marois was defeated in her own riding, or voting district. Two smaller parties received 25 seats together.

The Parti Quebecois campaigned mainly on its Charter of Quebec Values, which sought to forbid the wearing of religious symbols in the public workplace. It fought to de-emphasize its core aspirations for sovereignty, but observers reportedly believed that voters rejected the party mainly for that reason.

Also defeated was a Montreal Parti Quebecois candidate, Louise Mailloux, who claimed that kosher products have a hidden tax used by Jews to fund their political activities. Marois refused to dump Mailloux from the ticket.

For now, talk of the charter has been tamped down. Since it was unveiled last fall, the proposal has caused turmoil with its pledge to prohibit public sector workers — doctors, teachers, nurses and civil servants — from wearing “conspicuous” religious symbols, including hijabs, turbans and kippahs.

Quebec’s roughly 90,000-strong Jewish community regard the charter as unnecessary and xenophobic. Many observers see it as a wedge issue and a dark example of identity politics.

B’nai Brith Canada in a statement called on the new government “to begin to mend the rifts created to allow all Quebecers to enjoy the highest quality of life in all areas and spheres of human rights.”

Clergy reflect on Proposition 8

On a wall of the Autry National Center — among Los Angeles Jewish immigrant artifacts, biographies of Hollywood Jewry, above a case of kippot from Uganda — a white banner proclaims in crimson letters: “Beth Chayim Chadashim, Jewish, Gay & Lesbian & Proud.” The banner, used in gay pride marches in the 1980s and ’90s, is part of the museum’s exhibition “Jews in the Los Angeles Mosaic,” which runs through Jan. 5. Lent to the museum by the world’s first gay synagogue, Beth Chayim Chadashim, (House of New Life), the banner is presented as a symbol of gay liberation in Jewish life.

Just across the museum’s courtyard, in its Wells Fargo Theater, the gay pride movement and, in particular, the road to marriage equality, came to life at an Oct. 20 symposium, “Faith Meets 8,” linked to the “Mosaic” show. Moderated by Los Angeles Times columnist David Lazarus, speakers included the Rev. Troy Perry, founder of Metropolitan Community Church (MCC), the world’s first gay church, and Rabbi Lisa Edwards of Beth Chayim Chadashim (BCC), joined by Mormon scholar Joanna Brooks, and USC religion and sociology professor Paul Lichterman.

This November marks the fifth anniversary of the passage of California’s Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in the state. Much of the discussion at the Autry centered on the role that conservative religious groups played in the measure’s initial success — prior to it being overturned by the United States Supreme Court last spring — as well as what the speakers described as recent rapid shifts leading up to this year’s resumption of gay marriages.

“What we’re seeing now is this sea change that’s happening in same-sex marriage in state after state, such a sudden change and such a shift from what we saw in 2008,” said Edwards, whose Reform congregation is in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood. The rabbi attributed these changes to the hard work of activists, as well as the positive impact that recent same-sex marriages have had, especially on prior opponents. “There’s nothing like getting invited to a wedding … and seeing what a couple is creating together, a family together, to help people let that fear fall away, to break down those boundaries,” Edwards told the audience of about 60 people. 

It was Perry, whom Edwards referred to as “the founding reverend” of the BCC, whose encouragement led to the formation of the Jewish congregation in 1972, and his L.A. church served as the temple’s original home. In 2004, Perry, along with his husband, was among the first litigants to sue the state of California in seeking gay marriage. The Supreme Court overturned Proposition 8 in June, along with the landmark ruling against the Defense of Marriage Act, and in October, New Jersey became the 14th state to legalize gay marriage. Other states, including Michigan, are expected to follow soon. Although Perry emphasized his belief in marriage equality as a civil right, he also found grounding in his faith: “I’m as serious as a heart attack over this issue. … I come from a religious background that told me it was moral to marry … so for me it was a religious issue.” 

The conversation at the Autry also focused on how many Mormons, Evangelical Christians and Orthodox Jews voted in support Proposition 8, because they believed same-sex marriages might lead to infringements on their own religious liberties. When moderator Lazarus asked whether religion has impeded social change, the symposium speakers said that faith and progress can go hand in hand, and that it was time to look forward.

In an interview, Edwards said she has been delighted to see her calendar fill up with weddings and noted an influx of younger gay and lesbian couples joining together under the chuppah. “Celebrating Jewishly, and within the law,” Edwards said, “feels so good.”

Leaked Quebec plan would ban kippot on public workers

A plan by Quebec’s government to ban “religious symbols,” including yarmulkes or kippot, among public sector workers has elicited worry from religious minorities in the Canadian province.

The bill would seek to ban public employees from wearing large Christian crosses or religious headwear such as that worn by Sikhs, Muslims and Jews while at work.

Richard Marceau, a former politician who now advises the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, wrote a column for Huffington Post criticizing the proposal.

“How could one believe that a kippah-wearing Jewish librarian is … trying to impose his religion on society?” Marceau wrote.

The details of the proposed law were leaked to the Montreal Journal last week, but the Parti Quebecois, which heads the provincial government, has refused to confirm them or answer questions related to the issue.

Canada’s multiculturalism minister, Jason Kenney, offered tepid criticism of the proposal, saying it was important to wait until a bill was made public.

Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau was more critical.

“I have enormous concerns for the limits that would be imposed on people, on their religion and on their freedom of expression,” he said.

Letter from Krakow: When is anti-Semitism not anti-Semitism?

A troubling recent incident in the heart of Krakow’s old Jewish quarter, Kazimierz, has raised questions anew about the scope and impact of anti-Semitism in the age of instant response and interactive social media.

The incident involved a waiter (or waiters) at a popular cafe, Moment, who rudely refused service to a group of about a dozen would-be patrons—foreigners and Poles, Jews and non-Jews, some wearing kippot—late at night shortly before closing time.

Accounts differ, but at some point during a heated encounter the wait staff reportedly called the group “F—-king Jews” and told them to “f off” to Israel (or, according to some accounts, to go back to Warsaw or to another cafe down the block). Ironically, among them was the German writer Uwe von Seltmann, the grandson of a Nazi SS man, who was in town to promote a book he wrote with his Polish wife, whose grandfather was murdered in Auschwitz.

The incident was reported to the police, picked up by the local—and international—media, and spread like wildfire on Facebook.

But was it “really” anti-Semitism, or more a case of ugly words unleashed in an angry confrontation that got out of hand?

Disturbing as it was, it was clearly not a pre-meditated attack on Jews. Nor did it approach the scale of recent anti-Semitic incidents in other countries, where Jews have been deliberately targeted, physically attacked—or killed, as in Toulouse, France, last March.

When considering anti-Semitism, though, do such diversities matter?

“Even the simple expression of anti-Semitic views in public discourse can have a corrosive effect over time and may lead to very real security concerns,” Rabbi Andrew Baker, the American Jewish Committee’s director of international Jewish relations, told me.

Several particular factors made the Moment incident the talk of Jewish Krakow for days. For one thing, it occurred at a time and place that many found inconceivable.

Kazimierz, the Jewish quarter, thrives on a lively and multifaceted interaction between Jews and non-Jews – everything from tourism, study programs, cultural events and religious observance.

The would-be cafe patrons at Moment had just attended the annual Jewish Culture Festival‘s exhilarating open-air “Shalom” concert, a seven-hour love-fest that saw 15,000 people of all ages, religions and ethnic backgrounds dancing and cheering to Jewish music in the Jewish quarter’s main square.

What’s more, Moment cafe had been known as a venue particularly open to Jews and other minorities, including gays.

“I go there a lot, and I have never detected even a whiff of anti-Semitic or prejudiced behavior, nor has anyone I’ve been there with,” Jonathan Ornstein, the executive director of the Krakow JCC, told me.

In many ways, I found the aftermath of the Moment incident much more troubling than the original episode. Articles about it posted on Polish websites unleashed hundreds of odious – and absolutely unambiguous—anti-Semitic comments, along the lines of “Bravo for the waiters. Give them a prize” and “I hate Jews; finally they are treated as they should be.”

At the same time, from the other direction, a Facebook group calling for a boycott of the “anti-Semitic Moment Cafe” amassed more than 320 members and also ran outspoken comments before it was taken offline after two days.

And Moment itself was spray-painted on its outside walls with graffiti calling it “Nazi” and “fascist.”

All of this made me consider the dynamics of anti-Semitism. What makes an incident – or turns an incident – into something anti-Semitic? How can local and national contexts influence the way episodes, events and intentions are viewed, experienced or even defined?

I’ve suffered plenty of rude behavior from waiters in my day – even last week in a touristy part of Krakow. But if someone in an argument would call me a “f—-king American” or “stupid woman,” would that mean he or she was anti-American or anti-woman per se? Or just a loud-mouthed idiot?

This is Poland, though, with its history of prewar anti-Semitism and Holocaust destruction, not to mention postwar pogroms and persecution of Jews under communism.

“It is Poland where we come from and where we were born, and any anti-Semitic, even only verbal, attack will break my heart more than what happens to French Jews,” Daniela Malec, one of the Jews who was part of the group involved in the Moment cafe incident, told me in an email a few days later.

“This is the case for the many Jews born in Poland,” she wrote. “We have our own trauma and it cannot be compared to traumas of different places. And we react to any manifestations of anti-Semitism via this trauma.”

Poland in fact has done much in recent years to ease relations with the Jewish world, cement links with Israel and promote Jewish communal and cultural revival. But many—possibly most—Jews worldwide don’t trust this.

Given history, there is even something of a “gotcha” aspect to any anti-Semitic manifestation here.

As it happened, with crowded venues, open doors, huge public Shabbat dinners and little overt security, the 10-day Jewish Culture Festival had gone on in Krakow without a hitch. And the Euro2012 Soccer cup, too, recently concluded without incident, despite prior fears of anti-Semitism in the stadiums.

But for many, the Moment incident—and much more so the hate-filled aftermath on the web—confirmed the distrust.

It made newspaper columnist Wojciech Pelowski rhetorically throw up his hands.

“I would rather defend a pulsating multicultural Kazimierz,” he wrote in Gazeta Wyborcza in a column calling for a crackdown on Internet hate. But, he added, “I cannot—and this is why.” And he simply listed some of the barrage of racist and anti-Semitic comments that had appeared online after the Moment incident.

Md. student asked to defend wearing kippah

A Jewish student at a Maryland high school was asked to prove that he wore a yarmulke for religious reasons.

Caleb Tanenbaum, 17, was asked by the administration of Northwood High School in Silver Spring to provide a letter from a rabbi explaining why he wore the plain, off-white knitted kippah, Patch in Wheaton, Md., reported.

Caleb, an Israeli by birth, decided recently to wear a kippah, according to the news website.

Chanukah Hoop Dreams

Picture the "Bad News Bears" in a basketball court, add kippot and a dash of Chanukah and you have the makings of the Disney Channel’s latest original movie, "Full-Court Miracle." The film is based on the true story of Lamont Carr (Richard T. Jones), a down-and-out former University of Virginia basketball star, who is asked to coach the Hebrew Academy Lions by the team’s captain Alex Schlotsky (14-year-old Alex D. Linz). Schlotsky, after learning about the Chanukah legend in school, is convinced that Carr is really Judah Maccabee. Meanwhile, Alex’s mother, a doctor, wants him to give up basketball and follow in her footsteps.

The real Carr, whose knee problems kept him out of the NBA, was introduced to Jewish basketball when he was asked to run a Boca Raton JCC camp during Passover in the early ’90s. He also coached for the Maccabee Games and is currently on sabbatical from Donna Klein Academy.

"When I saw [the movie] for the first time, I swelled up [with pride] a little bit," said Carr, who was a consultant for the film and worked with the young cast on their court skills. "The actors didn’t know jack about basketball…. They looked like the Three Stooges."

Linz is an ice hockey fan, but he thinks that Disney’s airing of a Chanukah-themed movie is "awesome"; he also enjoyed Carr’s coaching methods.

"During one scene, I had to do a shooting drill," he said. "He put a psychological spin on it."

While the miracle of Chanukah pops up in the dramatic finale — involving dwindling fuel in the gym’s generator — Linz and Carr have their own take on modern miracles.

"I was brought up in a very logical place," said Linz, who had his bar mitzvah at Wilshire Boulevard Temple. "But I think they would [happen]."

"Miracles happen all the time," said Carr, who became a fan of glatt kosher food after he started working with the JCC. "That I can give this interview is a miracle."

"Full-Court Miracle" premieres on the Disney Channel at 8 p.m., Fri., Nov. 21.; Sat., Nov. 22; and Sun., Nov. 23.

Campaign Kippah

The red-and-white lettering that reads GORE-LIEBERMAN 2000 is already on signs, bumper stickers and buttons. But thanks to Marsha Greenberg of Stamford, Conn., vice-presidential candidate Joseph Lieberman has it stitched on his kippah.

Greenberg crocheted the blue campaign kippah for Lieberman when the news broke that Vice President Al Gore asked Lieberman to be his running mate.

Greenberg got the kippah to Lieberman through her friend, Harold Bernstein, who is a cousin of Lieberman. Bernstein gave it to one of Lieberman’s aides when the candidates were in Stamford recently.
It was an instant hit with both Lieberman and Gore, but Gore immediately claimed it for himself. So Greenberg, who has crocheted kippot since she was a high school student, made another one for Lieberman.

The vice-presidential candidate isn’t the first high-profile politician to wear one of her creations. The late Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin also had one. The kippah design she made for the race for the White House has been getting a lot of attention. The Associated Press circulated the story of the kippah and The New Republic wrote about it.

“Five thousand years of Jewish history and never has one yarmulke caused so much commotion!” said Greenberg. She has received offers upward of $75 for it.

Whether or not the Democratic ticket wins in November, Greenberg knows there is historical value to the kippah. The National Museum of American Jewish
History in Philadelphia wants one. She also plans to donate one to the Smithsonian Institution for its exhibition on Presidential campaign memorabilia.

This story appears courtesy of The Connecticut Jewish Ledger.

A Modern Orthodox
Top Ten

Within hours of the official announcement of Sen. Joe Lieberman as a contender for the vice presidency, people started sending their “Top Ten” lists about a Jewish veep over the Internet. Early on, Marsha Greenberg composed a distinctly Modern Orthodox version: “Top Ten List of Ways the White House Would Change Under Lieberman.”

10) The State of the Union address would end with an appeal.

9) Air Force One grounded on Shabbat and yom tovim, and seats reconfigured to allow space for minyanim.

8) Young Israel of Pennsylvania Avenue due to open across the street.

7) Supreme Court Justices’ robes to be routinely checked for shatnes.

6) Mohel appointed surgeon general.

5) Traditional Easter Egg Hunt on White House lawn replaced by bedikat chometz.

4) Israeli diplomats visiting White House for state dinners will have to preorder treif meals or risk having to eat glatt kosher with everyone else.

3)First lady’s inaugural gown to be ordered with matching snood.

2)National prayer breakfast to conclude with ecumenical learning of “Daf Yomi.”

1)Secret Service to confer with local Orthodox rabbis to discuss feasibility of enclosing the White House and Capitol in an eruv.

Sherry Shameer, Jewish Telegraphic Agency